Training and Workouts

10 Abs exercises better than sit-ups {6 for back pain relief}


Sit-ups were once the go-to exercise for the midline. They used to be some sort of a gold standard in not just getting the highly desired, rock hard “six-pack” but in assessing abdominal strength as well.

In recent years, however, sit-ups started developing a negative reputation for a few reasons (even the U.S. Army is phasing them out from their Army Physical Fitness Test). Mainly, they tend to work not just your abdominal muscles but employ your hip flexors as well (small group of muscles that run from the thighs and connect to the lumbar spine). As I mentioned already in my previous post about correcting anterior pelvic tilt, overactive or tight hip flexors can cause significant discomfort in the lower back and potentially lead to postural problems. Furthermore, sit-ups tend to impose large compression forces on the spine which might lead to injuries.

Another minus point for the sit-ups is the fact that they don’t work the entire group of core muscles, unlike other midline exercises. Turns out, they’re not even that efficient.

Alternatives to the sit-ups

Honestly, a big portion of the popular abs exercises tend to overwork the hip flexors. If you already suffer from lower back pain, it’s best to avoid them. Luckily, there are many other ways to strengthen your abs without further harming your lower back.

Abs exercises for lower back pain relief


plank exercise demonstration

Seems like the plank is the new star on the core-strengthening horizon. The plank is an isometric exercise, meaning that it works by contracting the muscles without any movement of the body or muscle lengthening. The exercise recruits all major midline muscle groups such as the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus, and the external oblique muscle (basically all the muscles in your midline). All in all, the plank does not only strengthen your core, but it also encourages proper posture and better alignment of the spine. There are many variations of the plank, as you can see below.

As with any exercise, make sure you’re able to perform the exercise with good form before including it in your routines. Focus on engaging your core and glutes muscles and not letting your hips drop.

Start by holding the plank for 15-30 seconds for 4-5 sets. As you get stronger, increase the work time.

Related reads: Top 8 Glute Exercises to Strengthen and Shape Your Behind

2. Side Plank

Side plank will strengthen your obliques (the side muscles of your trunk) more than anything else.

Lie on your side, feet together and forearm directly beneath your shoulder. Lift your hips off the ground and engage your core.

Again, don’t let your hips sag and keep your body in a straight line.

3. Reverse Plank

reverse plank exercise demonstration

When done correctly, the reverse plank engages not just your abdominal muscles, but your glutes, hamstrings and lower back as well (just as the standard plank).

Keep the tension in the body throughout the entire time you’re holding the position and keep the body in a straight line.

4. Resistance Band Trunk Rotation

This is a great exercise that will strengthen your abdominals and obliques. You can regulate the resistance by standing either closer or further away from the resistance band anchor point.  

Attach the band at chest height and grab it with both hands, arms extended in front of you at shoulder height. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. Rotate your torso away from the anchor point and slowly return to your starting position. Keep your core engaged the entire time.

5. Unilateral farmer’s carry, standard farmer’s carry & front rack carry

Farmer’s carry: imagine carrying your groceries from your car to your door – a bag in each hand. It’s the same but instead of bags full of groceries, you carry kettlebells/dumbbells. Keep your back straight and don’t let your shoulders sag.

Loaded carries are in general great exercises. Farmer’s carry can help you strengthen your back by employing the erector spinae (the group of muscles and tendons on both sides of the spine) and, of course, strengthen your midline. The key is the isometric contraction of the muscles – keeping your core engaged even though there’s no movement occurring. A further advantage is the strengthening of your grip which is quite beneficial for a lot of other lifts such as the deadlift or bodyweight exercises like the pull-up.

Related reads: Compound movement: The Deadlift

The front rack carry (usually done with kettlebells) is another great variation to add to your midline strength routine. Actually, any front rack loaded exercise will fire up your core muscles – front rack lunges, front squats, etc.

The unilateral farmer’s carry (holding weight only on one side), will require even more effort to stabilize the trunk and resist lateral flexion of the torso. Because of that, unilateral farmer’s carry is even more effective in working your obliques.

6. Overhead carry {unilateral/bilateral}

Similar to the farmer’s carry, overhead carries will work your abdominals, obliques, and erectors (back muscles around along the spine). They do require a better mobility and body position awareness. If you have any shoulder mobility issues, it’s better to address them first before doing any loaded overhead exercises.

overhead kettlebell carry exercise demonstration

Abs exercises harder {and better} than sit-ups

The following exercises are some of my favorites for the midline and will make your core burn for sure. That said if you have any back issues, better steer away from them and focus on the exercises mentioned thus far.

Related reads: Foam Roller 15 Minutes Abs Workout

1. V-ups

Performing the v-up without compromising the form requires much more flexibility and strength than most midline exercises. Unlike the sit-up, v-ups don’t just target your upper abs, but the entire muscle group including the obliques.

If you can’t do a v-up yet, you can start with hollow-body holds: lie on the ground with your arms by your sides, engage your core and lift your legs, upper back, and head of the ground. Hold the position for as long as y1ou can and repeat for 3-4 sets. You can see a video here (link leads to YouTube).

The opposite – if you fancy some extra challenge – hold up some weight to make them extra demanding.

V-ups abs exercise demonstration better than sit-ups

2. Rower pike-ups

Another exercise to target the entire midline but that also presents quite the challenge to perform (and I’m all in for that). I find it to be quite a creative way to use the rower and it gives such a nice burn. 😀

rower pike ups exercise demonstration

3. Rower Walk-outs

Yet another way to utilize the rower other than for rowing. It’s quite hard, give them a try!

I think Chris Spealer can explain them best though – right here!

4. Stability ball knee tucks

It’s a good idea to be able to hold a plank for a good 60 seconds before attempting this exercise. It’s basically holding a plank with your feet on a stability ball and then tucking your knees towards your chest. You’ll feel this burner not only in your abs but in your shoulders and hips as well.

Stability ball knee tucks abs exercise better than sit-ups.
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  1. AffiliateLabz
    February 15, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

    • Lily
      February 16, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      Thank you! 🙂

  2. Renee Franklin
    March 4, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    Some of these look very hard! What about some tips for someone who hasn’t done much working out for a while? It’s been years since I’ve done much and would love to get back involved but I just don’t know where to start.

    • Lily
      March 6, 2020 at 10:40 am

      You are right! Some of these movements are quite challenging! We are working on some workouts which are more targeted for beginners! We will let you know, as soon as we publish it!

  3. Sherry
    March 11, 2020 at 7:18 pm

    I workout my entire body minus the core. Ugh. I’ve unfortunately always ignored that area. These are some great exercises to try.

    • Lily
      March 12, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      Definitely implement some! It doesn’t have to be complicated! Throw two or three exercises together, for 3 rounds – It will take no more than 10min.

  4. Nancy
    March 14, 2020 at 6:47 am

    I am the worst at situps – it is great that there are so many different alternatives to still work on your core! I’ve used the TRX and that hits so much different. Oooh, I like the plank exercises! I try to do the 5-min plank exercise as my finisher from time to time. Thanks for sharing all of these alternatives!

    Nancy ♥

  5. Brooke
    April 22, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    I am seeing some new exercises to try out on your list. I would fall flat on my face with the stability ball knee tucks though because I am so uncoordinated. The V ups and rower pike-ups I could handle though.

    • Lily
      April 28, 2020 at 10:09 pm

      Hey Brooke,

      at first, all these exercises look challenging!
      But trust me, we all started somewhere and with some patience & practice you will master them all!

  6. facebook video downloader
    April 30, 2020 at 6:34 am

    Hi! I could have sworn I’ve visited this website before but after going through a few of the
    articles I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I stumbled upon it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!

    • Lily
      April 30, 2020 at 11:13 am

      Thank you so much for the compliment! I am glad that you found the articles helpful! 🙂

  7. Baby Boomer Super Saver
    May 25, 2020 at 6:58 am

    I love yoga, so the plank is a familiar friend. I will have to try some of these other poses. Your posts are inspiring!

    • Lily
      May 25, 2020 at 10:47 am

      Thank you so much for your feedback! Try some of the exercises and let me know how it went! 🙂

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