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8 AB Exercises That Don’t Hurt Lower Back

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a woman is doing side plank on the forearm, ab exercises that don’t hurt lower back
David O'Connell post Reviewer David O'Connell post Reviewer
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Certified Active Isolated Stretching Therapist, Licensed Orthopedic Massage Therapist, Corrective Exercise Specialist

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If you suffer from lower back pain, try these ab exercises that don’t hurt your lower back. Having a back condition doesn’t mean you can’t work your core muscles during training — you just need to find ab exercises that are safe and suitable without straining your spine. 

Below, we reveal the five best ab exercises that could develop core strength and sculpt your abs without straining your back and how to perfect your form.

Can You Work Out Your ABS With Bad Back?

Absolutely (we can’t resist a pun), but be careful. Particular exercises are off the table, but abdominal exercises that don’t hurt your back can be done safely with good form and practice. A strong core is more than just an aesthetic goal — it can protect you from developing lower back pain or sports-related injuries.

A strong core can help you lift heavier, run quicker, and improve posture. Targeting and strengthening your core muscles, not just your abs, could help you perform daily activities better and keep you safe during tough workouts. 

When choosing the best ab exercises for bad backs, consider your position (laying down, back supported, or standing), weights, and how your spine moves during exercise (called planes of motion) — rotation, side-to-side, or forward and back. 

5 AB Exercises That Don’t Hurt Lower Back

For each exercise, start with 8-12 reps per side for 3-4 sets. Try to hold the plank for as long as possible with good form, slowly building up as your core strength improves. Move slowly and avoid arching your back as you move.

Dead Bug

a woman is performing dead bug exercise_ab exercises that don’t hurt lower back

Start on your back with both arms extended above your chest. Bend your knees to 90 degrees with feet in line with your knees. Engage your core by squeezing your stomach, then gently tilt your pelvis toward your spine and press your lower back into your mat. Slowly reach your right arm overhead behind you, and extend your left leg away from you. Return to your starting position, then change sides. 

Did you know you can tone your belly and achieve defined abs by doing yoga? Try this yoga for belly fat flow to engage your core.


a woman is performing bird dog exercise_ab exercises that don’t hurt lower back

Start on your hands and knees with shoulders stacked over your wrists and hips over your knees. Maintain a neutral spine, engage your core, and press the tops of your feet down. Slowly extend your right arm in front of you until you reach shoulder height while extending your left leg behind you to hip height. Squeeze your glutes, reach your fingertips as far forward as possible, then slowly return to hands and knees and change sides. 

High Plank

a man is performing high plank_ab exercises that don’t hurt lower back

Start on your hands and knees, engage your core, and tuck your toes under. Keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists, then push up into a plank and walk your feet back. Keep your hips aligned with your shoulders, maintaining a straight line from head to toe. Squeeze your glutes, quads, chest, and abs, contracting your muscles hard, then hold. 

Half-Kneeling Wood Chop

a man is performing Handle_Band_Half_Kneel_Wood_Chop_ab exercises that don’t hurt lower back

Start with your right knee down and step your left foot forward, knee bent in a half-kneeling position. Loop your handle band underneath your left foot and grip one handle with both hands close to your left knee. Engage your core, then pull the band across your body into an overhead position above your right shoulder. Return to your starting position for one rep. Complete reps on one side, then switch sides. For progression, add weight like a dumbbell or kettlebell. 

Handle Band Bicycle Kicks With Ab Hold

a woman is performing Bicycle_Kick_With_Ab_Hold_ab exercises that don’t hurt lower back

Start on your bum and place your feet into the handles of your handle band. Pull the handle band towards you and grip it with both hands. Lift both legs off the floor, keeping your shoulders down, spine neutral, and core engaged. Lean slightly back, then extend your left leg away as you bend your right knee towards you. As you rebend your left leg towards you, extend your right leg away and continue kicking in smooth motions. 

3 Advanced AB Exercises for Bad Back

If you feel ready, try this advanced ab exercise program. 

Plank Reach Through

a man is performing plank reach through_ab exercises that don't hurt lower back

Start on your left side and press your left elbow into your mat with your left shoulder aligned and stacked over your elbow. Lift your hips into a side plank and engage your core. Place your top foot in front of your bottom foot. Extend your right arm overhead in line with your supporting arm, then gently twist and reach your right arm underneath your body and through to the opposite side. Complete your reps, then switch sides.

Push-up Plank

a man is performing Push-up Plank, ab exercises that don't hurt lower back

This movement begins with a high plank position (see above. You pull your stomach inwards, tighten your chest, and contract your glutes and quads. Lower your left elbow to the floor, then your right, into a forearm plank. Your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are all stacked in a straight line. Press back up into a high plank, placing your left hand underneath your shoulder first, then your right. Keep your hips stable throughout, and switch your leading arm each rep. 

Learn how to do a push-up plank here.

Knee-to-Elbow Plank

a man is performing knee to elbow plank_ab exercises that don’t hurt lower back

Start in a forearm plank position with elbows stacked underneath the shoulders. Engage your core, then draw your left knee towards the outside of your left elbow. Pause, then replace your left leg and repeat on your right side. Keep your bum at shoulder height without dropping your hips or sending them upward.

Avoid These AB Exercises If You Have Bad Back

High-impact moves, hyperextension, hyperflexion, and twisting are off the cards. Here are some exercises to avoid with back pain. 

  • Crunches 
  • Sit-ups 
  • Leg raises
  • Hanging leg raises
  • Russian twists
  • Standing twists
  • Flutter kicks
  • Medicine ball slams
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Ball toss
  • Burpees (but you may opt for burpee alternatives)

Wrapping Up

  • Ab exercises that don’t hurt your back should target various muscles, including your rectus abdominis (ab) muscles, obliques (located down your sides), transverse abdominis (deeper belt of core muscles), and erector spinae (the muscles that hug and support your spine). 
  • Your core muscles support and stabilize your trunk and protect your lower back. A strong core could prevent injury and help you lift heavier weights.
  • You can still strengthen various core muscles despite back pain by using back-friendly ab exercises.
  • These eight ab exercises for back pain sufferers are our top picks and some of the safest ab exercises for back pain.
  • If you experience pain, stop immediately and consult your physician.

For more core-torching inspiration, these yoga poses for the core are tried and tested.

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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