So here you are, training the living heck out of your abs. You will have washboard abs, if it's the last thing you do! But hold
on a sec. Though ab training is an essential component in strengthening your midsection, and can in some cases even cure back
pain, doing the wrong exercises or certain exercises the wrong way will do you more harm than good. Let's take a closer look.
Leg Lifts & Straight-Leg Sit-Ups
Basically, two kinds of ab work can cause problems - any type of leg lift or straight-leg sit-up and most of the actual training
effect is centered on your hip flexors, the illacus and the psoas major. Only in very few cases are the abs strong enough to
handle the load of the extended legs when you sit or curl tip. Early in the exercise, the abs isometrically contract as the hip
flexors pull the torso or legs into an upright position. Multiple reps can cause deep, low-back discomfort or pain where the
illacus and psoas attach to the anterior aspect of your hip and lumbar spine, respectively.
If you use these types of exercises over an extended period, you might also incur muscle imbalance problems. As the anterior
segment of the hip musculature becomes less flexible due to frequent use, you could actually increase the lordosis (swayback) of
your lower hack. If your job requires a lot of sitting, that also contributes to the shortening of the anterior hip musculature.
Bottom line, avoid leg lifts or straight-leg sit-ups, and spend plenty of time stretching the anterior hip musculature. Most
quad stretches hit that area quite well.
When Sit-Ups Become a No-No
Ineffective sit-ups also fall into two general categories - those done with the feet stabilized and those done where the torso
is raised above a 30-45-degree angle. To activate the most abdominal muscle, do the torso curl. Curling up to 30-45 degrees, no
more, is a much more effective ab exercise that minimally involves your hip flexors than if you were to do the bent-knee sit-up
where you lift your torso to a 70-90-degree angle. Any time your feet are locked or held down, the hip flexors are stressed at
the expense of the abs. Now, if you want to hit your obliques, research has shown that all you need to (10 is curl your torso up
to 305 degrees with rotation.
A Final Twist
For an effective ab workout, simply emphasize the first 30-45 degrees in a torso curl. Add twists in this range of motion to
bring your obliques into play. Stay away from all types of leg-lift and straight-leg torso-lift exercises. If you already
experience lower-back discomfort, do the torso curl and extra stretching for the anterior hip, particularly if you have lordosis.