It has been estimated that nearly 80% of Americans will suffer from back pain or injury in their lifetimes, making the building of core strength and back muscles an especially important part of any exercise regimen.
Many people who experience back injuries mistakenly think exercise will cause harm, but most physical therapy for strained backs involves limiting bed rest and gently working the muscles to slowly build them up. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons now endorses 10-30 minutes of exercise during the early stages of back pain as helpful for recovery. (Source: Healthline.com.)
If you have back muscle issues, have experienced a back injury, or would like to prevent yourself from ever having to deal with this painful and debilitating problem, there are many workouts fitness experts and physical therapists recommend to help.
Below are 6 types of exercises to build back strength and prevent injury:
1. Leg Raises—
Because abdominal and other core muscles support the back, exercises that strengthen the middle of the body are extremely helpful for those with back pain.
To do a leg raise, lie on the floor with legs out straight, lift one leg slowly in a controlled manner, and hold it for at least 10 seconds. Count to 5 as you lower it to prevent a muscle-pulling sudden movement, and repeat with the other leg.
This exercise can also be done while lying on the stomach and raising legs up behind you, while being careful not to lift too high as this can strain the lower back.
2. Pelvic Tilts—
This is a classic exercise used by physical therapists to strengthen back muscles without exacerbating the injury, but it can be used to prevent injury as well.
To do a pelvic tilt, lie on the floor on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Flatten the stomach muscles into the spine and press the lower back down against the floor for 5-10 seconds.
Repeat this exercise until you feel strong enough to lift the pelvis off the floor while still tightening and engaging abdominal muscles for added core strengthening.
If you can eventually raise the entire body up and grab your heels with your hands, this is called bridge pose in yoga, and is well known for its back-strengthening effects.
3. Use an Exercise Ball—
If your back is not currently injured and can handle not being supported while you sit, an exercise ball is a great way to introduce core-building instability into your workouts, or even into your daily life if you use a ball for seating at work or home.
Sitting on an exercise ball while lifting light free weights is a great way to make the core stronger while working the upper body.
Doing squats with the ball rolling up and down between yourself and the wall can also strengthen back-protecting thigh and gluteus muscles.
4. Start Stretching—
Incorporating a stretching routine into your daily plan is a great idea for everyone, but especially for those with back weakness.
There are many yoga exercises that increase back flexibility, and the more limber the back is, the less likely it is to become injured.
The cobra pose involves lying on the stomach and raising the upper body with the arms straightened to stretch the back while legs remain on the floor.
Another excellent yoga stretch for the back are reclining twists, with legs bent at the knee together, and moved from one side of the body to the other while lying flat on the back.
5. Sit-Ups and Leg-Ups—
Exercises that work the abdominal muscles by partially raising the body while supporting the neck are helpful for back injury prevention, such as partial sit-ups like crunches.
Bending legs together at the knee and reverse crunching the lower body up while you lie flat on your back can also work the core muscles while allowing the upper back to rest.
Raising one knee to the chest at a time while turning slightly during leg and ab crunches can also help involve the oblique/side abdominal muscles to create a brace to support the back.
6. Allover Exercise—
Gentle cardio like walking, swimming and recumbent biking are great for keeping the body flexible and moving to prevent the stiffening that can lead to back injury.
Yoga and Pilates aren’t known for their cardiovascular benefits, but they keep the body limber and strong while eliminating the tension that can lead to tight and strained muscles.
Regular exercise can also promote weight loss which helps the back because extra pounds give the body more to carry around, straining all of the muscles.
Abdominal exercises and other core builders like hip, back and stability-based moves can increase the flexibility and strength of the back to prevent injury while giving you excellent posture and keeping you in great shape. Use some of the helpful back strength-building exercises above to make sure your back stays powerful and permanently pain-free.