14 Exercises for Lower Back Pain

14 Exercises for Lower Back Pain

Thanks in no small part to our constant sitting, lower back pain has become so common that it’s sometimes synonymous with “adulting.” So, how can you reduce your odds of experiencing it—and get some relief if you have it?

One of the keys, says neurophysiologist Chad Waterbury, author of Huge In a Hurry, is improving your core strength, mobility, and endurance. After all, the core’s primary job is to support and stabilize your spine, so making sure all of its muscles are at full strength, functioning optimally, and working cooperatively will go a long way toward easing your ache.

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That’s exactly what the following 14 exercises for lower back pain are designed to do—shore up your core.

A few quick caveats:

  • We broke these moves into three escalating levels of intensity, so choose what’s right for you, right now.
  • If you’re experiencing back pain, get cleared by a doctor before doing any exercise — these moves included.
  • If you feel pain doing any these exercises, stop immediately. You’re trying to alleviate your lower back pain, not make it worse!

If you’re currently experiencing mild lower back pain, perform these first six moves (with your doctor’s approval) to ease muscle tension and improve mobility throughout your core.

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1. Child’s Pose

child's pose balasana Yoga52 Marie Grujicic Delage

This move gently relieves tension in the lower back.

1. Kneel down on a mat or blanket, and, if possible, sit on your heels.

2. Lean forward and extend your arms in front of of you, placing your palms on the floor. (if you can, also rest your head on the floor).

3. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Modification: Cross your arms and rest your head on your forearms.

 

2. Cat-Cow

cat cow pose yoga yoga52 odette hughes

This easy stretch helps ease tension all along the back, reducing the strain on your spine.

1. Start on all fours, with your back flat, your knees under your hips, and your hands under your shoulders.

2. On an exhale, slowly round your back toward the ceiling, lowering your head toward the floor.

3. Inhale as you arch your back, bringing your shoulder blades together as you raise your chest up and bring your belly toward the floor.

4. Repeat, moving with your breath, for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Modification: Reduce your range of motion, dialing back your rounding and arching, and move more slowly.

 

3. Front-to-Back-Shoulder Squeeze

This squeeze eases tension and increases range of motion in shoulder blades, helping to improve posture and reduce slouching.

1. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder width with your arms by your sides and your back straight.

2. Cross your left arm over your right arm and rotate your hands to press your palms together, straightening your arms toward the floor.

3. Keep pressing your palms together as you round your upper back as if trying to touch the fronts of your shoulders together in front of you.

4. Hold for 10 seconds.

5. Unclasp your hands, then interlace your fingers behind your back, straightening your arms and lifting your chest high.

6. Hold for 10 seconds.

7. Alternate these two positions three to four times.

Modification: None. Perform to the best of your current ability.

 

4. Clamshell

woman doing clamshell exercise

This exercise helps strengthen the gluteus medius, which plays a key role in hip stability and movement.

1. Lie on your right side with your knees bent at 90 degrees in front of you and your feet stacked. Rest your head on your right arm and place your left hand on the ground in front of you for support.

2. Keeping your feet together and your hips vertical, lift your right knee as far away from your left as possible.

3. Pause, and then return to the starting position.

4. Do equal reps on both sides.

Modification: None. Perform to the best of your current ability.

 

5. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

lower back exercises - kneeling hip flexor

This stretch supports healthy hip mobility, taking pressure off of the lower back during everyday activities.

1. Kneel on a mat or pad, and place your right foot flat on the floor in front of you so that both knees are bent about 90 degrees. This is the starting position.

2. Keeping your torso upright and your back flat, press your hips forward and downward until you feel a stretch in your right hip.

4. Hold the stretched position for up to 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Modification: Instead of holding the stretch for 30 seconds straight on each side, hold it for 15 seconds twice on each side, return to the starting position briefly between holds.

 

6. Downward Facing Dog with Alternating Heel March

lower back exercises - down dog with heel lift

This move, borrowed from yoga, reduces tension in the hamstrings, calves, and upper back.

1. Start in a high plank position.

2. Keeping your arms and legs straight and your back flat, raise your hips so that your body forms an upside down “V.”

3. Bend your right knee until you feel a stretch in your left calf, and hold for 10 seconds.

4. Straighten your right leg, and repeat with your left.

5. Continue alternating sides for a total of three reps per leg.

Modification: Perform the downward dog without the heel march.

If you’re able to handle the moves above without pain or discomfort, add some or all of the following exercises to the mix to start building core strength and stability.

 

7. Bird Dog

lower back exercises - band-resisted-bird-dog-psoas

This cross-body move strengthens the core, builds muscular coordination, and enhances mobility and stability.

1. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.

2. Slowly extend your left leg straight behind you and your right arm straight in front of you.

4. Hold for 10 seconds, and then repeat on your other side.

5. Do equal reps on both sides.

Modification: Extend just your arm or leg, or your arm and then your leg, raising only one limb at a time.

 

8. Glute Bridge

This exercise tones your glute muscles.

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your arms by your sides, and your feet flat on the floor.

3. Drive your heels into the floor, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips until your body is straight from shoulders to knees.

4. Pause, and then return to the starting position.

Modification: None. Perform to the best of your current ability.

 

9. Forearm Plank with Run

lower back exercises - forearm plank run

This plank variation engages and strengthens muscles throughout the core while elevating your heart rate and calorie burn.

1. Start in a forearm plank position with your elbows below your shoulders and your body straight from head to heels.

2. Keeping your hips low, bring your right knee toward your chest.

3. Reverse the move and repeat quickly with your left leg.

4. Keep alternating sides for the prescribed amount of time (e.g., 30 to 45 seconds).

Modification: Slow the movement down. Perform the move with straight arms. Hold plank and skip the “run.”

 

10. Side Plank and Knee Up

lower back exercises - side plank knee up

This combo move strengthens your oblique muscles on the sides of your torso, which help support and stabilize your spine, as well as assist in rotational movements.

1. Start in a side plank on your right side: right elbow and forearm on the floor beneath your right shoulder, feet stacked with the outside edge of your right foot on the floor, and body straight from head to heels. Touch the fingers of your left hand lightly behind your left ear. This is the starting position.

3 Draw your left knee toward your chest.

4. Return to the starting position. Do equal reps on both sides.

Modification: Perform the side plank without bringing your knee toward your chest.

These next few moves require greater mobility and/or core strength than the previous ones, so be sure to work up to them. But when combined with the other moves on this page, they can help you sculpt a strong core and reduce your odds of experiencing back pain in the future.

 

11. Forward Fold

standing forward bend yoga52 odette hughes

This exercise eases tension in your back, hamstrings, and calves, and increases hip mobility.

1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width.

2. Inhale deeply, and then slowly extend your arms out to the side.

3. Keeping your knees slightly bent, hinge forward at your hip joints as far as you can without discomfort.

4. Cross your arms in front of you, slowly round your back forward.

5. Hold for 20–30 seconds.

Modification: Avoid the rounded-forward position: hinge forward at the hips and return to the starting position for 3–5 reps.

 

12. Trunk Twist

lower back workouts - trunk twist

This twist increases rotational range in rib cage, allowing you to turn and twist more comfortably.

1. Lie on your left side with your bottom (left) leg straight and your right knee bent and positioned on the floor in front of you. Your arms should be extended straight out from your chest, palms together, left arm on the ground. This is the starting position.

3. Keeping your right knee on the floor, your right arm straight, and your eyes on your right hand, lift it toward the ceiling, and then lower it toward the floor behind you as far as you can without discomfort.

5. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

6. Do equal reps on both sides.

Modification: Place a pillow or block underneath the knee of your top leg to make it easier to rotate your top arm toward the floor.

 

13. C-Sit Tap

This move increases strength and endurance throughout your core and improves mobility in your upper back.

1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat.

2. Lean back so your torso forms a 45-degree angle with the floor and extend your arms straight in front of your chest, palms together.

3. Keeping your core engaged and both arms straight, reach back with just your right arm to tap the floor behind you.

4. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, and then repeat with your left arm to your left side.

5. Keep alternating sides.

Modification: Make the move “isometric” by simply holding the starting position.

 

14. Reverse Lunge to Hip Extension

This exercise strengthens the glutes and hip flexors, and increases hip mobility and stability.

1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel, knees slightly bent, core engaged, and shoulders square.

2. Step back with your right leg and lower your torso until both knees form 90 degree angles (don’t let your back knee touch the floor).

4. Reverse the move to return to the starting position.

5. Now shift your weight onto your left leg and contract your right glute as you lift your right foot off the floor behind you (keep your right leg straight).

6. Return to the starting position. One lunge and one hips extension equals one rep.

7. Do equal reps on both sides.

Modification: When you step back into a lunge, reduce your range of motion, only sinking down about halfway (i.e., perform a “partial lunge).

Andrew Heffernan CSCS, GCFP

About

Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, GCFP is a fitness coach, Feldenkrais practitioner, and an award-winning health and fitness writer. His work appears regularly in Men's Health and Experience Life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. Learn more at andrewheffernan.com

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