Exercise for the Stomach | I know that I am always discussing matters concerning the back but did you know that your front plays an equally important role in the health of your spine and that you need strong stomach muscles to balance your back muscles?
In essence, the spine is a framework for attaching a network of ligaments and muscles that give strength and flexibility; not just in the back but in the limbs too.
Together the muscles of the back and the abdomen are known as ‘the core’ and if any of these are out of condition additional stresses are placed on the framework (the spine) and onto the remaining muscles and ligaments. In most of us, the front muscles are weaker than the back muscles so the back muscles have to work too hard and are prone to going into spasm. The imbalance between the front and back puts additional stress on the spine, so consequently weak stomach muscles can lead to back pain. Core muscles are roughly divided into three groups:
Exercise for the Stomach:
Flexors – which support the spine from the front and bend the trunk forwards, control the curve in the low back and flex the hip towards the body. These comprise the abdominal muscles and the iliopsoas muscle.
Extensors – straighten the spine, bend backwards and move the hip back and out and are also very important when lifting, these are the spinal and gluteal (buttock) muscles.
Rotators - these rotate and flex the spine sideways and are also important in stabilising the spine when upright and during lifting, they are called the lateral and oblique muscles.
Some simple exercises which will help to strengthen the important abdominal muscles include:
Pelvic tilts – Lie on the floor with your knees bent and try to pull your belly button towards your spine and your low back towards the floor, without using your leg or buttock muscles, hold for a count of 5, repeat up to 10 times.
Curl ups – still lying on the floor with your knees bent, cross your arm across your chest and raise your shoulders and chest off the floor, hold for 5 seconds then slowly lower again. This should only be a slight lift, not just your head and neck, but definitely not a full sit-up.
It is important to remember not to start these exercises during an acute episode of back pain without talking to a spine specialist first.
You will need to perform a combination of exercises to strengthen all three groups of core muscles in order to have a balance in the muscles that support the spine, but of the three it is usually (but not always) the abdominals that are the weakest.
Exercise classes such as Pilates, Yoga and TaiChi are all good to balance and strengthen core muscles and all are relatively gentle to start if you are a little nervous about exercising.
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