The lumbar spine -- the area of the lower back -- easily can become injured if the muscles are weak. There are three main types of exercises for the lumbar spine: stabilization exercises, concentric exercises and stretching exercises. Together, these exercises keep the back muscles strong and flexible to support and protect the spine.
Exercise ball bridges are a stabilization exercise to strengthen the erector spinae muscles that run alongside the lumbar spine. These muscles work along with the rest of the core to stabilize the spine and trunk during movements. For this exercise to work, you must keep your lower back in a straight, or neutral, position. To begin, lie on your back and extend your legs straight with your heels on an exercise ball and your arms on the floor next to you. Lift your hips two to three inches off the floor. Do not arch the back. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
The back extension is a concentric exercise rather than a stabilization exercise. Instead of the lumbar spine remaining in a neutral position, the spine arches into spinal extension. This strengthens the erector spinae with a contraction that causes the muscles to shorten in length during what is called the concentric phase. By lying face down and raising your head and chest toward the ceiling, you extend the spine against the pull of gravity. That is the concentric phase. Lie back flat to complete a back extension. This is called the eccentric phase. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
A more difficult version of this exercise is to use a padded bench or roman chair to do the exercise. You lie face down on the bench and bend forward over the edge, then extend your back toward the ceiling. There is more of a range of motion involved with this version.
The most basic stretching exercise for the lower back is the knee to chest stretch. This stretch has two basic variations, the single leg and the double leg exercise. With the single leg exercise, simply lie on your back with the legs straight and pull one knee into your chest. Keep the other leg on the floor, then switch legs. For the double leg exercise, bring both knees into your chest and hug your shins for 30 seconds. Repeat five times.
Stretching exercises do not fatigue your muscles, so you can do them every day. A few days a week of stretching is enough for most people, as is two to three days a week of strengthening exercises, according to the "NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training: Course Manual."
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