Keeping core muscles limber is as important as keeping them strong.
The average person generally does not do enough strengthening and stretching exercises for the back and abdominal muscles. Research tells us that we can expect four out of five people to experience painful back issues at some point in their lifetime. As we age, these two key muscle groups in the core tend to suffer as they become weakened from lack of strength and range-of-motion movements, increasing the probability of back issues.
Some core muscles, such as the gluteals, receive attention through everyday activities such as walking or stair climbing, but the deep back and abdominal muscles are not as fortunate. They require a more direct approach through specific exercises that target the muscles.
WORDS of caution
• Avoid overindulging in abdominal work, believing that more is better. Overtraining ab muscles while ignoring the muscles of the back is a setup for injuries.
• Standing toe touches can place added stress on the discs and ligaments in your spine. They can also overstretch the lower back muscles and back of thighs (hamstrings).
• Lying on your back while you raise and lower both straight legs is a stressor for the back.
• Avoid all-the-way-up situps. When you bring yourself from the floor to a sitting position, you put too much stress on the lower back. Instead, try partial situps where you lift to shoulder level.
Stretching and strengthening
• In addition to walking and stair climbing, the buttock muscles, which help support the back when walking, standing and sitting, should be included in stretch-strength workouts.
• Upper leg muscles need a healthy dose of strengthening and stretching. When they're weak and tight, they put a strain on backs.
• Avoid bouncing into a stretch. Bouncing, known as ballistic stretching, can cause tissue injuries.
• To maximize stretch benefits and avoid potential injuries, only stretch to the point of mild tension. Stretching should never hurt.
• Strive to hold the basic static stretch, often used at the end of a workout, for 20 or 30 seconds.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.