Instead, many individuals, regardless of their age, focus on the anterior muscles (what you can see when you look directly in a mirror) and the legs.
Yet, back strengthening exercises for seniors are crucial to prevent injury and pain - especially in your later years.In the older adult population, about 65 to 85% of individuals experience back pain.
However, in many cases of back pain impacting men and women over 60 years of age and older, it’s entirely preventable. Through specific exercises, you can improve your strength and range of motion and improve your overall quality of life.
In this article, we outline the top back strengthening exercises for seniors, including those for the lower back, the upper back, and more. What exercises should you be doing?
Lower Back Exercises
The lower back is a common area for pain and injury to occur.
Often, all it takes is twisting or lifting the wrong way for weeks or months of discomfort to begin.
However, focusing on the right set of exercises may help prevent this cascade of events from happening.
The following three exercises provide movements to prevent lower back pain and help you increase your overall strength. If you struggle with mobility, you can also choose to perform them in a chair.
The pelvic tilt improves flexibility and range of motion in the pelvic region.
This exercise also helps realign the spine and pelvis, promoting proper spinal alignment and preventing pain. It does this by stretching the hip and pelvic region. Here’s how to do it:
Lie down and face-up on a comfortable surface with your knees bent and your feet planted flat on the ground.
Tighten through the abdominals (in between the hip bones).
At the same time, press your lower back into the floor.
Hold here for 2-3 seconds, then release.
Repeat this movement for 8-10 reps and 2-3 sets per day.
A curl up is a core exercise that is similar to the traditional sit-up.
Yet, this exercise is designed to lessen the strain and stress applied to the lower back region.
At the same time, it still works to improve core strength. And increasing your core strength helps take any pressure off the lower back and prevents injury from happening in the first place. It also contributes to better balance which can prevent falls. Here’s how you do a curl up:
Lie face-up on a comfortable surface, such as a yoga mat, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
Cross your arms at your chest.
Exhale, and gently lift your shoulder blades off the ground.
Hold for 1-2 seconds, then release.
Perform 8-10 repetitions for 2-3 sets per day.
This hip flexion exercise is a variation of the child’s pose in yoga. It aims to improve your lower back mobility. It is also a very functional movement, meaning that it can make daily tasks, like doing laundry or sweeping, easier. Here’s how to do it:
Begin on all-fours on a comfortable surface. If needed, place a towel or pillow under the knees for more comfort.
You should begin with your back straight and in a neutral position. This means your belly shouldn’t slouch down toward the floor nor should your back round up toward the ceiling. It may help to think about contracting your abdominal muscles to support your low back.
Slowly and controlled, move your buttocks back toward your heels. Only go as far as you comfortably can.
Pause, then move back into the starting position.
Perform this movement 8-10 times for 2-3 sets per day.
Upper Back Exercises
What about your upper back? While many older adults experience pain in their lower back, equally as many also have poor posture leading to neck, shoulder, and upper back pain.
Luckily, this is often entirely fixable with regular exercises and awareness regarding one’s posture and spinal alignment. The following three exercises can help strengthen your upper back and prevent pain caused by poor posture.
Wall push-ups are a variation on the classic push-up. Similar to a regular push-up, it works to engage and strengthen your chest and upper back muscles. In turn, these muscles can prevent rounding of the shoulders. Here’s how you do it:
Stand about two feet back from an empty wall.
Place your hands on the wall about shoulder-width apart.
While maintaining a neutral spine, bend your elbows outward and bring your chest closer to the wall. During this movement, your heels will come slightly off the ground, and that’s okay!
Pause, then press through your hands and straighten your elbows.
Repeat this movement for 8-10 repetitions and 2-3 sets per day.
Arm raises help to improve your shoulder and upper back stability, as well as increase your shoulder range of motion.
There are a few ways to perform this exercise. However, the easiest way is from all fours, which also increases core strength, as described below:
Begin on all fours. You may choose to play a towel or cushion under your knees for support.
Gently extend your right arm straight in front of you. Ensure you engage your core and keep your spine in a neutral position. Only go as far with your arm as you comfortably can.
Lower your arm and repeat on the opposite side.
Perform 8-10 repetitions per side and 2-3 sets per day.
NOTE: If you find this difficult to perform, try laying down on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Extend your arms straight up from this position, pause, then lower. This gives your core and lower back a bit of a break. Eventually, try to transition to the all-fours version.
Opposite Arm & Leg Balances
This strengthening exercise for the upper back is similar to the arm raises, but it also engages the legs. In turn, you increase your core strength, entire back strength, shoulder strength, and glute strength. Here’s how you do it:
Begin on all fours. Similar to other exercises, use a cushion under your knees if you need it for optimal comfort.
Slowly extend your right arm and left leg. If this is difficult, start with just your arm and then just your leg. No matter which version you perform, make sure you are tightening through the abdominal muscles and maintaining a neutral spine.
Pause for 5 seconds, then lower.
Perform the same movement on your opposite side.
Do 8-10 repetitions and 2-3 sets.
Other Important Exercises for Seniors
Physical activity becomes more important as you age - especially for both women and men over 60.
It can help prevent age-related changes and chronic diseases. As part of a well-rounded exercise program, you should include lower and upper back exercises, as well as other strength training movements.
Investing in at-home equipment, such as a resistance band, can further help you make muscle and strength gains within the comfort of your own home and without having to worry about commuting to the gym.
In addition, you should always stretch before and after your workout. Perform dynamic stretches before you begin strengthening. And use static stretches to cool down.
As mentioned above, there are also various chair exercises you can do, including variations of the back strengthening exercises described in this article.
Find what works for you. And if you aren’t sure, consult with an expert. Allow them to help you determine what exercises you should be doing and how often.