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There are numerous health benefits to strength training that can help reduce both acute and chronic pain. When muscles are stronger your effort decreases which helps prevent fatigued muscles and keep the body naturally aligned.



It's common to hear or read about core or ab training as a benefit to a strong and pain-free low back. Yet you have to delve deeper to figure out how and why. The answer lies primarily in understanding the real function of the abdominal muscles.

The abs are made up of 4 muscles in 3 layers. They run up and down, side to side and diagonally in both directions. It's an elegant and functional system. Two of them actually wrap around the side of the torso and attach into the low back, like a belt.

The problem in understanding the function of the abs arises partly due to anatomy books and partly to body-building. Most anatomy books list the functions of the abs to include flexing the low back or lumbar spine (think “crunches”) and rotation of the lumbar spine. So, body-builders popularised exercises to do these tasks. The problem is, our lumbar spine generally doesn't thrive from these loads, and... we never do that movement using our abs when we're are on our feet! You only use this movement once a day, twice if you take a nap!

When we look at functional movements, like running, hiking, throwing, kicking, hitting a ball with some kind of stick, standing on waves on a stick, the abs actually work to prevent motion. The abs stiffen to allow the force to travel from the upper body to the lower body or vice versa. This helps make our movements more efficient, powerful and spares the lumbar spine from harmful forces. The two most important jobs of the abs are force transference and preventing the lumbar spine from being subjected to repeated forces that can create pain and damage.

Our lumbar spine is built for stability. It can easily become intolerant of excessive motions, especially when we combine these movements with load or force (think shovelling a load of dirt.) But it can be a movement we do through exercise or habit. A good example of this is when someone's back has become rotation intolerant, yet they do rotational stretches every day. It may feel good in the moment, but it's reinforcing the irritation, which can create pain and inflammation. They often roll over in bed and get pain.

This is where stronger, more functional abs come to the rescue. By practicing anti-movement exercises (list at the bottom,) you can begin to mitigate the irritating lumbar spine forces and allow the back to be less grumpy. But the missing piece is that we need to learn how to use the strength in daily activities. Simply learning to “brace” the core when lifting or rolling over in bed, for instance, can decrease the forces on the spine significantly. To learn to brace, simply stand up, push your fingers gently into your belly. Then use your abs to push your fingers back out. This is bracing, and is an effective strategy to employ whenever you are lifting, carrying, twisting, etc. It doesn't mean that one should brace all the time, just when needed. Getting stronger in these exercises allow this bracing to be more effective and available for use throughout the day.

Wishing you vibrant functional health.