5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Back

You might think about toning up your glutes, shoulders, or abs (which are all super important!). We often forget about our lower backs. But a weak lower back can ruin your workouts, cause pain, and even lead to serious injuries.

The good news is, you can strengthen your lower back with exercises and stretches. This can also support your core and overall body strength, which can help ease some types of pain. How do you know if your lower back is strong enough? How can you strengthen it? Here’s everything you need to know.

Lower Back Muscle Anatomy

Lower Back Muscle Anatomy

The lower back muscles include important ones such as the erector spinae and multifidus, which run along the spine and are thicker in the lower back area.

Other muscles like the quadratus lumborum and serratus posterior inferior also play a role in back strength and movement. Moreover, there are smaller muscles like the interspinales and rotatores that span between the vertebrae.

These muscles work together to stabilize, extend, and rotate the spine, which is crucial for everyday activities, sports, and lifting.

What Are the Signs of a Weak Lower Back?

Signs of a weak lower back can manifest in various symptoms and physical limitations, often linked to the stability and function of the muscles and structures in the lumbar region. Here are some common signs:

  • Persistent or recurring pain in the lower back region.
  • Difficulty maintaining proper posture, especially during prolonged sitting or standing.
  • Feeling tired or fatigued in the lower back after standing, sitting, or engaging in activities involving the back muscles.
  • Inability to perform activities requiring back strength for a normal duration.
  • Difficulty bending, twisting, or turning the torso.
  • Feeling unsteady or having difficulty maintaining balance.
  • Regular occurrences of strains or sprains in the lower back.
  • Struggling to lift even moderately heavy objects.

To check your lower back strength, we suggest doing an overhead squat. Here’s how:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Raise your hands and arms straight up over your head.
  3. Slowly squat down as deep as you can.
  4. Use a mirror to see what your arms and lower back are doing.

If your trunk leans forward and your arms drop, you may have weakness in your core and lower back. If your lower back arches and doesn’t stay straight, you might have weakness and instability in your lower back and core.

Finding the exact cause of lower back weakness can be tricky. The lower back ideally works together with the core muscles. Sometimes it’s hard to isolate the problem. A physical therapist can assess how your core muscles are functioning and identify any compensation patterns, which can be challenging to do alone.

Why Do You Need a Strong Lower Back?

No matter if you prefer low-impact activities like walking or intense workouts like weight training, having a strong lower back is crucial for safe load-bearing. The lower back is part of the core muscles and needs to handle forces like gravity or heavy weights.

The lower back and core are closely linked. The core comprises muscles such as the pelvic floor, abdominals, erector spinae, and diaphragm, which support and stabilize the spine.

Our bodies work best when muscles cooperate. Weak muscles, especially in your core and pelvis, can cause back pain or injury.

5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Back

It’s important to strengthen your lower back to keep your spine stable, maintain good posture, and lower the chances of injuries.

In this section, we will explore some highly effective exercises that can help you develop a stronger and more robust lower back.

1. Bridges

Bridges primarily target the erector spinae muscles, which run along your spine. This exercise also engages your core and hip muscles, including the glutes and hamstrings. For proper posture and spinal support, you need to strengthen these muscles.

  1. Lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling your belly button toward your spine.
  3. Push through your heels to raise your hips off the floor.
  4. Lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
  5. At the top of the movement, squeeze your glutes tightly.
  6. Maintain the bridge position for a few seconds.
  7. Slowly lower your hips back to the starting position.
  8. Perform your desired number of repetitions.

Beginners can start with 10 reps and gradually increase to three sets of 25 reps as they become stronger.

2. Dead Bug

The Dead Bug exercise is beneficial for developing core strength that can help with overall stability and low back pain. It is recognized as a safe and effective exercise for people with arthritis, chronic pain, and those looking to improve muscle function.

  1. Lie on your back on a padded mat or flat surface. Make sure your spine maintains a neutral position with your lower back touching the floor. For neck support, you may place a folded towel or flat cushion under your shoulders.
  2. Raise your arms straight above your shoulders with your fists facing each other. Bend your hips and knees to a 90-degree angle, creating a ‘tabletop’ position with your shins.
  3. Draw your shoulders down away from your ears and engage your core muscles by pulling your belly button toward your spine. Press your lower back into the floor to maintain stability throughout the exercise.
  4. Exhale slowly as you lower your right arm and left leg toward the floor, stopping just before they touch the ground.
  5. Inhale as you bring your right arm and left leg back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the movement on the opposite side, lowering your left arm and right leg. This completes one repetition.

You can begin with 1 to 3 sets of 5 to 12 repetitions on each side. As you become more comfortable with the exercise, you can increase the number of sets and repetitions.

3. Toe Taps

Toe taps require the engagement of core muscles, including the lower abdominals and the obliques. Strengthening these muscles helps to stabilize the spine and pelvis, which can reduce the strain on the lower back.

Toe taps are a low-impact exercise, making them suitable for people with existing back pain or those recovering from injury.

  1. Begin by lying on your back on a flat, comfortable surface, such as a yoga mat. 
  2. Lift your legs off the floor, bending at the knees to create a 90-degree angle. Your thighs should be perpendicular to the floor, and your shins parallel to it.
  3. Place your arms by your sides on the floor for stability, or extend them toward the ceiling if it helps maintain balance and feels comfortable.
  4. Engage your core muscles by drawing your belly button toward your spine.
  5. Slowly lower one foot down and gently tap the floor with your toes.
  6. Lift your foot back to the starting tabletop position and repeat the movement with the other leg.
  7. Exhale as you lower your foot toward the floor and inhale as you bring it back up to the tabletop position. 

You can start with a few repetitions on each side and gradually increase as you build strength and endurance. Aim for 5-10 repetitions per leg, increasing as you become more comfortable with the exercise.

4. Side Plank

Side planks target the obliques, which are important for core stabilization and can help protect your spine. This exercise also engages the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus to stabilize the hips.

  1. Lie on your side with your legs extended and stacked from hip to feet. Position the elbow of your bottom arm directly under your shoulder.
  2. Activate your abdominal muscles by drawing your navel toward your spine.
  3. While exhaling, lift your hips and knees from the mat. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet, without sagging or bending.
  4. Your top arm can rest by your side, on your hip, or you can extend it toward the ceiling to increase the challenge and improve balance.
  5. Maintain the side plank position for the desired duration, aiming for 15 to 60 seconds depending on your fitness level. As you hold the position, continue to breathe normally and keep your core engaged.
  6. After holding the side plank, carefully lower your hips back to the starting position. 

5. The World’s Greatest Stretch

The World’s Greatest Stretch is highly beneficial for the lower back as it not only stretches the muscles but also improves overall mobility and flexibility in the hips and spine.

  1. Begin on your hands and knees, transitioning into a pushup position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  2. Step your right foot forward, placing it outside your right hand.
  3. Keep your left hand planted on the ground inside of your right foot for stability. Twist your torso to the right, extending your right arm toward the sky.
  4. Hold this twisted lunge position for about 10 seconds.
  5. After holding the twist, bring your right hand down and shift your hips backward, straightening your right leg and flexing your right foot.
  6. Hold this hamstring stretch for another 10 seconds.
  7. Return to the starting pushup position and repeat the entire sequence on the left side, stepping the left foot forward and twisting toward the left.

For beginners, aim to complete 2 sets of 15 repetitions for each variation, alternating sides. 

Final Words

Low-back strengthening exercises are important for preventing recurring low back pain.

With stronger core muscles, you can enhance stability, reduce injury risk, and improve function.

If you regularly do lower back workouts, you’ll develop a stronger and more resilient lower back over time. 

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