Low back pain can be very debilitating and is likely to affect most of us at some point in our lives.  Most low back pain can be resolved with physical rehabilitation, often including a tailored core stability program.

In this article, I’m going to teach you about core stability and share some fantastic exercises to help:

  1. Improve your strength
  2. Improve your functional or athletic performance
  3. Eliminate low back pain

What is Core Stability?

Core stability involves engaging muscles that attach directly to the  lumbar spine and those surrounding our abdomen to preserve a neutral spine position (a slight arch) and stiffen the torso.  This stiffness created by effective activation of our core musculature facilitates the transmission of force into our limbs.

Huxel Bliven and Anderson (2013) describe in their research study:

The “core,” also referred to as the lumbopelvic-hip complex, is a 3-dimensional space with muscular boundaries: diaphragm (superior), abdominal and oblique muscles (anterior-lateral), paraspinal and gluteal muscles (posterior), and pelvic floor and hip girdle (inferior). The inherent nature of these muscular boundaries produces a corset-like stabilization effect on the trunk and spine.

The image below of the Transversus Abdominis muscle, TA for short, is commonly discussed as a key player in core stability.  You can see with where this muscle is located and how the muscle fibers run, that effective activation of your TA can offer stability that likens that of an internal back brace or “corset”.


Next, we often discuss the multifidus muscles as effective stabilizers on the posterior aspect or the back.  Here it’s worth noting that these muscles run the length of the spine, on either side of it, and attach directly to each vertebrae.  These multiple attachments along the way offer better stability than muscles that attach only once at the bottom and once at the top.  multifidi

Technically, exercises that promote movement of the lumbar spine, such as sit-ups, do not train our core stabilizers effectively.  Rather, this type of exercise is used to improve mobility versus stability.

Dr. Stuart McGill describes in a research paper

“there is a widely held view that sit-ups should be performed with bent knees, but it is becoming apparent that the resultant spinal loading (well over 3000 N of compression to a fully flexed L-spine) suggests that sit-ups are not suitable for most persons at all; other abdominal challenges are more effective and safer”

Often when it comes to injury prevention, we are more concerned with teaching the spine to brace itself and move less versus move more.  This muscular bracing is important to protect the spine when we bend forward, lift heavy objects, or perform sudden movements.

This video is helpful when learning how to activate the transversus abdominus.  It’s a good place to start core stability training.

TA Activation

The rest are some excellent intermediate to advanced exercises that will help build a strong stable core!  I would recommend these specific exercises once pain has subsided.

The Bird Dog

The Side Plank

The Dead Bug

You should consult with your physical therapist or physician prior to engaging in a core stability program to help alleviate low back pain.  A proper assessment and diagnosis can help determine which type of physical rehabilitation would be most appropriate for your type of low back pain.

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The Back Pain Survival Kit

21 Day Plank Challenge

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