Strengthening Your Core
Core muscles are essential for the stability of the lumbar spine. “Core stability” describes the ability to control the position and movement of the central portion of the body. Core stability training targets the muscles deep within the abdomen that connect to the spine, pelvis and shoulders, which assist in the maintenance of good posture and provide the foundation for all arm and leg movements.
While many people think of sit-ups when it comes to abdominal strengthening, it actually has few functional value for the core. Maintaining stability involves isometric contractions of the core muscle (contracting a muscle without moving), rather than concentric contraction (such as the case with sit-ups). The following are a few exercises you can perform to improve your core stability:
Transverse abdominis activation
- Start by lying on your back with knees bent
- Your lumbar spine should be neither arched up nor flattened against the floor, but aligned normally with a small gap between the floor and your back. This is the “neutral” lumbar position you should learn to achieve
- Breathe in deeply and relax all your stomach muscles
- Breathe out and, as you do so, draw your lower abdomen inwards as if your belly button is going back towards the floor. Pilates teachers describe this as “zipping up”, as if you are fastening up a pair of tight jeans
- Hold the contraction for 10 seconds and stay relaxed, allowing yourself to breathe in and out as you hold the tension in your lower stomach area
- Repeat 5-10 times
- Pick a ball that is the right size for you: when sitting on it, your hips and knees should be bent to about 90 degrees.
- Sitting on the ball with the arms crossed, slowly contract your abdominals as outlined in the above exercise while breathing slowly
- Slowly lift one foot while maintaining your stability. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
- Repeat by lifting the opposite foot instead now. Hold 30s x 4.
- Balance on your hands and knees on a flat surface. Make sure your back is flat and not slanted. Imagine having a teacup on your back, with the goal of not spilling its contents.
- Slowly raise your right arm, while maintaining your flat back
- With the right arm raised, slow lift your left leg. Hold for up to 30s, the switch sides
- Repeat 10x each side
- Start on your elbows and knees, resting on a flat surface with your shoulders directly above your elbows
- Straighten your legs, raising your entire body so you are weight-bearing on your elbows and toes only, with your lower abdomen working to keep your body straight. It is important not to arch the back (over extend) during the movement; keep the hips slightly flexed.
- Maintain for up to 1 minute
- Repeat 3 times
- Lie on your back with knees bent, or on your side. Place one hand over the lumbar spine, resting the back of your hand on the back.
- Contract the multifidus muscle by imagining you are drawing your thigh into your pelvis. You should feel a slight bulging beneath your hand, pushing against it. No large movements should occur in the spine or the hips during the contraction.
- Hold for 5s then relax. Repeat 10 times. You may progress to contracting the muscle in different postures, such as sitting.
For more core exercises or if you need additional pointers on improving your posture and health, talk to your Vancouver physiotherapist!