Published on April 25, 2019
12 Best Back Strengthening Exercises to Relieve Lower Back Pain
Spending your Friday evening doing back strengthening exercises may not catch your attention with ease. Yet, working to develop and maintain the muscles in your lower back can help make your favorite weekend activities more enjoyable.
In fact, you may be able to add a few new activities that you have not been able to do due to your discomfort. You are in the right place if you are looking for attainable ways to improve your lower back pain with practicality.
You might read through these exercises for strengthening your back and think, “Hmm. How would that stance help to take my pain away.” Once you put a few into practice, you will easily feel and recognize the benefit of each motion. Your body may need a few gentle reminders each week to help get your muscles and joints back into pain-free cooperation with one another.
We have a list of back strengthening exercises just for that purpose. Pick your favorites, and get started!
Table of Contents
Benefits of Back Strengthening Exercises
Once you get into a routine and begin to draw from your own hard work, you may end up surprising yourself with how much better you feel. Your lower back needs your support to do its job well. Selecting and regularly completing yoga-style exercises can help you care for your lower back and its surrounding muscle partners.
Even just a few days per week with these 12 exercises can help provide your muscles and joints with a sense of functionality that may have been lost or ‘misplaced’ along the way. It may not have happened all at once, and you may not have even realized for some time that a slow change was taking place in the core of your body.
Injuries can happen in an instant or slowly over time, but they almost always take time to heal. Perhaps, you experienced an injury and have yet to recover fully. Start small and work your way to a full recovery. Moderate activity that matches your current condition is far more beneficial than too much activity or none and all.
It may be that you are not directly able to pinpoint or verbally specify where your back pain or discomfort originates. Take your time working through these 12 back strengthening exercises. Try to focus on one portion of your body at a time. Be mindful of how new your injury or pain discomfort seems to be. Acute pain may need a few days or more of rest and recovery before you begin working to build strength.
Do not feel as though you must do all of the exercises each session. As you work to get rid of your lower back pain, it is going to be more important for you to go slow and ensure that each movement benefits your body. Consciously working to recognize where pain starts and what might cause it can help you better focus your process of healing.
Regardless of how you acquired lower back pain, be patient with yourself as you work to recover. Be sure to push your body through uncomfortable moments, but work to avoid pushing yourself so hard that you cause further injury or create a new injury.
Working with your lower back muscles can help your body be better equipped to handle the unexpected. Go slow, take your time, be consistent and work hard; and you will recover efficiently.
Start with a couple of exercises from each category and rotate through the different ones. Mixing up the exercises will help keep your brain interested as you work to develop a routine for healing.
12 Lower Back Focus Exercises
Directly focusing on lower back muscles and connections in the body is essential for proper recovery from pain, injury, or general discomfort.
Take your time with each exercise. Start with a few repetitions, and work your way up to your desired goal over a period of weeks or maybe even a few months if needed.
1. Knee to Chest Raises
Rest with your back flat on the floor, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands palm down on the floor. Bring your right knee to your chest and hold for five to ten seconds.
Switch sides. Repeat ten times.
You may also choose to allow your opposing leg to rest in a straightened position.
2. Floor Swimming
Rest prone (face down) on the floor. Bring both arms flat and stretch them straight out from your shoulders. Legs should be straight and flat on the floor with toes relaxed. Keep your head relaxed and face the floor. Raise your right arm and left leg. Count to five. Switch sides.
Raise both arms and both legs while keeping your torso on the floor. Count to five. Repeat the series five to ten times slowly.
Floor swimming can be done in reverse while in a supine (face up) position if abdominal work is desired, but be careful to keep your back flat and only raise one leg at a time.
3. Straight Leg Raises (from Table Top Position)
Start in Table Top position with knees and hands on the floor. Straighten your right leg directly behind you so that it is parallel to the floor. Work to keep your right leg straight as you gently raise and lower it ten times. Switch sides. Repeat three to ten times as your ability increases.
Rest flat on your back. Place your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent.
Gently raise your hips and torso to form a triangle shape between your head, knees, legs, and the floor. Your head and shoulders will remain on the floor. You may rest your hands palm down on the floor or reach to touch your fingers together under your back.
Squeeze your buttocks, and push down into the floor with your feet as you hold your torso off of the ground. Hold for a count of ten. Repeat five to ten times.
If you have experienced a severe neck injury, you may want to wait until your neck improves or inquire with a chiropractic doctor before starting with Bridge.
Upper Back Focus Exercises
Your pain may be centralized in your lower back, but your upper back may begin to feel the strain if recovery does not allow your body to function as a unit.
Giving your upper back some love will help you reunite your lower back to the rest of your body. Incorporate these upper back exercises into your routine for better comfort in your lower back muscles.
5. Modified Plank
Back pain sufferers will do well to begin with a Modified Plank. For this, allow your knees and hands to rest on the floor as you work to hold your torso off of the floor.
Keep your arms directly under your shoulders, and your knees and lower legs on the floor behind you. Do not let your hips dip toward the floor. Hold for a count of five to ten. Remember to breathe. Repeat three to ten times increasing the number as your pain diminishes and your strength builds.
Be sure not to hold your position for longer than your body can handle, especially in the beginning.
6. Front Plank
If you have begun to recover from lower back pain and are looking to minimize pain in the future, Front Plank is a great choice.
Begin with your hands and feet on the floor: Your hands should be directly under your shoulders with your fingers and thumbs open and comfortable. Legs straight. Toes curled. Try to imagine a straight line from the top of your head to your heels.
The work comes in trying to keep your torso from bowing down without raising your hips too high.
For added variety, try planking with your elbows and forearms on the floor instead of just your hands.
For the elbow and forearm style, imagine that your body is parallel to the floor. Hold your chosen position for a count of five to ten. Rest. Repeat three to ten times increasing the amount of time as you gain strength.
7. Side Plank
Be prepared to engage your sense of humor if you have not tried this one yet. Side plank is excellent for helping to build supporting back muscles (obliques especially), but it does take some practice getting started.
Sit on the floor. Begin with your right side resting on your right elbow. (This should look similar to how you might relax and watch a movie on the floor. Your head may even rest in your right hand as you begin.)
As you are able, gently push your hips upward to form an elongated triangle shape between you and the floor. It may take a few days of practice, but once you can to get into position, try counting to three, then to five, and then to ten.
Practice on both your right and left side each time. Getting to ten may take you a few weeks, but you can get there if you start small!
You may desire to try leaning against a wall as you learn how to balance for the Side Plank. Modification: Keep your knees on the floor and raise only your upper body.
8. Standing (or Bent Knee) Push-ups
Standing Push-ups are better for low back pain sufferers because less pressure is placed on lower back muscles. Your upper back is engaged, but your hips and abdomen are not drawing your body down during the exercise.
Standard Push-ups are sometimes best left for when your lower back muscles have healed and can help you keep your body off of the ground.
Place your hands on a wall at arm’s length and your feet flat on the floor. Bend your elbows until your forehead gently touches the wall or comes close. Repeat slowly ten to twenty times.
For Bent Knee Push-ups, complete the same repetitions but with your hands and knees on the floor instead of in a standing position.
Overall Core Exercises
The core of your body has been designed to help keep you upright when sitting and walking. Injuries on one side of your body often affect the other side in some way, even if we do not consciously realize it. Your spine is supported by many muscles that will do their best work in cooperation with one another.
Bring these core exercises into your day to help your lower back begin to function more efficiently and with less pain.
9. Knee to Elbow Lifts
Start in a Front or Modified Plank Position (see exercises 5 and 6) with your hands and feet on the floor. Bring your right knee close to your right elbow. Hold for a count of five (if you can).
Once you practice this a few times, you may be able to touch your elbow with your knee. Focus on trying to keep your body as parallel to the ground as you can without straining. Switch sides. Repeat three to five times.
10. Knee to Opposite Elbow Lifts
Complete the same steps as Knee to Elbow, but bring each knee to the opposite elbow instead of reaching to the same side.
In the beginning, you may only be able to bring your knee halfway across your body. That is a wonderful start!
Focus on keeping your body parallel to the ground. Working on decent form is far more important than how far your knee comes toward the center of your body or your chest.
11. Three Legged Dog
Begin in a Front Plank or Modified Plank Position (see exercises 5 and 6). Raise your right leg straight up and behind you as high as you are able. Ideally, your leg may end up much higher than the rest of your body, or it may stay close to the same height.
Try to keep your hips squared. You may choose to keep your foot and ankle at a 90-degree angle or point your toes. Ideally, you want to create a line from your hands to the heel of your raised foot.
Hold for a count of three to ten. Switch sides for your raised leg. Repeat three to five times as you can without causing strain.
12. Stargazer (Kneeling Side Plank)
Sit on the floor with both legs straight in front of you. Bend your right knee and rest your right foot to your left inner thigh. Place your right hand behind you. Raise your left hand high above you as you push your body up from the floor.
Straighten your left leg as you go up. Your weight will rest on your right hand and bent right knee.
Stargazer may sound like a balancing act, but you can place your feet comfortably so you do not feel as though you will topple. Hold for a count of three to ten. Switch sides. Repeat three to ten times.
Remember to lift your face and enjoy the view, especially if you choose to enjoy this exercise outside under the night sky!
Exercises to Avoid
Back pain does not need a new excuse to cause you discomfort as you work to heal. Remember to avoid these exercises as you recover from your lower back pain:
- Toe Touches
- Full Sit-ups
- Double Leg Lifts (Single Leg Lifts are beneficial if you are comfortable with doing them. Be sure to keep your back flat and level on the floor.)
Exercises that cause frequent or intense twisting motions are also best left for another time.
My Favorite Stretches for Relaxing the Back
Stretching is essential for building muscle strength efficiently. The combination of strengthening and stretching can help you create a wall of resistance against low back pain.
For added interest, alternate your chosen back strengthening exercises with a few of these yoga-style stretches:
- Happy Baby
- Triangle Pose
- Child’s Pose
- Gentle Seated Twist (Start with a slight twist and progress as your body allows.)
- Knees to Chest
- Cat and Cow (Move slowly and gently as you alternate three to five times between Cat and Cow.)
Moving Forward without Lower Back Pain
Getting started may be the hardest part of using lower back strengthening exercises to help you get rid of your discomfort. Once you have tried a couple and fallen over a time or two, you may begin to realize that these 12 exercises are not as daunting as you expected.
Start with 3 a day and rotate as you try the different exercises. You do not need to learn to do all of them to develop the strength that you need to minimize or eradicate your back pain. You only need to find a few that you enjoy and are willing to do regularly enough to retain the benefits of your hard work.
Choose two exercises per commercial during your favorite show. Pick one to do while you wait for your coffee to brew in the morning. Have one in mind to try when it is your turn to wait for the bathroom.
Create a challenge chart and put it next to the kids’ chore chart to keep you motivated. Have your friends help you decide on a reward for a goal that you set for yourself. What will your goal be? Perhaps, a pain-free weekend adventure with the kids!
Featured photo credit: Form via unsplash.com