I'm quite confident that I have never used my abdominal muscles in a correct manner, at least consciously. I've always done my sit-ups and crunches using my back to do the work - and can only do few of them until the muscles in lower back just next to my spine start burning.

This evening my partner tried to show me how they do their sit-ups and crunches, explaining how they make their abs "roll" to get themselves up from the ground, with minimal strain to the back.

When I tried to use that technique, I could get myself up few centimeters, and after that when the "ab rolling" part should happen, I could not get forward at all - like I could not figure out how to do it in the first place, like I couldn't "tell" my abs to do anything like that. I also tried to go down from a sitting position to laying down, I could get down few centimeters, but at the point where my abs should be in control, the only thing is that they are stiff, and I roll over to my back. This is the exercise I tried, only without the leg movement

Also when I have done planks, and trying to pull my belly in, and stiffen up my so-called abs, I can keep it for a while, but it is my back that starts hurting, and not my abs.

So what I am curious is to find out if I am even remotely correct about my idea, and how to potentially test it, and if there are apartment-friendly exercises that would somehow only target abs, where I could not even by accident cheat by using my hips or back to do the motion. Or any other information that might help me in figuring out what my issue is and how to start fixing it.

  • First, don't rely on the advice of a partner if the partner is not experienced or a certified trainer. Second, what is meant by "ab rolling"? Your abs don't roll, they contract to stabilize the spine.
    – rrirower
    Apr 12, 2020 at 15:10

3 Answers 3


Sounds like your transverse abdominus is very weak and the rest of your core needs stability training to teach them to work properly before moving onto dynamic training.

You're onto something with the planks.. your back starts hurting because your abs "give out" and your back takes over. The second your back hurts you need to quit. You can try planks leaning on a bench or stability ball to get longer planking time, then work on doing regular planks. Make sure you're tilting your pelvis posteriorly and making sure your back isnt extended or rounded. Your transverse abdominus is weak, so do this along with deadbugs, which works your TA(transverse abdominus) and lower core, and also teaches you to lift your pelvic floor and posteriorly tilt your pelvis. If these are too hard you can go to the most basic.. just lie on the floor and you'll feel your lower back not touching the floor.. well tilt your pelvic and try to touch your lower back to the floor and hold it. While doing this, brace your abs as if your about to get gut punched. These will teach you how to not only take focus off your back but also use your TA. You can also do stomach vaccuums while driving or working, etc to focus on your TA in everyday life. Once this main muscle is strong, you'll be able to do situps and crunches by bending at your hips, and your upper abs will get stronger by stabilizing your body.

I strongly advise against situps and crunches as they force you to flex your spine and bend it which is not healthy. You can do anti-training which teaches your abs to resist tension. Exercises like pallov press, planks, deadbugs, vertical pallov press, anti-landmine(hold your body still while you rotate a barbell around your hips). Work on stability versions first(holding a pallov press for as long as you can up to 60 seconds versus doing 15 reps of a pallov press) then move onto dynamic training.

Don't worry about crunches or situps, they are actually not that effective as other exercises and can put undue tension on your back

  • Thank you very much for this information - embarrassingly I thought each ab was a singular muscle in itself and that is it - I will look more into transverse abdominus and try and find apartment friendly exercises for it.
    – tommica
    Apr 12, 2020 at 18:36

If you start to feel your back burning before your abs is because your back is incredibly weak, weaker than your abdomen. The weaker muscle always gives out first.

It has nothing to do with not knowing how to use your abdomen, either they are too strong or your back is incredibly weak.

Just like when you do an overhead press, it works the entire upper body but you will only feel it in the shoulder because they are the weaker muscles.

The only exercise that thargets the abdomen is forced expiration, like when you are suffocating by holding your breath to much, other than that there's not really anything else because every abdominal exercise you do will involve the entire torso....humans have about 860 muscles for a reason, because they are made to work together.

If you want strong abs and a six pack just do abdomen exercises and be 17% bodyfat or below, with time your muscles will adapt since the back is actually supposed to be way stronger than the abs.

  • Ah, interesting so I might be looking this from a wrong angle - I don't care about having visible abs, only that they are in good condition, and not being neglected. Thanks for the info, I will take it into use.
    – tommica
    Apr 12, 2020 at 12:09

Please watch this animation of muscles used in a sit-up and curl-up. You will notice there are two "modes": hip-flexion and spine flexion. Hip-flexion involves the hip-flexor muscles. Also I think the lower back muscles act as stabilizers (even though this is not shown in the video). Spine-flexion on the other hand involves the ab muscles. You are probably doing hip-flexion instead of spine-flexion because your abs are weak.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.