FitnessU: 5 lower back exercises to strengthen your core

Many people think about the abdomen when they think about the core. The core is actually comprised of several muscle groups that surround the torso and hip, including the lower back. A strong core allows us to stabilize our bodies, transfer force between our lower and upper extremities, and move efficiently.

The lower back, like much of our body, includes both deep and superficial (surface) muscles. These include the erector spinae, multifidus, and latissimus dorsi. Here are five exercises to engage primarily the lower back segment of the core:

1. Cat Stretch

Place both hands and knees on the floor. Arms and thighs should be parallel. This is called the quadruped position. From there, breathe in deeply as you sink your lower back and raise your head and hips. Then breathe out completely as you do the opposite—raise your lower back and sink your head and hips. To visualize this movement, imagine that a string is attached through the bellybutton. Pulling the string from the top will raise the lower back whereas pulling the string from the bottom will sink the lower back. Repeat this movement for 10 deep, complete breaths.

2. Bird-dog

Obtain the quadruped position. Simultaneously lift and extend one arm and the opposite side leg away from the body. From the hand to the foot you should form a straight line that is parallel with the floor. After pausing for a brief moment, return that arm and leg to the floor and repeat on the opposite side. Perform 2-3 sets of 10-12 total repetitions (5-6 each side).

3. Superman

Lie face-down on the floor with your arms extended overhead. Perform this exercise on a padded surface or carpet to reduce any discomfort. With thumbs up, lift your arms and legs off the floor so that only the hips remain on the floor. Hold this position for 5-15 seconds for 5-10 repetitions depending on your fitness level.

4. Stability ball back extensions

Kneel on the floor with your hips and upper body resting over a stability ball. With hands either to the side or behind the head, extend your hips into the ball to lift the upper body. Tuck your chin to help keep from producing momentum and excessive hyperextension. Take your time and maintain control throughout this movement. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

5. Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts (RDLs)

Stand with both feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Start with either a light weight or no weight to ensure proper technique. Keeping only a slight bend in the knees, perform the hip hinge by pushing your hips back to lower the upper body rather than bending forward. This cue will help keep the back in a neutral, straight position to avoid unwanted strain. Once the dumbbells reach about knee-height, push the hips in to raise the upper body and return to the starting position. Perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions.