Core-Strengthening Exercises

Core-Strengthening Exercises

It’s quite common for people dealing with low back pain to find themselves cutting back on their activities in an attempt to escape the discomfort. Unfortunately, this often leads to a gradual weakening of the core muscles—the ones that provide support to your midsection—because they aren’t being used regularly. This weakened core can actually increase the risk of further injuries.

So, the key to improving your low back pain situation effectively is to start by practicing core-strengthening exercises and maintaining gradually and as tolerable!

Think about doing one to three sets of ten repetitions each for simplicity, and always remember to release each exercise slowly—avoid abruptly returning from the end position of the exercise.

Abdominal Muscles

When we talk about the abdominal muscles, they can be broken down into four groups: the rectus abdominis (these connect your rib cage to your pelvic area, with fibers running straight up and down), the internal obliques (their fibers run down and inward, overlapping on the sides), the external obliques (fibers run down and out), and lastly, the transverse abdominis (with fibers running horizontally, attaching to the lower back’s fascia).

If we consider three levels of exercise difficulty, an easier approach (Level 1) to a sit-up could involve a “crunch” or simply lifting your head and shoulders off the floor. Stepping up the challenge (Level 2), you could bend your knees and hips at 90-degree angles while doing a sit-up. For a more demanding exercise (Level 3), try a double straight leg raise during the sit-up. The rectus abdominis benefits from straight up-and-down movement, while the obliques are worked through trunk twists. You can engage your core muscles, or perform an “abdominal brace,” in any position or activity during the day—it’s like bracing yourself for a stomach punch.

Lower Back

To bolster the muscles of your lower back extensors, there are several effective core-strengthening exercises to consider, including the “bird-dog” (starting on all fours) by extending the opposite arm and leg separately (Level 1), progressing to simultaneous movement and alternating sides (Level 2). At Level 3, you could extend hold times, trace a square with your hand and foot, or increase repetitions.

Another exercise to strengthen your lower back is the “Superman.” Lie on your stomach and start by lifting one arm and then the opposite leg separately (Level 1); then lift opposite limbs at the same time (Level 2); and finally, raise both arms and legs simultaneously (Level 3). Placing a cushion under your pelvis/abdomen can add comfort.

Side Muscles

To target the side muscles of the core, or lateral trunk stabilizers, try a side bridge or plank (lying on your side, propped up on your elbow and feet, hips lifted off the floor). Level 1 might involve a six-second hold from your knees, Level 2 a six-second hold from your feet, and Level 3 could be a twelve-second hold between your elbow/forearm and feet. You can modify this with slow repetitions of lowering your pelvis to the floor and back up. Don’t be afraid to mix things up!

There’s a multitude of other Core-Strengthening Exercises out there, but these should give you a good starting point!

Remember, always stay within your “reasonable pain boundaries” that you set, release each exercise slowly, and most importantly, enjoy the process!

Better yet, start these before you even start to have low back pain to help prevent it from happening.

Back Extension Stretches

Back Extension Stretches

We are continuing with another stretch this week. Right now, many people are at home and getting less movement than usual during the day. Let’s see what we can do to keep our muscles flexible, strong and healthy, right from our homes! Back extensions are up next.  

WHAT does it do? Back extensions stretch the front side of the hip and abdominal area and relieves low back pressure.   

WHY should I stretch it? Back extension exercises are great since a lot of individuals sit for prolonged periods throughout the day or do repetitive forward bending movements. Sitting and repetitive forward bending can cause muscles to get tight in the front of the body, increases stress on the low back musculature, and can irritate the low back joints, discs and nerves. Extension exercises help balance the body from all of the flexion movements people are in during the day and helps decrease stress on the low back and spine.   

HOW do I stretch it? There are different levels depending on individual abilities and flexibility.  

From the floor: The picture below shows variations from easiest to more advanced. Choose which one feels best for you.  

Push upper body up, relax low back and butt muscles, and hold.  

Hold extension for 10-30 seconds if stretch remains comfortable.  

Rest upper body down to the floor in between for 5-10 seconds.  

Repeat each movement 3 times, 1-3x per day. ​ 

From a standing position: Below is an example of standing extensions.  

Place hands on the hips, lean back to a comfortable position for about 1-2 seconds.  

Return to normal. Then repeat 5-10 times in a row.   

If the stretch causes any pain or tingling into the lower body, decrease extension until there is no pain or tingling. If pain or tingling persists, stop the stretch.  

Exercising in Hot Weather 

Exercising in Hot Weather 

It’s been a warm summer here in Minnesota! August is off to a warm start, as well. This week let’s talk about exercising in warm weather. It can be pretty dangerous if you aren’t adjusting for the heat.  

Some consequences are heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Both are possible when your body gets overheated. When I was an athletic trainer, we were always working with athletes during the summer season to make sure they were taking measures to keep their bodies from overheating.  

Exercising Tips

Find shade! If you are outside in activity, find the trees when you can. Either stay in the shade when you’re active or take breaks frequently. If you’re running, chose a path that’s more covered. Sometimes there are covered areas at sports centers, so look for places to get out of the sun.  

Cooling as you go! For athletes more so than runners, you can have a bucket with ice water and towels handy. Take the towels out and cool yourself down by wearing it on your neck while playing, or using it during a break to cool down. Sometimes I even put it over my head when I am on a break.  

Proper clothing! Moisture wicking clothes can help by taking the sweat off your body. Breathable clothing is key to ensure your body temperature doesn’t continue to rise. Wearing a hat blocks the sun, as well.  


If you know you are going to be outside in the heat and exercising or prolonged activity, start hydrating the day before. Of course, you’ll want to continue to hydrate and take water breaks during the activity. I like to do the “free pee” test. Your urine color is usually a good indication for how hydrated you are. If it is dark yellow or orange, you are dehydrated. If it is clear to a light yellow, your hydration is okay. Make sure to check in when you do to the bathroom and monitor, especially when you have been exposed.  

Re-hydrate when you’re done! This ensures that if you did get dehydrated, you are replenishing your body with the needed fluids. I like to use Nuun electrolyte tablets ( All you do is put the tablet in water and drink the mixture. Some people eat bananas or salty foods. What ever you choose, make sure you are taking steps to replenish your fluids.  

Here’s to everyone staying healthy for the remainder of the summer.  Let me know what tips you follow when exercising in the hot weather.

Fall Fitness Activities with the Family

Fall Fitness Activities with the Family

Fall fitness activities can be challenging as the weather gets cooler. Your options outdoors with the family may seem limited. However, there are still some things you can do together to get exercise. Here are a few of my favorites. 

In the fall, I like to go hiking as a family. Hearing the crunch of the leaves underneath our feet is fun. Our kids like to explore the different leaves on the ground, and see their surroundings differently with the leaves down versus when the trees are full of leaves. Make an event of the hike and take in all the senses. There are many Regional and State Park trails to explore, including some awesome options near the Twin Cities. You can enjoy this one with almost any age children. 

It snowed early this year, so you might have missed this activity, but raking leaves together is a great way to get outside and be active. Kids love to jump in leaves and throw them up in the air, so that keeps them moving and active. Think about sectioning off your yard and doing a race to see who can rake their section first. You can do this individually or in teams. It’s going to be in the 60’s this week, so maybe you still have time for this one after all. 

We are a little past peak season with the leaf colors, so keep this one for next year… Take a fall bike ride and play a search and find game for the different tree colors. You could count how many colors you see in one section of the ride or tally up the number of a certain color you see in an allotted amount of time. Adding a game element to your bike ride may engage the kids more. 

You could also move your activities indoors. There are fun apps out there for activities you can download. Or you can stream YouTube videos that encourage movement and make games of indoor activities. 

I hope this helps give you some ideas for fall fitness activities. Let me know what you are up to to stay active with your family! In addition, if you enjoyed this article, read more blog posts from UHC!

Motivating Yourself & Your Family to Stay Active

Motivating Yourself & Your Family to Stay Active

Sometimes being active takes motivation. There are some tips and tricks I use to help motivate myself and my family into an active lifestyle.

You might be wondering, “Is it even possible to motivate yourself?” The big thing I have to do is ask myself what activities I actually enjoy spending time doing. I am more likely to engage in movement when I enjoy the activity. So, if you don’t like running, setting a race day as motivation may not be what you need. Maybe you’d enjoy hiking or yoga more. In that case, setting a goal around those activities could be more motivating.

Accountability is important. One tip for accountability that helps me is participating in 30-day challenges with friends. Each day we check in via text to let the others know we did the daily challenge or ask how they are doing on their goals. Having someone to answer to can really increase motivation! Another tip is working a fitness program where you can check off the “boxes” of activities. This helps me stay on track while feeling like I am accomplishing something. Somehow, checking off the box helps the goal to feel more tangible.

In the winter, I am motivated to stay in shape from the fitness activities I’ve done over the summer. I don’t want to lose the results of the hard work from the season. So, in the winter, I try to shift my activities inside (or gym-based activities), like strength and weight training. Staying in shape is the motivation, and I must alter my activity to achieve my goal.

A lot of times, in order to motivate kids to be active, we have to model the behavior and invite them along. This summer, I had goals for my own running. What I did to involve my kids was invite them along to bike with me while I ran. They liked it because they didn’t have to go as fast on the bike; at the same time, they were able to help me run faster. We were doing separate activities together, and the kids seemed to have fun with it.

Another tip for motivating your family to be active is to create little hunts along the way when you are running, biking, hiking, or skiing. We will pick something and count how many we can see along our route. In the winter, you could pick how many snowmen you see while out for a walk, or how many people wearing red jackets while skiing. The options are endless.

Just like for yourself, you can ask your family what types of activities they like doing and then participate with them. I’m talking about movement-based activities here – playing sports, hiking, running. My son likes to play football, so I’ll spend time with him in the yard running drills or playing catch. The point is, the more interested they are in an activity, the more likely they are to do it.

These are some ideas for motivating yourself and your family to stay active. What else works for you? ​

Home Gym!

Home Gym!

With the gyms being closed right now and the temptation of eating more during the holiday season, It was a good time to encourage you to stay active. Sometimes it seems like spending time snacking is easier than getting a workout in. The gym being closed, along with the colder weather, could easily be an excuse to ease up on activity.

Our house had to get creative in staying active right now. With the restrictions of limiting interactions with others, even with outdoor activities, along with the gyms not being open, we have needed to shift our normal activity approach! We made a little workout station in our basement to create a dedicated workout space indoors.

Home Gym Setup

Although we have some workout equipment, we decided to add a stationary bike to our home gym. Sometimes we’ll go down for a short time, even twenty minutes, to get a spin session in on the bike. There are a lot of free workout classes on YouTube to take advantage of, without spending extra money on an online class subscription.

We also have a couple free weights and a bench to do some light weightlifting. I like to do more reps of lower weights to help with strength training. This is also a way to get a good workout in when you don’t have heavier weights available. I also like to do a circuit of lifting, so I constantly move from one activity to another to keep my heart rate up. By continuously moving, I am getting a cardio workout in, too.

How could you incorporate a workout station in your home? Purchasing new equipment is not necessary. Use what you have on hand or modify the workout you find free online. The point is, even with the restrictions in place, and the tempting holiday goodies, you can still stay active.

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