If You Have Back Problems Be Wary of These Three Exercises

When it comes to strength­en­ing your core to pro­tect your low back from injury, you have a range of options.  The vari­ety of equip­ment avail­able in your health club pro­vides an even wider range of choic­es.

Just watch out for these three poten­tial low back stres­sors.

Sit ups or curl ups

Sit ups, curl ups and roll ups are sup­posed strength­en your stom­ach mus­cles – the mus­cles you need to pro­tect your low back.

The prob­lem is that sit-ups over­work the super­fi­cial rec­tus abdo­min­is and don’t tap the core sup­port pow­er of the oblique and trans­verse mus­cles. Sit-ups can even back­fire because they place extra stress on the inter­ver­te­bral discs.

Your alter­na­tive? The plank pose and its vari­ants.

Here’s a pic­ture:


Plank Pose

Hold the pose for 30 sec­onds or more. Once you’ve devel­oped the strength to main­tain the pose with good form for more than 90 sec­onds, progress to a more chal­leng­ing plank pose vari­ant.

Or try this abdom­i­nal exer­cise:  Lie on your back and sim­ply lift both arms all the way over your head.   Make sure that your low­er ribs don’t flare out as you do it. You have to engage your abdom­i­nals as your arms lift in order to con­trol the align­ment between your ribcage and pelvis.

Hold for 30 sec­onds. You can make the exer­cise more chal­leng­ing by lift­ing one foot about 3 inch­es off the floor. Need an even hard­er chal­lenge? Hold a 5–10 pound weight in your hands as you lift them over­head. No mat­ter which ver­sion of the exer­cise you try, the impor­tant fea­ture is keep­ing your trunk align­ment sta­ble by engag­ing your deep­er abdom­i­nal mus­cles.

Here are a few pic­tures that may help make this exer­cise clear­er.


Poor Trunk Sup­port

This guy is per­form­ing the exer­cise incor­rect­ly. Note that his low­er ribs are flar­ing out. He’s not using his abdom­i­nals prop­er­ly to sta­bi­lize his trunk.

supine leg lift

Improved Trunk Align­ment

She’s using a bet­ter pat­tern of trunk align­ment. The posi­tion of her legs, with the knees bent, is less chal­leng­ing than if her legs were extend­ed straight out.

Here’s a more dif­fi­cult vari­a­tion:


Dif­fi­cult Ver­sion on Bosu Ball

Don’t try this until you’re sure you’re ready for an advanced ver­sion.

Side-bending the trunk in the standing position while holding weights in both hands

I’ve seen many peo­ple per­form­ing this exer­cise in the gym with the inten­tion of strength­en­ing the mus­cles that side-bend the spine.  Good idea in the­o­ry.

The poten­tial draw­back is that hold­ing weights in your hands cre­ates addi­tion­al pres­sure on your inter­ver­te­bral discs.  Then, if you bend to the side, all that extra pres­sure is focused on the just one side of the disc, hit­ting it where it’s most vul­ner­a­ble to rup­ture.

Your alter­na­tive: Per­form a sim­i­lar stand­ing side-bend­ing exer­cise using cables, focus­ing on only one side at a time.  With cables, your mus­cles still have to con­tract in order to side-bend your trunk.  But there’s no ver­ti­cal com­pres­sion load, thus spar­ing your discs.

Here’s a pic­ture:

side bending with cables

Lat­er­al Bend­ing With Cables

Dead Lifts

Dead lifts tar­get the spinal exten­sor mus­cles of your low­er back.  They’re impor­tant mus­cles that need strength­en­ing.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it’s a chal­lenge to main­tain prop­er align­ment while per­form­ing a dead lift.  If your spinal align­ment isn’t ide­al, you’re set­ting your­self up for inter­ver­te­bral disc dam­age.

Your alter­na­tive: Lie face down on a bench with your legs and low­er pelvis hang­ing down, ankles crossed.  Hold on to the sides of the bench to keep your trunk sta­ble and lift your legs and pelvis until your low back is hor­i­zon­tal­ly aligned.  Then low­er slow­ly.  Repeat 8–12 times.

These pic­tures show the start­ing and end­ing posi­tions for the exer­cise.

Reverse Spine Extension

Reverse Spine Exten­sion


Reverse Spine Extension - Ending Position

Reverse Spine Exten­sion — End­ing Posi­tion


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

Dr. Lavine’s Top Five Exer­cis­es for Your Low Back

Self-Care and Exer­cise Guide for Spondy­lolis­the­sis


About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods.

His website, askdrlavine.com, provides more information about his approach.

Please contact him at drlavine@yourbodyofknowledge.com or at 212-400-9663.

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