Looking after your back

Richard East

Best Exercises For A Healthy Back

Back pain plagues millions of people over the course of their lifetime. Back pain can be due to repetitive strain on the back, an acute injury to the back, bony wear and tear on the back or even from simple fatigue. Some experience back pain because they work in a sitting job and the back is weakened due to lack of exercise. Many cases of back pain can be avoided by exercising your back in a healthy way that strengthens the muscles and ligaments so that back pain will not be a problem again.
I would say out of all the people I have trained over the years the biggest complaint is back pain. Often this back pain stems from having weak abdominals and glutes and bad habits of using the back to do daily tasks.
Often education on body dynamics and learning how to utilise our muscles properly and safely can make a huge difference.

Let’s look at the main way of protecting our back.

Strengthen The Core

The back is not the only thing that keeps your body upright. Your abdomen, together with your back, represents the “core” of your body. Both parts need to be functioning in order for you to have the ability to stand, stretch, and bend appropriately.Perhaps one of the best exercises for a healthy back includes abdominal exercises. A weak abdomen puts too much pressure on the back to take on functions the abdomen needs to participate in. Abdominal exercises strengthen the overall core and will help you have a strong and healthy back.

What abdominal exercises work best?

Something as simple as sit ups can help strengthen the abdominal muscles so that the core is strengthened. The exercises can be done in several ways to strengthen the upper, middle and body muscles. For example:

  • Sit ups with your legs straight—this strengthens the upper abdominal muscles
  • Sit ups with your legs bent—this strengthens the middle abdominal muscles
  • Lying down and lifting your feet off the floor—this strengthens the lower abdominal muscles

There are many exercises that work on the abdominals. A quick search on YouTube will bring up literally thousands of videos showcasing different abdominal moves.
This can be quite daunting. Stick to the basics. Looking at the above information showing you what exercises work what part of the abs try picking just 3 exercises to start with and maybe do 3 sets of 10 reps on each exercise with a short rest in-between.

Roll Ups – Lie out straight on your back with your hands behind your head outstretched. Contract your abdominals and raise your upper body along with hands straight. Curl all the way up until your hands come over and touch your feet or as close as possible. Then allow your self to slowly return to the start position staying in full control. This would be one Roll Up.

Abdominal Crunch – Lie down on the floor on your back and bend your knees, placing your hands behind your head or across your chest. Some people find that crossing the arms over the chest helps them avoid pulling on the neck. However, if you find your neck is strained, you can keep one hand cradling the head. If you are putting your hands behind your head, your fingers should gently cradle your head. The idea is to support your neck without taking away from the work of your abs. A third option is to place your hands on your thighs and allow them to slide up towards your knees on each rep.

  1. Pull your belly button towards your spine in preparation for the movement. 
  2. Slowly contract your abdominals, bringing your shoulder blades about 1 or 2 inches off the floor.
  3. Exhale as you come up and keep your neck straight, chin up. Imagine you’re holding a tennis ball under your chin. That’s about the angle you want to keep the chin the entire time.
  4. Hold at the top of the movement for a few seconds, breathing continuously.
  5. Slowly lower back down, but don’t relax all the way.

Leg Drops – Start lying on your back with both legs long towards the ceiling. Keep the abs tight as you lower both legs to within a few inches of the floor. Then raise the legs together back up to the start point.The movement is slow as you work the abdominals. Never go so low with your legs that your back pops off the mat.

You can also do a single leg drop so alternate the legs. To make the move slightly more manageable to begin with you could bend your knees on the double leg drop or the single leg drop.

As with all exercises just take your time and follow the correct technique. If a particular exercise just does not suit you there will be lots of others that you can do.

Pilates

Pilates is another core strengthening form of exercise. Pilates is best learned through a Pilates instructor. It is a toning type of exercise that strengthens the core, including the abdominal and back muscles. The exercises are easily learned and can be a part of your daily exercise routine.

Simple Back Exercises

You can strengthen the back alone although most exercises that strengthen the back also strengthen the abdominal muscles as well. Either way, you have a healthier back as a result.

Summary

A healthy back is all about core strength training. It includes not only exercises of the back but exercises of the stomach as well. Flexibility exercises help your back as well and include things like bending from side to side to loosen the back stiffness and bending forward to touch your toes, which keeps your back from getting too tight.
Often the worst thing you can do if you have a bad back is to rest too much. Keep active and keep moving. I am not saying go and run a marathon but keep mobile and stretch regularly to relieve pain and then to help strengthen those muscles around your back start strengthening the core and also the glutes to future proof your precious back.

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