The majority of adults in the United States experience some form of lower back pain or discomfort - a product of the typical sedentary lifestyle involving lots of sitting and slumping over to look at smartphones. Lower back exercises can help strengthen your core and avoid future injury.
Bodyweight Exercise: Plank
Whether an elbow plank, a hand plank, or any variation of the basic plank, this exercise is amazing for the entire core, including the lower back.
- Assume a prone position on the floor or a mat.
- Move into a plank and hold for 20-30 seconds.
- Release the plank and then go back into the plank for another 20-30 seconds. Repeat this sequence two or three more times.
- For strengthening, aim to increase the amount of time you properly hold a plank. Try to get to the point of a two-minute plank.
This exercise mimics the look of Superman flying through the air, resulting in the name.
- Lie prone (back to the sky).
- Extend your arms straight forward and your legs out straight back.
- Engage your core and squeeze your glutes as you draw both arms and legs off the ground.
- Hold this position for a count of two or three, taking care to not strain your neck.
- Lower (with control) back down to the original prone position.
Barbell Exercise: Good Mornings
This is an advanced move that should only be done by exercisers familiar with barbells and how to control them.
- Stand with a weighted barbell positioned on your shoulders, below the neck. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
- While maintaining a neutral spine, hinge at your hips to drop your torso until it is parallel to the ground.
- Keep your knees soft throughout the movement.
- Return to your standing position and repeat.
Pain Relieving Exercises
If you have acute lower back pain, some lower back exercises may be inappropriate for you; consult with your physician or physical therapist before attempting any exercise specific to the core and immediately stop if you experience lower back pain doing any type of exercise.
Dumbbell Option: Glute Bridge
A glute bridge strengthens the glutes - and weak glutes are a common cause of lower back pain. This exercise - when done correctly and carefully - can help relieve lower back pain while also strengthening the muscles surrounding the lower back. Advanced exercisers can place a dumbbell on their hips to make the move a little more strenuous.
- Lie supine (on your back) with your feet planted on the ground and knees bent.
- Push through your heels to draw your hips upward (squeezing your glutes through the entire movement) for three counts.
- Hold at the top for one count before releasing your hips back down to the ground for three counts.
- Take care to not hyperextend your back by taking your bridge too high; control your movement carefully.
This gentle exercise can relieve lower back pain while also strengthening the weak muscles that can attribute to that pain.
- Start on your hands and knees, with your spine neutral. If this position is uncomfortable, double up the mat under your knees or modify the movement to standing or on a stability ball.
- Go through the bird dog sequence up to 8-10 times.
- It's important to hold your core tight throughout the exercise to avoid further injury or strain.
- If you feel pain at any point during the movement, stop.
Tight hamstrings are frequently the culprit when it comes to lower back pain. Loosening the hamstrings with this exercise can help relieve that pain.
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the ground.
- Reach out and grasp the back of your right leg, drawing the leg up toward your chest.
- Pump your right leg by bending your knee followed by extending the leg quickly (but controlled). Repeat this move 10-20 times.
- Switch sides and repeat on the left.
Lower Back Stretches
Stretching the lower back - or any other part of the body - can help counteract the negative affects of staying in one position for long periods of time, such as sitting at a desk all day. It can help relieve stress and can help you avoid injury and strains.
Supine Twisting Stretch
This stretch feels great and will help relieve some of the pressure in your lower back.
- Lie supine (on your back) with a neutral spine.
- Extend your right arm out to your side.
- Drop your head to the right.
- Lift your right leg up and across your body, allowing your foot to drop over on the left side.
- Deepen the stretch by pushing down on your right leg with your left hand.
- Repeat on the other side.
This gentle pose is used as a resting pose in yoga and also provides a great stretch for the lower back.
- Sitting with feet resting on your glutes, lean forward and fold to drop your forehead to the ground, pushing your glutes back.
- Extend your arms straight ahead of you and focus on releasing the muscle tension in your lower back, neck, and shoulders.
- For a deeper stretch, reach your arms to the right, and then repeat on the left.
Consistency Is Key
The lower back muscles should be stretched and strengthened just like other muscles in the body. Incorporate these moves into your workout schedule to help avoid lower back injury or weakness. Stability exercises like yoga and Pilates can also keep your lower back strong.