Best Exercises for Back Muscles

Your back muscles are an important part of every move you make. Your spine is supported by your core muscles. Your core muscles include your front abdominal muscles; the muscles along the sides of your body; the muscles in your back; a deep muscle that wraps around the front of your body; your diaphragm; and the muscles in your pelvic floor, hips, and buttocks. 

Benefits of Strong Back and Core Muscles

At some point in their lives, 90% of adults will have back pain that interferes with their daily activities and lasts at least a few days. Back exercises can help prevent recurrent episodes of back pain. Since your back is involved in every move you make, improving back strength can make daily activities easier. (Before you get started, you may want to check out these ab exercises for beginners.)

Push-Ups

This exercise is a classic for good reason. It engages your entire body, especially the muscles in your core and back. 

Start by doing as many push-ups as you can while keeping proper form. It doesn't matter how many or few you can do. This is your baseline. When you start, focus on doing this number of push-ups one day and resting the next. As you become stronger, you can gradually increase the number of push-ups you do. 

Here's the correct way to do a push-up: 

  1. Start in the plank position. Your arms should be straight and shoulder-width apart, with your palms flat just below the level of your shoulders. Your feet should be together or up to 12 inches apart with your weight on the balls of your feet. 
  2. Keep your weight evenly distributed as you do the push-up. Look down at the floor. 
  3. Lower your body until your elbows are at 90-degree angles. 
  4. Push yourself back up to your starting position. This is one repetition. 

If one push-up is too difficult, you can use some modifications until you build up strength: 

  • Instead of stopping when your elbows are at 90-degree angles, go all the way to the floor for a brief rest. 
  • Instead of starting from a plank position, start with your knees on the floor. 
  • Instead of doing push-ups on the floor, do them with your hands on a counter and your body inclined at 45 degrees. 
  • When modified push-ups become easier for you, you can move into the full-push-up position. 

Continued

Side Plank

This exercise works your back muscles and the muscles along the side of your body, which are called the obliques. To do a side plank, follow these steps: 

  1. Start on the floor on your side with your right hand below your right shoulder and your legs stacked. 
  2. Lift your body to form a straight line. 
  3. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your legs stacked on top of each other and hold. 
  4. Lower back down and repeat on the other side. 
  5. Place your bottom knee on the floor for more support if you need to modify this exercise. 

Bridge Exercise

This exercise helps strengthen your back and the surrounding core muscles. Start with 5 repetitions each day, and gradually work up to 30 repetitions daily. Follow these steps to correctly do a bridge exercise:

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Tighten your abdominal and buttock muscles. 
  3. Raise your hips so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. 
  4. Hold for three deep breaths. 
  5. Return to the floor. 

Resistance Band Pull Apart

This exercise is done with a resistance band. It strengthens the muscles in your upper back. Here's the correct way to do a resistance band pull apart: 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Hold the band with your hands extended straight out in front of you.
  3. Stretch your arms out to the side.
  4. This will stretch the band and bring it closer to your chest.
  5. Hold briefly.
  6. Return to the start position. 

Superman

The superman exercise will work your core, including your upper and lower back muscles. Do three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. Here's how to do it: 

  1. Lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. 
  2. Raise your arms and legs approximately 12 inches off the floor at the same time. 
  3. Hold for 1 to 2 seconds. 
  4. Return to your starting position. 
  5. Keep your head closer to the floor if you feel any neck pain. 

For a more challenging modification, you can alternate lifting one arm and one leg. Lift your right arm and left leg, and then reverse for one repetition. Do three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. 

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 23, 2021

Sources

SOURCES: 

Children's Hospital Colorado: "Video: Core Exercise: Superman."

Cleveland Clinic: "4 Ways to Strengthen Your Back," "Why a Strong Core Can Help Reduce Low Back Pain."

Harvard Health Publishing: "The rise of push-ups: A classic exercise that can help you get stronger."

JAMA Network Open: "Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men."

Mayo Clinic: "Back exercises."

Washington State University: "Band Pull Apart."

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