Your abs may be the first muscles that come to mind when you think "core workout." But don't forget your lower back — as Harvard Health Publishing notes, lower back workouts are an important part of any core training program.
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Read more: Warm-Up Exercises to Protect the Back
Lower Back Exercises at Home
The problem with doing lower back exercises at home, of course, is that you don't have access to the sort of equipment you'll find for lower back exercises in the gym. But here's some good news: You don't need any of that equipment to stretch and strengthen your lower back.
Move #1: The Bird Dog
As demonstrated at the American Council on Exercise, this is one of the "big three" exercises recommended by Dr. Stuart McGill, a noted researcher on lower-back rehabilitation, for maintaining lower back health.
- Position yourself on your hands and knees.
- Squeeze your core to keep your back stable as you reach straight forward with your left arm.
- At the same time, extend your right leg straight back behind you. Both limbs should be parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position, then repeat the movement with your right arm and left leg.
- Dr. McGill recommends holding the "up" position for eight to 10 seconds per side, repeating it several times.
Pay close attention to your hips during this exercise. They should stay level — with no tipping to either side — throughout the motion.
Move #2: Side Bridge
This exercise is recommended by both Dr. McGill and ACE expert Makeba Edwards, MS. Side planks might not be the first thing you think of when lower back training at home comes to mind, but you'll be happy to learn that they work the lateral muscles of your core — an important component of strengthening and stabilizing your lower back.
- Position yourself on your side, elbow bent and forearm resting on the floor. Your elbow should be directly below your shoulder, and your shoulders, hips and knees should all be stacked vertically.
- Rest your bent knees on the ground or, for more of a challenge, straighten your legs and balance on the side of your lower foot.
- Lift your hip off the ground and into a straight line with the rest of your body, keeping your forearm/elbow and knees (or feet) on the floor.
- Hold for 20 seconds, as recommended by Edwards.
Move #3: Prone Back Extension
As long as you don't have any contraindications for performing back extension — think of arching your back — you can do this exercise, which is recommended by Princeton University's Athletic Department.
- Lie face-down on an exercise or yoga mat, legs straight and arms by your sides.
- Lift your head and chest slightly off the mat and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Hold this position briefly, then return to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 to 20 times, as recommended by Princeton.
Read more: Stretches to Improve Low Back Flexibility
If your low back is uncomfortable, you might need to work more than just your back muscles. As noted in a June 2016 issue of the journal Healthcare, a general exercise program that combines aerobic fitness with muscular strength and flexibility — including developing the other muscles of your core — can be very helpful for reducing stiffness and nonspecific chronic low back pain.
- Healthcare: "A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Real-World Benefits of Strengthening Your Core"
- American Council on Exercise: "Low Back Exercises: Stuart McGill's Big Three"
- American Council on Exercise: "5 Exercises to Add to Your Lower Back Exercise Program"
- Princeton University: "Lumbar/Core Strength and Stability Exercises"