Back in high school I suffered a lower back injury that could have set the tone for the rest of my life with aching pain. I was 16 years old and had transitioned from one sport to the other pretty much most of my life. The sly injury reared its ugly head when my baseball season was coming to a close. I had a two week window of rest before I started my training back up again so I thought it would have been enough time. The pain in my back actually went away with some rest and simple plank exercises, so I figured it was just a pulled muscle.
(Once again…. nothing to do with the post, I just love tropical beaches. Enough said!!)
Boy…Was I Wrong!
Once I was back working out and involving myself in summer baseball, the pain slowly crept up on me until I woke up early one morning with my lower back on fire. I dismissed most of the pain thinking that it was just a pulled muscle until I tried to sit up. The pain was so sharp that it felt like someone was shoving a knife right into my spine. If anyone has had any kind of back injury understands how terrible of a feeling it is when you find yourself unable to complete every day tasks because of the nagging pain. Tying your shoes, turning your upper body, and even sneezing too hard, would rocket me right out of my chair.
Give Thanks To Family And Friends
I am very grateful that I had a lot of people looking out for me because they all encouraged me into seeing a doctor. After seeing a back specialist I found out that I fractured my 4th lumbar. They caught it just in time before it got any worse. I was told that I could have faced having pins and rods shoved in my spine if I trained any longer. I spent quite a few months in a ”turtle shell” brace until it was fully healed. The moment my brace was off I had to perform an extensive amount of back and abdominal exercises to keep the lower portion of my spine very strong. Even though this post is specifically for abdominal strength and definition, it is a good background for learning the most effective abdominal exercises that help strengthen your lower back as well.
A Lower Back Genius
Since my injury I have been pretty cautious of exercises that flex the spine forward like ab crunches or putting a lot of pressure down onto my spine like squats. Rusty Moore also had a pretty serious back injury and he recommended a great book by Dr. Stuart McGill called Low Back Disorders that I found to be extremely beneficial in my case. He is the leading expert on lower back pain. The book explains a lot about how the back works and how it can be injured. He shows that a big portion of prevention is found with plank exercises and a good lower abs workout. The ideas behind the book gave me a better understanding behind the rehab so that it can be effectively used by anyone with back problems.
Reasons To Avoid Situps/Crunches
A good reason for avoiding exercises that flex the spine forwards,(ab crunches, situps, nautilus ab machine, etc) is that “When the spine is fully flexed, we’ve measured the spine losing up to 40% of its ability to bear compressive loads. In other words, the spine is strongest when in a neutral position.” according to Stuart McGill. This is a big reason why most people would benefit by avoiding situps and crunches, especially those who have had lower back problems. On the surface hanging/lying leg raises would also be on the list to avoid but I believe that they are extremely effective when counteracted with “hip bridges.” Before I get into that, let me first introduce you to the lower abs workout routine that will begin to sculpt an impressive midsection
Hanging Leg Raise Routine
Believe it or not, some of the guys that have the best abs you will ever see…never do crunches or sit ups. In one of my previous posts I mentioned planks and the ab wheel for a better six pack. Once you have mastered the ab wheel over a 2-3 mont period, you will be amazed with your results when you implement these 3 different ways of doing hanging leg raises. If you have a pullup bar or anything that is high enough for you to grab onto and hang from will do the trick. The biggest obstacle you will come across from the very beginning is getting used to hanging from something. This is where grip strength comes into play.
Here are the movements from hardest to easiest:
Lower Abs Workout:
1)Swinging Side To Side Bent Knee Ups: Begin by raising your knees higher than your hips to your right side. Then simultaneously lower your knees down and back to the center and then bring your knees towards the left side of your body while raising them above your hips. *When moving side to side, I want your knees to move back and forth like a pendulum. Keep your body and head facing forward.
2) Hanging Bent Leg Raises: Keep your legs in a bent-locked position. Aim for 15-20 reps for about 3-4 sets. Once you gain strength in your lower abs and back you will then be able to perform these with completely straight legs.
3) Hanging Knee Ups : Lift your knees higher than your hips then lower back down. If you really need to you can go on Youtube to see how to perform these. Once again aim for 15-20 reps with 3- 4 sets.
*You will most likely want to start with hanging knee ups first and then finish off with the swinging side to side bent knee ups to failure. Go as long as you can until you can’t lift your knees anymore. This will really sculpt the “V” where the hips and lower abs meet.
*You only need to do this ab routine 2-3 times per week.
This Part Is Up To You. Whatever You Prefer
If you feel like Superman……here is a couple of exercises that you may want to add to the hanging leg routine. If you are exhausted from your workout and feel more comfortable doing these on a different day, then have at it. Just DON’T skimp out on these.
1) Hip Bridges or Back Bridges : If you ever get the chance to check out the book “Convict Conditioning” by Paul Wade….don’t hesitate. Any interesting quote on the benefits of bridges “How to cut lower back pain and spinal disorders by 99% in a single generation” or “how to own a spine like a steel whip” I wish I had this book back when I was in high school. It is because of these exercises and this book that eases my mind with the movements that flex towards the spine. Now I can know ”How to train your spine—as if your life depended on it”… Page 185) I have spent many years working on these types of exercise, and now my lower back feels golden.
2) Planks : I introduced an advanced plank in a previous post but you can use regular plank exercises instead when implementing them with hanging leg raises. This exercise will give you the finishing touch for the dense and flexed look of the abdominals. Overall conditioning of the core is the key to great abs.
*All these exercises above are a must for maximum ab definition and lower back strength. Spend your time with this ab routine now…. so when summer rolls around people will think you are wearing a steel cage around your stomach.