10 Back Strengthening Exercises for Seniors
This guide is perfect for any CDPAP patient looking to strengthen their lower backs.
The lower back is one of the most important areas of the body that needs to be protected and exercised in order for senior citizens to feel comfortable walking, sitting, and standing.
Every movement the body makes begins with the spine, so an injury to this area of the body can have devastating consequences for elderly individuals.
The spine and lower back are held stable by numerous tiny muscles that work together to create subtle movements that are required for balance. Doing back strengthening exercises is important for seniors to be able to continue functioning independently in their daily lives.
Not all back strengthening exercises are appropriate for senior citizens. Back exercises should always incorporate a stabilizing aspect to keep the lower back tight while the other muscles around it stretch.
For example, a good lower back exercise might stretch the muscles at the back of the leg, but the lower back itself should remain stable and engaged. In this way, the lower back is strengthened and the spinal muscles learn to contract and create stability in response to leg movement.
How often should seniors perform back strengthening exercises?
Back strengthening exercises should be performed at least 3 times a week in order to make a difference in an elderly person’s balance and mobility, but more often is better. The back should not be sore or painful following exercise sessions, however, so rest between exercise sessions if your back feels tired or sore afterwards.
What exercises should seniors avoid for their back health?
Training that involves heavy weights is generally contraindicated for seniors as well as stretching exercises that involve hyperextension of the back (e.g. backbends). To make the back stronger, seniors must perform gentle exercises regularly that activate the core and keep the small muscles in the back fully engaged. Stretching exercises that involve bouncing should also be avoided.
Below are exercises that individuals over the age of 65 years should generally avoid:
● Weight training (squats with dumbbells, bench press, leg press, etc.)
● Long-distance running
● Abdominal crunches and sit ups
● Upright rowing
● High intensity interval training
● Rock climbing
10 Back Strengthening Exercises for Seniors
These are beginner level exercises:
Bent Knee Raise
The bent knee raise is an excellent beginner level exercise for seniors. It is simple and effective, and it requires very little effort. This particular exercise is especially useful for increasing abdominal and lower back strength. If performed regularly, it can improve your ability to move fluidly and can reduce the pain associated with a lack of lumbar support and stability.
1. To do the supine bent knee raise, first start by laying on your back with your knees bent and your hands placed palm down on either side of your body. You may use a pillow to support your head if needed. Place a blanket or small pillow under the arch of your back so that your belly button is pushed forward and your abdominal muscles are engaged.
2. Slowly lift one knee up and bring it toward your chest. Don’t push too far, only go as far as you are comfortable.
3. Lift your other knee up toward your chest and bring it to meet your other knee.
4. Hold both of your knees up for 5 seconds, and then lower them back down to their starting position.
5. Repeat the exercise with the other leg until you have done the bent knee raise 10 times on both sides.
As you do the bent knee raise, it is important to remember to breathe. It’s recommended that you breathe in when you lift your knees, and then breathe out when you are lowering your knees back down. If you want to make this exercise more difficult, you may put on ankle weights that weigh one or two pounds each. However, do not add ankle weights until you have done this exercise a few times without them and you feel completely comfortable with the extra resistance.
Check out this video for a detailed explanation on how to do the bent knee raise.
Cat and Camel
The cat and camel exercise is a beginner’s stretch that strengthens the abdominal muscles and keeps the hips limber. It is an exercise that most seniors will be able to do relatively easily. The cat and camel will help seniors maintain or regain the ability to turn and maneuver in their everyday lives without the fear of losing their balance. This exercise is best performed at least three to five times per week but doing it on a daily basis is even better.
1. Start on all fours, either positioned on the ground using a yoga mat or another soft surface, or on the bed if preferred. Your knees should be a few inches apart, and your hands should be shoulder-width apart with your fingers facing forward. At this point, your back should be straight.
2. Making sure to keep your abdominal muscles active, begin to arch your back and lift your head so that your eyes are looking up (if possible). Do this movement gently and maintain a firm awareness of your body as you move, stopping if you feel discomfort or pain.
3. Next, move so that your back forms a curve upwards, and lower your head so that you are looking at the ground (or better yet, toward your bellybutton and legs!). Again, always be aware of how your body feels, and keep your abdominal muscles active.
4. Repeat this movement 10 times. Breathe in when you arch your back down and breathe out when you curve your back up.
Take a look at this video to learn how to do the cat and camel.
Bridging is a simple exercise that helps to strengthen the core including the abs as well as the lower back. It will stretch your hip flexors at the same time and give you a greater range of motion. This is an exercise that you’ll want to perform 3 to 5 times each week to glean the greatest benefits from it. With a little coaching, it’s an exercise that can even be performed by seniors while they are still in bed.
1. Start by laying down on a padded surface such as a yoga mat with your knees bent, hips neutral, and feet flat on the floor. Your arms should be at your sides.
2. Slowly raise your bottom off the ground until your spine is no longer on the floor.
3. Tighten your buttocks and then slowly lower your body back down to the mat.
This exercise can increase balance to enhance your ability to stand and walk.
Check out this video to see how to do this exercise yourself.
Arm Raises (from position lying down)
Arm raises are an extremely simple and very effective way to improve your posture and increase mobility in the upper and middle back. Being able to utilize the full range of movement in your arms and shoulders is absolutely essential, and doing arm raises is a good way to strengthen your upper back and shoulder muscles quickly. This particular exercise may be done from a lying down position, either on the floor or on the bed.
- Start by lying on your back with your legs bent and your palms facing downward on either side of your body. You may wish to use a pillow to support your head. Position a pillow or blanket under your lower back as extra support.
- From this lying-down position, raise one arm up until your hand is straight up in the air. Slowly lower it back down again.
- Repeat the exercise with the other arm. You will do this exercise 10 times for each arm.
When you lift your arm, breathe in. When you lower it, breathe out. Though arm raises are very easy, it’s still important to be conscious of your entire back and body, and remember to not rotate, turn, or strain your lower back in any way.
This video demonstrates how to perform arm raises.
These are Intermediate level exercises:
If you are having trouble with sitting down and standing up or with getting up from the bed, then this exercise is for you. Sit-backs are a great way to improve your back strength as well as abdominal strength, and they can make a big difference in your ability to move freely and comfortably. These can be done either while sitting on the floor on a yoga mat, or they may be done from bed if you are unable to do them on the floor. Doing sit-backs regularly will make it much easier for you to be able to sit down in and stand up.
- Sit on the floor or bed with your knees bent and your back straight. Cross your arms over your chest with your palms placed on the upper arms or shoulders. Do not over bend your knees, and keep your gaze situated straight ahead.
- Taking care to use your abdominal muscles to do the bulk of the lifting, slowly lean back. Keep your feet on the ground in front of you, and only go as far as you are comfortable. Keep your back as straight as possible.
- Return to your initial position and repeat the movement 10 more times.
When doing this movement, inhale when you are sitting up straight, and then exhale as you lean back. Inhale again as you come back to the sitting-up position.
Take a look at this video to see how to do sit-backs.
Standing Reverse Leg Lifts
Standing reverse leg lifts are an intermediate exercise that works the glutes, lower back, and lower abdominal muscles. The back plays a large role in leg and lower body mobility, so taking the time to involve the legs in your back exercises will pay off in the long run. Standing reverse leg lifts are relatively easy to perform, but they require you to already have some balance and strength, so don’t worry if it takes some time to work up to a perfect reverse leg lift!
- Begin by standing up straight with your feet hip-width apart and your hands resting lightly on a chair or countertop in front of you. Keep your shoulders back and chin up during the entire exercise.
- Lift one leg and extend it straight out behind you. You may only be able to lift your leg off the floor a little bit the first time, and that’s fine! Do what you feel is comfortable and safe.
- Hold your leg off the floor for a count of 5, and then gently lower your foot back down to the ground and return it to its starting position. Repeat with the other leg.
- Do this exercise 5 times on each leg. Remember to do most of the lifting with your abdominal muscles.
Visit this link to learn how to perform standing reverse leg lifts.
Warrior 2 Yoga Pose
Many seniors report that yoga is highly effective in reducing pain and improving posture and mobility. This yoga pose is more difficult than some other back strengthening exercises because it requires that you be standing up, and it also requires some balance and strength in other muscles (such as the leg muscles). You may use a chair for balance if needed. It is important that you keep your back straight and your abdominal muscle strong while doing the Warrior 2 yoga pose.
- Start by standing on a soft surface with your feet wide apart (about two shoulder-widths) and your toes facing forward. At this point, let your arms rest at your sides and keep your head up and shoulders rolled back.
- Turn your right foot so that your toes are facing straight to the right. Lift both of your arms up to shoulder height.
- Bend your right leg (your left leg will stay straight). Do not bend your leg farther than you feel comfortable, and make sure to not let your knee pass beyond the tip of your big toe on your right foot.
- Hold this position for about 10 seconds before returning to a regular standing position. Repeat on the other side.
Watch this video to learn how to correctly perform the Warrior 2 yoga pose.
These are advanced level exercises:
This exercise is an intermediate level movement that is great for seniors who want or need to improve mobility in their lower backs while also improving abdominal strength and glute strength. The bird dog requires some balance and quite a bit of overall existing strength, which is why it is an advanced back exercise for seniors. Feel free to place a blanket or small pillow under your knees for extra comfort and support if needed.
- Start on your hands and knees either on the floor or on the bed. Your hands should be positioned immediately underneath your shoulders, and your knees should be aligned with your hips.
- Lift and extend one leg out behind you. Try to make your leg as straight as possible, but only lift and straighten as much as you feel comfortable and confident doing. Breathe in and tighten your core muscles as you do this. At the same time, lift your opposite arm out in front of you so that your palm is level with your shoulder.
- Lower your leg and arm back down to their starting position as you breathe out through your mouth. Do the same exercise with the other leg and arm.
- Do the bird dog 10 times on each side about 3-5 times per week for the best results. Remember to lift your leg using your abdominal muscles and not your back muscles to avoid straining and injuring your back.
For a simpler version of the bird dog, you may start by only lifting one leg or one arm at one time, rather than lifting both a leg and an arm at the same time. With enough practice, you will soon be able to do the bird dog with no problem at all!
This video demonstrates how to do the bird dog correctly.
Warrior 1 Yoga Pose
The Warrior 2 yoga pose was an intermediate back exercise, but Warrior 1 proves to be a little more difficult. Nonetheless, both Warrior positions are excellent yoga poses for seniors who want to improve not only their strength, but also their flexibility. Follow the instructions below to perform the Warrior 1 yoga pose.
- Place your feet two shoulder-widths apart with your toes facing forward. Keep your hands on your hips at this point, or use a wall, countertop, or chair for balance if needed.
- Turn your right foot to where it is pointing straight out to your right, and then turn your left foot to a 45 degree angle. Both legs should be straight in this step.
- Extend your arms out to either side and turn your torso and hips to face to the right. Keep your left foot where it is.
- Bend your right knee as far as you feel comfortable (without allowing your knee to go over the tip of your right big toe).
- Whenever you are ready, slowly raise your hands above your head to allow your palms to touch.
- Repeat the Warrior 1 exercise on the other side.
Watch this video to learn how to do the Warrior 1 yoga pose.
The knee-to-chest exercise is deceptive, since it appears to be quite easy, but it is actually one of the more advanced exercises for many seniors. The steps to perform this back and hip exercise are simple. However, you will likely need to take some time to work up to it, and you may need to spend time on the other exercises on this list first before you will be able to successfully do it.
- Lay down flat on the ground or on the bed. You will need to have a pillow to support your head and a small pillow or blanket to support your lower back as you do this exercise.
- Lift your right knee up toward your chest while keeping your left leg straight. Use your hands to grab your knee and pull it closer to your chest (do not push yourself farther than you feel comfortable).
- Hold your knee close to your chest for a count of five, then release and gently return your leg to its starting position. Repeat the movement on the other leg and do the knee-to-chest exercise a total of 5 times on each side.
This video demonstrates how to perform the knee-to-chest exercise.