Strengthen Your Spine With These 10 Exercises

Keep your back pain-free by strengthening your cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.
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A healthy spine allows you to do things like walk, run, bend over and twist with ease. And the best way to support your spine is by strengthening the muscles around it. Exercises to support your entire spine — including your cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine — can keep you pain-free and mobile.


When you think about spinal strengthening exercises, you may be only thinking of your lower back. Maintaining a healthy body means keeping your entire spine strong, including your upper, mid and lower back. A regular exercise program to keep your spine strong will also prevent future injuries.

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"Strengthening exercises allow the muscles supporting the spine to be stronger. They also provide stability to the spinal column," says Antonio Webb, MD, a fellowship-trained and board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon in San Antonio, Texas. "[They] also enable better posture by keeping the spine in alignment. Poor posture is a common contributor to back pain, particularly in the cervical and lumbar regions. Proper strengthening exercises can help mitigate this.

Why Spinal Strengthening Exercises Are Important

A strong core is the foundation for a healthy spine, says the Mayo Clinic. It helps to give you the stability and balance to move in the most efficient manner. Your core also promotes proper posture. In addition to your core, it is important to strengthen other muscles that support your spine to prevent muscle imbalances, which can lead to pain and injuries.


Cervical Strengthening

Your spine starts at your neck — and a strong cervical spine not only helps with posture (and prevents the dreaded "tech neck" from looking down at your phone) but also promotes pain-free movement.

"My favorite way to strengthen my cervical spine is first maintaining a good posture. This is critical to improving the overall health of your cervical spine," Dr. Webb says. "Prolonged flexion, especially in my line of work as a surgeon and also in people who are constantly [looking down at] their phone, can put undue tension on the posterior supporting muscles causing them to fatigue and spasm. This can lead to discomfort and pain."


One of Dr. Webb's top cervical exercises includes isometric strengthening, which research has shown to be effective. A September 2022 meta-analysis in Medicine found that isometric neck strengthening exercises were effective in decreasing pain and improving function and mobility.


Thoracic Strengthening

A strong thoracic (or mid-back) spine helps promote good posture to prevent a humped back, also called postural kyphosis. An October 2017 study in Osteoporosis International found that postural training and exercises improved a hunched posture after six months.


"Exercises that can strengthen the thoracic spine include yoga or Pilates," Dr. Webb says. "Poses like the cobra and the bridge, in addition to rotational stretches, can be beneficial and helpful."

Lumbar Strengthening

"Exercises that strengthen the lumbar spine should focus on core stability, which is essential for reducing the load on the lumbar vertebrae and discs," Dr. Webb says. He recommends planks, glute bridges, wall sits and pelvic tilts. "Additionally, maintaining movement in the lumbar region can prevent stiffness and discomfort."


Three specific core strengthening exercises called McGill's Big 3 work the core in a way that helps protect your spine from injuries. The three exercises are the modified curl-up, side plank and bird-dog (videos below). An April 2018 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that these three exercises, when compared to conventional exercises, were more effective in reducing pain and improving movement, especially for those who have chronic low back pain.


10 Best Spinal Strengthening Exercises

Try to do the following 10 exercises two to three times per week, along with aerobic conditioning. "Several other exercises can help promote a healthy spine including aerobic exercises, swimming, walking, aquatic therapy, stretching, yoga and Pilates," Dr. Webb says.


If you have pain when doing these exercises, it's best to stop. Mild discomfort is to be expected, but sharp or stabbing pain is a warning sign. "Use pain as a gauge; it should not be intense or worsen. If it does, you should stop the exercise immediately and consult a professional,” Dr. Webb says.

1. Neck Isometrics

Sets 2
Reps 20
  1. Sit up straight in a chair or stand with your shoulders back and your head in a neutral position.
  2. Press your palm against your forehead and resist with your neck. Hold for 10 seconds. Your head should not move at all. Repeat 5 times.
  3. Press your palm against the back of your head and resist the movement. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  4. Press your right palm against the right side of your head. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  5. Press your left palm against the left side of your head. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  6. Repeat the entire sequence 2 to 3 times.

2. Chin Tucks

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Sit or stand with your shoulders back and your ears over your shoulders.
  2. Keeping your head level, pull your chin back (you can push on your chin with a finger if that helps) until you feel a stretch at your neck.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat 2 sets of 10.

3. Resistance Band Rows

Sets 2
Reps 15
  1. Sit on the floor with your back straight and your legs extended in front.
  2. Loop a resistance band around the soles of your feet and hold one end of the band in each hand.
  3. Bend your elbows and pull the band back, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position with your arms straight.
  5. Repeat 2 sets of 15.


You can also perform the row exercise using the cable pulley machine at the gym.

4. Prone Arm Lifts

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Lie on the floor face down, with a pillow under your stomach.
  2. Place your arms out to each side with your elbows bent and your hands behind your head.
  3. Lift your shoulders and arms up off of the floor until your back is straight. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top.
  4. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat 2 sets of 10.

5. Prone Opposite Arm/Leg Lifts

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight out behind you. Rest on your forearms.
  2. Lift your right arm straight out in front, while also lifting your leg leg up at the same time.
  3. Continue lifting your right arm and left leg for 10 reps.
  4. Repeat on the other side, lifting your left arm and right leg up at the same time for 10 reps.
  5. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 10 on each side.

6. Superhero

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you.
  2. Bend your arms, keeping them at shoulder level.
  3. Keeping your arms bent, lift your legs and your upper body up at the same time.
  4. Hold for 3 to 5 seconds.
  5. Return to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
  6. Perform 2 to 3 sets.

7. Glute Bridges

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Squeeze your buttocks as you lift your bottom off of the floor.
  2. Continue lifting until your body is in a straight line. Hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Repeat 2 to 3 sets of 10.


If you're ready to make these more difficult, you can hold a weight on your hips or perform the glute bridges with one leg.

8. Modified Curl-Up (McGill Exercise)

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your back and straighten your right leg while keeping your left knee bent. This puts your pelvis in a neutral position to strengthen your core without straining your back.
  2. Place your hands under the arch of your back.
  3. Lift your shoulder blades off the ground about 1 to 2 inches. Focus on moving your head and chest together as a unit. Keep your neck straight and don’t let your head fall back.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat 2 to 3 sets of 10.

9. Side Plank (McGill Exercise)

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your side, resting on your forearm with legs straight out and resting on top of each other.
  2. Lift your hips off the floor in a side plank position, keeping your body in a straight line.
  3. Hold for 10 seconds, or as long as you can with good form.
  4. Lower down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 times.
  6. Turn over on the other side and repeat 10 times.
  7. Repeat 2 to 3 sets of 10 on each side.

10. Bird Dog (McGill Exercise)

Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Start on all fours with your arms under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  2. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes as you lift your one arm, while also lifting the opposite leg straight up.
  3. Raise your arm until it's level with your shoulder and raise your leg until it's level with your hips.
  4. Hold for 10 seconds, or as long as you can with good form.
  5. Repeat 10 times on each side.
  6. Repeat for 2 to 3 sets.