Top 5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Back

Published March 06, 2019
<article> <section> <p>What if I told you that three out of four Americans suffer from some form of lower back pain?</p> <p>If you’re like us, you said, “Wow. I knew it was a problem but didn’t know it was <i>that</i> bad!”</p> <p>Well, it is. Up to eighty-five percent of Americans say that their lower back hurts from time to time and may even affect their quality of life. People everywhere are looking for solutions to improve their back condition and alleviate the symptoms.</p> <p>What most people fail to understand, however, is that solving lower back pain is not just about making your back stronger.</p> <p>The truth is, back pain can also be caused by tight or weak hips, glutes, abdominals, or even obliques (what we call ‘love handles’). Our backs are vital to our health and ability to function, so it’s important that we keep all these things strong and working.</p> <p>In this article, we look at the top five exercises to strengthen your lower back as well as the other important parts that contribute to living a healthy, pain-free life.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What Is Lower Back Pain?</header> <p>Well, if you have it, you surely know what it <i>feels</i> like. But if you’re not one of the shockingly high seventy-five to eighty-five percent of Americans that suffer from it, here’s what you should know<sup>1</sup>.</p> <p>What most of us refer to as ‘our back’ is actually a series of ligaments, muscles, nerves, and bony structures called vertebra that protect our spine<sup>2</sup>. The tricky part about back pain is that it’s hard to compare one person’s to another. One or more of these components can flare up, get injured, ache, or feel sore. Another person might have something else bothering them. And you’d both still call it ‘back pain.’</p> <p><i>Lower back pain</i> typically refers to the lumbar spine area, which is the lowest part of your spine. A number of things can cause it-even muscles that aren’t in your back. Your hips, hamstrings, and glutes all play a role in the health and function of your lumbar spine<sup>3</sup>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What Causes Back Pain?</header> <p>Everyone is different, but the cause of back pain is often one of a few culprits. Here are some causes.</p> <div class="sub-head">Muscle Strain</div> <p>If you exercise, you might strain a muscle in your back. The back is home to several large muscles like the <i>rhomboid</i> (upper back, near the shoulders), <i>latissimus dorsi</i> (‘lats,’ the part behind your armpit that helps you pick things up) and <i>spinae erectors</i> (the part that holds your spine up and feels amazing when you get a massage).</p> <div class="sub-head">Herniated Discs</div> <p><i>Herniated discs</i> are another cause of low back pain. This means your vertebrae are stacking on top of one another and compressing the nerves, which leads to pain. It sounds awful but it’s fairly common.</p> <div class="sub-head">Other</div> <p>Other causes of lower back pain like arthritis and osteoporosis are also possible. Honestly, a lot of things cause back problems. That’s why it can be tough to diagnose.</p> <p>But the good news is there is one thing that will help you prevent (or alleviate) back pain.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>How Do You Prevent Lower Back Injuries?</p></h4></header> <p>One highly effective way to prevent lower back injuries and pain is to exercise. Specifically, strength training. By building up a strong, flexible core, lower back, hip, and glute muscles, the muscles surrounding your spine will function better and alleviate pain. It might help to make a connection between lower back pain and <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">functional exercise</a> here. One reason we love <i>functional exercise</i> is because most of the exercises incorporate the lower back, glutes, or core strength training (a plank, a squat, or a push-up, for example).</p> <p>If you take one thing from this article, though, let it be this: it’s not <i>just</i> about a strong lower back. If your core, glutes, or hips are weak, your lower back pain won’t go away. Unfortunately, this isn’t always communicated (or understood), even in the medical community.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="people-sitting-around-a-table-0098"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What Creates a Weak Back?</header> <p>Bad posture, weak abdominal muscles, and low muscle tone usually lead to a weak back.</p> <p>If you slouch over at a desk for eight hours per day, this puts your spine and shoulders in a compromised position. Over time, this stress wears down the discs in your spine and can lead to pain or discomfort.</p> <p>If you don’t exercise or stretch, the muscles supporting your spine are probably not very strong. Doing exercises to strengthen your lower back (see the end of this article) helps protect your spine and also decrease the likelihood of discomfort.</p> <p>These things tend to relate to one another. If you exercise, you’re more likely to feel comfortable in an upright <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">posture</a> using your back muscles correctly instead of straining yourself with rounded shoulders and a curved spine.</p> <div class="sub-head">The Sneeze That Broke the Camel’s Back</div> <p>Have you known an older, sedentary person who did something non-strenuous (like a sneeze) and threw out their back? In all likelihood, this is an example of someone who had a weak back from sitting in a compromised position often or not exercising.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Benefits of a Strong, Flexible Lower Back</header> <p>Most fitness enthusiasts think strong abdominal muscles are the ‘golden goose’ of fitness goals. Perhaps they don’t know the benefits of a strong back. You are doing a service to your <i>entire</i> body by developing a strong and flexible lower back.</p> <p>A strong back keeps your spine healthy, allowing signals to transfer from your brain to your body (we learned how important that is for <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">gut health</a> recently). Think of strengthening your back like building a solid foundation for a house. Everything you build on top of that foundation is much better off because you prioritized the base of the whole system.</p> <p>And strong back muscles make it easier to do activities you enjoy without pain. You are far more likely to participate in sports, <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">go on long walks</a>, or join other activities when you are pain-free.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Best Lower Back Exercises:</header> <p>These exercises to strengthen your lower back cover everything: your upper back, hamstrings, glutes, obliques (side muscles) and abs. Train these regularly to alleviate back pain and set yourself up for optimal back health long-term.</p> <div class="sub-head">1. Shoulder Bridge Hold</div> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <video autoplay loop muted> <source src="" type="video/webm"> <source src="" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> <p>The shoulder bridge hold is great for developing glute, hip, and lower back muscles. Lay on the floor with your heels flat on the ground, then ‘bridge up.’ Your butt leaves the ground while your heels stay flat on the floor, pausing at the top and squeezing your butt. Your lower back is off the ground, and your shoulders maintain contact with the floor. Then repeat.</p> <p>To challenge yourself, slow down even more. Hold at the top for an extra second or two, and slowly add reps. Over the course of a few weeks, your back, core and hip muscles will get much stronger with these shoulder bridges.</p> <div class="sub-head">2. Drinking Birds</div> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <video autoplay loop muted> <source src="" type="video/webm"> <source src="" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> <p>If you’ve been around <a href="" rel="noreferrer">Warrior Made</a>, you know we love <i>drinking birds</i>. They can help you fix <a href="" rel="noreferrer">knee pain</a> and back pain, too.</p> <p>The starting position of a drinking bird is with two feet shoulder width apart. You’ll bring one foot behind you straight as you dip forward with a tight back (working your spinal erector muscles). Go as far as you can without bending your back and leaning forward. Once there, return to where you started. Repeat for a target number of repetitions (ten is a good number to start with).</p> <p>There are several progressions for drinking birds based on your experience. We break them all down for you in this video starting at <a href="" rel="noreferrer">the 3:15 mark</a>, so you know everything from foot placement on the floor to how to make yourself as tall as possible.</p> <p>As you watch, take special note of what Coach Tyler says at the 4:40 mark. He teaches you how to use your knees to ensure that your hips and glutes are also getting a workout and not just your lower back. Done correctly, drinking birds are a perfect exercise for strengthening every muscle that helps prevent lower back pain.</p> <div class="sub-head">3. Reverse Crunches</div> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <video autoplay loop muted> <source src="" type="video/webm"> <source src="" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> <p>Every movement you make stems from your core. Whether your goal is to strengthen your back or make your core look better, reverse crunches are an awesome movement. </p> <p>The starting position is on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Think about ‘glueing’ your lower back to the ground (you’ll feel your abdominal muscles flex) to ensure your lower back isn’t doing work that your abs should be.</p> <p>Place your hands under your butt and bring your heels off the floor towards your face (see image above). Do your best to keep your feet off the floor as you return to the starting position to finish a rep. That’s one-now repeat and keep going.</p> <div class="sub-head">4. Standing Side Bends</div> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <video autoplay loop muted> <source src="" type="video/webm"> <source src="" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> <p>Your oblique muscles are located on the sides of your belly. We sometimes fondly (or not-so-fondly) refer to these as our ‘love handles,’ but your back muscles will love any effort you make to strengthen and stretch out your obliques.</p> <p>Standing side bends are simple, too. The starting position is standing with feet shoulder width apart. Begin by kicking your hip to the opposite side you are leaning to (right hip moves out if your left shoulder is dipping). Feel the nice stretch in your side, then come up. Repeat the same thing on the other side.</p> <p>Over time, these simple side bends help keep your spine and core flexible. This will allow you to exercise more and feel pain in your lower back less. It might even reduce how much ‘love’ there is on those handles, too, if you catch our drift (they’re a great core toning exercise, too).</p> <div class="sub-head">5. Reverse Lunges</div> <div class="row justify-content-center text-center"> <video autoplay loop muted> <source src="" type="video/webm"> <source src="" type="video/mp4"> </video> </div> <p>The truth is that most people are quad-dominant. Simply put, this means our quadriceps (front of the thigh) muscles are stronger than our glutes (butt muscles). When we run or exercise, we tend to use more quad than we do glutes. In reality, it should be split fifty-fifty. This might actually be a reason we have back pain.</p> <p>Reverse lunges are a great way to train both your quads, hips, and especially, your glutes. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder width apart and bringing your foot behind you. Try to go towards the floor in a straight line without leaning forward so as not to put too much pressure on your knee.</p> <p>Go as low as you can without pain. If possible, gently “kiss” the ground with your back knee (avoid banging your knee on the ground, but do touch). Drive through your other heel to bring your foot back to a stand. That’s one. Now do the other side.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Lower Back Exercise Safety and Precautions</header> <p>Hey! Here’s that fun category where we remind you that we’re not doctors, but fitness and health professionals. While we totally believe in these exercises and everything discussed here will help you with your lower back pain, be sure to see a doctor before starting any exercise routine if you have injuries or consistent back pain.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Wrapping Up</header> <p>Here’s what you need to remember (and take away) from this article. When it comes to strengthening the lower back, back exercises are only a piece of the puzzle. Strong hips, glutes, obliques, and abdominal muscles are all equally important for fighting off lower back pain and being able to perform daily tasks and work out.</p> <p>The five exercises we recommended are all great for beginners or even for more advanced people. We love them because you can do them from the comfort of your own home with nothing more than some floor space and a positive attitude. Try incorporating all five into your weekly routine so your quality of life can improve and your lower back can get stronger and healthier!</p> <p>For more at-home workouts and fitness advice for all levels, check out our <a href="" rel="noreferrer">exercise section</a> and <a href="" rel="noreferrer">Warrior Made’s YouTube channel</a>.</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Low Back Pain</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">What Is Back Pain?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">What Causes Low Back Pain?</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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