What Abdominal Muscles Don't Do - The Missing Link
The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

What Abdominal Muscles Don't Do - The Missing Link

Did you know that your abdominal muscles have the most important function when you are standing?

The person in the photo is not using abdominal muscles to prevent a common overlooked cause of lower back pain. The upper body is leaning and sagging backward. The inward curve of the lower spine is exaggerated. It is not neutral spine, but overly arched in a bad posture called hyperlordosis.

Tightening abs does not fix the problem - using the abdominal muscles to change lower spine angle does.

Abdominal muscles connect your ribs to your hips along your front and sides. When you use your abs, they pull your ribs and hip closer in front, bending your spine forward. If you don't use your abdominal muscles when you are standing up, your ribs and hip can pull away from each under the weight of your upper body. Your lower back will arch. You can see the over arch in photo upper left, and the drawing below. Leaning back also shows not using upper back muscles, to be covered soon. The weight of your upper body arching backward presses on your lower back, making it ache after long standing and walking. That is how not using your abdominal muscles contributes to back pain.

The answer is not in strengthening the abdominal muscles. Many muscular people stand arched. Just look at fitness magazines, where the weak, arched posture that causes so much back pain is common.

The answer is just to *use* your abdominal muscles to pull your spine enough forward to reduce the arch and stand upright - first figure in the drawing at left. Tuck your hip under just enough to reduce a too large arch, and pull your upper body forward to straighter position, like starting an abdominal crunch or pelvic tilt standing up. Don't round your upper body, just pull it to an upright position.

Don't "suck in" or tighten your abs. Just move your spine like moving any other body part. When you reduce the arch, your body weight shifts to your abdominal muscles and off your lower back.

Watch how other people stand and move, particularly in the gym. Are they using their abs to stand right when they get back off the floor from doing "abdominal exercise?" All the crunches in the world will not stop back pain if you do not know you need to voluntarily use your abs when standing so that you don't sag into a sloppy arch. That is the missing link - your abdominal muscles do not automatically support your back. You have to use them to move out of unhealthy position.

If you use your abdominal muscles to prevent your lower back from sagging into an arch, you will stop pain and get built-in, all-day, free abdominal exercise from all your standing, walking, and activities in an ordinary day.

  • Photos and descriptions of how and why preventing hyperlordosis prevents injury - Prevent Back Surgery.

Send in your photos and success stories of how you corrected your spine positioning and stopped pain in daily life and in the gym. I post them in Fitness Fixer Reader Inspiring Stories. Prizes for the best ones.

Photo of swayback slouching by Kallya, Creative Commons.
Drawing of Backman!™ © copyright Dr. Jolie Bookspan

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About the Author


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