Best Core Exercise For Back Pain: Learn This First

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Learning to use your core properly to protect your low back is a vital skill and something everyone with low back pain or sciatica knows. It helps protect the low back from the stress of daily life and re-injury. The problem is too many people do it wrong. Today we’ve got a great exercise you can do to help you learn this vital back health skill. We call it, the candle drill and anyone, young and old can do this. 

The magic candle drill for your core engagement

Often people really struggle to engage the core properly and “feel it” this is particularly true for the lower core, the area between your belly button and the pubic bone. This area is in line with your L4, L5 and L5, S1 segments, the two most common sources of low back pain. Whether it is low back pain caused by a disc herniation, sciatica or degenerative disc disease and stenosis, this drill will help you:

Step-by-step guide for the candle drill

  • Lie on your back on the bed or on the floor with your knees bent
  • Place a small rolled towel, only an inch or so in diameter to support your low back arch
  • Place your hands on your waist, your fingers should be either side of your belly button
  • Take a deep belly breath in
  • Your spine should not move
  • Breathe out slowly, and keep breathing out all the way
  • Once you feel like you have no more air to breathe out… 
  • Imagine you have a magic candle that you’re trying to blow out
  • Without taking another breath in, try and blow that candle out with a short sharp breath
  • Try 2 or three attempts to blow out the candle
  • Then repeat the exercise

How to do the magic candle drill as part of your routine

Try 3 to 5 reps of this magic candle drill for your core as part of your daily practice a couple of times per day. Catch your breath between repetitions. Practice it until you can engage the muscles you feel working without needing to use this technique to do it, more on this next.

Why the magic candle drill works

Too many people struggle to properly engage their core, especially those with long term lower back pain that’s not getting better. This drill uses a trick and your breath to safely, and “accidentally” engage the right muscles. In our clinic over the years, this drill has helped people “actually feel it” because there has been a disconnect between the brain and the core muscles. Once you start to feel it on this exercise, you can practice trying to replicate the engagement of the deep core muscles without needing to breathe all the way out. 

The complete emptying of the lungs is something that engages the “accessory muscles of respiration”. These are muscles of the deep core, the same ones you need for spine stability. When trying to get the last 5-10% of air out of your lungs, they come in to squeeze it out, helping the diaphragm and rib cage. These are used, like the neck muscles for filling the last 90-100% of the lungs when breathing in, only under rare circumstances when you’re exercising with high exertion, so many do not experience this regularly. 

Why the magic candle drill is the best & safest core exercise

The common practice is to use a pelvic tuck to help you engage the core. This commonly prescribed exercise actually makes people with back pain worse, as they require a movement to “hook” the core engagement too, and a bad movement at that. This is one of the reasons for the small towel in the lower back. The small towel acts as a sensor. Many people when they try to expel that last bit of air, will flatten their back to the floor, doing a pelvic tuck automatically. The towel will go some way to telling you that this is happening as a prompt to stop it! We explained recently why the pelvic tuck is not a good movement in a video on 3 of the worst exercises for back pain.

Instead the candle drill teaches you to just use the muscles, by hacking your way in using breath, not spinal movement. This can be practiced and repeated lying down, and then standing up. As you get better you’ll be able to do this on demand, breathing normally. 

That’s what you’re aiming for!

Graduating from the magic candle drill for core engagement

Once you’ve learned to engage your core properly using this drill, you’ll find that the other exercises in your low back rehabilitation program will instantly become more effective, because you’ll have learned the skill to engage the right muscles of your core, in the right way, providing protection for your lower back. This means that movements like the squats, or hip hinges, will instantly become more effective, and safer for you to use to build back strength and help your back pain recover properly. 
Unfortunately too many people miss out on this invaluable core engagement exercise. Now you know it, use it to replace bad practices that happen automatically, like the pelvic tilt or pelvic tuck. Doing so will be tremendously helpful for your lower back health and recovery from back pain. If you need a little more guidance and want a full step-by-step strategy to fixing your back pain then check out the 80 minute live workshop on back health, complete with demos and more, we take you through everything you need to rebuild your back health. Don’t forget if you want a little more help and guidance from the team, we do have the Back In Shape Program Membership which is the most comprehensive approach to fixing all manner of back pain from home, and you have our team to support you every step of the way. To learn more, use the link below.

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