4 Ways to Strengthen Your Back

Building core muscles will protect you from injury
Stretch-for-back-strength

Your back muscles are involved in every move you make. The spinal system includes muscles along with the bones, discs, joints and ligaments in the trunk and abdominal area, together known as the core. This complex system helps your body twist, turn, bend, extend and bear stress from everyday activities.

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“Weakness, imbalance or tightness in the muscles that support the spine creates imbalance and can lead to abnormal posture, muscle fatigue and pain,” says Daniel Mazanec, MD, Associate Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health.

“The primary benefit of a healthy back is reduction in episodes of back pain,” he adds, noting that back pain is the No. 1 reason for downtime from work in people age 40 and younger. At some point, 90 percent of adults have an episode of back pain that lasts at least a few days and interferes with activities.

The following exercises for all levels help build core muscles to protect the spine and prevent back pain. “There are a number of ways to strengthen the core,” Dr. Mazanec says. “The exercise you choose will depend on whether you have had back problems before, and your age.” Be sure to discuss any exercise program with your doctor first.

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1. Pool exercises (easy)

Pool walking is a low-impact way to build core muscles. As you move, the core works against the force of the water. “This is gentle on extremities such as knees, hips, ankles and feet,” says Dr. Mazanec.

2. Exercise ball (medium/difficult)

Exercise videos and classes will help you understand how to use an exercise ball appropriately. These exercises are deceptively simple, Dr. Mazanec says, and, with practice, you can increase intensity gradually.

3. Floor exercises (medium/difficult)

A popular core booster is the side plank. Lie on your right side with your right hand on the ground. (Beginners should use the elbow.) Lift yourself up to form a plank, with your right arm straight and left arm at your side. Hold the position, then repeat. Be sure to keep the body in a straight line while tightening the abs and posterior.

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4. Mind-body workouts (easy to difficult)

Disciplines such as tai chi, yoga and Pilates help target core muscles. Sign up for a class or rent a DVD exercise program to try at home. Dr. Mazanec notes that tai chi is low impact and ideal for people with a history of musculoskeletal problems. Choose “relaxation” yoga for lower impact. Pilates is centered around building core strength and improving posture.

No matter what you do, the key is to find an activity appropriate for your body — one that you enjoy and will stick with so you can continue to build a strong, healthy back.

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