Weak, painful lower back? Fix it with calisthenics!
Calisthenics, or bodyweight training, is one of the most accessible, convenient workouts around. The word calisthenics comes from the Greek for strength (kálos) and beauty (sthenos), and beautiful strength is a great way to describe this type of training.
Requiring little or no equipment, you can practice calisthenics almost anywhere and anytime, making it the perfect excuse-free workout. It’s also very adaptable, and exercises can be modified for all fitness levels and multiple training goals, including gaining muscle and building strength or burning fat and improving fitness.
The exercises themselves are generally very safe. Many replicate everyday movements so they’re easy on your joints, and with no weights to drop, you can train alone with little risk of injury.
Popular calisthenic exercises include:
- Air squats
- Front levers
However, while calisthenic training is a great way to strengthen your arms, legs, chest, back, and core, many bodyweight enthusiasts neglect their lower backs. This oversight can lead to poor posture and an increased risk of back pain.
In this article, we reveal the best lower back calisthenic exercises and provide you with a simple workout to follow.
- Lower Back Anatomy: Understanding the Lumbar Region
- The Importance of Lower Back Strength
- The 10 Best Lower Back Calisthenic Exercises
- Calisthenics Lower Back Workout
- Closing Thoughts
Lower Back Anatomy: Understanding the Lumbar Region
Want to target your lower back effectively? Understanding the key muscles in the lumbar region will help you get the most out of your calisthenics workout:
Erector Spinae: This group of muscles is a powerhouse for spinal movement, helping you bend and extend your back. It consists of three main muscles:
- Iliocostalis: Spanning from the lower ribs to the top of the pelvis, this muscle runs along the sides of the spine, aiding in bending and twisting.
- Longissimus: Positioned closer to the spine and extending from the neck to the lower back, the longissimus helps with extension and lateral bending.
- Spinalis: The closest to the spine and located near the mid-back, the spinalis muscle plays a crucial role in straightening and rotating the spine.
Together, these muscles are your go-to for all things related to spinal movement and stability. However, there are several additional muscles that help move and stabilize your spine:
Quadratus Lumborum: Located deep in the lower back, connecting the pelvis to the spine, this muscle, known as the “hip hiker,” is vital for lateral bending and stabilizing your lower back.
Multifidus: Lying beneath the erector spinae and extending from the base of the skull to the pelvis, this muscle controls small movements between the vertebrae.
Latissimus Dorsi: Your “lats” stretch from the mid-back down to the pelvis, assisting in extending and rotating your spine. They’re a valuable asset for lower back strength.
Abdominal Muscles: Encircling the front and sides of the lower torso, muscles like the rectus, abdominis, and obliques support your lower back, keeping everything in balance. These muscles are collectively known as your core.
Knowing these muscles and how they work will guide your lower back calisthenics exercises. Target them, and you’ll build a strong, flexible lower back that powers your entire body.
The Importance of Lower Back Strength
Not convinced you need to spend time training your lower back? That could be a BIG mistake! Lower back strength is essential for several reasons, including:
Prevention of injuries
A strong lower back is your body’s shield against injuries. Whether you’re lifting weights, playing sports, or just doing daily chores, your lower back is involved. By strengthening this area, you’re building a better support system for your spine. This can reduce the risk of strains, sprains, and other painful injuries. Remember, a well-conditioned lower back isn’t just about lifting heavier weights; it’s about living a pain-free life!
Your lower back muscles play a vital role in maintaining proper alignment and posture. Weakness in this area can lead to slouching and other postural problems, which may cause discomfort and even chronic pain over time. By focusing on lower back strength, you’re investing in a confident stance and a healthier spine. It’s not just about looking good; it’s about feeling good, too!
Improved athletic performance
Your lower back is the linchpin of your athletic performance. Think of your body as a chain and your lower back as a crucial link. If it’s weak, the entire chain can break down. Whether you’re running, jumping, or lifting, a strong lower back ensures that power is transferred efficiently throughout your body. Enhancing lower back strength improves performance in virtually every sport and physical activity. Don’t let a weak link hold you back!
The lower back is an integral part of your core
The lower back isn’t just a supporting player; it’s a star in your core’s lineup! When people think of the core, they often focus on the abs, but the lower back muscles are equally important. They work harmoniously with your abdominal muscles to stabilize and support your spine, enabling a wide range of movements. Ignoring the lower back in your core training is like leaving out a key ingredient in a recipe. Make sure to give it the attention it deserves!
The 10 Best Lower Back Calisthenic Exercises
So, you want to develop your lower back with bodyweight training? We hear you! These are the 10 best lower back calisthenic exercises for lumbar spine strength and health.
Bird-dogs are a great place to start your calisthenic lower back training. This simple exercise teaches you how to stabilize your lumbar spine while moving your arms and legs, which is something you’ll need to do in many other exercises and activities. Do this exercise to get back in touch with your underused lower back muscles.
- Kneel on all fours with your knees directly beneath your hips and hands below your shoulders. Brace your core and adopt a neutral or slightly arched lower back.
- Extend your left arm and right leg out until they’re parallel to the floor.
- Return to the starting position, switch sides, and repeat.
- Alternate sides for the required number of reps.
- Don’t lift your leg too high, as doing so could hyperextend and hurt your lower back.
- Keep your hips and shoulders squared – no twisting.
- Kneel on a folded exercise mat or foam pad for added comfort.
2. Glute bridges
Glute bridges are a foundational exercise that targets not only the lower back but also the glutes and hamstrings. By strengthening these interconnected muscles, you’re building a solid base for more advanced lower back exercises. Glute bridges are perfect for beginners and can be made more challenging with variations.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your arms at your sides, palms facing down.
- Press through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips toward the ceiling. Your body should form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Pause at the top for a moment, feeling the contraction in your lower back and glutes.
- Lower your butt back down to the starting position, and repeat for the desired number of reps.
- Make this exercise more demanding by using one leg at a time or resting a weight plate across your hips.
- Focus on engaging your glutes and lower back muscles, not just lifting with momentum.
- Avoid over-arching your back at the top of the movement; keep a controlled, smooth motion.
The Superman is a classic bodyweight exercise that targets your lower back muscles while also working your entire posterior chain. This exercise promotes spinal extension and helps improve your overall posture. As you lift your arms and legs off the ground, you’ll strengthen the muscles that keep your spine aligned and supported.
- Lie face down on the floor with your arms extended in front of you and your legs straight.
- Simultaneously lift your arms, chest, and legs off the ground as high as you comfortably can. Look down at the floor to avoid straining your neck.
- Hold the lifted position for a couple of seconds, squeezing your lower back and glute muscles.
- Lower your arms and legs back down to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.
- Do not lift your legs and upper body too high, as doing so can cause lower back pain.
- Keep your neck neutral to avoid strain; imagine a straight line from the back of your head to your heels.
- Breathe steadily throughout the movement, exhaling as you lift and inhaling as you lower.
4. Plank with leg lifts
The plank with leg lifts is a dynamic variation of the traditional plank that adds an extra challenge for your core and lower back muscles. By lifting one leg at a time, you engage your lower back to maintain stability while also working your glutes and hip muscles. This exercise enhances your balance and strengthens the muscles that support your spine.
- Start in a high plank position with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Engage your core and keep your hips level as you lift one leg off the ground a few inches.
- Hold the lifted leg briefly, feeling your lower back and glutes working.
- Lower the leg back down and repeat the lift with the opposite leg.
- Continue alternating leg lifts for the desired number of reps.
- Maintain a strong plank position throughout the exercise, avoiding sagging or raising your hips.
- Keep your movements controlled and avoid any jerking or swinging motions.
- You can also do this exercise while resting on your elbows, i.e., a low plank:
5. Reverse hyperextensions
Reverse hyperextensions are a fantastic calisthenic exercise that specifically targets your lower back muscles while also engaging your glutes and hamstrings. By lifting your legs off the ground while lying face down, you create a challenging isometric contraction in your lower back, helping to strengthen and stabilize the area. This exercise is particularly beneficial for developing lower back strength and endurance.
- Lie face down on a bench or table with your hips at the edge and your legs hanging off the end.
- Hold onto the sides of the bench to stabilize yourself, and keep your legs straight and together.
- Lift your legs up until they’re parallel to the floor.
- Hold the lifted position briefly, squeezing your lower back muscles.
- Lower your legs back down and repeat for the desired number of reps.
- Focus on using your lower back muscles to lift your legs rather than relying on momentum.
- Maintain a neutral spine position throughout the exercise, avoiding excessive arching or rounding.
- You can also do this exercise using a stability ball instead of a bench:
6. Prisoner good mornings
Prisoner good mornings are a unique calisthenic exercise that provides a great stretch and strengthening effect for your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes. They’re so-called because of the position you’ll adopt, where your hands are held at the sides of your head, resembling someone who’s under arrest. Don’t let that put you off, though; this is an excellent bodyweight lower back exercise.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your hands placed lightly at the sides of your head.
- Keeping your back straight and your core engaged, hinge at your hips and slowly lower your upper body forward. Your hips will naturally push back as you descend.
- Lower your torso until you feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings and a slight tension in your lower back.
- Pause briefly in this position, then engage your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes, and stand back up.
- Avoid rounding your back during the movement; maintain a neutral spine.
- Focus on feeling the stretch in your hamstrings and the activation in your lower back.
- Push your elbows back to keep your chest open throughout.
7. Single-leg Romanian deadlift
The single-leg Romanian deadlift is a fantastic exercise that not only targets your lower back but also engages your hamstrings, glutes, and core. By performing this exercise unilaterally, you’ll improve your balance while ensuring your left leg is as strong as your right. The bodyweight version is a great starting point for more advanced single-leg exercises.
- Stand tall with your feet together.
- Shift your weight onto your left leg while slightly bending your supporting knee.
- Keeping your core engaged for stability, hinge at your hips and extend your right leg straight behind you. At the same time, lower your upper body towards the floor.
- Reach your arms forward or extend them to the sides for balance.
- Return to the starting position by squeezing your left glute and engaging your lower back.
- Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
- Maintain a slight bend in your supporting knee and keep your back straight throughout the movement.
- Initiate the movement from your hips, not your lower back.
- Lean against a wall or handrail for balance if needed. Or, keep both feet on the floor and adopt a B-stance or kickstarter stance:
8. 45-degree back extensions
45-degree back extensions are a simple yet effective way to target your lower back muscles while also engaging your glutes and hamstrings. This bodyweight exercise helps strengthen the muscles that play a crucial role in maintaining proper posture and supporting your spine.
- Lie face down on a hyperextension bench, so your hips are just at the edge. Plant your feet firmly on the footplate and bend your knees slightly.
- Cross your arms over your chest or place your hands behind your head.
- Lean forward and lower your upper body down toward the floor, taking care not to round your lower back. Use a full range of motion without forcing your body into an uncomfortable position.
- Engage your glutes and lift your upper body back up, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Lower your upper body back down and repeat.
- Squeeze your glutes and lower back muscles at the top of the movement.
- Avoid hyperextending your lower back or straining your neck.
- Make this exercise more challenging by holding a weight.
9. Table bridges
Table bridges are a versatile exercise that targets not only your lower back but also your glutes and hamstrings. It also provides a welcome stretch for your shoulders and chest, making it a genuine posture saver. This exercise challenges your posterior chain muscles while also improving hip mobility and overall core stability.
- Begin by sitting on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Place your hands behind your hips, fingers pointing forward.
- Drive your feet into the floor and lift your hips, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Engage your glutes and lower back muscles to maintain stability.
- Hold the bridge position for a few seconds, then lower your hips back down to the ground.
- Continue for the desired number of reps, or just do a single, longer hold as required.
- Focus on pressing through your heels to engage your glutes.
- Avoid letting your shoulders collapse or hunching them up.
- Gradually increase the hold time as you get more comfortable with the movement.
10. Back bridge
The back bridge might sound unconventional, but it’s a valuable exercise for strengthening the muscles in your neck and upper back. This exercise can also contribute to improving neck stability and overall posture. While the back bridge aren’t for everyone, incorporating it into your routine can help enhance neck strength and stability, especially if you participate in activities that require neck support, e.g., wrestling or football.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Place your hands on the floor beside your head, fingers pointing toward your shoulders.
- Press through your hands and feet as you lift your hips up toward the ceiling, creating a bridge shape.
- Allow your head to rest on the floor, supporting the weight with your hands.
- Hold for the desired duration, taking care not to hold your breath.
- Place a folded exercise mat or foam pad under your head for comfort.
- If you’re new to this exercise, begin with short holds and gradually increase the duration.
- Do not attempt this exercise if you have a history of lower back or neck pain or suffer from high blood pressure.
Calisthenics Lower Back Workout
While any of these exercises could help you build a stronger lower back, you’ll get better results if you follow a structured plan. Do this workout 1-2 times a week as part of a body part split routine, where you train different muscles on different days, e.g.:
|Chest & Triceps||Back & Biceps||Shoulders||Legs||Rest||Lower Back/Abs||Rest|
But before you start your workout, prepare your body for what you’re about to do with a thorough warm-up. Begin with a few minutes of light cardio followed by dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.
Note: Repetitions are listed only for guidance. Actual reps performed will depend on your current strength and fitness. So, do as many reps as possible, stopping 1-3 short of failure. Try to gradually do more reps as you get stronger.
|1||Bird-dog||2-4||10-12 per side||60-90 seconds|
|2||Glute bridges||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|3||45-degree back extensions||2-4||12-20||60-90 seconds|
|4||Single-leg deadlift||2-4||8-10 per side||60-90 seconds|
|5||Table bridges||2-4||20-40 seconds||60-90 seconds|
Beginners: If you’re new to these exercises, feel free to reduce the sets and reps and increase the rest time between sets.
Progression: As you become more comfortable with these exercises, you can increase the difficulty by adding more reps, sets, or even incorporating some of the other exercises from our list.
Form: Always prioritize proper form over the number of repetitions. Quality over quantity will lead to better results and reduce the risk of injury.
1. Can I really build a strong lower back with just bodyweight exercises?
Absolutely! Calisthenics exercises are incredibly effective for targeting the lower back muscles. By using your body weight as resistance, you can build strength, flexibility, and endurance in the lumbar region. The exercises in this guide are designed to work the lower back from various angles, providing a comprehensive workout.
2. How often should I train my lower back with calisthenics?
Training the lower back 2-3 times per week is sufficient for most people. This allows for adequate recovery between sessions while providing enough stimulus for growth and strength gains. Listen to your body, and adjust the frequency and intensity as needed.
3. Do I need any special equipment for these exercises?
Most of the exercises in this guide can be done with just your body weight and a little floor space. Some, like 45-degree back extensions, may require access to a hyperextension bench or similar equipment.
However, there are plenty of alternatives and modifications available to suit your needs and available resources. There is no excuse not to train your lower back – even if you’re stranded on a desert island or in a hotel room.
4. I have a history of lower back pain; can I still do these exercises?
While calisthenics exercises can be beneficial for strengthening the lower back, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider or fitness professional if you have a history of back pain or other medical concerns. They can assess your specific situation and recommend appropriate exercises or modifications.
5. Can these exercises help with posture?
Yes! Many of the exercises in this guide are designed to strengthen the muscles that support proper alignment and posture. Focusing on the lower back can help correct imbalances and promote a more upright, confident stance. Remember, good posture is not just about appearance; it’s essential for overall spinal health.
6. What if these exercises feel too easy or too hard?
Most calisthenic exercises can be adapted to suit all fitness levels. So, if an exercise feels too easy, you can increase the difficulty by doing more reps, slowing down the movement, or trying a more advanced variation.
Alternatively, if an exercise feels too hard, you can modify it to suit your current fitness level or switch to a less challenging movement.
7. Some of these exercises hurt my lower back – what should I do?
If you experience pain during any of these exercises, it’s essential to stop and assess the situation. First, check your form to ensure you’re performing the movement correctly. Incorrect technique can lead to discomfort or even injury. If needed, switch to an easier variation or reduce the number of repetitions.
Persistent pain should never be ignored, and seeking medical attention is advisable if the discomfort continues. Remember, not all exercises are suitable for every individual, so listen to what your body is telling you and make adjustments as needed. It’s always better to be safe and modify your workout rather than risk injury.
Lower back pain? Weakness in the lumbar region? These are common problems, but they don’t have to be YOUR problems! With the calisthenic exercises and workout plan we’ve shared, you’ve got everything you need to build a strong, resilient lower back.
Calisthenics is not just about pull-ups, push-ups, and planks; it’s a whole-body workout, and that includes your lower back. Don’t neglect this crucial area. Embrace these exercises, follow our workout, and feel the difference a strong lower back can make.
Remember, your body is a chain, and your lower back is a vital link. Don’t let it be the weak one! Start your lower back calisthenics workout today, and take a big step toward a stronger, healthier you.