Whether you’re a CrossFit athlete throwing 250 lbs over your head or picking up your infant child from the crib, you need healthy movement and mobility in your spine. One of the first places we start in the clinic when we want to optimize your spine’s function is core activation. We also factor in glute strength, hip flexor mobility, back extensor strength, and so much more. For this blog, we’re talking about the basic principles of activating your core and stabilizing your response. 

Before we get into exercises that will help you to optimize your spine, let’s address one very important thing – what is neutral spine? Neutral spine or neutral pelvis (we use the terms interchangeably) is the natural curvature of your spine. It is the position that you need for all of these core exercises. 

To find a neutral position of your spine, start by laying on your back. From here, you can perform a posterior pelvic tilt by pushing your spine into the floor, then do an anterior pelvic tilt by pulling your spine away from the floor. Find the halfway point between those two positions, and you’ll have a neutral spine or pelvis. 

Now, let’s activate our core muscles with three simple exercises that stabilize the lower back and create functional stability. 


  1. The first exercise is a classic core exercise called theDead Bug. From your back, elevate your knees and arms straight up in the air. Bring your belly button towards your spine, activate your pelvic floor, and brace your diaphragm to create stability around the whole lower back and allow you to keep everything secure in the movement. Begin alternating your arms and legs – opposite arm and leg move straight out. Hold for a second or two, then reverse. Reset in the middle, checking in on your neutral spine, and repeat on the opposite side. Make sure you’re not holding your breath; breathe nice and slow as you move your arms and your legs. 
  1. Next up, another classic core exercise, theBird Dog. This exercise has the same movement as your Dead Bug but from a different position. Starting in a four-point kneeling position, find your neutral spine. Activate your core by bringing your belly button towards your spine. Everything is nice and stable as we get into the movement. Lift your right arm and left leg straight out and hold for a few seconds. Your glutes will be activated, and your back muscles will be engaged. Return your knee and hand and repeat on the other side. Move slow and steady, and remember to breathe. Focus on keeping your core activated and stable. 
  1. The last of our basic core exercises for optimal spine function focuses on those side core muscles to build lateral stability. TheSide Plank does this perfectly. Move onto your elbow, keep your legs straight, and elevate your hips. Your spine is neutral, and your core is activated. Breathe and hold this for a length of time that’s challenging for you but something you can perform with good stability and technique—20 or 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. You can scale down this exercise by bending your knees—both variations will create stability on the side and tension in the lower back. 

Those foundational exercises only focus on one single plane of movement—lumbar flexion or lumbar extension. Combination movements, where we both resist flexion and extension with some rotation or with some side flexion, are much higher and more functional movements that apply to things we do day-to-day. Things like picking up your little one, putting your winter gear away on the top shelf, or putting groceries in the back of your vehicle.


  1. First up, a movement called thePallof Press. Using a resistance band, you’ll anchor your band to one side of your body. Grab the band in front of you, mid-chest at your sternum. Press the band straight out in front of you. You’ll feel the band pulling you into rotation. Resist the tension by activating your core and keeping your spine straight and neutral. Remember to breathe. Hold your arms extended for a few seconds, then slowly bring your hands back in. Perform 10-12 reps in this direction, then flip around to do the other side. 
  1. Next, we will address side flexion or, in this case, anti-side flexion with a single kettlebell. Holding your kettlebell in one hand, you will be pulled in one direction, so you must activate your core to keep your spine straight. You can perform aFarmer Carry from this position, simply walking with the kettlebell at your side. You can increase the challenge by doing marches, lifting one leg up, holding for a second at the top, returning the foot to the ground, then repeating on the other side. You’ll want to switch hands and do the movements on both sides to keep things balanced. 
  1. We move into another kettlebell-assisted exercise to further get into the anti-side flexion movements. Lift your single kettlebell into an elevated or front rack position. The kettlebell will pull you to the side and to the front, so your core must engage to prevent those movements from happening. With your kettlebell in the front rack position, let’s up the challenge with squats and lunges. Do your basic front squat, lowering and raising up with the kettlebell securely in the front rack position. Keep your core muscles activated, and press your belly button towards the spine as you move straight up and down. Once you feel confident and stable in your squat, you can move into a reverse lunge. Step one foot back, squat down, and then return the foot. Move slowly, keep your core engaged, and remember to breathe. Your kettlebell may want to pull you into poor positions and postures, so take your time in this movement to maintain your balance.

Still with us? We’ve got three more exercises that keep things interesting and continue to challenge your body in different ways. You can do these higher-level core exercises to create spinal stability. 


  1. This first exercise takes your basic side plank to a new level—theStar Plank. To do this, start in your Side Plank and establish stability. The belly button is in, and the core is activated. Lift your top leg. This will activate both of your glute muscles on both sides and create tension and stability across the hips. You will feel this one! Perform on both sides to create balance!
  1. Next, we’re going toStir the Pot with an exercise ball. In a full plank position on the exercise ball, you’ll create a stir-the-pot motion to challenge the core in various positions. Elbows are on the ball, feet are on the floor, and the belly button is in. Start doing circles in clockwise and counterclockwise directions to challenge your stability. This exercise is really challenging, so take it slowly. Don’t hold your breath; move at a comfortable pace. 
  1. Okay, last core exercise –Halos. We love this movement! From a kneeling position, grab your kettlebell by the handle and wrap it around your head in both directions without letting yourself move out of your midline stability. Check-in on that neutral spine here! Move the kettlebell back and forth, engaging the core on all sides. 

Now that we’ve gone through all those core exercises, here’s the most important thing.

We don’t expect you to take a full hour to hit all of these exercises at once.

That’s not realistic, and nobody is going to do it. What you can do is find a way to incorporate some of these movements into your existing routine. 

TIP: If you’re moving between your back squats and deadlifts, take a few seconds to hit some side planks or star planks, or do some Pallof Presses. Same thing if you’re at home with the kids; take a 15-minute break (if those things exist!) and choose 2-3 of these exercises to do. 

Regularly doing these core exercises will create stability around your spine, and you will soon start to see it pay off not just at the gym but also in your daily life.

Next time you see your physiotherapist, ask how you can incorporate these into your physio exercises to optimize your spine. 

We’ve posted a detailed video on our YouTube channel that walks you through how to do each of these exercises. Check it out!