Core exercises to strengthen the spine
Just as the stays support the mast and
the cables support the bridge, your core
muscles support your spine.
The muscles in your abdomen and back – which we call the “core” – are central to
your everyday spine health. They are at
the heart of any fitness regimen designed
to strengthen a healthy or ailing back.
Just as you protect your heart through
cardiovascular exercises, you will benefit
from strengthening your back through
For those who are experiencing difficulties
with their back, a gentle, step-by-step
strengthening program is an important
aspect of recovery and prevention. For
those with a healthy back, maintaining or
increasing strength in the core muscles is
Strong core muscles work by taking the
stress off the discs and joints. Picture for a
moment your bony spine, a long, curving
structure consisting of 33 vertebrae from the
base of your head to your tailbone. Strong
muscles can take some of the stress off that
backbone. This is especially important as we
age because, as we know, deterioration of the
joints is another unfortunate consequence of
the aging process.
Our patients who have been most successful
in maintaining their spine health are those
who have incorporated a spine exercise
program into their daily routine, right
along with bathing, brushing, and flossing.
If you are already performing core exercises
regularly, keep it up! If you are not, consult
with your primary care physician, a physical
therapist, or a trainer at a fitness facility
before you begin. The good news about
core exercises is that they can be easily done in the comfort of your home without extra equipment or expense. We encourage you
to make an effort to develop these new habits, as a strong core will reward you with
Beginner-level crunches. Lie on your back, bend your knees and hips at a
90-degree angle, and lift your legs
into the air. Cross your arms across your chest and lift your head and shoulders off
the floor; hold for 5 to 10
Mid-level crunches. Place your hands behind your head,
with fingers interlocked, and raise
your head and shoulders off the
floor; hold for 5 to 10 seconds.
Advanced-level bicycle crunches. With your
hands behind your head, raise
your left leg, knee bent, and point
your right elbow toward that leg;
Medicine ball rotation. While sitting, lift your legs slightly off the floor
and cross your feet.
Hold a medicine ball, small weight,
or food can with both hands and
move it from one hip to the other.
Start with a small number of
rotations, then build up as you gain
Plank. Get down on your hands and knees. Bend your elbows and rest your
forearms on the floor. With your toes on the floor, lift
up your knees. With your weight
balanced on your forearms and toes,
count to 10 and then rest. Extend
the time and number of repetitions
as you gain strength.
Sit on a Swiss Ball
Sitting on a Swiss ball is one way to train your back. It moves easily requiring you to activate your postural muscles and train your balance. You can improve posture, strengthen and stretch your core muscles, and burn calories. At the computer or reaching for the phone, your muscles react, ultimately improving your sense of balance--on or off the ball!
The Swiss ball is a core stability tool. If you sit in a standard chair, you aren't using your muscles to maintain your balance and posture; you're relaxed. On the ball, those core muscles are constantly working.
The Swiss ball comes in a variety of sizes, and prices vary with quality. Pick the right size for your height. Opt for a non-burst ball.
Tips as you sit on the ball:
- Sit with thighs parallel to the floor
- Stop slouching; use your back, abs, and glutes
- Train your balance
- Increase your time and training with the ball --
Sources & links
If you have questions, please contact Mayfield Brain & Spine at 800-325-7787 or 513-221-1100.
reviewed by: Lisa Cleveland, PT, Mayfield Clinic, Cincinnati, Ohio
Mayfield Certified Health Info materials are written and developed by the Mayfield Clinic. This information is not intended to replace the medical advice of your health care provider.