8 Safe & Easy Exercises to Strengthen Back & Core Muscles

Back pain is often caused by weak back and core muscles. These exercises offer a safe way to gently strengthen and activate these muscles. Because they are not weight-bearing, but done in a lying down position, they are extremely safe.

DO use your own discretion, however. Stop immediately and see your medical practitioner if any of these exercises cause pain.

How to make the most of these exercises:

  • It is not necessary to overwork the muscles as we are working on activating them and getting them out of a possible “lazy” state.
  • When stretching your muscles, DO stretch them to the longest length that you can achieve on that day without causing pain and without using “brute force” or “bouncing”. Learn to work with your body.
  • While doing the exercises, you need to be an active participant and feel the effects of the exercises while doing them. This too has a good therapeutic healing effect.
  • Use the breath and breathe into the lower back while doing the exercises. You will feel the tissue in the lower back (and in other areas) expand as you breathe in and contract as you breathe out. Keep your full attention on this while doing the exercises.
  • Make sure that the hip bones stay equally weighted on the ground. Do not let them twist or move off the ground.
  • The exercises are held for 30 – 45 seconds on each side, and then repeated on both sides.
  • When there is not enough time to complete the full programme, do each exercise once on each side. It is, however, better to do each side twice.

1. Supine Bent Knee Pose

  1. Bend your knees, with feet as close to the buttock bones as possible.
  2. Keep your feet in line with your hips and flat on the floor.
  3. Place your hands on your diaphragm and abdomen.
  4. Breathe in deeply without lifting your shoulders.
  5. Feel the expansion of the abdomen as you inhale and the contraction as you exhale.
  6. Return to this position between each exercise and take a few breaths there to re-establish equal balance in your hips.

2. Supine Straight & Bent Knee Pose

This exercise is also very good for the knees. Grip the thigh muscles as extra strongly as you can against the thigh bone.

  1. From the supine bent knee pose, stretch the hands above the head.
  2. Straighten the right knee.
  3. Work at drawing the right thigh muscle tightly onto the thigh bone.
  4. Open the back of the knee.
  5. Stretch into the heel by drawing the right toes towards the right hip.
  6. Press the left foot gently into the ground and squeeze the left hamstring onto the left calf muscle.
  7. Hold for 30 – 45 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

3.

  1. From starting position, lift the right leg.
  2. Bend the right knee and clasp the hands to take hold of the shin just below the knee, as shown.
  3. Stretch into the right heel – draw the right toes towards the right knee.
  4. Tighten the right hamstring muscle towards the right calf muscle, causing a grip behind the right knee.
  5. Draw the right knee closer towards the chest.
  6. Press the left foot into the ground.
  7. Grip behind the left knee, drawing the left hamstring muscle onto the left calf muscle.
  8. Keep hips equally weighted on the mat.
  9. Hold for 30 – 45 seconds then change to the other side.

4.

This exercise is also especially good for the sacro iliac joint. Keep hips level.

  1. From the starting position, bend the right knee sideways, taking hold of the heel and placing it as close to the root of the left thigh as possible.
  2. Use the right hand to gently work the right knee away from you, as far as it will easily go.
  3. Activate the back of the thigh in both legs, drawing the thighs towards the calves.
  4. Gently press the left foot into the ground.
  5. Keep the awareness on the lower back.
  6. Keep the back and hips equally weighted on the ground.
  7. Hold for 30 – 45 seconds and then change over to the other side.

5.

Feel the excellent stretch in the gluteus muscles!

  1. From the starting position, bend the right knee across the body, taking it towards the left shoulder.
  2. Keep drawing the right knee closer to the left shoulder without lifting the right hip off the floor.
  3. Firm behind both knees.
  4. Press the left foot down into the floor.
  5. Use the left hand to pull the right ankle further across and away from the left hip.
  6. Hold for 30 – 45 seconds then change over to the other side.

6.

This exercise is very good for the hips – one hip extended, the other fully flexed. Also good for digestion and massaging the internal organs. Known as the wind releasing pose in yoga.

  1. From the resting bent leg supine position, bring the right knee towards the chest, gripping behind the knees and keeping the lower back and hips equally weighted on the floor.
  2. Drag the left heel very slowly along the ground until the left leg is straight.
  3. Draw the left thigh strongly onto the thigh bone.
  4. Open the back of the left knee.
  5. Stretch strongly into the left heel.
  6. Draw the left toes towards the left knee.
  7. Draw the right knee closer to the chest.
  8. Hold for 30 – 45 seconds then,  draw the left heel back along the ground to return left leg to bent knee position.
  9. Repeat on the other side.

7.

This exercise is very very good to stretch the piriformis muscles and could help alleviate irritation on the sciatic nerve.

  1. From the resting bent leg supine position, bend the right knee and rest the right ankle near the left knee, as shown.
  2. Clasp the hands behind the left leg, below the left knee, and draw the left knee towards the chest. You will feel a strong stretch in the right hip area. Go slow. Don’t bounce.
  3. Try not to allow the hip bones to life off the floor.
  4. Use the breathing to expand the abdomen and then contract it – to become involved and to work with the body.
  5. Hold for 20 – 45 seconds.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

8.

This is a very good stretch for the lower back. People often instinctively do this stretch to relieve tension in the lower back. Do leave it out if it doesn’t feel good, if there is any sharpness during or afterwards, or if it is causing instability in the back.

  1. From the resting bent leg supine position, bring both knees towards the chest and then clasp your hands around the knees.
  2. Stretch into the heels by drawing your toes towards your knees.
  3. Draw the lower back into the floor.
  4. Bring the knees closer to the chest but keep the hips down.

These exercises are very gentle and can even be done when the body is tired – without exhausting the body further. No excuses not to do them daily! If you are very tired, do only once on each side. But do stop if there is any discomfort or pain. They have helped many who were thin and frail with weak backs. Just persist with them and your back will thank you.

I would like to thank the following who have brought me to find these exercises:

  • The yoga teachers within the Iyengar Yoga System
  • BKS Iyengar
  • Dr Omkar
  • The many clients who have showed me what, with persistence and love, is possible!