I guess the title implies you should read Part 1 of this little series of posts. You can still definitely gain some valuable information from reading this second part alone, but I do strongly recommend reading part 1. If you are planning to continue reading anyway, then let me give you brief rundown of what was covered.

In Part 1, we talked about the importance of learning how to “Brace” your abdominals/anterior core to help protect your lower back against injuries. it is commoly referred to in anatomical terms as the “abdominal wall” so that’s how we should treat it, like a wall designed to withstand forces, and help prevent movement at the lumbar spine.

In our previous post before part 1, we gave you 3 key exercises we felt a beginner should start with training their core to maintain stability. The exercises in that post could certainly be applied here, but for people with lower back pain we need to get a little more targeted. So let’s talk about how we introduce the actual core exercises for lower back pain.

Mobility Before Stability

It’s important to understand something about stability, it needs mobility to function right. What the heck does that mean?

Mobility: The ability of a joint to express full range of motion

Stability: The ability of a joint to maintain control in the presence of change

To see how these two intertwine with each other, let’s use one of my favorite examples for explaining movement, babies!!

A baby is born with nothing but mobility, they are completely dependent upon us to be their stability. Every joint in their body can move through full range of motion, but they have no stability, they can not yet “maintain control in the presence of change”. This takes some time to develop as they start to control their bodies as they gain stability.

If you want to read more about how we can learn about stability from our little ones, check out our post where we touch more on it here.

The point I am trying to make here is that we need to have full mobility in our spine, before we can teach it to stabilize. We had it as babies, so if we don’t have it now, we need to restore it. Below is an easy exercise you may have seen before to help restore mobility to your spine, as well as learn to control movement through your pelvis.

Cat/Camel Exercise

Purpose: To restore mobility to your spine, as well as teach proper pelvic control. Proper control over movement of the pelvis is very important for getting into the right position for all exercises

How to do it: Place yourself on a mat in a Quadruped position (on all fours). Ensure your hands are directly underneath your shoulders, and knees directly underneath your hips:

  1. Fully flex your entire spine, rounding it up towards the ceiling, your head will come down. Do this within in your natural range of motion, don’t push into flexion too far if you have lower back pain
  2. Now reverse it, fully extend your spine by pushing your stomach towards the floor, your head will now come up. Do this within in your natural range of motion, don’t push into extension too far if you have lower back pain
  3. Breathe normally throughout the exercise. Perform 8-10 repetitions

Notice the slow controlled movement, you should not strain with this exercise. I exhale when my back flexes, and inhale when my back extends

 

Your Hips Can Move, Your Spine Will Not

The next group of exercises focus on keeping your lumbar spine stable, while producing movement at your hips. All too often people with lower back pain/issues tend to lack the control to move their hips without moving their spine.

They do the opposite, they move through their lower back while trying to move through their hips.

We will teach you to do what we call dissociation. That is, dissociate movement of your hips from movement at your spine.

Remember if you have lower back issues, excess movement of your spine can make your issues worse.

Donkey Kicks – Level 1

Purpose: Teach the core to stabilize while independently engaging the glutes through hip extension

How to do it: Get into a quadruped (on all fours) position. Drop down on your forearms, elbows directly underneath your shoulders, knees directly under your hips:

  1. Rest just one knee on the mat, the other knee will rest on the floor, your hips won’t be level now
  2. Lightly brace your core (what’s bracing?), and gently lift the knee that’s on the floor so your hips are once again level (you might actually feel your core engage reflexively when your lift your knee)
  3. Keeping your knee bent, slowly rotate your heel towards the ceiling, until your hip is fully extended, hold this position for a count of three
  4. Slowly return your leg to the starting position. Perform 5-8 reps per side.
  5. There should be no movement in your lower back throughout the exercise. Breathe normally throughout the exercise

Positioning yourself on your elbows minimizes movement at the lumbar region. The bent knee allows movement at just one joint, the hip

 

Donkey Kicks – Level 2

Purpose: Teach the core to stabilize while independently engaging the glutes through hip extension. Challenge is increased by moving from your elbows to your hands

How to do it: Get into a quadruped (on all fours) position. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders, knees directly under your hips:

  1. Rest just one knee on the mat, the other knee will rest on the floor, your hips won’t be level now
  2. Lightly brace your core (what’s bracing?), and gently lift the knee that’s on the floor so your hips are once again level (you might actually feel your core engage reflexively when your lift your knee)
  3. Keeping your knee bent, slowly rotate your heel towards the ceiling, until your hip is fully extended, hold this position for a count of three
  4. Slowly return your leg to the starting position. Perform 5-8 reps per side.
  5. There should be no movement in your lower back throughout the exercise. Breathe normally throughout the exercise

 

Moving up onto the hands increases the challenge to minimize movement at the lumbar region. The dowel can be used to help increase the challenge of maintaining a rigid core while the hip extends

 

 

Donkey Kicks – Level 3

Purpose: Teach the core to stabilize while independently engaging the glutes through hip extension. Challenge is increased by extending both the hip and knee simultaneously

How to do it: Get into a quadruped (on all fours) position. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders, knees directly under your hips:

  1. Rest just one knee on the mat, the other knee will rest on the floor, your hips won’t be level now
  2. Lightly brace your core (what’s bracing?), and gently lift the knee that’s on the floor so your hips are once again level (you might actually feel your core engage reflexively when your lift your knee)
  3. Slowly begin fully extending your leg by driving your heel behind your body. Once your leg is fully extended, hold for a count of 3
  4. Slowly return your leg to the starting position. Perform 5-8 reps per side.
  5. There should be no movement in your lower back throughout the exercise. Breathe normally throughout the exercise

We now extend both the hip and knee, increases the challenge on the lumbar region to maintain the same position. The dowel can be used to help increase the challenge of maintaining a rigid core while the hip and knee extend

 

Bird-Dog

Purpose: Teach the core to stabilize while independently engaging the glutes through hip extension. Challenge is increased by now extending both a leg and contralateral shoulder (right leg/left shoulder; left leg/right shoulder)

How to do it: Get into a quadruped (on all fours) position. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders, knees directly under your hips:

  1. Rest just one knee on the mat, the other knee will rest on the floor, your hips won’t be level now
  2. Lightly brace your core (what’s bracing?), and gently lift the knee that’s on the floor so your hips are once again level (you might actually feel your core engage reflexively when your lift your knee)
  3. Slowly begin by simultaneously fully extending your leg and contralateral shoulder (left leg/right shoulder; right leg/left shoulder). Once your limbs are fully extended, hold for a count of 3
  4. Slowly return your limbs to the starting position. Perform 5-8 reps per side.
  5. There should be no movement in your lower back during the exercise. Breathe normally throughout the exercise

The Bird-Dog further increases the challenge by adding in shoulder flexion of the opposite arm. The dowel can be used to help increase the challenge of maintaining a rigid core while the hip and knee extend, and shoulder flexes

 

 

Incline Hip Flexion/Slow Mountain Climber

Purpose: Teach the core to stabilize the lower back while producing flexion at the hip

How to do it: Get in to an incline push-up position using a chair, bench, or even your stairs. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders, and body in one straight line (similar to a plank):

  1. Start slowly flexing one hip by bringing your knee towards your chest. You will stop once your hip reaches an approximate right angle with your body. Hold this position for a count of 3
  2. Return your leg back to the starting position. Perform 5-8 reps per side
  3. Breathe normally throughout the duration of the exercise

Starting from an incline position makes this exercise more manageable for a beginner. Don’t flex the knee too high or your lower back may slip into flexion

 

 

Prone Hip Flexion/Slow Mountain Climber

Purpose: Teach the core to stabilize the lower back while producing flexion at the hip

How to do it: Get in to a push-up position. Your hands should be directly underneath your shoulders, and body in one straight line (similar to a plank):

  1. Start slowly flexing one hip by bringing your knee towards your chest. You will stop once your hip reaches an approximate right angle with your body. Hold this position for a count of 3
  2. Return your leg back to the starting position. Perform 5-8 reps per side
  3. Breathe normally throughout the duration of the exercise

The challenge is increased by moving down to the floor in a proper push-up position. Notice the towel and make sure to move in a controlled fashion

 

 

Wrapping it up

We know some of these exercises may not look like your typical back stretches, but give them a shot. You might be surprised to feel a difference in your lower back. Teaching your core to engage and maintain stability, while generating movement through your hips, is a vital step in helping you if you have low back pain.

Another bonus of these exercises, is that they are challenging, and you will feel your core muscles working in a way you may not have felt before.

Feel free to leave us a comment of question below. Thank you!

Rodney and Shelley

 

 

 

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