One of the most common questions posed to me by patients on a daily basis is “what are good exercises to strengthen my core?” When I inquire as to the exercises the patient is currently performing sit-ups and crunches are nearly always mentioned. Most people are very surprised, and often times relieved, to know that sit-ups are not required to build a strong core. Actually, sit-ups place a large amount of stress on the lower back and there are much safer alternatives.
Do you remember in gym class having to count how many sit-ups you could perform in a minute? You would always have a fellow classmate kneeling on your feet so they would not elevate from the floor. So, why would an abdominal exercise cause your feet to be lifted from the floor? The answer is that along with the abdominals, performing a sit-up also requires contraction of the large hip flexor muscles that attach to the front of the spine. In my experience, this can often times lead to an overuse injury of these muscles which can be felt in the abdomen and/or front of the upper thigh. Contraction of the hip flexors in this position also creates large amounts of shear force across the spine in the lower back and has potential to lead to spinal injury if performed frequently.
So what exercises can you perform to safely and effectively strengthen your core? The most common and effective exercise is the plank. Planks are fantastic because they work a multitude of muscles and are performed with the spine in a neutral/flat position. This reduces compression on the spine in the lower back. Also, planks require what is called an isometric contraction of the abdominal and trunk muscles. This means that the muscles contract without lengthening or shortening and is more closely related to how the core functions on a daily basis. Planks are usually held as long as possible until one can no longer maintain the flat position of the lower back. This can be repeated for a few reps a couple of times per day.
Of course, there are many other effective and safe exercises to strengthen the core that do not include sit-ups. If you are experiencing lower back pain and need guidance on appropriate core exercises, contact one of our offices to set up an appointment with one of our chiropractic physicians.
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