Lower back of your body plays a very important role in keeping your body straight, provides structural support, helps in physical movements and protects certain body tissues. The function of lower back is to support weight of the upper body. Injury or pain to the lower back can be problematic, restrict your physical movements and thus even carrying on of your daily routine activities may become impossible.
About 80 percent of people suffer from a back injury sometime in their life, with the majority hurting their lower back badly. Moreover, physical inactivity can lead to muscle atrophy, which is most likely to occur to people who sit a lot or work in an office environment.
Start a lower back exercise routine to boost lumbar strength in order to ward off back injuries. The following lower back strengthening exercise program is designed to improve strength of the muscles of your lower back. But, make sure to discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should only be performed provided they do not cause or increase pain.
Best Ways To Strengthen Lower Back
(i) Cut down the number of hours you sit at home and at work. Sitting for longer periods can atrophy lower back muscles over time.
(ii) Avoid sitting longer than 30 minutes at a time. Set a reminder on your computer or on your cell phone to get up and walk around.
(iii) Consider having a sit/stand desk at your work place. This desk moves up and down with a hydraulic or hand lift. Alternate sitting and standing throughout your day.
(iv) Studies have found that people who sit for 8 hours or more in a day have a shorter lifespan. Make it a point not to sit for more than 8 hours a day. If that is not possible, make sure you do not sit for more than 5 or 6 hours on the weekends.
(v) Walking is one of the best exercise for your lower back. Doctors recommend that 10,000 to 12,000 steps a day is a healthy level of activity. So, you should aim to walk at least 10,000 steps in the course of your daily routine. In case you cannot achieve this level, try to incorporate 10-minute walks at each break, i.e., before and after lunchtime, before and after dinner. That means at least 40-minute walk every day.
(i) Safety First: The type of exercise you choose is a personal decision. But if you already experience low back or joint problems you should remember, that:
(a) Do aerobic exercises that are low-impact.
(b) Keep activity at a level in which you can carry on a conversation or speak clearly while exercising. This “talk test” provides a general rule of thumb to help you determine if a particular activity is too strenuous for you.
(c) Running, jogging and jumping are high impact, so can aggravate further low back pain.
(ii) Start a Walking Routine: Walking is one of the simplest and most accessible aerobic exercises. You only require walking shoes, and no other equipment. Best part is, you can walk almost anywhere: outdoors or indoors (malls, indoor tracks, or a treadmill). This makes walking easy to continue throughout the year. Walking is a good option for starting your first exercise routine.
Moreover, you can vary the intensity to match your fitness level. Try some variations in your walking program to improve strength in your lower back. For example opt for interval training. Walk quickly for 1 to 2 minutes, and then recover for 3 to 4 minutes. Increase your intervals as you get stronger and improve your cardiovascular fitness.
(iii) Cycling: Cycling is another good aerobic exercise. You can use a stationary or regular bike. Cycling can be useful for individuals who, because of arthritic or other orthopedic problems, are unable to walk for an extended period of time without pain or difficulty. A program that combines walking and cycling can provide cardiovascular benefits with lower chances of aggravating pain. Cycling is also a good option for people who are more than 50 pounds overweight. It helps the heart without the mechanical stress on the back, hips, knees and ankles that walking can cause.
Just Fitness Tip: Being overweight and obese enhances the risk of lower back injury. If you come into these categories, aerobic exercise program should be a significant part of your fitness routine. For overweight and obese people, experts recommend 75 minutes of intense cardio exercise or 130 minutes of moderate cardio exercise.
(iv) Swimming Activities:
(a) Walk Or Jog In Water: Water aerobics and water walking are good alternatives for those with joint pain. The buoyancy provided by the water eases stress on the joints. For example, walking and jogging in water provide some resistance that helps to strengthen your legs, lower back and mid-back. Start with 10 minutes and move up to 30 minutes 3 to 4 days per week.
(b) Swim For 20 to 30 Minutes 3 Days Per Week: Swimming is a good aerobic exercise option for people who are suffering from joint problems or are overweight. Begin with 10-minute swims and increase your time in the water by 5 minutes every 1 to 2 weeks.
However, the focus of swimming is on the smaller upper body musculature and also swimming is a less efficient activity than cycling or walking. Moreover, one is more likely to easily exceed his or her target heart rate range with swimming. Therefore, those with heart conditions should check a swimming program with their physician before starting.
Low Back Strengthening Exercises
1. Do Pelvic Tilting: Pelvic tilts are an exercise comprising of very subtle spinal movements that strengthen the support muscles around the low back, particularly the abdominals. They are a good preliminary exercise for those seeking low back painrelief. They work good as they provide your back a little massage.
(i) Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, hip-width apart and the soles of the feet on the floor. This is your neutral position, with the natural curve of the lumbar spine and the low back to be slightly elevated from the floor.
(ii) Place your right hand underneath the curve in your back. This is only necessary the first few times, so that you can feel the motion of your lower back muscles.
(iii) Relax your back. Then, press the curve of your lower back into the floor. Your butt will not actually leave the floor, but you will feel your low back press into the floor. You are essentially taking the curve out of the low back. You should feel muscles at the base of your abdomen contract when you do this exercise. This is the transverse abdominis, a muscle that wraps around your stomach and attaches to your lower back. It supports your spine. Get to know the feeling of contracting this muscle, because you should try to contract it inward during all your back exercises.
(iv) Hold for 3 seconds, and then release. Repeat this movement 5 to 10 times. You can increase the hold to 5 or 10 seconds in order to increase your effort.
Watch this video to learn how to perform Pelvic Tilting
2. Do Hip Bridges: A weak and under-active butt is a prescription for low back pain. As we live in our sedentary, mostly seated, modern lifestyle our glutes don’t get used much. This process of the glutes becoming less active has been shown to be one of the primary causes in the development of low back pain.
Doing bridges daily (especially after prolonged sitting) will help to wake up the glutes and reset the pelvis. Consequently, your chances of suffering lower back problems will reduce significantly.
(i) Begin by lying face up on the floor with arms to the side, knees bent, and heels on the ground.
(ii) Lift your hips off the ground until knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Remember to squeeze your glutes as you reach the top of the movement.
(iii) All of your weight should be balanced between your shoulders and your feet. After holding for 1-2 seconds, slowly lower your hips back to the ground (3 seconds) and allow it to slightly touch the ground before completing another rep. This whole movement is termed as 1, 1, 3 meaning a one second concentric contraction, a one second hold at the top of the movement and a 3 second slow extension towards the floor.
Watch this video to learn how to do hip bridges
Just Fitness Tips:
(a) You can increase your hold for 5 to 10 seconds as you build strength.
(b) You can place a mini band above the knee-joint whilst performing the exercise. This way the band helps the muscle to engage through it’s designated actions, being hip extension, external rotation of the hip and the force couple of adduction and abduction.
(c) Try doing 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps. In between the sets go for a walk of about 10-20 meters at a normal walking pace. Do hip bridges 2-3 times a week to start seeing results.
- Do Floor Swimming:
(i) Flip onto your stomach. Reach your hands above your head and your feet behind you.
(ii) Raise your legs a few inches around. Kick the right leg up slightly and lower it, then kick the left leg up slightly and lower it. Do this 10 to 20 times, holding the leg up for 1 second before switching legs.
(iii) Lower your legs. Raise your arms; alternate them as you did with your legs. Try lifting your left leg and right arm together, then lowering then and raising your right leg and left arm. Repeat 20 to 40 times.
Watch this video to learn how to do Floor Swimming
- Do The Bird Dog Exercise:
(i) Get down on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. Make sure your arms extend right below your shoulders and your legs are right below your hips.
(ii) Without allowing your lower back to rise or round, brace your abs as if you were about to be punched in the gut. Maintain this contraction.
(iii) Raise your left leg for 3 seconds. Lower it and raise your right leg. Repeat 10 times, and then repeat the exercise with your arms. Be careful to keep your back flat throughout the entire exercise, as though it could hold a hot cup of coffee without spilling.
(iv) When you gain noticeable muscle strength, try raising your right arm and left leg at the same time until they’re in line with your body. Pause, and then return to the starting position. Repeat with your left arm and right leg. Try to keep your hips and lower back still, even as you switch arms and legs. Start with 5 repetitions on each side and work up to 10.
See video: How to Do the Bird Dog Exercise
- Do Walking Lunges:
(i) Stand upright with your legs hip width apart, wearing athletic shoes. Make sure there are several feet of space in front of you.
(ii) Take a controlled step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to 90-degree angles. The back knee should point toward but not touch the ground, and make sure your right ankle stays in front of your right knee. Hold for 2 seconds.
(iii) Step back into your original position. Make sure your back is straight and your abs are pulled in during the entire exercise. Repeat with the opposite leg. Perform three sets of 5 to 10 repetitions on each side, stopping if you are no longer able to keep your back steady or your forward knee behind your ankle.
Watch video: How To Do Walking Lunges
6. Perform These Exercises Every Alternate Day: Increase repetitions gradually. Once you have mastered these exercises, other exercises to strengthen your lower back include squats, planks, swan and exercises with a stability ball.
Useful Related Post: How To Do Body Squat Correctly
Stretching Exercises For Lower Back
Stretch your back every day to increase flexibility, reduce pain and help improve muscle endurance.
Remember these tips before you get started:
(i) Try to hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds and preferably 30 seconds or longer.
(ii) Moreover, these stretches will feel even better if you enjoy doing them. Rather than rush through the moves, turn on soothing music and use this stretching time as a chance to relax.
- Do Cat/Cow Stretch:
See this video to learn how to do a Cat/Cow Stretch
- Do Hamstring Stretch:
(i) Lay on your back with your knees bent.
(ii) Raise your right knee, below the joint. Grab the knee gently and pull it toward your chest. Keep your head flat on the ground. Hold for 10 seconds, and switch legs.
- Perform A Child’s Pose:
(i) Begin on your hands and knees on a mat, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Keep head and neck straight. Reach out directly in front of you, extending your arms and placing your palms flat on the floor. Slowly sit your hips back toward your heels, dropping your head and chest downward as your arms extend further. If this stretch is too much, place a pillow under your belly to prop yourself up a bit and lessen the stretch of the low back muscles. Stay here 20 to 30 seconds or even longer.
(ii) Bring your buttocks backwards bringing your hands along with it dragging on the ground. Keep neck straight. Contract abdominals. Motion is complete once you cannot raise limbs any further.
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