The Best Exercises You Will Ever Do: Spinal Stability Series


Something kinda unnerving happened today. For a little background info, I tend to go to Starbucks occasionally. And by occasionally, I mean habitually, every day. It’s bordering on obsession. Lindsay always bugs me about it, but I tend to shrug it off. I mean, I have a card to get cheaper drinks, my own cup, and I’ve even bought books on the subject of the Starbucks Experience, but I wouldn’t think I had any sort of problem or anything with the amount of Starbucks I get.

Then this morning came. I go for my morning skinny caramel latte (shut your mouth, it is SO a man’s drink!!!), and the people working there had a Christmas card for me. With my name on it and everything!! While the gesture was one that was both touching and slightly unusual, it got me thinking,

Jeez, do I really go there enough that I get a Christmas card out of it??

I may have a problem. Oh well, it could be worse, I guess. As far as addictions go, I figure it’s a pretty good one to have.

The Exercise: Spinal Stability Series.

This is actually a composite of 6 different exercises rolled into one circuit. How fantastic is that!!?!? The basic premise for doing this series, especially if you have an office job, is to try to create some lumbar stability while increasing the amount of pelvic and thoracic muscle integration as possible. As mentioned in a previous post about joint-by-joint training, people with low back pain tend to have hypermobility in their lumbar spine, coupled with low mobility in their pelvis and thoracic spine. This series looks to re-establish that lumbar stability, especially if the person is currently in pain or very deconditioned.

Exercise 1: Plank Alternating Leg Raises

Nothing can develop stability and core strength quite like a plank, and doing it with a changing base of support like this just ups the ante significantly. A key to remember is to make sure the pelvis remains stable the entire time, try not to look like a really bad version of a Shakira video, and keep those hips in place, because we all know they don’t lie.

Exercise 2: Birddog Arm & leg Extension

This is an adaptation of the classic, where instead of coming back to a neutral position with your arm and knee under your centre of gravity, you keep constant tension through the system by simply touching the hand and foot to the ground. Keeping the spine from rotating and going into a major extension is the biggest battle, so slow and steady wins the race here.

Exercise 3: Prone Foam Lying leg lifts

Way harder than it looks, but it helps to restore proprioception to the deep core muscles, and get the hips to work on dynamic stabilization again. One of the downsides to having any type of back pain is that the pelvic and lumbar proprioceptors tend to go to sleep until the pain goes away. This means an instability becomes further unstable, and can self-perpetuate into more and more back pain until those muscles re-learn how to fire again and build some stability back in. To make this one harder, hold your feet right next to each other, or hold your hands straight over your head.

Exercise 4: Prone Foam Lying 1-arm flye

Nothing will humble someone faster than having them flail and fall all over the place under the power of a 5 pound weight. Plus, if you do it right, you feel like Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport when he’s doing the splits on the chairs. That’s how in tuned with your own body you’ll become with this one!!!! For coaching tips, JUST DON’T FALL!!! Also, try not to spend too much time checking out the ass of the girl rocking out on the stair climber behind me.

Exercise 5: Stir the Pot

One of Dr. Stuart McGill’s favorite core exercises of all time, she’s a beauty!! Sorry, went all Albertan on you there.

Exercise 6: 1-foot Contralateral cable squat & row

One of my all-time favorites, it works on the posterior spiral fascial connection between the glutes and the opposing lattissimus, building strength across the core without moving the spine into flexion or extension, and resisting rotation. This solves three problems at once: pelvic mobility and strength, thoracic mobility and strength, and lumbar stability. I talk about all of this in Muscle Imbalances Revealed, which you should pick up today, if not for yourself, then for me. Christmas is coming and Lindsay has some things in the Holt Renfrew catalogue circled and highlighted already.

I used this back in spring to help get me through a couple of bulged discs I got when I went to an NSCA conference in Vegas. If you’re wondering, no, it wasn’t from falling down drunk in Cesar’s, it was from the conference itself and me being stoopid.

How to use it:

Let’s say you wake up in the morning with a little bit of stiffness. Not the good kind of stiffness where you want to roll over and say “hi” to your partner, but the bad kind of stiffness that limits your ability. The discs in the spine are hydrophyllic, which means they like water, and when you go for sleepies, they tend to fill up with more water, and eventually stretch themselves to an uncomfortable level. When you wake up in the morning, the stiffness is due to the pressure the water exerts on stretching those little discies out, which means the morning 500 crunches you’re doing could wind up making you herniate a disc or two. If you wake up kind of stiff, working this into the start of your workout will help to get those core muscles firing again, allow the disc height to settle down and relieve some of the tension, and also act as a killer warm-up for any kind of lifting or conditioning circuits.

I use this circuit with pretty much every client who has some level of back pain or injury, sometimes this is the entire workout. It’s a great way to feel ab muscles working, re-establish core strength and stability, and make you feel like a million bucks walking out of the gym.

About deansomerset

Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Post-Rehab Specialist, personal trainer and probably the coolest guy my mom knows, I try to impart a little knowledge with a sense of humor to keep people reading. I've always thought if it's something that can grab your attention, you're gonna remember it tomorrow!!
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3 Responses to The Best Exercises You Will Ever Do: Spinal Stability Series

  1. drivefs2010 says:

    I’ve done these with many clients, particularly runners. It’s amazing how much trouble these runners have when one leg if lifted in almost any position yet that’s how they spend most if not all of their time. Performing these exercises back-to-back would most likely be a workout in itself for some of these people.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Recap: 12/4

  3. Pingback: The Core « tommcchesney.com Blog

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