Strong Core Equals Strong Back
Why We Suffer From Back Pain
In the beginning, we were made for walking on all four. To survive, we gradually evolved to walk upright on two legs. According to experts, that process finished 3 million years ago.
The disadvantage of distributing all body weight on only two legs can have painful lower back pain results.
If you have a normal curve of the lower back, it should help you to absorb the shock when you walk. You may also have noticed that the five lower back vertebrae are bigger than the rest to support the weight of the upper body. The center of the body needs to be strong. As you lift an arm or a leg, you need to be wired first to activate the center – the core. Having a strong core is a good investment to keep the lower back as happy as possible.
Morning Routine to Keep the Back Happy
Most people complain about stiffness when they wake up in the morning. No wonder the body has been inactive for 8 hours! In addition, maybe you slept on a new bed, perhaps a bed at a hotel or a friend’s house. Maybe you were turning and tossing in bed, not being awake to pay attention to how you moved. Waking up with a stiff neck, shoulder, hip, or lower back due to sleeping in a strange or compromised position is not uncommon. As you awaken your mind, also gently awaken your spine. Try “Flatten & Release” and the “Cat-Cow” stretches.
Flatten & Release
- Lie on your back in bed. Head low – not propped up on a high pillow. Bend your knees. The feet are flat. Arms relaxed with palms facing up – if possible – to open up the chest.
- Gently flatten the lower back as you exhale.
- Don’t flatten the first time fully – start with 50% effort. If everything feels right, then flatten a bit more next time and finish with 100% – granted, all feel good.
- After you flatten, you release the lower back on the inhale.
- Repeat this flatten and release motion to the rhythm of your breath about 5-10 times.
- Rollover to get up on your hands and knees. You can still be in bed. Hands should be directly under your shoulders. Your knees should be directly under the hips.
- Gently exhale and push your shoulders up to the ceiling. Let the head relax – drop the head. The spine should look like a convex line – think about a cat stretching.
- When you can’t exhale anymore (fully empty your lungs), then inhale and reverse the spine (concave line) – think about a cow, and it’s arched back.
- When you can’t inhale anymore (fill the lungs with air), you exhale and reverse back to the cat image.
- Repeat this cat to cow motion to the rhythm of your breath about 5-10 times.
During the Day Routine to Keep the Back Happy
If you experience lower back stiffness and even pain during the day, try these two stretches to feel relief. If the opposite happens (pain), stop right away.
Lower Back Stretch
- Sit on a chair and place your hands on your thighs.
- Apply pressure to the hands as you gently lean forward.
- If you are limber, take one hand off the thigh at a time and place it on the lower leg or the floor if you can reach. The important thing is that the hands hold on to something to take the pressure off the back.
- In the beginning, hang out there 10 seconds before you return. If this is a good stretch for you, then increase the duration of the stretch each time.
- As you get ready to return, make sure you get one hand at a time back to the thighs (unless you never moved them).
- Use your hands to push yourself slowly back up to a straight sitting position. Do not let the lower back do the work.
- If you get dizzy, make sure you take your time to sit a little bit longer until you stand up and get going.
Buttock Stretch (Piriformis)
- The best way is to lie down to stretch the piriformis (part of the buttock) muscle. That way, your back is out of the equation. Meaning, it won’t limit the stretch.
- Lie close to a wall with feet up in a 90-degree position.
- Make sure the sacrum is touching the floor. Engage the core to keep the sacrum down.
- Cross one foot over to the opposite leg and feel the stretch in the buttock if the sacrum comes off, the floor move away from the wall.
- If you don’t feel a stretch, move closer to the wall.
- Keep the stretch for 30 seconds before changing to the other leg. Stretch twice on the tighter side.
- This stretch can be done in many other ways, sitting on a chair, standing up, placing the leg up on a counter, and using Nordic Walking poles as support.
Easy Anatomy Lessons
Structure – Bones
The Lumbar Spine is the part of your spine commonly referred to as your “lower back”. It consists of five large vertebrae (L1 – L5).
Muscles – Abdominal
The abdominal muscles consist of Rectus Abdominis (six-pack), External Oblique (side muscles; fibers running DOWN towards the pocket), Internal Oblique (side muscles; fibers running UP towards the chest), and Transversus Abdominis (the deepest of them all).
Time to Get the Core Strong
Before any exercise, make sure you get your spine in neutral. Return to the flatten/release movement and find a happy medium: not arched nor flat. Lock this neutral spine position by gently pulling in the navel.
Here’s a progression of various exercises focusing on strengthening the core. If at any time you feel the lower back kicking, then you stop. The lower back can either express it by you feeling pain and/or fatigue. Be patient in building your core strength. Tune in and listen to your body – especially to that lower back “talking”. When the core is strong enough (no back pain/fatigue), you can progress to the next level. The exercise will either be described with a photo of with words.
- Incline Push Up Position – make it more challenging by stepping back with the feet. Just make sure you’re leaning against something sturdy that won’t move as you put more weight on it.
- Half Plank – build-up to stay here for 60 seconds of pain-free.
- One Knee Plank – stay in a half plank position and then lift one knee off from the ground—alternate knees. Stop if the lower back hurts. Build up to stay for 60 seconds pain-free.
- Full Plank – build-up to stay for 60 seconds pain-free.
- Half Side Plank – lie on your side, propped up on your lower arm with bent knees, both on top of each other. Lift the free arm straight up with palm facing forward. Build up to stay for 60 seconds pain-free.
- Half Side Plank Lift with Assistance – same as #5 but place the hand (of the free arm) on the ground in front of your waist area and use it to assist lifting the hips off the ground. Build up to ten repetitions.
- Half Side Plank Lift – same as #6 but without the hand assisting your lift. Lift the free arm straight up with palm facing forward. Build up to ten repetitions.
- Half Side Plank Hold – same as #7 but without moving up and down – hold the position with the hips lifted. Build up to stay for 60 seconds pain-free.
- Full Side Plank – follow the same progression as 5-8 as you build-up to this Full Side Plank. Build up to stay for 60 seconds pain-free.
When you lift anything, make sure the core is active and that you lift with your legs, keeping the object you’re lifting close to your body. If you work out with a trainer, make sure the person trains you in all dimensions (sagittal, frontal, and rotational) to prepare the body for anything in life. A chiropractor once told me that most lower back accidents happen when people pick something up as they rotate. If your body is not working out practically and covering all dimensions mentioned above, you can easily hurt yourself. Invest in a great trainer like a certified NASM trainer and keep varying the exercises.
Specializing in Correcting Muscular Imbalances
I have had the privilege to work as a personal fitness trainer with the 50+ market for more than 25 years. It’s been an excellent observation of what can happen if you listen or don’t listen to your body. Good things can happen when you don’t give up the search for improvement. You keep being stubborn about seeking alternatives when an injury persists. I’ve seen incredible results from clients adjusting and accepting instead of giving up. If you don’t maintain the muscles strong and flexible around the lower back joints, it’s been my experience that more people complain about lower back pain. It may even be painful to stand up straight, making you bend forward in the waist, adding more stress to the lower back structure. Once you let gravity pull you forward, it isn’t easy to straighten up fully. Using poles in Nordic Walking is one way to get external assistance. This activity brings us back to walking with all four limbs.
I hope this article has given you some ideas, with which you can start working. Please feel free always to contact us at [email protected]
Share Your Story
The goal is to create a community of wisdom. Please share your story! Contact us and let us know about your lower back problems and how you have solved your pain. Was there a particular procedure? Is there a referral to a health professional? Medical doctor? Physical Therapist? Chiropractor? Acupuncture? Massage Therapist? etc.
Movement for the Next 30-Day - Make It About The Lower Back
Make this month your priority to take care of your lower back. If you have ignored it, let me remind you of the fact that you will need it for a very long time, so you better start paying attention to it! Enjoy discovering new things about your body as you strengthen your core!
As a fitness expert for 25 years for the 50+ population, I have witnessed fantastic progress and results for people that have stayed consistent over time. I’m sure you can see how it’s all related. Weak bones, weak muscles equals pain. Strong bones, healthy muscles equals less pain and more quality of life.
According to ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine), strength training should be performed at least twice a week with 8-10 different exercises that target all major muscle groups. And of course, you must do them correctly to avoid injuries. And that is exactly what the Nordic Body System is all about.
Every month you can try out my free online program Complimentary Cardio + Strength Online Session to get a taste of the Nordic Body System to see if it’s a good fit.