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Strength Exercises to Prevent Low Back Pain

Young men practices yoga asana chakravakasana

Young caucasian men practices yoga asana chakravakasana - bird pose in urban studio.

Authored by Julia Drake – Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

Every weight loss journey has its roadblocks, barriers, and challenges; for a lot of people, a common roadblock is low back pain.  These aches can often make sticking to an exercise plan a difficult challenge.  The good news is sometimes exercising can actually help reduce current back pain, and prevent future aches from even occurring.  The key is the type of exercise.  The map around this roadblock draws a line directly to strength exercises.   

Why Strength Exercises are Leading Players in Preventing Low Back Pain 

If we have ruled out muscle sprains, strains, or any spinal injury, sometimes our lower back pain can be from muscle weakness.  The muscles surrounding the spine are responsible for being strong enough to protect the spine.  If these muscles are weak, the spine’s protection is compromised, which could lead to low back pain.  Our posterior muscles surrounding the low back protect our spine, but another (often surprising) important muscle for spinal protection and to prevent low back pain, is our core muscles.  

Before performing any core strengthening exercise, we must first engage the core muscles.  At Hilton Head Health, we like to use imagery.  If you act as if you are coughing or blowing out birthday candles, you might feel a tightness in your tummy.  That tightness is your core muscles activating.  In order to engage those activated core muscles, hold that tightness.  Another way to engage these core muscles is actively sucking your belly button into your spine, and holding it there.  Use these tips to engage your core when performing each of the three strength exercises below to prevent low back pain from either a chair or on the floor.  

Three Strength Exercises to Prevent Low Back Pain 

Bird Dog  

We have small muscles in our low back attached to our spine called the multifidus muscles, which is named the “smallest yet most powerful muscles to support the spine*”.  These muscles are said to activate even before your body starts a movement (like lifting a heavy box from the floor) to create a strong protective shield around the spine.  Sometimes these muscles can “fall asleep” from lack of use or muscle weakness, which could contribute to low back pain. The Bird Dog is a great exercise to start with because it “wakes up” these multifidus muscles.  The more we practice waking up the multifidus muscles, the less likely they will fall asleep!  

To perform the bird dog standing:  

  • Start standing tall behind your chair with your hands on the back of the chair.  
  • Before starting the movement, engage your core using the tips above (like sucking the belly button into the spine, and holding it!) 
  • Slow and controlled, lift your opposite arm and opposite leg out so they are in line with the body, keeping them straight.  Return to starting position and alternate sides. 
  • Make sure your torso is stationary like a statue and you are only moving your limbs. 

To perform the bird dog on the mat: 

  • Start on the mat, on your hands and knees. Make sure your wrists are directly under your shoulder and your knees are directly under your hips. 
  • Before starting the movement, engage your core using the tips above (like sucking the belly button into the spine, and holding it!) 
  • Slow and controlled, lift your opposite arm and opposite leg out in line with the body, keeping them straight. Return to starting position and alternate sides. 
  • Make sure your torso is stationary like a statue and you are only moving your limbs. 

Do this exercise at least 10 times on each side.  

Bridge 

In order to protect the spine and prevent low back pain, all the muscles surrounding the spine must work together to act as a strong protective shield.  This exercise strengthens both the posterior muscles AND the core muscles, at the same time.  

To perform the bridge standing (also called a hip hinge): 

  • Start standing a foot or two behind the back of your chair, facing the opposite direction of the chair.  
  • Standing tall with your shoulders back, engage the core, and hinge the hips back to tap the chair.  
  • To return, squeeze the glutes and lift the hips to a standing position.  

To perform the bridge on the mat: 

  • Start on the mat, laying on your back with shoulders down and away from our ears.  Position your feet flat on the floor right under the hips, with a bend in the knees.  Leave some space between your feet and your glutes.  
  • Engage the core, Squeeze the glutes, and lift the hips until they’re in line with the body.  There should be a straight line from your shoulders to your knees! 
  • Return the hips to the floor. 

Do this exercise at least 10 times. 

Plank 

Plank

Our core is our support system for the body.  These muscles play a major role in almost every movement the body performs; anywhere from sitting up straight, to getting up off the floor.  The body depends on these muscles to do a lot of work.  If our core is weak and cannot support the demands of our body’s every day movements, other muscles must take over.  These muscles are often the low back muscles, leading to low back pain over time.  The plank is one of the best exercises for strengthening the core, and it is also one of the most challenging.  Start at whatever level for however long, because any amount of time in your plank (with proper form, of course) is a great core workout! 

To perform the plank standing: 

  • Start standing tall, behind the back of your chair.  
  • Place your hands on the back of your chair, keeping your arms straight. 
  • With your body straight, take it up onto the toes. Engage the core and HOLD HERE! 
  • Your body should be one long “plank”, so creating one straight line from the tip of your head to the tip of your toes by keeping the hips tucked in. 
  • Extra Challenge: To challenge yourself, step your toes back a little further.  To REALLY challenge yourself, take it down to the seat of your chair! 

To perform the plank on the mat: 

  • Start prone on the mat, facing the floor. 
  • Choose on your hands or on your forearms.  If you are on your hands, ensure the wrists are right under the shoulders. If you are on the forearms, ensure the elbows are right under the shoulders. 
  • With your body straight, take it up onto the toes.  Engage the core, engage the glutes, lift the shoulder blades up to the ceiling, and HOLD HERE! 
  • Your body should be one long “plank”, so creating one straight line from the tip of your head to the tip of your toes by keeping the hips tucked in. 

Hold this exercise for as long as you can, aiming for 2 minutes.  Once you can reach 2 minutes, try the Extra Challenge!  

Julia Drake
Fitness Instructor at Hilton Head Health

Click here for more information about the wellness and weight loss programs at Hilton Head Health, recently named the #1 Wellness Resort the Country by USA Today

*Link: 

https://www.coreconcepts.com.sg/article/multifidus-smallest-yet-most-powerful-muscle/