Workouts to prevent lower back pain must be top of mind each time you enter the gym. Nothing can be more debilitating than a lower back injury, therefore you have to approach each workout with this in mind.
When you begin your workout, making sure your back doesn’t get injured is probably not the main focus of your workout. Our main focus in the gym is generally the exercise that we are working on in the moment: Crunches working the abs; dumbbells working the arms, leg extensions working quads, and more.
Then once you’re doing the exercise, the focus will usually shift to pumping out a certain number of sets and reps.
A Balanced Approach is Key
However, it’s essential to keep in mind that during the process of working out one part of your body, you could inadvertently injure another muscle group or part of the body. Workouts to avoid lower back pain and knowing how to perform these workouts is essential. A full 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, so being proactive to mitigate this risk is critical. (1)
Besides back exercises which obviously target your back, nearly every other exercise you can do at the gym will have a direct or indirect impact on you lower back. The back is central to so many exercises that you simply must be aware and proactively protective of your back during workouts.
You lower back and overall back muscles are associated with standing, turning, flexing, and more. So it’s important to be aware of each exercise and any potential risky movements that can result in injury. By doing this, you can “injury-proof” your back while you’re focusing on other parts of the body.
Priority #1: Proper Warm-up
Proper warm-up is crucial to avoiding injury during your workouts. It is the most important part of your time in the gym, as one injury can put you out of commission for six months or longer. This can completely derail your fitness goals and workout objectives. So nothing is more important than a thorough warm-up!
Without a warm-up, your muscles– consisting of those that support and protect your spinal column– will be stiffer and more vulnerable to injury.
Injury-Proof Your Lower Back With a Great Warm-up
First, do 3-5 minutes of light cardio to get your blood flowing and warm-up your muscles. Only start a workout when your muscles are warm and supple, not cold and stiff. This is the first, and most important key, in avoiding a lower back injury.
Light cardio can be as simple as jogging in place, jumping rope, jumping jacks, or a light jog. Just something to get the blood flowing and your muscles warmed and ready.
Next, do some dynamic stretching such as:
- Arm rotations
- Shoulder rotations
- Leg swings (one at a time)
- Arm swings
- Torso rotations
- Bodyweight squats
Planks for Lower Back and Core Strength
Planks are one of best exercises that you can perform for your abs, as well as your entire core. But with planks, perfect form imperative because your back is largely involved in the exercise. When doing a plank, this means that you want to feel like you’re pulling your stomach toward your spinal column to activate your abs and really work your core.
By bracing your abs as if you’re getting ready for a punch, you not only help protect your back, but you’ll start feeling muscles that were probably not utilized before.
Planks are are a great exercise to strengthen and safeguard your lower back, as well as your entire core.
Standard crunches are a reliable workout for the abdominals. They are one of the best ab exercises that you can do to work your abs as well as your core, but they can also be risky when performed improperly.
Make sure to always perform crunches in a controlled and deliberate motion. You don’t want the motion to be jerky or careless, or you can easily pull a muscle.
Ab workouts are one of the very best workouts to prevent lower back pain. They strengthen you core, your lower back, and are overall powerhouse exercises for you lower back health.
Pull-ups or Lat Pulldowns for Back Strength
Performing pull-ups or overhead lat pulldowns at your gym (or home gym) are a great back workout to work your back and lats, and improve back width. However, many people have a tendency to look down or tilt the neck down when performing the pulling motion, and this can result in injury. Make sure to maintain good posture and maintain good head position (up) to avoid back or neck injury.
Again, make sure the motion is controlled and deliberate. There is no workout advantage to loading overly-heavy weight and having to use a jerking motion to perform the exercise. So make sure the weight is well within your limits.
Biking for Lower Back Health
Riding a bike or stationary bike is a terrific cardio workout that is low-impact, so it’s much easier on your joints. However, it’s important to ensure good posture, and also riding on a bike that is a good fit for your frame.
If you’re on a stationary bike, change the seat to a comfy level and try to prevent leaning your lower arms on the handlebars. Getting this wrong can mess with your balance and form and therefore stress your back muscles.
Seat position is also key on a stationary bike. If your legs are too straight, or likewise too bent, it can put strain on your lower back. The ideal seat position is a 25 degree angle in your knee joint in the down position (the 6 o’clock position).
So it’s a great idea, if you’re a serious biker, to have your bike fitted by a professional so it’s a perfect fit. This will not only be a safer bike ride, but also more enjoyable because it will be more comfortable.
Running on the Treadmill
The treadmill is one of the best gym machines to add variety and spice to your exercise routines. There are many cardio routines that you can do on a treadmill. And when you run, try to imagine you’re running outside. Don’t look down and fix your gaze on the track below you. Running with poor posture or improper form on the treadmill can lead to an aching neck, and possibly even back pain.
Click to learn more about the ideal running posture. In summary, you want to run with solid, upright posture and your gaze straight ahead. You’ll naturally have a slight forward lean, just make sure it’s not a slumped movement.
Additionally, make sure you have comfortable running shoes that are high-performance running shoes. This not only affects your feet and ankles, but also your entire leg.
Be careful of which stretches you do. Some stretches could be contributing to low back pain without you realizing it. If you feel any pain or tightness in your lower back when doing a stretch, stop and check if you’re doing the right form. If you are doing it correctly, try a different stretch for the same muscle group.
For example, there are so many ways to stretch your hamstrings without causing damage to your lower back.
Click for to learn more about lower back pain stretches. Workouts to prevent lower back pain, as well as consistent lower back stretches, are key to overall lower back health.
If you’re feeling any back pain, tightness, or stiffness while working out or while performing seemingly basic activities throughout the day, make sure to speak with a physical therapist right away. They can help you figure out if there is a problem and help you create a workout routine that will keep your back pain gone for good. (2)
Click to return to body wellness.
1. Back Pain Facts and Statistics. American Chiropractic Association. (n.d.). https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/What-is-Chiropractic/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics.
2. Physical Therapy Clinic in Brooklyn NY. Project Physical Therapy. (n.d.). https://projectphysicaltherapy.com/.