How to Correctly Strengthen Your Core
Lack of core strength is often a key component to back pain. In America, a major causal factor to weak core strength is the amount of time we spend sitting. Not only does sitting often result in poor spinal posture, it also allows us to relax core abdominal and spinal muscles that would normally be contracting to stabilize the spine while standing. This combination often results in pain, muscle imbalances, and other health issues such as metabolic syndrome and obesity.
When attempting to strengthen the core, we first need to identify what we want the core to do. The purpose of the core is to provide a strong, stable foundation that will allow our arms and legs to move correctly. Obviously, the core should be able to move, but the body is functioning best when the core is focusing on stability rather than mobility. For this reasoning, we should focus on strengthening exercises that will stabilize the core in a fixed position, rather than trying to strengthen the core through movement and muscle contraction, like sit-ups.
One of the leading experts in core strengthening and rehabilitation is a spinal researcher named Stuart McGill. Throughout his research, he developed his three favorite core-strengthening exercises. These exercises are known as McGill’s Big 3.
Start lying flat on your back, with one knee bent so that foot can lie flat on the floor. Place your hands palm-down underneath your low back, to keep a proper curve in the lumbar spine. While keeping your neck as stable as possible, raise your head, neck, shoulders, and chest together off the floor about 3-5 inches. Try to avoid tucking your chin to your chest or letting your head fall back to the floor. Hold this position up to 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat 3-6 times per side.
Start on your hands and knees, with your hands right under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. While keeping your back as flat as possible, slowly raise one arm forward and extend the opposite leg backward. The goal should be to get your hand, shoulder, torso, hip, and ankle in a straight line. Focus on rotating your trunk as little as possible, keeping your back flat. Hold this position 5-7 seconds, and switch sides. Repeat up to 10 times per side.
Start lying on one side with your elbow under your shoulder and your feet curled back so your knees are bent up to 90 degrees. Lift your hips up so all of your weight is on your elbow and knees. To make the exercise more difficult and effective, hold your weight through your feet instead of your knees. Hold this position up to 30 seconds, and switch sides. Repeat 3-6 times per side.
To learn more about these exercises, you can find videos of each exercise online. Of course, I would be happy to help anyone in the office learn how to do these movements as well. Core stability is a key component to spinal health, and these simple exercises can be a great way to work toward a strong core.
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex