As strange as it may seem, one of the most effective ways to protect and improve the health of your back is by actually targeting your core and surrounding muscles first. Many clients ask me how to improve back strength and I explain to them the importance of targeting your core muscles first.
Traditional exercises such as back extension machines and curl-ups which stress muscles in the lower back are now not recommended for those with back trouble. Even for healthy people with no history of back problems, I would not usually prescribe specific exercises placing the lower back under pressure.
Top 5 exercises to improve the health of your spine:
Many people do these but with incorrect technique. The trick is to keep your body completely straight and keep the natural curve in your spine - not too curved or too flat. Make sure you recruit your stomach muscles and you should be taking the weight through your stomach rather than back. Modify the angle you are at based on difficulty and safety. Hold for 6 lots of 10 seconds. Works all the core muscles abdominals and obliques.
Start lying on your side with your bottom at your feet and knees bent. Slowly lift up your hips from the ground and keep your back in neutral again. Slowly lower back to the ground, moving your hips towards your feet. To master this exercise, you should keep your torso straight, and still only move from the hips. Repeat 3 lots of 6 to begin with and then increase. Target your outer and inner obliques.
4 point kneeling
Start on both hands and knees back in neutral and core activated. Slowly raise one arm outwards and then return to the ground. Whilst your hand is moving your back should stay completely still, still enough to place a cup of hot coffee on there! Repeat on both hands 10 times and rest. Repeat for 3 sets.
Many people are unaware of the benefits of training your powerful latisimus dorsi muscles for the back. The lat muscles act as stabilisers around your back in conjunction with your core to help keep your back nice and stable during movements. Start standing up holding the lat pulldown bar, shoulder-width apart. Gradually sit down with the bar and bring to just below chin level. Keep your back in neutral and core activated. Slowly raise back up again till arms are outstretched. Repeat to start with for 3 lots of 10 reps at a moderate intensity weight.
Again a common exercise but not always done with correct technique. Before anyone starts doing squats with weights they should first ensure they have correct technique to prevent injury and ensure optimal muscle recruitment. Begin with feet shoulder-width apart activate your core and slowly move your hips back to the ground. Go down before you start to lose the natural curve in your back, and then slowly move back up again. Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions to start. (This exercise may not be applicable for those with acute back pain)
Back it up!
You can repeat these exercises 3 times a week, to begin with. With these simple exercises, you can begin to improve the health of your spine, helping prevent future back problems. Please consult with your therapist or GP before commencing a program if you have any existing back troubles.
Written by Luke Dorizas