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How to Strengthen Lower Back Muscles

By Kim Nunley

The erector spinae muscles in your lower back are responsible for extending and stabilizing your spine. Your glutes and hamstrings work alongside your erector spinae by keeping your hips properly aligned. When the erector spinae, glutes and hamstrings are weak, they’re not able to keep your spine properly aligned, which can lead to injury or pain. Strengthening them will help protect your spine as you stand, squat down, bend over, sit for long periods of time and participate in fitness and athletic endeavors. Complete a lower-back-strengthening workout two or three days per week and start each session with a five to 10 minute walk to warm-up. If you’re currently suffering from back pain, see your doctor before incorporating back-strengthening exercises.

Back-Lying Exercises

The bridge exercise, done from a back-lying position, strengthens the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms down by your sides on the floor. Lift your hips as high as you can by pushing your heels into the mat. Hold the top position for a few seconds, engaging your glutes and lower-back muscles. Your back should create a straight line with your upper thighs. Lower your hips back down to the mat. Once this exercise becomes easy, make it more challenging by performing the single-leg version. Extend one knee to hold one foot off the floor as you lift your hips by pushing into the mat with the foot remaining on the floor. Perform two sets of 12 reps.

Front-Lying Exercises

Flip over so that you’re lying face down on the mat to perform arm lifts and swimmers. To perform arm lifts, lie on the mat with your arms extended beyond your head as if you were pretending to fly like Superman. With your thumbs facing the ceiling, lift one arm just a couple inches off the mat before lowering it back down. Switch arms with every rep. The swimmer exercise uses the same starting position except that your wrists should be rotated so that your open palms rest on the mat. Keep your arms and legs fully straight as you simultaneously lift your four limbs until your open palms and feet are each two to three inches off the mat. Slowly lower your limbs back down to complete the rep. Perform two sets of 10 to 12 reps of both arm lifts and swimmers.

Quadruped-Kneeling Exercises

The quadruped-kneeling position involves getting on all fours, with your hands positioned directly underneath your shoulders and your knees set right under your hips. From this position, you can perform the cat and camel exercise, as well as alternating arm and leg lifts. For cat and camel, first engage your lower back muscles to drop your trunk as far as you can so that it sags toward the floor and your back is arched. Then, engage your abdominals to lift your trunk, pulling your navel inward so that you get into a hunched position. Slowly move back and forth between these two positions. To perform alternating arm and leg lifts, simultaneously pick up your right arm and left leg until both limbs are fully extended and parallel to the floor. Slowly lower them back down and then repeat with your left arm and right leg. Perform two sets of 10 to 12 reps of each exercise.

Weight-Training Exercises

Incorporate weight-training exercises into your regimen once you feel that your lower-back muscles are ready for a more intense workout. Deadlifts, good mornings and overhead squats all target the erector spinae and require a barbell. During deadlifts and good mornings, the erector spinae act as dynamic primary movers, handling most of the load. During overhead squats, however, the erector spinae are forced to isometrically contract to keep your spine stable. Start by performing each of the exercises with a wooden bar and then move onto weighted barbells as your lower back gets stronger. Perform two to three sets of six to 12 reps of each exercise.

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