Conditioning

| November 16, 2021

Best Exercises for Back Pain

One of the most common complaints a personal trainer sees is back pain. While back pain is common, it is not normal.

By Michelle Moen

Read time: 3 min.


One of the most common complaints a personal trainer sees is back pain. While back pain is common, it is not normal. If you deal with chronic back pain, first, get imaging done with your doctor. It is much easier to address someone’s source of pain if you know why it’s there. If you get imaging done and there’s nothing showing up, that’s ok! This list will still take care of you. When it comes to back pain the 3 fundamentals are core training, stretches and glute training. 

Core Training

Most people with back pain have an anteriorly rotated pelvis, which just means you dip ‘forward’ at the pelvis, which will inactivate your core! Your core is incredibly important for protecting your back, so the first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with the 3 different pelvic positions. Anterior (forward), neutral, and posterior (backwards). An ideal pelvis is one that sits in neutral, although it’s unlikely you naturally sit in neutral. I personally have an anteriorly rotated pelvis, but I make sure to click back into neutral before lifting anything off of the ground or when performing my workouts. It’s OK to have a funky pelvis. Everyone has imbalances in their body, and it doesn’t automatically mean that you will experience pain because of it. You just need to learn how to properly brace and lift when necessary, to prevent tweaking anything in your day to day life. 

There are many different core exercises out there, but my personal favourites for back pain are: dead bug, palof press, plank, offset carries, farmer’s carry, bear crawl, and reverse crunch. The only core exercises I would especially avoid if you have back pain is any kind of ‘twisting’ core movements. If you think of your spine like a long piece of wire, imagine what repetitive twisting will do to that cord over time. This isn’t to say that twisting core exercises will damage your spine, it won’t, but it can tweak it depending on what kind of dysfunction is causing your back pain. Best to stick to ‘anti rotation’ core exercises like palof press or offset carries instead. 

Stretches

If you experience back pain you’ll likely have a stiff hips and lower back. Top stretches would be: 90/90 hip rotation (internal and external rotation), pigeon stretch, forward fold, child’s pose, knee to chest stretch, and seated spinal twist. Do these stretches to tolerance, holding for a minimum of 30 seconds each. They should feel slightly uncomfortable, but not painful. If it’s painful back off and reduce the intensity of the stretch you’re doing. Finally, remember to breathe as you stretch! Many instinctively hold their breath when stretching. 

Glute Training

Strong glutes also protect your back. Which glute exercises are best for you will depend on the causation and severity of your back pain. Only perform exercises that you can do pain free, and work up to more advanced exercises. Beginner glute exercises are: backward lunge, glute bridge, or step ups. Advanced glute exercises are: squats, Bulgarian split squats, Romanian deadlifts, or a barbell hip thrust. Again, load the exercise appropriately. Less is more, especially in the beginning. Learn how to brace your core properly before advancing to something like a barbell squat. 

As always, follow your doctor’s recommendations. If you’re experiencing severe back pain it is not the time to load yourself with heavy squats. It can take a moderate injury to severe quickly, which will translate into more time off from the gym. Get back to the basics and focus on your core, glute training, and stretches until the pain is resolved. 

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