Strengthening Exercises for the Quadratus Lumborum

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The quadratus lumborum, or QL for short, is a deep muscle that runs from the top of your pelvis to your lower ribs and lumbar vertebrae. You have two QLs -- one on either side of your spine. It has three functions: it aids in both lateral flexion and rotation of your spine and also helps stabilize your pelvis and lower back. When weak or tight, the QL can contribute to back pain. There are a number of exercises you can perform to strengthen your QL muscles.

Lateral Flexion Exercises

Bending sideways is called lateral flexion, one of the main functions of QL. To get the most from any lateral flexion exercise, you should imagine you are trapped between two panes of glass and you can only lean sideways. This will reduce the temptation to twist your hips or shoulders, which will reduce the effectiveness of any lateral flexion exercises. To strengthen your QL, perform side bends with dumbbells, resistance bands or a medicine ball above your head or, if you prefer, body-weight exercises, such as side-lying planks with hip raises, also known as side bridges.

Rotation Exercises

Rotation is a relatively uncommon daily movement pattern. The only time many people rotate is when they turn to put on their seatbelts or look behind them. In sports, rotation is more common, and activities such as tennis, wrestling and golf involve a lot of rotation. Cable wood chops and Russian twists, windscreen wipers, rotational medicine ball throws and twisting crunches all work the rotational function of your QL as well as your abs and obliques.

Stabilization Exercises

As well as working dynamically to initiate movement, the QL also works statically to prevent movement. This static tension is called an isometric contraction. Stabilization exercises are best thought of as anti-movement exercises. Single-arm carries are an effective way to increase QL strength and therefore lumbar and pelvic stability. Hold a weight above your head or by your side and walk for distance or time -- waiter's walks and farmer's walks, respectively. Make sure you keep your spine perfectly vertical and work to counter the off-center weight. If you don't have space to walk, perform step-ups instead.

QL Stretches

As well as keeping your QLs in great shape with strengthening exercises, you should also endeavor to stretch them to prevent tightness and lumbar spine stiffness. Simply bending sideways while keeping your hips level will provide a mild stretch for your QLs, but if you want a deeper stretch, step out into a lunge position and rotate your upper body over your forward leg so you are looking behind you. Use a wall for balance if necessary. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds on each side to maintain your current flexibility and 30 seconds or longer to increase it.