Your sofa and your desk chair might be cozy, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to body aches. Whether you’ve been sitting on them for long periods of time or have been going hard in your HIIT workouts, you could be like the majority of the world and have... dun-dun-dun... lower back pain. The solution? Adopting a lower back pain workout plan can help you prevent or ease some of that dreaded spinal stiffness.
Your back can get achey for a bunch of different reasons. One common cause, however, is being seated at your WFH station all day, every day. It leads to a bad recipe for your muscles: Hunching unnaturally lengthens the muscles in your back, causing them to grow long and weak, while muscles on the front of your body — like your abs and hip flexors — become short and tight, explains Michelle Parolini, certified personal trainer and senior master coach at Row House. So your poor back is left with little support to sustain a comfortable upright posture.
This is where your exercise routine comes in. “Movements to strengthen the core, build mobility in the joints, and flexibility in the muscles will support the back muscles and help ease lower back pain,” Parolini tells Bustle. Essentially, the right fitness regimen will build up the muscle groups surrounding your lower back to give it a support system for holding itself in its proper place... which means no more pain.
Ready to save that spine? Below, browse seven fitness trainer-approved workouts to ease lower back pain so your aches can be a thing of the past.
1. Hip-Opening Mobility Flow
Fun fact: Your hips are the foundation to your lower back, says Austin Martinez, certified athletic trainer and director of education for StretchLab. When you have tight, weak hip muscles, they can pull on your low back to cause irritation. “Just like a house, when a foundation is not strong, there are potential problems that can arise,” he explains. To help relieve tight hips and pave the way for less back tension, try his six-minute mobility flow to open things up:
- Standing hip-controlled articular rotations (CARs) (five reps per side). Lift one knee up to hip height, then open your knee to the side. Hold your knee in place as you lift your lower leg in line with your knee. Lower your knee next to your standing leg, then move through that same circle in reverse to come back to standing. Switch sides and repeat.
- Hold a frog squat for 30 seconds.
- Seated internal hip rotation (10 reps per side). Lie with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Then slowly lower one knee down to the ground in between your legs to stretch through your outer hip. Switch sides and repeat.
- Pigeon pose (hold for 30 seconds per side)
- Shin box: Extend your left leg out to a 45 degree angle and bend your right knee to bring your foot to your left inner thigh. Then bend your left leg so your left calf is pointing behind you. Lean forward and hold that position for 20 seconds. Then lean backwards and hold that position for another 20 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
2. Massage, Mobility, & Stability
If your hips are riddled with tension, try this routine from WRKOUT senior trainer Marc Meny to promote mobility and stability in those joints. Perform the moves individually if you need a quick break, or do them together to target all aspects of hip health in one sweat sesh — and reap the added perk of less lower back pain.
- Foam roll your glutes and the outside of your hips to massage tight muscles.
- Segmental cat-cow pose: Start on all fours. Pretend you have a tail and tilt your pelvis to tuck it between your legs and then stick it out.
- Hip CARs (five reps per side)
- Thoracic rotations (three to four reps per side): Start on all fours. Bring your right hand behind your head like you’re doing a sit-up, then drive your hips back slightly. Crunch your right elbow to the opposite side. Lift your right elbow towards the ceiling and hold for a few seconds between every crunch.
- DNS star pattern (eight reps per side). Start in a supported side plank with your knees bent and touching the ground. Lift your top knee to hover. Then lower your hip back and down to touch the ground. Lift, hold for a few seconds, and repeat. Switch sides.
3. Yoga Poses For Lower Back Pain
Though your instinct might be to rest when you’re achey, activity can actually help loosen up the stiff muscles that are to blame for your spinal woes, says Alexis Perkins, founder and creative director of Chair One Fitness, a platform with chair exercise programs for people who have complications standing during workouts. This is true with yoga, which she says can help stretch and strengthen your back and the surrounding muscles with low-impact moves. Pick your favorite flow, or sample her favorite poses to ease lower back pain below.
- Hold child’s pose for eight deep breaths.
- Cat-cow pose. Inhale for cat, exhale for cow. Repeat as long as you’d like.
4. Pilates For Lower Back Pain
Pilates strengthens your core and boosts muscle flexibility and stability all at once to help support good posture, says Perkins. Find a virtual class on YouTube or your preferred fitness platform, or try her recommended moves below to get a feel for the fitness modality. The best part? You can do an entire Pilates session without standing up.
- Glute bridge (three sets of eight to 10 reps)
- Pelvic tilt: Lie with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tilt your pelvis to flatten your lower back to the ground. Repeat for three sets of eight to 10 reps.
- Hold a hamstring stretch for at least 30 seconds per side. Lift one leg in the air, then using your hands or a towel, keep your lifted leg straight as you gently pull it closer to your chest.
5. Standing Strength
Building strength in your back, hips, glutes, and hamstrings can prime your body for better posture and, as a result, less back pain, says Parolini. Power through her standing strength training session once to wake up those muscles, or complete a few circuits after a marathon workday.
- Eight good mornings
- Bodyweight squat with a lateral reach (eight reps per side)
- Alternating reverse lunge with a rotation (eight reps per side)
- Runner’s lunge with a spinal extension (eight reps per side). Find a runner’s lunge position, then use your back muscles to hold your torso in place while extending both arms behind you.
- Repeat the entire sequence three times through.
6. Prone Strength
Want to squeeze in some strength training, but don’t feel like standing up? No problem, says Parolini. Do each of the exercises in her belly-down strength circuit below for a mini-workout, or three times through for a full-length back-building session.
- Bird dog (five reps per side)
- Five supermans
- Hold child’s pose for five deep breaths.
- Hold a forearm plank for five deep breaths.
- Repeat the entire sequence three times through.
7. Supine Strength
If you’re ready for more after Parolini’s belly-down workout, just flip over onto your back to try her supine strength session below. This workout also includes some stretching for your backside, which can help bring weak, stiff muscles back into balance.
-Five pelvic tilts into glute bridge. Lie with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tilt your pelvis to flatten your lower back to the ground, then lift into a glute bridge.
- Heel dips (five reps per side). Start in reverse tabletop position with your knees bent 90 degrees and stacked over your hips. Seal your low back to the ground, then lower one heel at a time to touch the ground. Lift back up and repeat on the other side.
- Supine spinal twist (five reps per side). Lie with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly lower both knees to the left side, then squeeze your core to lift your knees back to center. Repeat on the other side.
- Hold a hamstring stretch for at least 30 seconds per side.
de Sousa, C. (2019). Lower limb muscle strength in patients with low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6454257/
Gordon, R. (2016). A Systematic Review of the Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain. Healthcare. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934575/
Austin Martinez, MS, CSCS, ATC, certified athletic trainer and director of education for StretchLab
Marc Meny, senior TRNR at WRKOUT virtual personal training platform
Michelle Parolini, AFAA, NASM-certified personal trainer and senior master coach at Row House
Alexis Perkins, founder and creative director of Chair One Fitness