5 Effective Core Exercises That Won't Hurt Your Lower Back

Swap out your Sit-Ups out for these exercises to train your core without low-back pain.

Low-back pain is one of the biggest limiters of performance an athlete can experience. This can be caused by a number of things, including tight hamstrings, poor mechanics and technique, and tight hip flexors. This is made worse by weak core strength.

Problem is, popular core exercises such as Sit-Ups are notorious for tightening the hip flexors, leading to issues around the pelvis. Combined with flexion of the spine, this leads to even more pain

When training the core, athletes often focus on muscles instead of movements. The core can move in four directions and can brace against a force from all of those directions. Below are examples of these movements as well as their "anti" movements—bracing against force going the opposite direction.

  • Flexion – Sit Up
  • Anti-Flexion – Walking with good posture
  • Lateral Flexion – Leaning sideways to get something deep in your pocket
  • Anti-Lateral Flexion – Carrying a heavy object in one hand, keeping your body upright
  • Rotation – A golf swing
  • Anti-Rotation – Resisting getting your stick lifted in a hockey game
  • Extension – Lifting an object off the ground.
  • Anti-Extension – Keeping your ribs on top of your hips while pressing overhead

Below are five exercises that will allow you to train a variety of core movements, all while leaving the low back pain at home.

McGill Crunch

Movements Trained: Flexion

Dr. Stuart McGill is the industry's leading expert on back pain. He has created this crunch variation to provide all of the benefits of a Sit-Up with none of the downsides.

Coaching Points:

  • Hands under lower back
  • Right foot close to butt as comfortable
  • Left leg straight
  • Left toes pulled toward shin
  • Elbows off floor
  • Eyes towards the ceiling
  • Switch sides midway through set

Sets/Reps: 3-4x8-10 each side

Barbell Slash

Core Movements Trained: Anti-Lateral Flexion

This exercise is a great finisher for an upper-body day, once your shoulders are already fried it can take this exercise to the next level.

Coaching Points:

  • Hips facing forward
  • Shoulderson top of hips
  • Outside hand palm up, Inside hand palm down
  • Arms straight
  • No shrugging at top of movement

Sets/Reps: 3-4x10 each side

Cable Deadbug

Core Movements Trained: Anti-Extension

The Cable Deadbug combines shoulder stability, core endurance and a whole lot of concentration into one exercise.

Coaching Points:

  • Press low back into floor
  • Don't move leg before other is finished moving
  • Arms straight
  • Hands over shoulders

Sets/Reps: 3-4x20

Dumbbell Suitcase Carry

Core Movements Trained: Anti-Lateral Flexion

The Suitcase Carry not only trains your core, it also blasts your grip strength.

Coaching Points:

  • Shoulders on top of hips
  • Walk in straight line
  • Arm straight
  • Pinch shoulder blades

Sets/Reps: 3-4x30-40 sec. each side

Half-Kneeling Cable Chop

Core Movements Trained: Anti-Rotation

This exercise was created and popularized by Gray Cook. Taking the lower body out of this movement allows the athlete to focus on complete control of their core. This trains core stability without risking injury or low back pain.

Coaching Points:

  • Inside leg forward
  • Ribcage on top of hips
  • Arms straight
  • Glutes squeezed
  • Use a controlled pace

Sets/Reps: 3-4x8 each side