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With the modern-day focus on flat bellies and six packs, ab workouts get plenty of focus from the media and researchers. This leads to an ever-growing, ever-changing pool of information about exercise safety, mostly in regard to the relationship between ab workouts and back health. While the fitness world's understanding of ab exercise safety continues to evolve, professionals offer numerous insights on staying safe as you mold your belly. Ab workout safety ranges from specific exercise execution to the overall design of your regimen.
Crunches often lie at the heart of abdominal workout routines, but controversy over the safety of the exercise in regard to back health continues. To keep your back safe during crunches, the Utah Department of Health recommends raising your shoulders only four to six inches off the ground when you curl up rather than entering the full situp position. For additional back safety, modify the standard crunch by extending one leg and bending the other at the knee and tucking your hands under the small space between your lower back and the ground. Keep your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth as you exercise; this keeps your neck muscles engaged, helping to prevent neck pain and injury.
Additional Exercise Safety
Crunches aren't the be-all, end-all of ab workouts. If you're practicing plyometrics -- exercises involving eccentric muscle loading and concentric unloading, or rapid muscles stretches -- or other ab exercises that involve jumping, always land with your knees bent. When trimming the abs via plyometrics or foot-focused cardio such as running, wear shock-absorbing footwear. For any sort of ab exercise, keep your abs tight throughout the movement to stabilize your spine and improve balance.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, the fitness world espoused the virtues of maintaining a strong core to minimize back pain and injury; this caused many exercisers to focus almost exclusively on the transversus abdominis area. In a 2009 article for "The New York Times,вЂќ biomechanics professor and back-pain clinician Stuart McGill points out the necessity of a balanced core workout. McGill recommends a routine that works the abs as well as the back and sides of the core, targeting muscle groups including the obliques, flexors and extensors. A balanced core routine offers greater safety, because it is less likely to strain or injure your back than an all-abs core regimen.
To maximize your safety during abdominal exercise, American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and founder of Exercise Advantage Technologies Phil Kaplan recommends avoiding bent-over twists, straight-legged situps, Roman chair sit-ups, straight-leg double-leg raises -- exercises that could cause problems including ligament strain, soft tissue wear and spinal compression -- and gimmicks such as electronic ab stimulation or ab rollers. In an ACE-sponsored study, the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University recommends the bicycle maneuver, captain's chair leg raise and crunches on an exercise ball as the safest and most effective ab workouts.