Spine strength

Over the past two weeks, I have emphasised the importance of a pain free back. One way of rehabilitating is lumbar spine stabilisation exercises. Such an exercise programme includes a range of exercises as well as different levels of progression that typically go from static (lying) to dynamic (standing or jumping), as well as from resisting gravity to resisting additional outside force. Once you attain a certain amount of strength, you can progress from individual components of a movement to the complete range of motion in a movement.

At all times, the neutral spine position should be maintained, as it is key in your progress. Neutral spine position is when the pubic bone is perfectly aligned with the pelvic bones. Abdominal muscles are tight and engaged leaving just one fingers space between the back and the floor.

I will start with a passive exercise using little muscle effort. To perform the hamstring stretch, lie on the floor with knees bent and feet on the floor. Find the neutral spine position and maintain it while slowly straightening one leg and lifting the heel toward the ceiling while supporting the back of the thigh with both hands. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat with other leg. Do three repetitions.

I find the pelvic tilt an excellent exercise for people both with and without back problems. Lie on the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tighten stomach muscle and pull the lower back to the floor. Just move the pelvis enough to slowly arch and round your back to give your back a gentle movement. Do this movement for 30-60 seconds.

Arm and leg raises are a more dynamic exercise that introduce movement of the arms and/or legs to challenge the neutral spine; this exercise is for the hip abductors. Lie on one side with lower arm bent under head and upper arm resting with hand on floor near chest. Bend both knees and flex hips and find the neutral spine position. Slowly raise upper leg 8-10 inches and lower. Do 5-10 reps, repeat on opposite side.

Ball bridge is an advanced stabilisation exercise that introduces unpredictable movement that must be responded to (the movement of the ball). Lie on floor with both feet propped up on the exercise ball with legs straight and arms relaxed to the sides. Find the neutral spine position and hold while slowly tightening the buttock muscle to lift the buttocks off the floor 2-3 inches and stretch out your legs and exhale.

Other excellent exercises for stabilisation are leg extensions and leg circles. Lie on back with left knee bent. Tighten the abdominals and buttocks, keeping back in neutral position. Raise right leg 12 inches, knee straight. Hold three counts, and then lower leg. Repeat 10 times. Repeat with left leg as well. You can now progress to making circles and squares with raised leg. These basic exercises should set you on your way to strengthen your back, and help in preventing future back problems as well as alleviating your back problems. Happy exercising!

(The author is a wellness expert andruns a fitness centre in New Delhi)

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