Exercise to Safely Strengthen the Abdominal Muscles

As already mentioned, low back pain is the most common physical difficulty that causes pain and makes people unable to work and function well. Typically, people have overly-contracted low-back muscles combined with weak abdominal muscles. This produces a "sway-back" with eventual pinching of the discs. Raising the tone of the abdominal muscles with Applied Kinesiology techniques will usually temporarily remove the pain. But in most cases, for lasting freedom from pain, the abdominal muscles also need to be physically stronger. Performing the exercises as described below will improve posture, prevent injuries and relieve back pain.

Before performing any strenuous exercise, it is a good idea to warm up and then stretch. Warm up with some gently calisthenics or bike riding until you begin to sweat. Then stretch the abdominal and back muscles. Most people with low-back pain have a lordosis (sway back) which causes the lumbar vertebral discs to be pinched posteriorly. To avoid placing weight upon these already compromised discs, avoid leaning extremely backward while standing. To safely stretch the low back area, arch and then round the low back while on the hands and knees upon the floor. Press the low back toward the ceiling while allowing the head to hang. Then arch the back with the belly toward the floor and the head pulled back. In yoga, this posture is called the cat.

More than any other muscle, the abdominals often not only muscle test weak but are functionally weak. To better support the low back and protect it from pain and disc damage, strong abdominal muscles are needed. However, the typical "sit-up" exercises mostly strengthen the iliopsoas muscles which connect the inner femur with the lumbar vertebrae and the pelvis. These cannot pull the ribs to the pubic bone like the abdominal muscles do. If iliopsoas is short or overly tense, it pulls the lumbar vertebrae forward creating a hollow low back. Overly exercising the iliopsoas may increase the low back problems. Plus, sit-ups put tremendous pressure on the intervertebral discs and can damage them and/or pinch the nerves that exit the vertebral column between the lumbar vertebrae. In short: To avoid back pain, don’t do regular sit ups!

Exercises don’t have as much good effect, and may cause damage if they are performed with weak-testing (under-tone) muscles. If you have no one to test you, increase their tone before exercising them. To do so, at least contract the abdominal muscles, rub the neurolymphatic points, pull the sagittal suture on the top-back of the head open and contract the abdominal muscles again before beginning with the exercises.

Then to exercise the abdominals safely, lie on the back, bend the knees and sit up only until the scapula leave the floor. The function of the abdominals is only to pull the lower edge of the front of the rib cage toward the pelvis.
When doing sit-ups, this motion is complete before the low back leaves the floor. The rest of the normal sit-up motion is accomplished by the hip flexors such as iliopsoas. Doing sit ups this way only changes the angle between all the lumbar vertebrae by a total of about 3°, thus minimizing any pinching of the discs. As an easy control, reach with the hands as you sit up until the hands are beside the knees. Do not sit up further than this.
In order to avoid the typical poor postural habit of collapsing the chest, some authorities recommend doing sit-ups with the shoulders held back and the shoulder blades pulled together. If you desire is to have a slimmer waistline and flatter tummy, pull in your stomach before sitting forward. A ballet dancer who taught me this said, "Pull your belly button to your spine before contracting your abs". Doing abdominal exercises with the stomach stuck out will give you strong stomach muscles on a belly that sticks out. Begin with 5-10 repetitions and increase the number of repetitions as your strength increases.
When doing 25 repetitions becomes easy, put the hands behind the neck for more resistance and decrease the number of repetitions. Do this exercise both with the feet supported (held down to the floor for more lower abdominal activity) and unsupported for more upper abdominal activity.