Lower back pain is the second most common type of chronic pain in the United States, with about 40% of American adults suffering from it at some point during their lives.
Further, if you're looking to build your overall strength and performance, you cannot afford to overlook workouts for your lower back.
This article will go over 12 exercises that will maximize your lower back workouts and get you on track to a happy healthy lifestyle. These exercises are designed to strengthen your lower back and improve posture while also improving muscle flexibility. We've included exercises with and without additional equipment, so you will be able to build a lower back workout that fits your schedule and lifestyle.
Before we dive in, however, let's look at the role your lower back plays in your overall health.
Lower Back Anatomy: Understanding the Lower Back Muscles
In order to understand how to best work our lower backs, we first need to understand the anatomy of this muscle group. The lower back is made up of several muscles, including:
- The erector spinae muscles: These are a series of muscles that run the length of the spine and help to keep it upright.
- The transversospinalis Muscles: These muscles connect the vertebrae in the spine and help to control movement.
- The multifidus muscles: These are a series of thin, flat muscles that run along the back of the spine. They help to stabilize and move the spine.
- The latissimus dorsi muscles: These are a large, fan-shaped muscle that extend from the middle of the back to the upper arm. They are responsible for pulling the arm down and back.
- The gluteus maximus muscles: These are the large muscles of the buttocks. They are responsible for extending the hip and thigh.
Working these muscles effectively can help improve our posture, make everyday movements easier, and relieve pain in the lower back.
The Importance of a Strong and Healthy Lower Back
The lower back is one of the most important muscles in the body. It is responsible for stabilizing the spine and helping us with everyday movements like bending over to tie our shoes or picking something up off the ground. It is also one of the strongest muscles in the body, which is why it is so important to keep it healthy and strong!
Unfortunately, the lower back is often one of the most neglected muscles in the body. This can lead to a lot of problems down the road, such as back pain, spinal injuries, and even knee pain.
Lower back workouts prevent injuries
Having a strong lower back is important for preventing injuries. This is because the lower back is responsible for stabilizing the spine and helping with everyday movements. When the lower back is weak, it can lead to injuries. Some of the most common injuries that occur due to a weak lower back are back strains and disc herniation.
Lower back workouts boost athletic performance
Just like any other muscle group in the body, working out your lower back can help improve your athletic performance. When the lower back muscles are strong and healthy, they can help you move more efficiently and with greater power. This can translate into improved performance in sports and activities of daily life.
12 Simple and Effective Lower Back Exercises
Now that we have a basic understanding of the muscles involved in lower back workouts, let's take a look at 12 exercises that will help us to maximize your workouts.
The Superman exercise activates the erector spinae muscles, as well as the glutes and hamstrings, to lift the legs and chest off the ground.
Lie face down on the floor, extend your arms in front of you, and lift your legs and chest off the ground simultaneously while engaging your lower back muscles. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10x.
Deadlifts are an exercise that primarily target the erector spinae muscles, which run along the spine and help extend the back. They also engage the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
The king of all lifts, the deadlift uses all of the muscles of the lower back, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. To do this exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, grip a barbell with an overhand grip, and lift it while keeping your back straight, using your lower back muscles to extend your hips and stand up straight.
3. Bird dogs
The Bird Dog exercise targets the erector spinae muscles and deep stabilizing muscles of the core. It also engages the glutes and the muscles of the shoulders and upper back.
For this exercise, start on your hands and knees. Extend your right arm forward while simultaneously extending your left leg backward, keeping your back straight. Hold for a few seconds, then switch sides.
4. Russian twists
Russian twists mainly engage the obliques, which are the muscles on the sides of the abdomen. They also work the erector spinae muscles of the lower back and the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles).
For this exercise, sit on the ground with your knees bent, lean back slightly, and lift your feet off the ground. Hold your hands together and twist your torso from side to side, engaging your core and lower back muscles.
As an exercise, bridges primarily work the glutes, specifically the gluteus maximus, which helps extend the hips. They also engage the erector spinae muscles of the lower back, hamstrings, and core muscles.
For the bridge exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes and hold for a few seconds.
6. Goblet Squat
This exercise works the quads, hamstrings and glutes. While it primarily targets the muscles of the lower body, such as the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings, it also engages the muscles of the core, including the erector spinae muscles of the lower back.
During the goblet squat, you hold a weight, usually a kettlebell or a dumbbell, close to your chest while performing the squatting movement. This front-loaded position challenges your core stability and requires the muscles of the lower back to work to maintain an upright posture.
By engaging the erector spinae muscles, the goblet squat can help improve lower back strength and stability.
To perform this exdercise, start with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a weight in front of you with both hands. Bend at the hips and knees to lower the weight towards the ground, then use your back muscles to lift them back up to the starting position.
7. Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell swings are an exercise that primarily targets the posterior chain muscles, which include the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae muscles of the lower back.
During the kettlebell swing, you hinge at the hips to generate momentum and swing the kettlebell between your legs, then forcefully extend your hips to propel the kettlebell forward and up to chest height. This explosive hip extension movement engages the muscles of the lower back, particularly the erector spinae, to maintain a stable and neutral spine throughout the exercise.
The lower back muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the spine and controlling the movement during kettlebell swings. By properly engaging the lower back muscles, you can enhance their strength and endurance over time.
However, it's important to note that kettlebell swings require proper technique and form to avoid placing excessive strain on the lower back. It's crucial to maintain a neutral spine, avoid rounding or arching the back excessively, and use your hips and glutes to generate the power for the movement. Starting this exercise with lighter weights and gradually progressing is advisable to ensure proper form and minimize the risk of injury.
8. Back extensions
Back extensions primarily target the erector spinae muscles, which are a group of muscles that run along the spine and help extend and support the back.
During back extensions, you lie face down on a bench or stability ball and lift your upper body off the ground by contracting the muscles in your lower back. This movement engages the erector spinae muscles, particularly the muscles in the lower back, to stabilize and extend the spine.
By regularly performing back extensions, you can improve the strength and endurance of the erector spinae muscles, which can contribute to better lower back stability and support. Stronger erector spinae muscles can also help improve posture and reduce the risk of lower back pain or injury.
It's important to note that proper form is crucial when performing back extensions to ensure the exercise targets the lower back effectively while minimizing the risk of strain. Avoid excessive hyperextension or rounding of the spine, and focus on using the muscles of the lower back to lift the upper body.
Incorporating back extensions as part of a well-rounded lower back strengthening routine, along with other exercises that target the lower back and core, can provide comprehensive benefits for lower back health and strength.
9. Good Mornings
Good mornings are an exercise that specifically targets and strengthens the lower back muscles. Good mornings primarily focus on the erector spinae muscles, which are a group of muscles that run along the spine and help extend the back.
During good mornings, you start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell positioned on your upper back. From there, you hinge forward at the hips while keeping your back straight, engaging the muscles of the lower back to control the movement. You then return to the starting position by extending your hips and standing upright.
This exercise places a significant load on the erector spinae muscles as they work to maintain a stable and strong spine throughout the movement. By performing good mornings with proper form and gradually increasing the weight, you can effectively strengthen and develop the muscles of the lower back.
It's important to note that good mornings require proper technique and form to avoid placing excessive strain on the lower back. It's recommended to start with lighter weights and focus on maintaining a neutral spine, avoiding excessive rounding or arching. Consulting with a fitness professional can help ensure proper execution of the exercise.
10. Side Planks
Side planks are an exercise that can help strengthen the lower back. While the primary focus of side planks is on the core muscles, including the obliques and deep stabilizing muscles, they also engage the muscles of the lower back to provide stability and support.
During a side plank, you start by lying on your side and prop yourself up on your forearm, with your elbow directly under your shoulder. You lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your head to your feet, and hold that position for a specified time.
While the side plank primarily targets the oblique muscles on the side of the body facing the ground, it also engages the erector spinae muscles, which run along the spine, to maintain proper spinal alignment and stability during the exercise. These muscles in the lower back work isometrically to keep the torso upright and prevent it from sagging or rotating.
By regularly performing side planks, you can enhance the strength and endurance of the lower back muscles, promoting better stability and support for the spine. This can be particularly beneficial for improving posture, reducing the risk of lower back pain, and enhancing overall core strength.
To maximize the engagement of the lower back muscles during side planks, it's important to maintain proper form, keeping the body in a straight line without allowing the hips to drop or rotate. Gradually increasing the duration of the hold or incorporating variations can further challenge the lower back muscles.
11. Reverse Hyperextensions
Reverse hyperextensions are an exercise that specifically targets and strengthens the lower back muscles. Reverse hyperextensions primarily engage the erector spinae muscles, which run along the spine and are responsible for spinal extension and maintaining proper posture.
Here's how to perform reverse hyperextensions:
- Lie face down on a hyperextension bench or stable surface with your hips resting at the edge and your legs extended straight behind you.
- Place your hands on the sides or hold onto the bench for support.
- Engage your core and glute muscles to stabilize your body.
- Keeping your legs straight, lift them upward by squeezing your glutes and using your lower back muscles to extend your spine.
- Continue lifting until your legs are in line with your torso or slightly above, ensuring you maintain control throughout the movement.
- Slowly lower your legs back down to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
12. Quadruped Opposite Arm/Leg Raises
This exercise primarily targets the erector spinae muscles, along with the deep stabilizing muscles of the core. It also engages the glutes, hamstrings, and muscles of the shoulders and upper back.
Here's how to perform the exercise:
- Start on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Keep your core engaged and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
- Slowly extend your right arm forward and your left leg backward simultaneously, reaching them out parallel to the ground.
- Focus on maintaining stability and balance while keeping your hips level and preventing any rotation.
- Hold the position for a few seconds, emphasizing the engagement of the erector spinae muscles in your lower back.
- Return your arm and leg to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.
- Perform several repetitions on each side, alternating between the right arm/left leg and left arm/right leg.
A word of caution: 6 mistakes to avoid when doing lower back workouts
There are 4 mistakes to avoid when doing lower back workouts. Be careful to not do these things, or you might not see the results you're hoping for!
1. Not using correct form. Lower back exercises require proper form or else you can end up straining your lower back and getting injured. With each exercise, make sure all of the correct supporting muscles are engaged.
2. Using too much weight. Every exercise you do will involve multiple muscles, including stabilizing muscles. Especially when learning form, you should start with a light, but still challenging weight.
3. Not using enough weight or resistance. If you're not challenging your muscles at all, they're not going to grow! Make sure you're using enough weight so that you feel the burn by the last few reps.
4. Focusing on the wrong muscles. You might be tempted to use momentum and swing your bodyweight around when doing these exercises. But this takes the focus off of the muscles you're trying to target and can lead to injuries. Make sure you're using proper form, and that you're really feeling the burn in your lower back muscles.
5. Doing too many reps. Again, you don't want to overdo it! Doing too many reps can actually lead to fatigue and can diminish the effects of the workout. Stick to a weight that you can manage for 8-12 reps, and aim to increase that weight as you get stronger.
6. Skipping your warm-up. A good warm-up is essential to any workout routine! Not only does it help your muscles get ready for more strenuous activity, but it can also help prevent injuries. Start with a few light stretches and then move on to some basic aerobic exercises to get your heart rate up.
A strong and healthy lower back is essential for everyday activities and athletic performance, as well as preventing injuries in the future. That’s why it’s so important to focus on your lower back workouts! In this article, we shared 12 exercises that will help you shift your lower back workouts into high gear.
We hope you found this information helpful and that you enjoy incorporating these exercises into your routine. Thanks for reading!