How to Strengthen the Lower Back

Medically Reviewed By Danielle Hildreth, CPT

You can strengthen your lower back with resistance or weight bearing exercises that support muscle function. These include bodyweight exercises you can do at home and exercises using gym equipment. Often, strengthening exercises have bonus effects of improving your flexibility and balance, bone density, and muscle or joint pain.

Exercises that target the surrounding areas — such as the upper back, glutes, hips, and legs — may also help support your lower back.

This article explains exercises and techniques to help strengthen the muscles in your lower back region.

Lower back strengthening exercises

Someone stands on an exercise mat while using resistance bands with their hands.
Gary Yeowell/Getty Images

Below are some exercises to build lower back strength.

Superman exercise 

A 2018 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that the Superman exercise can improve the activity of the lumbar multifidus, a type of lumbar muscle. The review also suggested that this exercise may reduce the recurrence of low back pain.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

  1. Lie on the floor face down, with your arms extended in front of you. 
  2. Gently lift your arms, chest, and legs off the floor while keeping your head in a neutral position. Engage your glutes and core.
  3. Remain in this position for a few seconds.
  4. Lower your arms and legs back down to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat the exercise a few times.

If you initially find this difficult, you can also perform the exercise with your arms extended out to the side of your body or down by your sides. If lifting your chest and your legs is too much, you can lift just your chest and arms while keeping your legs grounded on the floor.

Yoga and Pilates exercises

Yoga and Pilates both use stretches to help strengthen the body and increase flexibility. These exercises can be done with or without equipment.

A 2016 systematic review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that Pilates may improve pain and function in the lower back for people with chronic back pain.

One yoga exercise for lower back strength is the Bird-Dog Pose. You can perform Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source this exercise in the following way:

  1. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Ensure your knees line up with your hips and your wrists line up with your shoulders. 
  2. Keep your back straight.
  3. Reach your right arm forward and simultaneously extend your left leg back. Try to keep them parallel to the floor. 
  4. Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly return to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat the movement with the opposite arm and opposite leg.
  6. Repeat the exercise a few times.

Bridges

Bridges can help strengthen Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the glutes, abdomen, and lumbar area of the back.

You can perform the exercise as follows:

  1. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Make sure that your back is flat.
  2. Tighten your abdomen and squeeze your buttocks before raising your hips off the floor.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds before lowering.
  4. Repeat this movement 10 times.

Abdominal drawing-in maneuver (ADIM)

The ADIM may work by activating your deep abdominal muscles and promoting a stable spine.

Follow these steps to do the exercise:

  1. Lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Inhale deeply.
  3. Exhale while slowly drawing your abdominal muscles in toward your spine, making sure your lower back stays in contact with the floor. You will likely feel a tightening sensation in your deep abdominal muscles. 
  4. Hold this contraction for a few seconds while continuing to breathe as usual.
  5. Release the contraction. 
  6. Repeat the exercise as many times as possible.

Kettlebell swings

Kettlebell swings are a popular exercise. They use full-body movements to activate the muscles of your torso, lower body, and backside.

Follow these steps to do the exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a kettlebell by its handle with both hands. 
  2. Gently push your hips backward while keeping your back straight, allowing the kettlebell to pass between your legs.
  3. Thrust your hips forward to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height while engaging your core to keep the movement controlled.
  4. Let the kettlebell swing back down between your legs as you push your hips backward again. 

Ask an expert for help with your form

Some exercises can lead Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to injuries and pain when performed incorrectly. This may be especially true when using weighted equipment or carrying out complex movements.

Using equipment that is too heavy or provides too much resistance for you can also lead to injury.

When trying new exercises, consider working with a certified trainer or physical therapist to learn the proper form and weight level for you.

Lower back stretching exercises

Stretching can help improve flexibility and range of motion, allowing you to perform strengthening exercises more safely and effectively.

Stretching may also help improve your muscle power and force, which can contribute to strength.

Below are some lower back stretches to try along with strengthening activities.

Upper trunk rotations

All you need to perform upper trunk rotations is a chair. To perform the exercise:

  1. Sit straight on the chair and cross your arms over your chest.
  2. While keeping your legs still, twist your whole torso so that you are facing the side. Hold this position for 1 second.
  3. Move your torso back to face the center. Then, twist your torso to face the other side and hold this position for 1 second.
  4. Try repeating this movement 10 times per day.

Back extensions

You can do back extensions with a chair by using these steps:

  1. Sit in the chair with your hands on the back of your head.
  2. Lean backward so that your upper back is bending over the chair.
  3. Hold this position for 10 seconds, and repeat six times.
  4. If needed, sit on a pillow to adjust your height and allow your back to bend slightly over the chair.

Read more about stretches to relieve lower back pain.

Advice and safety 

Using the proper form and technique enables Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source you to exercise effectively and prevent injuries. If you are unsure about your form, consider getting a qualified fitness professional to guide you.

When using weights, resistance bands, or other equipment, make sure to use a weight or resistance level you can lift and maneuver safely.

Below are some more tips for stretching and strengthening activities:

  • Always warm up with dynamic movements before physical activity, such as lunges, walking, or twisting your upper body side to side.
  • Start with gentle exercises or practice the movements before increasing the intensity or weight.
  • Stop the exercise if you feel pain, and talk with a doctor.
  • Stay hydrated while carrying out physical activity.
  • Don’t forget to exercise different muscle groups, not just your back.
  • Avoid sudden or rushed movements, and try and focus on controlling your muscles.
  • Wear appropriate clothes and stable footwear, replacing your shoes if they wear out.
  • Follow your doctor or trainer’s advice for rest between exercises, and take days off from exercise when needed.

When to see a doctor 

A certified trainer may be able to help you use safe techniques. However, personal trainers are not usually qualified to help with medical conditions.

Always talk with a doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercise routine for back problems. This is especially necessary if you have a history of back conditions or an existing medical condition.

Also, if you experience pain or worsened symptoms after physical activity, stop exercising and contact your doctor.

Summary

Movements that can strengthen your lower back include yoga poses, kettlebell swings, and seated extensions. You may be able to do some of these exercises at home or add in optional equipment.

To help strengthen the lower back and improve mobility, exercises that work the surrounding muscle areas, such as the glutes, abdomen, and hips, may also be effective.

Improper form and technique can lead to injuries, though. While guidance from a certified trainer may help you perform the exercises, always talk with a doctor or physical therapist before starting any new activity.

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Medical Reviewer: Danielle Hildreth, CPT
Last Review Date: 2023 Nov 28
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