How to Strengthen Your Lower Back and Ensure Good Posture for Life

Photo: Stocksy / Jovo Jovanovic
When it comes to strengthening and toning, some parts of the body get all the attention. Entire classes are devoted to abs, glutes, and arms, but lower back? Not so much. "It's not one of those muscles we think about often," certified personal trainer and Love Sweat Fitness founder Katie Dunlop, CPT, CSN, says. "It's kind of forgotten about!"

But Dunlop says not showing your lower back some love in the form of strengthening moves would be a mistake. "It's so important because it's key for having good posture, mobility, and having the ability to sit, stand, and move properly throughout the day, she says. Often, Dunlop says, we take our lower back support for granted, but if something goes wrong, it hurts. "Because it's at the base of the spinal column, it's really the foundation to the body's support system," she says, emphasizing the reason why it's important to keep it strong.

Experts In This Article

Not just one thing causes lower back pain. "There are a variety of reasons that people suffer from lower back pain," says Taylor Phillips, an Equinox and Equinox+ pilates instructor. "From more severe issues such as arthritis and disc herniations to postural issues that weaken the muscles of the lower back." If you're dealing with intense or prolonged back pain, be sure to reach out to your doctor for advice. But, if you're just looking for some moves to keep your back strong and prevent pain, we've got you covered.

Exercising your back keeps those muscles strong, which can help prevent pain.

"In this day and age, we tend to spend a lot of time sitting," says Philips. This puts our lower back in a certain amount of flexion that weakens the muscles that are integral to good posture and maintaining a strong core. If you're suffering from back pain or having issues lifting moderate weight or completing daily tasks without pain, it's likely that you have a weak lower back. Really everyone can benefit by strengthening this area."

Below, you'll find moves that don't require any equipment or a ton of space, so you can do them at home or in your hotel room. Your posture is about to be so damn good.

Want to know how to strengthen your lower back? Keep reading for the moves.

1. Vacuuming

This type of vacuuming has nothing to do with cleaning your house, but it will put your lower back to work. "When it comes to strengthening the lower back, focusing on your transverse abs—which are wrapped around the midline of your body—is one of the best ways to do it," Dunlop says. "These muscles are really key in supporting your spine and lower back." While people often towards crunches for their transverse abs, she says people can inadvertently throw out their lower back if their core isn't strong enough. Enter the "vacuum."

How to do it: In a standing position, take a deep breath and draw your belly button in towards your spine, "contracting and engaging your ab muscles as you do so," Dunlop says. "Imagine if someone was going to come up and punch you in the stomach and you want your gut to be hard and able to take it; that's what it should feel like." Hold it, and release slowly. Repeat a few more times.

Looking for more back-strengthening moves? Check out our Trainer of the Month Club vid on that *exact* topic: 

2. Bridge pose

Dunlop says working your glutes pulls double-duty for back strength, too. "The gluteus maximus is one of three muscles that wrap into the glutes and is really the strongest and largest muscle in the entire body," she says. "They're responsible for all our movement, which is why strengthening them really helps your lower back." Typically, squats are the go-to glutes move, but Dunlop prefers bridge pose for people building their lower back strength.

How to do it: Lay on your back, with knees bent and feet planted firmly on the floor. Slowly lift your hips up until your lower back is completely off the ground and your pelvis is parallel to the ground. Hold for a few seconds before carefully lowering back down. Repeat. "This strengthens your glutes without putting as much pressure on your lower back as squats," Dunlop says.

3. Swan pose

"Swan pose is a fantastic exercise for strengthening the entire musculature of the back, primarily the erector spinae which are the big muscles that run along the entire back," says Philips.

How to do it: Start lying on your stomach with your hands either folded under your forehead or, to up the difficulty, behind your head. "Creating a light brace to your core and keeping your feet anchored. you lift the torso up hovering above the ground approximately three inches," says Philips. "I like to repeat this exercise 10x and add small pulses for 10."

4. Donkey kicks

This is another glutes workout move that Dunlop says doubles as a lower-back helper.

How to do it: Get down on your hands and knees, with your hands directly over your shoulders. Raise up your right leg, keeping your knee at a 90-degree angle, until your leg is parallel to the ground. Slowly lower it back down to the ground. Repeat for 90 seconds, then switch legs.

Here's what a proper donkey kick looks like IRL: 

5. Side fore-arm plank

A side plant works your entire core, which includes your back, but really focuses on your obliques, which hug your sides. "Working the side body is often overlooked and can be an important part of strengthening the back and alleviating pain," says Philips.

How to do it: Start laying on your side with one forearm down. Your legs can be stacked one on top of the other (most challenging), staggered with your top foot in front of your bottom foot (intermediate), or with your bottom shin remaining on the ground. Keeping your shoulder lifted up and out of the socket, instead of slouching into it, lift and lower your hips 10 times "imagining you're up against a wall so that head, hips, and legs are in one long line," says Philips.

6. Reverse lunges

"As long as your posture is correct, reverse lunges are another good move for lower-back strength," Dunlop says.

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-length apart. Move your right leg back while bending your left knee forward and lowering your hips, stopping when your back knee is bent in a 90-degree angle, and your front knee is in line with your ankle. Hold for one second, and then slowly come back to the starting position. Repeat for 90 seconds, then switch legs.

7. Superman

The last major lower-back strengthening move Dunlop recommends adding to your workout routine is the Superman, which she says engages the entire backside of the body without putting too much pressure on your lower back. "This move you'll definitely feel in your lower back, and it also engages your glutes, shoulders, and upper back muscles," she says.

How to do it: Lay flat on your stomach, with your arms straight out in front of you and your legs going straight back behind you. Lift your arms and legs a few inches up off the floor. Hold for 30 seconds before coming back down. Repeat.

Something to keep in mind

When it comes to all of these moves, Dunlop says it's important to listen to your body and not push too hard if your lower back is feeling sore. "These moves are pretty gentle to the lower back, but as always, it's important to pay attention to the messages your body is sending you," she says. As long as you keep that in mind while you do these moves, you'll reap the rewards in the form of better posture and movement.

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