One possible cause of low back pain isn’t weak back muscles, but weak or ill functioning hip muscles. These in turn might be the victim of knee problems.
Most of my favorite hip strengthening exercises involve standing on one leg or shifting weight to one leg. Standing on both legs it's easy to hide from hip problems or weakness. Working on one leg it's easier to detect problems and fix them.
Because I’ve had hip problems a lot of my hip strengthening exercises include deliberately activating particular hip muscles. If you have hip problems, or any muscle problems for that matter, being able to turn muscles on and off at will can be used as a fault finding method. But outside of that it can also be a way of making difficult poses easier. You can play with different muscle activations to see which one helps the most. And on any given day, the activation that helps may be different.
I’d say my favorite hip strengthening exercises is balancing on one leg in a standing forward bend with the lifted leg flexed at the hip (pulled forwards).
You can start with both feet and both hands on the floor (or hands on yoga blocks or a chair if you can’t reach the floor.) Knees are straight. Shift weight to one leg and lift the other leg. Pull your lifted leg forwards.
If you have difficulty pulling it forwards your first exercise can include reaching the leg back and up as high as possible and then pulling it forwards. Do both movements slowly and smoothly. Repeat a few times then switch legs.
From here the next step is to keep the lifted leg pulling forwards and lift the hands. To do that shift your weight back so that you press evenly through heel and forefoot. Then lift your hands. Pause, then replace your hands on the floor and shift your weight forwards. Repeat a few times before changing sides.
Prior to shifting your weight back and lifting your hands you can activate the hip of the standing leg. Or activate both the hip and the knee. You can relax both after you shift your weight forwards.
You could also activate the hip of your lifted leg to help pull your lifted leg further forwards.
Another knee and hip strengthening exercise is half moon pose.
For this, the exercise can be to activate the knee and hip, then relax. You could make the hip feel strong or focus on the glute.
The next step is to add a weight shift.
Make your knee and hip strong, then shift your weight to your foot, then lift your hand. Pause, put the hand down and shift weight midway between hand and foot and then relax.
Usually I’ll rest from one foot exercises by doing regular standing exercises. The focus could be on using friction or simple muscle activation to strengthen the legs.
Another hip set of hip strengthening exercises that I sometimes use to finish a class with involves controlling the side tilt of the pelvis. Standing on one leg with the other leg lifted, the idea is to use the hip muscles of the standing leg to control and vary the tilt of the pelvis. This mainly exercises the glutes but it can also be a means of devoloping better pelvic awareness.
Standing upright on one leg with the other foot slightly lifted focus on lifting the hip on the lifted leg side, then sinking it down. Focus on using your standing leg hip muscles.
Switch legs and repeat.
Next try the same exercise but bent forwards with the torso horizontal. You can do this hip strengthening exercise with the hands on the floor (or on a chair or on yoga blocks) or with the hands lifted.
You can repeat the exercise in tree pose focusing on the lifted leg hip.
Then finally try it in a variation of eagle pose. Here, cross the knees but don’t bind the feet. Instead as you lift the hip move the lifted leg shin towards the standing leg.
Conscious Muscle Control videos: Friction and Pressure includes more leg and hip strengthening exercises. Some of the exercises use friction and others pressure to make muscle activation (and muscle awareness) easier to learn.
The seated get up is a way of getting into the one legged squat from a seated position. Even if you aren't interested in one leg squats this video does include tips on stabilizing the knees (at about the 5 minute mark.) Usual muscle activations for knee stability might include the quads, the hamstrings or any of the glutes. This looks at another set of muscles all together. If you like the video or find it helpful, please do share it! Thanks!
Some tips for learning how to do deep squats (without weight). The first tip is on how to stay balanced while squatting.
How do you learn the body weight safely? How do you work towards this pose even if you aren't sure if you are capable of doing it.
Basic yoga poses: standing, sitting, arm balances, binds, twists, inversions, back bending, front bends.
Scapular stabilization becomes a little bit harder when working agains the weight of the body. It can be easier to learn if you gradually increase the amount of body weight the scapular stabilizer muscles are working againsts..
Some hip flexor strengthening exercises.
These yoga poses can be used as arm strengthening exercises.
Turn yoga poses into leg strengthening exercises using floor pressing actions, leverage and friction.
One way of finding and fixing hip problems is to do standing hip strengthening exercises while balancing on one leg.
Knee anatomy for yoga teachers looks at the bones and muscles that comprise the back of the knee in simple terms.
Working towards a kneeling quadriceps stretch you first need to be able to kneel. If you have difficulty kneeling, you may find it helps to activate your quadriceps.
When doing quadriceps stretching it may help to activate and then relax your quadriceps in these standing, lunging, pigeon and supine yoga pose variations.
Some exercises and yoga poses for working towards a lying quadriceps stretch one leg at a time.
What are the benefits of the Dance of Shiva? Arm strength and balance, learning to learn and improving creativity.
This yoga routine video is designed to help you strengthen your arms and legs via the use of friction and pressure. It also teaches you how to become more aware of your body.
The transverse abdominis muscle can be broken down into three parts. Transverse abdominal exercises can thus affect the SI Joint, lumbar spine and the lower portion of the ribcage.
To improve the resiliency of your knees it can help to exercise them in a variety of positions. The following yoga poses can be used as knee strengthening exercises. The trick is to activate your knees while doing them.
Learn to consciously control your quads and hip flexors with Conscious Muscle Control: Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors. This downloadable video course teaches you how to feel and activate your quadriceps (the vastus muscles) as well as the rectus femoris, tensor fascae latae and sartorius muscles.
For any calf stretch you have to bend your ankle forwards to stretch the soleus and/or gastrocnemius. How you bend the ankle forwards can make the stretch more or less effective.
Yoga for flexibility with stretches for the hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes, psoas, shoulders and arms. These yoga stretches are designed to improve flexiblity.