Why it’s important: We usually think of the core muscles as only the rectus abdominis (the muscle that makes up a “six-pack”). But there are deeper muscle layers, including the internal and external oblique, transversus abdominis and multifidus muscles, that need to be strong to avoid placing extra strain on our much-imposed-upon lower back. A little prevention goes a long way for back pain, which makes even the most basic tasks, like sitting or bending over, excruciating. To target all the core muscles, activate them during a workout. “Tense them as though you are bracing to be punched in the stomach,” explains a certified exercise physiologist Sherry Swanburg.
Exercises that work: Swanburg recommends the forearm plank, which strengthens and builds endurance in key core muscles. Lie face down on the floor (on a carpet or yoga mat), resting on your forearms with your elbows tucked into your sides. Raise your body on your forearms and toes, and hold it in a straight line for 10 to 30 seconds, being careful not to let your knees or hips sink, or to raise or lower your head out of line with your back (look down at the floor). Gradually build up the duration until you can hold for the full 30 seconds. Do four daily.