How to work out with lower back pain

Lower Back Pain Exercises to Help Your Body Recover

Back injuries affect most of us at some stage of our lives. Back pain can range from slightly painful to debilitating.

It can be short-lived or it can be something you have put up with for years, every injury is different.

Whether you are a fitness fanatic who’s panicking about losing hard-earned muscle or someone who wants to tone up but feels they can’t because of risking further injury, there are exercises you can do with a bad back, painlessly and without danger of further injury.

In fact, the right exercise can actually help to rehabilitate even a chronic back problem.

Often back injuries are caused by lifting heavy things using your back muscles where you should be using core muscles. Building a strong core can help you to take the pressure off of your back.

There are some basic common sense measures to keep in mind when exercising with lower back pain, so let’s start with those:


Important Considerations

If you have chronic back pain you should consult your doctor or physiotherapist before you start any kind of exercise routine.

If you have just recently hurt your back, try resting it up for three or four days before you attempt anything too extreme.

Never do any exercise that causes you sharp or severe pain. A small amount of discomfort may be felt when you start to exercise but it should not be painful.

Let the pain be your guide and avoid it.

Mobilising your back and hip joints is a really good idea; you need to keep the muscles loose to avoid seizing up.

Don’t do any exercise that bends at the waist.

Don’t do any exercise that involves holding a weight away from your body.

Sitting is the worst position for most back pain. If you are in severe pain rather stand up or lie flat.

Never take painkillers before exercising with back pain. You need to be able to feel your body’s warning signals.

So what can you do to help your back and stay in shape? How can you work out with lower back pain?


Workouts for Lower Back Pain:

Remember to consult a physician before participating in any fitness regime. Take the exercises slowly and don’t push yourself too much, you want to avoid further damage to your back.

Strecthing your back and building up workouts will help to improve any pain if done correctly.


Warm up with a Walk

Walking is great cardiovascular exercise and it is a really good way to loosen the muscles in your hips and lower back. Take a half hour walk, as brisk as you can manage.

You may eventually be able to improve on how fast you can walk with back pain as it starts to ease off.

If it hurts you take it slowly.


Work Out in the Water

If you have access to a pool (preferably a heated one) use it!

The water offers some support and can actually be soothing. Good options are walking in the water or a gentle aqua-aerobics class (tell the instructor about your injury).



Aside from the water workouts, swimming itself is really good exercise.

The breaststroke and backstroke are the best options because they don’t fully extend your back, and they both work your chest and upper arms as well as pump up your cardiovascular exercise

Have you ever seen a flabby Olympic swimmer climb out of the pool? Didn’t think so. 

Twenty minutes of focused swimming is a decent workout.



Plank to work all core muscles including your upper arms.

Support yourself on both elbows and forearms and both sets of toes.

It’s really important to keep your back straight and your hips and shoulders aligned, pull your belly button up towards your spine.

You want to use your abs to keep your spine straight rather than your back muscles.

Start with a hold of 30 seconds and work your way up to a minute.

If it hurts, stop right away.


Staggered Leg Raises

These will build your abs and your back muscles.

Lie flat on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down, bend one knee and plant your foot flat on the ground.

Then keeping the other leg straight, lift it up as high as you can without pain.

Hold it there for 30 seconds and release. Repeat on the other side.

This may not sound strenuous enough to count as an ab building exercise, but like planking and yoga, anything that requires a hold engages the muscles and builds (sometimes unexpected) levels of strength.

Start with 5 per side but don’t do more than 20, you don’t want to push the limits of what your lower back can take.



Push-ups can still be a part of your routine when you have lower back pain.

You just have to make sure that you keep your spine straight and your body correctly aligned so that you don’t put any strain on your back.

If you are a beginner who wants to work out but didn’t think you could because of your back, start by pushing up from your hands and knees rather than your toes, use your stomach muscles to keep your spine straight.

Do 10 to 20 reps, depending on your fitness level, but don’t overdo it.

If you want to get in more than 20, rather alternate sets of push-ups with one of the supported stretches below.


Halfway Sit-Ups

Strengthen your abs with this exercise.

Lie on your back, arms at your sides, bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor.

Contract your stomach muscles to bring your head and shoulders up.

Having your back pressed into the floor should actually give some relief.

As with all of these activities, stop if they cause you pain, try 20 reps.


The One Knee Stretch

I remember watching my father do this one as a child, so I know it works in even extreme cases.

Lie flat on your back on the floor with your legs extended, gently bring one knee up towards your chest.

Wrap your arms around the knee and gently hug it to you, pressing your lower back into the floor. Take slow deep breaths, breathing “into” your lower back.

Repeat on both sides.

Hold the stretch for 20 – 30 seconds to give your muscles a chance to release. Do 3 – 5 reps per side.


Two Knee Roll

Lie on your back on the floor as you did in the stretch above.

This time bring both knees up to your chest, pressing your lower back into the floor, wrap your arms around your knees.

Use your abdominal muscles to gently roll yourself from side to side. The movement should be slow and controlled and you should feel some relief in your lower back right away.

Roll to each side 5 times. The whole exercise should take about a minute


The Cat

A yoga pose that gets movement into the lower back without placing any weight on it.

Now some of the more manly guys may be thinking “Yoga? That’s chick stuff, right?” but yoga is actually harder than it looks.

It builds strength and can help to prevent further injury.

Get on all fours, palms, knees and shins flat on the floor, your arms should be directly below your shoulders and your hips slightly apart in line with them.

Take a deep breath in and drop your head, gently rounding out your spine above you (like an angry cat).

Then exhale, bringing your head back up and allowing your spine to naturally take on a very slight arch.

Do this movement slowly, feeling the loosening effect on your back muscles, repeat 5 times.


Side Twist

Lie flat on your back with your arms stretched out to either side of you, palms down.

Bring your knees gently up towards your chest. Roll your head to look towards your left hand.

Then very gently breath out, allowing your knees to drop towards your right-hand side, hold the position for at least 20 seconds, breathing normally so that the muscles can release.

Repeat on the other side. Do at least 2 reps per side.


One Last Thought…

There are a number of different group activities that can be very helpful when you have lower back pain, including yoga, spinning (make sure the seat is at exactly the right height) tai chi and aqua-aerobics.

The golden rule is to communicate with your instructor about your back injury and always listen to your body.

If it hurts, stop.

The exercises above are meant to help you with your strength and recovery.

The last thing you want to do is prolong your injury by ignoring your body’s warning signs.

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