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11 exercises to strengthen your back and reduce pain

Strengthening your posterior chain is one of the most effective tools in your arsenal to prevent back pain.
The Cobra pose is a great way to stretch your back and work on mobility of the spine.
The Cobra pose is a great way to stretch your back and work on mobility of the spine.Getty Images

Back pain: the bane of a lot of our existence, right? As we get older, more and more of us will notice that pesky back pain creeping in — especially if you spend a lot of time in your car, at your desk or hunched over your phone. The good news is that there’s something you can do about it!

Strengthening your back through exercise is one of the best tools in combating and preventing back pain and weakness. You can use these bodyweight exercises to help you strengthen and tone your back muscles and improve your quality of life by reducing pain.

Plank exercise

Plank

Come onto your hands and knees, with your hands under the shoulders and the knees under the hips. Pull the abs in and step the feet back to come up into a plank position. Make sure the shoulders stay over the wrists and you spread the fingers out wide. Keep your back flat and try not to allow it to sag or round. Keep your abs drawn in to support your back.

superman exercise

Supermans

This exercise engages the entire back of the body, from the upper back to the bottom of the legs. Lifting up into this position teaches the posterior muscles to work together in tandem, with the shoulders lifting up the arms and the glutes, hamstrings and back working to lift the legs. Lie on your stomach and reach the arms forward and legs back. Open the legs as wide as the hips and the arms as wide as the shoulders. Pull the belly button in away from the ground to engage the abs. Relax the shoulders as you reach the arms up off of the ground and squeeze the quads as you lift the legs off the ground. Avoid putting too much pressure on the low back by ensuring that the abdominals stay contracted. All the muscles in the back of the body, from the calves to the upper back, will be engaged.


Superman Pulls exercise

Superman pulls

Start this move just like your standard Superman, lying on your stomach and reaching your arms forward, with legs extended behind you. Squeeze your glutes and low back as you raise your arms and legs off the floor. Then, pull your elbows back, squeezing your shoulder blades together and forming a “W” shape with your arms. Mimicking a pull-up motion, extend your arms straight out, and engage your back muscles to pull your arms back toward your chest. Repeat.

Swimmers exercise

Swimmers

This exercise trains the back of the body to work in opposition to improve balance and spinal strength and mobility. Similar to the Superman exercise, you’ll start by lying down on your stomach. This time, instead of reaching up both arms and legs at the same time, you’ll lift up the right arm and the left leg off the ground. Then alternate, lifting the left arm and the right leg off the ground. Continue alternating, being sure to pull the abs in the entire time.


Reverse snow angels exercise

Reverse snow angels

No, you don’t have to head outside to do this one, but who knew that something as fun as making a snow angel — albeit a reverse one — could be an effective bodyweight back exercise? To get started, get into a superman position. Then, slowly move your arms, first out to the sides and then straight back, down the side of the body until they touch your torso. Then slowly move in reverse back into the starting position. Repeat.


good morning exercise

Good mornings 

Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your hands placed behind your head. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and your core muscles engaged. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale, hinge forward at the hips and lower your chest toward the ground, so that your body forms an upside-down “L” shape. Stop when you feel a slight stretch in the back of the hamstrings. If you feel any pain or uncomfortable pulling, you’ve lowered too far! Slowly move back into a standing position on your exhale. Repeat.

Glute bridges exercise

Glute bridges

Lie on your back with your head resting on the floor. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms on the floor and bend your knees so your heels are under your knees. Slowly raise your hips in the direction of the ceiling. When you are fully extended, hold the pose for ten seconds. While holding the pose, squeeze your glutes — butt muscles — together as well. Also, pull your navel in towards your spine and make sure that your shoulders are relaxed with your shoulder blades still on the floor. Lower your hips and repeat the exercise. To make the move more effective, don’t touch the floor in between reps. 

Marching bridge exercise

Marching bridge

This exercise challenges the low back and core to stabilize while the lower part of the legs are moving. Keep the hips steady as you lift each foot off the ground. You can even place your hands on your hips to ensure that they are staying stationary. Lying on your back, bend your knees, and open your feet as wide as your hips. Relax the arms by your sides. Pull the naval in toward the spine as if you’re zipping into a tight pair of pants. Slowly roll the hips so that you lift up your low back off the ground and then your middle back. Press down through the feet, then lift the right foot off the ground as if you’re beginning to march.


Alternate Limb Raises exercises

Alternate limb raises

Get on the floor on all fours. Keeping your hands directly under your shoulders, bend your elbows and align your knees under your hips. Try to ensure that your body forms a straight line and that you pull your shoulder blades down and in. Keeping your back as straight as possible, extend your right arm forward and your left leg back. Feel the back of your right arm and shoulder as well as the back of your left leg tightening. You’ll probably feel the glute burning a little bit as it fires up! Hold the pose for between five and ten seconds and then lower yourself back into the starting position. Repeat on the other side. 

Cobra exercise

Cobra

Place your hands alongside your chest and push an imaginary marble forward with your nose to lift up your head, neck and chest. Press down firmly through your hands and hug your elbows in towards your sides. Pull your navel in towards your spine and press your thighs down into the ground. Bring the shoulders back and lift the chin up. Take a deep breath in, and then rest.


Squats exercise

Squats

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed forward. (As you move through the exercise, be mindful that your knees never go forward past your toes.) Keep your chest up and make sure not to tilt your head down. Pull your navel in toward your spine to engage your core. Bend at the hips and knees while keeping your heels and toes on the floor. Slowly sit back into a squat position with your chest up, your shoulders back and abs in. Make sure that your knees are not crossing over your toes, and that you are as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. Straighten your legs by pressing into your heels to stand back up. Squeeze your glutes at the top, tilting your pelvis forward.