About 31 million Americans have lower back pain at any given point in time. As a country, we spend about $50 billion each year on back pain and sciatica.
So what can we do about all these tweaked backs? To combat lower back pain, doctors recommend better posture and stretching and strengthening exercise. We asked Pilates and fitness expert, Kim MacKenzie, to recommend 5 of the best back exercises to prevent lower back pain. Kim is a pioneer in the health and fitness world – not only is she Miss Norway 2014, but she’s also a WEGO health advocate that promotes healthy body images in girls and raises awareness about eating disorders.
This year’s Miss Norwary is also the President of The Body Archer Back Stretching Chair, which is a core strengthening chair that you can use as a desk chair and as a tool for stretching and strengthening your lower back.
Back Exercise 1: Back Extension
This exercise is great for strengthening the muscles of the back without too much exertion.
Primary Muscular Focus: Spinal Extensors, Core, Glutes
~ Lying prone, face down, inhale.
~ Exhale engage your core.
~ Inhale, lifting your chest and legs off the ground, arching the back into extension.
~ Exhale, lower back to start position.
~ Repeat 5-7x
While back is in extension…
~ Inhale and open your arms into a “T”, aligned with your shoulders
~ Exhale and squeeze your arms into your sides, engaging your lats (back muscles)
Back Exercise 2: Bridging
If your lower back ever felt “tight,” then this exercise is for you! Bridging focuses on spinal articulation, which will help stretch those vertebrae giving you relief from a tight lower back.
Primary Muscular Focus: Hamstrings, Glutes, Core, Paraspinals
~ Lie face up on the floor, with your knees bent and feet planted on the floor. Inhale to prepare.
~~ Exhale and slowly tuck your pelvis.
~ Continue to roll your spine off the floor, lifting your hips, while keeping your upper back and shoulder blades on the floor.
~ Inhale to hold at the top of the bridge.
~ Exhale, roll down your spine one vertebrae at a time onto the floor back to start position.
~ Repeat 5-7x
Back Exercise 3: Plank
This is one of the best exercises to strengthen your entire body. Just make sure you do this exercise right by tucking the pelvis a whole lot, in order to keep your low back from sagging, which would do what you don’t want – put the pressure in your lower back.
Primary Muscular Focus: Core, Pectorals, Scapular Stabilizers, Latissimus Dorsi
~ Facing the ground, clasp your hands in front of your face, placing your forearms on the ground in the form of a “V.”
~ Walk your feet back into a plank position, keeping your shoulders directly over your hands, with your pelvis tucked, core engaged, and body aligned.
~ Hold and breathe for at least 10 long breaths, pulling in your stomach and tucking your pelvis more with every exhale.
Back Exercise 4: Downward Dog
A lot of times, low back pain can result from tight hamstrings. In Downward Dog, you’re not only able to stretch your back and strengthen your arms, but you’re also able to stretch your hamstrings.
Primary Muscular Focus: Spine Stretch, Shoulder Stabilizers, Hamstrings
~ Standing upright, place your hands on the ground, walking your hands out in front of your feet about two to three feet.
~ Lifting your butt up to the sky, press your heels down into the ground. (If they can’t touch, that’s totally fine, just enjoy the stretch.)
Back Exercise 5: Full Back Body Arch Stretch
Back-bending has numerous effects on your body, increased circulation and flexibility, improved posture, enhanced energy, and it strengthens your back! Relax into this stretch throughout the day. If you don’t have a Body Archer, you can try back-bending over an exercise ball or other rounded surface.
Primary Muscular Focus: Spine Flexibility, Core, Chest, and Psoas
~ Sit on the rocking edge of The Body Archer, about 4-5 inches away from the edge, with your feet firmly planted on the floor, and your knees bent.
~ Inhale, tucking your pelvis, as you slowly roll your spine onto The Body Archer, making sure that the spine is comfortably matching the arch of The Body Archer (or whatever curved surface you are using), keeping the knees bent.
~ Press your feet into the floor, straightening your legs, to rock The Body Archer backward to deepen the stretch.
~ Reach your arms above your head, relaxing into the stretch.
~ Hold stretch and breathe for a minimum of 10 long breaths.