Your Lower Back Is Essential—Here's How to Strengthen It

woman performing a bird dog exercise

Stocksy

There are some body parts that when strained or sore, will be annoying to deal with. But there are others that can entirely affect how you move (or don't move). Your lower back falls into this latter category because, like a good BFF, it provides your whole body with an essential support system, whether you’re sitting, standing, or moving.

Since your lower back plays an important role in daily functional movement, it’s important to strengthen it just like you do with other muscle groups. Exercising your lower back can be done by itself or before/within another workout, it doesn’t require any fancy equipment or complicated moves, and it also often recruits other muscles in the process. Here’s what you need to know about the importance of your lower back, and how you can strengthen it with a few simple exercises.  

Meet the Expert

  • Jonathan Tylicki is a master trainer and director of education at AKT.
  • Johry Batt is the head of athletics at F45.

What Is the Function of Your Lower Back?

Your lower back is located between your lowest rib and the upper part of the buttock, and it is what helps keep your body upright. It connects the upper and lower half of your body together, and thus is constantly in use every day.

“While you’re sitting, your low back receives a lot of the stress and compression due to gravity. During movement, your low back continues to support your upper half,” says Jonathan Tylicki, master trainer and director of education at AKT. There are internal benefits too. The lower back also “provides protection for tissue and organs located in the region including kidneys, pancreas, colon, and reproductive organs,” adds Johry Batt, head of athletics at F45.

What Muscles Are Included in Your Lower Back?

Your lower back isn’t just one main muscle. There are a number of muscles that support your lower back and specifically your spine, explains Tylicki. These include the multifidus (the smallest muscles that support the vertebrae of the spine); erector spinae (the long muscles that keep the spine tall); external obliques (which allow your torso to rotate); and the quadratus lumborum (located on either side of your lumbar spine and is technically an abdominal muscle). 

Why Is It Important to Have a Strong Lower Back?

Since your lower back is a major foundation for the rest of your body’s functions and capabilities, it’s important to have a strong one. “Strengthening your lower back not only prevents injury but it is also essential for good posture, productive training, and overall body health and longevity,” says Batt. The muscles in your lower back don’t work alone in maintaining your posture though. Both Batt and Tylicki mention that having strong core muscles is also important as the two muscle groups work together to maintain overall strength.

What Are Some Things You Can Do to Prevent Injury to Your Lower Back? 

Because other muscle groups outside your back contribute to lower-back strength, Tylicki says it’s important to take an integrated approach by doing back work that aims to incorporate other aspects of the core, like the abdominals and glutes. “So often we think that when we sit down ,we should be sitting down into the low back, but we actually want to lift up out of the low back—his keeps our back muscles working, our core engaged, and prevents putting too much pressure on the low spine that may cause muscle tightness and herniated or bulging discs,” he says. He says that also working on your flexibility by doing poses like upward dog, downward dog, and child’s pose can help present excessive tightness. “Look to use exercises that work the back from a point of extension, as much of our daily lives (sitting, driving, texting) are done in a position of flexion (rounding forward).”

Warm-ups and dynamic stretching—moves like bridges, lower-back rotational stretches, supermans, and squats, for example—are also important to do before strengthening your back, says Batt. “Good posture, regular movement, and keeping the core strong are also hugely important to protecting the lower back from injury or soreness. Inactivity and tight hamstrings can adversely lead to lower-back soreness,” he says.

Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Back

The below exercises can help strengthen your lower back but also engage other muscles like your abs and glutes.

Back Extensions

  • Lay down on your stomach, and extend your arms in front of you.
  • Slightly lift your shoulders and upper chest off the floor. 
  • Do 20 controlled reps. 
  • While performing this exercise, focus on connecting to the core and drawing the belly button off of the ground, advises Tylicki. Lifting higher is not necessarily better; you want to avoid putting too much pressure into the lower back. 

Swimmers

  • Lay on your stomach and extend your arms in front fo you.
  • Lift your upper chest just off the floor.
  • Squeeze your glutes to slightly lift your legs off the floor.
  • Paddle your arms and legs while maintaining a lifted position for 30-45 seconds.

Cat-Cows

  • Start in a four-point hold position on your hands and knees. 
  • Taking a deep breath in, open up through the chest, roll back the shoulders, and gently arch your back (cow). 
  • Breathe out slowly, curve your spine toward the ceiling, and draw the belly in and push through the floor with your hands and knees (cat). 
  • Move slowly and gently at first, gradually increasing your range of movement as you feel the stretch in each direction.

Bird Dogs

  • Start in a four-point hold position, on your hands and knees.
  • Brace your core and slowly extend your opposite arm and leg out at the same time. Keep the back of the neck long and your eye-line trained on the floor. 
  • Come back to the starting position and alternate sides. 
  • Take your time and be careful not to overextend and dip into your lower back. You want to raise the arm and opposite leg to be parallel to the floor while maintaining a strong core.

Plank Holds 

  • Come to a low plank position, resting on your forearms, with your back, hips, and legs in one long straight line.
  • Maintain a strong core for anywhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes at a time.
  • Batt adds you can progress this exercise or add variation by gently rocking back and forth on your forearms and your toes, or by taking your hips side to side to tap the floor while keeping your core and lower back strong.

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