You should warm up before attempting this exercise. Decompress your spine by using the backrack™ and then go for a brief walk (10 minutes).
Begin by lying on the rack in the neutral position (as shown; for more details on how Getting On the backrack™ please visit the relevant section).
After positioning yourself correctly:
- Place your hands behind your head.
- Locate and isolate your lower abdominal muscles; draw them up, and in, towards your spine. This will support your back, prior to lifting. Do not tense your neck muscles, or over-arch your lower back. These are common mistakes.
- Before you lift, take a deep, slow breath, fill your lungs as much as possible (within reason), breathing in through your upper and lower chest.
Lift (Stomach Crunch)
Please refer to the diagram below.
Lift your upper torso (upper back, shoulders and neck) off the rack.
Use your hands to support the weight of your head. As you can see from the diagram, you do not need to lift very far.
Do not use your arms to lift: this will stop you from targeting your abdominal muscles. Do not tense your neck (supporting your head will help).
When you lift, focus your eyes on the ceiling: this will help to keep your neck (and back) as straight as possible. You should try to avoid bringing your head towards your chest: this will round your neck and upper back too much (it will also encourage you to lift using your arms).
As you lift, keep your lower abdominals tensed (up and in), and breath out slowly. Exhale, until you come to the end of your breath: this will help you to keep the tension in your abdominal muscles in a safe and reliable manner.
Some people hold the tension by not breathing: this is very bad for you.
As you lower your torso, breath in slowly (keeping your abdominals tensed). Again, support the weight of your head using your hands. Do not tense your neck.
Do not use your arms to lower yourself down, and try to avoid bringing your head towards your chest. You should aim to finish inhaling just as you return to the starting position.
To start with you should:
Limit the number of repetitions (perhaps to as little as five or ten).
Perform the exercise every other day.
When you feel comfortable with this exercise, you should begin to strengthen your back (using the Reverse Leg Raise exercise).
Both muscle groups (abdominal and back) play an important role in stabilising the spine. However, these groups oppose each other: one sits in front of the spine, and the other behind it. You therefore need to balance your strength by doing both exercises (otherwise, you may experience problems).
If you have had back pain for a reasonable length of time (whether the pain is intermittent, or constant) you will probably have weak, and tight, abdominal muscles. You therefore need to decompress your spine before you attempt to strengthen your back. And you need to build up your strength and stamina gradually (as with any other exercise).
If you feel that you have strained your muscles (at any stage) you should stop. This probably means that your lower spine is too stiff, and your muscles are too tight. Continue to use the backrack™ until you feel ready to try this exercise again.