Simple Back Exercises
For A Strong, Pain-Free Back
The best prevention and cure for back pain. Try these back exercises as part of your core workout.
Most back pain is caused by a weakness in your core muscles (abs, back and pelvis). So exercising your back only forms part of your core workout.
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Back exercises are very important. We tend to forget about our back, maybe it's "out of sight, out of mind".
All the focus is on abs/stomach, that's the first thing we see in the mirror each morning. I'm sure if we had eyes in the back of our heads, we would focus just as much on our back!
Well all the info about core exercises should have convinced you that doing an even spread of ab and back exercises, is important for many reasons. Keeping your spine pain-free and safe from injury is a life long process.
Let me add a little more incentive. The muscles of your upper and lower back carry huge muscle mass. This means that when you strengthen and tone them, your metabolism will increase faster, helping to burn more fat.
Great! Let's get down to the back exercises.
Back Exercises - Your Circuit Workout
Circuits are the best way to get the most effective workout. Circuit workouts are simply a series of different exercises, one after the next (with short rests, 10 to 30 seconds, between each exercise).
You may decide to create a circuit from these back exercises, then another circuit for your ab exercises. Or you could create a circuit with a mix of ab and back exercises. Either way, make sure you do an equal amount of both.
Please see your health professional before doing any exercise if you have an injury, or a history of back injury.
Always remember your
warm up and cool down
with any workout.
If you don't have any back pain or injury, you can go straight to the main exercises for your back. If you do suffer from back pain, or haven't done any exercise for more than 1 month, then read on.
Back Exercises For Back Pain
Any exercise specifically working your back should be done with slow, controlled movements. But you need to take extra care after injury. Not only with how you do each exercise, but also with which exercises you do.
Before you do the main back strengthening exercises, you should focus on progressive exercises that work your deep muscles. After injury (or inactivity) these muscles are severely weakened.
You have to "re-train" your brain to activate these deep stabilising muscles, before you strengthen the larger superficial muscles.
If your back pain/injury is serious, your health professionals will work with you to provide a progressive back exercise program.
Here are some progressive back exercises you can do at home: (Work from the top down)Relaxing the superficial core muscles..
You need to let your superficial muscles (ones closest to your skin) relax, which will then let you move on to the next exercise. After injury, your brain "forgets" your deep muscles and uses the superficial ones as stabilisers. But they aren't designed for that purpose and essentially don't provide any stability without the deep muscles, leaving your spine exposed to more pain and injury.
Relaxing those muscles after an injury can be tricky. Your brain wants to use them all the time, which is exactly what we don't want. Take your time, let your brain re-learn not to use them for initial stability. Lie on an exercise mat in the following positions (head supported with a pillow) and focus on relaxing:
- On your back, both knees slightly bent, both feet flat on the floor.
- On your back, right knee bent (right foot flat on the floor), left leg straight and relaxed on the floor. Repeat with left knee bent.
- On your side (your back straight), legs together and knees slightly bent. Repeat on your opposite side.Contracting the deep core muscles..
With your superficial muscles relaxed, now focus on contracting your deep core muscles. You can pin-point these by coughing. Lie in the same positions as above, focus on holding the contraction for 2 seconds in each position.
This is the same exercise as "Deep Muscle Contraction" (described in "Core Exercises"). Progress as is described there, but take it very slow. Teaching your brain to contract these deep core muscles again, is the basis of your recovery.Foot raise (whilst lying)..
Lie on your back, right knee bent (right foot flat on the floor), left leg straight and relaxed on the floor. Slightly lift your left foot off the floor and hold for 2 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times. Repeat with your right foot.Knee lift on ab ball..
Sit on the centre of the ab ball, your back straight, both feet flat on the floor. Slightly raise your right knee so your foot is off the floor, hold for 2 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times. Repeat with your left knee.Chair leans..
Sit near the edge of a solid chair (e.g. dining chair), your back straight, knees at a right angle, feet flat on the floor. Making sure your back stays straight, lean forward slightly (about 30 degrees), hold for 2 seconds and relax. Repeat 2 times.
Then lean backward slightly, hold for 2 seconds and relax. Repeat 2 times. Focus on keeping your core balance when you lean back, don't use your arms (keep them by your sides).Sitting to standing..
Sit on the edge of a solid chair, your back straight, left knee at right angle with left foot flat on the floor, right knee bent further so your right foot is under your bottom, with toes bent (ready to push off). Keeping your back straight, contract your deep core muscles, and push off very slowly with your right thigh to a standing position. Again keeping your back straight, come back down very slowly to sitting. Repeat 3 times. Repeat with your left knee bent further (pushing off with your left thigh).
Focus on contracting your deep muscles without using the superficial muscles. Don't rush to move on, you'll risk further injury.
Consult your health professional before moving on to the main back strengthening exercises.
Back Exercises For Core Strength And Stability
The following back exercises will strengthen the muscles in your upper back, lower back or your bottom. Each movement should be slow and controlled.
With back exercises involving free-weights (dumbbells), start with an easy weight and build from there. Never over-load your back with weights you can't handle.
Here are the main back exercises:Dumbbell Pullovers (upper back).. Lie across a bench holding the dumbbell over your chest with both hands (elbows slightly bent). Keep your back neutral, head still and both feet flat on the floor. Lower the dumbbell back and behind your head (inhale), then slowly bring it back up (exhale). Repeat 10-15 times.Dumbbell Row (upper back).. Position your left hand and knee on the bench, right foot flat on the floor (knee slightly bent), your back straight and deep core muscles braced. Hold the dumbbell in your right hand (palm facing in). Start with your arm straight, lift the dumbbell up to your hip (keeping your elbow close to your body and exhale), then back down (inhale). Repeat 10 times. Repeat with your left arm.Bent Over Lateral Raises (upper and lower back).. Holding a dumbbell in each hand (weight should be less than the first 2 exercises), stand with both feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent. Bend forward at your hips (body near horizontal), keep your back straight and neck in line with your back (you should end up with your bottom sticking out). Lift both arms out to the side (your elbows should come in line with your shoulders and exhale), then slowly back down (inhale). Repeat 10 times.Pull Up Exercises (upper and lower back).. Grip the pull-up (or any) bar with palms facing forward (with more fingers and less palm). Bend your knees, rest one foot on the other and hang with straight arms. Lift your body up until your chin is above the bar (exhale). During the lift, drive your elbows down, keep your shoulders back and your eyes fixed on the bar. Then slowly come back down (inhale).Lower Back Rotation (lower back).. Lie on your back, arms out to the sides with palms up, knees bent up together and feet off the ground. Keep your shoulders down and head looking straight up throughout. Rotate by bringing your knees down towards the right, then back up and down towards the left. Repeat 10 times.Lower Back and Hams Stretch (lower back).. Lie on your back, arms and legs relaxed on the floor. Lift your right leg up (with a slight bend at the knee), simultaneously lifting your head up, and using your hands to bring your knee towards your head, then back down. Repeat with your left leg. Repeat 5 times.Dumbbell Side Bends (lower back).. Stand with feet together, hold a dumbbell above your head with both hands. Keep an equal distance between your head and arms throughout (i.e. don't collapse either arm on to your head). Bend down to your right side and back up, then down to your left and back up. Repeat 5 times.Reverse Leg Lifts (lower back).. Lie face forward on a bench with your hips coming off the end (i.e. only your body is on the bench). Keep your shoulders back, and grip the underside with your hands. Start with your legs together, toes bent on the floor. Lift both legs up and apart, as far up as you can, then bring them back down and together. Repeat 5 times.Lower Back Extension (lower back).. Lie face down on a mat, toes bent on the floor and hands by your sides. Keep your chin down and toes on the floor throughout. Use your lower back to slowly lift your chest slightly off the floor. Hold for 2 seconds and slowly come back down. Repeat 10 times.Wide Squat (bottom).. Stand with feet wide apart, toes facing forward. Push your hips back and squat down (keep your back neutral and bend at your knees). Contract your bottom to come back up. Repeat 15 times.Split Squat (bottom and thighs).. Stand with your right foot forward, left foot back, toes facing forward. Keeping your feet still, bend your knees so your hips go straight down. Contract your bottom and right thigh to come back up. Repeat 10 times. Repeat with your left foot forward.
You can progress this to a step squat. Start by standing with both feet together, step back into a split squat (described above), then lift back up to the starting position.Wall Squats (lower back, bottom and thighs).. Stand with your feet about 50cm away from the wall, bottom resting on the wall, and hips bent slightly forward so your back is off the wall (and neutral). Keeping your back steady, slide your bottom down the wall until your knees are at right angles. Hold for 3 seconds and slide back up. Repeat 5 times.
You can progress with an exercise ball. Stand with the ball between your lower back and wall. This time, keep your back upright, so that it rolls down the ball as you bend your knees.Final Word
Remember, these back exercises are to be done as a circuit workout. So you shouldn't be doing hundreds of repetitions of anything. You can make your circuit harder by reducing the amount of rest between each exercise.
Pick 5 or 6 back exercises in any 1 circuit. They will be enough to give you a good workout. Experiment by doing different exercises each week, and in different orders. Try to include a mix of dumbbell back exercises, back stretches and squats.
Keep that back pain away by doing ab and back exercises to build your core strength. Forget "no pain, no gain", and think "muscle gain = no pain"!
You can overcome back pain. And when you do, stick to these back exercises to keep the pain away.
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Check Out Other
Back Exercise Pictures
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Go to The Exercise Directory from Back Exercises.
Return to Better-Exercise-Fitness-For-Life Home from Back Exercises.