If you want to get stronger and ward off injury, a strong core is key. But it’s not just about abs exercises—a lower back workout is also an important addition to your routine, since those muscles are part of your core too.
Your lower back consists of a group of muscles called the erector spinae muscles, which help hold your body upright, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong With Sivan in Baltimore, tells SELF. “You use your lower back muscles in your day-to-day, when you are walking or simply standing,” she says. “Your erector spinae contract isometrically to keep your body from flexing forward.”
A strong core—including those lower back muscles—is also important when talking about lower back pain or discomfort. In fact, people who complain about tightness in their lower back might not actually have “tight” muscles, says Fagan. Their lower back muscles might be weak instead.
This lower back workout created by Fagan will help build lower back strength—though it may not exactly seem that way. In some of the exercises, you’ll be working your lower back muscles dynamically through movement, but in others you’ll be working them isometrically through a contraction without movement. So not all of the exercises will look (or feel) like “back” exercises. Instead, you’ll probably consider some of them (mainly, the squat and deadlift) more lower body moves.
There’s a reason for this: Big, compound moves like the squat and deadlift require serious core strength to complete. That’s because all of your core muscles need to fire to stabilize your body to safely move the weight and resist the forward bend of your spine, Fagan says. It’s also why the cue “engage your core” is super important when you’re lifting weights.
Your lower body muscles like quads, hamstrings, and glutes will be the primary players in those moves—and that’s mostly where you should feel it—but your lower back muscles will still be firing too. In fact, if you do feel exercises like the squat or deadlift in your lower back, something’s not quite right. In many cases, you might be using too much weight, and your lower back needs to come in to assist your lower body muscles a little too much. In this case, reduce the weight, says Fagan.
This lower back workout is a great routine to add to your program to build balanced strength throughout your body, says Fagan. But if you have preexisting back pain or other back issues, you should talk with your doctor or physical therapist before you give it a shot. Back pain is very individualized, says Fagan, and the same exercises that make someone else feel better may aggravate your pain. So if you have issues with back pain, it’s best to check in with a pro first.
What you need: A moderate-weight kettlebell and an exercise mat for comfort. If you don’t have a kettlebell, you can complete the weighted moves with a pair of dumbbells instead.
- Romanian deadlift
- Goblet squat
- Bear crawl
- Complete 8–12 reps of each exercise in circuit fashion, going from one to the next without rest. Rest for 1–2 minutes after you’ve completed all four exercises. Complete the circuit two times total.
Demoing the moves below are Amanda Wheeler (GIF 1), a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength; Angie Coleman (GIFs 2 and 3), a holistic wellness coach in Oakland; and Shauna Harrison (GIF 4), a Bay Area–based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF.