Chances are, as you’re reading this, you’re hunched over your phone or slouched at your desk. And it hurts. You’re in desperate need of some exercises for low back pain.
Your lower back is one of the most important parts of your body’s kinetic chain. “It’s where everything in the body connects,” says Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d, which offers in-studio and online classes. When this area of the body becomes tight, injured, or weak, it can wreak havoc in every other area of the body.
The vertebrae in your lower back—a.k.a. the lumbar spine—are the largest and bear the most weight, which means there are many possible ways to wind up with lower back pain. Simply sitting for long periods of time is one of the biggest culprits. “Most often, back pain results with no known cause,” says Jordan Seda, DPT, OCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Stroma. “For example, imagine sitting at a desk and feeling a spasm in your back an hour into your workday. Prolonged periods of inactivity do not treat the body well.”
Of course, there are plenty of ways to wind up with a lower back injury that don’t involve sitting. “Lower back pain or weakness can stem from a multitude of reasons depending on your field of work,” says Miguel Aguilar, founder of Self Made Training. “Working a hard-labor job consisting of picking up or pulling heavy objects, crouching and bending over, or repeating the same movement repeatedly can cause lower back pain.”
Caring for your lumbar spine and finding lower back pain relief is all about having the right balance of exercise and stretching. “Each segment of your body needs to have a certain amount of flexibility and a certain amount of stability,” says Jenna Crivelli, DPT, a physical therapist at Stroma.
It needs to be able to support you as you bend over to pickup your toddler and keep you steady when you have to stand for an hour when you can’t find a seat on the train. “Health is about balance, and so the spine is also about balance,” Crivelli says. Figuring out how to relieve lower back pain, therefore, requires a mix of movement, stretching, and strength training.
First, you want to stay mobile. “Our bodies were made to move,” says Seda. “Movement allows for circulation of fluids that keep our tissues healthy and prepared for having to perform more strenuous physical tasks.” When we sit at a desk all day without taking walk breaks, it’s “terrible” for the body, adds Brannigan.
Finally, it’s important to make sure you’re also doing strength-building exercises one to two times a week to keep your back muscles strong, says Aguilar. “Surrounding our spines are core muscles that keep our spine stable,” he says. “It’s important to balance stretching with strength-building exercises to help lengthen muscle tissues and increase flexibility to be able to perform muscle-building exercises pain-free, and with greater range of motion to make the exercise more effective.” Free workout apps and YouTube workouts are a great place to start.
The most important thing you can do to fix lower back pain is to have a consistent routine filled with the best back exercises. (Some good workout songs won’t hurt either.) Here are 17 lower back exercises designed to keep you flexible, strong, and pain-free.
The Pelvic Clock
“I love this exercise, as it can be used as a way to warm up to other exercises,” says Mody of this move to help strengthen the lower back. “It is subtle but effective at awakening your abdominals and improving stability of the lumbo-pelvic junction.”
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. Imagine that there is a clock face resting on your abdomen with a marble in the center of the clock.
- Slowly draw in your stomach muscles toward your spine and tilt your pelvis back, flattening your back onto the mat. Imagine the marble rolling toward 12 o’clock.
- Next, tilt your pelvis forward, rolling onto your tailbone. Imagine the marble rolling toward 6 o’clock. The stomach muscles will relax and your back should arch off the mat slightly.
- Next, drop your left hip bone down toward the mat. Your right hip bone will lift toward the ceiling as you imagine the marble rolling toward 3 o’clock.
- Finally, drop your right hip bone down toward the mat as you imagine the marble rolling toward 9 o’clock.
- Repeat five times clockwise and five times counterclockwise.
“This is one of the most researched low back exercises, as it works on the stabilization of the low back (lumbar multifidi) while keeping the abdominals (transversus abdominis) contracted,” says Mody. The key: making sure your abdominals stay engaged and activated throughout the movement.