Question 1: “What's the best way to work on the abs without straining your back much?” – James McEwan

James, if you’re straining your back when you train your abs, then you definitely need to figure out what is going on. It might not be a weakness in your core; it could be something else that you might not have thought of yet.

First off, just as a reference, what is core training? 

Essentially, there are two types of core training; isolative and dynamic. Isolative core exercises are static positions where you train the overall stability of your torso. For example, holding a plank for time will train your core stability and teach you how to use your body as a single unit. It will also help you understand how to breathe and brace your midsection under tension. This is an essential component of learning how to remain safe while performing exercises like the squat or deadlift. 

Dynamic core exercises are the exercises that you see most people perform in the gym; including pike ups on a Swiss ball, ab rollouts, and one-arm farmer's walks. Dynamic core exercises are just like isolative movements in the fact that they both require you to keep your torso locked in a good neutral (straight) position. The difference with dynamic core exercises, however, is that now your extremities are in motion. 

If you are performing your core exercises correctly, but you are still getting pain, you might want to look elsewhere. When you say you’re straining your back, I’m assuming you’re talking about your lower back. This could be an indication of a poor position of your pelvis, referred to as anterior pelvic tilt. This is where the top of your pelvis tilts forward and your butt will look like it’s sticking out. This happens when you sit too much or don’t perform any mobility work on your hips before or after your workouts. I would film yourself doing a push-up or a plank and see if your lower back is sagging downward. If it is, some hip mobility drills should help you to achieve a more neutral pelvis and give you a better position in your lower back when you’re training your abs. 

Question 2: “With a newborn, I don't have time or money to go to a gym. What's the best way to get back in shape at home, without most of the gym equipment?” – Jon Peterson

Jon, first off, congrats on the new addition to your family. I commend you on staying active, even when you have a lot more responsibilities and your free time is pretty much nonexistent. You’re really setting a good example for your family.

I’ve talked in a previous –about this very issue. 

The key really, is intensity. Whatever you do, do it with great intensity. That doesn’t mean going crazy with form or going beyond failure; it just means to push yourself when you do get a chance to train. Because your time is limited, I would really go into each workout with the mindset that you are going to give everything you’ve got. And don’t think you need 30 minutes or an hour. Trust me, you can get a killer session in about 15 -20 minutes. Move fast between exercises and push the pace. And if you don’t have any equipment, no problem. Get a book bag and fill it with books. Then perform body weight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, squats, bear crawls–the list goes on and on. 

There is ton of variations and really no limitations with body weight training. I actually just released my body weight-only program–Body Armor–and it was a massive success; especially with busy dads and executives.   The final piece of the puzzle is planning. Plan your workout or circuit ahead of time, so you can hit the ground running and make the most out of your training session.

Meet the Lift Doctor

Jim Smith is a highly respected, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. A member of the Fitness Advisory Board, Jim has been called one of the most "innovative strength coaches" in the fitness industry. Training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors, Jim has dedicated himself to helping them reach "beyond their potential." He is also the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning in Elmira, NY.