Exercises for Low Back Pain

Published by Jason Narog on

Mud Run Training

Do you suffer from low back pain? Most of us do, and our current culture of driving, sitting at a desk, and sitting on a couch don’t do us any favors. So here comes a collection of low back exercises from a variety of experts to get you on the path to less / no low back pain. The important thing to remember is the body is connected. Remember the song “head, shoulders, knees and toes?” It’s all connected, so low back pain may be caused by issues both above or below the low back.

Exercises for Low Back Pain from UC San Diego Health

If I forget to note this anywhere, all these positions are 10 times with 5 second holds. Never do anything to the point of pain! If you feel pain stop.

  1. Squeezing the shoulder blades together. The first of 7 exercises is to simply stand and squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times, holding for 5 seconds. With your hands out in front of you, pretend like you are putting your elbows in your back pockets. Do your best to avoid shoulder shrugging, as this will strengthen muscles you don’t want strengthened.
  2. Single Knee to Chest stretch. I’ve included this stretch in a variety of content I’ve written and included it in Facebook videos. Lay on your back hugging one knee up towards your chest. Try to keep the low back on the ground. This expert suggests 10 holds at 5 seconds each. Keep the other leg bent.
  3. Cat and Camel. This is also known as the cat and cow in non medical settings. Get on your hands and knees with shoulders, arms, hands in alignment and hips, quads, knees in alignment. Arch your back towards the ceiling, hold, then arch downward, hold.
  4. Bridging. This exercise is even included in the minimalist Simple and Sinister Kettlebell routine and is part of the Push Ups and Pizza Glute Awakening program. Lay on your back with your knees bent, roughly a little farther than finger tip length away from your hands. You want your shin angle to be 90 degrees at the top of the bridge. Draw the belly button towards your spine to engage your abs, squeeze your butt, and slowly lift your butt off the ground.
  5. Lower Trunk Rotations. Still on your back, move your feet so your knees are at a 45-ish degree angle, then slowly rock your knees to the left and to the right. Keep your shoulders attached to the floor.
  6. Standing Extensions. Hands on the hips, lean back and hold then return to neutral.
  7. Quadruped Alternate Arm and Leg. This is also known as the bird dog, although the video refers to it as a superman (which it’s not.) On your hands and knees, reach out the alternating arm and leg to full extension (if you straighten your left arm then also straighten your left leg.) Your thumb should be pointed towards the ceiling on your outstretched arm.

I personally would change the order to avoid going from standing to kneeling to laying on the back. There’s no real science behind why I put these in order outside of creating less resistance in the client (you) from having to randomly shift positions for no reason outside of I forgot to put these in simple order.

  1. Squeeze the shoulder blades together
  2. Standing Extensions
  3. Cat and Camel/Cow
  4. Quadruped Alternate Arm and Leg
  5. Single Knee to Chest
  6. Bridges
  7. Lower Trunk Rotations

Low Back Stretches from Activ Chiropractic

I’ll start by noting he suggests doing these after you’ve visited a massage therapist, chiro, physical therapist, etc who has already helped release some of those tense muscles in the body. Self myofascial release through the use of a foam roller / massage gun / pso rite / chirp wheel / etc can be used in the home as well.

  1. Sphinx Pose – laying chest down on the floor prop yourself up on your elbows. Pull your shoulder blades back and don’t drop your head. Hold for 8 breaths repeating 3 to 4 sets. If you can, have your toes pointed away from your body, which will also create a stretch at the ankles.
    1. Cobra Pose – progression for the Sphinx pose (having a progression is always nice.) Instead of being propped up on your elbows, prop yourself up on your hands, fingers pointed away from the body.
  2. Prayer Pose – The author of the video suggests sticking to this order of Sphinx Pose then Prayer Pose. Starting on all fours, sit back on your heels, leaving your arms outstretched in front of you. Hold for 8 breaths repeating 3 to 4 sets.
  3. Reverse Russian Twists. This is the exact same exercise as the lower trunk rotation from our first expert. Lay on your back and rotate your knees from side to side. This author suggests this as a cool down after squats or if you’ve been standing for a long period of time working (standing desk office worker.) The big difference here is there is the hold time. He suggests half of a second at the end of each twist. 10 reps per side, 3-4 sets.
  4. Spinal Rocks. Similar to bringing the single knee to chest, we’re now bringing both knees to the chest. This one involves moving as opposed to a static stretch. Bring the knees towards the chest then rock away and then back in again. This is also suggested as a cool down after squats or after a long day of desk standing. 8 breaths, 3 to 4 sets.
  5. Hip Drop Stretch. Lay on your back. If you wanted to stretch the left leg, bring it across your body to the right side, holding with your right hand. Leave your right leg extended and use your left arm as a counter balance. Twist slowly. This should be felt in your butt or low back. Hold for 30 seconds, repeating 3 to 4 sets.
    1. A straight leg (left leg in the example) vs bent leg is the progression for this stretch.

Low Back Exercises from Activ Chiropractic

I thought the stretching routines / cool downs after a long day of working out / working at the office were helpful so let’s see what sort of exercises we have available.

  1. Straight Leg Kickbacks – This is actually the regession (easier to do) version of the Quadruped Alternate Arm and Leg from the first video. On your hands and knees fully extend your leg behind you keeping everything in alignment (don’t twist the body.) Everything from the Alt Arm and Leg (bringing the navel towards the spine, engaging everything) applies. Suggested hold time of half to 1 second with the leg fully extended 12-20 times. (12 to 20 times is the recommended number of repetitions for any “stabilization” exercise per NASM, the organization I’m certified through.)
  2. Bird Dogs – This is the Quadruped Alternate Arm and Leg. I would suggest making sure you have the straight leg kickbacks solid (no twisting or sagging) before progressing to this movement. Left arm extended, right leg extended at same time. The big difference I see between this video and the San Diego video is the position of the thumb. This one is straight out which puts the shoulder in a slightly different position. 5 reps per side, with a 2 minute break 3 to 4 sets.
  3. Prone Back Extensions – Laying chest down on the floor fully extend your feet out and put your hands behind your back (comically the video author suggests pretending like you’re being arrested.) Raise your chest off the floor. Try not to lead with your neck. Hold for 2 seconds, 8 to 12 reps.
    1. Put your hands out in front of you (this is the starting point for the superman.)
  4. Reverse Ab Curls – Lay on your back, trying to flatten it onto the floor. Put your hands out to your sides, palms down for stability. Bring your knees towards your chest then kick your feet back out straight. This is very good to strengthen the lower V part of your abs. 15 to 20 reps, 3 sets.
    1. Straight legs is the progression. Kick your straight legs up.
  5. Dead Bugs – Laying on your back (this variation demonstration, I’ve seen a lot of different ones depending on who I’m watching) we’re going to go opposite arm to opposite knee. From fully extended left leg, bend and bring the knee towards the chest. At the same time bring your right arm from behind your head to up and towards your chest. Try to keep your lower back flat and abs engaged. 10 reps per side, 3 sets. Take a break for 1 to 2 minutes between sets.

On the Dead Bug I like to do one side first, then move on to the other side as I’m clumsy when it comes to left and right.

My Suggestions

The bridge, dead bug, and superman are all core components of my training program. Glute Awakening and 5-ish minute abs are both designed to help with lower back pain. The butt falls asleep from sitting all day as do the abs. We’re in weird positions when seated. Strengthen the butt and strengthen the core to help create a cylinder for the low back.

5-ish minute abs is 30 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest between each exercise for a total of 8 rounds (you do each exercise twice.)

Glute awakening I would shoot for 12-20 reps per exercise (and per side in the case of the clamshells and band walks) for 3 sets. I do glute awakening after any active stretching as a warm up and 5-ish minute abs at the end of a routine (before the cool down.)

5ish minute absGlute Awakening

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