Core Concepts: 3 Exercises for Spinal Stability

By Dr. Molly Casey

Planking to Spinal Stability

Spinal stability is essential for spinal health, which is essential for nervous system health. And nervous system health is essential for your overall health and experience in this life. A healthier spine equals a healthier and better life. So what are the top exercises to promote spinal stability, you ask?

There are a multitude of exercises to choose when looking to increase spinal stability. I like to keep it simple and consistent. When folks overload themselves with options, often they simply don’t follow through. Below are descriptions of three very solid and specific spinal stability exercises that, if practiced daily, will dramatically increase the health of your spine. To function optimally your body needs to be stable. Your core is where all movements begin. The time and effort it takes to practice these daily will be worth the payoff in the end.

First, before all exercises, activate and lock the core. This involves three steps and it’s most easily practiced while lying on the floor. First, bring the spine to neutral (flatten spine against floor). Next, suck in the belly button toward the spine. Last, and most importantly, lift the pelvic floor muscles (think stopping the flow of urine, which is lifting the pelvic floor muscles) and hold that contraction tight. The combination of these three steps constitute locking the core and are the basis for all further spinal stability exercises.

The devil is in the details, always. It’s quite common to think because one has seen or occasionally performed an exercise, they know it. That’s far from the truth. In my experience, the very first and most detrimental is the lack of locking, described above. When the core is not locked and one performs these exercises, they are nearly useless. Lock the core.

Plank

A simple plank goes a very long way if practiced daily because this offers strength and stability for the upright position, so the effects are utilized essentially two-thirds of one’s day. The upright position is a basic need for existence. Starting with the plank after locking the core is the first stabilization exercise in progressive order.

  • Starting position: on your hands and knees on the floor
  • Lock core (see intro above)
  • Take push-up position with palms below shoulders (or forearms) on floor and legs extended backward approximately hip-width apart.
  • Hold this entire set up for 1 minute three to five times daily
  • See this plank video for further instruction

Bird Dog

More activity is brought into the mix after the plank because movement is secondary to the static upright position you hold most of your day. Remember, all movements originate from the core, so a strong and properly activated core is essential to optimal spinal health and performance. This increase in movement is progressively more than a plank, though being on one’s hands and knees still offer extra stability (as opposed to dead bug, which is last).

  • Starting position: on your hands and knees on the floor
  • Lock core (see intro above)
  • Extend one leg fully backward/outstretched and hold
  • Extend opposite arm forward/outstretched (opposite back leg is still outstretched)
  • Beginners can simply hold this position for 30 seconds without losing form
  • Progression in level of difficulty to bringing the elbow of outstretched arm and the knee of outstretched leg back into center and touch under center of core/chest, then return to outstretched position
  • Following the hold or full movement back to outstretched position, bring hand and knee back to floor and starting position
  • Repeat opposite leg and arm

See the video of bird dog.

Dead Bug

Last, but not least, let’s turn this over and finish strong. This is the most progressive and demanding of the exercises listed here because it takes away the stability of being on hands and knees. Core stabilization exercises are meant to go in a progressive order. The more movement involved in stabilization exercises, the more stable and strong one’s core should be as a prerequisite to participate. These three exercises are certainly appropriate for a beginner (and always helpful for even advanced) so long as the participant ensures the core is locked through every motion.

  • Starting position: lying on your back
  • Lock your core (see intro above)
  • Bring your knees to a 90-degree angle above the line of your hips
  • Raise your hands to the sky, arms extended/outstretched -- elbows above your shoulders, palms facing the knees
  • Extend one leg out straight, holding foot above the ground
  • Extend the opposite arm out straight with back of hand above the ground
  • Hold the opposite outstretched arm and leg for 10-30 seconds
  • Bring back to starting position
  • Repeat other side
  • For variety, instead of a hold, one can skip the hold and consistently move through the motions for 30 seconds to a minute at a time

See the video instructions for the dead bug.

Remember, a stable spine is a healthier spine. A healthier spine is a healthier life. And our health requires effort and consistency. Here are three ways to improve your stability that you can do daily in your home. No money, just effort. That is doable!

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