The top five back-strengthening exercises for seniors are as follows:
- Bent over rows
- Reverse Flyes
- Bird Dog
This is of course my professional opinion and may differ from other people.
In the remainder of this article, I will show videos and instructions on how to perform these, and how many sets and reps to do and we’ll also cover a few reasons why back-strengthening exercises are important.
Let’s jump in!
- Lift weights 2-3x/week and progressively increase difficulty as you are able
- Hire a personal trainer if you feel like you aren’t certain how to do it yourself
- You can improve strength within two weeks, however, longer-term physical changes to the muscle take longer. Six weeks and really, six months is a more realistic time frame. Your body initially makes changes to the nervous system which results in more efficient muscular contractions to complete the motions you are trying to complete
- A weak back and core do not cause lower back pain. Doing things you aren’t used to and doing them at a very high intensity have a higher chance of producing lower back pain.
Back Strengthening Exercises For Seniors
A good rule of thumb for these exercises is to do three sets of repetitions for each exercise, two to three times per week.
If you’d like to do one of these every day, that would be fine, but you just want to ensure that you are recovering well enough. This means that you shouldn’t feel sore and fatigued every day.
As I’ve written in a previous article about sore muscles and exercise, it’s not about how sore you get as that’s a poor indicator of a good workout. Sore muscles from a workout just mean you haven’t done that motion for a long time. The novelty of the activity creates soreness.
Bent Over Rows
Why Are Back Strengthening Exercises Important For Seniors?
Exercise is important for seniors for many reasons, but, back strengthening in particular can be very useful.
For one, if you have a stronger back and you routinely use your back muscles your body will be used to working at a higher capacity.
Since your body is then used to working at a higher capacity it will likely have a lower chance of experiencing severe pain and discomfort when it’s asked to do something difficult or different, like moving an odd-sized box.
I believe that if you train yourself moving heavy things routinely that your body will adapt and you will have a lower likelihood of pain and injury.
An interesting study design to assess this would be to follow a cohort of three groups. At baseline, none of them should have lower back pain, and number of times they go to the gym, what exercises they perform at what intensity, and in general how physically active they are should be tracked.
They should be required to fill out their workout calendar so that it can be tracked each day out the week for analysis at the end of the study.
Ideally, the study should last for one year and it should be assessed out of which group did they experience the most disabling pain (low, mod, high activity groups).
To my knowledge this study doesn’t exist however I think it’d be great to see what the preventative aspects of physical activity and fitness can be.
But, from this, it’s still hard to tell if the lower back pain caused people to not walk as much or vice-versa.
How Long Does It Take To Strengthen the Back Muscles?
If you are new to lifting weights or strength training you can start to see an increase in the amount of weight you’re able to lift in as little as two weeks. (as a side note, if you are an absolute beginner and want to try out chair exercises first, please check out this article I’ve linked to in this sentence).
This rapid increase in strength is due to more efficient firing patterns of your muscles. This is a nervous system adaptation.
In order to grow more muscle and further increase strength this takes longer. Ultimately, if you are new to lifting, in year one, you might see that you’re able to increase weight every couple of weeks or every month.
After a year of lifting, it likely will take longer to see the same amount of strength gains.
This is kind of the opposite of building wealth. As you keep working and investing money, that money will compound and it actually gets easier to get richer as time goes on.
But, with lifting, you actually work harder and get less results, ha. Kind of a sick game our body plays with us!
It’s all good though, at that point, if you reach it, you probably love lifting weights anyways and do it for the sheer enjoyment of it, anyways.
What Happens If Back Muscles Are Weak?
Nothing “happens” if the back muscles are weak.
There is this myth that has been going around for a while that if your back muscles are weak that this will cause lower back pain.
I hate to break it to you but there are many people who have lower back pain who are super strong. In fact, they are powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and strongman competitors.
So, to re-iterate, nothing really happens if the back muscles are weak perse.
You could make the argument that having less load tolerance through the lumbar paraspinals could put you at a higher risk of muscle strain if you overload the tissues from a load that you’re not used to.
I think this is plausible however I don’t know that there is any concrete data to back it up.
Does Your Back Get Weaker With Age?
Most of our musculature gets “weaker” with age however we can do a lot to slow it down. If you have never lifted weights, the good news for you is that your back will probably get stronger with age.
I’ve written another article about sarcopenia (muscle loss) and things you can do about it that I’d encourage you to read.
What about stooping over with older age, can back strengthening help that?
Yes, back strengthening can help with stooping over due to old age. However, I want to make a distinction. Sometimes people are hunched forward due to pain, other times it’s due to a structural change in the back itself.
This stooping is usually something that happens over time. If it’s a structural thing due to degenerative discs and your vertebrae are then setting in a more flexed position, this is likely less changeable than if it’s primarily a postural attention thing or pain.
If it’s pain or just an awareness issue, those are more reasonable to change.
My best advice for this is to work out anyway and start as young as you can as this could have an effect on how much you stoop later on in life.
Do weak back muscles and core muscles cause lower back pain?
No. There is no direct causal relationship between weak back muscles and core muscles to cause lower back pain.
This has been a widely popularized myth.
The reason this myth is so easy to believe is that it “makes sense.” It gives a very specific cause that most people can “feel,” or “understand,” and then people assume it’s true because it makes sense.
Don’t fall into that logic trap, though!