No Going Back: How to Train your Abdominals without Pain in your Lower Back!
Another workout is almost in the books, and it is time to work your abs to get that really tight feeling before you mix your protein shake, gather your things, and move on with your day. You lie down on the mat and proceed to do some lying leg raises, an exercise you've been doing for years, but not really getting any better at.
You squeeze your feet together and lie your head back onto the mat; all the while closing your eyes to zone out to another Tiesto remix, and surviving your set of twelve. Yet, each repetition finds itself into your lower back, and you feel it more in your spine than you do your abs. So, like everytime before now you slide your hands into the small gap between your back and the floor.
Ahhh...that's better...now you feel it in your abs. Got it.
Except you don't...
Many individuals conduct their abdominal workouts without properly aligning the spine, ribs, and hip joints. Essentially, they lie down and settle into lumbar lordosis, in which the lumbar spine forms a concave curve into the body. Too much of this, AKA lumbar-spinal extension, can cause pain and discomfort, especially under load. This can be caused by two things:
1. Excessive Anterior Pelvic Tilt- Anterior pelvic tilt is "ghetto-booty" if you will. It is when your lumbar spine goes into lordosis as your pelvis tilts forward. In training we often describe this as "pouring water out of the front of your hips. It is a quality cue that can really help individuals understand proper hip mechanics.
If you imagine your pelvis as a glass of water, then you can either hold it upright, or pour water out the front and back; depending upon positioning in space.
2. Immobile Thoracic Spines - The thoracic spine may be the most crucial region of the spine when it comes to mobilty. Sadly, many individuals have lost significant mobility in their spines due to jobs that keep them seated working on computers and phones, smart phones and videogames, and even driving. Everything we do puts us into a state of spinal flexion (bending forward). We call this thoracic kyphosis.
Hell, I'm sitting flexed right now as I write this blog. D
Let's look at the spine very quickly before I show you to how to fix your abdominal issues. I really want you to understand the science behind this.
As you see looking at the image above is the natural curve of the spine. NOTE that the thoracic region is naturally flexed, or rounded, while the lumbar spine is naturally extended. Putting the spine in this exact alignment is the goal of every trainer and strength coach, and should be the goal of anyone exercising.
So, what then is bad position? Well, when the lumbar curve becomes TOO extended and more concave, then there is an excessive amount of force and pressure placed upon the lower back extensors. These muscles are critical for keeping us standing and upright, and can fatigue easily. They directly oppose the abdominals and will work when the abs are not, and vice versa. Therefore, developing your abs is important beyond just looking awesome with your shirt off.
Furthermore, it is critical to not go into excessive thoracic flexion (falling forward) during an exercise because it stresses the spine itself, the discs between the vertebrae, and the musculature that supports the spine in space.
So, how then do we correct our posture when we stand, sit, or lie down to do abs so that our spine is properly aligned. Great question.
Flip your hips flat and bring your ribs down!
In the video below I describe this as "taking a bite" of your core. If you imagine your ribs and pelvis as top and bottom teeth, then you want to bite down on your abs with these bony structures.
This action is going to flatten your lumbar spine by bring your pelvis to a correctly tilted position, and your ribs are going to help by decreasing the space between your sternum and and belly button without actively flexing the spine! AWESOME!
I hope this blog helps you guys be able to train harder and longer. I look to start doing more video content in the coming year, as I have fallen in love with my tablet.