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Strengthen the Core

November 2007
Strengthen the Core

Strong back and abdominal muscles are vital for every function in our daily lives, yet most people do not exercise these core muscles enough and are prone to back pain and injury. Unless specifically exercised, back and core muscles tend to weaken with age. Unlike our limbs, which are used constantly in our daily lives, the muscles of the back and core must be specifically stretched and strengthened in order to increase strength and prevent pain and injury.

Perform the following exercises to strengthen the abdominals:

The basic crunch: On a floor mat, lie in a supine position with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With your hands behind your head, look up at the ceiling. Slowly raise your shoulders off the floor while keeping the abdominals tight. Exhale on your way up and inhale as you lower yourself back. Do 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

Side Crunches (to strengthen the obliques): Still in the above position, slowly lower your bent knees to the right. Still looking at the ceiling, slowly raise your shoulders off the mat. Keep your abdominals tight and inhale as you lower back down. Do 15 repetitions on this side, and then slowly bring your knees to the left side and do 15 repetitions on the left side. Do a total of 3 sets on each side.

These exercises should be performed to strengthen the back:

Superman: While flying might not be on your agenda to achieve a strong back, performing the Superman exercise will strengthen your back. Lie in a prone (on your stomach) position with your arms extended in front of you. Raise both arms and legs simultaneously and hold for 5 seconds. Relax, and slowly lower your arms and legs to the ground. Start with 10 repetitions initially and over time gradually increase to 15 and 20 repetitions. For a variation, in the same position lift your left leg while simultaneously lifting your right arm and hold. Lower, relax, and repeat with the opposite side.

The bird/dog exercise: In an all-fours position (on your knees with palms on the floor in front of you), hold your abdominals in tight while keeping your back flat. Extend your right leg and left arm out keeping it parallel to the floor. Maintain your balance and hold this position for 5 seconds. Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat with the opposite side. Do 10 repetitions on each side.

Dumbbell row: Sit on the edge of the chair and hold a light dumbbell (3-5 lbs) in each hand. Slowly lower your back forward, while keeping it flat, arms at your side holding the dumbbells. Slowly, pull the dumbbells up to the torso squeezing the shoulder blades as you pull up. Hold and gently lower to starting position. Do 15 repetitions for 3 sets each.

The Cat Stretch: No wonder cats have nine lives! The cat stretch is an excellent way to stretch after your back workout. On all-fours, arch your back like a cat and hold for 5 seconds. Then, relax and gently release down. Perform this stretch 3- 5 times.

Remember, the few minutes you spend doing the above core exercises could prevent back pain and injury in the future.

The information above in not intended as medical advice. If you do have a back injury or existing back pain, please check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

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