Traditional crunches can cause pain or discomfort in the lower back region.
Developing core strength is integral for proper posture and can give you an overall toned, trim physique. Traditional crunches are an exercise that build strength in your rectus abdominis and obliques, muscles in your core. However, crunches can cause discomfort or pain in the lower back. Instead of doing traditional crunches, there are several exercise methods you can use to do crunches that protect your lower back from pain, discomfort and injury.
Why Traditional Crunches Hurt
Your spine runs from just below your skull to the top of your pelvis. It is comprised of discs that allow you to move in a variety of directions. The discs in your spine have only so much life in them before they start to give out. Generally when a disc wears, it bulges or herniates, which can place pressure on nerves in the lower back. Crunches involve extending and bending your spine repeatedly, which can expedite the process. Instead of doing crunches, engage in alternative crunch-like exercises that develop the same muscles without putting the strain on your spine. It is recommended that you engage in muscle-strengthening exercise such as crunches at least twice a week.
Developing Your Oblique Muscles
Not only do exercises that develop your oblique muscles give you an overall toned look, they protect your back by promoting proper posture. Reverse crunches develop your obliques but do not require much movement from the spine, protecting your lower back as you exercise. To begin, lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, about hip-distance apart. Place a small pillow behind your head to support your neck. Push your rib cage to the floor and tilt the two tips of your hip bones toward your rib cage, keeping your lower back flat on the ground. Hold for five second and release with an exhale. Repeat five to six times.
Strengthening Your Rectus Abdominis
Your rectus abdominis muscle is responsible for the washboard ab look. It also controls the curvature of your lower back, so the stronger your rectus, the safer your lower back is from injury. To keep your spine safe and work your rectus abdominis, keep your back straight with a butterfly crunch. Lie on your back and draw your feet together, opening your knees to each side of your body. Your legs should be a triangle shape. Relax your shoulders, neck and the back of your head to the floor. Place your hands behind your head. Keeping your spine straight, lift your shoulders, neck and head off the ground on an exhale. Your neck should not curve toward your chest; in fact, if it is helpful, place a piece of fruit under your chin to keep your neck straight. Release on your inhale. Repeat consecutively for one minute.
Crunches serve only to stretch the spine, an unintended side effect that can cause injury and pain. However, you can further develop the muscles of your core by stretching without any spinal difficulties. The American Council on Exercise recommends that most adults end exercise sessions with stretching. A side stretch stretches both your oblique and rectus abdominis muscles. Lie flat on your back and hug your knees to your chest. Bring arms out along your sides, shoulders flat on the floor, and slowly lower your knees to the left, keeping knees stacked on top of each other. Relax for at least one minute. Repeat on the right.