Back Exercises

Lower Back

Back Hyperextension with Physio Ball

This exercise works the lumbar spine as well as the upper back and glutes. (Careful not to overwork the lumbar spine with any core exercise. The low back can become excessively tight if overworked and this can lead to pain or injury)

  1. Kneel behind the physio ball and roll out onto the ball so that your abdomen is on the ball, chest, shoulders and head off the front of the ball, toes on the floor behind you.
  2. You may need to position yourself so that your feet are up against a wall, this will provide better leverage and balance when you first begin doing this exercise.
  3. Place your hands gently behind your head with the elbows wide. Do not clasp the hands together as this can cause you to put pressure on your neck.
  4. Keep your head in neutral alignment and inhale as you lift your shoulders and chest upwards, arching your back carefully and squeezing your buttocks to assist the motion.
  5. Exhale as you lower down, rounding slightly onto the ball and repeat.

You will feel fatigue and exertion in the low back, but there should not be sharp or uncomfortable low back pain during or after this exercise.

Back Hyperextension with Physio Ball

Deadlift – Barbells

The deadlift is an excellent exercise for strengthening the hamstrings for sports enhancement as well as the glutes and low back.

It is quite advanced and should not be attempted by anyone with a history of low back problems without first checking with your MD.

Always begin the exercise using very low weight, perfecting form prior to lifting any heavy weight. The deadlift can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells. We will describe the lift using a barbell.

  1. For initial back safety, place a light barbell on a low bench rather than on the floor, and grab the barbell with abs tight, palms facing body, and stand up carefully with a straight back so the barbell hangs from straight arms at thigh height.
  2. Keep the chest up, the head up, and the abdominals engaged, knees bent slightly to accommodate your hamstring flexibility. Feet are slightly narrower than hip width.
  3. Keeping barbell next to the body, lower the barbell down as you bend at hips, sticking buttocks out and keeping the back PERFECTLY straight, not rounded. If you cannot maintain a straight spine, then you should NOT be doing this exercise.
  4. Lower barbell slowly until you feel a stretch in the hamstrings, without rounding your back at all, and then exhale as you straighten back up, hip hinging using gluteals and hamstrings, rather than low back. Press hips forward until you stand in neutral.

Tip: Lift portion of exercise can be performed faster than lowering portion.

Steps 1 and 2

Steps 1 and 2

Step 3

Step 3

Variation: A challenging variation of a deadlift is a Single Leg Dead Lift. It requires good hip strength and balance, but will also increase these all important athletic qualities. One dumbbell can also be used, and often, the dumbbell is held in the opposite hand of the standing leg. This increase balance challenge and cross body stability. As in deadlift described above, back MUST remain straight at all times during exercise.

Deadlift Exercise

Single Leg Deadlift

Modified Cobra

This is an excellent exercise to safely strengthen the low back as well as improve the general flexibility of the spine. It is a modified yoga posture.

  1. Lie on your stomach on the floor.
  2. Place your hands under your face, palms down with your elbows bent outward and forearms resting on the floor, as if you were sleeping with your head resting on your arms. This is your rest position between the exercise repetitions.
  3. Move your hands outward like a “sphinx” and press your chest and shoulders upward slightly, arching your spine and keeping your head in neutral alignment.
  4. Hold this position for 10 seconds or so, and release slowly back to start position.

Plank Hold

  1. Kneel on floor as if you are about to do a push-up.
  2. Place forearms on floor with elbows directly under shoulders. Elbows are at a 90 degree angle.
  3. Curl toes under and lift knees off floor so that your body is in a straight line—like a “plank”. If your buttocks is lifted higher than your back, move your feet back slightly to achieve the desired straight alignment.
  4. Keep abdominals very tight, buttocks tight and upper back straight without hunching.
  5. Hold this position for 10 seconds up to one minute, breathing continually despite the abdominals drawn in.

Plank Hold

Variation: Once you’ve mastered this form of plank hold, challenge yourself by trying the more advanced form, the side plank hold.

Prone Superman

This exercise works the entire spine as well as the upper back muscles and glutes.

  1. Lie on your stomach face down with legs straight behind you and arms straight in front of you as if your were “superman” flying.
  2. Keep your neck in neutral alignment, resting your nose on the floor, or turning your head sideways to rest.
  3. Carefully lift the right arm and left leg off the floor simultaneously as you lift your chest and shoulders slightly off the floor.
  4. Make sure that the front of your left hip remains on the floor as you lift the leg so as not to strain the low back.
  5. You will find that you cannot lift very high in this exercise, so do not force the range of motion or try and “throw” the arm or leg up.
  6. Slowly return the leg and arm to the floor and repeat with the left arm and right leg.

If you have rounded shoulders or tight chest muscles, it will be difficult to raise the arm, so have patience.

Prone Superman

Steps 1 – 2

Prone Superman

Steps 3 – 5

Side Plank Hold

This is a more difficult variation of plank hold which works the lateral muscles of the abdominals and back as well as the shoulder complex.

  1. Lie on your side, knees slightly bent and prop yourself up on one elbow with chest and ribcage lifted and shoulders down. Elbow is directly under shoulder at a 90 degree angle.
  2. Split legs so that one foot is in front of the other as you rest on sides of the feet.
  3. Using your legs to push into the floor, lift hip upwards until hip and back are in a straight line and body is off the floor except for feet and forearm. Do not tilt body forward or back and keep chest pointing straight ahead.
  4. Hold position for 10 seconds or more, breathing consistently.
  5. Lower slowly and repeat on opposite side.
Side Plank

Steps 1 – 2

Side Plank

Steps 3 – 4

Mid – Upper Back

Kneeling Dumbbell Single Arm Row

A heavier dumbbell should be used for this exercise.

  1. Kneel onto bench with one knee on bench, one foot on floor.
  2. If left knee is on bench, place left hand on bench so that you are fully supported with your back completely straight.
  3. Hold dumbbell in right hand, palm in, arm extended straight down towards floor.
  4. Using upper and mid back muscles, pull dumbbell up under armpit, keeping elbow close to ribcage, like you are “starting a lawnmower”.
  5. Biceps will assist this exercise, but try and squeeze shoulder blades at top of exercise, pausing slightly, and lowering slowly.

Variations: This exercise can also be performed with a physio ball and/or with the elbow out to the side of the body as you “row” rather than the elbow staying close to the body, but a lighter weight should be used.

Single Arm Row Physio Ball

Steps 1 – 3

Single Arm Row Physio Ball

Step 4

Lat Pull Down – Cable Pulley

  1. Sit at lat pull down station, with thigh pad adjusted so that it touches thighs to keep your legs from lifting during exercise.
  2. Grab bar with palms facing away from you, arms wider than shoulders.
  3. Lean back slightly, keeping chest lifted and back very straight.
  4. Pull bar down into mid chest area, above nipple line, squeezing shoulder blades together and bringing elbows towards the side of your ribcage.
  5. Return slowly to start position, allowing a stretch of the latissimus dorsi. Repeat pull down as you exhale.

Lat Pull Down with Elastic Tubing

The back muscles can be worked using elastic tubing just as in the Lat Pull Down with Cable Pulley.

  1. Attach the tubing using the fit loop at the top of a door.
  2. Grab the handles evenly and sit down on the floor facing the door.
  3. Palms face away from your body as arms are extended above you and slightly in front of you.
  4. Lean back slightly, lifting your chest up and squeezing shoulders back slightly.
  5. As in cable pulley lat pull down, pull handles downward, squeezing shoulder blades together as elbows move behind body slightly.
  6. Back is very straight throughout exercise and handles pull into chest as chest lifts.

Lying Pullover – Dumbbells

A lying pullover is a single joint exercise which works both the chest muscles and the back muscles, the latissimus dorsi.

  1. Lie on your back on a bench with abdominals drawn in and feet on floor.
  2. Using one dumbbell, hold weight up over chest with both hands, weight is parallel with body.
  3. Keeping arms straight, but not locked, lower weight over head slowly until biceps are next to ears.
  4. Exhale and pull weight back to start position, drawing abs in as the back, chest and ribcage muscles contract.

Tip: Careful to not let shoulders creep up towards ears during the exercise or extend the weights too far over the head, as this can put strain on the upper back and shoulder muscles.


  1. This exercise can be performed on a physio ball, with your body positioned in a bridge position, with only the head and shoulders in contact with the ball.
  2. Lying pullover can also be done lying on the floor.
  3. One dumbbell may be used, or two (held close together), or even a light barbell may be used.
Lying Pullover - Dumbbells

Steps 1 – 2

Lying Pullover - Dumbbells

Step 3


A pull-up can be one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises for the back and biceps, and is especially difficult for most women. There are many variations. The typical pull-up is described below.

  1. Use a chin-up bar positioned high enough so that your feet do not touch the floor when you hang from the bar.
  2. Reach up and put hands on the bar about 18-20 inches apart, or shoulder width, palms facing away from your body.
  3. Keep back slightly arched and pull body(chest) up to bar.
  4. Slowly lower and repeat without swinging the body back and forth.

Tip: A pull-up is easily assisted when your trainer helps push you up, and you lower yourself slowly (eccentric), or if you jump up, hold, and lower yourself. You can also try varied hand positions such as a neutral grip (hands face each other) or a supinated grip, as in a chin up. Large bands can also be used to assist your pull up. They can be wrapped around the pull up bar or top of squat rack and then placed under feet or knees for an assist.

Variation: A great variation of a pull-up ( called an inverted row) involves a long barbell placed low on the squat rack—because your feet can remain on the floor, this is a very doable exercise for most women.

  1. Place a long barbell low on the squat rack.
  2. Climb into the squat rack, feet outside, head inside and grab bar, palms face away.
  3. Keep body straight, and feet on the floor.
  4. Hang off the bar, stretching lats and back and then, pull your chest up to the bar keeping body very straight.

Reverse Flye

This exercise can be performed in many different ways, but the safest position is any position where the body is supported on a bench or physio ball so as to not strain the low back muscles. Performing a standing reverse flye can be risky for the low back. Try this safe variation:

  1. Kneel on the floor and lean over a bench, so that the abdomen and chest are on bench, forehead may even touch bench. On the physio-ball, only chest and abs are supported, head is in neutral alignment off the front of the ball.
  2. Using relatively light weights, hold one dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in towards body.
  3. Keeping palms in, and elbows slightly bent, lift weights from the side of the body with straight arms up towards ceiling using the back of the shoulder and the shoulder blades to move weight. Think of “flying wings” as the movement of the arms.

Tip: You will not be able to lift the weights very high, so be careful not to force this exercise.

Reverse Flye

Step 1

Reverse Flye

Step 3

Rolling Lat Pull – Physio Ball

  1. Kneel behind the physio ball and carefully roll onto ball in a push-up position.
  2. Ball should be positioned under knees and hands should be directly under shoulders.
  3. Keeping hands where they are, push your body back so ball rolls under hips, arms are extended straight, almost overhead, and body is straight as well with abdominals drawn in for back stability. Head should remain in straight alignment with spine throughout exercise.
  4. As you exhale, pull yourself back to start position, making sure back does not arch and upper back remains strong.
Rolling Lat Pull - Physio Ball

Steps 1 – 2

Rolling Lat Pull - Physio Ball

Step 3

Seated Row with Cable Pulley

  1. Sit on the bench of the cable pulley system and carefully reach for the wide or narrow V-bar which is clipped to the cable pulley.
  2. Place feet on foot plate, knees remain bent, and sit up very straight, chest up, shoulders down.
  3. Begin with arms extended in front of chest and pull V-bar into chest, using mid back muscles.
  4. Consciously squeeze shoulder blades together as V-bar comes into chest and elbows draw behind the back.
  5. Without bending at the low back, slowly release V-bar back to start and repeat.

Tip: Be careful not to bend the low back or rock your body to move the weight.

Variation: This exercise can also be done using a single handle attachment so that only one arm is rowing at a time.

Seated Row with Elastic Tubing

  1. Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet in front of you.
  2. Using an elastic tube with handles, wrap the tubing around the bottom of your feet, crossing the tubing as it comes across the ankles.
  3. If you need to, tubing can be wrapped completely around entire foot and then crossed at the ankle- this will increase the tension of the elastic.
  4. Sit very tall with your back straight, chest up and extend arms in front of you, grabbing handles with the thumbs up.
  5. Pull the handles into the sides of your chest, squeezing shoulder blades together and lifting chest.
  6. Slowly return to start position, keeping low back very straight, but allowing upper back to round slightly to get maximum stretch prior to contraction.
Seated Row with Elastic Tubing

Steps 1 – 4

Seated Row with Elastic Tubing

Step 5

Standing Row with Elastic Tubing

  1. Attach elastic tubing at mid chest height in doorway using fit loop.
  2. Grab handles with each hand, palms facing each other, and stand back so that there is tension on the tubing when your arms are extended.
  3. Bend knees slightly, draw abdominals in and lift chest up.
  4. Pull handles towards chest as you exhale, so that hands are on either side of chest, squeezing shoulder blades together.
  5. Pause briefly, and slowly return to start.


  • For an additional challenge of your core stability, try this exercise standing on one foot. Switch feet half way through the exercise and remember to keep abdominals tight.
  • Exercise can also be performed with both handles in one hand, but stand on both feet when doing this!

Straight Arm Pulldown – Cable Pulley

  1. Stand at lat pull down station of cable pulley machine with knees bent, chest up and abs tight.
  2. Grab bar with hands shoulder width, palms face downward, bar at shoulder height.
  3. Using much less weight than you would for a lat pull down, press the bar down towards your thighs, squeezing the back of your shoulders and opening up the chest.
  4. Elbows and wrists remain straight throughout exercise.
  5. Slowly raise bar up back to shoulder height and repeat.

Straight Arm Pulldown – Elastic Tubing

  1. Attach elastic at the top of the door using fit loop.
  2. Stand close to the door, grabbing handles with palms facing downwards.
  3. Starting with handles at chest height, press handles down towards thighs, keeping chest up, abs tight and knees slightly bent.
  4. Arms remain close to ribcage, elbows and wrists stay straight.
  5. Squeeze the back of the shoulders at peak contraction and lift chest up.
  6. Slowly return to start position, keeping some tension on the elastic at all times, and repeat.