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.  

If you'd like to go more in depth with this routine, I created a training program incorporating these exercises, starting with my Intro to Core Strengthening.  This illustrated eBook compares correct form with common training errors.  It also has a workout schedule to give you a sense of real progress with the routine.  Download here.

#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.

#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. 

I hope you're enjoying these back strengthening exercises.  Keep up the great work!   (If you haven't started yet, set up a comfortable space, click on the videos and practice with me.)  

How's the workout going so far?   Do you feel like you are matching the straight lines and muscular control that you see in the videos and illustrations?   Look at the 2 pictures of the forearm plank below.  When you do this exercise, do you look more like the picture on the left or the one on the right?

If you'd like further training, check out my Intro to Back and Core Strengthening.   With this eBook, you'll be able to compare proper form with the most common training errors and see how you measure up.  It also includes a training schedule so you can keep track of your progress.  Click the download button below to get started.

*Your routine continues with back strengthening exercises #6 & 7 below.  When you're finished, please share this article with your friends so they can try the exercises too.  The share button is on the left border of your screen.  Also, please let me know how you liked the workout in the comments 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.

A message from the author, Rob Cowell, PT

Great job!  Thanks for sticking it out and finishing your routine with me today.  Even in your first workout, you've already started waking up muscles that will help you support your back.  

Now that you have a good routine of back strengthening exercises to work with, the keys to building your strength are consistency and progression.  When you practice consistently, your muscles will grow familiar with the exercises & you'll get more control over your movement.  Then it's time to deliberately increase your effort.  Go through the full movement, strive for perfect posture, hold the exercises longer and gradually do more repetitions.  When your muscles are challenged, they will get stronger.  

It's great for me to see that this article has been helpful.   I want you & all my readers to get the greatest benefits possible from the training.  My eBook, Intro to Back & Core Strengthening, shows the exercise movements in greater detail, comparing correct form with common training errors.  It also takes you through a training progression so that you give your muscles a greater challenge each week for strength development.  Download here.

Make these back strengthening exercises part of your overall workout routine, and you will retrain deep muscle layers to support your spine.  Take this training to the next level with Progressive Core Strengthening, and you'll learn a whole new way to exercise!

eBooks by Rob Cowell, PT

PROGRESSIVE CORE STRENGTHENING     Learn a whole new way to exercise with my interactive e-book!  Progressive Core Strengthening includes 56 exercises and 6 graduated core workouts. Corrective exercises, muscular anatomy visuals and weekly training guidance are packaged in an easy-to-navigate system.  (Created in .pdf format.)

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!

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.

 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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