Strengthening the Lower Back

A friend of mine said she wants to start riding her bike more, but when she went for a ride recently, she wound up having a sore lower back for several days. This made me wonder what’s the best way to start strengthening a weak lower back without lifting weights.
The best list of exercises I found on the Web is on a University of Chicago Student Care Center page. It describes seven simple exercises, with illustrations lower down on the same page.
Each exercise performed while lying on your back includes the instruction “hold a pelvic tilt while you perform the exercise.” (The pelvic tilt itself is exercise No. 1.) This means keep your lower back pressed against the floor, not letting it arch up at all. If this is difficult, spend more time on the pelvic tilt exercise alone and master it before going on to the others. They won’t be effective, and can add to any aches and pains you’re having, if you can’t keep the lower back flat against the floor while doing them.
Aside from these exercises, the U of C site lists other activities for strengthening the back that include walking, bicycling, swimming, and cross-country skiing. It also lists some exercises and sports to avoid because they can stress the back.
If I were to suggest an exercise program to help my friend work up to longer bike rides, I’d say start by taking walks. While walking, concentrate on keeping your back tall and straight. Instead of letting the lower back sag, hold it up by keeping your abs just a little taut. Flex the butt to pull your body forward as each heel comes down in front of you. Walking up a slight incline can make it easier to feel the pull forward from the heel through the butt. Don’t lean forward or pull through your knees.
At home, work on the pelvic tilt with knees raised as well as with legs flat on the floor. Add the other six exercises to your routine when you can do them while holding the pelvic tilt.
These suggestions come from combining the instruction on the U of C site linked above with what I’ve learned about posture and alignment at Cappy’s Boxing Gym. See a doctor before dramatically increasing your exercise or if you think you have an injury that might make these exercises unsafe for you.

One thought on “Strengthening the Lower Back”

  1. Re: a sore lower back while bike riding, you should also tell your friend that core muscle strengthening in general will alleviate this problem. Specifically, stronger ab muscles will help cure the lower-back pain some people experience while bike riding. It is important to ensure that you work both your abs and your lower back, as the abs stabilize the entire region. A strong core also improves overall performance on the bike by helping reduce fatigue in other areas and allowing for more power to be transferred to the pedals by further stabilizing the upper body.

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