These Are the 16 Best Lower Back Workouts, According to Fitness Pros

Woman working out with lower back exercises

Arm day, leg day, ab day—these are the familiar pillars of strength training. But what about lower back day? Our lower backs are often overlooked, yet they're a crucial part of fitness. Many of us incorporate lower back exercises into our arm, leg, and core-focused routines, but it's time to double-check. Why? Fitness pros emphasize the importance of regular low-back workouts, a critical component that might be missing from your regimen.

"Many of us spend countless hours at a desk, hunched over a computer, not focused on proper posture, and our lower back takes on the majority of that stress," says Anna Kaiser, CPT, the creator of the Anna Kaiser Studios and the person behind a global fitness method embraced by celebrities like Shakira and Kelly Ripa. "If we don't focus on strengthening and conditioning those muscles, we may experience increased pain. We put ourselves more at risk for injury from everyday exercises, and we put the health of our spine at risk."

Who wants that? Probably not you. What are the best lower back exercises? We asked trainers to share their favorite lower back workouts so you can incorporate them into your routine.

Related: Which One Gives You a Better Workout—Barre or Pilates? Trainers Weigh In

What Muscles Are in the Lower Back?

You support numerous critical muscles in the lumbar region when performing lower back workouts. "These muscles work together to provide support, stability and movement to the lower back and contribute to overall spinal health and function," says Katelyn Hissong (BSW Pilates-certified), the founder of the Elevate with Kate app. "Strengthening and conditioning these muscles through targeted exercises can help improve posture, prevent injuries and enhance functional strength."

Hissong says these muscles include:

  • Erector spinae: This group of muscles runs from the base of the skull to the pelvis and helps you maintain the spine's natural curvature and extend the back.

  • Multifidus: These small, deep muscles stabilize the vertebrae and are vital to maintaining spinal stability and posture.

  • Quadratus lumborum. You'll find these deep muscles on both sides of the lumbar spine. One of their main functions is to help stabilize your spine and pelvis.

  • Psoas major. The Psoas Major is primarily a hip flexor muscle that attaches to the lumbar vertebrae and helps you stand, walk and bend forward.

  • Latissimus dorsi. This large muscle is predominantly in the upper back but has attachments to the lower back region. It aids in extending the lumbar spine and often stabilizes the lower back as you move.

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The 16 Best Lower Back Exercises From Trainers

1. Good mornings

Though performed with a barbell on the shoulders, people can also do it bodyweight-only. Mike Julom, CPT, loves it because it builds posterior chain strength, targeting the lower back, glutes and hamstrings.

How to do it:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width and an optional barbell on the shoulders.

  • Hinge at your hips, and lean forward with a straight back.

  • Return to standing.

  • Repeat, keeping your back neutral and avoiding rounding it during each rep.

2. Bird-dog

A mainstay in core workouts, especially postpartum ones, Julom says the bird-dog also targets the lower back and promotes spinal alignment.

How to do it:

  • Get on all fours with the hips and shoulders square to the ground.

  • Extend your opposite arm and leg, keeping hips and shoulders square to the ground.

  • Hold.

  • Switch sides.

  • Repeat.

3. Diagonal bird dog

Kaiser recommends this bird-dog variation because it's "great for a balanced spine" (and balance overall).

How to do it:

  • Start on the floor on all fours.

  • Extend your right arm slightly outside of your right shoulder on the diagonal. Hold it there.

  • Extend your left leg slightly outside of your left shoulder on the diagonal. Hold it there.

  • Maintain a neutral spine by pulling your belly button to your spine — do not arch your back.

  • Round your back while simultaneously bringing your right hand to tap your left knee and extend both back to their respective diagonals. (Progression: Tap the right elbow to the left knee.) Avoid arching the back.

  • Repeat (Kaiser recommends 10 reps).

  • Rest in a child's pose.

4. Pelvic curl

Precision is key for the pelvic curl.

"Avoid overarching the lower back and squeezing the glutes excessively at the top," Hissong says. "Focus on articulating the spine smoothly,"

Attention to these seemingly small details can pay big-time dividends.

"The pelvic curl helps to mobilize the spine, strengthen the lower back and glutes and improve pelvic stability," Hissong says.

How to do it:

  • Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart.

  • Inhale to prepare.

  • Exhale as you tilt your pelvis and peel your spine off the mat, one vertebra at a time, into a bridge position.

  • Inhale to hold at the top.

  • Exhale as you articulate your spine back down to the mat.

5. Swimmers

Swimming on land? Yes, please. "Swimming strengthens the entire posterior chain, including the lower back, while promoting spinal extension and improving coordination," Hissong says.

How to do it:

  • Lie face down with your arms extended overhead and legs straight.

  • Lift your arms, chest and legs off the mat simultaneously, reaching your limbs away from your center.

  • Flutter your arms and legs up and down in a controlled motion as if you're swimming. Avoid lifting the limbs too high, which can strain the lower back. Focus on engaging the core to stabilize the spine.

6. Superhuman

Channel your inner Clark Kent. "This is a super effective lower back strengthener as long as you engage your lower body and keep pulling your belly button in to protect your lower back," Kaiser says.

How to do it:

  • Lying on your stomach, extend both arms out to the sides with palms facing down.

  • Point your toes and engage every muscle in your legs and glutes as you lift your head, arms and legs off the floor and toward the ceiling,

  • Keep your chin down and head in line with your spine.

  • Hold for 10 seconds.

  • Release.

  • Repeat.

7. Weighted superhuman

Have the superhuman down pat? Up-level by grabbing a pair of dumbbells (or canned food). The added resistance increases back strength and endurance, according to Julom. Be sure to choose a weight that allows you to keep movements controlled without jerking.

How to do it:

  • Lie face down, holding a weight

  • Lift arms and legs.

  • Hold.

  • Lower.

  • Repeat.

8. Side plank

Side planks are Kaiser's favorite moves. They're a full-body exercise that provides a sneaky lower back workout.

How to do it:

  • Sit on your right hip with your right hand on the floor. ("It can also be performed on your forearm if you have any wrist issues or pain," Kaiser says.)

  • Keeping both knees stacked on the floor, lift your hips to the ceiling.

  • Optional progression: Extend the top leg straight to the side.

  • Optional second progression: Extend the bottom leg side.

  • OK, one more progression: "Once you can hold a side plank, add a weight to your top hip and pulse up," Kaiser says. "Make sure your hips and shoulders are stacked directly above one another."

9. Single-leg Romanian deadlift

Julom recommends the single-leg Romanian deadlift as part of a low-back workout to build unilateral strength, balance and stability.

How to do it:

  • Stand on one leg.

  • Hinge at your hips.

  • Extend the other leg back without rotating your hips outward — keep them level.

  • Return to start.

  • Repeat.

10. Reverse plank with a leg lift

The reverse plank with a leg lift is one of Julom's favorite lower back exercises. "It has a dual focus on lower back strength and core stability, providing a comprehensive workout," he says.

To get the most out of this move, don't let the hips sag or twist the body.

How to do it:

  • Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you.

  • Place your hands behind you, fingers pointing towards your feet.

  • Lift your hips to form a straight line from head to heels, entering the reverse plank position.

  • Keeping your hips raised, slowly lift one leg as high as you can without breaking the plank form, then lower it and repeat with the other leg.

11. Back extension with rotation

This one feels like a strength-stretch hybrid—and it is. "This exercise improves spinal mobility, strengthens the lower back and obliques, and enhances rotational stability," Hissong says.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your stomach with hands behind your head and elbows wide.

  • Lift your chest and upper back off the mat, extending the spine.

  • Rotate your torso to one side, then return to center and rotate to the other side.

  • Repeat.

12. Child's pose

This lower back exercise, also called shell stretch, is beyond soothing. "The shell stretch helps to release tension in the lower back and shoulders while improving spinal mobility," Hissong says. "Avoid sinking into the lower back or rounding the shoulders excessively. Focus on maintaining a stable core and elongating the spine."

How to do it:

  • Sit back on your heels with your knees hip-width apart and arms extended in front of you.

  • Round your spine, tucking your chin towards your chest and reaching your arms forward.

  • Hold the stretch for a few breaths, feeling a stretch through the lower back and shoulders.

  • Go ahead. Repeat.

13. Bridge with leg lift

Hissong calls this one of the best lower back exercises but loves that it works numerous muscle groups. "A bridge with a leg lift targets the glutes and hamstrings while also engaging the lower back and core for stability," she says.

How to do it:

  • Start lying on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart.

  • Lift your hips into a bridge position.

  • Extend one leg straight out in front of you.

  • Lower the extended leg back down.

  • Lower your hips to the mat.

  • Repeat on the same side as desired.

  • Repeat the same number of reps on the opposite side.

14. Sphinx pose

Prepare to look statuesque—but feel a heck of a lot less stiff. "The sphinx pose helps to gently stretch and strengthen the muscles of the lower back while also improving posture," Hissong says.

How to do it:

  • Lie on your stomach with your elbows underneath your shoulders and forearms resting on the mat.

  • Press into your forearms to lift your chest and upper back off the mat, keeping your pelvis grounded.

  • Hold the pose for a few breaths, feeling a gentle stretch through the lower back. Avoid sinking into the lower back or lifting the shoulders towards the ears. Focus on lengthening the spine and engaging the core.

15. Cat-cow stretch

Cat-cow is a classic. "The cat-cow stretch helps to mobilize the spine, stretch the muscles of the lower back and improve spinal flexibility and posture," Hissong says.

How to do it:

  • Start on your hands and knees with wrists underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips.

  • Inhale as you arch your back, lifting your chest and tailbone towards the ceiling (cow pose).

  • Exhale as you round your spine, tucking your chin towards your chest and pressing through your hands (cat pose).

  • Repeat the movement, flowing smoothly between cat and cow poses.

16. Back extension on a stability ball

Your back will have a ball. Julom says the stability ball helps you isolate the lower back without a heavy spinal load. Be sure to keep the neck and spine aligned and avoid hyperextending.

How to do it:

  • Lie on a stability ball with feet anchored.

  • Lift upper body up and down.

Related: These Trainer-Approved Dumbbell Exercises Will Strengthen Your Back—and You Can Do Them in 15 Minutes or Less

Can You Work Out If You Have Lower Back Pain?

Yes—in fact, you should. However, there are some caveats. "It must be approached carefully," Julom says. "Strengthening the lower back can help alleviate pain by improving muscle support around the spine. However, the key is to start with gentle, low-impact exercises that focus on core stability and strength, avoiding any movements that worsen the pain."

Also, get a green light from your care team first. "I can't stress enough how important it is to consult with a healthcare professional or a physical therapist before starting any exercise program, especially when dealing with back pain," Julom says.

And sometimes, the best thing you can do for your body is to let the workout streak go and take a rest. "You should skip a lower back workout if the pain is sharp, severe, or sudden or if it worsens during or after exercise," Julom says. "These could be signs of an injury or exacerbation of an existing condition that requires medical attention."

Next up: Abs of Steel! Here Are the 8 of the Best Core-Defining Workouts You Can Do At Home