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Strengthen Your Lower Back

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Photo by Borislav Dopudja

Photo by Borislav Dopudja

A strong back has long been admired and desired as the basis of power. The main concern of both athletes and non-athletes alike is lower back pain. One way to avoid or alleviate it is to strengthen all the muscles of your back, which hold together the vertebrae and ensure that the disks remain in place.

A major muscle group involved in extension movements is attached to the vertebrae is called the erector spinae. It consists the iliocostalis, multifidus, longissimus dorsi and semispinalis dorsi.

Keep in mind that the abdominal muscles, including the external obliques, are crucial for forward, bending movements of the spine.

There's probably no other area of the body more involved in major work and exercise on a regular basis than your back, and if you're going to build the rest of your body, you can't leave your back behind.

Extensors: 1) Erector Spinae Group; Lateral Flexors: 2) Quadratus Lumborum, 3) Intertransversarii; Rotators: 4) External Obliques, 5) Multifidus

Extensors: 1) Erector Spinae Group; Lateral Flexors: 2) Quadratus Lumborum, 3) Intertransversarii; Rotators: 4) External Obliques, 5) Multifidus

Kinesiology & Physiology

Be aware of the actions taking place. Do not do any quick or snapping movements, especially if they involve flexing or extending the lumbar spine. To avoid injury do back extensions slowly.

If you have back pain or a history of back trouble, get the go-ahead from your physician first.

  • Warm up first. Break a light sweat with light exercise before stretching.
  • Stretch. Gently. Stretching is not an Olympic event. Relax and stay comfortable and perform slow, fluid movements.
  • Never bounce. This can irritate or tighten muscles further. When you reach the end point of motion, hold for 10-60 seconds.
  • Breathe easy. Breathe gently (never hold your breath).


Back Extension AKA Back Raises

This is the most commonly used exercise for the back. Treat it as an important maintenance exercise. Its primary function is to prevent lower-back injuries as it strengthens and develops the spinal erectors.

There are several important points to keep in mind with this exercise. First, when you mount the hyper extension bench make sure your bellybutton is resting on the padded cushion, rather than above it. When your bellybutton is in front of the board, your glutes and hamstrings will start taking over the workload from those low back extensors. Secure your feet under the rear pads or have a partner hold them down.

Next, as you begin to lower your torso, do not keep you spine perfectly straight and rigid. Bending your spine will activate the low back much more directly. When you make your spine extra firm, you'll actually be bringing into play your hip muscles.

Also, there's no need to go to a 90-degree decline position. After 70 degrees of movement, the low back muscles are not working any more, so you can stop there and come up. When you go to that 90-degree position, there's a tendency for you to create bodily inertia and therefore swing back up. This will bypass the spinal erectors' involvement substantially.

Hyperextension Demonstration

Good Mornings

This exercise is related to the deadlift. However, in this case you start in a standing position with a barbell across your shoulders as you would with a squat, but don't have anywhere near as much weight as you would for a squat.

You then lock your back in the lordotic position and lean forward from the hips until your trunk is parallel to the floor. You then rise up and return to the standing position. In this exercise the back remains in an isometric contraction. In essence, the upper body remains rigid while the axis is in the hip joint.

To do this exercise most effectively, you must have ample flexibility in the hip joint, to allow you to get into this position. When you pull up, however, there will be extremely high compression forces on the spine. Because of this, this exercise has been severely criticized. There are a lot of physical therapists who think you can trash a disc in your back by doing this exercise. If you do it very rapidly they're right; otherwise, when it's done in a controlled manner and slowly their fears are unfounded.

Good Morning Demonstration


Deadlifts are similar to squats, in that they are one of the three or four most valuable basic exercises. Along with squats and bench presses, deadlifts make up the three competitive powerlifts. Deadlifts place very strong stress on all of the back muscle groups, hip and thigh muscles and gripping muscles of the forearms. It's unexcelled for adding thickness, density and incredible strength to the lower back region.

In the correct execution of this exercise you must bend the knees, keep the back arched and bend over from the hips until your arms can reach the barbell. You then rise up, keeping the back firm, and use knee joint and hip joint extension. As your legs are reaching full extension, you should then add some additional hip joint extension to bring the body up into the erect standing position. There could also be some slight back arching. In this exercise the back remains under essentially an isometric contraction.

The most important part of the movement is the upward pull. As you begin to yank the bar off the floor, it is absolutely crucial to make sure that your back is straight and locked into place, while your head looks upward. This distributes equal stress over the entire length of the spine. If you round out or arch your back during the upward pull, your discs that lie between the vertebrae will experience unequal pressure. This can lead to back strain and, in some cases, even rupture a disk.

Deadlift Demonstration

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Tom Foldey on October 02, 2012:

I forgot all about good mornings! What a wonderful exercise and great hub :)

Mae Williams from USA on August 23, 2011:

sending this to my husband! very helpful!

edw4rdcull on June 28, 2011:

Scroll to Continue

will consider this Hub

Jbern117 from Dunmore, PA on April 28, 2011:

Very good advice! I have some lower back problems that are just starting to get better, i'm definitely going to add some of this to my day!!

FirstStepsFitness on July 23, 2010:

Very well written great illustrations !

ChrisCobb from UK on July 21, 2010:

Great page!

Research Analyst on June 11, 2010:

with so many people with back problems it is a good idea to help with strengthening it so that one can not lose so much time off from work or collect disability.

Dixie W from Odessa, Texas on December 26, 2009:

I like all the info here. Thanks

bojanglesk8 on December 14, 2009:

Great hub.

hublim from Scotland on November 26, 2009:

Very informative hub. I have incorporated dead lifts into my routine and cannot remember the last time I felt any back pain.

The development of the lower back is something that many people can miss, particularly with the perfect abs culture where people do endless crunches. Many people develop their abdominal muscles so much they cause an imbalance and their body is pulled forward resulting in lower back pain.

I would also recommend the plank, no equipment required and I works the abdominal and lower back at the same time.

intogadget on November 13, 2009:

the videos say a lot, thanks for the info, im getting my girl to watch these when she gets a chance

Resolver2009 from Bournemouth, UK / Oslo, Norway on August 19, 2009:

well writen, very informative

Rob on July 22, 2009:

Great information about exercises to strengthen the back.

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