Are Your Ab Exercises Hurting Your Spondy?

If you suffer from a spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis there is a very good chance you have been told at least once that you need to strengthen your abs.

Perhaps your doctor told you, or you read information on a website, or maybe your therapist mentioned to you that having back pain is a sign of weak abdominal muscles.

Although this may be the case for some, it is not the case for everyone.

And for those who are affected by so called “weak abs” the problem could be stemming from much more than your abs not being strong.

Most quickly assume the reason for performing ab exercises is to create strong abs which in turn helps to protect the back. They rush out and perform the toughest, most difficult ab exercises in an attempt to get the core as strong as possible to aid in back protection. However this approach can lead to big problems.

If you make the common mistake of choosing an ab exercise that is too advanced, you’ll end up creating compensation patterns just to “get through” the exercise and the abs may end up getting little to no real benefit.

Muscles in surrounding areas (hips, low back, upper back, etc.) may kick in inappropriately to help with this difficult exercise, thus leading to more harm (and less ab strength) in your attempt at getting stronger abs.

Education is very important when helping people with spondy’s. And one thing that I have found that most with spondy’s do not understand is that the abs, or the collective area in the midsection known as the core, plays a very important role in stabilization. Not just strength.

It might not seem obvious, but there is a difference in the terms strength and stabilization. And there is a difference in how your body produces strength and how it produces stability.

In general, stabilization is more of a reflex-induced mechanism. Ideally, it is achieved through contributions from throughout the body working in perfect harmony. This reflex is not something that can be addressed by 500 sit ups every day or by the most difficult ab burning exercise you can find.

You have to be cautious when choosing difficult ab exercises.

You have to be cautious when choosing difficult ab exercises.

You could have the best looking six-pack abs in the world but still lack proper stabilization or timing due to imbalances, past injures, etc.

Improving the ability of the core to provide stabilization is accomplished through a progressive approach of exercises based around an individual and their specific needs.

For many with spondy’s, this means starting with some very basic form of movement that requires a reflexive response to provide stabilization as we mentioned earlier. From their it is important to engage in a spondylolisthesis exercise program that follows a simple format of exercise progressions. 

It is important to note that individuals who suffer from various forms of spondy’s are probably suffering from some kind of movement-related issue as well (not all spondy patients fall into this category and this is another reason to have a full body movement screen). When movement issues are present, compensations occur throughout the body.

And your midsection may very well have its share of compensatory habits that are affecting the timing of your stability.

The core is more than just the abs, and all areas of the midsection should be focused on depending on your deficits. Again, this is why we advocate individual screening and assessment so often.

So before you assume you have weak abs and turn to the internet to find the hardest ab exercises, remember that there is more to your abs than just building strength. 

You need proper stability. Or the perfect harmony of muscle activity to provide the protection you and your spondy need during routine daily activity and the recreational pursuits you love.

If you are interested in learning more about progressive exercises for your spondylolisthesis or spondylolysis, make sure to give SpondyInfo.com’s Home Exercise Program a try. It is full of progressive exercises that are designed to attack common weak areas associated with spondy’s.

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Leave A Reply (10 comments so far)


  1. mike campbell
    4 years ago

    your article on abs hurting your spondy was interesting, but you left out the most important information; exactly what ab exercises are GENERALLY safe for people with spondy? Yes, I know everyone is different, which is a safe no answer, but you can generalize with a disclaimer. thank you, mike campbell, grade 2 spondy and hit the gym regularly.


    • Spondy
      4 years ago

      Hello Mike,

      Thanks for commenting. Just to clarify, the point of this article was to simply inform people that just performing any old ab exercise will not cure all of your “core weakness” problems. In fact, some ab exercises may even cause more issues for your spondy. Many people that suffer from spondy’s are told to strengthen the core and they are quick to include any ab exercise, but without proper movement and timing more problems may arise. If you are looking for specific examples of spondylolisthesis ab exercises I encourage you to check out a few of our other posts: http://spondyinfo.com/safe-spondylolisthesis-ab-exercises/ and http://spondyinfo.com/spondylolisthesis-exercise-half-kneeling-pressouts/. In these two posts, especially the first one, we dive more into discussing what exercises are safe for those with spondy’s and provide examples. Hopefully that helps and thanks again for the comment.


  2. Barb
    3 years ago

    while I appreciate the fact that each of us is different in our needs for stabilization, I find your information to be far too vague to be of benefit. You say a lot without saying anything.
    Is it possible for you to give at least ‘some’ precise information as to what are safe ab workouts?


    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      Hi Barb. Thank you for the feedback. I am a firm believer that one of the best ways to help others improve upon this condition is to provide people with information and education on the human body, movement and this condition. I also believe the fastest way for an individual to accomplish this is to find out exactly what areas are needed to improve upon. I try to convey this message through writing and sharing my knowledge and personal experiences. To accomplish this we try to guide people with this condition to certified professionals that can explain to them their individual weaknesses so the “guess work” can be removed. A professional helps to eliminate the “guess work” and point directly to the areas that may be causing the problems. For example…In the past when I worked as a full time strength and conditioning coach I worked with several spondy athletes who would tell me in the initial evaluation that they had weak abs. And they wanted to work on their core. They really did not know why or even IF they had weak abs, they had just heard along their journey that weak abs were common with back conditions. And for some they are, but not everyone. However, the evaluation would reveal a different story. A tight T-Spine, poor ankle mobility and poor hip mobility were common culprits. It wasn’t that their core was weak. It was the fact the inability of these previously mentioned areas to work the way they were intended was not allowing their core to work. Improving these areas allowed the core to work and thus do it’s job. I try to convey information like this throughout this site and I hope it helps readers.

      On the other hand, I also understand that not everyone may be able to accomplish finding this help. Certain factors do make it hard for some to seek out certified professionals to apply various screening methods and techniques that can point out to the individual areas of weaknesses, etc. I am also learning what the readers want and I certainly want to help. And in an attempt to grow and improve the site I am trying to provide readers who cannot find this kind of help with useful information. Make sure you check out these past ab exercises:

      http://spondyinfo.com/spondylolisthesis-exercise-the-dead-bug/
      http://spondyinfo.com/spondylolisthesis-exercise-prone-hover-video/
      http://spondyinfo.com/spondylolisthesis-exercise-half-kneeling-pressouts/

      I also just finished shooting a few more videos of exercises that target the core and hips and they should be on the site in a few weeks. In addition to these videos, We also are finishing up a program full of helpful spondy exercises that targets common problematic areas of those with spondy’s, so keep an eye out for that. I hope that helps and thanks again.


  3. Andrew Marks
    3 years ago

    in my exhaustitive search I have found the following most helpful. Bear in mind I must have sampled a ton of exercises before settling with these as a so called ‘core’ workout. I have grade 1 degenerative at l4 l5. With mod stenosis. Keep up the good work Mr A.☺️

    LKC full plank
    Side planks
    Pavlov press outs kneeling or standing
    Supine hamstring stretch
    A few decent glute stretches, bridging perhaps, fire the glutes.
    Strict form bird dogs with balance stick on back.
    Rope pull thoughs, great for your posterior chain strength.
    Kettle bell sumo deadlifts

    Tons of foam rolling on tight hip flexors, lovely stuff!.


    • SpondyInfo
      3 years ago

      Great list Andrew! These are all great exercises that attack various common problematic areas for those with spond’s. The key with them – as with the key for all exercises for those with spondy’s – is that they are done with great form. If readers are interested in these exercises a simple google or youtube search will bring them up. I am actually in the process of shooting another exercise video for the bird dog and a few other helpful exercises so stay tuned. Thanks Andrew!


  4. kalyan
    2 years ago

    in case of sciatica pain with is commonly associated with lumberspine problem, sciatica nerve get pinched or irritated by herniated disc or L5/SA1 LISTHESIS SLIPPING,
    now where is the logic to strenthen ab muscles .
    main aim sud be to reduce the irritation of sciatica nerve.
    now what is the way.


    • SpondyInfo
      2 years ago

      Hello Kalyan. I am a little confused by your question. I believe you are asking why it is important to strengthen your ab muscles for back conditions such as sciatica and various types of spondy’s. If that is indeed your question, my response would be that it is important to have a solid baseline of not only core strength, but core stability to help maintain proper spine alignment and function throughout daily activities. Without proper core strength and stability the body can be prone to compensations and compensation patterns that force additional stress and strain on various areas that are not meant to handle this stress and strain. One prime example is the spine. Poor core strength and poor stability or muscular timing patterns – not just including the main core muscles, but also the deep intrinsic core and pelvic muscles – play a crucial role in protecting and aiding the spine in movement. I hope that helps and I am sorry, I do not quite understand your comment on “what is the way”. If you would care to elaborate I would happily reply. Thanks again.


  5. Ann
    2 years ago

    I am not doing hard Abe exercises…. I am doing core strengthen get. But sometimes that causes problems with the buldging disks and the exercises flare up spondo….what to do??????

    Thanks. Ann

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