Floor Exercises for the Lower Back - dummies

By LaReine Chabut

Most lower-back exercises — particularly those appropriate for beginners — don’t involve free weights or machines. Usually, it’s just you and the floor. Here’s what you can accomplish without any equipment at all:

  • Real-life benefits: Sitting puts your spine under a lot of pressure, much more pressure than if you stood all day, and it particularly compresses your lower spine. That’s why your lower back feels sore after a day in front of the computer. When your back muscles are weak, you tend to slouch or arch your back, which places the spine under even more stress.

    In addition to strengthening and stretching your lower back on a regular basis, you should get up a few minutes every hour when you’re sitting throughout the day.

  • Injury prevention: Ironically, even people with chronic lower-back pain tend to neglect lower-back exercises, often because they’re afraid of inflicting even more damage. Also, while people have gotten the message that abdominal exercises help alleviate back pain, many don’t realize that lower-back exercises are equally important in this pursuit.

    When one of these sets of muscles is stronger or more flexible than the other, your posture is thrown off kilter, and you’re more prone to back pain. This scenario is common.

  • The “feel good” factor: Strengthening your lower back helps you stand up straight, which, in turn, makes you look taller, makes you look as much as 5 pounds slimmer, and gives you a more confident, commanding presence.

Pelvic tilt

The pelvic tilt is a subtle move that focuses on your lower back but also emphasizes your abdominals. This is a good exercise to do if you have a history of lower-back problems. The pelvic tilt restores mobility to tight or stiff muscles and heightens body awareness of the muscles of the lower back. It’s also a great warm-up exercise for more strenuous core training.

[Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne]
Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne

Getting set

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Rest your arms wherever they’re most comfortable. Start with your pelvis in a level position with the natural curve in your lower spine.

The exercise

As you exhale, draw your abdominals in toward your spine and gently press your back down, tilting your pelvis backward. Don’t tilt your head up and back or hunch your shoulders. As you inhale, return your pelvis to a level position. This is a small move that you feel as you tilt your pelvis.

Do’s and don’ts

  • DO keep your head, neck, and shoulders relaxed.

  • DON’T lift your lower back off the floor as you tilt your pelvis up.

  • DON’T arch your back off the floor when you lower your hips back down.

Other options

Chair tilt (easier): Lie on your back and place your heels up on the seat of a chair with your knees bent at a right angle and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Then perform the exercise exactly as the basic version.

Bridge (harder): At the top of the pelvic tilt, continue peeling your spine off the floor until only your shoulder blades and shoulders remain on the floor. Work hard to keep your abdominals pulled inward to prevent your back from sagging. Hold a moment and slowly lower your body downward.

Back extension

The back extension strengthens your lower-back muscles. Performing this exercise on a regular basis may help reduce lower-back pain.

Use caution if you have a history of back problems or if your lower back is bothering you right now.

Getting set

Lie on your stomach with arms straight out in front of you, palms down, and legs straight out behind you. Pull your abs in, as if you’re trying to create a small space between your stomach and the floor. Your forehead can be slightly lifted off the floor keeping your gaze straight down toward the floor.

Rest your forehead on the floor in between repetitions to relax your neck.

[Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne]
Credit: Photograph by Nick Horne

The exercise

Lift your right arm and left leg a couple inches off the floor and stretch out as much as you can. Hold this position for five slow counts, lower back down, and then repeat the same move with your left arm and right leg. Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed the set.

Do’s and don’ts

  • DO exhale as you lift and inhale as you lower.

  • DO pretend as if you’re trying to touch something with your toes and fingertips that’s just out of reach.

  • DO pay special attention to how your lower back feels.

  • DON’T lift your arms or legs more than a few inches.

  • DON’T arch your lower back.

Other options

Sequential back extension (easier): If the basic version of the back extension bothers your lower back, lift and lower your right arm, and then lift and lower your left leg.

Kneeling opposite extension (easier): Kneeling on your hands and knees, extend your right arm out in front of you and your left leg out behind you. This version places less stress on the lower back and is an excellent modification for those new to lower-back training and those who feel lower-back discomfort when doing back-extension exercises.

Same-side back extension (harder): Do the same exercise while lifting your right arm and right leg at the same time.