Any sport that requires repeated rotational movement--baseball, tennis, and lacrosse, to name a few--puts you at risk for strained lower back and ab muscles. Here are some core strengthening exercises for lower back pain that will help you develop key muscles and get on the right track for spring sports.
- Side lunges and med ball twists. Sets/reps: 2x10. Assume athletic stance while holding moderately heavy med ball (80% RM) with arms extended at chest level. Lunge laterally with right foot while simultaneously explosively rotating ball to the right. Pause one second, then slide left foot toward right while bringing ball back to start position. Perform 10 right-side lunges/ball twists. Without resting, do 10 left lateral lunges/ball twists. Rest 30 seconds and repeat. Great exercise for strengthening oblique, glute, inner thigh, lower and middle back muscles that come into play during twisting movements.
- Elevated prone, side and supine planks. This triple-play exercise combo set can be done at home or in the weight room and effectively targets lower, middle back and abdominal muscles. Start with the prone plank with toes atop a bench or chair and forearms resting about shoulder-width apart on a soft surface (e.g. carpet or exercise mat). Contract abdominal muscles and keep back straight (do not let your low back sag) for 30-60 seconds. Without resting, rotate to your right side (right side plank) resting right forearm on mat/carpet and hips off the floor and left arm extended overhead. Again, keep stomach muscles tight and don't let hips sag toward floor. Hold 30-60 seconds and without rest. Rotate to a supine position with heels atop bench/chair and both forearms resting on floor and raise hips and back off floor holding for 30-60 seconds (supine plank). Immediately turn to left side with left forearm on mat/carpet (left side plank) and right arm extended overhead and hips raised off mat/carpet. Hold 30-60 seconds. Rest 30 seconds and repeat entire plank sequence. More advanced version: Perform prone, side and supine planks with feet atop either a large Swiss ball or a small or medium-sized medicine ball – requiring more balance and core stability to stay atop each ball.
- Upward cable drives and downward cable chops. Sets/reps: 2x15. (Substitute a moderately-heavy med ball or a 25 lb. weight plate or 25 lb. dumbbell instead of the cable machine if desired). Stand to the right alongside a cable machine and set cable height around left ankle level. Set resistance about 70% RM. Bend knees and grasp cable handle with both hands and drive it upward across body overhead while rotating body to the right. Pause one second and slowly return to start position. After 15 reps, immediately turn body around so cable handle is near right ankle. Drive cable upward toward left side of body and overhead. Perform 15 reps and rest 30 seconds and do another set from each side. Next, raise cable height to just above left ear for downward cable chops. Grasp handle and drive cable downward across body toward right ankle. Pause one second and slowly return to start position. After 15 reps, turn and do cable chop downs starting from right ear downward to left ankle for 15 reps. When driving the cable upward or downward, it's important to engage the hips and quadriceps rather than just using the upper body. The larger lower body muscles (legs/glutes) help provide the power when driving the cable upward or downward and also strengthen the core muscles in the back and stomach.
Lower back pain-relieving tips with stretching, and foam roller
- Static stretches. Besides the aforementioned core strengthening exercises to help prevent low back pain (and abdominal strains), daily static stretching of the hamstrings, hips and lower back relieves tightness and can also help alleviate lower back soreness before or during your sport's season. A typical low back static stretch is done from the supine position (lying on your back) by pulling both knees to your chest and holding the position 10-20 seconds. Tight hamstrings or hips also can trigger low back stiffness or soreness so stretching the hamstrings/glutes is also essential. To stretch the hamstrings from the supine position, raise one leg upward keeping it as straight as possible and gently pull the leg toward your chest. Hold 10-20 seconds and repeat with the other leg. Lastly, the supine hip stretch is performed with knees bent and feet on floor and placing left foot atop right knee and pulling left foot/right knee toward chest. Hold 10-20 seconds and repeat with right foot atop left knee and pulling right foot/left knee toward chest for the 10-20 second hold.
- Foam roller. Another way to reduce lower back, hamstring and hip stiffness is to use a foam roller over these muscles from a supine position. For the hamstrings, place the roller under the hamstrings and rock back and forth over the roller several times. Similarly place the roller under your glutes and go back and forth over the roller to eliminate hip stiffness. Next position the roller under your lower back and roll back and forth to help erase low back soreness and tightness.
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