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3 Simple and Safe Exercises to Strengthen Your Low Back

Welcome to the Elite Sports Medicine blog! Here we will post informative content to help you lead a happier, healthier life. If you have any suggestions for topics, feel free to let anyone at Elite Sports Medicine know. The information in this blog is not designed to be medical advice and is not a replacement for seeing a health professional.


The vast majority of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Estimates say that around 80-90% of people will suffer from this painful condition at one time or another. While we know that often there is no permanent damage from this back pain, strengthening the back can help to limit and minimize some of these episodes of pain.


You have probably heard at one point or another that “core strengthening” exercises lead to a healthy back. There is some debate about this and which exercises are the best. Luckily, a Canadian researcher named Dr. Stuart McGill, PhD, put a lot of time and effort into this very debate and has given us his 3 recommendations for strengthening exercises for the low back and core that put the least amount of stress and strain on the other structures of the low back such as the intervertebral discs and ligaments. We are going to go over those three exercises and how you can strengthen your low back.


Disclaimer: If you have any concerns about your low back pain, you should visit a local medical professional such as your family physician, chiropractor or physiotherapist.


Exercise #1: The Bird Dog

Start this exercise on all fours, on your hands and knees. You may find it more comfortable to use a yoga mat underneath you. Your lower back should be in a nice and neutral position, not too arched or rounded. It should feel like a table that you can balance a ball on. From here you will extend your right arm to the wall in front of you lifting to about horizontal. At the same time, your left leg will extend towards the wall behind you. Try to ensure that there is minimal movement of your hips and that they are not twisting too much. Hold for a few seconds and come down. Now switch to the opposite arm and leg. You can do this exercise for up to 10 seconds per side before switching to the other side. Aim for 5 holds per side before moving on to the next exercise.


Exercise #2: Side Plank

This exercise will work on your oblique muscles which are on the side of your abdomen. Start by laying on your side with your knees bent and your upper body supported on your elbow. Keep your knees on the ground and lift your hips up off the ground. Try to hold this for 10 - 30 seconds and then switch sides. You can make this more difficult by straightening your legs and lifting your knees off the ground as well.


Exercise #3: Modified Curl-up

Many people know how to do a sit-up or curl-up but this is a safer version of that for your low back. Start lying on your back with one knee bent up and your hands underneath your low back. Your hands will help you keep the natural curves in your low back. From here, lift your head up a few inches off the floor and hold for up to 10 seconds or so. You should feel a good workout in your abdomen but the goal is for the low back to move as little as possible.


Add these 3 exercises to your workout routine to help build a strong, resilient core and low back. With all of these exercises, there are progressions to make them easier or more difficult. If you have any questions, give us a call at Elite Sports Medicine here in Lethbridge to see one of our physiotherapists, chiropractors or massage therapists.

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