5 Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Core and Banish Back Pain

Use This Physical Therapist’s Five Move Ab Workout to Fight Back Pain and Build a Stronger Core
3 mins read
5 key core exercise for back pain

Power up your low back with these essential core-strengthening exercises!

Back pain is one of the leading causes of doctor’s office visits. In fact, an often-cited statistic states that more than 80% of people will develop back pain at least once in their lives. 

One of the ways to overcome back pain is to strengthen the core muscles. However, there is much confusion about the best way to strengthen this region of the body. Should you hold planks for 10 minutes? Or perform weighted situps to failure? Or do dragonfly legs lower like Rocky’s?

To be fair, those might be reasonable options for some people. But these exercises, with these parameters alone, won’t work for most individuals. 

The average person who is looking to reduce or prevent back pain will benefit from a program that emphasizes strength, stability, endurance, and mobility of the spine. This means that a comprehensive exercise program for back pain sufferers will include a variety of different moves and different types of exercise.

Of course, one should also always ensure that he or she is getting plenty of cardio as well. While cardio is less important in terms of back pain, it is vital for overall health, especially with regard to the heart and lungs. 

But in this post, I’ll focus on strengthening and mobility exercises that can help you kick back pain to the curb. As always, if you have individual concerns, or if you find that exercise makes your symptoms worse, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. 

5 Best Core Exercises For Back Pain

Best core exercises for back pain

Enhance your workout routine with these targeted core exercises for back pain. Incorporate them 2-3 times per week to maximize results and promote a stronger, healthier back.

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1. Cat-Camel

Cat-Camel, also known as cat-cow, is akin to a self-massage for the spine. This move coordinates the entire body and can improve symptoms in many different individuals.

How to Perform

  • Start on hands and knees.
  • As you breathe in, extend your head and look up as you simultaneously allow your stomach to sag.
  • Then, as you breathe out, round your back and tuck your chin to your chest.
  • Continue in this manner for 15 deep breaths.
  • Perform this exercise at least 5 days per week.

2. Abdominal Roll-Up

Situps are a terrific exercise for the abdominals. However, when the feet are fixed, you lose some of the balance and mobility benefits offered by the move. If this is too hard for you initially, crunches work perfectly fine.

How to Perform

  • Lie on your back with your knees slightly bent, or with your legs straight if you prefer.
  • Perform a situp.
  • At the top of the movement, reach for your toes, performing a brief hamstring stretch.
  • Return to the starting position slowly.
  • Complete 3 sets of 12-15 reps 3 or more times per week.

3. Bird Dogs Level II

Bird dogs are a mainstay of most physical therapy plans of care for back pain. This exercise works well to develop the small musculature within the back, and it also helps to work the abs and increase overall mobility.

How to Perform

  • Start on hands and knees.
  • Kick your right leg back behind you as you simultaneously reach your left hand forward in front of you. There should be a straight line from your left fingertips to your right toes.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. 
  • Complete 10-15 reps per side, per set, for 3 sets per session, and 3 or more sessions per week. 

4. Planks

Isometric exercises, such as planks are terrific for developing endurance throughout the whole body, especially in the abs. 

How to Perform

  • Start on forearms and toes.
  • Contract your ab muscles and ensure that your back is flat.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per session.
  • Complete 3 or more sessions per week.

5. Extended Side Plank

Much like standard planks, the extended side plank improves isometric strength and stability in the upper body. 

How to Perform

  • Start with your right hand and your feet on the ground.
  • Lift your hips into the air.
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat 4 times per side, per session. Complete 3 or more sessions per week. 

Core Exercises for Back Pain

Back pain is a pervasive problem in society today. Exercise has been touted as one of the best ways to prevent and reduce back pain. However, the type, volume, and intensity of exercise are important considerations.

If you are looking for ways to address your back pain concerns, consider trialing the above program. However, once again, if you have increased pain or other issues from the program, be sure to stop and consult your healthcare provider ASAP.

Works Cited

  1. Rubin DI. Epidemiology and risk factors for spine pain. Neurol Clin. 2007 May;25(2):353-71. doi: 10.1016/j.ncl.2007.01.004. PMID: 17445733.
  2. Chang WD, Lin HY, Lai PT. Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Mar;27(3):619-22. doi: 10.1589/jpts.27.619. Epub 2015 Mar 31. PMID: 25931693; PMCID: PMC4395677.

Bennett Richardson, DPT, PT, CSCS

Bennett Richardson, based in Pittsburgh, PA, is a dedicated physical therapist and writer. Certified as a strength and conditioning coach (CSCS) since 2014, he holds a BS in exercise science and a doctorate in physical therapy, both from Slippery Rock University. Beyond his professional pursuits, Bennett enjoys leisurely reading and staying active.

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