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  • By John Briley

4 ways to train core muscles

Have low-back pain? Ever had it? Want to avoid it? OK, that covers all of us, so listen up.

The muscles of the lower back are designed more for stability and less for power or acceleration. So you want to choose back exercises that promote endurance, not brute strength. Some experts advise against common back exercises, arguing those moves put undue pressure on the spine and set people up for injury.

Suspect exercises include the Superman, Roman Chair back hyper-extensions and reverse ab curl.

New Jersey chiropractor Kenneth Cieslak, a noted expert on back pain who often treats athletes, says these four simple exercises condition your back and core muscles to provide stability with less risk to the spine:

Curl-ups: Lie on back, feet together, knees bent, arms folded across chest, and slowly curl up until your shoulders and upper back - but not lower back - are off the floor. Lower and repeat. This strengthens the transversus abdominis (a deep abdominal muscle), which supports all musculature in the lower back.

Planks: Face down on floor, prop yourself up on both elbows, then bring your body up so that your points of contact with the floor are toes, elbows and forearms. Keep your body tight and, especially, don’t let your middle sag.

Side bridging: Lie on your side, prop yourself on one elbow so your biceps are perpendicular to floor. Lift your hip up so you’re supporting yourself on that elbow and the side of your foot. Engage core muscles to keep torso rigid, a straight line from heel to shoulder. Switch sides.

Bird dogs: From all fours, with back straight, stick one arm out in front of you, inline with the plane of your back. Hold for two seconds and slowly return to starting position. Once you can handle it, also stick the opposite leg out behind you. Then switch sides.

Start with 10 repetitions of each, holding each for three seconds, then work up to more and longer reps.

Cieslak and other experts caution against back-stressing activity - including running and rowing - in the first 45 minutes after waking up. A disproportionate number of back injuries occur during morning exercise.

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