some ab exercises are really bad for you

Everyone wants fantastic abs. Most people would agree that it is the most sought after muscle group because it looks fantastic on everyone. Well, unless they go too far. I would argue that some of the bodybuilders look stupid with the definition that they achieve but I still admire their dedication to the cause.

There are 2 tricks to great abs. Exercising your abs and more importantly, diet. Of course things like youth play into this in a large degree but it is very possible to maintain great abs well into your late life. It just takes some dedication.


The exact path to great abs is basically the same path that every other exercise has and honestly, especially if you are a bit older, you have to be very dedicated to a plan and stick with it if you ever hope to accomplish this.

There are a ton of people out there that are selling a new ab product or some new method of working your abs and the jury will forever remain out about how to best achieve this. I'm sure that the trainers and the people marketing this stuff worked very hard to get abs of steel and you will have to as well. However, there are a lot of programs out there that sell lies and some of these exercises can be murder on your lower back and spine.

Ab exercises burn belly fat

Short answer: No it doesn't. You can not target fat burning anywhere in your body without liposuction and that is scientifically proven over and over again. If anyone tells you that you just need to "feel the burn" by doing 100 crunchers in a row in order to burn belly fat they don't know what the hell they are talking about. In fact, building your ab muscles when you have belly fat will actually have the initial reaction of making your belly look FATTER because it will push the fat further outward.

This doesn't mean that just because you have a spare tire that you shouldn't work your abs... you should do... but just ignore the magic advice because it is all false.

Sit ups


What? Are you telling me that the major exercise I have been told to do is bad for me? You are a quack! Well, don't take my word for it, take Dr. Steward McGill from Waterloo University's peer reviewed study that shows that traditional military situps place the equivalent of up to 340kg of pressure on the lower spine and lead to back problems and even herniated disks. Don't know what a herniated disk is? Well, you don't want to find out, trust me.

He also discovered that the traditional exercise only works a small portion of the abs and puts an undue amount of pressure on the upper spine particularly at the front of the neck. Basically, there are a lot of spinal reasons to not do these.

Do planks, or ab-wheel rollouts instead (you get to do a lot fewer of them too.)

Incline situps


We've all seen this monster at the gym and normally he has really great abs so it must be the right thing to do, right? Well this is just as bad as a traditional situp and introduces more gravity to fight against and even more weight thereby placing even MORE undue stress on the spine. Also, this exercise has the wonderful addition of placing massive amounts of pressure on your hip flexors. In worst-case scenarios people have actually torn their hip flexors from their attachment point on their upper legs.

Don't believe me? Try some of them, your hips and legs are going to be far more sore than your abs are, because it is just an adaptation of an already bad exercise.

Twisting ab machine

Most larger gyms will have one of these things because it makes the dubious claim of targeting your obliques and if you have visible oblique muscles you are in a totally different realm of fitness, right?


This machine DOES in fact work out your obliques just like the "Russian Twist" exercise that it is based on. However, what they don't advertise on the machine is that it also puts you in an unnatural motion on the lumbar spine, which is a naturally stable area that is not anatomically meant to twist.

People like this machine because it is "easier" than the alternatives. I know that is the reason why I used it and now that I am getting up there in years I am starting to have lower back problems after years of using it. You can't undo spinal damage folks so you really should be scared of accomplishing this.

So I've given some information here that is probably going to break people's hearts because I have just told you that the most common exercises should be avoided. What can you do? Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this.

The fact of the matter is that it is very difficult to isolate ab muscles in a manner that isn't going to potentially put other, very important parts of your body at risk. I like ab-wheel rollouts


However, this exercise, done improperly runs a lot of the same risks that other ab exercises do but to a far lessor degree because your spin is not being compressed by the ground. I, and many doctors and kinesiologists would argue that done correctly, this is far less dangerous than the other exercises.

To play it safe, learn how to do some planks correctly without putting stress on your spine and lower back.

I will focus on how to do both planks and ab wheel rollouts in a later article. For now, I think it is very important when working out to remember that your spine is actually a very delicate part of your body and one of the few ones that after hundreds of years of scientific innovation we do not know how to repair. Therefore, it should be paramount in importance to look out for it.


Do planks, or ab-wheel rollouts instead

Yeah, I just do planks these days.

It takes too much effort to even feel the "burn" in my abs these days otherwise. Must be the age.

The first time someone turned me on to planks I was thinking "there's no way that this is a workout".... then i tried them. Yeah they are!

I used to do that oblique machine thing. It was nice for the burn. Wasn't sure how effective it was.

But yes, it was one of those machines I cringed when I saw someone struggling to twist because they put too much weight on it.

that's a common problem with really any machine at the gym. Novice users will pursue the heaviest stack they can handle and end up transferring the weight to muscles that were not meant to be worked out by said machine, most noticeably their back. danger!

i haven't done a situp in over a decade. It's good to know that I made the correct choice!

well this wasn't really what i was aiming for but good for you! haha

I have been doing sit-ups, but maybe I should stick with plank. There's so much conflicting advice out there. I'm a skinny bugger so my belly does not look too bad, but it may be too late to get that six-pack. I've read that you really need to get the fat down for that and I like cakes.

and i like cakes. haha, best comment on here for sure. I like beer and that is why I exercise. I wouldn't even say that I like to exercise but since my love for beer isn't going away any time soon, I have to do it!

We all have our reasons for exercising. For me it's about getting that balance in life of health and enjoyment. Beer and cake can be part of life too.

...and I like cakes

At least your honest @steevc!

To be fair, if its a choice between 'a visible six-pack' and cake I suspect I'll always choose cake!

Part of my reason for running is so I can eat cake. I was developing a bit of a gut, but back to the same waist size as my teens now.


Ah well I guess I'm the opposite.

"I have just gone for a nice long run, I can have this cake as a reward"

And then I'd wonder why the scales didn't change!

Well I do something like that. I like beer too, but go for quality over quantity. Have to find a balance in life.

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Some good tips here, and I second the ab-wheel. One of the few fitness 'gimmicks' that actually make a difference (if used correctly/safely of course).

As far a I'm aware, the best thing you can do for a visible six-pack is to achieve a really low (and possibly unhealthy) body fat percentage.

or you can just be really young :) I am in my 40's now and diet really has more to do with what I look like than anything else does. I really like the ab-rollers as well, particularly those ones that have the spring mechanism in it that makes the roll up easier as this is the part where you are most likely to engage your lower back.

I also like how I can get a "deep burn" on just 12 rollouts whereas I would have to do a lot of situps to achieve the same thing. When I was doing situps I always felt it in my back more than my back but I just assumed that was part of it. Turns out it is part of it and I'm glad I stopped before I did something really bad to myself.