Personalizing Pilates' Q&A Blog – by Sherry

June 14, 2012

Great Ab Strengthener for Herniated Disc

Many folks who have spinal conditions are told that they need to strengthen their abs but that they are not meant to do ab curls because they cause pain.   So if you have a herniated disc or osteoporosis, how are you meant to get stronger abs without doing curls?

Here’s an exercise for you that will not hurt your back but will really challenge your abs.

Lie on your back and fold in both legs to a “tabletop” position.  In this position, your shins are parallel to the floor.

Make sure that you have space underneath your lower back.   Do NOT flatten your back to the floor.    You should have enough space underneath your lower back that you can easily slide your hand underneath.    The first photograph shows the correct starting position.

Keep  your knees bent at 90 degrees throughout the exercise.

Take a deep breath in.  As you exhale, engage your abdominals and unfold one hip so that your foot touches the floor.

As you exhale again, switch legs.

Repeat 10 times.

The most important thing to remember is that you must keep space beneath your lower back.    This is the spine’s strongest position where the vertebrae all “lock together” so its important to strengthen the abdominals with the spine in this position.

I have created two different workouts that are great for strengthening your abs if you have any sort of spinal condition that prohibits you from doing traditional curls.  If you go to my website, you can download the Herniated Disc or Osteoporosis workouts.   Both are safe to do and I promise that they will help you!   Simply click on the gravatar on the right side of this page or go to

If you have any questions or need help, let me know.




  1. Hi,
    I love pilates and own a reformer. However when I took private instruction I never hurt myself. When I did the reformer, I hurt my lower back again. I have herniated discs L3 and L4. Can you tell me what some of the problems I could be doing. Thank you Rita

    Comment by Rita Flannery — May 23, 2011 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

    • Hi Rita,

      Sorry to take so long to reply to your message – I left on vacation the very day that you wrote to me and I have just returned.
      The general guidelines for working out with a herniated disc are to avoid flexion and extreme rotation and to include lots of extension exercises. So, on the reformer, exercises to avoid include short spine and the rowing series. Good exercises to do include footwork, the leg circle/frog series and the long box exercises such as Pulling the Straps and T-Strap pull. Make sure that when you do any exercise on the reformer that your spine (lumbar) is either in a neutral or extended position. Remember to engage your abdominals whenever you exhale so that will support the lumbar spine. A rolled up towel underneath your lower back will help support you when doing exercises in the supine position (lying on your back). I hope that helps! Please post again or email me and I promise to get back to you within a business day.
      Best Regards,

      Comment by personalizing pilates — June 13, 2011 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Sherry,

    I’m very interested in your modifications of exercises for herniated discs. However, I am lousy at understanding oral directions, and I really need to see positions. I can’t follow spoken directions well. Is there any chance you could sell an e- book or pamphlet or something to that effect? I’m trying to take reformer classes, but I really need help making modifications, and no one sells any books or guides online for modifying the reformer exercises for people with herniated discs.

    Comment by Jenna — September 28, 2013 @ 3:14 am | Reply

    • Hi Jenna,

      All of my MP3 workouts come with an illustrated document that shows each exercise (starting position and movement position) so that you can see the exercises before you begin. I too like to see what I’m doing! Just a word of caution – be careful with exercises taught in a reformer class. Most of them include lots of flexion exercises or exercises where you curl up, curl forward or curl down. Any curling motion of your abdominals is going to make your herniated disc worse and must be avoided at all costs.

      The herniated disc and osteoporosis workouts on my site will strengthen your core without flexion. There are also exercises shown on the blog here that you can safely do.

      I hope that helps!

      Comment by personalizing pilates — September 28, 2013 @ 11:57 am | Reply

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