Top 3 Exercises to Strengthen Your Core for a Healthy Back
80% of people will experience back pain at some point in their life. And it’s one of the top reasons an individual seeks out the advice of their family doctor and physical therapist.
But back pain is preventable. A healthy diet, proper lifting techniques, good posture, and specific core strengthening exercises go a long way in thwarting your chances of experiencing back pain. Breathing properly is also an essential part of preventing back pain. Consider your whole body when thinking of the benefits of physical activity. This is useful throughout the year, too – not just near the holidays or special occasions, or after injuries.
In fact, experts claim that 3 specific exercises to strengthen your lower back, core, and gluteal muscles can significantly lower your risk. Many of these are considered “home exercises“, and will not require additional equipment or a great deal of time or space. This is ideal for those that spend a lot of time at home or don’t want the hassle of going to the gym to work out.
So, what exercises should you be doing? Let’s take a look!
Gentle Core Strengthening Exercises, Like Static Transverse Abdominis Activation
Ineffective activation of the transverse abdominis frequently leads to back pain. The transverse abdominis muscle works to stabilize your pelvis and low back; it essentially acts like a corset. Yet, many people often focus on strengthening those 6-pack abs – also known as the rectus abdominis muscle. In turn, the transverse abdominis muscle is commonly neglected. Neglecting certain muscle groups in favor of others is never recommended. Why? To be truly healthy, the whole body needs attention.
The best way to strengthen your core and target the transverse abdominis muscle involves gentle core exercises, such as the following:
- Lie faceup on a comfortable surface.
- Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the ground.
- Imagine a tight rope pulling your hip bones together – or think of drawing your belly button in toward your spine. This will help contract your transverse abdominis muscle. Make sure to keep breathing!
- You can feel for the contraction by pushing your fingertips in between your hip bones. Try to hold the contraction for 5-10 seconds. And yes, it takes practice to get used to it.
Once you master the basics with gentle core exercises, you can add alternating foot lifts. From there, you can do the same but with straight legs.
Make sure to go at your own pace. If you feel it in your back, go back to the basics. Aim to do the exercise 2-3 times per week for 10-12 repetitions and 2-3 sets at a time in order to best strengthen your core and back…
Strengthen Your Core With Glute Bridging
Strong glutes are an essential part of a strong core. Your gluteus maximus muscles are the biggest muscles in your body. They help support a strong back, hips, and pelvis. The glute bridging exercise helps you strengthen these muscles and thus help strengthen the core and back. It further aids in creating a flexible spine, which also reduces your chances of injury or pain. Here’s how you do it:
- Lie face up on a comfortable surface, such as a yoga mat.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and squeeze your glutes – then lift your hips and buttocks up and off the ground.
- Aim to hold your hips and buttocks up for about 3-5 seconds.
- Slowly lower back down to the ground.
- Do 10-12 repetitions and 2-3 sets.
This core strengthening exercise can also be performed 2-3 times per week. Again, if you feel pain in your back – ease off or don’t lift as high. Also, check in and make sure you are squeezing your glutes and engaging your full core.
Cat and Camel Core Strengthening Exercises
The cat and camel exercise can strengthen the lower back muscles and contribute to a healthy and flexible spine. It also teaches your body and core muscles how to work efficiently with the erector spinae muscle– which is responsible for keeping your body upright. Physical therapists will often prescribe this exercise for back pain patients to strengthen their lower back and core. But it is also an excellent preventative measure. So, how do you do it?
- Begin on all-fours. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders. Your knees should be directly under your hips.
- Take a deep breath in. At the same time, arch your back downward – bringing your belly toward the floor – and look up.
- Exhale and bring your head in between your arms. Arch your back upwards.
- Continue to go back and forth for 10-12 repetitions. You may choose to hold for a few breaths where you feel you need a little more of a stretch.
These strong core exercises can be performed daily. It not only helps strengthen the core and back by improving your spine flexibility and abdominal strength but also further helps you become more in-tune with your own body, strengthening your mind-body awareness.
Strengthen Your Core to Avoid Back Pain – and Other Bodily Pain, Too
Back pain isn’t inevitable; you can avoid it. Do the above core strengthening exercises regularly, and you’ll significantly lower your risk. Live a full and happy life free from back pain!
For those looking for more simple and effective exercises, consider these pregnancy exercises. While they are recommended for expectant mothers, many of them are simply great ways to strengthen the core – as well as other nearby muscle groups.
Having a weak core also may impact other areas of the body, even though you don’t realize it. Knee pain, neck pain, leg pain, hip pain, and even pain in the arms may stem from a lack of core muscle development and core exercises. The reason for this? The way you use your body depends on how it feels. People tend to favor “trouble” spots without even realizing it, which leads to strain and overuse on other parts. Don’t let this happen. Whether it’s during the cooler months, or in the heat of summer, practice exercise efficiency and do right by yourself.
If you do experience back pain, contact a physical therapist in your area. They are trained to help you strengthen your lower back muscles and core in order to get back to your regular activities and to prevent future incidents. Not only can improving your strength with core exercises help you feel better, but it may also even improve your life in other areas. Being healthy and efficient with exercise often translates to at-work efficiency, too. The better you are at your job, the less stressed you will be. It’s a cycle.
How a Physical Therapy Professional Helps
Many people think of physical therapists only when they’re recovering from situations like accidents, injuries or illnesses. Hip flexor strains, athletic injuries (keep healthy hamstrings!), surgery recovery, physical therapy for managing conditions like Alzheimer’s or a TBI… these are all valid reasons to seek care from a physical therapist. But they aren’t the only ones. Sometimes, it simply makes sense to alter your home exercise routines in order to correctly – and completely – strengthen your body.
Not sure where to find a physical therapist in your area? The BetterPT clinic location tool and mobile app have got your back – literally! You can find physical and occupational therapists near you that specialize in back pain and can help strengthen your core. It’s even possible to have a consultation and ‘meet’ with a physical therapy professional via the BetterTelehealth platform. This allows you to participate in physical therapy sessions virtually – from the comfort and safety of your own home. And, you can now schedule with them without a doctor’s referral! With direct access, there’s no more stress or hassle in getting a referral before booking a PT appointment.
Outreach Physical and Occupational Therapy and Speech Rehabilitation provides licensed therapists who work one-on-one with patients in their own homes and in assisted-living facilities. Outreach serves at-home patients in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and sections of Long Island and the Bronx.