Getting in Shape Without Hurting Your Back

Summer is right around the corner, and that means that beach and pool season is too. If you’ve suddenly realized that cold weather and winter holidays have added an extra layer to your waistline, then you’re probably heading to the gym with the intent of building some six-pack abs and buff biceps. While we’re always in favor of people building strength and getting into better physical condition, our lumbar spine specialty practice sees an unfortunate number of patients whose good intentions have led to back pain.

One of the biggest causes of exercise-induced spine pain is the gradual damage done by people overdoing it on core exercises. Sit-ups are considered an essential exercise, but studies have shown that there’s a direct relationship between doing the wrong abdominal exercises and straining your back. If your goals for shaping up are focusing on your core and you want to keep your back healthy at the same time, focus on these spine-saving exercises that will whittle your waist without the accompanying pain.

• Curl-ups: We all remember doing straight-legged or slightly-bent-legged sit-ups as part of a fitness regimen (or maybe it was the Presidential fitness test from elementary school?) One way or another, you weren’t doing your back any good when you were doing them. Instead, try lying on your back with one leg outstretched and relaxed and other bent. Now tense your abdominal muscles as if you’re preparing to be punched in the stomach, and curl up slightly. As you curl up, breathe in, maintaining the tightening of your stomach muscles and holding for a few breaths. Relax and exhale. Repeat.

• Dynamic cross-knee curl-up: This one is a bit more high-energy while still protecting your spine. Start on your back again, but this time lift your legs and feet off of the floor so that your knees are over your hips and your thighs are perpendicular to your body, while your knees are bent so that your lower legs are parallel to your body. Now put your fingers to your temples and twist so that you are bringing your right elbow towards your left knee, then quickly alternate so that you are bringing your left elbow towards your right knee. It is not important that you make contact between elbow and knee: It’s the curling and twisting that is strengthening your core.

• Hanging straight-leg raises: To do this exercise, you need a chin-up bar to hang from. Hang from the bar by your hands, keeping your legs straight, then lift both of your legs straight up in front of you so that your straightened legs are perpendicular to your body. Hold them for a count, then slowly lower them. This exercise puts almost no stress on your spine, while still giving your abs an excellent workout.

Whether you are working out or not, there’s no reason to live with back pain. If you’re experiencing discomfort, contact our office today to set up a time to come in and see how we can help.

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