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7 Powerful Exercises That Actually Strengthen and Stabilize Your Back

Are you looking for strengthening and stabilization exercises to support your back?

Do you suffer from low back pain?

Do you feel like your back is always hurting and wish that your muscles are strong enough to support your back?

Many people think that once they reach a certain age, it is no longer possible to gain muscle strength. Because of this vague assumption, many Baby Boomers believe that back pain is something they’re just going to have to live with.

That is not true!

Even at an advancing age, there are many things you can do to strengthen and stabilize your back to prevent future flare-ups or recurrence of your low back pain.

In this article, you will learn what muscles are involved in supporting your spine so that you can focus on exercises that target those specific muscle groups. Moreover, I will show you 7 powerful exercises you can do at home to help alleviate or avoid the recurrence of your low back pain altogether.

What muscles support and stabilize your spine?

There is evidence that not only do your back and abdominal muscles contribute to the stability of your spine and pelvis, they also support your low back when the stability of your spine is challenged. Therefore, achieving control and coordination of these muscles is critical to achieving fully sufficient stability of your back.

When these muscles contract, they create a stable base for all of your movements and physical function. If these muscles are weak or not coordinated, it can lead to inadequate support and stability to your lumbar spine, causing recurring low back pain or other injuries.

So, what are these muscle groups?

Short muscle group

In the muscular system supporting your spine, there are short muscles that support and control motion from one vertebra to the adjacent vertebra. One of these small, yet powerful, muscle groups is called the multifidus.

Lumbar Multifidus Muscle

Think of your multifidus muscle as a strong chain linking and stabilizing one vertebral body to the next.

Long muscle group

There are also longer muscles that attach to multiple vertebras, supporting the length of your spine. These muscles are called erector spinae. They run vertically on each side of your spine, extending and stabilizing the entire vertebral column.

Erector Spinae Muscle

Think of your erector spinae muscles as kind of like guy wires supporting a tall tower.

Corset muscle group

There are also thick muscles on the front, sides, and back of your spine that act as a brace, further supporting the back. These muscles are sometimes called your core or “corset muscles” as they are responsible for bracing your spine in anticipation of your body moving.

Core Muscles

The primary “corset” muscles are composed of your transversus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and rectus abdominis in the front, and the quadratus lumborum muscle in the back.

Don’t worry about memorizing the names of these muscles. What is more important is knowing how to use them.

Learning how to activate these muscles properly through targeted exercise is the secret to achieving the best support and stability for your low back.

Tabletop Isometric Hold

Tabletop Isometric Exercise

  1. Lie on your back with bent knees and the soles of your feet on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.
  2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine. As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.
  3. Once you’ve engaged your abs and tilted your pelvis, you will lift one foot up off the ground, bringing your knee directly on top of your hips.
  4. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tilted toward your head, lift the other foot up off the ground, bringing your knee directly on top of your hips.
  5. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your low back flat on the floor, maintain the position for 5-10 seconds.
  6. Slowly return to the original position.
  7. Repeat 10 times.

What makes this exercise powerful?

This exercise will train your corset muscle group to control and coordinate the movement of your pelvis and spine. By controlling the movement of your pelvis and spine, you will be able to position your low back in its optimum, pain-free, neutral position.

Segmental Bridge

Segmental Bridge Exercise

  1. Lie on your back with bent knees and the soles of your feet on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.
  2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine. As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.
  3. Starting from the bottom of your spine to your mid-back, and finally to your upper back, slowly “peel” your spine up from the floor until your hips are parallel to your knees.
  4. Hold the position for 5-10 seconds.
  5. Return to the original position.
  6. Repeat 10 times.

What makes this exercise powerful?

This movement pattern will coordinate the contraction of your corset abdominal muscles to position your pelvis and spine. Holding the “bridge position” for 5-10 seconds will further strengthen the muscles that support and stabilize your low back.

Dead Bug

Dead Bug Exercise

  1. Lie on your back with bent knees and the soles of your feet on the floor. In this position, the natural curve of your lumbar spine will lift the lower back slightly off the floor.
  2. Exhale and slowly tilt your pelvis toward your head by engaging your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button back to your spine. As you do this, you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the floor.
  3. Once you’ve engaged your abs and tilted your pelvis, you will lift both feet up off the ground, bringing your knees directly on top of your hips.
  4. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tilted toward your head, extend one knee while keeping the other knee on top of your hip.
  5. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis tilted toward your head, extend the other knee while keeping the first knee on top of your hip.
  6. Make sure you keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your low back flat on the ground while alternately extending and flexing your knees.
  7. Repeat 5 times on each side.

What makes this exercise powerful?

As you’re carrying out your normal everyday activities, moving and using your arms and legs, it is important that you are able to keep your spine stable. This exercise will help you coordinate the contractions of your different corset muscle groups responsible for keeping your spine stable and supported while you are moving your limbs.

Donkey Kick

back strengthening exercises

  1. Position yourself on all fours on a mat.
  2. Position your hands underneath your shoulders and place your knees under your hips.
  3. Keep your right knee bent at 90 degrees and extend your right hip until you lift the knee to the level of the hip.
  4. Lower the knee without touching the floor and repeat the lift.
  5. Once you’ve completed the reps on the right leg, switch legs.
  6. Repeat 10 times on each side.

What makes this exercise powerful?

While the preceding 3 exercises mainly target the core muscles in your abdomen, the donkey kick targets the posterior chain of muscles responsible for supporting and stabilizing your back. This exercise will help you strengthen your short muscle group and hip extensors that stabilize your spine while you are moving your legs.

Bird Dog

Back Strengthening Exercise

  1. Position yourself on all fours on a mat.
  2. Position your hands underneath your shoulders and place your knees under your hips.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles.
  4. Practice lifting one hand and the opposite knee just an inch or two off the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee and keeping your weight centered.
  5. When you feel steady and ready to move on to a full range of motion, point the arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg behind you. You should form one straight line from your hand to your foot, keeping your hips squared on the ground. If your low back begins to sag, raise your leg only as high as you can while keeping your back straight.
  6. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then return your hands and knees.
  7. Keep the abs engaged throughout the entire exercise, and work to minimize any extra motion in your hips during the weight shift.
  8. Repeat 10 times on each side.

What makes this exercise powerful?

This is a great exercise to really ramp up the ability of your long muscle group to stabilize the length of your spine while you are moving your legs and arms.

Tall Kneeling Hip Extension

Back Strengthening Exercise

  1. Kneel on a mat or a pillow with your buttocks resting on your heels.
  2. Transition into a tall kneeling position by squeezing your buttocks as tight as you can to extend your hips.
  3. Simultaneously tilt your pelvis posteriorly as you squeeze your buttocks to extend your hips.
  4. Return to the original position.
  5. Repeat 15 times.

What makes this exercise powerful?

The muscle in your buttocks (gluteus maximus) is one of the largest in your body. It is also one of the most often forgotten muscles in low back pain management.

Weak and underactive buttocks can cause biomechanical imbalances in your pelvis and hips, as well as instability in your spine. Use this movement pattern to activate your glutes!

Hip Hinge with Back Extension

back strengthening exercises

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and keep your weight on your heels.
  3. Lean forward by bending your hips while keeping your spine straight.
  4. Lift your chest and push your buttocks backward.
  5. Keep your head up, looking straight ahead.
  6. Reach back with your arms and your shoulders, pulling down toward your buttocks.
  7. Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  8. Keeping your position in step #3, lift your arms in front of you as high as you can.
  9. Hold this position for 10 seconds.
  10. Lower your arms back to your side and return to the original position.
  11. Repeat 10 times.

What makes this exercise powerful?

This exercise is perfect for strengthening your hip and spinal stabilizers. It is one of my favorite exercises to target the posterior chain of short and long muscle groups responsible for supporting and stabilizing your low back.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which exercises to avoid with low back pain?

  • Sit-ups – this exercise puts a lot of pressure on your spine, increasing the risk of disc herniation injuries.
  • High-Impact Exercises – the strain of jumping, twisting, and joint-pounding exercises like plyometrics and the now popular Extreme Fitness or CrossFit-type of exercises will only aggravate your low back pain.
  • Heavy Lifting – lifting heavy weights, especially overhead, increases the amount of compressive force applied to your intervertebral disc.
  • Off-road Biking – the rugged terrain of off-road biking plus the sustained forward flexion of your spine puts a jarring strain on your spine.

Is walking good for low back pain?

Yes! Walking is one of the best things you can do for chronic lower back pain. In 2017, a team of researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials to investigate the effectiveness of walking in chronic low back pain patients.

Their conclusion?

Pain, disability, fear-avoidance, and quality of life all improved with a walking program.

Set a goal of either time or distance you will walk in a day. Start with walking for 10 minutes, aiming for a heart rate of 100-110 beats per minute.

Progressively increase the time or distance every day. You might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish in a week or two.

How long should I rest my back pain?

In this article, I discussed the findings of several studies that looked into the effects of prolonged bed rest or spinal immobilization (e.g. back brace) on low back pain recovery.

What these multiple research studies found was that although bed rest and back braces may sound like a good idea, the truth is that there are very few people for whom it is recommended.

In fact, bed rest can lead to slower recovery and increased pain because you lose muscle strength and flexibility while resting for an extended period of time.

Conclusion

There are multiple layers of short, long, and thick muscle groups supporting each segment of your vertebrae throughout the length of your spine. As you can see, your spine is structurally and anatomically strong and can withstand the strain and stress of your everyday activities.

Instead of fearing activities and movements of your back, use the exercises I outlined in this article to further improve your muscle’s ability to support and stabilize your spine.

Remember, learning how to activate these muscles properly through targeted exercise is the secret to achieving the best support and stability for your low back.

Dr. Lex Gonzales
Dr. Lex Gonzales, PT, DPT is an author and speaker who has been working as a licensed healthcare professional for over 24 years. On drlexgonzales.com he provides quality information and practical solutions you can use to achieve the best version of your healthy self.

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  1. Jerry says:

    Sound advice. Simple measures to reduce back pain and improve the quality of your life

    1. Lex Gonzales says:

      Thank you for your comment, Jerry!
      As they say, “Simplicity is the soul of efficiency.”

  2. Sandra says:

    Excellent! Thank you! Most of these exercises I have been doing off and on for years – since I discovered I had a back problem and exercising DOES HELP! I don’t like to take pills and rarely do, but I have learned that exercise and healthy eating is the key to success.
    It is so Wonderful to have the muscles listed beside each one as well as an explanation of HOW each helps us. Awesome – thank you.

    1. Lex Gonzales says:

      Sandra,

      Your words ring true – exercise and healthy eating are the keys to success! I appreciate your comment!

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