The core muscles that support your spine are some of the hardest working muscle groups in our body. They are always working to maintain the integrity of the spine, and hence are always under stress. They are at the heart of any fitness regimen designed to strengthen a healthy or ailing back. Just as you protect your heart through cardiovascular exercises, you will benefit from strengthening  your back muscles and, in effect, your spine.

Strong core muscles (i.e., the muscles in the centre of your body) in the back also take away the stress from the discs and joints in your spine. This is very important because joints deteriorate as we age, and a healthier spine becomes more and more imperative for healthy, pain-free days. Here are some exercises that will strengthen those crucial core muscles.

Crunches

Crunches

Start with beginner level crunches. Lie on your back, bend your knees and hips at a 90-degree angle, and lift your legs into the air. With your arms interlocked behind your head, lift your head and shoulders off the floor; hold for 5 to 10 seconds.

 

After you have done these types of crunches for about 3 weeks, you can graduate to more advanced crunches like the bicycle crunches, where alternate between the leg you lift. Since you are not using two legs to support your weight, your core is taking more weight.

Bicycle Crunches

 

Planks

BasicPlank

On a yoga mat, get down on your hands and knees. Bend your elbows and rest your forearms on the floor. With your toes on the floor, lift up your knees. With your weight balanced on your forearms and toes, count to 10 and then rest. Start with about 5 repetitions and then slowly extend the time and number of repetitions as you gain strength.

You can go further with planks too. Lift up one of your legs straight and proceed as described. This puts a higher strain on the core muscles. You could go one step further again, by taking one of hands off the mat. A word of caution: go up the levels very cautiously. If it’s your first day with an advanced form, do it for just 2 repetitions. These are exercises that show their mark slowly though surely. There is no point to hurrying and risking injury.

Plank Advanced

Sit on a Swiss Ball

Sitting on a Swiss ball is one way to train your back. It moves easily requiring you to activate your postural muscles and train your balance. You can improve posture, strengthen and stretch your core muscles, and burn calories. At the computer or reaching for the phone, your muscles react, ultimately improving your sense of balance–on or off the ball!

The Swiss ball is a core stability tool. If you sit in a standard chair, you aren’t using your muscles to maintain your balance and posture; you’re relaxed. On the ball, those core muscles are constantly working.

The Swiss ball comes in a variety of sizes, and prices vary with quality. Pick the right size for your height. Opt for a non-burst ball.

swiss ball 1

Tips as you sit on the ball:

Sit with thighs parallel to the floor

Stop slouching; use your back, abs, and glutes

Train your balance

Increase your time and training with the ball — gradually

A Swiss Roll

Swiss Roll

Psst, not that one, sorry! Not that one.This one:

Swiss ball rollout

A stability ball can give you extra support when performing exercises to strengthen your spine, and a simple stability ball exercise to try is the prone walkout. Begin by lying on the stability ball, stomach down. Steady yourself with your hands and feet on the floor, then while holding in your abdominal muscles, breathe out and lift your legs. Keeping your legs straight and heels pushed out, walk forward with your hands while you gently roll across the stability ball. Keep walking until your thighs are resting on the ball, then slowly walk backwards to the starting position.

Aerobic Exercise

Swimming

Along with specific back exercises, aerobic exercise that increases the heart rate for a sustained period is very beneficial for maintaining spine health and also helping with back problems. Aerobic exercise increases the flow of blood and nutrients to back structures which supports healing, and can decrease the stiffness in the back and joints that lead to back pain. While many patients with back pain are able to participate in vigorous exercise like running or step aerobics, others find it easier to engage in low-impact exercise like swimming, which does not jar the spine.

A stability ball can give you extra support when performing exercises to strengthen your spine, and a simple stability ball exercise to try is the prone walkout. Begin by lying on the stability ball, stomach down. Steady yourself with your hands and feet on the floor, then while holding in your abdominal muscles, breathe out and lift your legs. Keeping your legs straight and heels pushed out, walk forward with your hands while you gently roll across the stability ball. Keep walking until your thighs are resting on the ball, then slowly walk backwards to the starting position.

What do you think?

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