Are you sacrificing your back to have a tight, toned tummy? Do you catch yourself sitting and standing slumped forward and find activities such as vacuuming and gardening difficult or painful? If so, reassess your abdominal-strengthening routine. Stop doing situps and crunches that work only the front of your waistline and put a heavy load on your spine. With your doctor's approval, take on exercises that don't strain your back and focus on strengthening your entire core. Before you know it, you'll be pain free, walking tall and impressing everyone with your toned tummy and physical ability.
The bird dog is an isometric exercise that requires you to stabilize your lower back and tighten your abdominals. Start on all fours -- knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Pull your tummy in to support your lower back, and extend your right arm forward and your left leg backward until they're parallel to the floor; really stretch and reach your arm and leg in opposite directions and keep your back straight. Hold this for no more than seven seconds before slowly returning to the starting point and switching sides. Do eight to 12 repetitions and three sets.
The side plank puts minimal strain on your spine and works your obliques at the sides of your waistline. To do the exercise, lie on your side, prop yourself up on your elbow and bend your knees backward 90 degrees. Tighten your tummy and push your hips up in the air so your body forms a diagonal line from your head to your knees. Hold this for 30 seconds and switch sides. Do about eight to 12 repetitions. For an extra challenge, keep your legs straight so your body forms a diagonal line from your head to your feet.
The standing lift strengthens your core, shoulders, hips and back. It can be done with a medicine ball or a lightweight dumbbell. Step about 6 inches forward with your left foot, hold the weight with both hands and position it next to your right hip. Tighten your abdominals to support your torso, and extend your arms up and across your body, bringing the weight above your left shoulder. Avoid moving your torso -- only move your arms. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat the exercise eight to 12 times before switching sides. Complete three sets.
The glute bridge engages your butt, abs and hips, and is done while lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. With your abdominals engaged, push your hips and back up until your body forms a diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders. Keep your back straight, squeeze your tush and hold this position for three seconds before slowly returning to the starting point. Complete three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. For an extra challenge, raise one foot off the floor and extend it forward during the upward phase.
- Harvard Medical School: The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core
- American Council on Exercise: I Get Low Back Pain During Sit-Ups. Am I Doing Something Wrong or Should I Avoid Them?
- American Council on Exercise: Enhancing Low-back Health through Stabilization Exercise
- American Council on Exercise: Bird-Dog
- American Council on Exercise: Side Plank
- American Council on Exercise: Standing Lift (Hay Bailer)
- American Council on Exercise: Glute Bridge
- Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images
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