You often hear medical practitioners and fitness professionals talk about the core to help you with your posture and relieve back pain.
However, the spine and muscles around the back, play a huge role in supporting you!
We’ve compiled a list of 8 effective back exercises you can do at home. We’ll be focusing on both lower back exercises and upper back exercises so you can ensure you’re working the entire back as a whole.
It is really important to think of the back as a whole as lots of the major muscles cross the upper back and lower back! This means you cannot separate them!
The muscles in the back are split into superficial, intermediate and deep groups. The superficial and intermediate group are extrinsic muscles because they actually embryologically originate from locations other than the back!
The superficial group of muscles are involved in movements of the upper limb.
This group includes trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboid major and minor, and levator scapulae. The latter 3, are located deep to trapezius in the upper back.
The trapezius is split into 3 portions. The upper part works to elevate the scapula, whilst the mid and lower parts work together to rotate the outer border of the scapula upwards.
This is a really important movement as you need it to effectively raise your arm overhead!
Latissimus dorsi works in extension (taking your arm backwards), adduction (bringing the arm back towards the body), and during inwards rotation of the arm.
The remaining 3 all work to elevate the scapula whilst the rhomboids also work to pull the scapula together (retraction).
This is really important to understand as we often hear the cues ‘bring your shoulders back and down’.
If you want to encourage movement around the shoulder and build upper back strength in your exercises, you need to let the scapula move so that you can work all the muscles properly!
The intermediate group consists of muscles attached around the ribs. They work to move the ribs so may help with breathing! This includes serratus posterior.
We then have the deep group of muscles in the back. These are intrinsic muscles because they actually develop within the back!
They extend all the way from the pelvis to the skull.
Within this group, the erector spinae group of muscles will literally straighten your back to bring you upright and pull the head backwards!
As a result, working on your back muscles, both upper and lower will significantly improve your posture!
Try exercises like thread the needle, mermaid and book openings first as part of a warm-up. This will help increase your range before doing the strength work!
The most important thing to remember, is that if you want to help your posture, you don’t necessarily have to extend backwards.
Instead, working your range from flexion (slumped) to flat, is actually the most functional movement you can do!
This is what we do every time you put on your socks and shoes, ‘sit up straight’ at your desk and bend forwards to load the dishwasher.
Learning how to do these movements and having the strength and awareness to stack your rib cage back over your pelvis will also help prevent back pain.
If you already have back pain, these exercises will get your muscles working well to increase your strength and stabilise your spine!
If you have acute back pain, spondylolisthesis, stenosis, or any other conditions you are seeing, or have seen a medical practitioner for, get in touch to see if we can modify these to make them more suitable!
Lower back exercises at home
Are you worried about feeling your lower back during exercise? Do you suffer from lower back pain and your rehab has consisted mainly of abdominal work but nothing on your front? Do you just want to prevent getting lower back pain? Or maybe you just want to work on your posture?
Along with mental health, lower back pain is one of the biggest reasons for people missing work.
In their last survey, the office for national statistics found that 30.8 million working days had been lost in the UK due to back, neck and shoulder pain.
The difficulty with back pain is you cannot see it, which can lead to very frustrating rehab!
If you have back pain, don’t worry, we can help you! If you don’t, lower back exercises can help to make sure you do the work to prevent it!
We often work our upper back and forget the muscles which extend all the way to your lower back!
When we do feel these muscles, we worry that we will cause problems.
Keep reading to see some exercises you can easily do at home for your lower back strength!
Upper back exercises at home
Upper back exercises are a great way to improve your strength for other activities like squats, bench press, and anything where you are using your arms!
This doesn’t have to just be weights but is also anything where you are weightbearing on your arms. Like a plank!
Working the muscles in your upper back can also easily be done at home.
These muscles help you generate strength around your shoulders and improve your shoulder and neck posture.
We believe that it is incredibly difficult to target one group of muscles as lots of others are always working at the same time.
As a result, we are going to look at 8 upper and lower back exercises which you can do at home. The best part is, all these exercises can help both areas!
1. Prone press
Prone press is a great exercise to get both your upper and lower back muscles activating and working into extension.
This exercise can easily be modified so that you work from flexion (bent over) to flat. If you want to know more about this then just contact us.
Start by lying on your stomach with your forehead hovering above the mat. Place your hands palms down besides your chest with your elbows pointing towards the back wall.
As you inhale, press into your hands and feel like you are rotating your elbows towards the floor. Allow your lower ribs to stay on the floor. Pause at the top and then exhale your way down.
Repeat 12-15 times.
Place your arms in a capital E position and repeat the movement. Make sure you rotate the back of the forearms whilst you are extending.
- Press your hands down and away to extend and down and towards you to come back down.
- Feel your breastbone rotating so that you are not just moving from your thoracolumbar junction (where your mid back joins the lower part).
- Try not to use too much weight in the hands so that you can work towards the progression.
- Press your pubic bone into the floor and reach the legs away to activate the whole back of the body.
This exercise is great for improving your thoracic and rib mobility and strength into extension. As a result, it will help you with your posture and also enable you to sit for longer periods more comfortably!
This at home exercise is suitable for training both the upper and lower back and a great activation exercise. The progression in particular will work your upper back muscles.
If you are pregnant or have acute back pain this is not suitable for you. However, there are modifications for position and range that we can help you with so get in touch.
Dart is another amazing exercise which you can do at home that strengthens both the upper and lower back.
Start lying on your stomach with your forehead hovering off the mat and your arms by your side, palms down.
Press your pubic bone into the floor and reach the legs away from you, keeping them on the floor. This will activate the entire back of your body.
As you inhale, reach the arms along the body and off the floor, extending your thoracic spine (mid back). Pause at the top to exhale without dropping down.
On your next inhale start to pump the arms towards the ceiling and back down, making sure your shoulders remain open. Do 10 pulses, pause and lower back down.
Repeat 10-12 times.
Allow the legs to lift off the floor once you are extended.
Make sure that this does not increase the extension in your lower back!
- You are aiming to get longer rather than lift up. By creating the reach, you will extend.
- By pressing the pubic bone into the ground, you will activate your glutes rather than squeezing them!
- You can turn the arms to help keep your shoulders open.
You can hold onto light weights in this exercise. However, remember not to sacrifice your form!
This exercise is suitable for training both the upper and lower back. It will also help with your posture, shoulder mobility and arm strength.
If you are pregnant or have acute back pain this is not suitable for you. However, there are modifications for position and range that we can help you with so get in touch!
Swimming is a great exercise to work both your upper and lower back.
This exercise requires little space and it can also help your cardio endurance!
Start by lying on your stomach with your arms straight above your head, legs on the floor and forehead hovering off the mat.
Press your pubic bone into the floor and on your inhale, reach your arms and legs away from your centre to come into extension.
Then, this exercise is like the Pilates 100!
Move the limbs up and down. Breath in for 5 counts and out for 5 counts.
If you breathe in and out 10 times you will reach 100!
- Keep your arms slightly wider than your shoulders to allow your scapula to move more freely.
- Keep your gaze towards the top of the mat so as not to overextend your neck.
- Allow your shoulder blades to move! Remember, the muscles in your upper back are responsible for this so if you want to strengthen them you have move your scapula!
- Keep your legs and arms straight, making sure you are moving from the hip and shoulder socket.
If you are feeling really hardcore, you can add light weights to both your arms and legs. However, remember not to sacrifice your form!
This exercise is great for strengthening both the upper and lower back.
Because it encourages you to breath, you will work both the superficial and deep muscles around your whole spine!
This makes it perfect for improving your posture and global extension endurance.
If you are pregnant or have acute back pain this is not suitable for you.
4. Single and double leg kick
If you want to build strength in the back of your body these exercises are great!
In a single leg kick, the weight bearing component on your arms encourages your upper back to work more to stabilise the shoulders.
Coming into extension on both variations will increase the strength in your upper and lower back.
For a single leg kick, lay on your stomach propped on your forearms with your elbows underneath your shoulders. Press the forearms into the mat and pull the elbows towards your body.
With a pointed foot, reach one foot away from your body and start to fold around the knee. Allow the thigh to come into extension, then flex the knee with a pointed foot. Take the leg back to straight and then repeat. Try to keep the thigh off the floor for all the reps. Once completed lower the leg to the floor and do the same on the opposite side.
Repeat this 5 times on each leg.
- Keep your pubic bone pressing into the floor to stop excessive lumbar extension.
- Extend from the hip as you reach your leg away.
- Keep the hip extension as you bend the knee. You are trying to make your quad longer here rather than coming back into hip flexion.
- Keep your gaze on the front of your mat to stop your neck over extending.
- Try not to forget your upper body! Press into the ground to activate your upper back muscles.
For a double leg kick, lay yourself on your stomach with your head resting to one side. Place your hands palms up on your lower back.
Press your pubic bone into the floor and begin to lift up your chest like in dart, sliding your hands down your glutes. Start to lower yourself back down and rest your head to the opposite side. At the same time, reach your legs away and allow both of them to fold at the knees with pointed feet. Reach the legs away, slide your arms back down your glutes and extend back up.
Repeat 12-15 times.
You can add an ankle weight or resistance band please link to around the ankle for these exercises.
The exercise will definitely work both your upper and lower back as well making it great for posture!
Again, if you are pregnant or have acute lower back pain, get in touch for some alternative exercises.
5. Reverse bridge
A reverse bridge is the precursor to leg pull.
It is a great exercise to work both your upper and lower back muscles. You have to have good strength in your upper back to stop your shoulders from sinking down. Having good strength in your lower back will also help to keep your hips square and high.
Sit on the mat with your hands behind you, arms straight, and feet flat on the floor.
Push into your hands and feet to lift your bottom off the floor until you are in a straight line. Hold for a count of 3 and then return to the floor.
Repeat 15 times and on the final one hold for 10 seconds.
- Make sure you keep pushing into your hands so that you do not sink into your shoulders.
- Re-visit your bridge please link to if you are feeling this in your back.
If you have acute back pain this exercise is not suitable for you. However, it is suitable for everyone else!
The combination of weightbearing and dynamic movement makes it a great exercise for strengthening your upper and lower back at home!
Again, this exercise is a great way to improve your posture. If you have osteoporosis it is also a fantastic weightbearing exercise for you!
6. Leg pull
Introducing leg pull!
This is the progression from the back bridge and is great for all things posture and strength in your upper and lower back.
The reduced base of support means your core will also work more, especially when you lift the leg!
Start by sitting on the mat with your legs out in front of you and hands behind you. Ideally keep your fingers facing your feet.
Point and reach your toes away, pressing into them in order to lift your pelvis up. Make sure you are pressing into your hands. Choose a leg and lift it up.
Return it to the floor and repeat on the other side.
Lower your bottom to the floor and repeat 10 times.
- Keep pressing into your hands to work your upper back!
- Keep your chin horizontal to the floor to stop any neck pain.
- Really open the front of your ankles as you are coming up. This is your triple extension so great for runners!
Again, this exercise is suitable for anyone except those with acute back pain. If you have wrist problems, then you can modify by turning your hands out slightly or coming down onto your elbows.
As with any upper and lower back exercise. This is perfect for improving your posture.
7. Scooter with W, T and goalpost
Have you realised by now that we love a scooter?
For this one we are actually focusing more on a static contraction of the glute and instead, working the muscles in the upper and lower back.
This exercise is amazing for anyone. By leaning forwards, you are not in extension but instead are holding your neutral spine against gravity.
The arm movements can also be done with light weights and are a sure fire way of strengthening your upper back and shoulders!
Start standing with both legs underneath you. Fold at the hips and sit back. Send one leg behind you and hold it there, trying to put as little weight through it as possible.
Take your arms into a W shape, maintain your body position and lift the arms up towards the ceiling.
Repeat 10-15 times.
Extend the arms out to the side and turn the thumbs up towards the ceiling. Again, pulse the arms up towards the ceiling.
Repeat 10-15 times.
Again, find your W. This time reach the arms up overhead and then pull them back down again.
Repeat 10-15 times.
Let the arms rest, stand all the way up and repeat with the other leg behind you.
You can use light weights for all of these movements.
The arm part of this exercise is a great way of strengthening the upper back.
Let your shoulder blades move freely and don’t forget to breath to make sure you are working all the muscles in your upper back!
Maintaining the forward lean is great for the endurance in the muscles in your lower back.
This exercise is suitable for anyone and you can lower the reps if you need to.
8. Single leg deadlift
We absolutely love a deadlift!
Often these get a hard time and are blamed as the reason you injured your back! However, this is a really functional movement and you don’t have to add loads of weight, or any at all!
Stand with your legs underneath you, pick the working leg and then hinge forwards allowing the other leg to come up behind you.
Keep the back leg straight and you can have a little bend in the front knee.
As you exhale, return yourself to standing but do not let the other foot touch the floor.
Repeat 12-15 times each side.
You can add a dumbbell or kettlebell to this exercise. Alternatively you can add a resistance band under the foot to give you more resistance into extension but some assistance into forward fold.
- Allow your foot to wobble so that you can maintain the balance at your pelvis.
- Try to keep your hips square.
- Reach your back heel away from you to activate the entire leg and give you more support.
- You should be maintaining your neutral spine the entire way through this movement. If you feel your spine flexing, reduce the range.
Again, this exercise is great for anyone. However, if you have acute back pain just check in with us first!
If you have osteoporosis this is another great movement for you!
This is our last exercise and is the perfect way to finish your workout. Again, it is a full back exercise so will work your upper and lower back if you stay in your neutral!
How can Complete Pilates help you with at home back sculpting?
At Complete Pilates we work with a lot of people who have, or have had, back problems or simply want to improve their posture.
We are all trying to be a bit more active and we understand that it can be difficult if you sit at a desk all day.
However, one of the best ways to improve your posture or reduce your back pain is to build the deep and superficial muscles and strengthen your upper and lower back!
As we have shown, you can easily do lower and upper back exercises at home!
We can also help you and teach you the mechanics behind back extension so that you do not injure yourself!
If you are worried or have had an injury, our instructors and Physiotherapists can use the Pilates machines to assist you and help you into this movement pattern without pain.
This will give you the confidence and also the muscle for you to progress these moves and start to add load.
We run both online and face to face 1-1 appointments. During these we can assess all your movements and determine how we can help you.
We also have online group classes which focus on understanding movement and will help you to strengthen your back.
If you are unsure which may be best for you or simply have some questions, get in touch!
Otherwise, book an appointment and we will see you soon!