According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, nearly 80% of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives (www.nasm.org; Clark, M.A., Sutton, B. C., Lucett, S.C. (2013) NASM essentials of personal fitness training.  Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning).

That’s incredible!  Part of preventing low back pain includes physical activity and flexibility training.  Having the proper stability and strength in your core is imperative to having a strong (and pain free!) back.

Lower back and core exercises should be a staple of everyone’s exercise programs.  Just as with any other exercise program, safety and proper progression are key, however.  The last thing you want to do is jump into an exercise program and end up injured or in pain.

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Therefore, before beginning a lower back exercise program with weights, I suggest a core stabilization and flexibility program.  If you have been training a while and have a stable core and lower back, and you wish to take your training to the next level, feel free to jump into this program with the weights!

Let’s begin with the basics.

The lower back is made up of many small stabilizing muscles.  These muscles fatigue quickly and can also get pretty sore from a workout, which in turn can feel like low back pain.   To prevent over-soreness and pain, be sure you always maintain proper form and progress appropriately.

As with any exercise, form is key.  When it comes to the low back, this is especially important.  I recommend practicing the movement of each exercise without weights first to ensure you have the proper flexibility and mobility to complete the exercise.

If you are finding that you are having trouble with any of the exercises, go back to the mobility and stability program and complete some exercises there before progressing to the weights.  A key component of safety and form is going to be maintaining a braced core.

With all of these exercises, you should practice bracing your core by first pulling your belly button in toward your spine.  From there, contract your abdominals and hold.  This will allow for the best support on your low back and prevention of injury.

I recommend a slow progression with these exercises.  As stated earlier, the muscles of your low back are relatively small in comparison to other muscles of your body.  It is important not to over-work them in such a way that will cause overuse or injury.  I recommend first progressing with repetitions, THEN progressing with weight.

For example, if you plan to complete 12 repetitions, but are able to complete 14 repetitions on your next two workouts with that exercise, it is time to increase the number of reps to 15.  After you have completed your sets with 15 reps and are ready to progress, you can increase the weight slightly.

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Lower Back Exercises with Weights why you should do them and how2

Stabilization and Mobility (Flexibility) Program

Exercise Sets x Reps Notes
Kneeling Hip flexor stretch 2 x 30 second holds each side Be sure to tilt your pelvis to the back to really feel the stretch through your hip flexor.
Piriformis Stretch 2 x 30 second holds each side Begin seated in a chair.  Cross your left ankle over your right knee. Gently press your left knee toward the ground and hinge forward at the hips if it is comfortable.
Quadruped 3 x 10 each side (building up to 20) Begin on all fours in table top position.  Slowly extend your left leg and right arm out.  Briefly hold then return to the starting position.  Repeat on the other side.
Supermans 3 x 10 (building up to 20) Lie on your stomach with arms and legs extended.  Exhale and slowly raise your arms and legs off the ground, squeezing your glutes and posterior shoulders.
Swimming 3 x 10 (progressing to 20) each side Begin on your stomach with arms extended.  Slowly engage your left glute and right arm to raise your left leg and right arm.  Switch sides and repeat.

Weighted Program

The weight program can be included alone, or you can pick 1-2 of the exercises to work into your current back routine.  Just as with any program, be sure you give yourself at least 24-48 hours of rest in between workouts for a particular muscle group to ensure proper muscle growth and recovery.

Exercise Sets x Reps How to:
Good Mornings 2-4 sets x 10-15 reps Set a barbell on your upper scapula (shoulder blade). Hinge forward slightly at the hips maintaining a stable core.  Squeeze your glutes and low back to come back to a standing position.
Back extensions 2-4 sets x 10-15 reps Set yourself up on a cable machine with a rope handle.  Set the cable so it is level with your arms when extended in front of you. Pick a moderate weight and step back a few feet from the machine.  Hinge forward at the hips allow the arms to straighten in front of your body.   Beginning the movement with your glutes and low back, slowly bring your body back to standing straight and tall.  Repeat.
Back Extension Machine 2-4 sets x 10-15 reps It is easy on this machine to allow your legs to help you.  Really focus on only using the muscles of your back to produce this movement and lay off pressing with your legs.
Prone lateral bending 2-4 sets x 10-15 reps Lie on your stomach with dumbbells in each hand.  Bring your arms up above your head and bend the elbows to a 45 degree angle (think about making the shape of the letter U with your arms).  Bring your upper body of the ground.  Gentle flex to your right side, trying to bring your right elbow to your right hip.  Repeat on the left side and return to the ground. Repeat.
Back extension with a twist 2-4 sets x 10-15 reps Begin on a Roman Chair with your heels and ankles pressed into the ankle pads.  Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bend elbows so dumbbells rest near the shoulders.  Lower yourself down into a stretched position, head close to the ground then use your glutes and low back to slowly raise your body to full extension-keeping ears, shoulders, hips and ankles in a straight line (not hyperextended and arched back).

A strong back and core are vital to living pain free and maintaining proper form with your exercise routine.  As with any exercise program, be sure you give your muscles enough rest in between sessions.

I hope you enjoy these exercises!  Until next time, stay fit and be well!

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