How can I build my core muscles to prevent back problems?

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Increase the stability and strength of your deep inner-core muscles by performing exercises that involve little to no movement of the spine.  Start by practicing the drawing-in maneuver exercise.  This involves drawing-in the belly butting toward the spine, holding that position for 2 seconds, and then releasing.  Next, practice bracing by contracting the abdominal, lower back, and butt muscles all at the same time.  Hold for at least 2 seconds and then release.  The following exercise incorporates both the drawing-in maneuver and bracing and can be performed at home or at the gym.

Marching Exercise 

 

Preparation

  1. Lie on floor with knees bent, feet flat, toes pointing straight ahead and arms by sides.

Movement

  1. Draw abs in, activate the buttocks and brace.
  2. Lift one foot off the floor only as high as can be controlled. Maintain the drawing-in maneuver.
  3. Hold for one to two seconds.
  4. Slowly lower.
  5. Repeat on the opposite leg.
  6. Perform 1 to 3 sets for 12 to 20 repetitions at a slow tempo.

A comprehensive and systematic core-training program will help strength the muscles of your abdomen, low-back, and pelvis. These muscles need to be strong enough to help provide stability for your spine much like the frame of a car must be strong and sturdy to provide support for the doors, seats, trunk and engine. It does not make sense to build a car with a powerful engine without having a solid frame. The same is true for the human body. Having strong arms and legs is nice; but without a strong core, you’re predisposing yourself to injury such as low-back pain.

Try these exercises to help build a strong core foundation:


[media id="DEV__4c8243e12c37a2_66045881" title="Tube Walking Side to Side"]

[media id="DEV__4c7e5d093f7028_03004540" title="Floor Cobra with 2-Arms"]

[media id="DEV__4c7e40ca53b6b7_14955695" title="All Fours Opposite Arm/Opposite Leg Raise"]

[media id="DEV__4c7e461d338df5_68981546" title="Ball Bridge"]

 

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Many ways. I like leg lifts but even better,  grab an exercise ball. Using an exercise ball for stomach toning gives you stronger muscles than if you did the exercises on the floor. Plus, you get bonus benefits, like better balance.  Start with the Ab curl: Sit on the exercise ball, feet flat on the floor, knees hip-width apart and bent at a 90-degree angle.  Place your hands behind your head, elbows pointed out, and slowly roll back until your mid to lower back rests on the ball. Pull your ribs toward your pelvis to raise your upper back 3 to 4 inches off the ball. Hold for a second and then return your shoulders to the ball. Repeat 10 times. 

With your exercise ball you can also build back muscles with the supine bridge: Sit on the ball with your knees hip-width apart and bent at 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor. Roll, so that your shoulder blades are resting on the ball and your torso is suspended above -- and parallel to -- the floor. Like a bridge.  Tilt your pelvis, so that your bottom dips toward.  Leg lifts are also great.  For this all you need is a flat surface, like the floor: Lie on the floor, on your right side, with your right arm extended in front of you for balance and support. Keep your torso straight, aligning your shoulders and hips so that they form a straight line with your ears. You can bend your right knee slightly for balance.  Keep your left leg straight. 

Once you’ve mastered these exercises, add resistance.  Using weights or resistance bands increases the intensity, which burns more calories.  And don't forget exercises like lunges and squats, which strengthen your core by placing them on a firmer foundation.  Finally, believe it or not, moving your arms behind you might be better at making your trunk muscles contract than stomach exercises.  So give it a try: Stand with your back to a wall, arms at your sides. Turn one palm against the wall and push it into the wall (keep your arm straight). Hold for a few seconds, release, and repeat.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.