Does your low back ache? Is it preventing you from being productive, or active throughout your day? You’re not alone. Lower back pain is incredibly common, and upwards of 80% of the population experiences lower back pain at some point in their lives.
All to often, lower back pain is caused by too much sitting and a sedentary lifestyle. The good news in this situation is that lower back pain is completely treatable. It’s a lifestyle related issue that you can absolutely resolve.
What Causes Low Back Pain?
Let me start this section by saying, if you have chronic lower back pain get checked out by your primary care physician or a physical therapist. You want to rule out more serious causes of lower back pain before trying the exercises that I recommend below.
Lower back pain can be caused by a number of things. On the more serious end of the spectrum, you’re looking at degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, arthritis, spondylolisthesis, sciatica, spinal stenosis, vertebral fractures, and scoliosis.
On the less serious end of the spectrum, lower back pain can be attributed to tight hip flexors, deactivated glutes, and a weak core. When you spend the majority of your day in a seated position, your hip flexors (iliacus and psoas major) become short and tight. This pulls on your lower back, often causing pain.
When this is the case, you have a lot of tools to help fix the problem. With the right exercises, and the discipline to “do your homework,” you can get rid of your back pain and get on with your active life.
Best Strength & Flexibility Exercises To Fix Lower Back Pain
Now you know the primary causes of lower back pain – a weak core, deactivated glutes, and tight hip flexors – you can safely assume that the following exercises address those primary issues. The following exercises help to build core strength, stronger glutes, and more flexible hip flexors.
A number of these exercises also incorporate thoracic mobility. Hunching over a computer all day can contribute to tight pecs, forward head posture, and a kyphotic spine (think hunchback posture). Stretching your pecs and improving thoracic mobility will also help fix or prevent upper back and neck pain.
Adding these exercises into your workout routine, or even building them into your morning routine, can go a long ways towards eliminating your lower back pain for good.
1. Forearm Plank to Side Plank
Benefits: Planks build core strength, stability, and total body tension. When you transition from a forearm plank to a side plank, you’re challenging your body’s ability to maintain tight abs through dynamic movement. An added benefit is that you build shoulder strength and stability as well.
Instructions: Start in a plank position on your forearms with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold a front plank for about 3 seconds, and then transition to a side plank on your right forearm with control. Hold for 3 seconds, and then return to center. Transition to a side plank on the left side, and hold. Then return to center.
Continue to alternate sides until you’ve completed 5 side planks on each arm.
2. Bird Dog
Benefits: While the bird dog might look easy, it’s actually a pretty challenging exercise. This move is a contralateral movement pattern that builds core stability and glute strength. A contralateral movement pattern is any exercise that involves moving opposite arm and opposite leg, and is a developmental movement pattern that can help prevent pain and injury.
Instructions: Start on your hands and knees in a table top position. Your hands should be placed below your shoulders, and your knees below your hips. With control, extend your right arm forward and your left leg back without hyperextending your spine.
Once you have balance, you can add the crunch by bringing your elbow towards your knee. You might even touch elbow to knee. Then, extend your arm and leg back out again. Complete 3-5 reps on one side, and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Single-Leg Glute Bridges
Benefits: This is one of my favorite glute exercises. The single leg glute bridge builds unilateral glute strength, core stability, and hip control. It also helps to open your hip flexors. All of these benefits can help alleviate lower back pain.
Instructions: Lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet placed just below your knees. Extend your left leg long, while keeping your knees at the same height. Press strongly into your right foot to raise your hips off the ground, squeezing your glutes and fully extending your hips at the top. Your body should form a straight line from knees to hips to shoulders. With control, lower your hips down to tap the ground, and then lift them back up again. Complete 10 reps on one side, and repeat on the other side.
4. Half-Kneeling Windmill
Benefits: The half-kneeling windmill is a phenomenal exercise that stretches your hip flexors, increases thoracic mobility, and activates your glutes. Because you shift your gaze throughout the exercise, it also helps to build dynamic stability.
Instructions: Start in a half-kneeling position (right leg forward, left leg back) with your legs bent to 90-degree angles. Windshield wiper your left shin behind you. Raise your right arm up to the ceiling and get tall through your spine. Then, reach your right arm up to the ceiling as your rotate your torso to face your right leg, grabbing your right ankle with your left hand. Reach your elbow to the ground as you look up toward the ceiling. Your elbow might not touch the floor, but you should feel a big stretch in your hip flexor and glutes.
With control, let go of your ankle and unwind your body to bring your torso back upright, squeezing your glutes at the top and looking straight ahead. Complete 3-5 reps, and then switch sides.
5. Spiderman Lunge with Rotation
Benefits: The spiderman plank is an excellent exercise to build core stability, thoracic mobility, and hip flexibility. By stretching your hips and strengthening your core, it can also help fix and prevent lower back pain.
Instructions: Start in a high plank position with your arms underneath your shoulders, arms straight. Step your right foot as far forward as you can outside of your right hand. Then raise your right hand toward the ceiling as you rotate your spine to face your right leg. Take a few deep breaths, then bring your right hand down and repeat on the left side.
Focus on keeping your spine long, and use your core strength to step your foot forward. Try not to rely on momentum to step forward or rotate your spine.
Bonus Exercise: Deep Squat with Rotations
Benefits: Practicing deep squats is incredibly beneficial for maintaining proper flexibility and mobility in your ankles, hips, and spine. It can also help alleviate and prevent lower back pain. Deep squats help to stretch your hip flexors, while engaging your glutes and spinal extensors.
Instructions: To do a deep squat properly, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Drop your hips down while keeping your spine long. Don’t let your butt tuck under. You want to maintain a neutral spine here. Drive your knees wide by activating your gluteus medius muscles. Press your elbows into your knees to help you lift your chest up.
A deep squat might be enough for you to start. Once you’re comfortable in a deep squat, you can add thoracic rotation. Reach your right arm outside of your right foot while keeping your elbow pressing against the knee, and reach your left arm up to the sky. Take three breaths, and then switch sides.
Workout To Fix Lower Back Pain
If you combine these 5 (or 6) exercises into a routine, you have a fantastic workout to fix your lower back pain. Here’s a routine that you could follow:
Give those exercises a try, and see how you feel after a couple of weeks!