The muscles of your lower back and waist are pretty important. They connect your lower body and upper body, helping them work together for easy movement in your daily activities and athletic endeavors.
Your core muscles also help keep you erect and support your spine for good posture, which enables you to move better and prevent back pain. And, of course, a toned midsection makes you feel and look great. To get all these benefits, add a few specific lower back and waist exercises to your current routine.
Work the Whole Abdomen With Bicycle Crunches
A study performed by San Diego State researchers in 2001 found the bicycle crunch to be the most effective abdominal exercise out of the 13 ab exercises they studied. Using electromyography (EKG) equipment, researchers measured abdominal muscle activation as study participants performed all 13 exercises.
Bicycle crunches outperformed the least effective exercise, ab rockers, by over 200 percent. Bicycle crunches also came in near the top of the list of the most effective exercises for working your obliques, the muscles that run along the sides of your torso.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie supine on an exercise mat with your legs extended and your fingers gently supporting your head just behind your ears. Raise your legs and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle so your calves are parallel with the mat.
Lift your shoulder blades off the mat, press your lower back into the floor and contract your abs by pulling your belly button in toward your spine. Exhale as you bring your right knee to your left elbow, extending your left leg and rotating your torso to the left. Gently tap knee to elbow then inhale as you release to center. Switch sides.
How many should you do? The number of reps isn't as important as the quality of movement. Get full range of motion and focus on keeping your core muscles -- abs, obliques and low back -- contracted throughout the movement.
Do as many as you can without straining and then stop for a rest -- anywhere from 10 to 20 quality repetitions, depending on your fitness level. Do two to four sets of each exercise. As your muscle strength improves, you'll be able to add reps and sets.
Build a Powerful Core With Plank Variations
The traditional plank exercise is an isometric exercise that works your superficial and deep abdominal muscles, your lower back and your obliques. It's held for a period of time -- 30 seconds to 3 minutes, or more, depending on your core strength. Keep challenging your muscles by doing different variations of the exercise.
1. Traditional Plank: Start at the top of a push-up with your hands directly underneath your shoulders and your toes tucked. Lift your hips up so they are in line with your shoulders and heels. The most important part of this exercise is to maintain a straight, strong spine. Slightly tuck your pelvis and pull your belly button in toward your spine to engage your core muscles.
2. Forearm Plank: This is similar to a traditional plank, except you're on your forearms instead of your hands. Align your elbows under your shoulders and either clasp your hands or keep them parallel to each other in front of you.
3. Stability Ball or Half-Ball Plank: Adding an unstable surface to the exercise increases the challenge and the amount of work done by the tiny muscles of your core known as stabilizers. It's easier to do on the flat surface of a half-ball and harder to do on a regular, round stability ball. On the half-ball, grasp the edges of the flat surface and keep your core contracted as you hold; on the stability ball, you'll take a slightly narrower stance with your hands or forearms on the top of the ball.
You can also switch it up and put your feet on the half ball or full ball. You'll get activation in different parts of your core from making this change.
4. Weighted Plank: Once you've mastered the body weight variations, add load by placing a weight plate on your mid-back during the exercise. You can place the plate on your own back in a kneeling position before getting into plank position, or have someone else place the plate when you are already in plank position.
Focus on Your Lower Back With Supermans
Tone and strengthen your upper, middle and lower back, as well as your glutes and hamstrings with one simple exercise — no equipment needed.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your stomach on the floor or an exercise mat. Extend your arms overhead, palms facing down. With control, lift your legs and arms off the floor. Keep your legs and arms as straight as possible.Briefly hold at the top, then return with control to your starting position. Repeat for two to four sets of 10 to 15 reps.