I believe that having a strong, flexible and aligned spine is important for life. Fortunately some of the best ways known to strengthen the spine require nothing more than your own bodyweight and a little discipline. This week at my office I gave a workshop where I demonstrated seven exercises to improve the strength of the muscles surrounding the spine and pelvis. Doing just one to two of these exercises as little as once a week will result in noticeable changes within a month. Experiment with the exercises described below and find the ones that work best for you. If the exercise causes pain then stop but feeling a muscle burn or ache is expected. It may take a few weeks of muscle soreness until your nervous system, joints and muscles adapt. Remember to start slowly and (if you desire) work your way up to more sets, reps and intensity to progress you fitness. Some of the exercises below can challenge your balance so be sure to have a chair, wall or bed near-by if needed.
Lunges: From a standing position take a step either forward or backwards and see if you can get your forward thigh parallel to the ground and then return to a standing position. Aim for 5-15 repetitions per leg for 3 sets one to three times a week.
- Squats: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width and see if you can lower your buttocks to the floor until your thighs are parallel to the ground and return to the
starting position. Keep your back flat as you bend down and push your buttocks backwards as if you were sitting on a chair. Try counterbalancing by extending your arms straight in front of you as you squat. This exercise is terrific but requires good ankle flexibility and may not be perfectly suited to everyone. As with lunges, try to keep your knee/s above or behind your ankle to minimize stress on the joint. Aim for 5-15 repetitions for 3 sets one to three times a week.
Single-leg Deadlifts: From a standing position bring your torso, arm and one leg parallel to the ground and return to a standing position. Keep your back flat and try for controlled smooth motion through the exercise. Aim for 5-15 repetitions per leg for 3 sets one to three times a week.
- Bird-Dog: Get onto your hands and
knees or flat on the ground with your arms extended (like Superman flying) and extend one arm and the opposite leg until they are parallel with the ground. Keep the motion controlled and your torso stable making sure to engage your gluteal (buttock) muscles as you push your leg back. Aim for 5-15 repetitions for 3 sets one to three times a week.
Prone Plank: Laying flat on your stomach and resting on your elbows beneath your shoulders raise your body and legs off the ground keeping your torso and legs flat or slightly arched towards the sky. The only parts of your body touching the ground should be your toes and elbows (or you can rest on your knees and elbows to make it easier). Hold this position for a set interval or for as long as you can (two minutes is a
reasonable but challenging goal for someone moderately fit). This exercise can be done until failure (once the body starts to sag towards the ground) or for 1-3 sets one to three times a week. Side Plank: The same as above except done from a side lying position and can rest on ankles (knees to make it easier) and elbows or palm with extended arm. Do 1-3 sets per side one to three times a week.
Bridges: Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground. Raise your pelvis off the ground towards the sky as high as you can making sure to engage your buttocks. This can be made more difficult by extending one leg and then performing the motion. Aim for 5-15 repetitions for 3 sets one to three times a week.
- Superman: Lay flat on your stomach with arms extended above your head (like
Superman flying) and bring your arms and legs away from the ground towards the sky. Only your pelvis and lower abdominals should be touching the ground. This exercise can be done as a hold until failure, with sets holding for a certain amount of time or for repetitions like the exercises above. Try alternating arm position from above the body to sideways (like the letter “T” and to the side of the body to work different shoulder muscles).
Wishing you greater strength, confidence and freedom of motion!