Core exercises have been the buzz word for well over a decade now and there's good reason for this. They help to stabilise your lumbar spine and keep you free of back pain.
To find out more on why go the end of of this post. In the meantime here are some to be getting on with in increasing order of difficulty.
1. Using a wobble cushion or gym ball to sit.
This exercise makes you engage your core muscles as you balance on the slightly unstable surface. It is suitable for all ages and abilities if using the cushion.
You can progress to the ball (if you have room for one). Word of warning; small children like to bounce them around.
2. Quadruped Knee lifts.
Go onto all fours keeping your low back in a neutral position (not arched up or down too much, somewhere in between). Then very carefully lift your knees slightly off the floor by tensing your lower stomach muscles as shown below. Hold for anywhere between 5-30secs and repeat. The number of reps is up to you but it is best to work until you feel that the muscles are getting tense and a little tired. Progress this number steadily to your goal.
3. Half Plank:
This is basically a plank which is detailed below, but you can either do it on your knees or against a worktop, desk, sofa or bed. The lower you go the harder it is. You can rest on your elbows or straight arms, it's up to you. The important thing is that it should not be straining your low back.
4. Dead Bug: Lie on your back with your arms and legs above you like a dried out bug! Have your knees bent. Slowly while tensing your stomach muscles lower an arm and opposite leg. Keep control of your core, make sure you keep hips and pelvis level and do not let the lower back arch more. If you feel you can't stabilise then stop before that point and work the exercise up to there. Over time you will get better at this and be able to go further. Alternate until you feel you've done enough.
5. Full Plank:
Lie face down on the floor and keeping your body in line push up onto either your straight arms or bent elbows. Keep looking down with your chin held into your neck in a neutral position and your neck elongated. You should feel a slight stretch at the back of the neck.
Hold this position for however long you feel comfortable with. You may want to do lots of short holds or go for the endurance one. I would suggest somewhere in between rather than trying to break the world record which at time of writing this, was an incredible 8 hours plus.
5. Plank with alternate leg raises.
As above but this time you lift one of your legs off the floor. Make sure you keep your pelvis and hips level.
6: Plank on a wobbly surface. Such as a wobble cushion / board or gym ball.
These are enough to be getting on with but you can progress to doing standing bodyweight exercises such as squats or weights on a wobbly surface. This is probably only suitable for athletes or show offs.
Imagine trying to bend a barrel... It's impossible. Now imagine a flexible egg timer. It is inherently weak at it's narrowest point...easy peasy.
Your spine is like this too. In order to have flexibility at the low back and neck you have a column of bones. The pelvis and rib cage are different and go all the way round. So they are a lot less mobile. Take away the muscles form the abdomen and low back and you will have a floppy but tough structure. Add in the back muscles and hip flexors and these act as guys, similar to those supporting a flag pole. That helps stability but it is still vulnerable to big loads. Imagine now placing that pole in wall of a circular large wrapper that tenses and shortens. Now you have stability and the pole won't move much even with large loads.
This is effectively what your abdominal muscles do. They spread forces around the body and help the lumbar supporting muscles to move the spine in a controlled way. The stronger the muscles the longer you can support. Weak muscles result in increased movement of the low back joints and the increased chances of developing injuries and subsequent arthritis as the spine lays down bony spurs to stabilise itself.
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