I have been dealing with back problems for a long time. I will walk you through my experience with a few different core exercises and describe which ones have helped me. With the help of these core exercises, back pain can be very manageable. I have been dealing with back problems for about 20 years. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered, and understand how to take care of my back. If you are interested in reading about core exercises that may help you out with back pain, please continue reading.
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I am in the maintenance mode currently
I do a lot of work to strengthen my core, to stabilize not only my spine but my entire body. I have been through a lot of visits to the chiropractor, to get my body (specifically my pelvic area and a blown disc in my back) fixed. When I started seeing a chiropractor, my back was a mess.
The chiropractor told me I was a tough adjustment. This was due to the fact that I had never healed correctly, or been instructed on how to care for my back, or how to properly workout post-surgery, from 1999.
My muscles were super tight and had been conditioned to protect my really weak areas. Muscles tighten when there is an injury to protect. Add to that my most recent injury (I sprained my SI joint and blew a disc in my back) and I was truly a mess. I spent months getting adjustments to fix my condition. You can read my story here.
My back issues started in 1999 and I never really understood why core exercises were so important. I just thought core meant six-pack abs. There’s more to the core than abs, but they certainly do play a part. I now understand that core muscles are a little more difficult to define.
What is the core?
Some people think the core is just the midsection in front. Others include the upper and lower back. The definitions I have found online really seem to vary depending on who is defining the core. Really, what I have learned is that the core muscles serve one purpose and that is to stabilize. They stabilize the spine and really the whole body. Someone said that core muscles are from the chin down! I consider the core to be from my armpits to my hamstrings.
Core muscles serve so many critical functions. Not only do athletes work on core strength, but everyday people doing everyday things really need to focus on core strength. Whether it’s putting on your shoes, lifting a package, vacuuming your carpet at home, you are using core muscles to complete these everyday tasks.
I can’t stress the importance enough, of really strengthening the core. Strong core muscles help tremendously with posture as well. A weak core can lead to slouching. I am constantly reminding myself to maintain solid posture. Core muscles need to be strong and flexible. This article from Harvard Health Publishing speaks to the importance of strong core muscles. They discuss every day, real-world benefits of strengthening your core.
By doing the following core exercises back pain has been significantly decreased for me.
Start your morning with a nice swim?
I start each day doing what I have come to call “Swimmers”. There are some variations on this exercise, but this is how I do it. I lay on my stomach, on a mat on the floor. We have hard floors throughout our house, so a yoga mat works great. If you have carpet, that may work as well, you can always put a mat on the carpet. With arms out in front of my body, legs with toes pointed away from me, I arch my back, lift my arms and legs up off the ground. Squeeze the shoulder blades and butt.
Be sure to keep your head in a neutral position, you don’t want to strain your neck. You can look down at the floor if needed. Now, the way I do it, is I kick my legs up and down as if swimming and doing a freestyle type swim. So, alternating legs slowly kick up and down with your toes pointed behind you. Then I alternate my arms in a freestyle swimming motion.
So I am literally “swimming” on my living room floor. Think of it like a surfer on a surfboard, swimming to catch a wave. They are laying on a surfboard, paddling with their arms with legs extended behind them. I hold each alternating arm repetition for a few seconds. This exercise really works my low back and hamstrings.
Hard work and really boring…
Now, the goal of this exercise is to do this for as long as you can. I started slow, and I could only do this for about 30 seconds. When your legs start to drop, you are most likely done. I have been doing this for a while now, and I can do this motion for 5 minutes straight. It’s really boring, but you can listen to music, dream, pray, do whatever you want during the exercise.
Honestly, sometimes I just get lost in thought and the 5 minutes flies by. Other days, not so much. It really works the upper back, hamstrings, butt, and inner thighs and lower back. I really concentrate on squeezing my butt and inner thighs when I feel like I am fatigued.
I do this exercise 5 days per week, first thing in the morning (right after I let the dog out). It took me a really long time to be able to hold this for 5 minutes, kicking and paddling, but it’s awesome for pretty much the entire back side of your body.
Walking lunges are a great core exercise
Walking lunges are another one of my absolute favorite exercises to improve core strength. If lifting weights is just not for you, then walking lunges are a great way to improve core strength. There are so many awesome benefits of walking lunges, I could probably write an entire post on just that. First, there is very little impact with walking lunges.
You have a chance to literally work the entire leg with this exercise, hamstrings, glutes (butt muscles), quads, calves, they all work hard with this singular exercise. The thing I really like is that I can feel the stretch in my glutes and hamstrings, so this helps with flexibility.
But it doesn’t stop there. Walking lunges engage my abdominal muscles and low back as well. Another fantastic benefit is that you don’t even need to go to the gym. You can do walking lunges in your driveway, on the sidewalk, in your hallway at home.
You want to make sure you do them correctly though, or you can hurt yourself, mostly your knees. So when you do walking lunges, be sure that your knee doesn’t stick out over your ankle. You want to keep your spine nice and straight as well.
I believe that walking lunges are underrated. With my back injuries over the years, this is the best possible leg workout I can do. Instead of racking a bunch of weight on my shoulders and doing squats, which will put unnecessary pressure on my spine. When performed properly, squats are not bad but for me, there is some risk there, so I opt for other exercises.
Walking lunges also help improve balance and posture. It is such a basic and yet overlooked exercise. As you progress, you can add weights if you want, start with small dumbbells at your side as you walk. When I do walking lunges, I always make sure that I keep my upper body straight, almost like a piston in an engine, trying not to lean forward. By keeping my upper body straight, I can get a good deep stretch in the glutes and hamstrings as I go to parallel with my front leg. For me, I do 5 sets of 20 reps and I do this 3 times.
I do 300 walking lunges on my leg days. I do this about 3 days per week. Because I am not lifting heavy weights, I am able to do this several times per week. It builds endurance in addition to strength.
Leg curls really hit home
Leg curls are another awesome exercise I do for core strength. Leg curls target mostly the hamstrings and glutes. I use the prone (lying on my stomach) leg curl machine. There are also machines that you can sit in, like a chair and also a standing leg curl machine. These are a little uncomfortable for me, so I prefer the lying down version.
Again, here I do 5 sets of 20 reps, for a total of 100. It’s challenging to find the right weight when you are doing low weight/high reps, so I started really low and worked my way up. I am not so much interested in maxing out weight as I am with building solid muscle and endurance. That is why I do so many reps. And per the advice of my chiropractor who is probably the most insanely well-built person I have ever met.
There are a ton of core exercises, and these are just three of my favorites. It has been a long journey for me, so I am hoping to share some of the exercises for improving core strength that really helped me out.
Please let me know what you think and if you have any comments or questions. If any of the exercises give you pain, stop. You will always want to consult a doctor or healthcare provider before you begin any exercise program. These are core exercises that have helped me, hopefully, you will benefit as well.