Safest Ab Exercises for Bad Back and Neck

Girl with some abs

Have you ever done some exercises targeting your core and soon after you suffered immense back or neck pain?

This is a terrible experience that can easily discourage you from ever working your abs again. BUT, with the right workout choice, you can get the core you want so badly.

In this post, we discuss the safest ab exercises. Actually these are so safe that if you suffer from back or neck pain due to a previous injury you can enjoy them.

Also note if you realize your back or neck is aching, chances are that the problem didn’t begin overnight. The fact is, neck and back pain develops over a number of years.

Your cervical spine and neck comprises the seven smallest vertebrae and are subject to a similar stress when affected. The human spine takes a lot of weight as it is responsible for holding us up throughout the day. Therefore, they undergo a lot of stress when involved in the activities we do.

Should you develop a bad back and neck as a result, you don’t have to quit working your core out. There are neck and back friendly ab exercises to do as explained herein.

 Back and Neck Friendly ab Workouts

Captain Chair Exercises

Source of inspiration for this workout

In simple terms, the captain’s chair is ideally comparable to a tall, seat-less chair that has a backrest and arms.

Climbing into it is through pegs or via small exercises steps needed for the development of your abdominal muscles well.

This routine makes use of some of your muscles used when doing the hanging leg raises. However, your back is supported on this occasion hence it becomes safe and manageable for many people.

Variations of Captain Chair Exercises

  1. Straight Leg Raise

Procedure: Assume your position in the chair with your hands safely on the grips and your lower back leaning on the back rest. Your legs should extend straight downwards to the floor.

Seal the legs together and then bend from your hips in order to raise your legs in a manner parallel to the surface floor.

Make slow and deliberate movements but avoid swinging in order to allow the momentum to keep you going. Return your legs to the beginning position and exercise control not to let them swing. The up and down movement of the legs is one repetition.

Try to do ten repetitions of the leg raises exercise. That is one set. Go for three sets with about 30 seconds rest between sets. 

2. Bent Knee Raise

Procedure: Mount your chair and lean your lower back against the back rest as you get hold of the chair’s hand holds. The forearms and elbows should be supported on arm rests. Let the legs to hang down.

Pull the knees to your chest but in a controlled way. Engage the core while lifting the knees by way of dragging the belly button in the direction of your spine. Let your legs lie low, slowly and back to the starting point to complete the process.

Do 10 reps of this procedure for one set, then do three sets.

It is important to make sure that your knees are lifted over your hips in order not to de-emphasize the abs and exercise your hip flexors only. Be ready to engage your back and shoulders during this exercise. Of course, you don’t want to go back to a relaxing mode on the shoulders to avoid sagging uncomfortably.

3. Single Straight Leg Raise

Procedure: Get yourself in the chair and allow your legs to hang towards the floor direction. Allow your shoulders to remain in a relaxed position.

Tighten the abs and pull your right leg, without bending the knee, towards the chest. Leave your left leg dangling downwards. Release your right leg and repeat the same procedure using your left leg to complete a single repetition.

Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions for this workout.
Michael Carson of explains how to do these three variations of the captain arm chair exercises below.


Bicycle Crunch Exercises


  • Begin by lying on the floor with your lower back safely pressed flat in the surface and your shoulders and head raised somewhat above it.
  • Place the hands gently on the head sides and don’t knit the fingers to the back. Be cautious not to yank the head using your hands at any point while doing the exercise.
  • Lift one of your legs slightly off the ground and then extend it out
  • Lift the remaining leg and bend your knee in the direction of your chest
  • While doing so, twist through the core to cause the opposite arm come in the direction of your raised knee. You don’t have to touch the elbow to knee but rather move through the core while turning your torso. The elbow must stay in the same position in relation to the head although. The turn that gets it close to the knee should come from the core. It could be good to think shoulder to knee while on it instead of elbow to knee.
  • Lower the leg and arm at once as you bring up the opposite limbs in a manner that mirrors the movement.
  • Keep on changing the sides to achieve 10 repetitions for each for a set. Do 3 sets of this. You could also add the bicycle crunch in circuit training and continue in it guided by the timer.

 The bicycle crunch exercise brings together all types of abdominal muscles and that includes the tricky to work obliques, the side ab muscles. Your glutes and thighs are also engaged during the movement.

 Variations of Bicycle Crunch Exercises

  1. Modifications to this type of exercise can easily be achieved by making it a lot easier. The most basic approach would still involve these same movements. However, this can be tried from a standing position and then bend downwards to make sure that the turning arm meets the knee near the midriff.
  2. Another option would be trying the elevated bicycle crunch. This is an advanced version that requires you to lie down safely in a bench. This means that you will have to raise your leg more to meet the twisting torso.  This option is good for enhancing the mobility of your hip.

Passion4Profession do an awesome job at explaining how to do this bicycle crunches in the video below. The explain a complete single move, muscles worked and how to breath during the workout.

Plank Exercises

Planks target almost all your core muscles: rectus abdominis, and internal and external obliques. For a somewhat simple isometric exercise, the entire body gets strengthened. They cause your core to pop, build your shoulders and strengthen your lower back.

For this exercise, you might need to use an exercise mat to keep your hands safe.

Here are a few of the plank workouts you can try.

Variations to Plank Exercises

  1. Basic plank: Position yourself in the traditional push up position and hold the top position for as long as you can. If your wrists hurt by having palms on the floor, you can hold an item such as a dumbbell or a push up handle.
  2. Plank to pike. Position your feet on paper towels or else you could use gliders. To challenge yourself, you can let your the feet lie on a stability ball. Gradually move to a pike position by lifting your hips and drawing your feet in the direction of your hands. Hold that position for 3 seconds and then reverse the movement to get back to the starting plank. Do between 10 and 12 repetitions.
  3. Twist Plank. Get in plank position using a different colored paper placed just outside every corner of a mat. If you have a partner, ask them to randomly call out various combinations. Examples could be left foot green or right hand blue. If you are alone, have combinations to complete. Get hold of each combo and do it between 2 and 3 seconds and get back to the start position. Do 8-10 combinations.
  4. Plank Out. Stand while your feet are set at hip-width from each other. Next, duck down and using your fingertips, touch the surface floor. Keeping your feet in the same position, start walking with your hands forward and use your core to control yourself. Walk hands forward until you are completely spread-out in an extended plank. Repeat the motion, walking your hands to the toes and ensure that your core is engaged all the way back to the beginning position. Do 8-10 repetitions for this exercise.
  5. Rolling Plank. Lie facing down with your stomach while keeping both of your forearms collapsed to the chest front but parallel to the upper edge of a mat. Press up yourself to forearm plank while your core remains engaged and your head precisely in line with your spine. Shift weight on your left hand and drive elbow of your right hand in an up and back direction and open to side plank while your feet remain staggered. Get back to the start position quickly and repeat the opposite side during the second repetition. Do a complete set of between 10 and 12 repetitions and keep alternating the sides.

Here are a few demo videos for the plank exercises.

The Plank to Pike

The plank walk out

The rolling plank

Seated Leg Raises

For this exercise, you will be required to sit on the edge of a bench and allow your legs to extend to the floor. You can choose to do it with or without additional ankle weights. Get hold of the edge of your bench and lean your torso back. Your body weight should also be balanced while seated on the bench’s edge.

Execution: While on this position, raise your legs by flexing your knees and hips and pull your torso gently in a forward direction in order to maintain balance. Get back by extending knees and hips and leaning your torso back in order to counter balance.

Here is a demo of the workout.

Your heels could be allowed to contact the floor in order to keep balance at the bottom of your movements. The rectus abdominis and the obliques will only contact in a dynamic way when the actual waist flexion takes place. Without waist flexion, the external oblique and the rectus abdominis will act to stabilize waist and pelvis when there is hip flexion.

It is important to thoroughly flex your hips if waist flexion can be considered possible. Ideally, the spine does not get sufficiently extended during this movement to amount to a significant flexion. Therefore, this exercise is categorized as a hip flexor movement.

Ab exercises to avoid 

Crunches are mostly preferred for working the core. BUT avoid them to keep your back and neck free of injury and pain.

This workout could cause you pain because your spine has to bend forwards instead of remaining neutral. According to Heather Milton a senior exercise physiologist at NYU Langone Health the bending forward causes stress on the spine and hence the injuries and pain caused by such exercise.

There are other safer options of strengthening your core (the abdominal muscles used for supporting the spine), as discussed above. Safe ab workouts are the ones that keep your body, especially the spine, in a neutral position at all times.

Crunches tend to put your spine, the vertebrae and the discs in between them under stress. This is why they are referred to as the worst abdominal exercises and you should avoid them at all costs.

Exercises such as planks also target quite a number of muscles that form part of the core. More than just working on the rectus abdominis muscles which are the 6-pack abs, plank exercises will improve on the transverse abdominis and the obliques as well.


  1. Are ab exercises safe in early pregnancy?

Yes but with the right modifications. It is safe and simple to exercise your abs while pregnant. However, this is not the time to go for exercises to chisel your core. Make sure every step you make in your exercises is guided strictly by a health practitioner to help you keep fit and have a string core throughout your pregnancy.

  1. What are the safe abdominal exercises for seniors?

As people continue to age, they lose muscle and strength all through their body. They will tend to remain seated for most of the time hence the core muscles will be left unused in most cases. Core strength among seniors is much needed for injury protection, posture and longevity. The core muscles support the body and are used on a daily basis. Therefore, seniors can keep strong by doing plank exercises and the captain char’s workouts.

  1. What are the safe ab exercises to do while pregnant

During pregnancy, crunches while lying on your back become somewhat impossible to do as you advance past your first trimester. However, there are safe ab exercises that can keep you fit without having to lie on your back facing up.