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    The #1 Best Ab Exercise

    By Cinder Ernst

    This is the second article on core strengthening. Your core is made up of muscles that support your mid-section. These muscles must be strong and flexible to give you pain-free mobility so you can have more fun. The abdominal muscles are the primary muscle group that supports your mid-section; we call them “abs.”

    Your lower spine, and the muscles that surround it, are affected by your ab strength because abs and the lower back work together as opposing muscle groups. (Keep in mind that your stomach is an organ that digests food and is not something you want to get rid of or reduce. Your belly is the fat on top of your abs and is not affected by core strengthening because you can’t spot reduce.)

    Visualizing your ab muscles will help as we talk about core strengthening. Imagine your ab muscles going from the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your hip bones. This is not exact anatomy, but it will help to illustrate the motion. The muscle striations go vertically (again not exact, but useful for now). Imagine that these muscles are the front of your spine. Now think of the arch in your lower back. Imagine that as the front ab muscles contract (get shorter) the back muscles must lengthen in response. That’s what I mean by opposing muscles.

    The #1 best ab exercise is the pelvic tilt, because it’s very low risk and full of benefits. This simple exercise is the basis for all other abdominal exercises. The pelvic tilt keeps your abs strong so your lower back stays in the most advantageous position for less pain and greater ease of movement. I will give you detailed instructions below.

    Pelvic Tilt Benefits

    The pelvic tilt increases ab strength, increases lower back function, lessens lower back pain right away and makes lower body stretching safer and more effective. It can be done lying, sitting or standing, so it’s versatile and can be used almost anywhere to relieve lower back pain. It does not aggravate neck pain and it does not aggravate shoulder or upper back pain. For advanced exercisers, learning to incorporate the pelvic tilt into any ab exercise will increase the benefit and decrease the risk.

    If you can’t try it right now, get a picture of it in your mind as you read. But be sure to try it later. Just bring these instructions with you.

    Pelvic Tilt How-To

    To begin, lie on your back with arms at your sides, knees bent and feet on the floor. In a relaxed or neutral position, most people will have a space between the floor and their lower backs (the lower back arch).

    Push your back flat onto the surface you are lying on. If you are on a bed, then the surface will move as you push. If you are on a hard surface, when you push your back onto the surface you will have a clear sensation of doing so. Your ab muscles shorten or contract when you do this. When you push your back down (pelvic tilt), your abs shorten and your lower back muscles lengthen. This makes your abs stronger and your back muscles will loosen up a bit. Motion is lotion, so the rocking motion of a pelvic tilt can bring relief to a stiff back. Put a picture of this in your head as you do the movement. Sometimes it helps to squeeze your butt when you push your back down.

    You have just done the #1 best ab exercise, the pelvic tilt! If it feels OK, you can do 10 of them right now. Breathe steadily.

    If you feel a pelvic tilt in your lower back in a big way, stop and do the lower back stretch (knee hug). If you still feel it in your lower back in a big way, stop tilting and stretch your lower back for today. Because these are opposing muscle groups, you may always feel a little bit of stretch in your lower back when you do abs, but it should not be very much.

    Do not proceed with ab training if the predominant sensation is pain in your lower back. Pay attention and proceed with care.

    Next time, we will make a case for not crunching and what to do instead.

    Cinder Ernst, Medical Exercise Specialist and Life Coach Extraordinaire, helps reluctant exercisers get moving with safe, effective and fun programs. Find out more at