7 Exercises For Lower Back Pain: Certified PT Explains

Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints that personal trainers encounter. More and more clients across all age groups are turning up with ongoing stiffness and pain in the back. 

While personal trainers are not qualified to diagnose back pain, they are able to recommend exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back. This will reinforce the columns of support that run up your back. It will take stress off the spine and help bring relief.

Over the course of my 35 years as a gym owner and personal trainer, there have been seven exercises that I have used consistently to help relieve lower back pain. In this article, I will lay them out for you.

More on getting fit after 50 here.

What is the Lower Back

In terms of the body’s muscles, there is no such thing as the lower back. When most people talk about the lower back muscle, they are referring to the erector spinae. 

The erector spinae is a column of muscle that runs up the spine. It goes from the pelvis all the way to the neck. The reason that people think of it as a lower back muscle is that the only part that is visible on a lean person is the part just above the pelvis.

The rest of the erector spinae is hidden behind the latissimus dorsi, the trapezius, and the rhomboids. 

The erector spinae is actually a group of three muscle columns that run on either side of the spine. The spinalis is closest to the spine. The middle column is the longissimus, with the outer column being the iliocostalis. 

The main function of the erector spinae is to extend the spine by pulling it back to form a posterior arch. It stops the spine from being pulled forward. The iliocostalis also takes part in spinal rotation. 

Weak Muscles and Lower Back Pain

One benefit of an exercise routine is that it can prevent lower back pain. 

Muscle weakness is not, in itself, a cause of lower back pain. Many people are weak all over, but that doesn’t cause them to suffer muscle pain. 

Weakness does not itself cause pain. 

So, lower back pain does not necessarily indicate muscle weakness in the lower back area. Stronger muscles can, though, provide spinal support to help relieve back pain. 

One of the causes of low back pain may be incorrect exercise form. Another is doing movements that compress the spine, such as heavy squats. 

If that is the case for you, you should stop doing those exercises. You may also benefit from a session with a personal trainer to help to get your form on point.

I also recommend that you have your spine checked by a qualified orthopedic doctor. If it is determined that your spine and intervertebral discs are not damaged, then you will be able to make use of my seven key exercises for lower back pain.

There are supplements, such as MSM powder, that have been reported to help with lower back pain, but the following exercises are important…

The Seven Key Exercises for Lower Back Pain

1. Standing Torso Extension

Why Do It:

The key to strengthening the erector spinae muscle is dynamic torso extension. This only happens when you pivot the back from the mid-spine position. This allows you to lengthen and shorten the erector spinae. Exercises, such as the deadlift, where you pivot from the hips, such as the deadlift, do not do this. 

How to Do It:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart and your hands clasped at chest level.
  2. Now round your back by pivoting at mid-back level to bring your head and shoulders down toward your core.
  3. Reverse the motion by pulling in your lower spine and arching the shoulders back to extend back to your beginning position.
  4. Continue to move fluidly from this rounding to extending action to complete your rep count. 
  5. You can make the exercise more challenging by holding a light dumbbell in your hands

A good set of dumbbells can help to progress most of these movements. Check Strong Home Gym’s research into the best adjustable dumbbells here. 

2. Supine Bridge

Why Do It:

The supine bridge is an isometric lower back exercise that will strengthen the erector spinae in specific positions. This is also a very good glute developer to strengthen the entire kinetic chain.

How to Do It:

  1. Lie on the floor on your back with your arms alongside your body, palms down. Your knees should be bent at a 45-degree angle. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Tense your core and glutes and then lift your hips into the air. Maintain a straight line from your hamstrings to your shoulder blades.
  3. Hold the top position for a 5-second count.
  4. Lower and repeat. 

This is an ideal exercise for seniors. If you’re looking for a routine for men over 50 or women over 50, then check them out.

3. Bird Dog

Why Do It:

The Bird Dog is another excellent developer of the erector spinae muscles. It also works the rectus abdominis and the obliques. That makes this an effective core developer. A strong core wraps your lower spine in a ‘belt’ of muscle to provide a solid support structure. This is also an exercise that can improve your balance.

How to Do It:

  1. Get down on all fours in a tabletop position. Your hands and knees should be stacked under your shoulders and hips.
  2. Simultaneously extend your left and right leg to full extension. Keep your hips square to the ground and focus on keeping a straight line from hand to foot.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds, maintaining a tight core.
  4. Lower and repeat on the other side.

4. Child’s Pose

Why Do It:

The child’s pose is a classic stretch that elongates the spine and stretches out the erector spinae muscles. This helps to offset the compression that happens from long hours of sitting and relaxing the core. The exercise also mopeds up the hips. 

How to Do It:

  1. Kneel down with your knees about 8 inches apart and stretch your arms out in front of you. Place your palms on the floor. 
  2. Lower your head and torso between your knees.
  3. Stretch your arms out as far as they will go.
  4. Hold this position for 20 seconds.
  5. Relax and repeat.

5. Cat Camel

Why Do It:

The Cat Camel is another excellent exercise to elongate the spine and stretch out the erector spinae. Loosening the spine and moving the back muscles through their full range of motion can help relieve lower and mid-back pain. 

How to Do It:

  1. Get down on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders with palms spread out. Knees should be directly below the hips.
  2. Starting from a neutral spine position, breathe in and arch your back down toward the floor. At the same time, look up to the ceiling to arch your neck back.
  3. Thrust your butt out and up to create an arch through the lower back.
  4. Hold for 3 seconds.
  5. Breathe out as you transition into the camel pose by tucking in your chin and tailbone. Reverse the spine position to form a hump position. 
  6. Hold for 3 seconds. 

6. Shoulder Forward Flex

Why Do It:

The shoulder forward flex will elongate and stretch out the postural muscles of your trapezius, deltoids, and rhomboids. This will help to relieve back tension.

How to Do It:

  1. Lie on the floor with your legs fully extended and your arms by your sides. 
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose. 
  3. Slowly breathe out as you raise your arms into the air. Do not bend your elbows.
  4. Continue to bring your arms completely overhead to contact the floor beyond your head. 
  5. Breathe in as you reverse your action to return to the start position. 

7. Double Knee to Chest Stretch

Why Do It:

The double knee-to-chest stretch does a very good job of elongating the erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings. It will help to improve your range of motion in these muscles as well as increase blood flow to speed up the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. 

How to Do It:

  1. Lie on the floor on your back with your arms and legs extended. 
  2. Bring your knees up to your chest and clasp your hands together just below the knees.
  3. Squeeze your arms to pull your knees into your chest.
  4. Hold for 20 seconds. 

Your Lower Back Pain Workout

Combine these seven exercises into a bodyweight workout that you can do anywhere. Here’s the breakdown …

  • Standing Torso Extension – 2 sets of 20 reps
  • Supine Bridge – 2 sets of 15 reps
  • Bird Dog – 2 sets of 10 reps (each side)
  • Child’s Pose – 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Cat Camel – 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Shoulder Forward Flex – 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Double Knee to Chest Stretch – 2 sets of 12 reps

Summary

Lower back exercises can strengthen the muscles that support your spine. The most prominent spinal support muscle is the erector spinae which runs the entire length of your spine. Strong, supple glutes and hamstrings will also support lower back health. 

The seven exercises described above will both strengthen and stretch out your spine’s support muscles. Perform this seven exercise workout twice per week, with at least 48 hours rest between workouts. 

Check out our chirp wheel review if you’re looking for a piece of equipment to help relieve back pain.

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Author
Penny is a Personal Trainer currently training as a wellness coach. Redundancy from retail management meant an enforced move from helping women with sports shoes and apparel to helping people get fit and well.

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