If you have started an ab training programme and suddenly find yourself full of aches and pains, then congratulations! You have experienced a rite of passage in ab training.
While ab work is susceptible to causing pain, the good news is that you do not have to grin and bear it. In this post, we will be running through some of the common pains associated with ab work and advising you on how to mitigate them. We will also be looking at a problem that affects newbies the most, which is when your belly gets in the way of performing certain moves, and how to get back into ab work if you are a woman who has had a c-section.
Problem: back pain caused by ab work
If ab work is giving you back pain, you should look at the types of exercises you are doing and check in with your form. Sit-ups, while the classic ab training move, are notorious for causing back pain because of the pressure they put on the spine. Try switching them out for crunches to extract the ab benefits while avoiding the pain.
Whatever move you are doing, you need to maintain good form otherwise pressure will be concentrated somewhere that it should not be. Spend some time watching instructional videos and compare this to your own technique, you may be able to spot some flaws.
Problem: neck pain
If you can feel the effects of your ab work in your neck, then we can guarantee that your form is off. Neck pain is typically caused by spinal compression that puts pressure on the discs between your vertebrae. While some pressure is unavoidable, extraneous pressure can be controlled through the good form. What this means in practice will depend on the move you are performing, so spend some time on getting the mechanics right.
Also, pay attention to how your body moves during each rep. If you are stretching or sticking out your neck, it could be a sign that the move is too advanced for you. If this is the case, try alternative ab exercises, like planks, to build some strength.
Problem: your feet come off the ground when performing floor work
If you find that your feet break contact with the floor when you perform sit-ups, crunches or any other floor-based move, your legs may be too close to your bum or your upper body could be heavier than your leg. The former is easily fixed, whereas the latter requires a modification.
You could have someone hold your feet while you exercise, or you could weigh down your feet by carefully placing dumbbells over them. Alternatively, you can get a sit-up/crunch trainer, which is a bar that assists you in your movement. Over time, you will build core strength and be able to perform a sit-up/crunch without any assistance.
Problem: your belly is getting in the way
It is an annoying feature of ab work that having a big belly can prevent you from working on your belly area. The reason for this is that the weight of your upper body acts as resistance and affects how difficult the move is. So, a lithe person who is new to exercise will find it easier to do ab work than a larger person starting from the same point.
The answer is to build up your core strength using specific exercises. Planks, deadlifts, and – if you can – Russain twists and jackknives are all good in this regard. It will also be helpful to reduce your body fat, as this will relieve some of the resistance.
Problem: returning to ab work after a c-section
Pregnancy in general leaves the abs in a depleted state because the pressure of carrying a baby stretches and strains your abs. This, of course, does not matter – you are bringing a new life into the world! After pregnancy, when things settle down, most women find that they can return to training as normal.
However, if you have had a c-section, training the abs is much more difficult. One of the most important things to remember is that, while you may be medically safe to return to exercise after 6 weeks or so, it is normal to feel pain and discomfort in the abdominal area for months following your procedure and a lot of women wait at least 3-6 months before training the abs.
When the time feels right for you, start slow with diaphragmatic breathing and bridge exercises, progressing to kneeling hip thrusts and gentle strength-focused workouts like yoga or Pilates. Little and often is the safest way to approach ab work, while also listening to your body and resting as needed. It can be difficult to accept that your body has changed through pregnancy and that it will take a while to re-build your strength, which is why mindfulness can be particularly useful during this time.
Finally, while it may take up to a year for the tenderness in your abs to subside following a c-section, you should not be in acute pain. Contact your doctor if you think that something is amiss.