Exercises for Strengthening the Core & Lower Back

Looking good in a swimsuit isn't the only reason to add lower back and core workouts to your exercise regimen. The core, which includes muscles of the hips, spine, pelvic floor and abdomen, plays an important role in providing stability to the back. In addition, building strength in these muscles can help prevent the onset of low back pain and improve your endurance while running or working out. Several different exercises target these important muscle groups.

Strengthening your core can prevent lower back pain. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

1. The Glute Bridge

Bridges activate several different core muscles including your gluteus maximus and your transversus abdominus.

How To: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Contract your abdominal muscles and avoid holding your breath. Lift your buttocks off the ground and hold this position for five to 10 seconds before slowly lowering your body back down again.

2. The Dead Bug

This exercise challenges your abdominal muscles to maintain core stability while you move your arms and legs away from your body.

How To: While lying on your back, lift both legs in the air and bend your hips and knees to 90-degree angles. Squeeze your stomach muscles and keep your back flat against the ground. As you maintain this position, straighten one leg in the air, foot just a few inches off the floor, as you raise the opposing arm overhead. Do not allow your back to arch as you do this. Return to the starting position and then repeat with the opposite arm and leg.

3. Plank With Leg Lifts

This modified version of the standard plank activates the gluteus maximus muscle as you challenge your abdominal muscles.

How To: Assume a push-up position with your elbows extended and your hands resting on the ground under each shoulder. Keep your buttocks in line with your body and engage your stomach muscles so your spine is straight. Then, lift one leg in the air and slowly lower it back down without allowing your pelvis to drop. Repeat this with the other leg and continue to alternate between the two.

4. Side Plank

Side planks target both the oblique muscles and the gluteus medius, an important core muscle on the side of your pelvis.

How To: Lie on your right side with your knees straight and your legs stacked on top of each other. With your right elbow positioned under your shoulder, lift your body off the ground until your spine is straight. Maintain this position for five to 10 seconds before lowering yourself back to the ground. After a full set, repeat the exercise on your left side.

5. Prone Flutters

This exercise challenges the multifidi muscles in your low back. These muscles play an important role in stabilizing the spine.

How To: Lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. Lift your right arm and left leg in the air at the same time and then slowly lower them back down. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg and continue to alternate.

6. Bird Dog

Bird dogs are an excellent way to strengthen multiple muscles in the core. They not only target the abdominals but also challenge your erector spinae along the spine, your glutes and shoulder blade muscles.

How To: Get onto your hands and knees and activate your stomach muscles so your low back flattens like a table top. Without allowing your pelvis to tilt, lift one arm and the opposite leg in the air until each is fully extended. Keep the arm and leg outstretched for five to 10 seconds before returning them to the floor and repeating with the opposite limbs.

7. Prayer Plank

Prayer planks use an exercise ball to challenge the transversus abdominis muscle by incorporating instability. The transversus abdominis acts like a girdle, surrounding your internal organs and contributing to a healthy, supported low back.

How To: Kneel on the floor with an exercise ball in front of you. Place your forearms on the ball and clasp your hands together. Then, lift your knees off the ground and assume a plank position with a neutral spine and contracted abdominal muscles. Do not rest your chest on the ball. Hold this position for five to 10 seconds before lowering your knees to the ground again.

A Few Things to Consider

To properly strengthen your low back and core muscles, start with one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise. This should be done two to three times weekly. Any exercises that cause increased pain should be avoided.

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