Low-back pain and stiffness are among the most common muscular-skeletal complaints in America. Not surprising given the main risk factors, excess abdominal weight and prolonged sitting, apply to a wide swath of the population. Reversing those two risk factors certainly can go a long way to alleviating the discomfort. But, more should be done, in addition to trimming the waist and sitting less, to heal and keep potential back issues at bay.
Here are three simple, time-friendly, no-equipment-necessary exercise sets you can do to improve your lower back health. Click on the exercise names to link to written and visual instructions from ACE Fitness.
1) PROMOTE BACK STABILITY
The tiny muscles that run along the spine of the lower back aren’t designed to do anything more than stabilize the spine. As such, the best way to make sure these muscles are in tip-top shape to do their job is to train them to stabilize. The bonus is, exercises that stabilize the low-back muscles also strengthen the abdominal muscles, which assist the back muscles in stabilizing the entire lower torso. Do two sets of one or more of the following back stabilizing-abdominal strengthening exercises three to six days every week:
2) STRENGTHEN SUPPORTING MUSCLES
While the low-back muscles are meant to stabilize, the adjacent muscles of the hips and thighs are meant to move, lift and carry. If these muscles are weak, the low-back muscles try to absorb some of the work, leading to strains, tightness and pain. Specifically, the quadriceps (front of thighs) and glutes (back of hips) need to be strong to stave off low-back pain. Prolonged sitting weakens the quadriceps and glute muscles. Perform two sets of as many repetitions as you can of one or more of the following quadriceps and glute strengthening exercises two to three times per week on non-consecutive days:
3) LENGTHEN OPPOSING MUSCLES
If it’s true strong front thigh and rear hip muscles support a healthy low-back, then it’s also true that flexibility in the opposing muscles – rear thigh and front hip – is equally necessary. Without sufficient flexibility in the hamstrings (rear thigh) and hip flexors (front hip), hip mobility is compromised, forcing the low-back to flex and extend during movement – another contributor to low-back irritation. Prolonged sitting leads to muscle shortening, or tightening, of the hamstrings and hip flexors. Perform two sets of the following flexibility exercises at the conclusion of every stabilizing and/or strengthening exercise session from above. Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds:
It’s important to remember not all back issues are caused by weak and tight muscles. The root of some back problems are structural, such as conditions like spinal stenosis and scoliosis or disc injuries like hernias and compressions. These can be diagnosed only by a medical professional. If you have chronic back pain, I recommend consulting a physician before trying any of these exercises on your own.
But, if your back issues are, like most, caused by lifestyle habits, you can take control of your back health by doing just a handful of exercises most days a week. Do them while listening to a podcast or catching up on your favorite Netflix series. Your lower back can be fitter and you’ll be much happier with a minimal investment of your time and energy.