Working on your core is not only an excellent way to improve posture, strength, stability and power in your whole body, you also get a strong and defined looking mid section! The problem that I see a little too often, is people coming to me complaining about discomfort in other parts of their body (their neck, hips, back etc) due to their diligent ab workouts.
So let me say this… If you are doing it right, the only discomfort you should feel is the burn of your muscles working! This should be isolated to the specific muscles being targeted. If you are feeling discomfort in other areas, then it is probably a good idea to review your posture and technique.
The most common mistake I see people make when practising ab focused exercises, is that they move into an anterior pelvic tilt (or tilting their hips forward). The reason this can cause pain is that not only is it possible your hip flexors will become uncomfortable from being inadvertently overworked (we engage these constantly just simply sitting upright), you may also get neck discomfort because you are not appropriately engaging your core muscles (which is the whole point!).
Here are some brief examples of when this might happen:
The Plank -
- Issue: Letting your hips drop forward will not only prevent your abs from properly engaging, it will also curve your back which can cause pain and even do damage. On the flip side, lifting your hips too high will also prevent your abs from engaging.
- Fix: Aim to keep your legs, hips, back and neck aligned. When practising the plank, engage through your navel, drawing it upwards. This will ensure you are properly engaging your core.
The Bridge -
- Issue: This practice is meant to be core and glutes focused. So don’t rely on your back to raise your hips up. If you do this you will not only be rendering the exercise much less effective, you will also potentially aggravate your back and cause discomfort.
- Fix: Engage through your buttocks but tense them through the whole practice. When raising up, aim to take your hips back above your head, not directly up towards the ceiling. This focus in the movement will help ensure you are engaging all the right muscles.
The Situp -
- Issue: If your hips are tilted forward during this movement you will notice that you engage your hip flexors to do the majority of the exercise (the sitting up part!). Not only does this take the focus away from your abs, it will risk over using and straining your hip flexors.
- Fix: Less is more. It is not so much about getting up into the full situp as working those core muscles. In many cases, you are better off doing a simple crunch. Not only will this reduce the likelihood of you using your hip flexors, it will also give you a nice abdominal workout!
Leg Raises -
- Issue: It is very tempting to arch your back during the movement of this exercise, however not only will this reduce the effectiveness of the exercise, it will also put your back at risk of damage.
- Fix: Engage through your navel and keep your lower back tucked into the floor. Remember to only raise to the point in which your lower back remains on the floor. If you need some extra support, try tucking your palms either face up or down along side each of your hips.