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Video Guide: Exercises for Back Care

How does your back feel at the end of a long day?

Stiff? Tense? Painful? You’re not alone.

Approximately 30% of American adults suffer from back pain. Among the many reasons are the hours we’re sedentary throughout the day, the poor posture we use when driving or using computers, phones and other devices, and even our penchant for wearing heeled shoes.

While we often can’t change the circumstances of our work or even certain aspects of our lifestyles, we can take actions that counteract their negative effects. In the case of back discomfort, practicing simple exercises can go a long way in alleviating pain and promoting better health.

Below are exercises and quick routines that can be done at work or home without any equipment other than an office chair. (A beach towel or yoga mat might be a good idea, too, if you’d rather not lay directly on the floor). The exercises are divided into four groups (foot/calf, hip/pelvis, upper back and inner unit core). Each group can be done as a separate routine, or they all can be done together. You may notice that some of the flexibility exercises overlap with those I suggested in an earlier article about developing better posture. The fact is, many of the exercises that improve people’s basic posture also help alleviate or even resolve chronic back issues.

Foot/Calf Exercises

While these muscles aren’t part of the back, they’re very important in keeping the back from feeling stiff and misaligned. As mentioned, many people wear heeled shoes that tighten up the muscles around the foot and ankle. This can unnaturally exaggerate the arch in the lower back (lordosis) and can cause discomfort. These exercises will increase range of motion in the lower leg muscles and might be all you need to reduce low back pain.

Self Myofacial Release for the Foot

For this stretch, all you need is a tennis ball to start with. If you don’t get much of a deep massage, try a lacrosse ball. Simply remove your shoes and place the ball on the floor with the arch of your foot on top of the ball. Apply pressure using your body weight, and gently roll back and forth on the ball for about a minute on each foot.

Static Calf Stretch in a Lunge Position

This will stretch the calf muscle (gastrocnemius), which is the muscle in the back of the lower leg right below your knee. Get into a semi-staggered stance with the leg you want to stretch in the back. Squeeze the butt (glute) on the side of the back leg and lean forward into the stretch as demonstrated in this video

Hip/Pelvis Exercises

These exercises will reduce the faulty movement patterns from sitting for extended periods of time. When you sit, the muscles in the front of the hip and upper thigh (illio psoas and rectus femoris) get tight while the muscles in the butt (gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius) get weak. Here are three exercises you can use to alleviate the effects of this movement pattern.

Static Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

This stretch will focus on the illio psosas muscle in the front part of the hip. To start, place a rolled up towel or yoga mat on the floor. Next, place your knees on the mat, and bring one foot forward so you are in a kneeling position with your hips and shoulders square as demonstrated in the video. The third step is to tilt the pelvis forward until you feel a stretch on the front of the hip. If you want a deeper stretch, extend your arm over your head. 

Static Runner Stretch

This stretch may be the most common one people use. Unfortunately, however, many people don’t get the full benefit of it. To execute the stretch, stand with your feet shoulder width apart.  As this video demonstration shows, stand on one leg and gently grab an ankle. Pull your heel to your butt while slowly tilting your hips forward. You should feel a stretch in the front part of your thigh, which is the rectus femoris muscle. It affects posture because its top attachment is on the hip. If this muscle is tight, it can cause the pelvis to have an excessive arch in the low back. 

Side-Lying Leg Raise (Top Leg)

This exercise will target the smaller muscles (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) in the butt. It’s important to activate these muscles as they tend to turn off when people sit for prolonged periods of time. While there are many exercises to target this area, the side-lying leg raise targets the more challenging muscles to activate. To execute the exercise, find a wall where you have enough room to get into a lying position. As the video shows, lie against the wall in a side-lying position with your shoulder and butt against the wall. From there, gently roll forward so the shoulder and butt in the top position are away from the wall by about half an inch. Once in this position, gently lift the leg up and down in a controlled manner for the required number of reps. 

Upper Back Exercises

In addition to sitting for many hours, people often slouch in front of their computers or on the couch at night. This causes the muscles of the chest and back (latismuss dorsi) to get tight and the muscles of the upper back (middle traps, rear deltoids and rhomboids) to become weak (kyphosis). If this pattern isn’t corrected, it results in posture of a forward head and rounded shoulders, causing upper back discomfort. Here are three exercises to help correct or prevent this posture rut.

Static Pec Wall Stretch

This option stretches out the chest muscles (pectoralis major). Find a door frame and stand next to it. As demonstrated in this video, place your forearm on the door so your shoulder and arm are at ninety degree angles. Once in this position, gently rotate your body until you feel a stretch. 

Static Stability Ball Lat Stretch

This exercise is used to stretch the latisimuss dorsi muscles found in the back. The video demonstration shows the stretch done with a stability ball, but you can also use a chair to place your hands on. To execute the stretch, get into a kneeling position, and place your hands on the chair with your arms in an extended position. Once in this position, just let your body sink into the stretch. 


Here is an exercise to activate the upper back muscles (rear deltoids, middle traps and rhomboids). To do the exercise, place a yoga mat or beach towel on the floor. As demonstrated in this video, lie on the floor on your stomach, and place your hands by your hips with the palms facing the ceiling. Keep your feet on the floor, and squeeze your glutes while lifting your chest. As you do this, rotate your hands so your palms are facing down, and keep your neck neutral. Hold this position, and squeeze your shoulders together for 3-5 seconds. Then go back to the starting position and repeat. 

Abdominal Exercises (Deep Abdominal or Inner Unit) Exercises

Everyone loves exercises for the core. One of the most underused exercises to activate and strengthen the deep muscles of the core is listed below. While many people do a great job of training the major muscles of the core, they neglect the deep inner unit muscles that are responsible for stabilizing the back while sitting.

Dead Bug Heel Touch

This exercise looks simple enough but can be extremely challenging when done correctly, as you can see demonstrated in this video. Place a yoga mat or beach towel on the floor and lie on your back. Make sure your back is in a neutral position with a minimal arch. Place your legs at 90-degree angles at your hip and knee joint. (You’ll look like a dead bug). Once in this position, gently touch one heel to the floor (by moving through your hip and not your knee) while the other is in the air. Once one rep is completed, do the opposite side, and repeat until the desired number of reps is achieved.

Suggestions for Your Routine

To make the most of the above exercises, you can do one of two routines listed below. Regarding sets and reps, do 1-2 sets of the flexibility exercises with each stretch lasting 30-60 seconds. For the movement based exercises, perform 1-2 sets for 15-20 reps.

One option for incorporating these exercises into your routine would be to practice them in a single session each evening. I’ve written before on the benefits of static stretching prior to bed to enhance recovery, and the same applies for alleviating back pain. You can pick one routine each night, or you can do all three if you have time.

The second option could be doing a set of a specific group of exercises for 5-10 minutes between every 1-2 hours at work. If you experience stiffness throughout the workday, it might be preferable to do this routine as a regular break during the day. Opening up the muscles that get tight and strengthening the muscles that get weak over time will reduce or even eliminate chronic back discomfort.

Are you interested in learning more techniques that support flexibility and posture? Check out other articles on our blog.

For additional guidance or for advice regarding fitness and chronic pain, see a fitness professional at your Life Time club. Thanks for reading.

In health, Corey Grenz, Personal Trainer and Metabolic Specialist

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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