If your low back is hurting, try these easy-to-do quadratus lumborum exercises to strengthen and stretch this important muscle.

pin to a post about 14 powerful quadratus lumborum exercises

Your back has been achy, but no big deal. Then, it happens–you bend down to tie your shoe and SNAP! Your back goes out.

Low back injuries can happen in a variety of ways and be caused by a number of muscles. However, one of the most common trouble makers is the quadratus lumborum muscle.

Whenever I’m trying to figure out which muscle is causing low back pain, I always like to imagine the lineup scene from the movie The Usual Suspects. Yes, there are about six or so muscles that could be to blame, but you keep coming back to the shifty-eyed one at the end.

In this case, that shifty-eyed muscle, the one that you think probably is to blame, is the quadratus lumborum. Often times, this muscle is one of the top trouble-causers, and it tends to be very obvious about the pain it causes.

But, sadly, achy muscles don’t disappear after a couple of hours like villains in movies. Instead, you have to do something about it to address that muscle’s needs then whip it into shape!

Fortunately, there are several quadratus lumborum exercises you can do to keep this muscle happy, healthy, and pain-free. But before you scroll on down to the exercises, take a moment to learn about this muscle.

By taking the time to figure out why this muscle is cranky, you can prevent future pain and injury.

Related: If you’re searching for quadratus lumborum exercises because you’re trying to figure out how to do some effective DIY back pain relief, check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation. You’ll learn everything you need to know to relieve hip and low back pain from the privacy of your own home.

You don’t have to wonder what you need to do to get rid of your pain. Download your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief (No Matter Which Muscle Hurts) and learn this simple pain-relieving activity.

Where Is the Quadratus Lumborum?

a drawing of the quadratus lumborum muscle
Thanks to Kenhub.com for the use of their image.

The quadratus lumborum originates on the iliac crest and the iliolumbar ligament. The iliolumbar ligament runs from the 5th lumbar vertebra out to the ilium.

The quadratus lumborum inserts on the 12th rib and on the transverse processes of the upper four lumbar vertebrae (L1-L4). The transverse processes are the spike-like portion of the bone that sticks off of the main body of the vertebra.

In plain English: This muscle helps connect the spine and the bottom of the rib cage to the pelvis.

What Does It Do?

The quadratus lumborum has three main functions. It helps you:

  1. bend straight over to the side,
  2. extend straight back like when you stretch in your chair, and
  3. stabilize your bottom rib during deep breathing.

You may not think you bend straight over to the side very often, but you probably do this more than you think. For example, if you were sitting in a chair and wanted to set something on the floor beside the chair, you would bend to the side to set the object down.

Here, you’re reaching your rib cage toward your hips, but the QL works the opposite way, too. As the ribs move toward the hips, the hips may also move toward the ribs.

Think about when you’re carrying something on your hip (like groceries or a child), and it starts to slip. Automatically, the hip may jostle the object upward to restore balance. It’s the QL that helps with that movement.

In addition to lateral flexion, the quadratus lumborum helps extend the lumbar vertebrae and provide lateral stability. So, when you take a break and stretch backward, that’s the QL working.

Another function of the quadratus lumborum is that it stabilizes the 12th rib during deep respiration. This helps stabilize the diaphragm for singers exercising voice control.

What Happens When the QL Doesn’t Work?

Unfortunately, the quadratus lumborum can become injured simply by performing its standard actions. If you bend sideways incorrectly or lift from a sideways position too quickly, you can injure yourself.

In fact, it is incredibly common for people who do their heavy carrying on one side (be it groceries or kids) to injure this muscle. Then, when the quadratus lumborum muscle is injured, it will show up as low back pain.

And, although an injured QL can be the cause of back pain, it is frequently falsely blamed. Sometimes, the actual cause of pain can be neighboring muscles like the iliocostalis lumborum.

Related: Iliocostalis Lumborum Pain | Everything You Need to Know to Relieve Your Back Pain Right Now and Stay Pain-Free!

Or, the pain can be referred from a different area of the body entirely. Personally, I think the psoas, which is a neighbor to the QL, causes much of the dysfunction that leads to low back pain.

Related: Learn more about the psoas muscles that could be causing your pain.

Whenever you are trying to decide what you can do to help yourself feel better, make sure to take the time to think through your situation. What were you doing when you noticed pain? Where, precisely, do you feel pain?

By figuring out which muscle is causing your pain, you can choose the best exercises to stretch and strengthen this muscle, relieving your pain.

Making Your Quadratus Lumborum Muscle Feel Better

As always, I recommend that if you feel pain, you should first consult your physician. Your doctor can order imaging, medication, and therapy to appropriately and correctly treat your issue.

If your back pain is not very significant and you feel like you want to try some stretches and exercises at home, I have a couple of ideas.

First, it’s important to know that tightness = weakness. So, when you’re deciding what you want to do to make your low back feel better, be aware that you will need to stretch and strengthen those muscles in order to feel better.

The Best Quadratus Lumborum Exercises

Make sure to be very careful as you practice these poses and exercises. If your QL is already cranky, just a tiny extra push could send it over the edge into a spasm.

Also, you want to remember you are trying to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your low back that run between your ribs and hips. Take deep breaths into this area to help facilitate stretching. Engage your core and activate the QL to allow it to help you move back to your starting posture.

The 5 Best Side-Bending Exercises

Because the primary purpose of the quadratus lumborum is lateral flexion, I recommend side-bending exercises. Notice how as you bend to the side, one side of the QL is stretching while the other side of the QL is strengthening.

Here are a few of my favorite side-bending poses and exercises.

1. Side bend prep.

  1. Use traditional Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Have a seat on your bottom.
  3. Line up your left hand, left knee, and right foot so that they’re pretty much in a straight line. (I know that just sounds like the craziest Twister spin ever, but it’s going to work out. I promise.)
  4. Make sure you can still feel both SITs bones on the ground.
  5. Sit up nice and tall, and hug your belly button toward your spine.
  6. Reach your right arm out, palm up. Let it briefly rest on the top of your right knee.
  7. Inhale to lift your arm and hips. Press into your left knee and right foot to help you lift. Reach your arm straight by your ear.
  8. Exhale and really try to create a curve at your waist.
  9. Inhale and reach your arm toward the ceiling.
  10. Exhale and lower yourself back to your starting position.
  11. Do 3-5 reps.
  12. Switch sides.

2. Mermaid.

pilates mermaid is a great way quadratus lumborum exercise
  1. Take a seat.
  2. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  3. Draw your belly button to your spine.
  4. Inhale as you raise an arm. Feel your fingertips lift toward the ceiling, and feel your ribs reach away from your hips.
  5. Exhale. Lift up and reach over (like you’re making a “C”) as you bend to the side.
  6. Inhale to come up to center.
  7. Exhale to lower your arm.
  8. Inhale and raise the opposite arm, so you can go to the other side.
  9. Exhale. Lift up and reach over (like you’re making a “C”) as you bend to the side.
  10. Complete 3-5 reps.

3. Reverse warrior.

discover the 4 best types of yoga for beginners wanting to relieve pain
  1. Use ujjayi breathing by inhaling and exhaling through your nose.
  2. Start at the front of your mat, and step your right foot back about 4 feet. Align your right heel or arch with your left heel. Make sure your left knee tracks over your second and third toes. Stack your rib cage directly above your pelvis. Reach your arms to the side and gaze over your left fingers. You should be in Warrior 2 pose (if that’s familiar for you).
  3. Lift your rib cage away from your hips.
  4. Let your right hand lower to your right thigh.
  5. Reach through your left hand as the arm raises, helping you reach up and over to the right side.
  6. Look at the inside of your arm or the palm of your hand.
  7. Hold and breathe for 5-8 breaths. Resist the temptation to let this pose crumple. As you breathe and soften, maintain the distance between your rib cage and pelvis. This will help prevent injury.
  8. To switch sides, lower your arms to Warrior 2. Straighten your legs, rotate your left foot forward, and rotate your right foot out. Make sure you have correct alignment for your Warrior 2 on the right side before you complete steps 3-7 for the right side.
  9. To finish, lower your arms to Warrior 2 and transition to your next pose.

4. Side angle pose.

side angle pose is a great quadratus lumborum exercise
  1. Use ujjayi breathing as you inhale and exhale through your nose.
  2. Begin in Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2) with your left foot forward.
  3. Lift your ribs away from your hips.
  4. Hinge your torso to the left. As you move, keep your chest open and don’t allow it to rotate forward. Let your fingertips to touch down either in front of or behind your ankle on the floor or a block. If this side stretch is too intense right now, bring your left forearm high on your left thigh. Make sure you do not rest here. Actively reach the ribs away from the hips.
  5. Check the alignment of your head and make sure it isn’t jutting forward.
  6. With broad collarbones, bring your straight right arm by your head. Your right ear should be beside the inside of your right arm. Make sure your palm is facing down.
  7. Press into the outside edge of your right foot and feel the line of energy from your right foot through your fingertips.
  8. Hold for 5-8 breaths.
  9. To come out, let the right arm come by your side to help lift the torso to an upright position.
  10. Switch sides.

5. Triangle pose.

triangle pose is a great quadratus lumborum exercise
  1. Use ujjayi breathing as you inhale and exhale through your nose.
  2. Begin in Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2) with your left foot forward.
  3. Straighten your left knee.
  4. Let your inner thighs (adductors) feel like they’re scissoring toward each other.
  5. Kick your right hip out to the wall behind you as you reach your left arm forward to the wall in front of you. Feel your arms reach away from each other as your left hand moves toward the ground.
  6. As you move, keep your chest open and don’t allow it to rotate forward. Let your fingertips touch down either on the floor or a block in front of or behind your calf. If this side stretch is too intense, you can press the back of your left hand into your leg. Make sure you do not rest here. Actively reach the ribs away from your leg.
  7. Check the alignment of your head and make sure it isn’t jutting forward.
  8. Look forward or up at your right hand.
  9. Make sure both legs are straight.
  10. Press the outside edge of the right foot into the mat.
  11. Reach your arms apart.
  12. Hold for 5-8 breaths.
  13. To come out, let the right arm come by your side to help lift the torso to an upright position.
  14. Switch sides.

The 5 Best Spinal Extension Exercises

Another way to strengthen the QL is through spinal extension. This works both sides of the quadratus lumborum at the same time.

Make sure to be mindful of what you are doing and why as you move to strengthen the QL. Here are my favorite extension exercises and poses.

1. Cobra pose prep.

cobra pose prep is a powerful quadratus lumborum strengthening exercise
  1. Begin on your stomach with your hands beside your rib cage. Spread your fingers. Bring your legs together with the tops of the feet pressing into the ground. If you have low back pain, tailbone pain, or if this feels uncomfortable; keep some space between your legs.
  2. Move both hands out on a forty-five-degree angle and raise up onto your fingertips.
  3. Roll your right shoulder blade onto your back. Feel it slide away from your ear.
  4. Roll your left shoulder blade onto your back. Feel it slide away from your ear.
  5. Reach from your head through your toes. Imagine you are an arrow.
  6. Inhale, press into your toenails, and lift your belly. Press your hands forward as you reach your elbows back and broaden your collarbones. Press your pelvis, legs, and feet into the ground as you open your chest forward. You are working on opening the thoracic spine, so make sure you don’t feel tension in your low back. Imagine you are rotating your breast bone toward the wall in front of you.
  7. Use ujjayi breathing to inhale and exhale through your nose. As you inhale, think of lengthening the spine and keeping your abdominals engaged. On the exhale, think of softening into any tight spots you might have.
  8. Notice the amount of weight in your hands. You should be able to briefly lift your hands while keeping your spine in the same position. If you cannot lift your hands, you are relying too heavily on your arms and cheating your back out of the work it needs. Instead, come out of the pose and, when you try again, don’t lift quite as high. Remember, this exercise is about your spine.
  9. To come out of the pose, inhale to engage the abdominals and lengthen. Exhale to lower.

Be sure to keep the front of the pelvis, legs, and feet pressing into the ground.

2. Breast stroke.

the pilates breast stroke exercise is a powerful quadratus lumborum strengthening exercise
  1. Use traditional Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Begin on your stomach with your hands on either side of your chest, your tip of your nose on the mat, and your legs in parallel and hip-width apart. This means your thighs shouldn’t be touching, and they shouldn’t be in line with the widest part of your pelvis. Your heels should be in a straight line from your SITs bones.
  3. Broaden your collarbones to help keep your shoulder blades on your back.
  4. Inhale and draw your belly button up to your spine. Reach from the top of your head through the tips of your toes. As you reach, you’ll notice you lift to a hover over the mat. With palms facing the floor, send your arms straight in front of you.
  5. Exhale and scoop your arms by your sides so your palms touch your thighs. As you scoop your arms, feel your thoracic spine lift you into extension.
  6. As you inhale, lower back to a hover and reach your arms straight in front of you. This pattern should greatly resemble the breast stroke that you do in a pool.
  7. Complete 5-10 reps.
  8. To finish, on your last inhale, instead of reaching your arms straight ahead, bring your hands to either side of your chest and lower down to your starting position.

3. Bridge pose.

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your elbows so your fingertips point straight to the ceiling.
  3. Rock onto your right side. Slide your left shoulder blade down your spine.
  4. Rock onto your left side. Slide your right shoulder blade down your spine.
  5. When you come back to center, your chest should already be opening. Most of your spine will be lifted off the mat already.
  6. Practice ujjayi breathing by inhaling and exhaling through your nose.
  7. Inhale.
  8. As you exhale, press into the backs of your arms and soles of your feet to help you lift your hips.
  9. Hold here and breathe for 5-8 breaths. As you breathe, think about releasing any tightness and letting your heart open.
  10. When you’re ready to come down, exhale and lower your hips to the floor. Keep the rest of your body in the same position.
  11. Inhale here.
  12. Exhale and press into the backs of your arms and soles of your feet to help you lift your hips. If you are comfortable with this lift, straighten your arms and clasp your hands behind your tailbone. Reach your knuckles toward your heels and feel your chest open further.
  13. Hold here for 5-8 breaths.
  14. As you breathe, think about releasing any tightness and letting your heart open.
  15. When you’re ready to come down, exhale, release your hands, and lower your hips to the floor. Keep the rest of your body in the same position.
  16. It is sufficient to do 2 or 3 Bridge poses.

4. Locust pose.

locust pose is a powerful quadratus lumborum strengthening exercise
  1. Use ujjayi breathing to inhale and exhale through your nose.
  2. Begin on your stomach.
  3. Ideally, your legs should be parallel and together. When your legs are in parallel, your kneecaps will be flat on the mat. If you cannot keep your legs together and in parallel or if you have low back or SI joint pain, put some space between your legs. It is essential that your legs are parallel. Also, please be sure to honor your body; don’t put yourself into any situations that cause pain.
  4. Reach your arms by your sides with your fingers spread and palms up.
  5. Take a moment to broaden your collarbones and ensure that your shoulder blades are in neutral on your back.
  6. Send energy from the top of your head through the tips of your toes, reaching in opposite directions.
  7. Inhale and engage your abdominals. Feel your belly lift toward your spine. Then, activate your adductors (inner thighs). Remember, for many people, there is a connection between the abdominals and the adductors; working one may help you work the other.
  8. Exhale and use your glutes to lift your legs off the ground and extend your upper thoracic spine (upper back). From a side view, you should look like a smiley face with your head and feet lifted to comparable levels. Think about letting your upper back soften and your heart rotate forward as you hold.
  9. Hold and breathe. As you inhale, lengthen; as you exhale, soften.
  10. Take 3-5 full breaths.
  11. Lower on the last exhale.

5. Fish pose.

fish pose is a powerful quadratus lumborum strengthening exercise
  1. Use ujjayi breathing to inhale and exhale through your nose.
  2. Move off of your mat on to a relatively slick surface. You want the back of your head to be able to easily slide.
  3. Lay down on your back.
  4. Bend your knees, and engage your abdominals.
  5. Press your feet into the ground, and lift your hips. Place your hands beside each other and lower your pelvis onto the tops of your hands. You should feel like your sacrum (tailbone) is pressing into your hands. Once your pelvis is in place, straighten your legs.
  6. Inhale and engage your abdominals.
  7. Exhale and lift your heart toward the ceiling as you press into your elbows to facilitate your lift.
  8. Place the crown of your head on the floor.
  9. Hold and breathe. Inhale to activate your muscles. Exhale to soften and let your heart open toward the ceiling.
  10. To come out of this pose, press into your forearms so your head can lift. Tuck your chin and lower down. Bend your knees so you can press your feet into the floor and lift your hips. Return your arms by your sides.
  11. Perform the spinal twist of your choice to reset your spine.

The 4 Best Quadratus Lumborum Stretches

In addition to strengthening the quadratus lumborum, you also want to make sure to stretch it. Some of my favorite exercises to stretch the QL are:

1. Cat stretch.

cat stretch is a great quadratus lumborum stretch
  1. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread, and your knees under your hips. Lift your low belly up toward your spine to support your low back. Make sure your shoulder blades are resting flat on the back of your rib cage.
  2. Stick your bottom like you’re sticking your butt out to the wall behind you. Find the length through your spine to help your reach from your pelvis through the top of your head.
  3. For this next step, your goal is to achieve an arched spine while you exhale. There are a few ways to accomplish this. You can tuck your pelvis and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your head coming up last. Or, you could drop your head first and roll up one vertebra at a time, with your tailbone tuck being the last movement. However, you could also drop the head and tuck the tailbone at the same time, sequentially rolling until the middle of your spine reaches up to the ceiling as your apex. Like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, there’s no wrong way to move through cat stretch–as long as you are mindful of your movement. Use your whole exhale to move your body.
  4. As you inhale, return to your starting position, which is also called Table top. Again, you have several choices of how to get to Table top. You could rotate your pelvis back to neutral and moving sequentially through your spine until your head reaches to neutral. Or, you could lengthen your head and cervical spine (neck) to neutral and return one vertebra at a time until the pelvis rotates back to neutral. Also, you could start at the apex of the spine and start lengthening simultaneously toward the head and pelvis. It’s up to you. They’re all good choices. Use your whole inhale to lengthen back to Table top.
  5. Complete 3-10 reps.

2. Shell stretch.

shell stretch is a great quadratus lumborum stretch
  1. Lower down on to your knees with your legs parallel. Your legs should either be right beside each other or just a little wider.
  2. Draw your belly button to your spine, and sit your bottom back toward your heels. In Shell Stretch, it’s okay if your spine rounds and your SITs bones angle down toward the floor. In fact, that’s the whole point!
  3. Let your upper body fold toward the floor.
  4. Reach your arms out straight and place your palms on the floor. With straight elbows, you are in an active Shell Stretch. If you bring your arms by your side, you are in a resting Shell Stretch.
  5. Remember to use Pilates breathing. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through pursed lips.

3. Spine stretch forward.

spine stretch forward is a great way to stretch the quadratus lumborum
  1. Sit with your legs straight in front of you, wider than your hips.
  2. Flex your feet so your heels press into the mat.
  3. Make sure that you can feel your SITs bones press into the mat. Your SITs bones are the bones that you feel press into the floor when you’re sitting. If you can’t feel your SITs bones, sit on a folded blanket or bolster. This will help reduce strain on your hamstrings and, when you get elevated to the correct height, you should be able to feel your SITs bones press into whatever you’re sitting on.
  4. Take a moment to sit in this position. Make sure the muscles in the front of your hips are relaxed. As you feel your SITs bones press into whatever is beneath you, feel yourself lift through the top of your head. When you lift through your spine, notice how your belly button naturally draws toward your spine.
  5. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  6. Inhale to lengthen the spine and lightly engage the abdominals.
  7. Exhale and starting with your head, roll forward one vertebra at a time. As you roll, let your hands slide along the tops of your legs, keeping your elbows straight. (This will help keep your shoulders away from your ears.) Stop after your bottom rib hinges into your body so that you make a C shape. Never collapse your upper body onto your legs. You should still feel your SITs bones pressing into the mat, and the muscles in the front of your hips should be relaxed.
  8. Inhale into your back.
  9. Exhale and reverse sequence. Draw your belly button to your spine and, starting with your lower spine, stack your vertebrae back up. Make sure your head comes all the way up to neutral when you return.
  10. You may do this 3-5 times.

4. Rabbit pose.

rabbit pose is a great quadratus lumborum stretch
  1. Use ujjayi breathing to inhale and exhale through your nose.
  2. Begin on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  3. Draw your belly button toward your spine, and lower the crown of your head toward the mat. Make sure that you keep your hips lifted as high as possible. You can use your hands (if necessary) to help find the correct placement for your head.
  4. Feel your weight press into the tops of your feet, your knees, and gently on the top of your head. Most of the weight should be toward your knees and the tops of your feet, though. If it’s not, shift your weight backward slightly and ask your abs to work a little harder.
  5. Once you feel secure in this position without help from your hands, reach your hands back toward your heels. If you don’t reach your heels initially, work on creating a deeper spinal flexion so that your head comes closer to your knees. To do this, it is essential to deepen the abdominal engagement.
  6. Hold here and breathe for several breaths.
  7. When you’re ready to come out of this pose, place your hands on the mat by your head. Slowly lift your head and lengthen back to a long spine.

Want to Learn More About Relieving Low Back Pain?

If you’re researching QL back pain today because you have some hip or back pain that you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

Also, Kenhub.com is a leader in human anatomy-related information. To learn more about the quadratus lumborum, click here.

You can also check out The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey to learn more about the quadratus lumborum and other muscles. (When you buy this book through this link, I earn a small commission.)

Or, if you want to get really in-depth, check out the Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. I turn to these flashcards any time a client comes in with pain. (Again, if you buy this item through this link, I earn a small commission.)

You don’t have to wonder what you need to do to get rid of your pain. Download your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief (No Matter Which Muscle Hurts) and learn this simple pain-relieving activity.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.

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