Preventing back pain

One of the best ways of preventing back pain is by strengthening your core. Unfortunately, many of us neglect this area when exercising, or indeed don’t exercise regularly.

Studies prove, however, that strengthening your core is one of the very best ways of preventing back pain. Performing regular core exercises will help to keep the muscles in your abdominals and spine strong.

Developing a strong core starts with a strong transverse abdominis. The transverse abdominis is a deep lying muscle that wraps around your body from front to back, from the ribs to the pelvis. The transverse abdominis runs horizontally, forming a corset around the torso – it works the same as a weight lifter’s belt.

Interestingly, the transverse abdominis doesn't actually help you to move – it helps with breathing, compresses the internal organs (which creates pressure and stability), and also helps to stabilize the spine.

You need to activate the transverse abdominis before lifting anything heavy, or indeed before performing core exercises. Activating the transverse abdominis is simple – either standing or sitting, draw your belly button in towards your spine. It is a good idea to practice this, so that you know what it feels like before you perform any core exercises.

The best choice of exercises for the low back area are those that build endurance – these are strong, stabilizing muscles, and if they are weak we can become tired when sitting or standing for long periods of time. Most injuries happen not simply because of a sudden strain, but because we stress muscles that are already weak or tired.

Good exercises to work the lower back therefore include:

  • Plank
  • Side plank
  • Bird dogs

The key with these exercises is to hold the position for an increasing period of time – aim for two minutes for the plank, one minute each side for the side plank and bird dog.

If you are unsure how to perform these or any other exercises, a quick internet search will provide both descriptions and short videos of how to do them.

You also need to perform exercises for your abdominals – but which are best? Research conducted at the Biomechanics Lab at San Diego State University analyzed 13 different abdominal exercises, from traditional crunches through to more complicated movements, and discovered which are the most effective. According to their research, the top three are:

  • Bicycle maneuver
  • Captain’s chair
  • Crunches on an exercise ball

When designing your abs workout, you should therefore look to perform a combination of the three.

A second key element in strengthening your back is to increase the flexibility. If you include stretching in your fitness program you will avoid stiffness, reduce pain, and lessen your likelihood of injury.

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