I've tried a bunch of different core training programs to strengthen my trunk and prevent a recurrence of back pain. I don't really know which exercises to do -- there are so many. Can you recommend maybe a core group of core exercises I can do every day without worrying about which ones to do on which day?

Experts agree based on repeated studies that strengthening and stabilization exercises work! They strengthen the trunk (abdomen and spine) and go a long way toward preventing back pain and relapses from previous back pain episodes.

Many people rely on the Pilates program to develop core stability. But as you have noticed, there are dozens of different exercises to choose from. Since the muscles that constitute the core include the abdominal muscles and deep muscles of the spine, there are a few exercises that can serve as important ways to work on stabilizing the spine. These include abdominal hollowing, hip bridges, arm and leg extensions while on hands and knees, and side-support exercises.

Abdominal hollowing is done while lying on your back and drawing your abdomen in toward your spine or the floor as far as possible. Hip bridging is done while on your back with your feet flat on the floor. The pelvis is lifted toward the ceiling (bottom up off the floor) and held in place before lowering to the floor and starting again.

Arm and leg extensions done while on the hands and knees involve lifting the left arm forward and right leg behind you. The shoulders, back, and pelvis are supposed to stay flat. To accomplish this, you must contract your abdominal muscles and hold. Side-support exercises are done while on your side, legs and feet together and body lifted off the floor. You will be propped up on your forearm to get into this position.

In all of these exercises, you will be contracting and holding the necessary core muscles. Paying attention to the abdominal muscles and maintaining good posture throughout the exercises by contracting and holding the abdominal muscles is a key to success in strengthening the core. Remember to breath throughout the exercises even while holding your stomach in.

Joshua A. Cleland, PT, PhD, et al. Comparison of the Effectiveness of Three Manual Physical Therapy Techniques in a Subgroup of Patients with Low Back Pain Who Satisfy a Clinical Prediction Rule. In Spine. December 1, 2009. Vol. 14. No. 25. Pp. 2720-2729.

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