Do you have a six pack that has been locked behind the fridge door for longer than you care to admit? Well it’s time to do something about it, and I’m going to tell you why.
Sure we can’t all achieve the washboard abs that are promised to us by late night infomercials and ‘get thin quick’ schemes that are plastered in magazines, but you can easily achieve significant core strength which contributes greatly to low back stability with a few targeted exercises. First let’s talk a little anatomy.
If you ask someone what their core muscles are they’re all going to say ABS! almost reflexively, and they’re right, but there is so much more. While the rectus abdominus (abs) are very important, they work in conjunction with the obliques (the muscles directly to either side of your ‘6 pack’ ) which are responsible for twisting your trunk. Along with these muscles there is a group of very powerful muscles along the lumbar spine which are responsible for extending your trunk as well as assisting the obliques with side bending and rotation. Oh and we can’t forget about your diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles! They are crucial in creating something known as intra abdominal pressure (IAP), which is very important.
Why is this IAP so important, you ask? Well through however we came into existence our lumbar spines got sort of short changed. The other regions of your spine (like the thoracic and pelvic regions) have bony structural support to absorb and deal with most of the forces that act upon them. The cervical spine, doesn’t have as much force placed upon it, so the muscular structures there are generally well equipped to handle them. So that leaves the lowly lumbar spine to foot the bill, it needs to be both stable and flexible to allow us to be mobile so a bony abdomen had to go. Which is where IAP comes in.
Your core muscles are constantly working to maintain IAP and keep you from becoming a puddle of bones on the ground. You’re using them right now and you didn’t even know it! How cool is that? So here’s a short list of some exercises that you can do to help increase the endurance of these muscles, as well as their strength and flexibility all the while improving your posture and decreasing your risk of low back injury.
These are a classic exercise for the abs that are also very commonly done incorrectly. When doing crunches, you only need to get the lower tips of your shoulder blades off the ground, any further and your start to put unnecessary stress on your spine which can lead to injury. Also, knowing when to stop can be a problem. If at any time you feel most of the work being done in your low back and not in your abs, STOP! When you feel this you are recruiting muscles not intended for flexing your trunk, which is why traditional sit-ups are not a recommended exercise.
You can also throw in some cross-over crunches to work those all important obliques!
These really target those obliques which are important for protecting your lumbar spine against one of the things it is most susceptible to, which is rotation. So do those side bends!
This exercise is for the muscles that run along your spine. They can be done either statically by holding an extended position on the ground (think superman), or with repetitions, which generally requires a bench to support your legs.
Deep Breathing / Kegel Exercises:
That’s right guys, they’re not just for women anymore. These exercises along with deep breathing (which can also improve cardiovascular health) target the top and bottom of your core which are generally neglected, but as you now know play a large part in our new friend IAP. Plus you can do them whenever you’d like and no one will ever know… or will they? Who knows, just do them okay?
This one is most easily demonstrated by something you can do on your own. Do 10 pushups, then do a complete core workout like described above. Try those same 10 pushups again, you’ll be a believer.
These exercises, when done regularly can go a long way to increasing your spinal (arguably your overall) health. It’s easier to think about them more as a kind of ‘spinal hygiene’ than an exercise routine that should be done regularly and in a disciplined way regardless of the absence of symptomolgy. Regular spinal adjustments can also help chronic sufferers of low back pain and insure that your lumbar spine moves the way it was intended to.
There are programs like yoga which combine exercises like this or ones similar to them to increase lumbar stability, which is why many chiropractors recommend it for their patients. I encourage you to find something that you enjoy, which will help in sticking to a plan and improving your outcomes.
As always consult your chiropractor, or me if you live in or near Denver before beginning an exercise program such as this so that they can determine if you are in adequate health to do so, and so that they can demonstrate proper technique.