Kelsey Graham by Kelsey Graham

Last Updated May 24, 2024 (originally published March 09, 2017) 

Low-back pain (LBP) is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, with 619 million people affected globally. In fact, most people experience LBP at least once in their life. Fortunately, it is also the condition for which the greatest number of people may benefit from rehabilitation. While many conditions can lead to LBP, inadequate core strength is often a contributing factor. 

Increased sedentary jobs and sitting time can lead to muscle imbalances and weak core musculature, putting the low back at increased risk of injury. Here are a few common reasons increased sitting time leads to LBP: 

  • The deep core muscles are meant to endure prolonged activation to support and stabilize the spine. When we slouch in a chair all day, the core remains relatively inactive. This results in a decreased signal from the brain to the core telling it to “turn on” and protect the spine when necessary. 

  • The psoas major, one of the strongest hip flexors, originates at the lumbar spine. Sitting can shorten this muscle, putting chronic stress on the low back. 

  • The gluteal muscles, which are powerful hip extensors, become lengthened and weak—a condition known as “glute amnesia.” These muscles are then unable to do their job in regular activities of daily living, forcing other muscles, including those in the low back, to compensate. 

While avoiding sitting altogether is unrealistic, specific exercises can help counteract the effects of prolonged sitting and minimize your chance of developing LBP. Here are four effective body-weight exercises you can do anywhere to ward off LBP. 



Tried and true, nothing enhances core stability like a plank. Start with your elbows positioned directly below your shoulders and the legs extended so that the body is in a straight line. Engage the quads, glutes and core, while pushing the floor away through the toes and forearms. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, or for as long as you can maintain proper form, and repeat three times. 

Ramp It Up: To increase the challenge, find an unstable surface. This can be done by placing the forearms or feet on a soft pad or exercise ball, or by raising one arm or leg. Your hips and shoulders should remain in line with one another throughout. 

Pare It Down: Decrease the challenge by positioning the hands or forearms on a bench, table or railing at a height that is challenging but allows for maintenance of proper form. 

Side Plank 


While the standard plank is helpful for reducing the risk of LBP, the side plank may be even more beneficial because it requires activation of the internal and external obliques. It’s imperative to strengthen these muscles, as they help control rotational movements of the spine. Start with your elbow positioned directly below your shoulder. With the feet stacked or staggered, drive up through the lower obliques until the body is in a straight line. Keep the shoulders and hips stacked. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, or for as long as you can maintain proper form, and repeat three times. 

Pare It Down: Drop a knee to the floor for additional support or find an elevated surface on which to place the elbow and forearm, reducing the challenge on the core. 

Glute Bridge 


Weak gluteal muscles contribute to LBP by passing their work to the low back. The powerful gluteal muscles support activities like walking, running, squatting and deadlifting, but when they lack sufficient strength, the back bears the brunt of the load. Start in a sit-up position with your arms down by your sides. Press firmly through your feet and engage your glutes to lift up the hips, creating a straight line from the heels to the shoulders. Hold for two seconds and lower slowly. Perform one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. 

Ramp It Up: Increase the challenge by performing this exercise with one foot lifting off the floor, while maintaining level hips.

Bird Dog 


Begin in a quadruped position with your core engaged. Slowly raise one arm and the opposite leg to torso height. Your hips and shoulders should continue facing the floor. Slowly lower and repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions or hold the top position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat one to three times on each side. 

Ramp It Up: Instead of the typical flexion and extension seen with this move, try a lateral bird dog. Once you reach the top position with the arm and leg extended, move both limbs a few inches laterally. This will dramatically increase the core challenge. Slowly return to the extended position and repeat for one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. 

Final Thoughts 

Low-back pain is a common and debilitating condition. With a proper routine, you can strengthen your core and gluteal muscles and reduce your injury risk. This workout can be performed with nothing but your body weight—at home, in the gym or at the office. To further protect your low back, maintain an upright, engaged posture while on the job and avoid staying in any one position for too long. 

Are you interested in learning more about how to help clients overcome one of the most prevalent health challenges of our time? Reserve your spot now for the upcoming FREE webinar entitled Chronic Back Pain: Training the Hips and Feet for Improved Results, which takes place on June 12, 2024, 11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. PDT. During this event, you’ll gain insight into the root causes of low-back pain and learn new strategies to help clients regain their mobility and vitality. 

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