Upping the Core Downs the Back Pain

Washboard abs are not only easy on the eyes, they can also help alleviate low back pain. Combat low back pain by exercising and strengthening the abdominal muscles that help make up the “core”: abdominal extensors, flexors, transversus abdominus and obliques. Do these three no-equipment-necessary exercises to get started.

Planks

Planks are one of the best exercises to strengthen the core and my personal favorite exercise. At the same time it strengthens the core, it is a whole-body exercise that also promotes healthy spinal alignment, good posture and improved balance.

What is so great about doing planks is that it can be done just about anywhere there is a bit of floor space. Planks can be done first thing in the morning when you slip out of bed, along side your desk at work, or even at the checkout counter at the grocery store (if you’re willing to accept a few awkward stares.)

Doing the plank looks just like it sounds.

Assume a pushup position on the floor and align the back, hips and legs flat like a plank of wood. Elbows may be bent at a 90-degree angle with body weight distributed between the toes and forearms.

Maintain a straight line parallel to the floor and think “tight!”

Squeeze those stomach muscles. Clench the buttocks. Keep the legs rigid.

Do not allow the low back to sag like a sad cow. Do not lift the buttocks in the air like you just don’t care. Keep good form. Maintain a position like a plank of wood.

Begin holding the plank position for 30 seconds and gradually over time increase the duration of the hold. If you can hold it for 2 minutes at a time consider yourself a true Plank Aficionado. And remember, maintaining good form always takes precedence over how long the posture can be held.

Stomach Vacuums

Work on the core and shrink the waistline with stomach vacuums. So simple they are done while driving, (no texting please) or while seated in front of the computer monitor at work, (you don’t even need to tell your boss.)

This technique can show results in a very short time. Chisel away 2 to 4 inches off the midsection in as little as 3 weeks.

To properly perform the stomach vacuum, begin your practice while standing. You can easily translate this to the seated position after a few tries.

Place your hands on your hips and completely exhale all the air out of your lungs. No air means a vacuum, like outer space. (We are at one with the Universe.) Mentally picture the navel being sucked in so much that it touches the spine.

Hold the contraction for 5 seconds. Repeat this 5 times with 20-30 seconds of rest between sets. Once you have mastered the hold for 5 seconds, move to longer durations of 10 or 20 seconds per set. Soon you will be doing this exercise. I myself may be performing the stomach vacuum even now as I type this article.

Supermans

Superman posture directly targets the muscles surrounding and supporting the spine. The benefit of this exercise is while strengthening your core it also strengthens your chest, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and shoulders. It also helps to reverse damage caused by prolonged sitting at the office.

To execute the Superman, lie face down on the floor maintaining your spine in the same neutral position as you did in the plank. Extend your arms out and overhead while keeping a slight bend in the elbow. Focus on tightening your core and holding your belly in as you lift the chest, arms and legs several inches off the floor. For beginners, focus on holding the lifted, elongated ‘U’ position for a duration 2 to 5 seconds for 10 reps and 3 sets. Hold for longer periods as tolerated. While exercise should be physically and mentally challenging, it should never be painful. If you have a severe back injury or condition such as a pinched disc, you will wish to consult your doctor before attempting this exercise.   

Planks, stomach vacuums and supermans are great exercises that strengthen the core. The core promotes stability and balance of the spine and helps prevent and reduce low back pain. These exercises are common practice in physical therapy programs for herniated discs, pinched disc, sciatica, lumbar radiculopathy and facet arthropathy.  Practiced routinely, you will appreciate the difference. And just like Men’s Wearhouse says, “You’re going to like the way you look, I guarantee it.”

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