Editor’s Note: Think you don’t have time for a workout? Join Stephanie Mansour for a five-part series of quick strength workouts and start feeling better, five minutes at a time. This is Part II.
Low back pain, whether acute or chronic, can be a struggle for many people. In fact, about 80% of people have complained about low back pain at one point in their lives, research has shown.
Remember the days when you reported to an office? Back pain is the second most common reason for missing work behind catching a cold.
Now that many of us are able to work from home, it’s possible that our low back pain is still lingering untreated and even exacerbated due to awkward work-from-home positions, like being curled up in bed responding to emails or sitting at our dining room tables for Zoom meetings.
We previously focused on a five-minute workout to help with neck pain and tension headaches, but now we’re giving some attention to the lower part of the spine.
The five vertebrae that comprise the lumbar spine are generally where people complain of low back pain. Each of the exercises in this five-minute workout help stabilize the lumbar spine. In addition, each of these exercises focuses on engayging the opposing muscles of the low back, the abdominals. Activating the abs aids in relieving pain in the lumbar region by training the body to engage the opposing region.
Breathe in through the nose and breathe out through your mouth as you work your way through the routine. Let’s get started!
This exercise works the transverse abdominis, the deepest ab muscle that helps support the low back, and also works with multifidus muscles, the ones that run along the spine. By strengthening the front of the body and properly engaging the back of the body, the body overall learns how to properly move with less pain.
Sitting up tall on a Pilates or yoga mat, reach your arms out in front of you as high as your shoulders. Open the feet as wide as the hips. Pull the naval in toward the spine and slowly roll down halfway back toward the ground.
Relax the shoulders. Keep the abdominals engaged. Exhale through the mouth as you roll back, and then inhale through the nose as you bring yourself up to a seated position.
Pull the naval toward your spine even as you sit up straight. Repeat this 10 times.
This activity is sometimes called the quintessential back exercise because it not only requires the back to engage, but also requires proper alignment in order to maintain the exercise. It’s a whole-body exercise that trains the entire spine to fall into its proper place.
Come onto your hands and knees, opening up the hands as wide as the shoulders and the knees as wide as the hips. Pull the abs in and step the feet back to come up into a plank position. Make sure the shoulders stay over the wrists and you spread the fingers out wide.
Keep your back flat — try not to allow the back to sag or round — and hold this for 10 seconds.
Repeat this three times and work up to repeating this 10 times.
Superwoman / superman
This exercise engages the entire back of the body, from the upper back to the bottom of the legs. Lifting up into this position teaches the back to work together in tandem, with the shoulders lifting up the arms and the glutes, hamstrings and muscles of the back working to lift the legs.
Lie on the mat on your stomach and reach the arms forward and legs back. Open the legs as wide as the hips and the arms as wide as the shoulders. Pull the belly button in away from the ground to engage the abs.
Relax the shoulders as you reach the arms up off of the ground and squeeze the quads as you lift the legs off the ground.
Avoid putting too much pressure on the low back by ensuring that the abdominals stay contracted. The entire muscles of the back of the body, from the calves all the way up to the upper back muscles, will be engaged.
Hold for a breath, and then release down. Repeat 10 times.
This exercise trains the back of the body to work in opposition to improve balance and spinal strength and mobility.
Similar to the superwoman or superman exercise, you’ll start by lying down on your stomach. This time, instead of reaching up both arms and legs at the same time, you’ll lift up the right arm and the left leg off the ground. Pull the abs in, and then alternate.
Relax the right arm and left leg; lift the left arm and right leg. Alternate as if you’re swimming through water for 30 seconds.
This exercise challenges the low back and core to stabilize while the lower part of the legs are moving. Keep the hips steady as you lift each foot off the ground. You can even place your hands on your hips to ensure that they are staying stationary.
Lying on your back, bend your knees, and open your feet as wide as your hips. Relax the arms by your sides. Pull the naval in toward the spine as if you’re zipping into a tight pair of pants.
Slowly roll the hips so that you lift up your low back off the ground and then your middle back. Press down through the feet. Then lift the right foot off the ground as if you’re beginning to march.
Place the right foot down and lift the left foot. Repeat this march 10 times on each side.
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This five-minute low back strengthening workout can be performed daily. By just using your body weight and strategic movements, you’ll be training your low back to engage properly whether you’re sitting, standing, twisting or exercising.
Stephanie Mansour, host of “Step It Up With Steph” on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.