What To Do To Strengthen Your Back

What To Do To Strengthen Your Back

Back pain is a very common complaint of people starting around age 30 or 40. As a matter of fact, it has become one of the reasons why people frequent pain clinics and family doctors. And yet, some of us tend to dismiss early manifestations and end up experiencing them. I don't know about you, but if I have a way to prevent something that would cause me pain, I'd certainly do it without a doubt. And guess what, there are many ways to reduce the occurrence and risk of back pains. One, by strengthening your back. 

Why strengthen your back muscles?

Our back muscles, along with our bones, ligaments, and other parts of the neuromuscular and skeletal system, are involved in every move we make. The nervous system includes the spinal nerves that bring the message to the muscles and the brain, which sends out the signals. One group of several muscles in the back termed "Erector Spinae" along with the side muscles (External Obliques) and front muscles (Rectus Abdominus) make up the core. Yes, while most people assume that Rectus Abdominus, commonly known as "the abs" as the only core muscles of our bodies, it is more than that. Sure, our abs is a major aspect of the core, but the core anatomy includes the front and back muscles as well. Together, they wrap around and support the body and help our bodies bear the stress of daily movements, like when we bend, extend twist, and turn.

Going back to the question, "Why strengthen your back muscles?" Well, besides reducing the risk of back pains as we grow older, if we make our back muscles strong, we are essentially preparing our core and help it function well for everyday activities. 

Strengthening your back can also protect you from injury

Have you heard that 80% of adults are expected to experience back pain at least once in their lifetime? Yes, statistics have proven that. It occurs with equal frequency in both sexes and commonly between the ages of 30 and 50.

If you think about it, the back muscle group is part of the core. If it is strong, it will be able to support the weight of the entire body without exerting a lot of effort. By adding back strengthening exercises to your daily routine, you'll also be less likely to be prone to injury.

What To Do To Strengthen Your Back

There are a lot of ways to strengthen your back. Here are some exercises that can help build and strengthen the core muscles to protect the spine from injury and prevent back pain. 

Abdominal Bracing

Abdominal bracing is a type of exercise designed to contract the muscles of the abdomen in a systematic way to stabilize and strengthen the spine. The steps to accomplish abdominal bracing are as follows:

  • Get a yoga mat or find anything that you can use to lie your back safely and comfortably.
  • Lie on your back and keep your knees bent at about shoulder-width apart. This is the resting position.
  • Place your hands on your knees.
  • Lift one side of your knee and push with the hand to provide resistance.
  • Hold that position for at least five seconds before returning to the resting position.
  • Repeat the steps above on the opposite leg and hand.
  • Continue for a total of 20 repetitions, alternating from one leg to the other.

See the video demonstration below: 



The Alternate Squat Workout

You probably have heard about several types of squat exercises, such as those used by performance athletes and weightlifters. But, don't worry, this version of squat does not involve lifting heavy barbells or other very challenging steps that may not be safe for those with an acute back injury. Instead, this is a simpler version that you can perform while sitting on a bed or on a proper height chair.

The alternate squat exercise will help you safely build core muscles as well as your leg strength. It will also help protect your back from unnecessary injuries.

  • Sit on the edge of a bed or a stable, proper-height chair.
  • Put your arms across and over your chest, as if grabbing your shoulders.
  • Slowly rise to a standing position while keeping your fingers touching your shoulders.
  • Do this while keeping your back, shoulders, and neck in a line.
  • Then, slowly bring yourself back down to the bed or chair, and assume a sitting position.
  • You should feel the muscles in your legs and buttocks while doing the previous steps.
  • Perform two to three sets consisting of 10 squats each set. 

See the video demonstration below: 



The Bridge Exercise

This exercise called the bridge is designed to help strengthen the muscles not just in the back, but also in the buttocks and the hamstrings.

  • Start by lying on your back on a yoga mat.
  • Relax with your knees bent and the feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Use the muscles of your back and buttocks to gently and slowly raise your hips while keeping your shoulders touching the floor.
  • Remain in this position for up to five seconds.
  • Return to the beginning position.
  • Repeat these steps for two to three sets of 10 reps each.

See the video demonstration below:  


The Hip Crossover Stretch

The hip crossover stretch helps strengthen the back muscles by releasing tightness and stretching the piriformis muscle, or the flat, band-like muscles in the buttocks located near the top of the hip joint. A weak piriformis muscle usually contributes to pain in the lower back, so it only makes sense that strengthening it can be a good pain prevention strategy. To do the hip crossover stretch :

  • Lie down on the floor using a yoga mat.
  • Face up and keep your knees bent with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Then, cross one of your ankle (either right or left) over your opposite knee.
  • Use your hands to slowly pull the opposite knee towards your left shoulder.
  • Maintain this position for up to 30 seconds. Doing this will allow you to feel a stretch in your buttocks and hips.
  • Do the steps above for three times on each side.

See the video demonstration below:  


Additional Back Strengthening Exercises

Aside from the most common exercises listed above, here are other back strengthening exercises categorized into two sections, the ones for lower back and the other set for the upper back. 

Lower Back Strengthening Exercises

Lower back pain is common, especially to ageing individuals. As a matter of fact, the Government of Canada estimated that approximately one in three Canadian seniors lives with chronic pain. 

Doing lower back strengthening exercises can help prevent this from happening and at least alleviate existing soreness or other symptoms. It will strengthen not just the lower back muscles but also the core, the leg, and the arm muscles.

Studies say that it can also promote blood circulation in the lower back area resulting in less muscle stiffness and faster recovery or healing process.

Below are exercises that strengthen the lower back:

Flying Superman Pose

Superman pose is a popular yoga exercise that incorporates most muscles at the back as well as the abdominals. This pose ensures that the muscles are worked against gravity. 

The muscles worked include the back (extensors), buttocks, hips, and shoulders. To perform the superman pose:

  • Find a flat surface and set up your yoga mat.
  • Lie on your stomach. This is the starting position.
  • Extend your arms out in front of you and your legs straight.
  • Then, assume a flying superman pose by raising your hands and feet off the ground approximately five to six inches, or until you feel a stretch in your lower back.
  • If you are able to do the steps above without problems, you can try to engage your core muscles as well.
  • Do this by slightly lifting your chest and thighs off the floor as well.
  • Reach further above with your hands and feet and feel the pull on both ends.
  • As you perform these steps, be sure to look at the floor to avoid neck strain.
  • Hold the flying superman pose for 2 seconds.
  • Return to the neutral or starting position.
  • Repeat five to ten times as tolerated.



This yoga pose/exercise targets your back extensors, which run along the spine. These muscles help us maintain an upright position when sitting or walking, support your spine when we turn or bend, guide the pelvic bones, and allow us to arch our back.

The Cat Stretch

Have you seen a cat stretching or arching its back after waking up? If you haven't, it's okay. But, did you know that almost every time they come out of deep slumber, they stretch to get their muscles (especially their back muscles) moving again after periods of inactivity? Whether cats are sleeping or sitting calmly, their blood pressure drops, and their muscles relax. The same is true for us humans, and stretching can help to reverse these—raising the blood pressure a bit and getting the muscles active. Because, if the muscles become inactive for a long time, the tension in the area may build up. 

So, if you want to keep your muscles active, the cat stretch can help. It can strengthen the back and ease tension in the muscles.

To do the cat stretch exercise:

  • Lie down on your yoga mat or any flat, safe surface. This is the neutral position.
  • Get onto your hands and knees while keeping the knees hip-width apart.
  • Slowly arch your back upwards, as if pulling your belly button towards the spine.
  • Then, relax your muscles and allow your abdomen to move towards the floor.
  • Return to the neutral position.
  • Repeat the steps above for about three to five times, once or twice a day.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of the cat stretch exercise:



Bent-Knee Side Roll Exercise

Here's another exercise that can relieve lower back tension. Some call this bent-knee side roll, and some call it lower back rotational stretch. 

This exercise can help relieve pain and tension in the trunk or lower back. It also improves core muscles to improve stability.

To perform the Bent-Knee Side Roll Exercise:

  • Get a yoga mat or find a flat surface to perform your warm up exercises.
  • Lie back on the floor.
  • Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground. This is the neutral position.
  • Gently roll both of your bent knees to one side while keeping your shoulders firmly touching the ground.
  • Hold that position for five to ten seconds.
  • Return to the neutral position.
  • Now, gently roll your bent knees over to the opposite side.
  • Hold that position again for five to ten seconds.
  • And then return to the neutral position.
  • Repeat the steps above for up to three times a day on each side.

Upper Back Strengthening Exercises

Often overlooked, but equally important muscles in the body, are those of the upper back. Why? Because the upper back muscles work together to allow us to move. They support the scapula anteriorly and laterally when we lift objects, push something, throw a basketball for instance, or do punching motions.

But these muscles are still easy to skimp on since a lot of us focus toning the lower back to avoid the ever hated lower back pains or because we are focusing on the more impressive muscles, such as the core or the biceps on your legs or arms. However, just because there are other muscles that "seem" more important or can't easily be noticed, it doesn't mean we should pass on strengthening the upper back by working outs.

Here are some of the best workouts that can be performed to strengthen the upper back muscles:

Simple arm raises

This exercise does strengthens not only the upper back muscles but also improves the shoulders' range of motion. If correctly executed along with exercises to stabilize the lower back, it can also help strengthen the postural muscles like the abdominal muscles.

The simple arm exercise is also appropriate for seniors and the elderly since it is designed to be safe yet challenging. So, if you are an older adult looking to establish a daily exercise regimen or workout routine, you can add this because it is best to start off with a simple exercise.

To perform the simple arm raises:

  • Get a yoga mat or pick a flat surface to perform your warm up exercises.
  • Lie back on the floor with your knees bent.
  • Keep your low back relaxed and put both of your arms on your sides. This is the starting position.
  • Lift one of your arms off the floor, as if you are reaching for the ceiling. It should be in an upward position.
  • Hold it for fifteen to twenty seconds. 
  • Return to starting position.
  • Now lift your other arm and keep it up for 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Repeat for ten times on each arm.

See the video below for a demonstration on how to perform the simple arm raises:  

Shoulder Roll Exercise

Upper back strengthening exercises don't need to be complicated. You can even exercise while sitting on a chair. 

The shoulder roll is one of the easy seated exercises to preserve upper body strength. Here's why:

  • Shoulder rolls can help you retain the functionality of your shoulder, including doing a full range of motion.
  • It can help keep the upper back muscles strong and help you do actions like removing upper body clothing, reaching for a high shelf, and stretching across easier.

Here's how you do a shoulder roll exercise:

  • Get a supportive chair, but avoid soft upholstery.
  • Sit and take up a comfortable position.
  • Gently raise your shoulders up, then towards the back, and down again, like a circular motion.
  • Inhale as you raise your shoulders, and exhale as you bring them downwards.
  • Repeat that same motion for ten times before relaxing.
  • Do the steps above again for ten times but in a forward circular motion. 



The Wall Angel Exercise

Here is another exercise to strengthen your upper back—the wall angel exercise. This exercise will help in opening up rounded or tight shoulders and improve rotation, and shoulder mobility.

To do a wall angel exercise: 

  • Lean up against the wall.
  • Keep your body, including your head, upper back, tailbone, and heels aligned properly.
  • You can walk your feet out as long as you can to maintain balance so you won't fall over while doing the exercise.
  • Tuck your chin in.
  • If you find it hard to tuck your chin in with your head against the wall, you can use a small towel behind your head.
  • Now, place your hands up on the wall and create around a 90-degree angle in your elbows.
  • Raise your arms up, bringing your elbows toward your head.
  • Do this while keeping the back of your hand, touching the wall.
  • But, do not let your shoulders go up.
  • Take a deep breath once your hands reach the top.
  • Pull your shoulders in a downward position after taking a breath.
  • Repeat these steps for five to ten times as long as you can tolerate it.

Watch the video below for a demonstration. 


If you feel pain, stop at once or try to do the exercise while lying on the ground. 

Strengthen Your Back

The prevalence of chronic pain increases steadily with age in adults, making back disorders and pains a major health issue for older adults. 


If any of the exercises or yoga posts make your back pain worse, or if new symptoms show up, stop doing these exercises at once until you receive further evaluation. Your doctor or primary care provider may need to rule out other factors associated with your condition or more serious causes of your lower or upper back pain.

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Applied Science Nutrition strongly suggests that you consult your family physician before trying any of the exercises listed above. Our site only offers fitness, health, and nutritional information. The articles are for educational purposes only and must not be used as a replacement nor a substitute for a professional medical advice, treatment plan, or diagnosis.

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