5 best exercises to reduce lower back pain

How to use mat pilates to help prevent lower back pain
Mat Pilates Class Sydney
Lower back pain is becoming more and more common with adults and children across the world.

Our day to day now includes a lot of screen time, no matter if you are a student, work in an office or out on a building site, our lower backs get a beating from time to time.

If you are starting to feel a little ‘soft’ in the lower back, or already have the pain, it’s time to support your precious lower back. To do that you need to strengthen your core, upper back and butt muscles. Oh yes, your butt!

Strengthening surrounding muscles is so important to support the back daily, improve posture and discourage lower back flexion when not needed.

The basics

The first rule is to reduce flexion through the lower back. The second rule is to turn on your transverse abdominals and pelvic floor, also known as the T-Zone. This is key to stabilise through each exercise. So, activate these muscles to support your lower back during exercises.


To activate T-Zone you’ll need to:

  1. Lay down on the floor, feet flat on the floor hip width apart.
  2. With a neutral spine, and with your next inhale:
    • bring your pelvic floor up, as if you are stopping yourself from peeing.
    • draw the hip bones across and in, as if you are cinching and fastening a belt around your waist. Hold.

You should still be able to breath naturally and hold the T-Zone through all exercises. The T-Zone is not an easy concept but is very important to encourage strong pelvic floors, needed as our bodies age, steady and strong transverse abdominals, which are the ‘girdle’ like muscles that stabilise the hips, pelvis and lower back. These are so important for posture and back health.

Can’t get the T-Zone but want to do the exercises? Don’t worry, you can!

Just make sure your abdominal muscles are activated during each exercise, keeping your spine in a neutral position.

Neutral and Imprinted Spine

What we mean when we refer to a neutral and imprinted spine throughout the various pilates movements.

Quadruped or 4 Point Kneel

How to set yourself up for any pilates movements that come from a quadruped or 4 point kneel.

Side Lying

How to set yourself up for any pilates movements that involve the side lying position.

The exercises

Let’s get into these 5 exercises, and 1 bonus exercise.

Exercise 1 – Single Leg Lift – Side Lying

  1. Lay on your side, bottom leg in 45 degree angle across the mat, top leg extending long.
  2. Ensure the heels, knees and hips are stacked one on top of the other.
  3. Hold onto your top hip with your top hand and encourage the hip down towards your feet, creating a gap between the side of your body and the mat.
  4. With an inhale, turn your T-Zone on.
  5. With your next exhale, keeping your T-Zone on and side of the body of the mat, squeeze the top butt cheek and lift that top leg to the sky as high as you can without pushing the side of your body to the mat.
  6. With your next inhale, lower the leg.
  7. With your next exhale, squeeze the top butt cheek and raise that leg up.
  8. Keep going to 20 reps then swap sides.

If you are finding it hard to keep the side of your body lifted up off the mat you can:

  • Squeeze into the T-Zone more.
  • Slow down your movements and reset between each rep.
  • Allow the side of your body to rest on a small pillow or rolled up towel or cardigan.

You can use ankle weights once you start to get stronger and stronger.

Exercise 2 – Horse Kick with Hamstring Curl – 4 Point Kneel

  1. Come into a 4 point kneel, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips so you have a 90 degree angle at your hips, shoulders, wrists and knees.
  2. Inhale, turn on the T-Zone and keep that neutral spine. Please don’t push your lower back up to the sky. You really don’t want to flatten that back.
  3. Exhale, lift your right leg up on a 90 degree angle with the heel shining to the ceiling.
  4. Inhale, extend your right leg out long, pointing the toe.
  5. Exhale, flex your foot and bring the heel to your butt.
  6. Inhale, extend your leg out long pointing the toe.
  7. Exhale knee comes down to the floor.
  8. Repeat 20 reps on each side.

Exercise 3 – Ab and Oblique Arm Lift on a Chair

  1. Sit with your sitting bone at the edge of the chair.
  2. Both feet flat on the floor, toes parallel. This will challenge your inner thighs too.
  3. Dumbbells in your hands, palms facing in towards your body, elbows next to your body.
  4. Lift your ribs away from your hips, keeping the ribs and chest in.
  5. Inhale, turn on your T-Zone
  6. Exhale, bring your hands in to your shoulders and lift your hands above your head.
  7. Inhale, hands back to shoulders and open out to 90 degrees, elbows in.
  8. Repeat 20 times.

To support your back, have pillow propped up behind your back to help you with straight posture. Do not put your weight into the pillow or push your back into it. It is just there as a reminder.

Exercise 4 – Chair Hold on the Wall

  1. Stand with your back on the wall.
  2. Lift your ribs away from your hips.
  3. Turn on your T-Zone.
  4. Slowly walk your feet in front of you, keep your back against the wall.
  5. Keep walking your feet forward to reach 90 degrees at the keens, butt, and feet, as if you are sitting on a chair.
  6. Hold that chair position for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or more!

Hands can be:

  • Resting on your hips or thighs.
  • In first, second or fifth position.
  • Held out long in front of you.

To get out of the position, place your hands on the wall and slowly walk your feet back towards the wall to reach your standing position.

Exercise 5 – Pelvic Curl

  1. Lay down flat on your back, knees hip width apart feet flat on the floor.
  2. Inhale, turn on your T-Zone.
  3. Exhale, you have 2 options here:
    1. keep the torso long and just hinge from the hips and knees, no bending through the torso, lifting the butt off the ground by squeezing your butt and leg muscles. This helps to strengthen leg and butt muscles and avoids flexion which can trigger back pain if you are susceptible.
    2. start to peel off the mat from the butt, vertebra by vertebrae from the butt to the upper back, so you are still balancing on your scapula.
  4. Inhale, slowly peel/ bend back down from the top of the back down to your butt.
  5. Repeat the down up motion.

Exercise 6 (bonus) – Partial Ab Curls

This is a great little exercise, perfect when you feel your lower back isn’t too sore.

  1. Laying on your back, place your feet hip width apart, feet flat on the floor, knees hip width apart.
  2. Neutral spine.
  3. your hands behind your head, fingers interlinked and heads heavy in your hands
  4. Inhale turn on the T-Zone.
  5. Exhale squeeze the ribs towards the hips with lifting the head and shoulders off the floor very little. Avoid the lower back flexion, it’s just an ab squeeze you want to feel.
  6. Inhale release the squeeze, but keep that T-Zone on
  7. Keep going for 20 reps.


You will need to stretch out well after your exercises

Knee to Chest

  1. Laying on your back, feet flat on the floor hip wide apart.
  2. Inhale T-Zone on and neutral spine.
  3. Exhale lift the knees in towards your chest.
  4. Hold on to your knees, in towards your chest.
  5. Keep breathing deeply and hold for up to 30 seconds.

Encourage your tailbone to stay down on the mat.

Mini Cobra

Lay down on your tummy.

  1. Place your hands under your forehead, with the elbows out to the edge of the mat.
  2. Start to bring your ribs away from your hips and point your head forward raising your head and shoulders off the mat slightly.
  3. Keep breathing deeply and hold for up to 10 seconds. Then repeat 2 times.

Don’t lift off the mat too high, you don’t want to encourage the lower back to curl up and work.

Cat Cow

  1. Come into a 4 point kneel, wrists under shoulders and knees under hips.
  2. Inhale with a neutral spine.
  3. Exhale push your back up towards the sky gently, pushing your hands into the mat.
  4. Inhale come into neutral again.
  5. Exhale push your tummy down to the mat, eyes up, pushing your hands into the mat.
  6. Keep oscillating between cat neutral cow neutral for the next 30 seconds.

As your lower back is in pain so slow and don’t push too much at all.

This can trigger the lower back so only do this when you feel like you are healing.

Forward Stretch Standing, with chair if needed

  1. Place a chair a torso length away from you.
  2. Stand straight, feet hip width apart, feet parallel.
  3. With straight legs, fold over at the hips, reach your ribs away from your hips, fingers touching the chair and hold.
  4. Hold this for 20 seconds and release.

Make sure you are pushing the butt back, pulling the ribs away from hips, keeping your chin tucked in and back of your head in line with your arms, reaching your arms out to the chair.

You can rest your fingers on the chair.

Seated Gentle Torso Twist

  1. Sit back onto the chair.
  2. Pushing ribs away from hips, keeping your chest and ribs in.
  3. Place your right hand on the chair, and pull your left hand over to the right hand side, with a gentle twist through the top of the back.
  4. Slowly allow for more a twist through the lower back. But if the lower back pain is too much to not encourage lateral flexion through the lower back.
  5. Hold for around 10 seconds.
  6. Repeat that to the left hand side.
  7. Repeat on both sides 4 times.

Lower back pain advice

Remember to always consult your doctor or certified health practitioner first about your situation as these exercises are general in nature and might not be suitable for your condition or injury.

If you’d like to have someone watch over you to help you become familiar with these exercises first, feel free to try out a $10 trial pilates class with us.