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BACK PAIN BUSTERS: Help your back with these low-to-medium intensity exercises

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Back pain can stop us in our tracks. From sitting at a desk to hours of manual labor, the lumbar spine can start to feel not as resilient, and at times, painful. In the gym and during various sports, having lower-back issues can limit your performance and even put you on the sidelines.


While there are many reasons for having lower-back issues, the good news is that it can be improved more often than people think. If you have been told you have degenerative discs, bulging discs, or arthritis, this does not mean you have to stop working out.


Avoiding movement or thinking that there is no hope is not the answer. A leading spine health researcher, Dr. Stuart McGill, out of Waterloo, Canada, has spent his career looking into what exercises work best to improve lower-spine health and core function.


He also has a great quote that I have personally taken to heart to give me the confidence to improve my own back health.


“A degenerative disc disease diagnosis is equivalent to telling your mother-in-law with wrinkles that she has degenerative face disease.”


While this quote seems funny and even abrasive, McGill’s point is that we all will experience some disc degeneration at some point in our life. Some are faster than others but it does not mean that we are crumbling apart and cannot stay active or improve.


Sometimes the proper movement is the best thing for lower-back issues, along with avoiding the movement patterns that cause harm.


Beyond that, you must focus on strengthening and improving the overall function of the core muscles. It is not all about abdominal work and requires much more than that.


These three exercises are the tried and true core builders backed by science to help improve your core and keep low-back issues at bay. These are low-to-medium intensity exercises that almost anyone of any fitness level can perform safely.


BIRD DOG


Key muscles worked: spinal erectors, lats, and #glutes


Function: to improve rotary stability (improving rotation and lumbar stability)

  1. Start by getting into a quadruped (all fours) position.

  2. Make sure that your wrist, elbows, and shoulders are in line with each other.

  3. Do the same for your hips and knees.

  4. Keep your head and spine neutral while reaching out with your left arm and right leg until they reach parallel to the floor.

  5. Hold for five seconds while tightening up all the muscles in your body by making a fist with your hand and squeezing your glute.

  6. Slowly return to the start position while minimizing the movement of your body.

  7. Repeat on the other side for 5 reps on each side.


SIDE PLANK


Key muscles worked: oblique’s and quadratics #lamborum


Function: anti-lateral flexion (body’s ability to not bend side-to-side with load or during sport)

  1. Start by lying down on your right side propped up on your right elbow. Make sure that your elbow is directly underneath your shoulder.

  2. Place your left foot in front of your right foot, not stacked directly on top.

  3. Elevate your hips until they are parallel to the floor.

  4. Keep your spine straight. There should be a straight line from your head to your right ankle.

  5. Hold for five seconds while bracing your whole body.

  6. Lower your hips slowly to the start position and repeat for 5 total reps.

  7. Repeat on the other side.


McGill Setup


Key muscles worked: transverse #abdominus, multifidi


Function: Improve abdominal wall firing pattern and #spinal stability


  1. Lie on your back on the floor with your right leg straight and flat on the floor. Your left knee should be bent and your left foot flat.

  2. Place your hands' palms down on the floor underneath the natural arch in your lower back (Don’t flatten your back.)

  3. Slowly raise your head and shoulders off the floor without bending your lower back or spine, and hold this position for seven to eight seconds, breathing deeply the entire time. That’s one reputation.

  4. Do all of your repetitions, and then switch legs so that your left leg is straight and your right is bent.

  5. Perform four to five repetitions, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat one to two more times. To make it even harder, raise your elbows off the floor as you curl up. And for an even greater challenge, start by contracting your abs, and then curl up against that force.

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