Strengthen Your Core Without Wrecking Your Back

By , Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD
The muscles of your core work together to support posture, protect the spine and improve agility, balance and power, making core strength training an important part of any fitness routine. Unfortunately, for many people, core strength training and back pain or discomfort go hand in hand. Often resulting from weak muscles and poor form, back pain is no reason to avoid core strength training, though. In fact, properly performed core exercises can simultaneously help protect your back and strengthen the abs at the same time.

Decrease the probability of injury with these back-friendly core strength exercises. 

The Bird Dog
Start on your hands and knees. With your stomach muscles tightened, lift and extend one leg behind you, keeping your hips level. Hold for 5 seconds, then switch to the other leg. Repeat 8 to 12 times for each leg, lengthening the time you hold each lift as you go. To take the move to the next level, try lifting and extending your opposite arm for each repetition. This exercise is an excellent way to learn how to stabilize the lower back during movement of the arms and legs. While doing this exercise, be careful not to let the lower back muscles sag.

Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor under your knees. Push your heels into the floor, squeeze your buttocks and lift your hips off the floor until your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line. Hold for 5-10 seconds, and then slowly lower hips to the floor and rest for 5-10 seconds. Repeat the exercise 8 to 10 times. It is important to tighten your abdominal muscles throughout the lift to avoid arching your lower back.

Modified Plank
Lie on your stomach to start. Raise yourself up so that you're resting on your forearms and your knees. In this posture, your head and neck align with your back, with your shoulders lining up directly above the elbows. Tighten your abdominal muscles and hold for 15-30 seconds. Lower your body to the floor and rest for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.

Side Plank
The side plank pose challenges stability and improves core strength by working the muscles along the side of the body. Begin by lying on your left side and raising yourself onto your left forearm. Place your left shoulder directly above your left elbow, keeping your shoulders, hips and knees in alignment. Rest your right arm along the side of your body. Tighten your abdominal muscles and hold for 15 seconds. Lower and rest for 10 seconds before repeating on the left side. Once complete, repeat on your right side, rest and then repeat a second time on the right side.

Perform these moves 2-3 times a week and you will begin to see results in both your core and back strength in just a few short weeks.

About the Author
Dr. Thomas J. Kleeman, MD, is nationally-renowned orthopedic surgeon and founder of the New Hampshire Neurospine Institute. With the help of his wife Anne, he has become dedicated to the use of exercise and good nutrition as a means of maintaining quality of life during the aging process.  Now 66, he is a cancer survivor who found the benefits of exercise and nutrition instrumental in his own recovery.  Along with his wife Anne, a registered nurse and certified fitness professional, he has launched MDfitness: The Doctor's Workout on DVD—an easy to follow exercise program designed for people over 40, along with EatandBeFit, a nutrition and fitness blog.

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NASFKAB 7/22/2019
Great idea but how to get on the floor & get up later???? Report
Great article! Report
GRALAN 7/9/2019
Wow, I'd never thought of modifying the plank. Goes to show you what not paying attention gets you, right? Or at least me.

Thanks. I know I can do those exercises and can add them to my squats and free weights. I have a problem with dizziness so bikes, treadmills, jumping jacks, burpees, etc., are things of the past.

Woo Hoo. Report
REDROBIN47 6/12/2019
Good exercises. Just wish I could get down on the floor. Report
DARIUS2792 2/10/2019
Thanks Report
Nice. Ty Report
_CYNDY55_ 12/17/2018
Thanks Report
JIACOLO 12/17/2018
I definitely need to add these to my daily routine Report
DIGIT00 12/17/2018
Thanks for the exercises Report
SHOAPIE 12/17/2018
Thank you. Report
RMYERS4414 12/16/2018
This is great and all but what about people that have bad knees. Report
97MONTY 12/16/2018
Thanks Report
SPINECCO 12/16/2018
Great article. Report
MSROZZIE 12/16/2018
Great exercise ideas. Good need-to-know information! Report
RAPUNZEL53 12/16/2018
Great. Report
Great moves! Report
Great exercises! Report
Thanks Report
I could have done with this a few years ago Report
This is great Report
Awesome Report
I need to work on my core. Report
You can definitely be sore after these moves now Report
These are great moves. I'm going to print them for future reference. Report
great Report
Great article Report
good article. Report
Great article Report
I've added the bird-dog to my routine! Report
Awesome tips. Report
Awesome tips. Report
I need to work my core Report
A strong core is essential. Report
Thank you! I have back, neck, and shoulder pain. These I can do! Report
Good exercises. Report
These workouts should have my weight loss, back pain, and fibromyalgia Report
These exercises will help my sciatica Report
These exercises are simple and doable. Thank you. Report
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These look good but far beyond my abilities. I am always looking for something g to soothe my back pain that I have experienced over 60 yrs. I do hope it helps others. Report
Thanks so much! It's awesome to get some exercises that I can do for core/abs that won't cause back pain. Report
Thanks so much for these exercises. Now my back wont hurt like it does. Report
This was exactly what I was hoping to find today. Thanks. Report
These are really cool routines. My favorite is the Side Plank. It really works as I have tried using this style many times before. I also think that it's more effective than the modified plank. It helps in defining abs. You can also find good points in here Report
I wish these were shown in a video. Its hard to carry through with proper form from a single photo. Bad form can do more harm than good. Report
I love these, added this article to my favorites. Thank you! Report
Thank you, recently I have been doing "Core Strengthen" to help with my Sprain Knee however some the stretches have been hurting my back. Report
PaulineD23, I had both of my knees replaced and am taking beginner's yoga classes. I bought 2 sponges you normally use to wash cars and sewed a tube to insert them. For closure I used Velcro. I use these knee pads (placed slightly under the knees) to help me do all these exercises where I have to kneel down. It makes it such much more painless. Report
This was a great article! Thanks. I do wish though that there was an easy way to print it so I don't need to boot up my computer while exercising. I like to use a printout which is much easier than balancing a computer on a chair. Thanks again. Report