Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of factors. Acute back pain begins suddenly and is commonly caused by a specific event like a fall or a blow, or bending over to pick up something that's heavy. Chronic back pain gradually worsens over time and is commonly caused by overuse, or an abnormal level of stress placed on the back that causes problems as time goes by.
Back pain affects nearly everyone. Both men and women experience back pain at the same rate, and according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 80 percent of adults will experience low back pain at some point throughout their life.
Thankfully, exercise can help alleviate some cases of back pain. People who are not physically fit are more likely to experience back pain because their core muscles are not able to properly support their spine. Muscle tightness in the hips and back can cause the spine to become misaligned and experience greater stress. If the glutes or hamstrings become too tight, for example, they can pull on the pelvis and cause it to tilt slightly back, which places that greater strain on the lower back and eventually causes pain.
People who prioritize regular physical activity and incorporate moderate intensity exercise and flexibility work into their daily routines, however, have a reduced risk of suffering from painful back injuries.
The Back Workout: What It Entails
This back workout features both strengthening and flexibility exercises to simultaneously build endurance and improve elasticity in the muscles surrounding your hips and spine. Over time, your muscles will be better able to hold your hips and spine in proper alignment. By improving flexibility, you'll prevent muscle imbalances.
Frequency: How Often You Should Do The Back Workout
For best results, incorporate this workout into your routine at least three days per week. The more frequently you do the workout, the more significant gains in endurance and flexibility you'll experience. The workout isn't intense enough to overload the muscles or require days of rest, so you can safely do the workout seven days a week if you'd like. If you opt for the minimum of three days per week, it's a good ideal to spread the sessions evenly throughout the week so that you don't have more than three days off in between workouts.
Workout Volume: How Many Reps
Begin by completing one set of each stretch and strengthening exercise. For strengthening exercises, do 12 to 15 reps for each set. For stretching movements, hold each stretch for 30 seconds. You don't need to rest at all between exercises; go immediately into the next exercise until all 10 exercises are done. Once you feel comfortable, bump it up to two sets of each stretch and strengthening exercise.
Exercises: The Workout
#1 Knee to Chest (Stretch)
Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift one knee and use your hands to pull it in toward your chest until you feel a stretch. Keep your other foot flat on the floor. Hold the stretch, and then return the foot back to the ground and switch sides.
#2 Wig Wags (Exercise)
Works: Obliques, Glutes
Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold your arms out to your side with your palms facing down. Slowly rotate your legs to twist to the left until the side of your left knee taps the floor, and then twist back to center. Next, slowly rotate your legs to the right until the side of your right knee taps the floor, and then twist back to center to complete the one rep. To increase the intensity of the exercise, complete the exercise with your feet held slightly up off the floor.
#3 Partial Crunch (Exercise)
Works: Abdominals, Hip Flexors
Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Set your arms on the floor beside your torso with your palms facing down. Curl your shoulders up and in toward your stomach, allowing your hands to slide along the floor toward your feet. Once your fingers reach level with your heels, lower your shoulders back to the floor to complete the rep.
#4 Bridge (Exercise)
Works: Glutes, Quads, Hamstrings
Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Set your arms down on the mat beside your torso with your palms facing the ground. Lift your hips up off the floor by pushing into the floor with your heels. Continue up until your torso and thighs create a straight line, and then lower your hips back down to the mat to finish the rep.
#5 Pelvic Tilt (Exercise)
Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Set your arms on the floor beside your torso with palms facing down. From this position, there should be a natural arch in your lower back. Push the small of your back into the mat to get rid of that arch and hold the position for three seconds. Relax to allow your lower back to arch again and complete the rep.
#6 Cat and Camel Back (Stretch)
Targets: Spinal Muscles, Abdominals
Get on your hands and knees on an exercise mat. Relax your neck to allow your head to droop toward the floor. Round your back up toward the ceiling until you feel the muscles along your spine stretch. Hold for time and then return to starting position. Next, press your stomach toward the floor while lifting your buttocks toward the ceiling to cause your back to sway until you feel a stretch in your abs. Hold for time.
#7 Quadruped Arm and Leg Raise (Exercise)
Works: Glutes, Spinal Muscles
Begin on your hands and knees on an exercise mat. Simultaneously lift your right arm forward and extend your left leg backward until both limbs are parallel to the floor. Hold a second before returning to starting position. On the next rep, switch limbs so that you're lifting your left arm forward and extending your right leg backward.
#8 Plank (Exercise)
Works: Abdominals, Hip Flexors
Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat with your elbows on the floor directly below your shoulders. Engage your abs as you lift your torso and thighs off the mat so that your weight is on your elbows and toes. Your torso and thighs should create a straight line. Rather than reps, you complete the plank for time. Hold your body in this position for 30 to 60 seconds and then relax and lower your body down to the floor.
#9 Gluteal Stretch (Stretch)
Lie on your back on an exercise mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Cross one lower leg over the thigh of the other leg. Reach forward with your hands and grip the thigh of your lower leg with both hands. Pull the thigh toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the glute of the crossed leg. Hold the stretch for time.
#10 Supported Standing Hamstring Stretch (Stretch)
Stand and place the heel of one extended leg atop the seat of a chair. Lean forward at the waist and reach toward your toes with both hands until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Hold the position for time and then switch legs.