Back strengthening exercises

For best results, train your back and your core together.

These back strengthening exercises challenge your back muscles plus all 4 abdominal muscle layers, your hip muscles and deep shoulder stabilizing muscles. With this routine, you’ll begin to develop the strength you need for good posture and muscular balance.  7 Exercise videos are included. The videos are about 1 minute each, and they'll show you how to make the exercises more challenging.

Focus on the quality of your movement as you practice the moves, and you'll get the most out of this routine of back strengthening exercises. Try to create long, straight lines with your body. The more closely you can match the videos and illustrations below, the stronger you'll become.

Scroll down for instructions.  Thumbnails of the full routine are at the bottom of this page, and an 8 week training program incorporating these exercises is available in my e-book store

#1 Bridging

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor as shown in the illustration below.  Raise your bottom upward slowly.  Imagine lifting one vertebra at a time from your exercise mat.  Continue lifting your bottom upward until there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold this position 10-15 seconds.

Think of reaching your knees forward over your ankles as you hold the bridge.  Repeat 3-4 times.

The video below also shows the single leg bridge.  For this exercise, perform a bridge. Then at the top of the bridge, straighten 1 leg.  Switch legs after a 5 second hold. Lower to the start position and repeat 4-6 times. 

#2 Tabletop

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Raise your legs, one at a time, so that your knees are directly above your hips and your lower legs are parallel with the floor.  Hold this position 10-15 seconds.

Next, return to the starting position, lowering 1 leg at a time. Keep your abdominals firm so that your back is completely still throughout the exercise.  Repeat 3-4 times. 

The video shows the Tabletop on a foam roller, a more challenging version of the exercise.

Check out my complete back and core exercise resource.  

#3 The Dart

Lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides. Reach the top of your head and your feet in opposite directions (as shown by the arrows below) until your upper body, knees and feet are off the floor.

Next, reach your fingertips toward your heels, pulling your shoulder blades down away from your ears. Keep your arms as straight as possible and squeeze your shoulder blades together.  Avoid resting your arms against your body when you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Make your arm and back muscles work!

Look down so that the top of your head points forward. This will keep the back of your neck long. 

Hold this position 10-15 seconds, relax, then repeat 2-3 more times.

When performed correctly, the dart has the best spine muscle activity of the back strengthening exercises in this article.

#4 Pilates Crunches

*Note:  This exercise has multiple steps.  For more clarity, watch the video below.  

From the ‘Tabletop’ (#2) position, reach your fingertips to the ceiling, as high as you can. Then curl your upper body forward until your shoulders are off the floor. Lift your head in a natural curve along with the body--don’t press your chin to your chest. 

Reach your arms forward, past your thighs, as you curl up. See the 3rd picture below. Inhale and hold this position. Then exhale, holding the ‘crunch’ and reach your arms further forward. 

Now reverse directions. Inhale, reaching for the ceiling again, then gradually return to the start position. Repeat 4-8 times.

#5 Forearm plank

Lie on your stomach and rest on your forearms with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Press through your shoulder blades until they are spaced wide on your back (instead of being pinched together).

Next, tighten your abdominals to lift your waist off the floor.  Form a straight line through your neck and upper body to your knees.  Hold this position 10-15 seconds, then lower your waist to the floor.  Repeat 3-4 times.

To increase the challenge, try this exercise on your toes instead of your knees.  See the video below. 

#6 The 100

Start in the Tabletop position (#2). Next curl your upper body off the floor and reach your arms forward past your thighs as you do in Pilates Crunches (#4)

Hold your arms straight, then begin pulsing your arms down toward the floor (without touching the floor) and back up 2 times per second, holding still in the crunch position. The distance for the arm pulse is about 4-6 inches.

Repeat for 30-50 total pulses to start.  

#7 Airplaning

From hands and knees position, extend your left leg behind you. Straighten your knee and hold your leg straight out from your hip. Hold your trunk steady as if there were a cup of coffee balancing on your back.

Next, hold your left leg up and reach your right arm forward, maintaining a steady trunk. Hold 3-4 seconds and reach as far as you are able with your left leg and your right arm. Lower your arm and leg and then switch to the opposite side.

Repeat 5-6 times each side with a 3-4 second hold at the top.

To increase the challenge for this exercise, touch your elbow to your opposite knee (without letting your leg touch the ground) each time before you stretch your arm and leg out.

Once you know the moves well, increase your effort--hold the exercises longer and do more repetitions.  Make these back strengthening exercises part of your exercise routine, and you will retrain deep muscle layers to support your spine.

Related articles

Stability ball exercises
Challenging exercise routine emphasizing the upper body and core. Moves are adapted from Pilates and gymnastics exercises. Build strength and develop balance, control and stabilization for your torso and shoulder girdle.

Back stretching exercises                                        Relieve muscular tension and restore balance between the spine and hip muscles. As you improve your flexibility in key muscle groups, such as the hamstrings and abdominals, you will reduce the strain on your spine. This effective routine includes 7 illustrated stretches.

Pilates sample exercises
Step up the intensity from the back-core strengthening program. As the exercises become more challenging, using correct form becomes even more critical. The videos help you learn and develop greater control over your body movements.

Knee strengthening exercises
Target the thigh, hip, gluteus, and calf muscles that work together to support and control the knee joint. Improve your balance and muscle tone while reducing your risk of injury.


PROGRESSIVE CORE STRENGTHENING     Overcome your core training plateau with my interactive e-book!  Progressive Core Strengthening includes 56 exercises and 6 graduated core workouts. Corrective exercises, anatomy diagrams and weekly training guidance are packaged in an easy-to-navigate system.  (Created in .pdf format.)

Intermediate Back & Core Strengthening             In line with current research on core training and unstable surfaces, the workouts in this book incorporate the stability ball, foam roll and several movement variations for a greater challenge to the core muscles.

Introductory Back & Core Strengthening          Did you enjoy this article? Try 8 weeks of guided training with detailed illustrations that compare correct and incorrect form.

CORRECT POSTURE                                                       Find out whether you have good standing posture, and then correct it! Stretch out the muscles that affect your posture the most. Understand and master the safest core exercise methods with my original e-book!

 Training options

#1  Create a 30 minute workout.                                                                                                                          Try combining this routine with workouts listed in my free home exercise programs article.  Resistance band exercises and body weight exercises are upper and lower body combo routines, and my knee strengthening exercises article focuses on the hip, thigh and leg muscles.  Pair these routines with the back strengthening exercises above and you'll have a 25-30 minute workout.

#2   Step up the intensity.                                                                                                                                       Once you can complete this workout with good form, try the next level core routines in my articles on stability ball exercises and pilates exercises.  The 2 articles can be combined for a longer core routine.  My eBook, Progressive Core Strengthening gives you a complete progression, along with advanced exercise routines. 


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