From an all-four position, extend one leg and the opposite arm so that they are parallel to the floor. Hold this position for seven to eight seconds, and then repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
The extensor program consists of leg extensions and the birddog. In general, these isometric holds should last no longer than seven to eight seconds given recent evidence from near infrared spectroscopy indicating rapid loss of available oxygen in the torso muscles when contracting at these levels; short relaxation of the muscle restores oxygen. The evidence supports building endurance with increased repetitions rather than extending hold time.
More than 5.7 million people suffer from back or spinal problems making it the second most common reported health condition in the United States. The American Council on Exercise (ACE), America's nonprofit fitness advocate, suggests performing exercises involving muscle endurance and stability to protect against and prevent future back troubles.
Research conducted at the University of Waterloo over the last decade, under the direction of Dr. Stuart McGill, an internationally recognized expert in spine function and an ACE-commissioned researcher, has revealed that many back-training practices, including stretching and strength training, actually replicate the loads and motions that cause parts of the low back to become injured.
"Because the back is a very different and complex structure, many of the traditional approaches for training other joints in the body are not appropriate for the back," said Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.
Dr. McGill recommends that the following exercises be performed to spare the spine, improve muscle challenge and increase the motor control system while ensuring spine stability. These are examples of safe and effective exercises but may not be suitable for everyone.
1. Cat-Camel -- In an all four position, slowly alternate arching and rounding your back. Holding each pose for 8 to 12 seconds.
2. Curl-up -- Lie flat on your back with one knee flexed. Raise your head and shoulders off the floor, alternate the bent leg midway through each set of repetitions. Pause and then return to the starting position.
3. Side Bridge -- Lie on your right side bending your knees. Raise your upper body using your right arm to hold you up. Use the torso to lift the hips, being careful not to let the top hip rotate forward. Make sure to bend your elbow directly beneath your shoulder. Place your left hand on your hip. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds then repeat on the opposite side.
4. Birddog -- From an all-four position, extend one leg and the opposite arm so that they are parallel to the floor. Hold this position for seven to eight seconds, and then repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the benefits of physical activity and protecting consumers against unsafe and ineffective fitness products and instruction. The February/March 2003 issue of ACE Certified News features a full article on this topic that includes complete descriptions and photographs of these exercises.