back pain

The Best and Worst Exercises To Do For Your Lower Back Pain

Back pain plagues 80% of U.S. adults. Unfortunately, 88% of people say it recurs throughout the year. It can range from an occasionally ache to debilitating chronic pain that prevents you from doing your normal activities. At it’s worst it disrupts sleep, work, exercise, leading to weight gain and depression.

If you suffer from back pain you don’t need the statistics to tell you that it decreases your quality of life. You are also an expert at learning what hasn’t worked for you. Though the trial and error may be frustrating, it’s time to explore your options again. Some of the very things that were once recommended are now thought to contribute to problems. Along with that though is a better understanding of what to do.

If you’re wary of programs that advertise gizmos for your back pain, exercise programs, or infomercials with the latest resource to help you, you have good reason. If you’ve gone from massage therapists to chiropractors, physical therapists to acupuncture, and still find you’re managing pain maybe it’s time you returned to an exercise approach.

The challenge with most exercise programs of the past is they featured exercises for the abdominals and stretches for the back almost exclusively as the solution. There was no organization or plan to follow, just a lot of friendly advice you were left to deal with.

You will still be the expert about your back. That hasn’t changed but follow the steps below and if you’ve not worked through this sequential process before it may be worth it.

1. As long as you’re free of acute pain and your doctor or trusted health professional who has treated you agrees you can do what you want with pain as your guide, you can begin.

2. Before you move into anything strenuous you’re going to want exercises that restore full range of motion as you know it. Stretches for the hips and the upper back will be your first priority. These joints should be mobile joints. If they are still and tight and immobile, the lower back which should be stable tends to have stress placed on it. Seek help finding a variety of hip stretches and upper back stretches and the positions that you can safely and comfortably perform them in. During this stage it is also appropriate to incorporate some foam rolling or use of a tool personal trainers use to release tissue that could be bound up and also shortening your range of motion.

3. Restore mobility to your back. Now that you’ve stretched and have a little more freedom of movement you are going to perform exercises that begin to bring movement back into the spine. Kneeling on all fours performing a cat/cow back as in a yoga move is one way. You can also do that standing or seated if you need to do so. Moving in rotation and lateral flexion in gentle not forceful dynamic movements is the goal here. It will help you to have an exercise instructor observe you to provide cues.

4. If you feel stretching and mobility exercises have helped overall how you’re feeling proceed to adding stabilization exercises for your core. These are exercises that really include little to no movement. They do however establish the foundation for any other exercises you do. If these deep core muscles activate properly, only then will you move on to more movement based and standing exercises. If at all possible do these in a lying position. The floor is fine but if you’re unable to get up and down easily try to do this where you could have access to a stretching table or massage therapists table. There are numerous exercises that you could do. Begin with a trainer experienced in back pain.

5. When you’re firing the deep core muscles (and continuing with stretching and mobility) you can begin to add bracing exercises both lying and standing. You do bracing every day already whether you know it or not. You may not have been truly firing all of those muscles before, however, and therefore experienced back pain when you were required to do something which required bracing.

6. Gradually increasing the difficulty of your exercises by doing more of them in a standing position with changes in stance and resistance. Even walking down the hall carrying a heavy weight (or book) in one hand requires considerable core strength to stay level from side to side. This is where you would introduce more functional types of exercises that mimic daily activities to a greater extent.

7. Last step, and like the others you only progress here when each of the steps prior is something you’ve mastered. You will continue to do bits and pieces of stretching, mobility, stabilization, bracing and so on each time you exercise however. Back care is a lifelong detail like brushing your teeth. In this step you begin to add power. More explosive movements that prepare you better for things like starting a lawnmower, opening a sticky door, or for a golf swing are the priority here in this phase.

Rarely is there a need for or good justification for forward flexion exercises in order to develop a strong core and healthy back. If you’ve resorted to crunches and sit-ups for years, you can toss them aside. Ultimately, you will experience less pain and get better results.

Personal Training and Fitness expert Debra Atkinson, MS, CSCS is a barely boomer and found of Voice for Fitness. She provides articles, videos and up-to-date research in practical tips for exercise and nutrition that will change the way we age. Learn more at or find tips for being fifty going on sexy at

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