The lower back is often ignored when we are younger, but it’s an area that can be problematic with age. The supports that affect back strength are the stomach, hip flexors and hamstrings. Stretching and exercising key muscles help keep the back strong. Columbia University’s health writers recommend the following strengthening and stretching exercises. In addition, yoga programs are beneficial for improving the strength and flexibility of the lower back.
Lie on your stomach with your hands palm-down and even with your chest. Lift your chest off the floor while keeping the hips and legs flat. Make sure your back muscles are contracting and doing most of the work, with assist from your arms. Keep your head aligned with the spine, not up or down. When your arms are straight, pause for a couple of seconds and then return to the starting position. Practice until you can do three sets of eight to twelve reps, and rest briefly between sets.
Stretching is beneficial to the lower back. Make sure the muscles are warmed up before beginning, and remember that stretching is a slow, controlled movement and not a “bouncy” one. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and pull the knees up to the chest. Support your legs underneath by placing your arms around your lower hamstrings. You can do one knee at a time or both together.
Lie on your back while keeping your shoulders in contact with the floor. Move your right knee to your chest and then stretch it cross-wise toward your left shoulder. Reverse the process with your left knee.
Get on your hands and knees, and lift your head up while letting your spine sag. Then, lower your head while arching your spine. Alternate back and forth. Lean back onto your heels and hold the position with your head down and arms extended.
Lay on your back with your hands placed loosely behind your head. Curl your upper back off the floor, keeping your lower back in place. Your abdominal muscles should be contracting as you do this stretch. Form is important when doing this exercise, so try not to pull or put pressure on your head with your arms as you do it. Exercise slowly, and coordinate your breathing by inhaling on the way down, and exhaling on the way up.
This exercise stretches your hip-flexor. Get into a standing lunge position, with your right knee 90 degrees from the body and directly over your ankle and foot. Place both hands on the floor to support your weight while you lower your hips down toward the floor. Alternate your legs and repeat.
Keeping your hamstrings stretched reduces stress on your lower back. Lie on your back and keep both knees bent and both feet on the floor. Raise and straighten your leg while keeping your hips on the floor. Put your hands on the back of the leg below the knee and draw the leg toward your chest. Make sure your leg is straight. This will increase your range of motion over time.