The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Change Common Exercises to Get Better Ab Exercise and Stop Back Pain

Holding a straight pushup position is sometimes called "the plank." Holding a plank is often done in a way that reduces the exercise benefit, trains unhealthy habits, and increases compression on your spine.

Look at the photo at left. The first boy on the left is letting his lower back (and neck) sink and bow under his weight. So is the third and fourth from the left. This sagging is not healthy and is not a normal curve. The bad overarching makes the plank easier to do. That means you get far less exercise. More seriously, allowing your weight to “hammock” shifts your body weight off your muscles and onto your lower back, causing compressive force and bad positioning habits.

The second boy from the front (and left) is holding straight.

A major, often overlooked purpose of the plank is to train your muscles how to hold your back in straighter healthier position under the weight of your own body. If you can’t hold up your own body weight in a plank for a few moments without sagging, it is no wonder your spine sags painfully during the day. No matter how many planks or pushups you do, if you let your spine sag into an arch, you are missing the best benefit of the exercise - to train positioning habits for real life once you get back off the floor.

Holding a plank has so many benefits that even if you are not athletic this exercise is one to choose. To do it in a healthy way that is useful to your real life, move your spine posture to be straighter(second from left in the photo). To reduce an overly large arch while holding the plank, tuck your hip under you as if you were starting an abdominal crunch or thrusting movement. The muscles you use to reduce the inward curve (arch) are your abdominal muscles. As soon as you reduce the arch to straighten your spine, you will feel your abdominal muscles working strongly.

Use the plank as a functional exercise. That means to use it to train how to use (not tighten) your abdominal muscles during daily activity. Once you understand the hip tuck to reduce an overly large arch, use it during the day when standing to exercise your abs the way they are meant to be used – for real life to keep you standing in healthy ways.

  • I will teach a workshop this coming Saturday on The Ab Revolution, the method of holding healthy spine position for life, and having fun while exercising. See the class schedule on my web site.


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Photo from the book The Ab Revolution™ by Dr. Bookspan
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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.