This Is How to Strengthen Your Core (...and Reduce Back Pain) - Diligent Fitness

This Is How to Strengthen Your Core (…and Reduce Back Pain)

27th January 2017 by Kieran Igwe Exercise 0 comments

Dave suffered with back pain. Had done for years. And due to a lack of exercise over the last 10 years he’d acquired a shed load of weight, with most of it round the middle.

Sure he knew all about the health risks of being overweight (his GP took great pleasure in telling him), but more importantly he wanted to be able to keep up with his kids;

To play football with them, get out on the bike, mess around in the pool, throw them about and generally stay involved.

Not sure if my back will like that…

But he lived in fear of putting his back out, so when the opportunity arose to get stuck in with the kids he’d usually pass.

As a result he’d miss out on some of the most precious time with his family. Time he’d never get back. So finally he resolved to do something about it.

The struggle to find the time

He ran his own business, so didn’t have much time or headspace for exercise. And going to the gym was not only boring, it always seemed to do his back more harm than good.

He’d been recommended pilates by his physio. But for one reason or another he didn’t like the idea of going to a class either. It all sounded a bit too airy-fairy for his liking.

So what to do?

A way forward for men with back pain

Dave’s situation is not unique. In fact, over the last 10 years We’ve been fortunate enough to help 100’s of men & women living in Leeds to strengthen their core, lose weight and get their fitness back so they can keep doing the activities they love to do.

In this article you’re going to learn the same steps we use with our clients to strengthen their core, so they can:

  • Stop living in fear of putting their back out
  • Stay fit enough to to keep up with their family
  • Get back into activities they love doing (like running, hill walking or tennis)
  • Flatten their stomach and get rid of the gut in the process (bonus!)

Step 1: Assess where you’re at

Before you begin strengthening your core, you need to find out how well your core is functioning now.

Measuring tells you where to start. And it serves as a benchmark to measure your progress over time.

NOTE: There’s nothing like having a professional assess how well your core’s working. Click the button below for more info on our Core Conditioning Program and get a free core stability assessment session.

A couple of quick tests you can do at home yourself in the meantime:

First take a look at your posture and your breathing pattern. Both have a huge impact on your ability to stabilise your spine effectively and avoid chronic back pain.

Wall Posture Test:

Try this quick little test to find out if you have too much, or too little lumbar curve…

It’s important to know as it changes not only which abdominal exercises you should do as part of your core conditioning, but also how you do them.

  1. Stand against a wall with your heels, butt, back and head touching, looking straight ahead. Relax, don’t try and push your back into the wall
  2. Try and fit your hand between the wall and your lower back (around belly button height / L3)

DDeacon Posture Test

  • With a normal lumbar curve your hand should just about fit.
  • You lack sufficient lumbar curvature if you can’t slide your fingers and palm between the wall and your back.
  • There’s excessive curvature if you can slide you whole hand through behind the back

Low Abdominal Leg Lowering Test:

Lying on your back the goal with this one is to maintain the pressure on your hand as you slowly lower your legs.

10 seconds or less = make this a priority to improve

20 secs = okay: room for improvement

30 seconds = ideal: ready for next challenge

Leg Lower Cropped

Maintain pressure on hand all the way down. If your back hollows up off your hand before your feet touch down then it’s a fail.

Start with Breathing

At the deepest level your breathing mechanics are the foundation of your core stability. Sounds like a long shot I know. But bear with me.

We all take breathing for granted, but it requires a load of muscles to make it happen. If you’re not breathing correctly you don’t use (or strengthen) the deep abdominal muscles essential to stabilizing your spine. Hello back pain.

A few exercises to get these muscles working:

Core Activation 1: Crocodile Breathing

Crocodile breathing

Lying face down, forehead resting on hands. Take a deep abdominal breath, then breathe out. As you exhale your belly button should move up off the floor towards your spine (without anything else moving). Pause for a moment at the end of the exhale.

Build up to 10 breaths daily to give your breathing apparatus a good workout.

Core Activation 2: Quadruped Breathing

Quadruped Breathing

Same as crocodile breathing – but from all fours. The pole on the back ensures you keep your back in the right position. If it moves or falls of that’s feedback that your moving somewhere that shouldn’t be.

Integrate Core with Basic Movements

Being able to get your core engaged while still is one thing. But we need to get it working when you’re moving arms and legs too.

Once you’re able to activate your core you try this to start integrating your new found stability with some basic movements:

Supine Shoulder Flexion

Start lying flat on your back, feet against the wall with hips and knees at 90 degree angles. Reach gently up to ceiling, take a deep breath in, fully exhale and tighten your core (as per crocodile breathing and quadruped breathing exercises above).

Keeping your core engaged slowly lower your arms toward the floor then back up. Repeat for 10 reps, keeping torso fixed throughout. Watch out for back hollowing up off the floor and/or rib cage poking up towards the ceiling.

Integrate Core with More Complex Movements

Once you’ve mastered keeping your core engaged with simple movements it’s time to step it up an level and integrate your core with more challenging movements.

Kneeling Deadlift

This starts to get your core firing while you practice deadlifting. The reason why this is so key is you need to be able to engage your core when bending over to pick stuff up. So training in a safe, controlled environment is the first step.

Core Engaged Sled Push 

As you get more advanced you need to step it up again, and tax your core while working on your fitness. Sled pushes and pulls are a great, low impact way to train without the stress of something like running.

Again, the focus is on keeping your core engaged for the duration of the set. If you lose form then the set’s done.


So the process to getting a strong and stable core follows these steps:

1) Take a baseline so you can measure improvement
2) Practice engaging your core with simple breathing exercises
3) Progress on to basic movements while you’ve got your core engaged
4) Build up to functional patterns to strengthen your core in ways you’ll need it in day to day life.

This is how you’ll build a solid foundation for progressing your fitness while reducing likelihood of struggling with back pain.

Next Steps: Core Conditioning Program (For Busy Men)

We’re running a 4 week core conditioning program to help men who want to improve their fitness but struggle with back pain (and motivation!).

To find out more info about the program click the button below and enter your contact info and we’ll be in touch.

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