My daily emails to gym members this week have been all about back care; how to protect it against injury, how to make it stronger if its starting to get sore or tight and the reasons why we need to work certain muscle groups. These muscle groups are focused around what is commonly referred to as ‘your core’.
Working your core is not just working your ‘six pack’ muscles. Your core is made up of several muscle groups and covers your abdominals, back, hips, pelvis, and buttocks. A weak core can cause all kinds of problems; poor posture, neck and shoulder pain, sore knees, sore hips and of course, low back pain.
Your core muscles help to stabilize your body before any movement. If any part of your core is weak, the other surrounding muscles have to compensate. Over time, these muscles can suffer strain, which leads to lingering pain. So the aim with these exercises is to give you a balanced core, with strong muscles in every department.
Here are the key exercises I have focused on, why they are so good and how to do them.
- Side Plank
- Single Leg Pelvic Raise
- Band Squats
Lie face down on a mat with your arms stretched above your head (like Superman). Keep your head and neck relaxed.
Raise your right arm and left leg about 5 to 6 inches off the ground (or as far as you comfortably can). Hold for 3 seconds, then relax and repeat on the other side.
The Aquaman targets the erector spinae, the muscles which surround the spine from your hip to your head and flexes and rotates the spine and neck. The hamstrings and gluteus maximus also get activated while the muscles of the upper back stabilize the movement. This exercise provides our back with an extension, very useful when most of the movement patterns we do when gardening or sitting are compressing the spine.
Kneel on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and palms directly under your shoulder. Keep your back neutral.
Extend your right arm and left leg. Hold for 3 seconds, then relax and repeat on the other side. Do 10 on each side.
The Kneeling Superman is a nice natural progression from the Aquaman above and it works very similar muscle groups with the added requirement of increased core stability and balance.
Start lying flat on the floor, elbows directly under the shoulders, lift up and hold with a neutral back, relaxed shoulder blades and straight body.
The Plank, often referred to as the king of core exercises, strengthens your spine, your rhomboids and trapezius, and your abdominal muscles, which naturally result in a strong posture as they grow in strength.
As above, but resting on one arm. The elbow should be directly under the shoulder and the shoulders, hips and knees are all inline.
The Side Plank puts an increased emphasis on the obliques, essential for a strong core.
Single Leg Pelvic Raise
Lie on the floor with your feet flat and knees bent. Extend one leg out straight, but keep the knees level with one another.
Lift your hips (focus on lifting rather than pushing upwards) until your hips are in line with shoulders and knees. Hold this position for 3 seconds and squeeze the glutes whilst you do.
The Single Leg Pelvic Raise and the Band Squats below are great for activating your glutes.
These muscles have a huge impact on your overall body strength; they help strengthen your core, and help to support a range of compound movements and exercises. Strong glute muscles also help prevent and avoid muscle imbalances that can lead to mobility issues. If the glutes are weak or inactive, there will be strain through your back as the back muscles take over the job that the glutes are supposed to do. This in turn can cause back pain from overloading of the intervertebral discs which can also lead to degeneration.
Position a physio band around your knees and carefully stand up. Feet should be just past shoulder width and you should be looking up slightly.
Keeping your elbows high and core tight, squat down, taking notice not to let your knees be pulled together by the band. Hold at the bottom for 2 seconds then return to the start.