Of course, your rectus abdominis – the superficial “six-pack” muscles on the front of the stomach – are part of your core. But there are several other, more important muscles in the stomach and the back of the body that contribute to a strong and stable core.
The core muscle group is tasked with supporting the spine and upper body. When the core is weak or imbalanced, as it often is in those who overdo crunches or sit-ups at the expense of other, more well-rounded exercises, postural dysfunction and lower back pain are common. The three exercises below focus on muscles that are commonly underdeveloped in people due to prolonged sitting and imbalanced use/exercise.
Note: These exercises are not for beginners. A foundation of core strength should be attained before attempting them. Check out the beginner’s exercises at http://backpainsolutionsonline.com/back-pain-exercise/lower-back-pain-exercises/beginners-core-workout-4-week-plan-for-back-pain-treatment.
Bridge with Leg Extension
If you’ve been doing bridges for a while and are ready for an extra challenge, adding a leg extension makes this exercise surprisingly more challenging. Essentially, you’ll be doing a normal bridge, but after you lift your buttocks up, you’ll lift and extend one leg. See the video at www.youtube.com for guidance.
This modified bridge targets your gluteus muscles in the buttocks, which are involved in many movements of the body, including climbing and rising from a seated position. Underdeveloped gluts can cause other muscles to compensate for them, the latter of which become overused.
Side planks hone in on the oft-neglected oblique muscles on the sides of the stomach. These muscles are important for trunk and spinal stability while you rotate or bend. The side plank also works the shoulders and muscles on the outside of the leg. See two variations of the exercise at www.youtube.com.
If you’ve done any bird-dogs, you’re already familiar with the basic principle of the hamstring kickback. This move involves getting on all fours, then straightening one leg behind you. If you already have basic core strength, consider adding a cable or band to this exercise for extra resistance. Perform on a table, tying one end of the band to your ankle and the other to a table leg.
Hamstrings aren’t necessarily part of the core, but they’re important to pelvic stability. Most people have stronger quadriceps than hamstrings, an imbalance that creates an uneven pull on the pelvis and can encourage a postural dysfunction called anterior pelvic tilt, which can in turn lead to lower back pain.
When you’re working on your core, don’t forget to hit up your obliques, buttocks and hamstrings. These muscles are important for overall strength and stability. When strong and balanced, they can help prevent lower back pain.