Targeted core classes offer antidote to modern back pain pandemic: Research

Up to 85 percent of us will suffer lower back pain in our lifetime, but new research suggests targeted core workouts could hold the key to prevention as well as treatment, using neuromuscular control strategies to maintain dynamic trunk stability

Regular core-focused group workouts could curtail soaring cases of lower back pain caused by sedentary modern lifestyles.

That’s according to new research published in the International Journal of Kinesiology & Sports Science, that identified targeted core workouts as an important tool for managing lower back pain by increasing dynamic core stability.

The 8-week study saw participants with a history of lower back pain (LBP) divided into two groups. The first group did not exercise, while the second group took part in bi-weekly gym classes of LES MILLS CORE – a scientific workout designed to enhance core strength, stability and endurance.

Measuring muscle activity by recording pre- and post-workout levels of surface EMG (electromyography), the research team analyzed trunk muscle activity patterns, strength, and back extensor endurance – an important indicator of how long lower back muscles can function before becoming fatigued.

The exercise group saw marked gains from the classes, increasing plank endurance by 45%, extensor endurance by 35% and abdominal strength by 14%, while the first group saw no significant improvements.

“The results suggest a relatively short exercise intervention can yield marked improvements in strength, which is important because muscle weakness is a significant contributor to lower back pain. If a muscle has to work beyond its strength or endurance capacity it is easy to incur an injury,” said Lead Researcher Dr. Gillian Hatfield, an Associate Professor in Kinesiology at Canada's University of the Fraser Valley.

“The fact that people with pre-existing lower back pain saw significant benefits from the core workouts is important. People experiencing lower back pain are often prescribed painkillers and told to ‘rest up’ but in most cases, motion is lotion.

“Reducing sedentary time helps improve the endurance of the low back muscles, and the increased blood flow and mobility can help reduce pain and stiffness.”

Experts estimate that 65 – 85%[1] of people will suffer lower back pain in their lifetime, with premature exit from the workforce and economic burden contributing to the costly back pain pandemic. In the US alone, LBP is estimated to cost society between $560bn to $635bn each year in health care and lost productivity[2].

According to Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research, the growing prevalence of LBP often stems from sedentary modern lifestyles and particularly sustained periods of sitting.

“Many of us spend most of our workday sitting, then come home and sit in the evening. Even people who get the recommended amount of physical activity can also spend a lot of time being sedentary,” said Hastings.

“When we’re sitting, our postural muscles can get weaker and become less able to support us. If we stay in a slouched position for long periods, our back muscles stretch and prolonged stretching can prevent muscles from firing when we need them to, leading to injury and pain.

“The muscles activated during core classes play a vital role in preventing this. The research shows LES MILLS CORE is a safe, accessible, and effective intervention to increase abdominal strength and endurance, as well as back extensor endurance, even for people with a history of LBP.”

Bryce Hastings’ top tips to alleviate lower back pain:

  1. Protect your posture

Prevention is better than cure, so be sure to protect your posture. Sitting for long periods encourages slouching, so mitigate this by sitting with a slight inward curve in your lower back and be sure to get out of your chair often.

  1. Extend yourself

If you start to experience back pain when sitting or bending forwards, try an extension exercise to balance out the pressure in your discs. Lie on your stomach and gently push up through your arms to lift your chest while keeping your hips down. Hold for a couple of seconds and go back down again – repeat 10 times.

  1. Core principles

Stabilize your back with core-focused exercises. Squats and deadlifts (even with just bodyweight) are great stability exercises. Remember to keep a slight inward curve in your lower back as you do them. If you suffer with LBP, always consult your physician before embarking on a new training regime.

  1. Take a stand

I’m often amazed by the number of people who sit all day at work, then sit when they exercise at the gym. While exercises like cycling and rowing are great for cardio, make sure you include some integrated exercises (squats, deadlifts, hovers, etc…) to keep your postural mechanisms in tune.

  1. Follow the science

Put these research findings into action and give Les Mills Core a try. All the moves in this science-backed workout have options, so no matter what your starting point is, you’ll be able to reap the benefits and have fun in a social setting.


  1. Manchikanti, L. (2000). Epidemiology of Low Back Pain. Pain Physician, 3(2), 167-92.
  2. Gaskin DJ, Richard P. The economic costs of pain in the United States. J Pain 2012; 13(8): 715–724.


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Les Mills is the global leader in group fitness and creator of 20 programs available in leading fitness facilities around the world. Les Mills programs include the world’s first group exercise resistance training workout BODYPUMP™, BODYCOMBAT™ (martial arts), RPM™ (indoor cycling), BODYBALANCE™ (yoga), LES MILLS GRIT™ (30-minute high-intensity interval training) and the revolutionary immersive cycle experience, THE TRIP™. Each workout is refreshed and updated with new choreography and music every three months.

The company was founded by Les Mills – a four-time Olympian and head coach of New Zealand’s track and field team – who opened his first gym in 1968 with the aim of taking elite sports training to the masses. Today, Les Mills workouts are delivered by 140,000 certified instructors in 21,000 clubs across 100 countries and are available as live, livestream, virtual and immersive classes, as well as via the LES MILLS+ streaming platform.