In this “Body Parts” series, Dimity McDowell gets you in playing shape, from head to toe.
Body Part: Lower Back
What it does: A crucial part of the core, the lower back provides stability to your body so that you can generate power as you jump, run, pivot, spike and move.
“Ideally, you want your lower back to be like a pillar,” says Michael Lagomarsine, head of strength and conditioning at the Boston University Athletic Enhancement Center. “It is the foundation for a strong body.”
When your lower back is stable, you’re less prone to injury and the rest of your muscles don’t fatigue as quickly because they’ve got a rock-solid pillar supporting them. In addition, the lower back is a major player when you bend, extend or rotate at the waist.
Used most commonly when you: Nail a penalty kick in soccer, complete a tumbling run in gymnastics, throw a shot-put or javelin or discus in track, skate as quickly as you can across the rink to grab the puck, drive a golf ball off a tee, do a back bend in yoga, take a stroke in rowing, or otherwise move your upper body in conjunction with your lower.
Here are three exercises to strengthen the lower back:
How to: Get down on all fours, with your knees lined up over your hips and your hands lined up directly below your shoulders (above). Engage your core and keep your spine straight. Raise your left leg to hip height and right arm to shoulder height at the same time; both of your limbs should be extended (right). Then return to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 12 per side. “Focus on one side at a time,” Lagomarsine says, “or you will lose your stable hip position.”
How to: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees, push your rear end back and keep your back straight as you grasp either a bar or a set of dumbbells, which is resting on the floor. A standard 45-pound bar can work, but if you have any hesitation, start lighter. Push through your heels to stand up straight; keep your shoulders back and chest up through the whole motion. “You should feel it in your glutes and hamstrings,” Lagomarsine says. “Your lower back muscles help you keep the proper body angle.” Do 3 sets of 10.
How to: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, knees bent and feet
flat on the floor. Engage your abs and squeeze your glutes, then slowly lift your hips off the ground (right). “Don’t arch your back,” Lagomarsine says. Slowly lower to a point right above the ground, and repeat. To up the challenge, pull one knee toward your chest when your hips are lifted (below). Lower, and alternate between legs. Do 3 sets of 15 reps for the conventional way. If you take the challenge, do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Let’s hear it for the lower back: “A strong lower back is essential to success on the soccer field. All the power that I give the ball while heading it into the net or throwing it onto the field during a throw-in comes from my core and lower back. Core strength also helps me run faster and improve speed and efficiency while changing directions. Lastly, a strong, stable core gives me good balance -- soccer players need to be able to balance on one foot while kicking and shooting the ball.” -- Laura Perry, senior midfield/forward at Brookline (Mass.)