From Baptist Health South Florida
3 min. read
Orthopedic physicians and fitness trainers agree that even those who do regular strength-building exercises often overlook the so-called “core muscles” that make up the abdomen and lower back.
It’s not just about getting those sought-after “six pack abs.” Strengthening core muscles can contribute to improved spine health, better protecting amateur athletes or weekend warriors from lumbar stress fractures or other serious back injuries. When these core muscles contract, they stabilize the spine, pelvis and shoulder girdle — and create a solid base of support. And that’s important for performing everyday activities, not just organized sports.
“I have seen gymnasts with six packs and really strong cores that still get lumbar stress fractures,” says Dr. Saldana. “So even with a strong core and flexibility, if you stress this bone enough (in the lower back) it can certainly cause a stress fracture.”
Nonetheless, everyone can benefit from core muscle exercises, the most prescribed by fitness trainers being “plank” routine.
“Planks recruit a better balance of muscles on the front, sides and back of the body during exercise, compared to sit-ups, which target only the front muscles,” says Georgelena Saborio, exercise physiologist with Baptist Health South Florida. “The only equipment needed for the plank exercise is your own body and enough floor space to lie down on.”
If you have no current back issues, or if you got the go-ahead from your doctor if you’ve had back issues, then there are a few exercises you can do at home.
“If your back is healthy, you can do crunches or planks,” says Dr. Saldana. “For your lumbar muscles, there is also the ‘superman’ exercise, when you’re lying flat on your stomach and lifting your back up and trying to use your extensor muscles. Your physical therapist, with certain machines, can add to those exercises. All those exercises help maintain a strong core.”
There are many exercises that work the core muscles, such as variations on crunches and leg raises. The traditional sit-up doesn’t do an effective job for working out the full core. Here’s two of the top core muscle exercises (Reminder: you should clear these routines with a doctor or physical trainer before attempting, especially if you’ve had back problems.):
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