Back pain is an extremely common thing that happens to all of us at least once in our lives. For everyone out there with low back pain, THERE IS HOPE in exercises to strengthen lower back that you can start doing right now to recondition your back and target the pain at the very root of it.
It’s for you to decide and be your own expert in choosing the exercises that are best suited to your own lower back problems. You have to start ‘loving’ exercise and working out even if you have never lifted a single dumbbell in your life to build a stronger back!
That’s the only way to push through the pain and fear. Let your back pain be a constant reminder and motivator for you to take control and do whatever it takes to be in the best shape of your life.
This post is PART 1 of a THREE-PART SERIES of articles meant to help people with lower back pain and problems. The three articles in this miniseries are about everything from lower back home exercises and yoga stretches to gym workouts with weights for building a rock-solid lower back. These articles will be relevant for everyone from complete beginners to experienced folks! The other two posts in this three-part lower back series are –
|PART 2||PART 3|
|Lower Back Workout Exercises│6 Best Weighted Gym Exercises That Are Proven To Work||Lower Back Pain Exercises and Stretches│Yoga to the Rescue|
In this Part 1 article, we will learn about all the best evidence-based home exercises you can do to strengthen your lower back on your road to recover from back pain for good.
Key Things to Know About Back Pain
For the majority of people, today’s modern lifestyle is somewhat a combination of ‘eat more, move less and sitting in front of the tv or computer for many hours with a bad posture. Repeating this daily unconscious routine eventually weakens the spine muscles, particularly the lower back.
Lower back pain happens simply because we are not doing the exercises we should on a daily basis to make sure we don’t have it.
The candid truth about the prevention of lower back pain is that rest will never be the answer and exercise will always be! Our bodies are meant to move and if you don’t move enough, your back pain can never be successfully managed.
A 2013 study by ‘The Lancet’ proved that one of the leading causes of years lived with disability (a measure reflecting the impact of an illness on the quality of life) is lower back pain. If you don’t want to spend your golden years suffering from this insidious low back pain, it’s time to take action now. Small steps taken today will become big things later and your future self will thank you for the decisions you will take today!
Many studies have proved that losing weight and exercising are key to preventing lower back pain.
Always remember that there is no “one size fits all” solution to all back pain problems! Your journey to a stronger and pain-free back is yours and yours alone. You need to take the matter into your own hands in finding the best exercises to improve your back condition.
The better choice always is to first try and experiment with standard, non-invasive treatments and therapies to permanently manage low back pain like –
- Exercise (bodyweight and weighted)
- Yoga and Stretches
- Tai Chi
- Physical therapy and heat therapy
- Using a DIY massage gun at home for pain relief
- Educating yourself by reading the best-selling books on back pain
- Standing desk for work (to decrease sitting time)
The exercises shown below can help you find the right path and make the right choices in customizing an exercise regimen for yourself that’s easy to follow for the rest of your life.
My Back Pain Story
From my own experience, the first time I had a serious back problem was when I was helping my mom carry a few crates full of vegetables (weighing about 50 kilos each) from point A on the ground to point B. Although I’m used to heavy weights and deadlifting in the gym, at that time I didn’t think about the weight being too heavy for me and accidentally strained a muscle on my lower back.
For the next few days, the pain in my lower back was so severe that I couldn’t even make myself get out of bed. At the hospital, I was asked by the doctor to get an X-ray done to know the exact cause of my back pain. Fortunately, my back X-ray came normal and the doctor told me I had a lower back spasm, plus mild scoliosis (sideways curve in the back), possibly genetic.
After going through this back pain reality check, I decided that I will learn everything there is to know about strengthening the lower back and do the most effective back exercises as frequently as possible to build a rock-solid foundation.
Fast forward to today, I have vastly improved my quality of life by making my lower back stronger and reducing pain by more than 90%. This is the result of a combination of my weekly routine of yoga, bodyweight, and weighted strength training exercises that I’m sharing with you all in this lower back post series.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
We have only one body and how we use or abuse it will often determine our quality of life. The likelihood of back problems is almost inevitable in our society. The blame goes to our sedentary lifestyles of too much sitting with a bad posture (c-curved spine).
Everyone’s reason and cause for lower back pain will be different based on their circumstances. For some, an accident causes back pain to enter their lives and for others, it starts with an inactive lifestyle, poor posture (slumping and slouching), muscle tightness, or a lack of physical exercise.
To know the cause of your lower back pain, you first need to identify the specific type of lower back pain from which you suffer by looking at your symptoms. All lower back pains can be categorized into two types –
- Specific Back Pain – Happens because of specific causes like disease, infection or a fracture and consists of only a minority of cases (10% and less).
- Non-Specific Back Pain – The most common type of back pain making the majority of back problems (90% plus) that we all face. Non-specific back pain does not have a specific cause identified, but is thought to be due to a muscle strain or injury to ligaments.
|Causes of Low Back Pain||% of Cases||Symptoms||Time To Heal|
|1. Non-Specific or Mechanical (Most Common)||90% and more||Muscle strain or muscle spasm, ligament injury, herniated disk, spinal stenosis, or compression fracture||Self-Recovering & resolves in 4 to 6 weeks|
|2. Specific or Pathological |
|Less than 10%||Presence of red flags like infection, malignancy, fractures or trauma, and spinal cord or nerve root compression||Need Immediate Treatment|
The other lower back pain classification can be done on the basis of the time duration of the pain into the following three types –
- Acute: Back pain for less than six weeks (most common)
- Sub-Acute or Sub-Chronic: Back pain for at least six weeks but no longer than three months
- Chronic: Back pain for more than twelve weeks or three months
In the majority of cases where the lower back pain does not radiate down to the legs and remains localized, the back problems and pain subside after a few weeks of rest and exercise. However, if your back pain goes down the leg from the lower back (known as sciatica), your symptoms (lasting about less than six weeks) can still be managed by different treatments like physical therapy and by remaining active with exercising or light physical activity.
Low back pain caused by mechanical issues like muscle strain from strenuous exercises or sports and from incorrect posture while sitting, standing, and weight-lifting is called non-specific back pain. This is what most people suffer from and can be corrected with a few simple exercises and lifestyle changes.
All the exercises to strengthen the lower back that we will talk about in this article will help manage your symptoms and decrease pain for non-specific lower back pain (acute, sub-acute, and chronic) including mechanical problems like muscle weakness/strain or spasm, spinal disc injury, or a herniated disc.
For all other specific causes of chronic back pain where the pain lasts for more than twelve weeks and you have already tried all the exercises and conventional treatments without success, the best strategy would be to get your doctor or health care professional to rule out serious causes with the right tailored approach to managing your symptoms.
Specific Lower Back Pain and Surgery
Spinal surgery is a major operation that is only considered if one suffers from specific lower back pain with red flag symptoms like infection, malignancy/cancer, fractures or trauma, and spinal cord or nerve root compression. If your back pain symptoms are non-specific because of lifestyle issues or muscle tightness or spasm, you can skip this section.
In specific lower back pain cases, it can take up to a year or more to fully recover. It also carries a risk of potentially serious complications. Also, surgery is rarely needed for people with acute and sub-acute lower back pain. You should only discuss surgery options with your doctor as a last resort when no other treatment works to relieve your pain and help ease your back pain.
Because of a lack of education or desperation to fix the excruciating back pain, many people make hasty and uninformed decisions to use surgery for fixing their backs wherein a lot of cases it is unnecessary or can even make things worse with no better likelihood of success. This is where exercise comes to the rescue!
Do not fall victim to the popular back pain treatments like spine surgery, opioid painkillers, pain drugs, steroid injections, chiropractors when all you need is a good exercise program in combination with good education and even some counseling.
Top 5 Exercises to Strengthen Lower Back at Home for Beginners
Plan your workouts around a routine that primarily focuses on strengthening the posterior chain (muscles on the back of your body) and core muscles. By doing just a couple of sets of these corrective bodyweight exercises on your non-training days, you will have a perfect game plan to effectively strengthen your lower back.
With practice and consistency, your back and other supporting muscles will become stronger, making it hard for the back pain to return. And over the course of a few weeks, when your back feels stronger, you can gradually progress to lifting weights using light dumbbells to gain whole-body strength and endurance, staying forever fit and healthy with this newfound active lifestyle.
A few recommendations worth considering –
- Investing in a good-quality exercise mat is worthwhile if you don’t already have one. An exercise mat is an important accessory that you’ll need in doing every exercise for the lower back at home.
- You may also benefit from having a pull-up bar at home. A simple exercise done using the pull-up bar is called Bar Hang which will help to decompress your spine & improve upper body strength. Even a minute or two of daily bar hangs will do wonders for your overall back muscles.
With that in mind, here are the best daily exercises to strengthen your lower back at home –
1. Glute Bridge
To strengthen your lower back, hips, and core muscles, the glute bridge is one of the essential exercises that will benefit you in a number of ways. This exercise will help in reducing your lower back pain and correcting your posture by accurately targeting the muscles responsible for keeping your body upright.
The glute bridge is most effectively used as a warmup exercise before beginning a leg workout in the gym or simply done on a yoga mat at home as a muscle stabilization exercise for a stronger back and posterior chain. You can also try another challenging and effective variation of the glute bridge called elevated hip thrust or high-hip bucks (shown below) that offers a greater range of motion with the same benefits for the lower back.
Main Muscles Worked – Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower Back and Abs
How to Perform –
Exercise Recommendation –
- Move your torso and hips as one, forming a straight line. Focus on the contraction at the top of the movement.
- Pause and squeeze your glutes before slowly lowering your body to the starting position.
- Keep a neutral spine position forming a straight line. DO NOT flex your spine or overuse the lower back.
- Drive the movement with your glutes, not your lower back or hamstrings.
2. Reverse Hyperextension
An equally important cousin of the hyperextension exercise, the reverse hyper is my favorite lower back exercise and a part of my daily routine before going to bed. This great low back strengthening exercise perfectly counteracts the damage done to the low back muscles done from sitting the whole day.
This study proves that reverse hyper is an effective low-impact exercise to target the muscles of the low back. Reverse hyperextension can be done literally anywhere as long as you have access to a sofa, bed, or bench. This exercise may be a little difficult to perform at the start for complete beginners with weak glutes.
You can still benefit by doing just a few repetitions of this exercise with good form to strengthen the target muscles and have instant relief from back pain. As you get stronger, increase the number of sets and repetitions to further challenge your hip and lower back muscles.
Main Muscles Worked – Glutes, Hamstrings, and Lower Back
How to Perform –
Exercise Recommendation –
- Control the movement of your legs, keeping both feet together and try to raise them above parallel.
- Squeeze the glutes at the top position for a few seconds and slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.
3. Superman Exercise
As the name suggests, imagine yourself in a flying position like you’ve seen superman fly in the movies, lay down on a mat, and repeat the flying position from the floor while enjoying the miraculous benefits of a stronger lower back. If you haven’t heard of this amazing exercise before, yes it works and is 100% real!
Superman is the most effective exercise for the lumbar multifidus, an important muscle that stabilizes your spine. An abnormal functioning or weakness in this back muscle is strongly related to lower back pain. This is where Superman comes to the rescue by increasing this muscle’s thickness to prevent low back injury and pain.
Main Muscles Worked – Lower Back, Glutes, Hamstring, and Abs
How to Perform –
Exercise Recommendation –
- Hold the flying position for a few seconds at the top of the movement, focusing on the contraction of your glute and lower back muscles.
- Repeat as many times as you’re comfortable.
4. Banded Side Steps
Our bodies are not designed to move in just forward or backward directions but also sideways. Most leg exercise programs are meant to train the glute max which is the largest of the three glute or hip muscles. Doing this overlooks the lower body benefits of including movements that train the other underused muscles of the glutes known as glute medius.
Sidestepping exercises like the banded side steps can help strengthen these underused glute medius muscles, improve balance and flexibility, stabilize your pelvis and take the pressure off of your lower back.
Main Muscles Worked – Glute Medius, Hip Abductors, and External Rotators
How to Perform –
Exercise Recommendation –
- To get the most out of this exercise, you will need a resistance band to be placed around your ankles.
- Make sure that each side step is about shoulder-width apart.
- Keep constant tension on the band and maintain the semi-squatted position throughout the exercise.
5. Standard and Modified Plank
Many studies have shown the effectiveness of plank exercise in treating low back pain and in correcting posture. Plank is an overall excellent exercise that is good for reducing lower back pain if done with the correct form.
The standard plank exercise works effectively to strengthen your core and offers you the ability to have control over whole-body muscles as you get more experienced in holding the plank position for longer time durations. The core strengthening results in a decrease in lower back stress and tightness and increases the stability of the spine to help complete its daily functions and activities.
To further challenge and strengthen your back muscles, modified plank variation like side planks or marching planks greatly helps make the trunk muscles stronger. This strength helps decrease low back pain, corrects posture, and improves the quality of life. Be sure to master your form on the standard plank before progressing to the more difficult version of this exercise to avoid any back problems.
Main Muscles Worked – Core (Abs) and Lower Back
How to Perform –
Exercise Recommendation –
- Elbows directly under your shoulders and wrists in line with your elbows.
- Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes and thighs while breathing normally.
- Don’t drop your head, shoulders or hips.
- Hold the plank position for as long as you comfortably can with proper form.
Dr. Stuart McGill’s Big Three Back Strengthening Exercises (Bonus)
This post wouldn’t have been complete without mentioning the McGill big three exercises that have benefitted countless people in improving their back problems. The McGill big three exercises help to strengthen the core without putting too much pressure on the lower back.
The award-winning leading authority on back pain, Dr. Stuart M. McGill recommends the following three exercises to help people stabilize their spines, improving lower back endurance and strengthening the lower back muscles:
For a more in-depth explanation of the ‘McGill Big Three’ exercises, watch this video to learn the proper form, exercise progressions, and the way to do them correctly.
These bodyweight exercises proven to strengthen the lower back will work for everyone from the youth to seniors, weightlifters to runners, golfers to cyclers, office workers to entrepreneurs, and everyone else who desires to be back pain-free!
Start small, take those small first steps to understand what exercises help improve your back pain. Only you can know what works for you and what doesn’t. Defeat your fear of not trying new things to alleviate your back pain by defining your fears and going to the very root of them. Only then can you really see what’s holding you back.
If your doctors and physical therapists have failed you and you feel like you have no idea what to do next, don’t despair. Always remember that you’re not alone in this. There are thousands of people in a similar situation like your own who have kept hope alive and figured out through years of trial and error a daily routine that helps keep their back muscles strong and pain-free. If they can do it, you can do it too!
I hope and wish that the information I shared will be helpful to you in progressing in your fitness journey and making your back muscles stronger. If you enjoyed this post, please leave your experiences and comments below.
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