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