Health

Top 5 Exercises to Strengthen Your Low Back

Exercises to Strengthen your Core

If you’re like most people, when you think about your core, your mind goes straight to the image of “6-pack abs.”

We typically think of athletes, movie stars, models, and some rock stars when we talk about “core strength.” But did you know that there are more muscles that make up our core than just those six muscles right above our belly button? There are actually four layers of abdominal muscles, posterior muscles of the back and two other muscle groups deep within the torso that make up our “core.”

All of these need to be strengthened to keep our trunk (torso) healthy, strong and injury-free. 

Most often we see the low back region as the most susceptible to injury. Mainly between the bottom of our ribcage down to the hips and pelvic region. This is because that area is not surrounded by hard matter, like bone needed for added protection. No matter our age it can be truly debilitating to experience lower back pain. Therefore, the best way to maintain a healthy back and core is to regularly train these surrounding muscles as a way to limit injuries, stay strong and enhance mobility throughout life!

So what exercises are best at targeting all of those muscles? Below we have provided a brief anatomy review of the core and listed our top 5 exercises to improve core strength and protect our lower backs from potential injury.

Anatomy Review for The Core:

Abdominals

Here are the different Abdominal muscles labeled in order from closest to the skin’s surface to the deepest in the trunk.
  • Rectus Abdominis (The 6-pack Muscle): This muscle is the most superficial (closest to the surface) in the abdominal muscle group as it lays on top of the other core muscles of the torso. Although this muscle can be targeted and works in conjunction with others in the movement of the trunk, it is considered least protective of the group when it comes to the overall strength of the core. Typically, this muscle is seen as more of an ‘aesthetic’ muscle trained more to look good versus actually building strength.
  • External Abdominal Obliques: The next abdominal layer below the Rectus Abdominis. These muscles attach to the front and back of the ribcage, angle downward and insert to the top of the pelvis region on the iliac spine. They essentially wrap around the torso and assist with lateral movement (side bending).
  • Internal Abdominal Obliques: Similar to the External Abdominal Obliques, this sheet of muscles also attach to the lower ribs, but are oriented perpendicular to the External Obliques. They make up the abdominal wall that wraps around the torso.
  • Transversus Abdominis: This sheet of muscles are the deepest abdominal muscles and like the Internal Obliques, wrap around the trunk of te body. They attach to the lower ribs (7-12th) and onto the back, the pelvis, and the connective tissue of the thoracolumbar region. They assist with stabilization and rotation of the trunk.

Other Core Muscles 

Layers of the Back body muscles. The Erector Spinae and other Paraspinal muscles run parallel to the backbone. The Quadratus Lumborum and Iliospsoas groups sit deep below these layers.
  • Erector Spinae and other Paraspinal Muscles: These consist of numerous muscles that run parallel to the backbone. They are both large and small muscle groups, and are attached to a sheath of tendon that connects the vertebrae of the lower spine and the pelvis
  • Quadratus Lumborum: The deepest back muscle, the Quadratus Lumborum attaches the lowest ribs and lumbar vertebrae to the posterior iliac spine (the crest of the pelvis.) It helps with the opposite actions of the front abdominal muscles and assists with back bending movements.
  • Iliopsoas Group: Another core group, serving as the deepest in the body, are the psoas major, psoas minor and the iliacus muscles. These muscles are stabilizers and lateral movers of the core, as well as lateral rotators of the hip joints. These muscles connect the upper body to the lower body by attaching the anterior lumbar vertebrae, run along the inner pelvis and insert into the lesser trochanter of the femur bones. 

5 Best Exercises to Strengthen these Muscles

Now that we’ve recapped all of the core muscles, let’s break down our favorite exercises to help strengthen our core low back. We love these exercises because they can be done anywhere and don’t require any equipment. Plus, if we want to make them even more challenging, we can always add weights to the mix:

  • Regular and Side Planks (On Hands, Elbows and Forearms): We LOVE Planks! Traditional, Forearm and Side Planks are all incredible at helping at building strength in the trunk of the body. These are usually practiced in a static position, one where you hold the shape for as long as possible. That said, there is always the option to add push-up or hip-dips to increase the intensity or target additional muscles. Try holding a Traditional Plank for 30 seconds to see how it feels. If that’s too easy, go for 1 minute. Still too simple? Try for 1 minute in each of these types of Planks and build up from there… You’ll thank us later.

So. Many. Planks!
  • Sustained Low Boat Pose Another great strength building technique is the sustained Low Boat pose seen in many yoga practices. Here, we start on our backs. Then we lift the legs, the head and upper shoulders about 3-4 inches off the floor. Only the hips and torso should be touching. After we’ve got that, next we extend the arms past our ears and away from our feet. It may help if we think of the shape of a banana. By holding this shape as long as we can (similar to those planks), we start to activate all of the core abdominal muscles. Lastly, if we want a bigger challenge, there is always the option to flutter-kick the legs or tap our hands to our toes straight up in the middle. Again, try holding this for 30 seconds. If that is a piece of cake, then go for 3-5 reps of 1 minute each.

Trust us, this will set your core on FIRE!
  • Superman or Locust Pose: This exercise is one of our favorites. We think strengthening the back muscles are equally important as the front core and this exercise helps to target the Quadratus Lumborum and our Paraspinal muscle group. During this exercise we will be lying on our stomach. (You may want to use a thick mat or a towel to protect the front of the hips.) Next, reach the arms forward past the ears and lift them up. Do the same thing with the legs, as if you’re flying like Superman. For the yogis out there, this is a variation of Locust Pose. Remember to keep the breath steady while in this shape. Go for 8-10 rounds of lifting up on an inhale and releasing on an exhale. Do that 3-5 times. Lastly, to make this harder, try strapping on some wrist and ankle weights!

  • Russian Twists: Here we address some of those deeper muscles, like the External and Internal Obliques, and the Transversus Abdominis, due to the rotating or twisting nature of this exercise. Begin sitting on a mat or towel with the knees bent. Our feet should be about 18 inches away from us resting on the floor. Next, lean back to make an approximate 45-degree angle at the hips. This engages the whole core because we are fighting against gravity. Now we extend our arms out with palms together and keep them straight. From there, we initiate a rotation from side to side while maintaining the 45-degree angle; as those we are drawing a semicircle left to right with our hands.. To increase the challenge we can alway add weight by holding a dumbbell or a medicine ball. If the desire to make this more challenging persists, then try lifting the feet off the floor and hovering them while twisting from side to side.  

We don’t know about you, but we think Russian Twists are an AWESOME core strength builder!
  • Seated Knee Tucks: We think traditional crunches are a bit overrated. They can put unnecessary strain on the low back and neck, and who wants that, right? Instead, Seated Knee Tucks take that strain off those areas, target all of the core abdominals and help to build strength in the entire trunk. (Not to mention this exercise can really boost that “6-pack” look, if that is something you want.) Start by sitting on a mat or a towel to cushion the seat with your legs straight. Next, place both hands on the ground behind you with elbows bent. Your hands should be flat and the fingers should point towards the feet. Now, lift your legs about 4 inches off the ground and lean back at the same time. Finally, bend your knees while pulling them to your chest and press through your hands so that your torso almost touches your knees in the middle. Repeat. We suggest 3-5 sets of 20 reps. If you want to make it more difficult, add ankle weights. Trust us, you’ll feel it.

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