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Exercises for the Multifidus, the Other Back Muscle

by Sárka-Jonae Miller
See more articles by Sárka-Jonae Miller

(The Best Years in Life) When it comes to back muscles, the lats get all the glory. It's the largest back muscle and it's closest to the surface of the skin. The giant “V” shaped muscle is what bulges when people do pull-ups and rows, making other exercisers drool with envy. But there is a smaller more powerful muscle in the back that rarely gets any credit or attention, the multifidus.

Because it's small and can't be seen on the surface, few people care or even know about the  multifidus. But this little muscle connects to the spine and pelvis, helping to maintain balance and stabilization. Research has shown a link between a weak multifidus and lower back pain. Ignore this muscle at your own risk...

Or do the following exercises to strengthen it and potentially save yourself a world of hurt.

Quadraped Knee Lift

This exercise is a little odd, but it's also really easy because all you have to do is lift one knee an inch off the floor. What could be simpler?

All right, there's a little more to it than that. Start off with a thick, softcover book on the floor. Get on all fours with your left knee on the book. Tighten your abs and tuck your pelvis to slightly round your back. Your arms should be straight and in line with the shoulders. This is your starting position.

Without raising your right hip, lift your right knee an inch off the floor. Imagine that you're lifting your thigh bone straight up toward your abdomen. It's critical that you do not move your spine or pelvis. Lower your knee back to the floor. Try 10 repetitions. You should feel something deep in your lower back on the right side. Do 15 reps if 10 is not tiring, and then slide book over and work the other side.


Quadraped Opposite Arm and Leg Raise

While you're in a quadraped, also called all fours or tabletop position, you can do the opposite arm and leg raise. This exercise might not feel like much when you get started, but it should start to tire you out by the end after the knee lifts. 

Move the book out of the way if you haven't already, flatten your back, and squeeze your abs. Slowly raise your left arm straight up until it's parallel with the floor. Lower it back down and repeat with your right arm. Count that as two reps and go up to 10.

Then, slide your left foot back and lift your leg toward the ceiling as if kicking someone in the knee behind you. But, do not allow your pelvis to tilt or your back to move in any way. Your spine should remain straight and your pelvis even throughout the exercise. Bring your left knee back to the starting position and repeat with the right leg. Alternate until you've done 10 leg raises.


Don't worry, you don't need a pool to perform this exercise, but you might need a pillow. Lie flat face down with your arms straight in front of you on the floor. If this hurts your back, place a small pillow under your abdomen. Or, don't do any of these exercises and talk to your doctor.

Now, lift your head, chest, and arms an inch or two off the floor as you lift your legs into the air. Keep looking at the floor so that your neck stays straight with your spine. Alternatively move your arms up and down as you kick your legs up and down. Keep “swimming” for 10 to 20 seconds, and then lower back to the floor and rest.

These three exercises target the multidifus but also improve strength in your abs, lower back extensors, and glutes. Your lower back might feel tired at the end, but you should not feel any sharp pains or aches. Definitely stop if you experience any muscle spasms or pain. If you have back pain now or an unhealed injury, speak with your doctor before attempting to do these exercises.

See also:

The Rotational Exercises You Need to be Doing

Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

Exercises to Prevent Core Instability

Easy Ab Workout With an Exercise Ball



About the Author

Sárka-Jonae Miller is a health and fitness expert. She began working in the fitness industry in 2000 while pursuing a BS in journalism at Syracuse University. She became certified as a personal fitness trainer and group exercise instructor in 2003. She has also received training in massage therapy. Sárka also writes fiction. She is the author of the chick lit novel, Between Boyfriends. Get more health and wellness tips on Sárka's Natural Healing Tips blog or join her on Facebook and Twitter.

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