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6:19 PM

Dear Fitness Expert

Written by Christine Kloiber
Posted Jul 31, 2008

Q: I want to get improve my back muscles to make them as strong as my abs. I also want to work on more of my core muscles (not just my vanity abs, but my whole core, knee to chest) what exercises can I do to help bring my back up to speed and then include my whole core?

A: If you're performing your workouts correctly you're constantly using your core muscles already. (For this question, we'll define "core" as your torso, including: your back, abdominals, and hip complex.) Be it a bench, squat or lunge, your core should always be working. Having said that, you're right that the traditional types of crunches and "ab exercises" won't be enough to strengthen everything. The exercises you should be performing don't need to be intricate, but should involve the muscles of the core so they learn to work in coordination with one another.

Body weight exercises that involve multi-functional requirements are best (i.e. positions that require one muscle group to stabilize while another performs the strength portion). Planks are excellent to start with (regular with numerous variations on your side, back, single leg, etc.), not just holding for 30s, but with small movements included (try doing a leg or arm raise). You'll be working on strength, stability, and mobility for the entire core. A perfect example would be a side plank in which you raise your outer arm and leg as the arm and leg in contact with the floor stay put, of course maintaining perfect position. (Form is everything!)

Exercises with the stability ball are great to help you get the upper, middle, and lower back (one of my favorites is to do the stability ball cobra with or without dumb bells). In addition, don't forget about controlled rotational exercises with medicine balls and the cable crossover machine will help get the lateral muscles (these include twists, high-low or low-high, and can also involve a lower or upper extension).

Christine Kloiber is the Director of Training at Focus Fitness  as well as Head Track & Field Coach at Regis College. Do have a fitness or training question you’d like answered by the Expert? Send your questions to expert@newenglandsportsmag.com.

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