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Exercise With Lower Back Pain

Back pain can really put a damper on your typical routine, especially if you’re an active person. But even if you’ve found yourself with a back injury or an increase in low back pain lately, you can still stay active. The key is knowing which exercises are right for working out with lower back pain, and which lower back pain exercises to avoid.

Back pain workouts help you recover from back pain, strengthen weak muscles and increase flexibility in tight areas. Over the years, several studies have found that physical activity decreases self-reported pain symptoms, not just for low back pain but for osteoporosis and arthritis as well. Research also shows that weight-training programs improve short-term and long-term pain symptoms.

Weak back muscles fail to help the spine carry its load, putting unnecessary pressure on spinal discs. That’s why maintaining strong back and core muscles is so essential and why learning to exercise with lower back pain is a great method of preventing future back pain. 

Here’s your guide to working out with lower back pain, including the do’s and don’ts of safe back pain workouts.

Working out With Lower Back Pain

When it comes to exercising with back pain, or any pain for that matter, the conventional wisdom falls into two camps: rest until better or push through the pain. But the truth is, neither of these approaches is necessarily correct in every case.

Whether you should work out if your back hurts depends on several factors:

  • What’s causing your back pain
  • How active you have been leading up to the onset of back pain
  • Your pain symptoms such as when it occurs, where and for how long

Unless your back pain is caused by a severe condition like a fracture, chronic disease or a spinal tumor, most low-intensity cardio and weight training activity can actually help manage back pain. That’s because exercise strengthens muscles to support the spine, while stretching improves mobility in tight back and surrounding muscles.

Most importantly, the research shows, if you’re still mobile, make sure you don’t stay sedentary even with a tight low back. Inactivity can worsen back pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, you shouldn’t stop your fitness routine altogether out of fear of pain. Instead, keep your activity light and steady.

As always, if you’re suffering any pain or injury at all, check with a doctor or physiotherapist before attempting any physical activity. Performing the wrong exercises too intensely could set you back further in your recovery.

Exercises to Do With a Bad Back

For those who want to stay active despite back pain, you may wonder what exercises you can do with a bad back. Back pain—especially if caused by poor posture—is a sign that weak muscles are compressing nerves and a misaligned spine is putting unnecessary pressure around your low back. For these reasons, it’s important to focus on strengthening the following key areas affecting your back.

Core Strength and Stability

Having a strong and stable core is a fundamental aspect of spine health. A strong and stable core helps keep your body upright and allows for flexible movement. Without core strength and stability, your spine will become stressed, risking further injury. When working out with back pain, core exercises are a good place to start.

Examples of core stability exercises you can perform daily for back health include:

  • Pelvic tilts
  • Bridges
  • Wall sits
  • Abdominal exercises using an exercise ball

Strength and Weight Training

Many people assume you should avoid weight and resistance training if you have a bad back. However, evidence suggests otherwise. Multiple studies have found that back pain sufferers who participate in weight training programs see a decrease in pain symptoms compared to those who avoid activity or stick strictly to cardio.

Because the spine is central to the body’s healthy functioning, it’s critical to strengthen all muscle groups that support the back and core. This includes strengthening the shoulders, chest, legs and glutes. Perform a combination of weight machine and bodyweight exercises that target these key areas.

Some examples of weight training exercises for back pain include:

  • Lateral raises, lateral pulldowns and assisted  pull-ups
  • Chest flyes, bench press and incline press
  • Leg press, extensions and curls

Some examples of bodyweight exercises for back pain include:

  • Squats of all variations
  • Lunges, either forward or backward
  • Push-ups or modified push-ups from knees

Whenever you’re weight and resistance training with a bad back, be sure to always tighten your abdominals muscles before beginning an exercise to protect your lower back. Over time, the strength you build in these major areas will help alleviate pressure from the spine, preventing long-term injury. Always get approval from a medical professional before proceeding with weight lifting.


In combination with core stability and weight training, stretching is an essential part of working out with a bad back. When low back pain is involved, stretching out tight hamstring, quad and glute muscles can help relieve pressure from the low back. If you’re suffering from back pain, begin with light, easy stretching and perform stretches daily to reduce tightness gradually.

Some examples of stretches for back pain include:

  • Hamstring stretches and extensions using a wall or towel grip for support
  • Knee-to-chest stretch, alternating legs while keeping the other flat to the floor
  • Back press-ups from the floor in push-up position, pressing only your upper body off the floor and keeping hands planted

Hold each of these stretches for only a few seconds. You can repeat several times daily as needed.

Cardio Activity

No back pain workout routine would be complete without cardio activity. Short sessions of low-impact cardio activity multiple times a week can help with cardiovascular health and weight loss and reduce chronic back pain.

Aquatic exercise appears to be particularly effective for sufferers of back pain. Studies have found that water aerobics can help alleviate back pain better than no cardio activity. Other forms of cardio activity you can perform with mild back pain include fast-paced walking and using the elliptical or step machines.

Lower Back Pain Exercises to Avoid

When working out with a bad back, it’s just as important to know what not to do. Once you’ve been approved to exercise with back pain, it’s recommended to work with a personal trainer or physiotherapist to better understand what exercises affect you and how.

In general, here are some activities you’ll want to avoid with back pain:

  • Heavy weight lifting
  • Lifting objects overhead
  • High impact cardio like running or road cycling
  • Toe-touches and repeatedly bending over
  • Back extensions and hyperextensions

In addition to these guidelines, be sure to get to know your body and the types of exercises that cause you pain. This will help you learn your limits so you can develop the best workout plan for you while recovering from back pain.

Relax The Back Products to Help With Back Pain

In most cases, chronic back pain is caused by day-to-day stresses and behaviors and can be managed holistically. This means that while it’s important to make exercise a key aspect of therapy, it’s just as important to look at your whole lifestyle and make changes accordingly.

Relax The Back is your expert resource for holistic back wellness. Encourage back pain prevention and healing with Relax The Back’s collection of back supports and cushions. Lumbar supports like the Contour Lumbar Cervical Back Cushion or the Original McKenzie Lumbar Roll support the natural curve of the spine and alleviate pressure from the low back. In addition to relieving pain, back support cushions like these encourage proper spine alignment so that you can prevent further injury.

By staying active with the right back pain workouts and maintaining proper back alignment, you can improve muscle strength and posture to alleviate back pain and prevent future injury. Shop Relax The Back online today for more back support products for preventing back pain.


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