One of the main by-products of training is soreness. When we stimulate a muscle we are creating micro tears within the fibers that then need repairing. These aches and pains are known as DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.
This feeling usually appears between 24-72 hours after your workout and is the result of tissue damage from stimulating (and damaging) the muscles during your workout.
The abdominals are just like any other muscle group and they experience the same kind of muscle tears – so you can expect DOMS here, too. When it comes to abs there is a fine line between regular DOMS from stimulating the muscle, and pain from performing exercises incorrectly.
For this reason, you may be concerned and wonder; why do your ribs hurt after ab workouts?
Is it the result of DOMS for the muscles or is it a potential injury? Let’s learn the differences between the two…
What Muscles Surround the Ribs?
The muscles that are present within the rib cage are known as intercostal muscles. There are 3 different layers to these muscles and these are the external, internal, and innermost layers.
Combined together these muscles fill the space between the ribs. Layered on top of this would be the Serratus Anterior muscles – these are the fan muscles we can see running down each side of the torso and then meeting up with the obliques as we get closer to the groin area.
We then have the central abdominal muscles that run from your groin all the way up to just underneath your chest.
Together these muscle groups work to stabilize your torso as well as protect your internal organs. Having a stronger core can help assist you in the majority of movements inside the gym so it’s crucially important not to neglect your core.
One thing to note with the abdominal muscles – you may often see pictures of people with very symmetrical abdominal muscles as well as abdominals that sometimes look off-centered and uneven.
It’s purely luck of the draw whether you have symmetrical or asymmetrical abs; it’s all down to genetics and your muscle insertions.
Why Do Your Ribs Hurt After Ab Workouts
So, should you expect your ribs to hurt after ab workouts?
In short – yes you should, but let’s dissect this a bit further:
When adding stress to the abdominals they’re going to fatigue just like any other muscle group and combined with the microtears we talked about earlier, you’ll expect to feel the DOMS kick in a day or so later.
The reason we can experience soreness in the ribs specifically after ab workouts is because of the lever action of your abdominal muscles pulling on the ribs at the point where they attach. All of those intercostal muscles are getting worked as well as your abdominals, serratus anterior and obliques.
The soreness you should experience will be on par with how your other muscles feel after you’ve trained them.
All the major muscles above the abdomen area attach to the ribs and costal cartilage that surrounds them. When we take part in core exercises the muscles themselves are pulling on the site where they attach to the ribs as they’re used as levers.
By doing so they fill with blood and a buildup of lactic acid which can then cause more of a sharp pain feeling due to putting too much stress on these areas and not enough directed at the abdominals themselves.
A good way to minimize this pain or prevent it entirely could be to take up some yoga or some static stretching as this can help with your overall flexibility as well as provide some additional stimulation to all those stabilizer muscles within the abdomen area.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not always necessarily a bad thing for your ribs to hurt after an ab workout. Your ab intercostal muscles and serratus muscles will be acting as stabilizing muscles for movements like planks or crunches.
In this instance, the muscles are being worked and the DOMs are the result of a trained muscle rather than it being a sign of a potential injury or an exercise being performed incorrectly.
We’ve had a few questions come in as of late in regards to this topic; so let’s answer some of them:
Why Do Your Ribs Hurt After Planking?
Planks can be a real tough exercise to master and to be honest; at times they’re not worth the trouble. Before we look at the effects on the ribs let’s quickly talk about your lower back.
A lot of people experience lower back pain when performing planks and if that’s the case for yourself then the simple answer is: you’re performing the exercise incorrectly.
You should be pulling your abs in and keeping them tight when performing this movement and, by doing so it will elevate your lower back and keep the focus on the abdominals.
Now, onto the ribs. As we mentioned earlier, the intercostal muscles tend to pull on the attachment sites and this is also the case with planking – but on a higher scale due to it being for a prolonged period of time.
There’s a reason planking is considered one of the most difficult moves to master; that’s another hint at why they may be worth skipping if you’re a beginner and don’t yet have the core strength necessary to safely and effectively hold the plank position.
By adding prolonged stress to these attachment sites within the ribs (often the case with planking as the longer you do it; the harder it is), you’re further increasing the chance of experiencing pain instead of aches.
When doing sit-ups, for example, you are adding stress to the same areas but in shorter intervals due to performing repetitions.
Planking is one long rep so it’s a continuous amount of stress that is added to the intercostal muscles and surrounding abdominal/oblique area. It can be argued that this exercise alone is the primary reason why you may experience sore ribs after ab workouts.
It won’t be the ribs themselves that are sore but the intercostal muscles surrounding them.
Why Do Your Ribs Hurt After Shoulder Workouts?
When training your shoulders you’re shifting weight around above your head; your core is needed throughout these movements to help stabilize yourself and keep the center of gravity in one place.
It’s important to keep your torso tight when performing any overhead movements. By not doing so you’re going to be putting additional strain on the intercostal muscles as you’re not keeping them contracted throughout the movement.
We mentioned in another article that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link; in this case, the weakest link is your core if you’re not keeping it tight.
Make sure to pull your abdomen in when performing any form of overhead movement – this will also help assist the muscles that make up your posterior chain (the back, hamstrings, and glutes).
So, if you’re experiencing any type of rib pain when performing shoulder exercises, it’s worth having a double check on your form. If you perform your shoulder movements standing, maybe try the seated variation to give yourself more support and stability.
Sore Ribs From Burpees?
Burpees are a pretty high-impact form of cardio when you think about it. You’re jumping up and down as well as thrusting your legs back and forward for a specific amount of time or reps.
That same strain we talked about earlier at the attachment sites of the ribs comes into play when performing this exercise, too. So, it’s important to keep your core engaged.
Burpees can have the same effect as planking if not performed correctly – you can end up doing a bit of damage to your lower back if you’re not keeping your core tight throughout the bottom of the movement.
Due to the jolting motions during burpees, you’re adding more stress than stimulation to the intercostal muscles. So, as you can see, when it comes to the pros and cons of burpees, the cons stack up pretty quickly.
So there’s a bit of a rundown for why you may be experiencing rib pain when performing abdominal exercises as well as a nice breakdown of which exercises to favor and which to possibly avoid.
I’ll say it one more time though for those in the back – if you experience any type of acute pain in the ribs when performing an exercise, it’s important to stop and prevent any further possible damage.
Intercostal muscle strain is only going to set you back in terms of progress so if the pain comes up, maybe it’s time to replace that exercise with something more adequate.
This is a common occurrence to feel soreness in muscles you wouldn’t expect. Just check out some of these other related articles where you may be experiencing similar issues:
Quads are not sore after squats
Sore lats after push-ups
Sore ribs after push-ups
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