Core exercises to strengthen the spineOpen pdf

* Consult your physician before starting this or any exercise program


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 core exercises.

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 also advisable. 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 long-term benefits.

Transverse abdominal contraction (beginner) Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet flat. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button toward your spine. Hold 10 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times. Perform 2 times per day.

March (beginner) Lie on your back with both knees bent, feet flat. Tighten your lower abdominals and pelvic floor by pulling your belly button up and in toward your spine. Hold that position and lift the left foot off the floor to a 90 degree angle. Return to original position, then repeat with right leg/foot without losing the core contraction. Return to start position and relax your abdominals. Repeat 10 times on each side. Perform 2 times per day.

Heel taps (mid-level) Lie on your back and bring your legs up together in a 90 degree position to your body. Knees are bent to 90 degrees. Keeping this position with your abdominals tight toward your spine, heel tap one side down to the floor, bring it back up, then tap the other side. Remember to keep your abdominals tight throughout the process. Repeat 10 times on each side. Perform 2 times per day.

Dead bug (mid-level) Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms extended to the ceiling. Tighten your toward your spine. Hold that position throughout this exercise. Extend the right leg outward, making it straighter, while extending the left arm overhead. Hold 5 seconds, then return to the original positon. Repeat to the opposite limbs. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Lower abdominal (advanced) Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. Squeeze a pillow or ball between your knees. Tighten your abdominals by pulling your belly button up and in toward your spine, then lift your knees toward your chest. Do not take your knees past a 90 degree position in relation to your body. Lower and repeat 10 times. Never let your lower back come off the floor/ table. Increase repetitions if this does not create pain.

Deep spine stabilizers (beginner) Lie on your side with your hip and knees in a 90 degree position. Make sure shoulders are in a straight line with the hips. Without moving your hips, lift your ankles off the table about 2 inches. Return slowly to start position. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Side plank Lie on your side with your elbow underneath you. Prop up on your elbow and your knees while keeping your body in a straight line. Tighten abdominal and pelvic floor muscles by pulling up and in along with squeezing your gluteals together. Hold 10 seconds and repeat 5 times.

Modified plank Lie on your stomach and prop up on your elbows. While keeping your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles pulled up and in, raise up on your knees and elbows. Maintain this position for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times. Increase your hold time as the exercise becomes easier.

Plank Lie on your stomach with your elbows propped up underneath you. Your toes should be pointed into the floor. Raise up onto your elbows and toes by pulling your abdominals up and in and squeezing your gluteal muscles. Keep your back straight.

Sources & links

If you have questions, please contact Mayfield Brain & Spine at 800-325-7787 or 513-221-1100.

updated: 3.2020
reviewed by: Lisa Cleveland, PT, Mayfield Clinic, Cincinnati, Ohio

Mayfield Certified Health InfoMayfield 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.

Mayfield services

We strive to manage patients as conservatively as possible. Exercise and physical therapy strengthens back and stomach muscles.

The Mayfield Physical Therapy Network is a listing of preferred physical therapy providers in the region that have been oriented to Mayfield's spine treatment processes. While there are many qualified providers in the area, these providers have met our criteria for treating patients with spinal diseases and disorders.

If your back or neck pain doesn't respond to conservative treatment, surgery may be needed.


To make an appointment call 513-221-1100.