Fitness Article of the Month
April 2001

Build Up Your Lower Back
by: Liz Applegate, PhD

Lower back muscles are overlooked all too often when it comes to fitness, but strengthening them will pay off big farther on down the road.

The lower back muscles help you maintain proper upright posture, as well as flatten and control your abdominal muscles. These functions can become compromised as people age and lead to an assortment of back trouble -- often resulting from excess weight around the midsection and/or a declining fitness level. But even fit individuals like you sometimes suffer from a sore lower back.

As you note, certain activities that involve whole-body motion (particularly those that require a lot of bending at the waist, such as volleyball or daily household/yard activities), give your lower back a workout you feel the next day. Many other popular fitness activities (step aerobics, swimming, kick-boxing, etc.) also call on the lower back muscles in large measure, but most of us don't do any exercises that isolate and strengthen them.

Like you, many of us would rather do a simple back exercise at home than make a trip to the gym -- and you're in luck! Lower back exercises can easily and quickly be done in the home -- or anywhere else with a flat surface, preferably carpeted or covered with an exercise mat.

Here are my favorite lower back exercises. I generally rotate among these three, doing one of them every other day. Each takes only a few minutes:

Leg-arm lifts:
Lie face-down on a flat surface with your legs straight and your arms (palms down) extended straight out beyond your head. Lift all your arms and legs off the ground, keeping them straight. Hold for three seconds, then return to your starting position. Pause just one second, and then go into another lift, again holding for three seconds.
Start with 10 reps and work up to 20 in about two weeks. Once you have the lower-back endurance, you can increase the time you hold each contraction, up to 10 to 15 seconds.
Swimmer's kick:
In the same face-down starting position, lift your straight legs and arms off the ground. In this position, flutter your legs up and down -- just like kicking in the swimming pool -- while keeping them straight (don't bend at the knees).
Do this for 10 seconds, then return to the starting position and rest for five to 10 seconds. Repeat five times. You can increase to 10 reps over a two-week period.
Lower-body lift:
You'll need a sturdy, flat bench. Lie face-down on the bench, with your hips at the end of the bench and your legs together and extending down to the floor from the end of the bench, and your arms wrapped around and holding the underside of the bench. Holding your legs straight and together, use your lower back to lift them off the ground until they're at the same height as the bench. Hold for five seconds, then return to the start position and pause for two seconds. Repeat up to 10 times. This exercise requires more lower back strength than the first two, so incorporate this move only after you've done the others for a few weeks.

Do these exercises for a few short weeks, and you'll feel the difference in your lower back. Better yet, you won't be so sore after your volleyball games.

Liz Applegate is a nationally recognized expert on nutrition and performance, and a faculty member of the nutrition department at the University of California, Davis.

This fitness article is for educational purposes only. It is not medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health-care professionals. Consult your physician before beginning or making changes in your diet, supplements or exercise program, for diagnosis and treatment of illness and injuries, and for advice regarding medications. Thanks. RM

Copyright 2001, Ron McConnell. All rights reserved.
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