Quadratus Lumborum: 4 Exercises and 4 Stretches

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
December 15, 2022

Among the lesser-known muscles that make up the core, the quadratus lumborum or “QL” is considerably important, as it governs spinal cord stability and an individual’s capacity to bend to the side without falling over.

For lifters who wish to reinforce this biomechanic or people that wish to avoid injuries that may occur within this muscle, it is important to properly stretch and exercise it.

Fortunately, stretching and exercising the quadratus lumborum is quite easy, with movements like the child’s pose or side plank being excellent for targeting, reinforcing and relaxing the QL muscle - all without the need for excessive equipment or advanced exercise knowledge.

What is the Quadratus Lumborum?

The quadratus lumborum is a skeletal muscle that is located deep within the core area, attaching from near the iliac crest of the pelvic bone all the way to the base of the rib cage on both sides of the torso.

quadratus lumborum

When recruited, it is responsible for stabilizing and allowing for a lateral bend of the torso and spinal column, as well as aids in the movement of lower back extension.

During everyday activities, the quadratus lumborum acts as a supportive muscle for maintaining correct posture and otherwise allowing general torso motion without injury to the back and spinal column being sustained.

Benefits of Stretching and Exercising the Quadratus Lumborum

Despite its rather obscurity in the fitness community, exercising and stretching the quadratus lumborum is actually quite beneficial - greatly aiding in a reduction of lower back pain, a reduction in lower back risk injury and generally reinforcing the strength and stability of any lateral movements of the torso.

Furthermore, many of the stretches used to target the quadratus lumborum will also target many other portions of the back and abdomen, resulting in general improvements throughout the entirety of the thorax and lower back.

Exercising the quadratus lumborum will generally also train the entirety of the core itself, providing the many benefits such training can achieve as well.

Stretches for the Quadratus Lumborum

In order to differentiate stretches from exercises that target the quadratus lumborum, it is important to note that stretching movements are meant to act as rehabilitative or preparatory tools, rather than as a method of strengthening an already-healthy quadratus lumborum muscle.

This means that any sort of resistance or pain experienced during a stretch of the quadratus lumborum indicates that you should immediately stop the stretch, especially if your QL muscle was recently injured.

1. Extended Wall Stretches

Extended wall stretches are a standard pose that target the latissimus dorsi alongside the quadratus lumborum, usually in a minimally dynamic fashion and in such a way that no equipment or excessive mobility is needed.

Extended wall stretches are the most suitable stretch for the QL muscle if the exerciser is uninjured and is capable of extending their arm fully overhead with no risk of injury.

Equipment Needed

Other than a suitably sturdy wall, the extended wall stretch requires no other equipment and is perfectly suitable to perform at home.

How-to:

To perform the extended wall stretch, the exerciser will stand with one side facing the wall, their hip in contact with it and their arm extended overhead at a more neutral angle.

Bending slightly at the waist and maintaining contact with the wall, the exerciser should then feel a stretching sensation along the side and back of their torso. If there is no stretching present, they may bend further while pressing their side against the wall.

2. Standing Side Stretches

The standing side stretch is a staple of many pre-workout mobility routines, especially for individuals with a predisposition to stiff or otherwise poorly controlled core musculature.

standing side stretch

It is a stretch that targets not only the quadratus lumborum but also other nearby muscle groups like the internal and external obliques or the serratus anterior - all muscles that are recruited alongside the quadratus lumborum during lateral movement of the torso.

Equipment Needed

Standing side stretches require no equipment whatsoever and may be performed with little available space.

How-to:

To perform a standing side stretch, the exerciser will stand straight and fully extend both arms over their head, wrapping the fingers together with the palms facing upwards.

Then, flexing the core and ensuring the legs are firmly set, the exerciser will bend to one side at the waist. If done correctly, a stretching sensation will be felt extending from the base of the torso to the hands.

They will hold this position for several counts before repeating it with the opposite side, completing the stretch therein.

3. Yoga Child’s Pose

The child’s pose is a classic yoga position that stretches much of the muscles along the anterior side of the core, as well as the shoulders and hips.

child pose

As a quadratus lumborum stretch, the child’s pose is highly effective and primarily of a static nature, with only a portion of its movement requiring dynamic movement of the QL muscle.

Equipment Needed

The yoga child’s pose requires only a suitably comfortable mat on which to lie, and no other equipment.

How-to:

To execute the child’s pose, the exerciser will lie on their hands and knees upon a suitably comfortable surface.

Then, bending the knees slowly and drawing the torso back, the exerciser will bring their glutes to their heels, maintaining the positioning and the extension of the arms as they do so.

They will hold this position for several counters before reversing the movement, thereby completing the stretch.

4. Lying Knee to Chest Stretch

The lying knee to chest stretch is a somewhat lesser known stretch that targets the quadratus lumborum, hip flexors and posterior chain in a low-impact manner that may be performed at home or anywhere with a suitably comfortable surface.

lying knee to chest

It is most often employed by athletes or individuals performing a pre-workout mobility routine, as the lying knee to chest stretch is a static stretch that activates many of the areas normally recruited by strenuous exercise alongside the QL muscle.

Equipment Needed

The lying knee to chest stretch requires only a suitably comfortable area on which to lie on, and otherwise does not need any other sort of equipment.

How-to:

To perform the lying knee to chest stretch, the exerciser will lie on their back with the chest facing upwards and the heels touching the ground.

Then, relaxing their body, they will draw both knees upwards towards the sternum, using their arms to aid in the movement by pulling on the shins as needed.

Holding this position of their knees against their chest, the exerciser will wait for several counts before releasing their legs back to the ground, thereby completing the stretch.

Exercises for the Quadratus Lumborum

Exercises targeting the quadratus lumborum are performed for the purposes of injury-proofing or otherwise strengthening the QL muscle. 

This is most often achieved by careful application of resistance upon the quadratus lumborum and surrounding muscles, ensuring that a hypertrophic effect is induced with regular performance of said exercises.

1. Side Plank

The side plank is a classic core training exercise that includes the quadratus lumborum among its numerous muscular activations.

side plank

It is primarily an isometric exercise that is meant to be performed for a lengthy period of time so as to improve the endurance and strength of the core muscles, QL muscle included.

Equipment Needed

The side plank is entirely a bodyweight exercise and requires no equipment other than a suitably comfortable space on which to lie on.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the side plank, the exerciser will lie upon their side with the palm and foot of the ground-facing side supporting the body.

Flexing the core, they will form a straight line with their legs and torso, ensuring that the muscles of the abdomen are rigid and holding the back in a neutral curvature throughout the movement.

They will hold this position for a predetermined length of time before relaxing the core and thereby completing the exercise.

2. Back Hyperextensions

The back hyperextension is a bodyweight exercise that is performed with a specially-purposed machine so as to recruit the muscles of the back and lower posterior chain, quadratus lumborum included.

back hyperextension

It is most often seen in bodybuilding or powerlifting training programs as an accessory compound movement meant to reinforce the posterior chain and strengthen general muscular power along the rear of the body.

Equipment Needed

The back hyperextension exercise requires the use of a hyperextension machine, and may occasionally be weighted with a dumbbell, weight plate or kettlebell if so desired by the exerciser.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of the back hyperextension, the exerciser will lie within the hyperextension machine with their torso facing forward, adjusting the pads so they press against the pelvis comfortably.

Then, they will tighten the muscles of the lower back and lower themselves by hinging at the hip, stopping once their back has reached a state of full flexion.

Squeezing the muscles of the posterior chain and ensuring no swinging takes place, the exerciser will then raise themselves back upwards until their body forms a straight upward-angled line.

This completes a repetition of the back hyperextension exercise.

3. Cable Woodchoppers

The cable woodchopper exercise is a core isolation movement performed with the use of a resistance machine, particularly a cable machine with an adjustable pulley elevation so as to maximize the benefit of performing the exercise with the correct angle of resistance.

The cable woodchopper exercise recruits the quadratus lumborum muscle to a small extent while simultaneously working other nearby muscles like the obliques, rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis respectively.

Equipment Needed

Cable woodchoppers require the use of a cable pulley machine, preferably with a comfortable handle that can fit one or both hands.

How-to:

To perform a repetition of cable woodchoppers, the exerciser will set the pulley elevation to approximately chest-height, attaching a suitable handle to the cable as they do so.

Then, positioning themself in such a way that the resistance will extend across the body, they will fully straighten the arms as they grip the handle and pull it across the torso, turning as they do so.

They will pull the cable handle until it has reached the opposite side of the body, ensuring that the core is braced and the torso is turning in-line with the handle.

Holding this position for a moment, they will then allow the resistance to slowly pull their body back to its original position, thereby completing the repetition.

For the best results, the exerciser may wish to repeat the motion on the opposite side as well.

4. Bird Dog Exercise

The bird dog exercise is a movement encountered in both resistance training programs and in rehabilitative plans, as it is relatively low resistance but will nonetheless act as an effective strengthening exercise for the quadratus lumborum, even for more advanced level exercisers.

bird dog

It is most often performed without the use of additional resistance equipment, but individuals seeking greater resistance can perform the bird dog exercise with the use of a cable machine or resistance bands wrapped around the wrist or knee, thereby increasing the intensity of the exercise.

Equipment Needed

The bird dog exercise requires no equipment other than a suitably comfortable surface or exercise mag on which to lie atop.

How-to:

Lying on all fours atop a suitably comfortable surface, the exerciser will then flex their core muscles and retract their scapula prior to raising one arm and the leg on the opposite side of the body.

Holding this position for several counts, they will return to the all-fours position before repeating the movement with the limbs of the opposite side.

This completes a repetition of the bird dog exercise.

In Conclusion

While all exercises and stretches within this article are perfectly safe when performed with the correct form, it is important to note that injuries of the quadratus lumborum are unpredictable and it is best to avoid self-rehabilitating unless otherwise instructed by a medical professional.

Otherwise, the exercises mentioned here are among the most effective for building a stable and effective set of quadratus lumborum muscles, and it is highly advisable that you include at least one such exercise into your back workout day.

References

1. Phillips S, Mercer S, Bogduk N. Anatomy and biomechanics of quadratus lumborum. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part H: Journal of Engineering in Medicine. 2008;222(2):151-159. doi:10.1243/09544119JEIM266

2. Xu, C., Fu, Z. & Wang, X. Effect of Transversus abdominis muscle training on pressure-pain threshold in patients with chronic low Back pain. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil 13, 35 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13102-021-00262-8

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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