15 Exercises to Strengthen the Lower Back & Prevent Pain, Plus 3 Workouts

Lower back pain can range from a minor annoyance to a life-altering condition. If you’re an athlete or someone who likes to lift weights, you probably know how it feels to struggle with a set of squats or rows because your lower back can’t withstand the weight.

Luckily, the solution to both of these problems is the same — training your lower back muscles. Your lumbar spine isn’t as delicate as you think, and challenging it with exercises that strengthen the lower back as a whole can help reduce some pain symptoms while also helping you perform better in the gym.

Here are 15 exercises to strengthen the lower back for the gym or that you can do at home. Note that these movements aren’t a cure; if you’re suffering, consult your doctor. But if you simply want to reduce some nagging aches here and there, these lower back moves are a great place to start. 

15 Best Lower Back Exercises

For Strength


Romanian Deadlift

Bent-Over Barbell Row

Good Morning

Back Extension

Kettlebell Swing

Glute-Hamstring Raise

Jefferson Curl

For Back Pain Relief

Cat-Cow Stretch

Partial Curl-Up

Lying Leg Raise


Bird Dog


Side Plank

About Our Experts

This article was originally written by Shane McLean, a Louisiana-based personal trainer with decades of experience treating and training clients of all levels. On Apr. 24, 2024, BarBend Senior Writer Jake Dickson reviewed this article’s content in accordance with our evolving exercise selection methodology. Dickson holds a personal training accreditation from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and a B.S. degree in Exercise Science.

Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

1. Deadlift

The deadlift is the standard for lower back training in the gym. Deadlifts allow you to train your lower back through a large range of motion and to resist large external forces. A strong deadlift requires a strong lower back — so use one to build the other. 

How To Do It

Load a barbell with weight plates and stand a few inches from the shaft with your feet under your hips.

Hinge over, pushing your butt backward and bending your knees slightly to help you reach the bar. Grab it with a narrow, overhand grip.

Ensure your back is flat from tailbone to collarbone. Inhale and brace your core.

Push down into the floor with your legs.

As the bar passes your knees, thrust your hips forward to come to a standing position. 

Complete the exercise by allowing the bar to fall freely back to the floor, but keep your hands on the bar to guide it down.


Make It Easier: You can reduce the range of motion by performing rack pulls or lifting off of blocks.

Make It Harder: Try the stiff-leg deadlift to apply more load to your lower back. 

Coach’s Tip: Your spine should remain rigid and motionless for the entirety of the deadlift. Do not round your lower or upper back while you lift. 

2. Romanian Deadlift

Romanian deadlifts are essentially just the top half of a deadlift. This is your basic hinge exercise and is meant to train your posterior chain with a simple technique that you can easily load for more intensity. 

How To Do It

Stand upright holding a barbell in your hands with your feet under your hips.

Take a breath and unlock your hips, pushing your butt backward.

Allow the bar to glide down your thighs until it reaches your kneecaps; you should feel a strong stretch through your backside here.

Reverse the motion and return to a standing position. 


Make It Easier: Use lifting straps to take your grip strength out of the equation.

Make It Harder: Try a snatch-grip deadlift to elongate the range of motion. 

Coach’s Tip: Keep the bar in gentle contact with your legs the entire time, don’t let it float out away from you. 

3. Bent-Over Barbell Row

The barbell row is a back exercise, not a lower back exercise — this move is one of the best upper back exercises and works almost all of the muscles in your back to some degree. The muscles around your lumbar spine are tasked with the important duty of isometric, or motionless, contraction, so you can row the weight safely. 

How To Do It

Hinge over with a barbell in your hands using a shoulder-width overhand grip until the bar is hanging directly in front of your kneecaps. 

Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor. Once you’re set, take a breath.

Brace your core and row the weight into your belly.


Make It Easier: If you want a lower back dumbbell exercise, do dumbbell rows instead, using one arm to brace against a bench and reduce the load on your lower back.

Make It Harder: Try the Pendlay row variation for a greater challenge, or pause at the top of each barbell row repetition for a moment.

Coach’s Tip: The more you tip over, the more load you apply to your lumbar spine. Tip over until your torso is at least at a 45-degree angle relative to the floor. 

4. Good Morning

The good morning exercise replaces holding a barbell in-hand with placing it on your back as you would for a back squat. This simple adjustment changes the physics of the movement, making light weights feel heavier. Use this one as an efficient way to train your lower back without lifting heavy. 

How To Do It

Unrack a barbell from a squat stand or power rack as if you were going to perform a standard back squat.

Take a close, hip-width stance, then slowly shoot your hips back behind you and descend into a low bow.

Your torso should end up nearly parallel to the floor before you reverse the motion and squeeze your glutes to return to a standing position.


Make It Easier: You can replace the barbell on your back with a dumbbell or medicine ball held tightly to your chest.

Make It Harder: Try pausing at the bottom of each rep. 

Coach’s Tip: Avoid training to failure on this one, since there’s no easy way to get the bar off your back. 

5. Back Extension

Most gyms have a back extension station somewhere. Look for a slanted bench with a thigh pad and foot plate. This machine allows you to train hip extension (which uses your lower back muscles to some degree) without needing weights, and is a great introductory movement for lower back training. 

How To Do It

Place your thighs against the pads of a back extension machine. Ensure that your Achilles tendon is right under the ankle pad.

Cross your arms, then slowly hinge down until your body forms a 90-degree angle.

Contract your glutes and hamstrings to come back to the starting position.


Make It Easier: Stack the “front” end of the machine up on some weight plates to change the angle and reduce the load on your back.

Make It Harder: Hold a weight plate to your chest to load the exercise. 

Coach’s Tip: Make sure the thigh pad stops right before your hip crease to ensure a full range of motion. 

6. Kettlebell Swing

The kettlebell swing uses dynamic momentum to pull you into a hip hinge and load your lower back at the same time. Swings are both a great lower-back-builder and an awesome conditioning tool. They really amp up your heart rate once you get into a good rhythm. 

How To Do It

Set up by putting a kettlebell between your feet and take a shoulder-width stance, or go slightly wider.

Hinge down, grab the kettlebell, and hike it back between your legs before explosively thrusting your hips forward.

As the kettlebell elevates upward to chest height and falls again, brace your core and push your hips back once more as the bell sweeps behind you. 


Make It Easier: Start out doing one or two reps at a time and take short breaks to reset your form.

Make It Harder: Try single-arm or even staggered-stance kettlebell swings.

Coach’s Tip: Keep your arms relaxed and allow the weight to swing from the force applied by your hips. 

7. Glute-Hamstring Raise

Think of the glute-hamstring raise, or GHR, as a mix between a back extension and a Nordic hamstring curl. This move requires you to stabilize your lower back while your hamstrings and glutes pull you into and out of hip extension. This back exercise is something you’d try out after you’re comfortable with a standard back extension. 

How To Do It

Hop into the bench and place your feet against the plate, securing your shins between the pads.

Your kneecaps should be pressed firmly against the crescent thigh pads and bent at a 90-degree angle; your torso should be fully upright.

Cross your arms at your chest and slowly tip forward by straightening your knees only. Do not lock or unlock your hips. 

Once your body forms a straight horizontal line, let yourself bend at the hips so your head falls down toward the floor.

Reverse the motion, first using your glutes and lower back to straighten your body out.

Firmly push your knees into the pad to contract your hamstrings and return to an upright position. 


Make It Easier: Grasp the handles of the station for support as needed.

Make It Harder: Hold a weight plate to your chest. 

Coach’s Tip: Try to avoid using too much bodily momentum when performing this move. 

8. Jefferson Curl

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Your spine is designed to curl and straighten using the musculature in your lower back, but most people don’t intentionally expose themselves to this range of motion on a regular basis. This is an advanced lower back exercise, so proceed with caution, but the Jefferson curl can be tremendously effective at strengthening your lumbar spine. 

How To Do It

Stand atop a plyo box or low riser with a standard, hip-width stance. 

Hold a very light weight in your hands.

Slowly curl your body towards the floor by deliberately rounding your spine from top to bottom.

Hang your arms down low and curl your back until your hands are lower than your feet. 


Make It Easier: Stand on flat ground if your flexibility isn’t quite there yet.

Make It Harder: Use progressive overload and work with heavier weights over time, but remember to preserve your technique. 

Coach’s Tip: Try to keep your knees locked as much as possible on this exercise. Move slowly and deliberately. 

9. Cat-Cow Stretch

The cat-cow stretch is a basic bodyweight exercise for back pain and stiffness. The idea is simple; slowly and deliberately moving your spine through flexion and extension increases blood flow and reduces tension. 

How To Do It

Get down on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.

Slowly arch your back, sinking your belly button down towards the floor without moving your arms or legs.

Reverse the motion, rounding your spine as much as possible.


Make It Easier: You can try doing this move on your elbows rather than your palms.

Make It Harder: Try this one in a push-up position with your legs straight. 

Coach’s Tip: Focus on your breathing during this exercise, taking long, slow, full breaths. 

10. Partial Curl-Up

[Read More: The Best Lower Chest Exercises for Building Strong and Full Pecs]

The partial curl-up exercise for back pain focuses on engaging your abdominal muscles. The goal here isn’t to do a complete sit-up, which may trigger back pain for some. Instead, you simply use your abs to curl your upper torso off the ground, strengthening your core in the process. 

How To Do It

Lie on the ground on your back with your knees bent and your feet planted on the floor.

Cross your arms over your chest.

Exhale and contract your abs to curl your shoulders and head up off the floor.


Make It Easier: Place your hands on the floor by your hips for stability. 

Make It Harder: Hold a weight plate to your chest.

Coach’s Tip: Focus on exhaling and pushing your lower back into the floor as you curl your shoulders up. 

11. Lying Leg Raise

Your lower back muscles work together with your abs to form your core. To train this area comprehensively, you need to work the muscles in the front of your body as well. The lying leg raise is a great introductory core exercise for ab training that may also help alleviate tension or tightness in your lower back.

How To Do It

Lie on the floor with your legs fully extended and your feet together.

Inhale, then exhale while lifting your feet off the ground and keeping your knees locked.

Lift your legs until your feet point at the ceiling and your lower back is flush against the floor.


Make It Easier: Bend your knees when you perform this exercise to reduce the weight applied to your abs.

Make It Harder: Use ankle weights or try doing this move one leg at a time while holding the other leg suspended in the air. 

Coach’s Tip: Focus on contracting your lower abs. If you feel tension in the front of your hips, you’re probably using the wrong muscles. 

12. Plank

The standard plank is a bread-and-butter core exercise that also teaches you to stabilize your spine and may alleviate discomfort in your lower back. This move should be your first stop when learning to train your core for back health.

How To Do It

Assume a push-up position with your knees locked and feet together. Then, get down onto your elbows.

From here, exhale fully and contract your butt to lock your hips into extension.

Your body should form a straight line from shoulder to ankle — hold this position without allowing your lower back to sag down.


Make It Easier: You can do planks on your knees if it is too challenging to do with straight legs.

Make It Harder: Have a friend put a small weight plate on your lower back to add some extra resistance, or scoot your hands forward to perform the long-lever plank. 

Coach’s Tip: Maintain proper spinal alignment and bracing. There should not be a dip in your lower back when viewed from the side. 

13. Bird Dog

Bird dogs are a great way to introduce some basic instability to your core and lower back. By lifting opposing limbs off the ground, you challenge your abdominals to brace and stabilize both your pelvis and spine in a non-threatening and easily-modifiable environment.

How To Do It

Get into a quadruped position, placing your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Hold a neutral spine; don’t dip your lower back.

Extend opposite limbs backward and forward, reaching your right arm out while simultaneously kicking your left leg back.

Hold this position for a beat, then return to the starting pose. Repeat with the opposite limbs. 


Make It Easier: You don’t need to lift your arm and leg up all the way and point them forward and backward. 

Make It Harder: Try lifting your non-moving knee off the ground slightly. 

Coach’s Tip: Pick a point on the floor in front of you and fix your eyes on it to help your balance. 

14. Superman

The Superman exercise is an entry level lower back movement. This drill trains you to engage your lower back and glute muscles together without the threat of instability or the load of an external weight. It’s a great priming exercise that can help you learn to use the muscles in your back properly. 

How To Do It

Lie flat on the floor on your stomach with your legs straight and your arms extended past your head, palms on the ground.

Exhale and use your lower back to lift your palms and toes off the ground just slightly.

Hold the position for a moment, then slowly let your limbs back down to the floor. 


Make It Easier: Try just lifting your legs or arms one at a time, instead of moving all four limbs at once.

Make It Harder: Hold the extended position for several seconds each time.

Coach’s Tip: Breathing is key here to avoid cramping. Take your time. 

15. Side Plank

The side plank is deceptively challenging because it forces the muscles around your spine to contract against forces you don’t typically encounter. In plain language, this move helps you keep your spine and pelvis in alignment while also building core endurance. 

How To Do It

Lie on the floor on your side, propping your torso up with your elbow and laying your top-side arm flush against your body.

Exhale, contract your core, and lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from shoulder to ankle.


Make It Easier: You can do this move with bent knees instead of straight legs to make it easier.

Make It Harder: In the side plank position, slowly lift your top leg up off of your bottom leg and suspend it in the air.

Coach’s Tip: Have a friend or spotter assess your body positioning to ensure you’re in a straight line. 

3 Lower Back Workouts To Try

You probably don’t need to dedicate an entire day in the gym to just your lower back. What you can do, though, is combine back pain relief exercises with strength-building movements for your lower back and get a good workout in as a result, no matter your goals.

Lower Back Warm-Up

Even if you’re not training your lower back specifically, you’ll want to warm up lower back for anything involving heavy lifting. This ranges from squatting and deadlifting to snatching and even to overhead and bench pressing.

Exercises like planks, hip extensions, bird dogs, and the superman train your stabilizer muscles to get ready for larger heavier compound exercises.

Research suggests that a combination of core exercises in multiple planes of motion can help get protect the lower back during lifting. (1)(2) Some of these lower back protecting exercises are listed below in the form of a lower back warm-up:

Cat Cow: 60 seconds

Dead Bug: 10-15 per side

Glute Bridge: 30 seconds

Cable Wood Chop: 10-15 per side

Side Plank: 15-45 seconds per side

Repeat circuit one to two times

Research suggests that athletes who follow a dynamic warm-up directly with their actual workout experience less stiffness, so don’t be afraid to complete this back warm-up routine and then jump straight into your session. (3)

Lower Back Workout for Pain Relief

Remember: No individual workout will cure a back injury, and even the right exercises done too quickly or with too much effort can worsen a problem they were intended to fix. Think of this back pain workout as a taste test; perform the movements gently and assess what you can tolerate, then consider trying something more advanced at a later date.

Lower Back Workout for Strength

Many of the same exercises for lower back pain also double as strength-builders if you make some simple adjustments or add load. If you aren’t experiencing back pain and want to ensure your spine stays strong and healthy, try this workout:

Lower Back Workout for Beginners

Many people — even some experienced gymgoers — struggle with the idea that it is safe to load their lower backs in the first place. Your lumbar spine may contain delicate parts like your vertebral discs, but the erector spinae muscles are strong and resilient … if you train them to be. If you’re new to lower back training, give this introductory workout a try:

Lower Back Exercises for Athletes

If you’re an athlete, lower back health is paramount. The unpredictable forces applied to your spine from sports are different from what you get in the relative “safety” of the weight room.

[Read More: The Best Mobility Exercises, PT-Approved]

As such, you need to train your lower back to withstand load from various directions, while also retaining enough back mobility to handle whatever your sport throws at you. Here are a short list of our favorite lower back exercises for athletes:

Jefferson Curl

Back Extension

Russian Twist

Wood Chopper

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Side Bend

How To Avoid Pain When Training Your Lower Back 

Keeping your lower back safe during weight training is a critical part of both longevity and immediate safety. The last thing you want to do is throw your back out when you’re getting ready to go for a new personal record.

First things first: consult a doctor, physical therapist, or another qualified health professional if you’re concerned in any way about your lower back during lifting. But once you have the all-clear to work out, here are some tips and tricks for keeping yourself as safe as possible.

1. Use Picture-Perfect Form

Throughout your training session, maintain an emphasis on good form. Squats and deadlifts are two movements in particular that rely heavily on your lower back to provide structural integrity and support. With these movements, keep your form absolutely locked in. Avoid rounding your back at the bottom of your squat and maintain a neutral spine during your deadlifts.

[Read More: The Best Upper Chest Exercises for Building Muscle + Full Workouts]

Granted, what looks like perfect form for your gym buddy may be different than what it is for you. Everything from limb length and body type to a lifter’s personal preferences and injury history will impact what an effective stance looks like from person to person. That said, once you know what form is healthiest and most effective for you, stick with it — with each and every rep.

2. Don’t Just Lift Weights

Protecting your lower back is also about reducing any pain that you already have. Work with a doctor, physical therapist, or another qualified health professional to address any back pain you might have.

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That said, if you’re physically able and cleared to do so, consider taking walks in addition to your strength training routine. (4)(2) Integrating walking into your program may help reduce symptoms of back pain more than resistance training alone. (4)(2)

When combined with exercises designed to emphasize lumbar stability, walking also seems to help provide lower back pain relief due to increased muscular endurance. (2)

3. Train Your Core

Traditional ab exercises aren’t always working your lower back directly. But research suggests that strengthening your deep abdominal muscles — like your transverse abdominis — can help relieve lower back pain. (5)

[Read More: The Most Effective Workout Splits, Created by Our Experts]

Work on stabilizing your core to support your back as much as possible. (1)(2) Side planks, oblique twists, wood chops, bird dogs, bridges, and dead bugs might be particularly helpful here. (1)(2)

Benefits of Training Your Lower Back

The lower back’s muscles provide the foundation for you to get stronger, help prevent you from getting injured, and allow the bigger muscles to do their job. Here are other important benefits of training the lower back.

Improved Posture

A stronger lower back will make it easier to maintain an upright posture, especially during the workday when many people are sitting for hours on end. Plus, lower back strength means you’ll generally be less prone to the standard aches and pains associated with yard work, playing with your kids, and shooting hoops with your friends.

Increased Strength

The erector muscles run along the spine. They play an important role in spinal stability and prevent unwanted movement by keeping the spine neutral under load. This comes in handy while squatting and deadlifting, but also running, jumping, or even bending over to pick up your wallet.

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Think of the lower back muscles as the foundation of a house. The stronger the foundation, the longer the house will stand. Having a stronger lower back means you’ll be more stable during heavy lifts and athletic movements, which will come in handy to athletes as wide-ranging as CrossFitters and strongwomen.

The lower back plays a role in extending the hips during the lockout portion of squats and deadlifts. It also works to keep the spine neutral during deep hinges (like good morning and deadlift) and the bottom of a squat, where the shear and compressive forces can harm the lower back.

Injury Prevention

We’re going to preface this one by saying that you should see a doctor if you’re having any lower back pain. Direct lower back training should not be seen as a solution to lower back pain. However, a stronger lower back may be better equipped for the general physical stressors that everyday life brings. Think of lower back training as a (possible) pain prevention plan.

What Muscles Make Up the Lower Back

Your lower back contains important muscles and five lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5). Understanding how they work is important to maintaining a healthy and resilient lower back to keep you lifting longer and stronger.

Credit: Master1305 / Shutterstock

[Read More: The Anatomy of Your Back Muscles, Explained (and How to Train Them)]

Here’s a breakdown of the anatomy of the lower back.


The lower back region has five vertebrae, denoted L1-L5. As a group, the lumbar vertebrae produce a lordotic curve and have the largest bodies of the entire spine. This increase in size reflects the responsibility of the lumbar spine in supporting the entire upper body. L1-L5 allows movements such as flexion, extension, and lateral flexion but prevents rotation. (6)

Erector Spinae

Three lower back muscles form a column, known as the erector spinae. The erector spinae is located posterior and laterally to the spinal column and runs from the lower back and hips to the cervical (neck) spine. Aesthetically, the erector spinae are the tenderloin-looking muscles that run vertically next to the spine. These three muscles are:

Spinalis: The spinalis is the smallest muscle here and is the nearest to the spinal column. Its functions are turning side to side, and it helps control your head when you’re looking up.

Longissimus: This is the middle part and the largest muscle of the three muscles. Its functions are lateral flexion and extension of the spine and help turn your head from side to side.

Iliocostalis: The Iliocostalis is the furthest away from the spine and begins at the sacrum. Its functions are lateral flexion and spinal extension.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best exercise for the lower back?

The answer depends on what you can tolerate! Your lower back is designed to do many different things. Introductory lower back exercises at home like the cat-cow stretch or Superman are great, but you can also train your lower back with hinge exercises like the deadlift or bent-over row.

How do you strengthen your lower back muscles?

The same way you strengthen any other muscle; with the right exercises and progressive overload. Start with the basics like a deadlift variation and add weight if you’re comfortable, or try a bodyweight lower back exercise at home like the Superman or single-leg Romanian deadlift.

What is the king of lower back exercises?

Most people regard the barbell deadlift as the “king” of lower back training. Deadlifts allow you to use more weight than almost any other barbell exercise and work your back muscles from top to bottom. 


Akhtar MW, Karimi H, Gilani SA. Effectiveness of core stabilization exercises and routine exercise therapy in management of pain in chronic non-specific low back pain: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Pak J Med Sci. 2017 Jul-Aug;33(4):1002-1006.

Suh JH, Kim H, Jung GP, Ko JY, Ryu JS. The effect of lumbar stabilization and walking exercises on chronic low back pain: A randomized controlled trial. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Jun;98(26):e16173.

Green JP, Grenier SG, McGill SM. Low-back stiffness is altered with warm-up and bench rest: implications for athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Jul;34(7):1076-81.

Lee JS, Kang SJ. The effects of strength exercise and walking on lumbar function, pain level, and body composition in chronic back pain patients. J Exerc Rehabil. 2016 Oct 31;12(5):463-470.

Amit, K., Manish, G., & Taruna, K. (2013). Effect of trunk muscles stabilization exercises and general exercises on pain in recurrent non specific low back ache. Int Res J Med Sci, 1(1), 23-6.

Joshua A. Waxenbaum; Vamsi Reddy; Caroline Williams; Bennett Futterman. Anatomy, Back, Lumbar Vertebrae

Featured Image: fizkes / Shutterstock

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