5 low-impact exercises your neck and back will love

When your mind says, “Gym time!” but your joints say, “Just stay here on the couch,” how can you reconcile the two? If pesky neck or back pain has become a hindrance to sticking to your fitness regimen, then it’s time to change up your routine. Swapping running and Zumba classes for low-impact exercises will not only help you stay in shape, but can also be as effective as physical therapy in helping to reduce the frequency and intensity of low back pain.

Here’s a five-step low-impact exercise routine you can practice right at home.

1. Light cardio. Begin with a 20-minute walk, bike ride or swim. These activities can help improve blood flow to the neck and back to help with healing while also strengthening your core.

2. Planking. Planking helps to stabilize your core and build up the muscles around your spine. To do a plank, start on your hands and knees on a mat on the floor. Bend your elbows and place your forearms flat on the ground and go up onto your toes. From your shoulders down to your hips should be a straight line. Your head should be looking forward, straight with your spine. Start with your legs a bit wider apart to make it a little easier, but eventually, put your feet close together. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, then release and rest for a minute. Repeat three to five times. When this becomes easy, hold the plank for 25 seconds, then raise one leg in the air for 10 seconds, lower it, and repeat with the other leg. Finish with both feet on the ground for 15 seconds.

3. Wall sits. This is a great strength-building exercise and is pretty much the definition of “feeling the burn.” Start with your back toward a wall, your feet about two feet away from the wall, shoulder-width apart. Press your back against the wall and slide down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure your feet are directly above your knees and not over your toes. Hold this position for 60 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and then repeat. Do three sets. For an extra challenge, hold light weights in your hands and extend your arms straight ahead as you sit.

4. Build a bridge. You can build up your glutes (aka, your backside) and hamstring muscles with bridges. It also helps strengthen and stabilize your core and the muscles of your lower back and hip. Lie on your back with your hands at your sides and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Tighten your abs and glute muscles while you raise up your hips to make a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button in toward your spine. Hold this for 20 to 30 seconds, rest and repeat three to five times. When this becomes easy, you can do the same exercise, but raise and extend one leg at a time while you hold the bridge.

5. Chair dips. This will help build arm and shoulder strength, which comes in handy on a daily basis to help you lift things properly without straining your back. Find two sturdy chairs or benches and face them toward each other, about three feet apart. Sit on the edge of one chair and hold the edge with your hands. Place your heels on the edge of the other chair. Slide forward and off of the chair, using your triceps to hold yourself up. Slowly lower yourself until your elbows are bent between 45 and 90 degrees, push yourself back up and repeat. Do 10-25 repetitions, rest and repeat three times. You can also do this with just one chair, keeping your legs straight ahead of you on the floor, heels on the ground while you lower and raise yourself from the chair behind you.

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