Want Six-Pack Abs? 6 Core Exercises That Won’t Hurt Your Back

No two people’s fitness goals are exactly the same because no two bodies are alike. While these differences lead us to prioritize certain exercises or muscles, just about everyone includes a sculpted stomach on their wish list. This can be problematic for those who find themselves suffering from lower back pain because many traditional core exercises that help achieve six-pack abs can negatively impact the spine.

We have a solution! Try these six moves that will help you strengthen your core muscles and not leave your back aching.

1. McGill curl-ups

man lying down after a workout

Try out this core exercise that won’t hurt your back. | iStock.com

Lie on the ground with one leg extended, toe pointed at the ceiling, and the other leg bent with your foot flat on the floor. Place your hands under the arch of your back to support its natural shape. Some people may need to stack one hand on top of the other, depending on how high their arch is. Contract your abdominal muscles to pull your shoulders off the floor as you would with a crunch. Move slowly and hold the top of the move briefly before returning to the starting position. Check out Abs Experiment for a useful visual.

2. Pallof press

man doing exercises in the gym

Standing core exercises can help alleviate back pain. | iStock.com

Attach a single-grip handle to a cable tower with your right side facing the tower. Grab the handle with both hands and step about an arm’s length away from the tower, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands directly in front of your chest. Keeping your core tight, press your arms forward until they’re fully extended. Bodybuilding.com recommends holding the position for several seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat until you complete your desired number of repetitions. Switch sides, and repeat the move as before.

3. Bird dog

Fitness female model torso with her hands on hips

This core exercise can help you work on your balance as well. | Jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Get into position on all fours with your knees directly below your hips and your hands directly below your shoulders. Keeping your back flat and your abs engaged, lift your right hand and left leg off the floor. Simultaneously extend your arm and leg so they’re pointing straight out so your body aligns. Hold for a few seconds, then switch sides. Head to ACE’s exercise library to see a demonstration.

4. Side planks

side plank

Side planks are great for the obliques. | iStock.com

Start by lying on your side with your body in a straight line. Use your forearm closest to the ground to prop up your torso while you raise your hips off the ground, pressing into the side of your foot. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to feet. Hold the position without letting your hips sag for about one minute. Lower back to the ground and repeat on the opposite side. Head to Real Simple for a better idea of the move.

5. Seated leg lifts

Woman doing abdominal exercise

Leg lifts are challenging, but great. | iStock.com/undrey

Sit on the ground with your legs extended straight in front of you, toes pointed up, and your hands on either side of you, palms facing down. Lean back just a bit, then lift one leg off the ground until your foot is six to 12 inches off the floor. Keeping your core tight, hold your leg in position for five seconds, then slowly lower it back to the ground. Repeat with the other leg. To see this move in action, head to Life by Daily Burn.

6. Stability ball planks

man doing planks on a stability ball

Adding the stability ball makes the move even more of a challenge. | iStock.com

You’ll need a stability ball to complete this move — and you’ll really feel it, too. Get in plank position, but rest your forearms on the stability ball for that added balance challenge. You can stay here and hold the move, but another option is to use your forearms to rotate the ball in circles. After 30 seconds, switch the direction of your rotation. And don’t forget to squeeze your core, glutes, and pelvis to keep them stable through the move. For an image of the exercise, head to Men’s Fitness.

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