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Mobility, Resistance Training, Pain

Should I Avoid any Weightlifting Exercises if I Have Lower Back Pain?

By Joe Talarico on Mar 9, 2022 10:30:00 AM
6 Minutes Reading Time


Whenever we find ourselves getting to the gym consistently, and making progress, the last thing we want to do is get injured, or find ourselves in pain. The bigger issue with this is, a lot of us tend to try and ignore the pain and work through it. What we should be doing however, is prioritizing how we got low back pain in the first place, and incorporating exercises to help alleviate that pain.

Including Rehab Work

This doesn’t mean we have to completely stop whatever workout we were doing completely and just focus on the low back pain. We just need to make sure we are incorporating it first in our workouts, when we are fresh (or on your days off), and focusing on strengthening any muscles that are weak.

For example, bird dogs and hip bridges are great exercises for strengthening the glutes and core. When we have low back pain, it usually means we are overutilizing our back due to the inability to fire our core and glutes properly. By throwing 3 sets of each exercise in before your workout, you’ll “wake up” those muscles allowing yourself to cue them better.

If you are unsure which exercises will help, be sure to check out our MAPS Prime and MAPS Prime Pro programs where we go in full detail how to assess your pain, and properly incorporate it into your workout.

Keep What Works, Leave Out What Doesn’t

Another thing to keep in mind would be to temporarily leave out any exercises further exacerbating your low back pain. There is no reason to keep exercising if it’s just making the injury worse. Having said that, as you start bringing up those weaker areas that weren’t firing properly before, you should start bringing in exercises that may have caused the low back pain, with very light weight, to see if now you can execute that movement properly. It’s not always the case that an exercise is just bad for you, but that we just need to take a step back to figure out proper technique.

If you are worried about losing gains because you temporarily can’t squat, do not worry. Find similar substitutes like a leg press or a lunge where you can still stimulate those muscle fibers. We don’t have to have squatting in our routine to see progress all the time. 

In terms of avoiding any exercises out the gate, I would stay away from any exercise that puts extra strain on the low back. This may be predominantly leg work like squats, RDL’s, good mornings, and deadlifts. Certain back exercises may aggravate it as well. I also wouldn’t recommend any traditional ab exercises that focus on flexion as that can put the low back in a vulnerable position as well. The idea with core work would be to focus on bracing type exercises that keep your trunk strong, not flexing all over the place. In the immediate short term, you could try focusing on chest supported exercises for the back, and machines for the lower body that don’t load a lot of weight. Leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls, can all work.

As you start strengthening those weaker areas, I would start slowly adding back in single leg versions of movements that incorporate the low back more. Single leg deadlifts, and lunges, etc can all work provided you keep your core braced, and are remembering to fire the glutes. By reintroducing low back involved movements, you are now teaching your body to PROPERLY go through a full range of motion, while keeping your low back integrity strong. This will allow you to get back to those heavy deadlifts and squats that you may not have been able to do before without pain, and start progressing in an effective manner.

Exercises for Strengthening Weaker Areas

90/90 Drill - Perform this hip drill to open up those hips and help create space. Do 30 seconds for each side for 3-4 sets.

You might also have a tight piriformis. If this is tight, it won’t allow you to internally rotate that leg, thus not allowing you to keep that more narrow stance.

Glute Test | Single Leg Bridge - Try doing a single leg bridge on the floor and holding for 20-30 seconds. Where do you feel it the most? If you feel your hamstrings doing more work than the quads or glutes, then that may be a sign you aren’t firing your hips properly.

Target the Glute - Double Leg Bridge - to train your mind muscle connection to wake up that glute and fire properly, perform the same exercise with both legs on the ground. Make sure you are driving through the heels and squeezing your glutes as hard as possible. Do this for 15 reps and a 5-10 second hold.

Cat Camel - Performing this exercise allows your spine to go through a full range of motion to help locate and loosen up any tightness that may be present. It allows you to put that spine through a full range safely without risking injury.

Back Pain | Mind Pump Media

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Joe Talarico

Joe is a certified Precision Nutrition and strength & conditioning coach. He assisted the UCLA Women’s Tennis team in winning their 2014 NCAA Championship Title, as well as study under the great strength coaches at Pepperdine University. He was a collegiate rower at the University of Rhode Island (where he got his Kinesiology degree) as well as an amateur physique competitor. He is currently the master trainer at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica where he is combining his years of training clients in the gym with newer technology to optimize their performance and recovery. He also cohosts The RelationSH*T Show Podcast with his fiancée where they discuss all relationship topics unfiltered from who pays on dates, to open relationships.

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