Out With the Old...In With the New.

Stats are impressive so let’s throw one out there to get the ball rolling. The current research states that approximately 80% of us will experience lower back pain at some point in our lives. Chances are the majority of you reading this, myself included, have already gone down this frustrating path. For most, the next step unfortunately involves popping a few “pain-killers” and going about our business under the assumption that we are getting old and life goes on. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of people who want to regain control of their life, and commit to acts of prevention…more importantly; we are talking about exercise to create a strong and stable core.  So with a New Year approaching, let’s throw out the old and bring in the new!

The “Old”
-  This old school favorite involves lying on your back, knees bent, hands clasped behind the head, a curling up towards your knees like your life depended on it. Unless you are Rocky training to face your next steroid pumping opponent, the majority of us can let this exercise go with the 80’s.  Without getting overly complicated, this old-school exercise uses other muscles than your abdominals (such as your hip flexors), and greatly increases the risk of injury to your lower back…aka disc injuries.

The “New”
Front Plank:
This abdominal core exercise is highly beneficial for people of all ages and fitness levels. Unlike traditional crunches, while strengthening the abdominal and lower back musculature planks also spare unnecessary loads placed on structures of the lower back (ligaments, discs, and spinal nerves). In addition to stabilizing the core, this exercise also helps build muscular endurance, which has been proven to be the real preventative aspect in back health.

How to Perform:
While facing down on an exercise mat, place your feet hip-width apart and your forearms shoulder-width apart. As opposed to drawing your belly button inwards, as we often hear, try stiffening your abdominal wall.  This bracing action activates your transverse abdominus, and strengthens your overall core. Rise on the balls of your feet, lift your chest, core, and thighs off the ground to a height parallel to the floor. At this point, make sure to maintain a neutral spine, without elevating too high (like a tent) or letting your hips drop to the floor. Either utilize a mirror or ask a partner to critique your form.

Attempt 3 sets of 10-30 seconds with good form.

For a more advanced front plank, see below:

“Stir the Pot” plank.

We can perform the same premise as above, while adding a stability ball underneath your forearms to increase intensity and co-contraction.  While stiffening our core and maintaining control, swirl your arms in a clock-wise motion. The goal of this exercise is minimal spine motion with maximal shoulder rotation. Repeat in a counter-clockwise motion for the desired number of repetitions.


These spine saving tips will definitely help keep us out of that 80% of the population that I mentioned above. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Blog Tip:

Try to avoid excessive low back motion shortly after rising in the morning. This exercise ritual of performing spinal stretches or sit-ups when we wake up is a recipe for disaster. After a full night’s sleep our vertebral discs are their most hydrated. This may sound like a good thing but the consequence of this adaptation is that they are placed in jeopardy as a result of this increase stress or pressure.

For more information on back health and fitness, refer to the sources below.

Stuart McGill
1) Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation
2) Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance

**Please consult your health care provider before following any advice on this blog.


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