Safe core strengthening when you have back pain

beneyoga core strength

If you have back pain, you’ve probably heard that you have to strengthen your abdominal muscles. Strong abdominals help stabilise the trunk and spine during all your movements and help maintain a good posture. They also prevent the back muscles from doing overwork. Weak abdominals are likely to lead to back pain in the long term. However, keeping the abdominals strong may not be straightforward if you are suffering from a painful, weak or tight back. This blog shows you how to start with safe core strengthening when you have back pain. If you would like to alleviate back pain or prevent it, you are in the right place!

If your back feels fragile, or you’ve never done lots of abdominal work before, the practice below is a good one to start your core strengthening with. An added bonus is that this practice is also good for the brain, as you have to do different movements and breathing simultaneously. It’s like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. So if you like a challenge, this exercise is for you. Don’t worry if you can’t master it at once. Our brain needs time to make some movements more automatic before new movements can be added.

Finally, as always, please don’t do this exercise when it hurts. If you’ve had a herniated disc, this exercise will only be appropriate when you have been pain-free for a few months.

Safe core strengthening when you have back pain: Stage 1

-Lie on your back on a mat or carpet, with the legs bent and feet on the floor. If your neck is tight and your chin is pointing up, please use a cushion under your head.

-Notice that your lower back is slightly curved and not flat on the floor. With each exhalation, use the abdominal muscles to tilt the hips and press the lower back on the floor. Don’t do this movement by pressing more weight on the feet. Instead focus on the abdominal work to make the pelvic tilt happen. Imagine you have to crush something underneath your lower back.

Every time you inhale you return to the starting position and relax the abdomen.

Stage 2

-Bring the left leg, still bent, towards the chest while the right foot stays on the mat. A more advanced version (as on the picture) is to extend the right leg on the mat. 

-Together with the exhalation and the pelvic tilt, slowly swap the position of the legs, so that the left leg is near the chest and the right foot on the mat.

-With every inhalation you bring the back to neutral and don’t move the legs. So the leg movements and pressing the lower back on the floor only occur with every exhalation.

-Repeat several times, slowly. Concentrate on contracting the abs every time you exhale and releasing them completely when you inhale.

beneyoga core strengthening

Stage 3

Once you have become skilled at combining the pelvic tilt together with the leg movement, you are ready to add the arms.

-Bring one arm straight to the ceiling while the other is next to you ear. An alternative for tight shoulders would be: one arm up to the ceiling and the other next to the body.

-You are working with opposite leg to arm: while the right knee is near the chest, the left arm points at the ceiling and vice versa.

-So, when you exhale, press the lower back on the floor and swap the position of arms and legs.

-When you inhale, relax the abdomen as before. Move the arms and legs slowly, as if you have to move them through treacle, while pressing the lower back on the floor to crush whatever-it-is (I like to imagine berries) strongly.

-Repeat for as many times as appropriate for you today.

I adapted this exercise from the excellent book “Walk Yourself Well” by physical therapist Sherry Brourman.

You can find more abdominal exercises here:

If you would like to receive a tailored programme for back care or other health challenges, you can book a free consultation here: In this free call, we discuss how yoga therapy can help you regain or maintain better health and wellbeing. For back pain, my back-care package of 5 sessions gives you the relaxation, breathing, strengthening and stretching practices that are right for you.



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