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If done regularly and supplemented by such aerobic activity as walking (see the OSH Answers document Walking - Still Man's Best Medicine), the exercises described in the OSH Answers document Exercises for a Healthy Back should be sufficient to keep your back fit and pain-free. This is, of course, as long as no accident, traumatic injury, or any kind of mishap happens to you.
However, some people may want to enhance their fitness training, either because their jobs include greater physical demands, or simply because they want to push themselves to a higher level of physical conditioning. If this is the case, we suggest that you consult your physician and possibly a fitness expert before you establish your realistic objectives and ways of achieving them.
In this document we will suggest more exercises, not only for the back but also for the hips, knees and neck, based on the concept of "sparing the back", as described by Exercising for a Healthy Back.
The concept of exercising while sparing the back, as well as the exercises included in this document are taken from Low Back Disorder, Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation (Human Kinetics, 2002) by Stuart McGill, a world-renowned lecturer and expert in spine function and injury prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Waterloo, Ontario.
Stretching relaxes your mind and tunes your body. If it is done properly stretching:
The right way to stretch involves having relaxed, sustained moves with your attention focused on the muscle being stretched. While stretching, avoid bouncing up and down, making jerky movements, or pulling muscles to the point of pain.
This exercise stretches the muscles of the thighs and lower legs as well as joints such as the hips, knees, and ankles.
The Right Way
The Wrong Way
* If you are unable to bend your knee high enough to grab the ankle without bending and twisting your whole body, then use an exercise strap or a strap made out of a belt or scarf -- see Figure 2B. After a few trials you should be able to do it without the exercise strap.
Exercises that can improve the endurance of your neck muscles will also make the curl-ups that build endurance in the abdominal muscles easier and more effective.
The way to improve and maintain spinal stability is to exercise the spine's major stabilizing muscles:
Exercise all these muscles in a special way - by "sparing the back" which means to perform all exercises with the spine in a line with no additional load.
Every session should begin with the "Cat-Camel" exercises -- see Figures 4A, 4B, and 4C.
If you have mastered the beginner and intermediate versions of the "bird-dog" exercise illustrated in the OSH Answers document Exercises for a Healthy Back, you can attempt its advanced form.
This exercise is fundamental for both conditioning abdominal muscles and for maintaining the stability of the spine.
For a greater challenge try raising your head and shoulders while pulling in your abdominal muscles.
For more variety you can try abdominal hollowing while in a standing or sitting position.
This exercise is just a version of exercise #8 to be performed at your discretion, instead of or in addition to exercise #8.
Since exercising while supporting your upper body on a gym ball or a balance disk does not give you the opportunity to rest your head on the floor it is critical to make an extra effort to keep your spine level -- do not allow your head to drop below an imaginary horizontal line at any time during these exercises.