Functional Exercises for the Lower Back


The secret to strengthening your lower back? Don’t neglect your abs and glutes. They might not be the obvious body parts to concentrate on if you’re trying to boost your back strength, but research by Ohio State University found that weak muscles deep in the core put pressure on the spine and lead to back problems. These functional exercises focus on muscles deeper in your back – the usual culprits for eventual lower back pain.

Before you start, it’s imperative that we point out that you should always get clearance by your doctor before beginning the exercises below. Lower back problems can appear for different reasons, and the best way to tackle them is still consulting a doctor first. Having said this, here are four exercises to strengthen your lower back.

4 exercises for your lower back

1. Supermans

It’s important to stabilise the spinal joints and support core strength if you want to build your lower back muscles. This functional exercise works muscles from your shoulders to your buttocks, gently strengthening your back extensors (muscles that contract along your spine, helping you sit up and arch your back). Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lie on your stomach, arms extended in front of you and lengthen your legs.
  2. Raise your hands and feet a few inches off the floor. You should feel it in your lower back.
  3. Tighten your core muscles by squeezing in your belly button. Reach out with your hands and feet for a full-body stretch, looking down at the floor to avoid straining your neck.
  4. Hold for a couple of seconds and return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

2. Seated foam roll

Research has shown that SMR – which stands for self-myofascial release – can reduce muscle soreness and increase range of motion. Foam rollers are the way to get this release and are your lower back’s best friend. Grab yourself a roll and practice this move daily to reduce lower back pain.

  1. Place a foam roller under your butt with your feet flat on the floor, just wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your left leg and rest your left ankle on your right knee.
  3. Roll backwards and forwards so that the foam roller moves from the centre of your left glute to the base of your spine.
  4. Continue for around a minute.
  5. Switch legs and repeat.

3. Dead bug core-strengthener

Ever seen a bug frantically trying to flip itself upright after accidently ending up on its back? That’s the idea behind this move’s name (without the desperation, or potential of being eaten by a crow). It’s the perfect exercise to strengthen your core and protect your lower back, without putting strain on it.

  1. Lie flat on your back and raise your arms in front of you, pointed to the ceiling.
  2. Bring your legs up, knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your back as flat against the ground as possible.
  3. Slowly lower your left arm and right leg at the same time, exhaling as you move. When your arm and leg are just above the ground, slowly return them to the starting position.
  4. Repeat with your right arm and left leg for three sets of five to 10 reps.

4. Glute bridges

The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your buttocks and helps with everything from stabilising your hips to aiding back flexibility. Weak glutes can cause back pain – so keep them strong with regular bridges.

  1. Lie on the floor with your feet flat, hip-width apart, and your hands by your sides.
  2. Keeping your hands where they are and shoulders on the floor, press the soles of your feet into the ground and slowly lift your butt off their ground until your torso is in one straight line.
  3. Lower your body back to the starting position with control and rest for 10 seconds.
  4. Repeat 15 reps for three sets.

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