The best exercises to strengthen the spine | Good+Good

wWhen most people think about the benefits of exercise, they think about how exercise strengthens muscles. While that is certainly true, particularly when you consider that resistance training exercise can also be beneficial for strengthening bones. Any weight-bearing exercise will help you there, but particularly, when it comes to exercises to strengthen your spine, you’ll want to try strength training.

While some bone loss is to be expected as you age, you can prevent it from happening prematurely and strengthen your spine with consistent exercise.

First, the risks of having a weak spine

The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae separated into different regions: seven cervical vertebrae in the neck, 12 thoracic vertebrae in the upper and middle back, seven lumbar vertebrae in the lower back, five fused vertebrae, which form the sacrum, the part of the spine that connects to the pelvis, and the tailbone. Keeping these spinal bones healthy and strong is vital to maintaining posture, function, mobility and overall health.

Weakness within the bones of the spine, or vertebrae, can be far-reaching due to the proximity of important structures such as nerves and their role of establishing support for most other muscles and limbs to pull from, explains Dr. Voci. Some of the risks include things like osteoporosis [a medical condition characterized by weakened and porous bones, increasing the risk of fractures and breaks]chronic pain, abnormal posture such as kyphosis [a spinal disorder that causes an abnormal forward curvature of the upper back, leading to a hunched or rounded appearance]loss of movement, loss of function and balance problems.

Dr. Voci says that any of these spinal problems can lead to reduced activity levels and function, which boil down to having a more sedentary lifestyle and worsening health outcomes.

Common symptoms of a weak spine

Although mild bone weakness or thinning in the spine may not be detectable at first, Dr. Voci states that spinal weakness will present itself with a range of signs and symptoms once it becomes severe enough. There can be many signs and symptoms associated with weak vertebrae such as increased fractures, postural abnormalities such as kyphosis, loss of height, increased stiffness in the back including rib stiffness and difficulty breathing, and an increase in back pain.

How to strengthen your spine with exercise

The good news is that Dr. Voci says exercise can be a powerful and effective tool for strengthening your spine.

First, our bodies respond to the demands that are placed on them, so to improve bone density, we want to stress those bones both by introducing muscle traction on the bone and by adding weight to the bone, he says. For this reason, weight-bearing or standing exercises are best because they engage many of the muscles in the trunk, which in turn pull bones and make them stronger. Adding load using free weights or resistance bands increases the bone-building capabilities of the movements.

Dr. Voci says there are different types of exercises that can improve bone density in your spine, and including a combination of different types in your fitness routine is the best way to have a healthy spine.

Walking is great cardiovascular exercise [fitness] this also improves bone density through weight bearing and should be done daily, says Dr. Voices. Depending on your health or fitness level, activities such as jumping rope or running will introduce higher levels of stress which can be more beneficial to spinal health, but can also be a greater risk to other joints in your body, so people with lower fitness levels may need to engage in low-impact activities such as walking, swimming or cycling to increase their cardiovascular and general fitness levels before engaging in high-intensity activity.

Aside from cardio exercise for bone density, Dr. Voci says weight-bearing strength training exercises are among the best types of exercise for increasing bone density because strength training loads your muscles and bones. He recommends that everyone incorporate weight-bearing training two to three times a week to support a healthy spine.

The best resistance training exercises to strengthen the spine

Dr. Voci walked us through three of the best strength training exercises for building a stronger spine.

1. Romanian Dead (RDL)

This exercise strengthens the hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles, all of which will pull on the pelvis and vertebrae either directly or through the fascia to promote bone growth, explains Dr. Voices. It’s also a weight-bearing exercise, which stimulates bone growth. You can perform RDL with free weights such as dumbbells, beginners can start with body weight only.

As: Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. This is your starting position. Hinge at your hips and push your glutes back while maintaining a slight bend in your knees, lowering your torso toward the floor until your weights are in line with your shins, don’t arch or round your back. Return to the standing position engaging the hamstrings and glutes. This is a repeat. Repeat for 812 repetitions. (You can also do this with a mini resistance band by placing one side of the loop under your feet and holding the opposite end with both hands.)

2. Folded lines

Dr. Voci says rows strengthen the rhomboids in the upper back and the smaller muscles that run along the spine. These muscles pull on the thoracic, cervical and lumbar vertebrae to promote bone growth.

As: Start standing with feet under hips, hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms straight. Maintain a slight bend in the knees, then hinge at the hips, lowering the torso to a 45-degree angle or parallel to the floor. Bend both elbows back and pull the weights tight toward the bottom of your rib cage. Re-extend your arms. This is a repeat. Repeat for 812 repetitions.


Squats are a fundamental exercise for strengthening the lower body, but because it’s a weight-bearing exercise, it also helps strengthen the spine. This exercise strengthens your hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps, all of which will draw your pelvis and vertebrae either directly or through fascia to promote bone growth, says Dr. Voices.

As:Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Hinge at the hips and push your butt back as if you were sitting in a chair. Keep your weight back towards your heels, but balanced evenly between both feet. Bend your knees to lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor, making sure your back stays straight (avoid rounding or arching). Make sure your knees are in line with your toes. Push through your heels to straighten your legs and extend your hips as you return to the starting position. This is a repeat. Repeat for 812 repetitions. (You may choose to hold hand weights to increase the intensity of the exercise once you get your form under control.)

How to get the most out of spine strengthening exercises

Be sure to start with light weights and build up gradually, advises Dr. Voci. We want to expose our bodies to a new, gradual level of stress and allow it to adjust, he says.

Dr. Voci also says you shouldn’t feel pain with any of these moves. If you are, you should work with a fitness professional or physical therapist for a personalized back-strengthening program or to help you work on your form and technique.

Many of the best exercises are technical exercises that may require some training before you get the best results, says Dr. Voci. Consulting a physical therapist can provide the best exercises based on the range of motion and strength available. They are best trained to modify and adapt these exercises to minimize the risk of injury and tailor them to specific needs.

But if you’re pain-free, incorporating these exercises two to three times a week, as well as cardio as described by Dr. Voci, can help you build a stronger spine in no time.

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