If the phrase “Oh, my aching back” is part of your vernacular, you’re not alone. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in adults (only headaches top it). The good news is that by strengthening and stretching the muscles in your back (which, with your abs, make up the all-important core), you can relieve and prevent pain, says Michael Hisey, an orthopedic surgeon at the Texas Back Institute, in Denton. (In fact, research shows that the sooner patients with minor back pain begin exercising, the quicker they recover.) Try these moves developed by Eva Pelegrin, a personal trainer and the founder of Attune Holistic Fitness, in New York City. Warm up first (a brisk eight-minute walk will do), then perform 8 to 10 repetitions of each exercise, working up to three sets. You’ll need a five-pound dumbbell and an empty wastebasket. Remember to move in controlled motions, since jerking your body increases the chance of injury.
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Move 1: Lunge, Lift, and Turn
Start with feet in a staggered position with the right foot forward and place a dumbbell on the ground to the left of the right foot. With your abs contracted, bend both knees into a lunge and, keeping your back flat, pick up the dumbbell with your left hand (top).
Return to a standing position (center). Switch the dumbbell to your right hand as you turn on your toes to face the opposite direction.
With a flat back, lunge with the left leg forward and bend down to place the dumbbell on the right side of the left foot (bottom). Stand up and repeat the action in the other direction for one rep.
Targets: Deep-back muscles and obliques, plus hip and leg muscles.
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Move 2: Twist, Squat, and Lift
Stand with feet about hip distance apart and place a wastebasket, with a five-pound dumbbell inside it, behind the right foot (top). Twist to the right as you squat down and pick up the wastebasket.
Pushing through your heels, stand up straight and bring the basket to waist level (center).
Twist and squat to place the basket behind the left foot (bottom). Stand back up for one rep.
Targets: Deep-back muscles and obliques, plus quadriceps and glutes.
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Move 3: Tiger Push-up
Start with hands and knees on the ground. Sit back on your heels and extend your arms forward into child’s pose (top).
Raise your head and slide your torso forward along the ground, arching your spine and straightening your arms so that they are supporting your weight (bottom). Hold for one to four seconds. Reverse the motion by lowering your chest to the ground, bending your knees and raising your hips, and sliding back into child’s pose.
Targets: Lower-back muscles, plus shoulders and chest.
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Move 4: Crunch, Reach, and Roll
Lie on your back with legs in the air and knees bent. Lift your head and shoulders into a crunch position, and raise and extend your arms forward (top).
Move your arms straight back, so they are next to your ears, and extend your legs (center).
Roll to the right onto your stomach so you end up in a Superman pose, with shoulders off the floor and legs extended and raised slightly (bottom). Squeeze your shoulder blades together and contract your abs and glutes as you hold for one to four seconds. In a controlled motion, roll back to the starting position, trying not to touch the floor with your hands or feet. Repeat on the left for one rep.
Targets: All major core muscles and glutes.
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Move 5: Scorpion Stretch
Lie flat on your stomach with feet together, arms extended outward to form a T, palms facing down, and forehead on the ground (top).
Squeeze your right glute, bend your right knee, and lift your right leg as high as you can (center).
Twist your hips and reach your right foot over to touch the ground on the outside of your left leg (bottom). Try to keep your arms and chest on the floor. Reverse the movement to come to the starting position, then repeat with the left leg for one rep.
Targets: Lower-back muscles, plue abdominals, hamstrings, and glutes.
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Beginning on your back, pull your legs, with knees slightly bent, into your chest. For support, place your hands low on your back near your hips (top).
Gently rock your legs from side to side (bottom). Return to the starting position for one rep.
Targets: Deep-back muscles, plus hamstrings and abs.