Lower Back Exercises
“Put your back into it.” Have you ever heard that phrase? Many simply assume they have a strong back because they do other exercises. However, you need specific exercises that target and strengthen your back muscles.
Let’s take a look at strengthening exercises for lower back to improve your stability and balance. We will also explore lumbar exercises that reduce back pain. And, we’ll cover the best back exercises for losing weight (yes, back fat is a thing!). However, love your body and the skin you’re in, Queens and Divas. “You were not born to just pay bills & lose weight.”
Let’s do this!
What’s the Big Deal About Backs?
A stable low back can reduce injuries and pain when you exercise and improve your workouts. But, why do women sometimes forget to do back exercises?
One logical reason is that women focus on other areas of their physique like their legs, arms and stomach or midsection. However, low back exercises and moves that target and strengthen muscles on the sides of your spine are important.
A muscular, well-defined and toned body will give you a solid core (ab muscles) and a firm/supportive spine. Off to a good start, right? So, what’s the problem?
Exercise routines like cardio, HIIT and aerobics usually don’t include back strengthening exercises so certain muscle groups wind up neglected or overlooked. These include your rhomboids, trapezius (traps), latissimus dorsi (lats), and erector spinae, which are larger back muscles that you should strengthen.
Along with your upper back and lats, a supportive spine is essential for daily living activities like playing with and picking up your children. You might also sit or stand for long periods at work and do occasional lifting (groceries, items around the house, that heavy paycheck cause you’re slayin’ it!).
Let’s next turn our attention to lower back exercises for weight loss (and why cardio is important). We’ll also look at general low back exercises and go through a few sample exercises below. You can start these at home and click on the links for video examples.
Squat What? Lower Back Exercises to Lose Weight
“I joined a gym 6 months ago and still haven’t lost a pound. Tomorrow, I’m heading down there in person to find out what’s going on,” Unknown
Because body fat tends to store around the flank, butt, thighs and hips, it’s often a source of frustration for dieters. It’s back there and poking out of your clothing. Really?
Your mission possible plan of attack should you choose to accept it might include aerobics, cardio, HIIT and other vigorous exercises along with dietary changes. Hence, an overall weight-loss regimen can give you bigger and better results more so than randomly lifting weights which can take much longer.
Here are a Few Tips:
- Work on toning and strengthening the muscles in your lower back and hips. Do compound exercises like squats, lunges, leg lifts and pile squats.
- Aim for 3-4 sets of 10 to 15 reps each and rest briefly in between. Give yourself a day off for recovery after a strength-training workout.
- When you do cardio, aim for 30-45 minutes 3-5 days a week. While it raises your heart rate, it will also burn calories. And, mix up your cardio.
- Include the Stairmaster, elliptical, running, spin classes, jogging, swimming, walking and jumping rope. Include interval sessions to help burn more calories. An example is one minute of jumping jacks and one minute of rest followed by one minute of burpees or squats and then repeat.
- To help with your lower back exercises, get rid of the junk food and extra calories (soft drinks, sugar, excess salt, alcohol, baked goods, candy, chips, processed foods).
- Include more lean sources of protein (egg whites, fish, chicken, tofu). Add more plant products like leafy green vegetables and fresh fruit and eat whole grains and legumes.
Back-Up! Lower Back Exercise Safety Precautions
Consult a physician before starting any new exercise regime, especially if you have an injury, are sedentary, or are a senior with certain types of arthritis. Avoid low back exercises if you have a current back injury or had recent surgery.
Pregnant women may want to avoid certain low back exercises that might put pressure on their babies. Hence it might be best to work with a trainer on the specific side-lying exercises that are beneficial to you especially before labor.
Low back exercises are ideal for strengthening your spine in the lumbar region. Furthermore, some specific movements and stretches can help relieve chronic or acute back pain, nerve impingements and numbness in the extremities.
Best Lower Back Stretches: Wake Up, Warm Up and Cool Down
“Why was the burglar popular at her gym? Because she always did a great job wiping down her equipment,” Unknown
Stretching before and after your exercise routine is essential to your muscle recovery. Not only can you prepare your muscles beforehand but you can increase the flow of oxygen and reduce the risk of muscle strains and sprains. Your warm-ups can improve your range of motion and prevent muscle stiffness during and after your workouts. That way you can fully enjoy your exercise regimen.
The exercises below might include medicine balls, dumbbells, free weights, or other kinds of gym equipment. You can purchase these online if you want.
The exercises included below can be done at home and some do not require equipment. We have included video links with the examples to help you see examples of each exercise. These include a mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced lower back exercises.
Back to the Beginning: Are Lower Back Exercises for You?
“Why did the Uber driver cancel his gym membership? Because he didn’t even Lyft, bro,” Unknown
If you are new to exercising and unsure how to get started, you will find the exercises below are easy to follow. Simply choose a few of the sample exercises and plan to do each one 12-15 times (repetitions/reps) for 3 sets.
When it comes to the reps, you can do less if you want but do not overexert yourself as this can lead to injury. The goal is to build your back muscles slowly and safely over time. While it might be exciting to hop to the advanced exercises, remember, your body has to build up to these.
Remember, these are not aerobic activities designed to raise your heart rate. You should do flexibility and cardio exercises a few times weekly and in addition to these exercises. Avoid rushing through the exercises as you want to use the correct form to avoid injury. Do even sets to avoid strengthening one side too much.
Beginner Lower Back Exercises
“Why did the cheeseburger get a gym membership? He wanted bigger buns,” Unknown
Extensions. Hip hinges. Deadlifts. As you practice these strengthening exercises for lower back over the next several weeks you will see more strength and flexibility that can prepare you for the advanced sets.
When starting the exercises below, rest 1-2 minutes between your sets. Do lower back exercises 2-3 times a week and use other days for arms, your upper back and your legs.
Back Hyperextensions (BOSU Prone Ball Spinal Extensions)
BOSU balance trainers are like a Swiss ball split in half. These strengthening tools can work your entire core and improve your stability as you build your back muscles.
- Start by lying face down with the BOSU beneath your hips.
- Similar to a regular back extension move, engage your core and lift your upper body. While your mobility is somewhat limited, learning to balance on the unstable surface can help challenge your abdominals for better stability.
- Return to the starting position. That counts as one rep.
- Do 10-12 reps total for 4 sets.
Back Extensions (Prone, Superwoman Version)
Among the best strengthening exercises for lower back is the superwoman pose. It works muscles along your erector spinae, which help to rotate and turn your back.
- Start by lying on a mat or towel with your face down to the floor. With your feet and legs down, start to lift your chest. Your hands should stay on the floor for added support. You can keep them at your sides, out near your sides or behind your head.
- Lower your chest back down. That counts as one rep. Do 12-15 for three sets.
- As you get comfortable doing these over time, try raising your upper and lower body at the same time in a Superman pose.
- To help maintain your form and lift your chest, tighten and engage your core ab muscles for support.
Back Extensions (With a Swiss Ball/Fitness Ball)
Using a ball with your back extensions can improve your mobility and range of motion. It takes a little adjusting so really engage your core muscles to help you stay upright for improved stability and balance.
- Stretch yourself out over the Swiss ball and let your chin rest on your folded hands or let your hands hang at your sides.
- As you start to push forward on the ball with your feet, lift your chest and engage your core muscles.
- Lift your body until it’s in a straight line, then return to the original position. That counts as 1 rep. Do 12-15 reps for three sets.
- To do this without the ball, get on your knees instead.
Bird Dog / Quadruped
A bird dog move or bird dog pose is a core stabilizer that can also strengthen your low back. Targeting your erector spinae, you can do it without equipment or a gym.
- Get on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders.
- Lift your left arm and right leg at the same time and try to get your body into a completely straight line. As you lift your arm and opposing leg, engage your core muscles.
- Switch to the other side and do the same movement but avoid moving your hips, arching your back or slouching.
- Return to the starting pose. That counts as one rep. Do 10-12 reps for 3 sets total.
Deadlifts help strengthen the low back, legs, abs and glutes. Maintain the proper form to avoid injury. You can do these without weights, or with a barbell or dumbbell.
- In a standing position, keep your back and shoulders flat.
- Lean over from your hips and keep your knees slightly bent.
- Hold the bar or weight close to your bent legs and then start to stand up. As you bend forward, bring the weight back to the floor.
- That counts as one rep. Do 12-15 for 3 sets.
Good Mornings with a Barbell
This exercise (with a barbell, broomstick or long rod) is an ideal warmup stretch for your back and it helps to strengthen lower back, core, glutes and hamstring muscles.
- Engage your core to fully protect your lower back. Lean forward at the hips on the barbell, rod or broomstick. Keep your back firm and flat and leave a little bend in your knees.
- Stop once you are parallel to the ground. Return back to the original position as this counts as 1 rep.
- Do 8-10 reps for 3 sets total.
- This move can be done without the barbell, stick or rod. Simply put your arms out near your sides or entwine your fingers behind your head.
Glute Bridge Exercise / Hip Raises
Often included as one of the best lower back exercises, bridges look super easy. However, this simple move does double duty. It stabilizes your core muscles and is also good for your hamstrings and glutes.
- With your feet directly under your knees, push from your hips.
- You want your body to get into a completely straight line from your neck down to your knees. Try to hold this pose for 15-30 seconds.
- Lower back down to get into the starting position. That counts as one rep.
- Do 8-10 for 4 sets.
Hip Hinges / Half Forward Bends
Hinges with a barbell, rod, or broomstick are like preludes to more challenging types of back exercises. Maintain a straight back to help build supportive spinal muscles and improve your vertebral alignment.
- Stand holding a rod, barbell or broomstick vertically behind you. One hand should be behind your head while the other is near your waist.
- Let your head come into contact with the stick where it’s right near your shoulder blades and the base of your spine.
- Start to hinge forward but keep the stick straight and in contact with your body in those key areas. Stand back up and get into the starting position.
- That counts as one set. Do 15 for 3 sets total.
Reverse Hip Hyperextensions on a Swiss/Stability Ball
This move differs from traditional back extensions as you will work to raise your lower body instead of the upper body, making it ideal for your hamstrings and glutes.
- Start by lying face down with the exercise ball beneath your chest. Push off with your toes slightly until the ball is directly under your hips.
- With your legs straight out behind you, draw them up to the ceiling until you can get your body in a straight line.
- Return to the starting position as that counts as one rep. Do 12-15 for 3 sets total.
- As you get used to this move, increase the degree of difficulty by rolling forward until you can rest your forearms on the ball.
Best Exercises to Treat Lower Back Pain
“I joined a gym 6 months ago and still haven’t lost a pound. Tomorrow, I’m heading down there in person to find out what’s going on,” Unknown
Ever reach for the remote and pull your back? Wear heels too long and have a stiff back? Or, misstep and feel a huge knot in your low back or numbness in your feet? What about stiffness, tingling, numbness, tightness or other symptoms?
Acute (a few days or weeks) and chronic pain (long-term) in your lumbar area can come from muscle strain, age, sedentary activity, incorrect posture, a kidney or bladder problem or menstruation (dysmenorrhea). It can be excruciating or severe enough that you’re looking up “good stretches for lower back pain” and ready to call your MD. Hence, speak to a physician about your specific symptoms.
While preventative measures include stretching and improving your posture, strengthening your ab muscles, glutes and hip flexors are also recommended.
Exercises to Reduce Low Back Pain
The back exercises below can strengthen your lower back, hips, glutes and abs, increase your flexibility and reduce back pain. However, treat the root cause of your pain to avoid further exacerbation.
Speak to your physician, a yogi or yogini, or Ayurvedic practitioner about natural remedies like yoga, stretching and massage. Or, speak to a chiropractor who might recommend spinal manipulations, ultrasound and electrical stimulation. These can help you avoid surgeries and medications with side effects.
Cat and Cow Stretch
An ideal backstretch that alleviates stiff muscles, do this at night, in the morning and before and after your workouts.
- Get on your hands and knees and draw up your back in an arch toward the ceiling.
- Hold that pose for 15-30 seconds and release. Return to the original position.
- Push your abdomen down toward the floor. As you do that, draw your shoulders and look at the sky. Return to the original position.
- Repeat 3-4 times.
Glute Bridges Exercise
As mentioned above, this is another great exercise for stretching your abs, low back and glutes.
Single or Double Knee to Chest Stretch
A great warm-up before or after exercise, it loosens the joints and stiff muscles.
- Lie down on your back and bend your knees. Keep your feet flat on the ground.
- Pull your left knee toward your chest and hold it with both hands.
- Draw in your abs as you pull your knee into your spine. Hold it for 5-10 seconds and release. Return to the original position and do the other knee. An alternative is to do both knees at once.
- Do 2-3 reps or as often as you need to.
Lower Back Flexing Exercise
A great ab and low back exercise, this low-intensity stretch can improve your strength.
- Lie back and bend your knees. Keep your feet flat on the ground.
- Engage your core like you’re pulling your abs away from your waistband. Hold that position for 5-10 seconds. Relax and get into the original pose.
- Drop your abs like you’re pushing your belly to the ground. Hold that pose for 5-10 seconds and release.
- Do 5 reps and try to build up to 30 total.
Lower Back Rotation Stretch
A very easy stretch, you probably already do this in the mornings or after workouts!
- Lie back with your knees bent. Put your feet flat on the ground.
- With your shoulders back and stationary, roll your bent knees to the left side and hold for 5-10 seconds as you breathe through the pose. Release and return to the original position.
- Repeat by rotating your knees in the other direction and hold 5-10 seconds before returning to the original position.
- Repeat this 2-3 times in the morning and evening and before and after your workouts.
Seated Lower Back Rotational Stretch
Use the correct form with this move so you don’t twist your back too much.
- Sit in a chair that doesn’t have arms. Cross your left leg over the right.
- Push your left elbow against the inside of your left knee and lightly twist and apply gentle pressure. Hold that pose for 5-10 seconds.
- Return to the original pose and do the other side.
- Repeat this 3-5 times before and after workouts.
Always Exercise Safely and Live Confidently
“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” — Louise Hay
“Don’t let anyone treat you like free salsa. You are guacamole, baby. You. Are. Guacamole.”
Strengthening Exercises for Lower Back are designed to tone and tighten your core abdominal muscles, glutes, hamstrings and side ab muscles. If you feel any pain when doing the exercises, stop immediately.
In your daily activities, avoid any movements that will twist, strain or pull on your back muscles. Use proper lifting techniques that support your back and use your leg muscles more. Look for ways to reduce the stress in your life and remember to sit up straight and stand tall (especially if you’re on the computer or your phone or tablet for long hours).
Maintaining a strong back can help with your other exercises and improve your quality of life. And lastly, whether your goals are daily exercise, to tone your body and/or lose weight, love the body you’re in.
FAQ about Strengthening Exercises for Lower Back
A few come to mind but the top might be a bird dog or kneeling balance as these don’t require gym equipment. Kneeling balances are also a Pilates move.
Similar to a bird dog, you are on your hands and knees. Keep your spine neutral and long and use the correct form to maximize the stretch and avoid injury.
Pick a few Strengthening Exercises for Lower Back that can build your core back muscles. These might include bird dogs (more lumbar and core strength) and glute bridges (to build your hams, glutes and abs).
Others might include planks (to build your glutes and abs), side planks (to tone the sides of your abs and lower back) and prone leg raises (to build and strengthen your glutes).
There are all kinds of lower back exercises you can do (without a gym). A few examples include superman stretches, bird dogs, partial curls, lateral leg raises (while you’re lying down), and glute bridges.
The top five low back exercises (with gym equipment) include back extensions, deadlifts, squats, good mornings and rack pulls.
If you find yourself hunched over in pain and looking up good stretches for lower back pain, chances are you might have picked the wrong exercise. As a rule of thumb, always consult a physician and trainer before starting any new workout routine. Avoid crunches, bar back squats, high knee jumps, burpees, double leg lifts, spinal twists, and bent-over barbell rows.
Instead try modified sit-ups, cobra stretches, roman chair exercises, toe-touch crossovers and standing toe touches. In place of high-impact activities and running, do yoga and water aerobics.