Lower-back pain can seem to come out of nowhere — especially if you’ve never experienced back problems before. But, in fact, back issues are usually the result of a lifetime of normal wear and tear, poor posture caused by too much sitting, and injuries we have have forgotten. The good news is that you can improve lower-back strength with a few easy core-stabilization exercises.
“As people get over the age of 40, the discs start to wear down a little bit and degenerate,” explains Dr. Joey Duarte, a chiropractor based in San Antonio, Texas. “This can cause a host of problems that can lead to bulging or disc herniations, which can cause radiculopathies (pinched nerves) down the legs.”
But it’s not necessarily all in the spine. Discomfort in the lower back can also result from an imbalance between the flexors and extensors of the lower body — namely the glutes and the psoas, the largest muscles of the hip flexors. “We are predominately in flexed positions during the day, and our extensors become weak over time because of this,” Dr. Duarte says.
When left untreated, an imbalance may not only interfere with day-to-day activities but also affect the nervous system and cause moderate to severe pain or even disability. “Anytime the body is not moving in a biomechanically sound manner, the risk of injury, including muscle strains, tendinopathy, or joint derangement, increases,” he cautions.
Here are three easy body-weight moves that will strengthen your lower back.
We say it a lot: Planks are one of the wonders of the fitness world. They engage not only your abs but also your hips and lower back. Position yourself on your forearms with your elbows under your shoulders and your hands shoulder-width apart. Step your feet back until your body forms a straight line, tighten your tummy, squeeze your glutes to keep your hips from sagging, and keep your spine neutral by fixing your gaze on the floor in front of you. Hold as long as you can without losing your form — ideally 30 to 60 seconds.
This is one of those moves that looks easier than it actually is, but it’s one of the best ways to strengthen the lower back. Begin face down on the ground with arms and legs extended; pull your abs in tight. Lift your arms and legs off the floor simultaneously by squeezing your abs, back muscles, and glutes; keep your head and neck in line with your body. Return to starting position and repeat 10-12 times.
Strong glutes are necessary for stabilizing your hips and lower back as you perform daily activities from walking to bending over. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground, hips’ width apart, and hands by your sides. Press your feet into the floor while contracting and lifting your glutes until your body is in a diagonal line, shoulders on the ground. Lower to starting position and repeat 10 to 12 times.
“The lower back comes into play with just about everything we do,” says Dr. Duarte. “Doing exercises to strengthen it, along with yoga to increase mobility and flexibility, are important to prevent injury.”