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Exercises to Strengthen Your Lower Back

Strong lower back and abdominal muscles work together to support your spine. The exercises below will help strengthen the lower back. It's important that you start exercising slowly and increase levels gradually.

Always start any exercise program with stretching. If you feel pain while doing any of these exercises, stop and talk to your doctor about a more specific exercise program that better suits your condition. 

Low back stretch

The point of stretching is to make you more flexible and increase your range of motion. Stretch only as much as you are able. Stretch slowly. Don't push your stretch to the limit. If at any point you feel pain while stretching, this is your (temporary) limit.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and both feet on the ground.

  • Slowly raise your left knee to your chest as you flatten your lower back against the floor. Hold for 5 seconds.

  • Relax and repeat the exercise with your right knee.

  • Do 10 of these exercises for each leg.

  • Repeat hugging both knees to your chest at the same time.

Building lower back strength

Start your exercise routine with 10 to 30 minutes a day, 1 to 3 times a day.

Initial exercises

Lying on your back:

  1. Ankle pumps. Move your foot up and down, towards your head, and then away. Repeat 10 times with each foot.

  2. Heel slides. Slowly bend your knee, drawing the heel of your foot towards you. Then slide your heel/foot from you, straightening your knee. Don't lift your foot off the floor (this is not a leg lift).

  3. Abdominal contraction. Bend your knees and put your hands on your stomach. Tighten your stomach muscles. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.

  4. Straight leg raise. Bend one leg at the knee and keep the other leg straight. Tighten your stomach muscles. Slowly lift your straight leg 6 to 12 inches off the floor and hold for up to 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times on each side.

Standing:

  1. Wall squats. Stand with your back against the wall. Move your feet about 12 inches away from the wall. Tighten your stomach muscles, and slowly bend your knees until they are at about a 45 degree angle. Don't go down too far. Hold about 5 seconds. Then slowly return to your starting position. Repeat 10 times.

  2. Heel raises. Stand facing the wall. Slowly raise the heels of your feet up and down, while keeping your toes on the floor. If you have trouble balancing, you can touch the wall with your hands. Repeat 10 times.

More advanced exercises

When you feel comfortable enough, try these exercises.

  1. Kneeling lumbar extension. Start on your hands and knees. At the same time, raise and straighten your right arm and left leg until they are parallel to the ground. Hold for 2 seconds and come back slowly to a starting position. Repeat with left arm and right leg, alternating 10 times.

  2. Prone lumbar extension. Lie face down, arms extended overhead, palms on the floor. At the same time, raise your right arm and left leg as high as comfortably possible. Hold for 10 seconds and slowly return to start. Repeat with left arm and right leg, alternating 10 times. Gradually build up to 20 times. (Advanced: Repeat this exercise raising both arms and both legs a few inches off the floor at the same time. Hold for 5 seconds and release.)

  3. Pelvic tilt. Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Your feet should be flat on the floor. Inhale, exhale, then slowly contract your abdominal muscles bringing your navel toward your spine. Let your pelvis rock back until your lower back is flat on the floor. Hold for 10 seconds while breathing smoothly.

  4. Abdominal crunch. Perform a pelvic tilt (above) flattening your lower back against the floor. Holding the tension in your abdominal muscles, take another breath and raise your shoulder blades off the ground (this is not a full sit-up). Keep your head in line with your body (don’t bend your neck forward). Hold for 2 seconds, then slowly lower.

Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Thomas N Joseph MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2019
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