Have you ever felt a slight discomfort in your lower back after sitting for a long time? It might be the first sign of a lower back weakness which can get worse if not treated initially. Fortunately, you can fix this pain with these precise lower back workout exercises about which we will learn in today’s post.
Addressing the first signs of lower back weakness is crucial especially in this pandemic. More and more people are now working from home or have become increasingly inactive. Now more than ever the problems of a bad posture, slouching, nerd neck, and rounded shoulders have gotten worse.
If you find yourself identifying with any of these issues and think that you’re also plagued by these problems, it’s never too late to start. To fix these lower back problems, it will take action and effort on your part where you have to move more, exercise, and stretch.
This post is PART 2 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 1||PART 3|
|Exercises to Strengthen Lower Back│How to Get a Stronger Lower Back at Home||Lower Back Pain Exercises and Stretches│Yoga to the Rescue|
In this post, we will specifically talk about the best weighted exercises you can do at the gym to make your lower back muscles stronger and reduce the chances of an injury. Let’s begin!
Lower Back Workout Exercises –The Anatomy of the Lumbar (Lower Back)
Do you know what causes all back injuries and weaknesses, and from where they first originate?
It’s the Spine! The one major muscle responsible for carrying the weight of our whole body is our Spine (also called, Backbone). A few of its major functions are –
- Supports your body, helps you walk, run, twist and move.
- Made up of 33 small bones called Vertebrae in addition to disks, nerves and joints.
- Has three normal curves (see picture below):
- Cervical (neck),
- Thoracic (middle back) and
- Lumbar (lower back)
Now, coming to the anatomy of the lower back, a few relevant facts worth knowing –
- Made up of five small bones (vertebrae) referred to as L1 to L5.
- Supports the upper parts of the spine and bears most of your body’s weight including periods of bending, carrying stuff, heavy lifting, long periods of sitting and standing.
- The lower back further connects to the pelvic region of the hips (sacrum) and tailbone (coccyx):
- This is the most important part of the lumbar anatomy in regards to back problems and explains the fact why we need to do core and hip strengthening exercises to keep our spines healthy and injury-free.
What Role Does Core Stability Play in Lower Back Strengthening?
When we say core stability, we are referring to the muscles of the lower back, abdominals, and hips.
In simple words, core stability is the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk muscles (abs) and pelvis (backbone and hips) in athletic activities like exercise & sports. To increase core stability and prevent back pain, we need to strengthen these three muscles with regular exercise.
Core stability is not just about great-looking hips or six-pack abs.
People who have bigger, stronger hips also have strong core stability as compared to people who don’t. This is also a visual sign you can look for in your own body to estimate the current state of your core stability.
Having stronger core stability will help with your bigger lifts like the squat and deadlift. On the other hand, weaker core stability will cause the lower back to take on too much weight when bending or lifting heavy things or doing weighted exercises in the gym, all leading to back problems and injuries.
As we learned from the lower back anatomy in the above section, the hip and abdominal (abs) muscles play a vital role in supporting the spine and are essential in improving spine health, also proven by this study. This is the reason why the exercises that are designed to strengthen these two muscles will also strengthen your lower back.
It is crucial to have stronger hip muscles since many times lower back pain starts because of weakness in the glutes. This weakness carries over to the lower back and increases the load on the lumbar by making it do all the extra work to carry the weight of your upper body.
With the gym exercises given below, you will notice that all weighted exercises that help make the lower back stronger, directly target the glutes. The reason is that the lower back and glutes function as one unit and any exercise that strengthens the glutes, also makes the lower back stronger.
A strong and stable core provides the following benefits -
- Support and maintains a healthy and resilient spine
- Reduces back pain and injuries
- Prevents knee pain and injuries
Having a solid foundation with good core stability is vital for everyday activities and the way to build one is by doing certain exercises that most effectively strengthen the glute, core, and lower back muscles.
The 6 Best Lower Back Strengthening Weighted Exercises at the Gym
Using bodyweight exercises to strengthen the lower back is a good starting point to follow as a first step in the fight against muscle weakness and chronic back pain.
But the large muscles of the lower back cannot be effectively strengthened by just doing bodyweight exercises and just like any other muscle, the lower back needs strength training with heavier weights to be able to manage and withstand all sorts of back problems related to aging, lifestyle, injury and pain. Why? Because an increase in weights forces an increase in strength in every muscle that is stressed and challenged, therefore making them stronger. This phenomenon is also known as ‘progressive overload‘ which is the number one factor in strength and hypertrophy training.
With that in mind, the first step is to use the bodyweight lower back strengthening exercises, before progressing to the more advanced combination of functional and strength training with the weighted exercises given below. This is the best and safest way to ensure the most effective results in getting a stronger core and lower back.
While working out at the gym, initially your priority should be to increase muscle endurance with a training program that focuses on lifting lighter weights for higher repetitions. DO NOT make the mistake of lifting heavier weights as a beginner. And, if you’re an experienced weightlifter, you can start including these low back strengthening exercises in your training program with a focus to increase muscle strength using heavyweights and with 100% correct form.
Master Proper Form for Every Weighted Exercise.
The most important thing to do before starting weight training is to learn the proper form for every exercise on your workout list and master the form for the first few weeks with lighter weights or dumbbells.
Doing this will ensure that your body is learning to adapt to a primary muscle growth factor (progressive overload) that will ultimately result in stronger back muscles using the weighted exercises below.
The aim of your exercise program at the gym should include all exercises that strengthen the glute muscles and stabilize your core. All compound exercises are great at doing both!
Follow this advanced training routine whenever you feel you’re ready to take on the next step in strength progression, after mastering the bodyweight exercises.
Do it only if you’re comfortable with the weights and learn the proper form with each exercise as you go along in your getting stronger journey! You will know that you’re on the right track when after a few months of following a strength training routine makes your back feel stronger and reduces your back pain to a point where it becomes manageable.
The best exercises to strengthen the lower back at the gym are –
1. Glute-Ham Raise –
A great strength-building exercise, the glute-ham raise activates the hamstring muscles maximally while working on the glute and lower back at the same time.
The glute-ham raise is also one of the best exercises to improve any muscular imbalances in the posterior chain and better performance on big lifts like the squat and deadlift by strengthening the muscles of the hamstrings, hip, and lower back.
Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, and Lower Back
How to Perform:
- Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement to get an active engagement of both glute and hamstring muscles.
- To make the exercise more challenging, consider holding a weighted plate in your hands.
- If you do not have a Glute Ham Raise machine in your gym, you can replace this exercise with the alternate exercise called Barbell Hip Thrust.
2. Back Extension or Hyperextension –
The back extension exercise is one of the top recommendations for including in your workout program because of its effectiveness in strengthening the hip and lower back with a higher range of motion (the movement potential of a muscle or joint to fully stretch or move).
A low-impact exercise done on a roman chair, back extensions directly target the lower back and engage the supporting muscles of the hips and core, making it one of the top recommended exercises for the low back.
Main Muscles Worked: Glutes and Lower Back
How to Perform:
- Set the bench height at a level which is near your belly button and your upper body is in line with your legs.
- Go all the way down and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement with a slight pause.
- Place your hands on your chest and do not overextend your spine at the top of the movement.
- Inhale during the concentric (on the way up) and exhale during the eccentric (on the way down) movement.
3. Cable Pull Throughs –
The cable pull-through is an old-school exercise that has been an important part of the training programs of many legendary bodybuilders and for good reason. This exercise directly targets all major muscles of the posterior chain while also being easier on the spine.
For strengthening the lower back, cable pull-throughs help by building a stronger butt using the effective and safe use of weights. This glute strength minimizes the contribution from the lower back while performing heavier compound lifts and ensures the effective muscle engagement of the glute and hamstrings.
Main Muscles Worked: Glutes, Hamstrings, and Lower Back
How to Perform:
- Learn to hip hinge to ensure proper form before performing pull-throughs.
- Set the cable at a low anchor point, grab the rope from under and between your legs, standing out with a slightly wider stance.
- Keep a neutral spine and a stable torso at all times.
- Squeeze your glutes and remember not to overextend the hips.
4. Barbell Hip Thrust –
A classic posterior chain strengthening exercise and a personal favorite of ‘The Rock’, the barbell hip thrust contributes greatly towards building a stronger lower body. Hip thrusts maximally activate the hip extensor muscles as compared to the squat even when training with submaximal loads (not requiring maximum efforts).
The hip thrusts can be used as a warm-up exercise before doing weighted squats to activate the glutes and prevent the transfer of heavy loads to the lower back, therefore strengthening the low back muscles safely and in the right way.
Main Muscles Worked: Glute Max (Hips), Erector Spinae (muscles running along the spine), Hamstrings and Quads
How to Perform:
- Master the bodyweight glute bridge exercise before progressing to barbell hip thrust.
- Use a protective barbell pad for increased comfort and even weight distribution with the bar placed on your pubic bone.
- Keep a tight core and focus on the glute contraction when pushing your hips towards the ceiling.
- Hold the top position for a few seconds, really feeling the whole muscles contracting and squeezing to get the most out of the hip thrusts.
- Use weights with which you can easily do 6-8 repetitions.
5. Barbell Squats (Most Important) –
The exercises that most effectively strengthen the lower back and treat back pain are multi-joint compound exercises like the squat and deadlift. Make them a permanent part of your weekly gym training routine and experience the strength in your back and all other muscles increase as your ability to lift heavy weights goes up.
You may have heard otherwise and yes, this goes against the status quo but the weighted squat and deadlift can cure your back problems for good if performed with the correct form.
The barbell squat is one of the big three compound movements that activate the maximum number of muscles in the body in one single movement. This is also a great core stability exercise, one that will benefit in building a stronger lower back.
Main Muscles Worked: Almost every big and small muscle in your body including primary muscles of the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
How to Perform:
- Get comfortable squatting with the correct form, starting with lighter weights and progress as you get stronger.
- Keep the chest high with a flat back at all times.
- Move the hips and torso together as a single unit when rising up from the bottom position.
- Finish with hip contraction at the top without overextending.
6. Deadlift (Most Important) –
Deadlifts should be a staple of all workout programs and everyone should do deadlifts. The king of all compound exercises, (ones that activate multiple muscles in one movement) the deadlift is an essential exercise for all workout programs along with the barbell squat and bench press.
During a deadlift, there is an increased load on the lumbar spine so learning the right technique is vital. The risk to reward ratio while doing deadlifts is definitely in favor of the rewards this exercise has in strengthening your whole body muscles, not just the lower back.
Learn the correct form with this five-minute video shown below before jumping on to this exercise. When lifting heavyweights from the ground during a deadlift, always keep two things in mind:
- DO NOT bend the knees or move the bar,
- DO NOT lower the hips,
- Keep the back straight throughout the movement.
Main Muscles Worked: Almost every big and small muscle in your body including the primary muscles of the glute max, quads, hamstrings, lats, traps, and erector spinae.
How to Perform:
- Include deadlifts in your training only after you have built a strong lower body foundation and are comfortable lifting heavy weight from the ground up.
- Use this seven-step ‘deadlift checklist’ by Athlean-X to make sure you do the exercise right rep by rep.
As humans, we all have the same spine that gets weaker and weaker as we age. With that in mind, the choice is always yours about what you’re going to do about it. The real question here is –
Are you going to choose a sedentary and inactive lifestyle where your muscles and joints hurt all the time OR are you going to take action today and set a lifelong goal towards exercising and getting stronger so you can get better at living life to its ultimate best? Now that you know the question, the answer to it lies with only you and nobody else.
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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