The lower back muscles, which are the lowest portions of the erector spinae, are an integral part of safely performing many exercises and navigating everyday life. We use these muscles whenever we stand or bend over, as well as during most aerobic exercises, including running, swimming, cycling and rowing. Lower back muscles support and protect the spine whenever it is loaded with weight, and strengthening your lower back can improve posture and help prevent back injury.
Many lower back exercises require only your bodyweight and can be done anywhere. One example is the Plank. To perform, lay face down on a padded surface, then prop yourself up on your elbows and lift your body so only your forearms and toes are touching the floor. Hold for as long as you can, keeping your body, and especially your back, perfectly straight. Do several sets. This is an isometric exercise that works all the stabilizer muscles in your body. Your lower back will be constantly engaged to hold your body straight and your spine in a neutral position.
While Planks build lower back endurance, exercises like Good-Mornings will increase strength. To perform a Barbell Good-Morning, stand with your feet shoulder- or hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hold a barbell so that it is resting on your shoulders and behind you neck. Keeping your shoulders pulled back and your spine in a neutral, straight position, slowly bend at the hips to lean your torso forward without bending the legs. Stop when your back is parallel to the floor, pause, return slowly to the starting position and repeat. Do three to five sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
Deadlifts for Strength
Deadlifts will build strength in your lower back as well as your shoulders, upper back, thighs and glutei. Stand with your feet at hip-width with a barbell in front of you. Keeping your back straight and spine neutral, squat down until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. Then grasp the barbell with an overhand grip or alternated grip and lift, contracting your abs and lower back. As you straighten your legs, extend your torso upward to come to a standing position, pause, then return the barbell to the floor and repeat. Do three sets of four to six repetitions.
Notes for Safety
It is worth reiterating that it is extremely important to maintain a neutral spine throughout these exercises, as hyper-extending or bending your back under heavy loads can cause serious injury. Performing lower back stretches, such as Child’s Pose or Lumber Flexions and Extensions, every day will improve your range of motion, aid muscle recovery after exercise and help prevent injury. If at any point during exercise you experience serious pain in the lower back, stop immediately and seek the advice of a medical professional.
- NSCA’s Essentials of Personal Training, Second Edition; Jared W. Coburn and Moh H. Malek
- Strength Training Anatomy, Third Edition; Frederic Delavier
- Athletico.com: The Top 5 Stretches to Minimize Back Pain
- ExRx.net: Barbell Good-Morning