A solid core exercise routine can literally get you out of pain and get you on the road to long term spinal health. This routine should include exercises that work the front, sides and back of your midsection, as well as the hips and pelvis. The deep core stabilizer muscles are critical as they form a 'guy wire' support system for your spinal column. It's important that there is a right to left balance with strength and activation in these muscles. When we have a strong, stable, and balanced core musculature, not only is there less probability of experiencing back pain, there is also a significantly decreased risk of strain or injury. It is also important that we have a balance of muscular endurance and muscular strength. Too much strength without endurance isn't always helpful. And a high level of endurance without strength can also be a recipe for straining the back/hips/shoulders during functional tasks (like picking up that bag of salt off the ground). The first 2 exercises I would put in a strengthening routine are the side plank and the bird dog.
A static position like a side plank can work all of these muscles at once, stabilizing the core as a single unit. The side plank really keys in on the obliques and the quadratus lumborum, 2 critical spinal stabilizing muscles.
To do the side plank, set up on the outside edge of your right foot, and then stack your left foot on top of the right. With your left hand on your left hip and your torso turned to the left (stacking the shoulders) you can also set up on your right elbow, ensuring it is directly below the shoulder joint. Firm your shoulder blades and the base of your spine. Engage the buttocks muscles and press through the heels toward the floor. If you feel comfortable, extend your top arm toward the ceiling, keeping your head neutral or gazing up toward that hand. Hold for 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat 10 second holds on this side. You can start with 4 of these 10 second holds and work up to 6. Then rest for 20 seconds and repeat 2 more holds (working up to 4 on the 2nd set) for 10 seconds each. Then repeat on the other side. Check out the video below and start with the variation on the wall (especially if these are new to you) and then progressing into the other variations as you're able to do so WITHOUT PAIN. Muscle fatigue or discomfort is usually pretty normal when you start doing 2-3 sets of side planks. However, joint pain is NOT OK, and you shouldn't push through the type of pain that makes you wince or takes your breath away.
Here's a full video tutorial with multiple variations of the side plank:
If you don't know what variation to start with, book a session with Brian here: meetme.so/briandekuiper
The bird dog is another key exercise for core stabilization and strengthening. Bird dogs are great for building essential stability in the hips and shoulders. This one has a unique rotary element and is also part of the Functional Movement Screen because it provides insight into possible muscle imbalances or deficiencies in muscle activation. The same set and repetition format can be used to get started with the bird dog. Use 10 second holds for multiple repetitions on each side, in that 4 and 2 rep scheme. Then rinse and repeat on the second side.
This exercise is more effective than sit ups and crunches since it activates all core muscles: abs, lower back, glutes, shoulders and oblique muscles.
Comparatively, side planks and bird dogs are also used more frequently in the rehabilitative setting because they do NOT put compressive loading and pressure on the lumbar spine like crunches and sit ups do.
Here's a video tutorial on how to set up and perform the bird dog:
There are a couple variations for this exercise that are feasible for those who may not be able to put pressure on their knees, or set up in that 4 point (quadruped) kneeling position. If this is the case for you, book an appointment and we'll be happy to share the right variation for you!
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