We know that one way to prevent back pain is to build a strong set of abdominal muscles. After all, these muscles are directly responsible for supporting the spinal column. However, what if your back is already bad – weak, painful, injured and vulnerable to further injury? In this case, you have to avoid the abdominal exercises that put your back at risk of further injury. Here are seven such exercises to avoid.

1. Sit-ups

These are bad even for healthy backs. The optimal range of motion for your abdominalss is actually quite short. So once you’ve raised your back off the floor just a little, you’ve reached the end of that optimal range. After this you simply go into “spine compression danger zone”, risking serious injuries, like a slipped or a bulging disc.

2. Crunches

Again, these do very little good even for a healthy back. It’s too easy to take the strain into your neck, as well as compress the lower back. Just forget about these.

3. Double-leg lifts

You know this one – you lie on your back and then lift both legs off the floor to “activate” your lower abdominals. The only thing it does is add stress to the lumbar spine (i.e. lower back). Oh, and remember that your lower and upper abs actually work best together. So don’t be tricked by exercises that promise to target one or the other.

Seven abdominal exercises to avoid if you have a bad back

4. Leg throws

You lie on your back and lift your legs into the air. Your training buddy stands at your feet and tries to push them down to the ground on either side of him. Again, these promise to target the lower abdominals. As for the double-leg lifts, the only promise is that the movement will stress the lower back and cause a nasty injury.

5. Plank

Now here’s one that’s a brilliant ab workout for someone with a healthy back. However, when your back is already weak or injured, avoid it, since it compresses the spine far too much.

6. Standing toe touches

If you are a fit, strong and flexible individual, then these toe touches will deliver a great stretch to your lower back and your hamstrings. Be careful: they are also very good for putting spinal discs under tremendous pressure (hello, slipped discs…) and causing over-stretched ligaments in the spine and hamstrings.

7. Torso twist

The torso twist machine is bad news since the movement of twisting the upper body in a different direction from the lower body (especially with weight behind it!) can result in serious nerve damage.   Says personal trainer, Rebecca Woll: “Rotating the spine while keeping the hips in alignment with the machine goes against my number-one rule on most other machines: the back must be flat against the bench.”

The best ab exercises, say the experts, are those that give your lower belly true strength and help support your spine. They work the pelvic floor as well as the deeper abdominal muscles.

A great option for strengthening your abdominal muscles is Pilates, since it builds the core muscles correctly. So sign up for classes with a qualified instructor or get certified as a Comprehensive Pilates Instructor with Trifocus Fitness Academy, and help others build powerful abs and ditch back pain. Find out more here.