More working days are lost to back problems than any other disorder. Furthermore, according to Dr Bernard Brom, an estimated 70-80% of the population is affected by lower back pain at some point in their life. This is not surprising as the spinal chord is a complex structure – and easily hurt. Most back problems can be prevented by doing basic exercises to strengthen the back.
Warm muscles are more pliable than cold ones. If you want better results it is recommended by Dr Guy Ashburner, a registered osteopath, that you warm your muscles before your stretches or yoga class. Also, always stretch after 5-15 minutes of aerobic exercise. Specific stretches for the back include 1) the standing posture exercise, 2) lower back knees to chest, 3) the pelvic twist and 4) the rocking chair.
Bad posture is the main cause of chronic back pain and contributes to painful ailments such as slipped discs and sciatica. Physical (hatha) yoga teaches postures that discipline the mind and body and is particularly helpful in correcting the alignment of the spine. The spinal twists in yoga are particularly beneficial to the spine as it nourishes the spine – increasing blood flow and nerve supply to the spinal column. Gena Kenny in The Gift of Yoga mentions 1) the seated spinal twist, 2) the rolling spinal twist and 3) the lying spinal twist as particularly strengthening for the back.
Tai Chi originates from both: the martial arts and the philosophy of Taoism. Because of its slower rhythm and focused grace, it is an ideal exercise for strengthening the back muscles. According to Darius Vaughan-Scott, a teacher of Tai Chi, Tai Chi classes include basic movement, physical skills, strengthening exercises and stretching – ideal for the back.
Aqua fitness makes use of the natural resistance and buoyancy of water to provide a low impact workout that will not strain the weight bearing joints or the back.
An exercise ball is a large, elastic, air-filled ball used for exercising. One of its main benefits as mentioned by Jan Endecott, a sports psychologist and author of the book, The Fitball Workout – using the ball improves your posture and strengthens your abdominal and back muscles. It is widely acknowledged as a valuable tool in strengthening the back muscles while supporting it at the same time.
Callanetics is a highly effective non-impact exercise program. The movements are tiny with the focus on elongating the muscles. A consistent lengthening of the spine plays a central role in the exercises. Many people with back and joint problems find that they have less pain, even after merely a few classes. Furthermore, it is suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
Psychocalisthenics is an excellent exercise system that takes fewer than 20 minutes daily to complete. According to Patrick Holford, it develops strength, suppleness and stamina.
The wall slide
This is a very basic back strengthening exercise, no bows and whistles. This exercise is at beginner level and goes as follows:
1. Stand with back against the wall, with feet shoulder length apart.
2. Walk your feet forward12 inches from the wall (keep your back against wall).
3. Keep your core muscles activated while slowly bending knees to 45-degrees.
4. Hold for five seconds and slowly slide back up the wall.
5. Repeat 5-10 times. You can do more as you become used to it.
Furthermore, you could benefit by looking into The Egoscue Method and also Pilates. It is always recommended that when taking on any exercise regime, that you discuss it with your personal medical practitioner first. Strengthening the back muscles will serve you in many ways, preventing many uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations. Back strengthening exercises is the best way to prevent chronic back problems or improve muscle strength if back pain has already set in.
Dr Sutcliffe J. The body maintenance manual, 1st ed., 1999
Kenny G. The Gift of Yoga. Hinkler books Pty Ltd 2010
Endecott J. The Fitball Workout. Octopus Publishing Group Ltd. 2004.