Years ago, I was in a car accident and hurt my lower back. To make an odd statement, I am thankful it happened when it did. I was in pretty good shape at the time and the thus the damage was minimal compared to how it would have been if weaker.
You see, the easiest way to injure yourself is to be weak in a structural area. When you are the muscles cannot support your frame and you end up with sloppy posture or sitting in odd positions to ease the weight. I noticed the other day that I was doing just this as I was driving and if the accident of 2006 repeated itself, I would be in much worse shape. I always used to hear that “it is not a bad back, it is a weak one.” I have not been able to find a fault to this simple statement throughout all of my research over the years.
Some simple exercises you can do to strengthen your lower back can be done anywhere and with no weights. The first is the back bend. Lay on your stomach and wedge your feet under something to keep them secured (I like to dig my toes under the couch). Next, lift your shoulders off the ground and look to the ceiling. Go as far as you can. Hold it for a two or three second count and slowly return to the ground. Do this for three sets of 10 at first and slowly add more reps.
I like to fold my hands behind me on the small of my back. However, if you are having difficulty performing the exercise you can use yours to spot yourself. Place them on the ground like a push up and give yourself a little assistance. You really want to build up to no hands, but sometimes it takes some practice. So, to build the muscles you can push yourself up and then slowly let yourself down to the ground. This is called a negative rep.
The other exercise is the plank. Again get into a push up position but do not go on your hands; rather, your forearms. Straighten your back and legs as if in the up position of a push up and hold it. Stay there until failure. Rest a few minutes and do it again.
Another way to motivate yourself is to set a time goal. I like to do these exercises while watching TV and do planks during commercials. The goal might be to start with one single commercial, then two, and then maybe the whole break.
Both exercises are meant to build strength and endurance. You need both for your lower back. Simple one-time rep strength is desirable for benching or curling, but with the core you want strength that endures. You are not sitting straight for just a few seconds, but all day.
(Photo courtesy of Cherie Wren)