From the moment you take your first step as a child, your spine is working to balance and support the weight of your body. The bones that make up your spine form an S-shape, as seen from the side, to withstand the daily pressure of standing upright. Despite this natural curve, your lower back, known as the lumbar spine, still carries the heaviest burden and is therefore most susceptible to injury.
The muscles all around your lumbar spine feel the stress as much as your spine does. By doing back exercises geared to strengthening these muscles, you can protect your spine from harm that comes from extreme stress. The right back exercises can keep you from back pain and back problems.
Your Core Muscles
The muscles that attach to your pelvic bones are associated with your “core.” It’s these muscles that keep you flexible, balanced and powerful. Athletes understand this; you should too. If you can strengthen the muscles in your core with proper back exercises, you can better protect and strengthen your back.
Your core consists of five sets of muscles. They work together in the center of your body to keep you upright, balanced and in control. Back exercises that focus on strengthening these muscles also strengthen your back:
- Gluteus maximus. Your butt muscles play a large role, delivering the strength of your legs through your pelvis to your core.
- Adductors. The muscles of your inner thighs are among the strongest in your body. They give you balance from your feet to your hips.
- Posterior chain. The muscles in your lower back connect your back to your hips. By strengthening these muscles, you can improve every move you make.
- Hip flexors. The muscles connect your thighs to your spine through your hips. You rely on the hip flexors for everything from walking and climbing stairs to bending and lifting.
- Transverse abdominal. The muscles in your body work one against the other to provide control. When one expands, the other contracts. This muscle works against the other core muscles, deep in your abdomen.
Back Exercises for Your Core
Stretching your spine also stretches your core muscles. Consult your doctor before you start any new exercise program, especially if you already suffer from back pain. Here are back exercises anyone can do to strengthen your core and your back. Repeat each 10 to 15 times:
- Bridge Pose. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor, your knees bent and your arms at your sides. Raise your pelvis so that your abdomen and thighs are aligned. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, and then relax.
- Crunch. Lie on your back with your feet up on a wall and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Cross your arms across your chest and tighten your abdominal muscles. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor for 15 to 20 seconds. Then relax.
- Hip Rotation. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms outstretched. Keeping your shoulders squarely on the floor, move both knees together to one side. Go as far as is comfortable and hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
- Leg-and-Arm Stretch. On your hands and knees, stretch one arm over your head so that it’s parallel to the floor. Then stretch your opposite leg straight out behind you. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, and then relax. Repeat with the other arm and leg.
- One Leg Press. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms at your sides. Lift one leg, knee still bent, and reach out with arm to your knee. Use your abdominal muscle to push your knee in to your hand. Keep your arm straight and hold for 15 to 20 seconds and then rest. Alternate back exercises include using your opposite side hand and placing your hand on the side of your knee and pushing outward.
- Plank Pose. Lie on your stomach, legs together. Curl your toes under. Place your hands at your shoulders and push yourself up. Keep your back, arms and legs straight. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, then lower yourself down. If this is too much for you, start on your elbows and knees. Straighten your knees so that your legs and back form a straight line.
- Side Plank. Lie on your side, legs extended together. Raise yourself up on one straight arm. Keep your ankles together. Lift your other arm up so that it’s parallel to the first arm. Your body should form a “T.” Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, and then lower yourself to the floor. Repeat on the other side. If that’s too much for you, raise yourself on your elbow, not on your outstretched arm.
- Superman Pose. Lie on your stomach with a rolled-up towel under your hips and head. Keep your legs together and your arms stretched out over your head. Lift your head, chest and arms off the floor, stretching them out. Without lowering your arms, lift your legs and thighs off the floor. The pose, if not the sensation, should be of flying. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, then relax.
Done every day or at least three times a week, these back exercises will strengthen your core muscles and strengthen your back. Get into the habit now for a life free of back pain.