Abs exercises: Beginner part 1

Supine pelvic tilts

Body part: Abs

Equipment: No equipment

Step 1

Starting Position: Lie supine (on your back) with your knees bent and both feet flat on the mat/floor and the knees aligned with the second toe of each foot. Abduct your arms (extend to side) with the palms supinated (facing up to the ceiling).

Step 2

Downward Phase: Exhale and gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the mat/floor. Avoid trying to lift your hips (tailbone) off the mat/floor. Hold this position briefly.

Step 3

Upward Phase: Inhale and slowly relax your abdominal muscles while gently contracting your erector spinae (low back muscles) to increase the arch in your low back. Avoid raising your hips off the mat/floor. Hold this position briefly before returning to your starting position.

Glute bridges

Body part: Abs, hip/butt

Equipment: No equipment

Step 1

Starting Position: Lie supine (on your back) on an exercise mat or the floor in a bent-knee position with your feet flat on the floor. Place your feet hip-width apart with the toes facing away from you. Gently contract your abdominal muscles to flatten your low back into the floor. Attempt to maintain this gentle muscle contraction throughout the exercise

Step 2

Upward Phase: Gently exhale while holding your abdominal contraction and press your hips upwards off the floor into extension by contracting your glutes (butt muscles). At the same time press your heels into the floor for more stability. Avoid pushing your hips too high as this generally increases the amount of hyperextension (arching) in your low back. Maintaining your abdominal contraction helps avoid excessive arching in your low back.

Step 3

Lowering Phase: Inhale and slowly lower yourself back towards your starting position.

Step 4

Progression: Gradually progress this exercise by starting with both feet together and extending one leg while in the raised position.

Avoid arching your lower back as your press your hips upward which normally occurs if your attempt to push your hips as high as possible. This can be achieved by contracting your abdominal muscles prior to lifting, and keeping them engaged throughout the lift.

Crunch

Body part: Abs

Equipment: No equipment

Step 1

Starting Position: Lie in a supine (on your back) position on a mat with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and heels 12 – 18″ from your tailbone.

Step 2

Place your hands behind your head, squeezing your scapulae (shoulder blades) together and pulling your elbows back without arching your low back. This elbow position should be maintained throughout the exercise. Align your head with your spine, but allow it to move into slight flexion (moving the chin towards the chest) during the upward phase of the exercise.

Step 3

Upward Phase: Exhale, contract your abdominal and core muscles and flex your chin slightly towards your chest while slowly curling your torso towards your thighs. The movement should focus on pulling your rib cage towards your pelvis (the neck stays relaxed while the chin is tucked towards the neck). Your feet, tailbone and lower back should remain in contact with the mat at all times. Continue curling up until your upper back is lifted off the mat. Hold this position briefly.

Step 4

Downward Phase: Gently inhale and slowly uncurl (lower) your torso back towards the mat in a controlled fashion keeping your feet, tailbone and low back in contact with the mat.

Proper form is important for this exercise to prevent excessive stress on your low back. Individuals usually perform this movement too rapidly and recruit the hip flexors to assist with the upward phase. This technique tilts the pelvis anteriorly, increasing the stress on the low back and should be avoided. The abdominals connect the rib cage to the pelvis so the movement should focus on bringing these two body parts closer together while keeping the neck and shoulders relaxed.

Supine dead bug

Body part: Abs

Equipment: No equipment

Step 1

Starting Position: Lie supine (on your back) on an exercise mat or firm surface, bending your knees until your feet are positioned flat on the floor 12 – 18″ from your buttocks. Allow your arms to lie along your side and bend the elbows so your hands are pointing towards the ceiling. Breathe deeply for a 30 seconds relaxing your body and allowing gravity to gently pull your lower back and shoulders towards the floor.  Depress and retract your scapulae (pull your shoulders down and back) without increasing the arch in your low back or lifting your hips off the mat / floot.  Hold this position throughout the exercise. 

Step 2

To start the exercise, initiate a Hollowing Movement: Breathe normally and at the end of your breaths (end-tidal volume), perform the following actions individually at first, then combine them together:

  1. Perform a gentle “kegel” contraction without moving your hips or ribcage (the kegel contraction of the pelvic floor is the same contraction your would perform when resisting the urge to urinate).
  2. Draw your belly button towards your spine without moving your hips or rib cage (visualize narrowing your waist circumference without taking a deep breath). Any movement of the hips or rib cage indicates activation of your larger abdominal muscles (e.g. rectus abdominis).
  3. Combining both 1 and 2 above.
  4. Combining 1 and 2, but counting out loud while breathing normally (i.e. holding the contractions through normal breathing)

Once you have used a hollowing movement to stabilize your spine and pelvis, lift both legs and arms off of the floor; the knees should be directly over the hip joints and bent ninety degrees (pictured) and the elbows should be directly over the shoulder joints so your hands are pointed over your head (pictured).

Step 3

Inhale and maintain the abdominal hollowing while slowly lowering the right heel and left hand towards the floor.  The hand and heel should lightly touch the floor (but not rest), exhale continue the abdominal hollowing and slowly bring the leg and arm back to the initial starting position.  Alternate to use the right arm and left leg; continue to complete a specific number of repetitions or a certain period of time.

Step 4

Exercise Variation: To have more control (making it easier) when learning this exercise, start with the hands resting on the floor above the head and the feet resting gently on the floor in front of the buttocks; slowly lift the right arm and left leg off of the floor together while maintaining the abdominal hollowing, lower and alternate sides.

Continue to breathe while holding the abdominal hollowing and bracing.

Supine reverse marches

Body part: Abs

Equipment: No equipment

Step 1

Starting Position: Lie flat on your back on the floor / mat in a bent-knee position with feet placed firmly on the floor, arms outstretched to your sides at shoulder level and palms facing upwards.  Stiffen (“brace”) your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine (maintain the small natural curve in your low back), depress and retract your scapulae (pull shoulders back and down) and attempt to hold these positions throughout the exercise.

Step 2

Gently exhale and slowly lift one leg off the floor, moving your knee towards your trunk, while maintaining a 90-degree bend at the knee.  DO NOT extend the knee during this movement).  Continue moving until the thigh reaches or comes close to a position where it aligns vertically to the floor.  DO NOT go beyond this position.  Hold this position for 5 – 10 seconds then slowly return your leg to the floor, completing 2 – 4 repetitions and repeating with the opposite leg.

Step 3

The goal of this exercise is to control the position of your low back during leg movements.  Movement of the thigh past vertical will flatten your back, thus changing the position of your low back.  If necessary, place one hand or a rolled up towel into the small of your back to monitor for any changes in the position of your low back during the movement.

Step 4

EXERCISE VARIATION: This exercise can become more dynamic by performing slow, controlled movements to complete 1 set of 5 – 10 repetitions with each leg, holding the elevated position for 1 – 2 seconds.

The intensity can be progressed by incorporating simultaneous overhead unilateral (single-arm) or bilateral (both arms) movements,

To maximize the benefits of this exercise and reduce the potential for injury, it is important to control movement speed and monitor changes in your low back carefully.

Upward facing dog

Body part: Abs, back

Equipment: No equipment

Step 1

Starting Position:  Lie prone (on stomach) on a mat with your legs extended, toes pointing away from you, and place your hands directly under your shoulders with your fingers pointed forward and elbows positioned close to the sides of your body.  Align your head level with your thoracic (upper) spine and attempt to maintain the alignment throughout the exercise.

Step 2

Gently exhale and press your upper body upwards, by extending your elbows and hinge from your hips (i.e., increase the arch in your low back).  Continue moving upwards until you reach the point of tension, but avoid bouncing or pushing to the point of pain.  As you extend your elbows, your hips and upper thighs will begin to lift off the mat, but avoid lifting your knees off the floor and performing a push-up movement.  Hold this position for 15 – 30 seconds then slowly return downwards to your starting position and repeat the movement 2 – 4 times.

Step 3

The objective of this exercise is to extend your spine and hips, stretching the muscles on the front side of your trunk and hips, and not a strengthening exercise for your chest and arms.

To maximize the benefits of this exercise and reduce the potential for injury, it is important to control your movement speed, carefully monitoring for any symptoms of pain in your spine or hips.  Be sure to differentiate the feeling of tightness from pain.

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