One of the more common comments we get as trainers has to do with back pain. “My back is tight today”, “I worked in the yard and my low back hurts”, “I think I have a bad mattress”…sound familiar? Often, weak abdominal muscles are the root of the problem.
Good news…you can do something about your back pain by doing a few back strengthening and stretching exercises every other day or 3 times a week. Think of it in terms of anything else you do for your health on a regular basis…brushing your teeth, drinking plenty of water, taking vitamins, etc. These exercises don’t take very long and once you get in a routine, the reward is less back pain. Five to ten minutes every other day is a small price to pay, right? So this is for all of you who say, “I’d do these exercises at home but I don’t remember them once I leave the studio”.
I’ll do my best to describe these exercises so you can use them at home (but just so you know, sometimes things sound better in my head!)
1. Let’s start with a quadruped (some of you may know this as pointers or bird dog):
Start on your hands and knees with the hands directly under the shoulders and the knees under the hips; your head and neck should align with your back. Tighten you abdominal muscles, raise the right arm and reach ahead and lift the left leg pushing through the heel as though you’re trying to make a footprint on the wall behind you. Careful not to raise the leg above the glute as that can put stress on the low back. Tighten your trunk muscles and hold for 3 deep breaths. Lower the arm and leg to the floor and repeat with the left arm and right leg. Repeat for 10-15 reps on each side.
I’m pretty sure most of you are familiar with this move! Lie on your stomach and raise yourself up so you are resting on your forearms and knees; the knees should not be under the hips but behind the hips so your back is more parallel to the floor (no booty up in the air). Align your head and neck with your back and place your shoulders directly above your elbows. As you tighten your abdominal muscles (or core as you’ve heard us say a million times), imagine pressing your elbows and knees towards each other to create resistance (but neither should move from their positions). Hold for 3 deep breaths, return to your start position and repeat for 10-15 times. As your core strengthens, you should be able to hold this position for a longer period of time. For the added challenge, try this position from your toes instead of your knees.
3. Superman (there are a number of variations on this exercise)
Lie on your stomach with your legs extended so that the tops of your feet are flat on the floor. Your arms should be lying at your side so that your fingertips are pointing towards your feet. You may want to place a folded towel under your forehead for support. Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise the upper part of your torso off the floor (to approximately the breastbone). Hold for 1 deep breath and return to your start position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your spine in a neutral position, neither arched nor pressed into the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and raise your hips off the floor until your hips are aligned with the knees and shoulders. Hold for 3 deep breaths and return to your start position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
5. Lumbar stretch
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your back in a neutral position. Bring your arms out on the floor as if you’re making a “T” and turn the palms down. As you tighten your abdominal muscles, slowly let your knees fall to the left (and go only as far as comfortable) as you simultaneously turn your head to look the opposite direction (or to the right) making sure the shoulders stay on the ground. Hold for 3 breaths than return to the start position. Repeat the exercise letting the knees fall to the right.
Remember, move through this routine at a moderate pace; it’s not a race.
So there you have it…a few exercises to make your life better in the long run. And as I’m learning my watching my aging parents, an ounce of prevention…you know the saying. No matter what your age though….START TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF TODAY! Not tomorrow, not after you get back from vacation, etc.
I hope these exercises make your life a little better.