Core abs exercise for fixing two common problems that a lot of people will get a lot of times when doing ab exercises. Often people feel tight or sore in the hip flexors or they get low back pain. The common root cause of these two things is often the abs. People often make the mistake of looking where the symptom is and then focus on treating the symptom. For example, trying to stretch the hip flexors and not get any better. Or maybe stretch the low back and this ends up not helping either.
Sometimes you have to look a little deeper and sometimes the abs can absolutely be the root cause of both of those issues. Also, the abs can play a big part the vicious cycle to making the problem even worse.
The first thing to understand is that your body really wants to create stability through the spine. The spine is the most important structure in our body. Injury to the spine can be debilitating. So, if the body is going to do everything it can to protect the spine, the body is going to use every muscle it can to help out. These muscles end up compensating and are being used in ways that they aren’t designed to work. The abs and core are one of the biggest areas we have to help provide stability to the spine to protect against potential harm to the spine.
The problem is, most people don’t have a really strong core so the body will start asking for help from other muscle groups. This happens most often in the hip flexors. Because of how the hip flexors are attached to the lumbar spine, they run all the way up through the body and attach to the lower 5 vertebrae of the spine. This provides stability from the bottom up… from the low back through the lumbar spine. So, the result is getting stability for the spine, but not from the muscles that we’re looking for in the first place.
So, what’s the solution?
Should you stretch the hip flexors? If the hip flexors aren't working correctly then stretching them isn't usually a good idea because the hip flexors need to be strong. If they are dysfunctional, they are basically on call all day long and aren’t doing the right job for you.
So, eventually people might figure out what’s going on and then decide to start training the abs. So, what’s the problem now? You end up doing ab exercises that contribute more to the problem because 90 percent of ab exercises are going to overwork the hip flexors.
Now, I wanted to put together some exercises that are good for dealing with low back pain or if you have those hip flexors firing all day long. Here are some ab exercises that you can do that will take the hip flexors right out of it and help you strengthen the abs without further making this problem worse.
This core abs exercise is a classic example of how we can turn the hip flexors off. There is this thing called reciprocal inhibition where when you contract a muscle on one side of a joint, we can actually try to turn off the muscle that’s on the opposite side. So, as one muscle contracts (hamstrings) the opposite muscle must relax (quads). The hip extensors, glutes, and hamstrings will work together opposite what the hip flexors are trying to do.
Position yourself with a band anchored around a post in order to contract the hamstrings and glutes a little bit. You’re getting an active contraction of the muscles on the opposite side of the hip flexors.
This should turn the hip flexors off and now we can start doing our crunches so we actually target the abs without allowing the hip flexors to dominate.
This is similar to a Captain’s Chair setup. All you’re doing here is supporting the weight of your body by getting your arms outstretched and locked out. We don’t want to be working the triceps so it’s OK to get the arms locked out. While using the stability of the shoulders, all you need to do is simply lift the pelvis back into a posterior tilt without lifting up with your hip flexors. So, you aren’t pulling your legs forward here. All you do is tilt your pelvis into a posterior tilt and lift the tailbone up towards the ceiling. This is easy to do and a great way to work the abs without incorporating the hip flexors.
Pallof Press. We stabilize on one leg isometrically holding the hip flexor up, but we aren’t doing any dynamic work here. We just hold it in position while the real work is being done by the core to keep the body upright and stable as you press the band up overhead. Again, the purpose is to not actively involve the hip flexors in the movement.
Sledge Hammer Swings. This core abs exercise allows us to be a little more dynamic by actively twisting and turning the torso in the opposite direction of the band. When you step out further you get more resistance. You work the abs real good here because they are working hard to control rotation. Our feet remain firmly planted on the ground and there isn’t any active contribution of the hip flexors. The hip flexors work to stabilize, but the key is they aren’t working dynamically during the movement.
Jump Out Variation. This is a little more dynamic and explosive. You continue to keep your hands out in front of your body while working on the anti-rotation of our core. You jump out and try to stick the landing without allowing the band to pull you back. The band is eccentrically working the abs. The band will pull you back a little, but the key here is you are keeping the hip flexors from being too involved.
Suitcase Carry. Remember, it’s all about stabilizing your core. Many people don’t realize this is a great core abs exercise. Here, you have a heavy dumbbell on one hand and you’re trying to walk as straight as you possible can. The goal is to keep the shoulders level. Your abs in front, spinal erectors in back, and obliques on the side are working hard to keep you upright.
Side Plank Leg Lift. This is a frontal plane motion that gets our stabilizers working hard, hitting them from a different angle. We get into a side plank and this can be tough for most people. For others that really need a challenge, try to lift your leg up. This is much harder because you can’t push through the floor with two feet. Just using one leg really works the pillar strength on the bottom side.
This can be especially effective if you’re someone that is suffering from low back pain when you are doing your ab workouts or you’re just feeling really tight in your lower back every time you do a traditional core abs exercise.
So, if your hip flexors are tight, you may not be able to fix them just by stretching. You may have to look a little deeper. You may have muscles that are weak and you need to figure out what muscles are kicking in to help out. So, when it comes to mobility, there isn’t a one single answer to a problem (ie just stretching more won't necessary solve your problems).