Low back pain is the leading cause of activity limitation and work absence throughout much of the world and is associated with an enormous economic burden. This is a serious call to action to provide the general public with low back exercises for back pain! Low back pain doesn’t need to seem all that scary and debilitating, in this article, you will learn low back pain exercises specifically designed to improve core stability, strength, and mobility, which may help reduce your risk of injuring your lower back!

 

Learn What Works For You

There really is no gold standard exercise that works for everyone, whereas it is likely a comprehensive program that exposes your back to various stresses and demands. If your back can learn to tolerate these things, then life itself will be easier and your back shouldn’t have any issue with what life throws at it! Below you learn various exercises you should experiment with, but if you’re looking to take the guesswork out of what to start with and how to progress low back exercises, definitely consider our program!

 Stir The Pot

Sample Low Back Rehab Program Exercise

We can argue all day long about if maintaining core stiffness during lifting prevents injury but it certainly helps move more weight in the gym. My favorite for really teaching an athlete how to brace is Stir The Pot popularized by Dr. Stu McGill.

Many athletes will have to start on their knees versus toes as shown in the video but either way, have a neutral spine and extended hips and the athlete will maintain this positioning as they make small, controlled circles as if stirring a pot. This exercise is much harder than it looks and very often results in improved lifting form immediately as it provides great feedback to the athlete on proper bracing.

 

Access The Low Back Exercise & Education Program!

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No matter how long you have suffered from back issues, it is never too late to start feeling better. We get it, we have dealt with low back issues too! The Low Back Rehab Program is a physical therapist developed, step-by-step program that blends exercise science, current evidence, our clinical expertise, and our personal experiences to provide you with the ultimate solution! Click here to learn more about our program that has helped thousands of people just like you!

 

Bear Crawl

The bear crawl is a primitive movement exercise to challenge dynamic core stability while simultaneously loading the upper and lower extremity. When we say core stability, we are talking about the ability to support and stabilize the torso. With any movement, we want to limit the spine from excessive, uncontrolled movement. Whether its flexion, extension, or rotation under a load, too much unwanted spinal movement results in compensation! Compensatory mechanisms may lead to tissue overuse, which can lead to injury. Building a stable core is a fundamental prerequisite to lifting heavy weights safely and effectively. 

Demonstrated here is how to appropriately progress into a 2-point contact bear crawl. Once you find a position that is an appropriate challenge for you, maintain that position for 3-5 seconds per side. The bear crawl is also great because it helps with body awareness. Having a good sense of body awareness–also known as proprioception–will help maintain proper form during lifts and various other exercises. If you are unsure that you are maintaining a neutral spine, you may place a weighted ball on the lumbar spine region as a cue to prevent excessive rotation at the trunk. Make sure to not compensate with lumbar lordosis to keep the ball still on the back!

Low back pain is now the number one cause of disability globally.

 

The Deadlift: Modified

My favorite prehab exercise for the low back is a little counterintuitive. The deadlift, executed properly, is by far my favorite exercise to aid in preventing future bouts of low back pain. The deadlift is the king of posterior chain strengthening exercises. It strengthens the lats, lumbar extensors, glutes, hamstrings, and everything in between. When executed properly the movement teaches one to hip-hinge and have adequate control over their hips and low back. Progressively loaded deadlifts increase full-body strength and tissue load capacity. Improved tissue load capacity subsequently develops improved “functional reserve” and resilience to imposed stresses of daily life. The deadlift is incredibly versatile. It can be performed with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, a baby, or nothing at all. It can be performed double leg, single-leg, stiff leg, elevated, deficit, sumo, and standard.

Furthermore, when looking deeper into pain and realizing possible psychological components that could drive pain, the deadlift yet again demonstrates utility. Regularly performing the deadlift motion trains the brain to be “not so scared” of lifting items from the floor, a common fear-avoidance behavior that could subsequently elicit a highly painful response to a minor lifting injury in the future.

Additionally, if people are deadlifting, it likely means that they are routinely performing a general exercise. Staying active and exercising is far and above the most powerful low back protector we know of. Finally, the deadlift is incredibly functional. It carries over into ADLs for people of all ages and walks of life. Comfort, strength, and resilience with lifting objects from the floor is in our humble opinion the pinnacle of low back prehab.

 

Suitcase Carry

Sample Low Back Rehab Program Exercise

Building a strong and robust midline is not only important in the prevention of low back pain but also for any athlete seeking increased performance.  To do so requires training the midline in multiple planes and variations under both high repetitions and heavy loads. One way to both challenge the midline in a varied plane with heavy loads is with the suitcase carry. Heavy carries have been a staple in classic strength and conditioning programs for years and for good reason. The suitcase carry is one of my personal favorites because it puts tremendous stress on the body to stabilize in the frontal plane, heavily prefacing the quadratus lumborum (QL) and obliques. The QL is a common nagging point on many individuals due to its overuse helping to control forward flexion. By loading it with the suitcase carry, we can influence a long, isometric contraction of the QL and help build tissue capacity and strength.

Highlights:

  • Select a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell that challenges your grip for 50-100’.

 

  • Pick up the weight from the floor as if there were one in each hand, helping to stabilize off the floor.

 

  • Walk slowly and consciously, working to maintain an upright torso position throughout the movement.

 

Eccentric Isometric RDL

One contributing reason for low back injuries is improper spinal alignment associated with faulty hip hinge mechanics.  Simply put, most individuals lack the ability to hinge at the hips with a neutral or naturally arched spine.  In fact, a majority of the population including many so-called advanced lifters and athletes rely primarily on spinal flexion to lift and bend over rather than hinging properly at the hips.  As a result, they end up placing excessive tension on their low back and lumbar region.  Over time, this has a direct impact on posture and ultimately structurally integrity of the entire spine.

Unfortunately, once the spine goes, both qualities of movement and quality of life degrade rapidly. Just ask anyone who’s ever had a back injury and they’ll tell you just how debilitating this can be. To alleviate this issue my go-to exercise is the Romanian Deadlift or RDL.  The RDL when performed properly can be an excellent low back exercise to help with general pain as well as offloading sensitive structures in the low back region!

READ: DEADLIFT WARMUP ESSENTIALS

deadlift warm up essentials exercises for olympic weightlifting the prehab guys

 

 

Quadratus Lumborum (QL) Stretch

Sample Low Back Rehab Program Exercise

Core Bracing and breathing are by far one of our favorite exercises for Prehab, rehab, and LIFE in general. Since many other people in this article have mentioned bracing and covered one of the most important motions of our life (deadlifting), we will instead share our favorite flexibility exercises for the lower back. When combined with the other exercises on this list, stretching a deep muscle called the quadratus lumborum (QL) will help to reduce your backaches and improve your ability to tilt the pelvis, and brace your core.

Due to unfavorable habits of modern life society, the QL muscles can become chronically stiff for many people. The seated QL stretch is a simple way to open up the lower back and provide an immediate increase in pelvic and lumbar range of motion. An angry QL muscle will often be achy, throbbing, and nagging when standing or sitting for long periods. Stiff QL muscles, along with stiff hip flexors(psoas), could compress the discs and contribute to joint and disc pain in the lower back. After doing a stretch like this, it is important to follow it up with the glute, hamstring, and core strengthening exercises that are provided in this article.

 

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Cat Camel

One of the things we frequently see in low back patients is their inability to dissociate their femurs and pelvis.  We see this most frequently in a squat or going from standing to sitting, but this manifests in so many daily tasks, like picking something up from the ground or putting groceries in the trunk of your car. The ideal movement pattern we hope to see at the trunk is the pelvis tilting forward and the spine moving with it.  The lumbar spine/low back, should not bend or round at all.  For this to happen, the femurs need to be able to move independently from the pelvis. This is not an easy thing to teach people or to learn.  Countless therapists and personal trainers around the world bang their heads into the wall trying to correct people’s squat mechanics, only to give up and hope their clients aren’t working with them when their backs go out! We have found a pretty foolproof combination of motor control exercises to make proper squat mechanics stick.

 

Hip Hinge

One of my favorite quotes is “A natural athlete moves from his hips, never from his back or knees. The hips-first movement is safest for your back and knees – and the most powerful.” –Pavel Tsatsouline. This is a basic principle that echoes Dr. Janda’s work on gait as well as his hip extension movement stereotype. He suggested that prolonged sitting led to the loss of normal hip extension mobility and typical substitution patterns during gait. Since gait requires 10 deg hip hyperextension during high gear push-off, restrictions in hip mobility would automatically be compensated for by an anterior pelvic tilt and overactivity of the lumbar erector spine muscles.

A benefit of this skill is also its ability to enhance frontal plane agility for basketball, tennis, soccer, and other athletes. In order to gain access to high-quality frontal plane power & stability, hip extension is a key potentiator. This is in contrast to jumping athletes who require more knee-dominant squat patterning.

LISTEN: HOW TO IMPROVE LOWER BACK PAIN

low back pain the prehab guys audio experience low back pain exercises

 

Closing Thoughts

Low back pain is not only very common but very treatable with the right programming! Finding what works for you and sticking with a routine will help prevent any future episodes of low back pain. If you are continuing to deal with any issues and are seeking a solution, be sure to look into our comprehensive low back program!

 

Take Control of Your Low Back Pain

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The low back is the centerpiece of our movement foundation and is the most adaptable and resilient area of the movement system. Since it takes on so many responsibilities it can at times become overwhelmed and request a change be made. Those requests tend to say: “Can you use your hips more?” and “Can you build up more core strength for this activity?” After this program, your back will be happy to know that these requests have been attended to!

 

About The Author

Arash Maghsoodi, PT, DPT, CSCS

[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer

Arash Maghsoodi received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. For his undergraduate studies, he attended San Diego State University and studied Kinesiology. After sustaining a career-ending ankle sprain while playing collegiate soccer, he realized how disabling and life-altering injuries can be. Arash currently resides in beautiful Santa Monica, California. His clinical experience is primarily in the orthopedic and sports setting. He has treated a wide variety of conditions ranging from the post-operative individual to the professional athlete. Arash is keeping the family legacy of becoming a physical therapist, as his mother is a practicing clinician of 30 years in the Orange County area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER – THE CONTENT HERE IS DESIGNED FOR INFORMATION & EDUCATION PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED FOR MEDICAL ADVICE.

About the author : Arash Maghsoodi PT, DPT, CSCS

13 Comments

  1. alex February 6, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    I am a big fan of yours that is the reason I am writing this comment (feedback) in the future I don’t think great pts would have included barbell back squat (axial loading of the spine) as prehab treatment for lbp, some of the videos are great the one with LE internal rotation, and UE external rotation, or the cat camel one such simple great explanation, or the suit case one sure I get it, but the squat one I don’t think its good, and here is why: In my humble opinion I think you should squat with your toes in many different directions but I have seen the pt you guys posted and Im not a fan of his work or form, I believe regular athletes should “prioritize” squatting with toes forward and avoid axial loading as much as possible, also there are so many better ways to squat, and better exercises to put on your article such as SFT squatting, (include some variations adding a Sp press, Tp press) or a retro lunge into an elevated surface where one limb is doing a hf stretch in different dimensions (SFT) and the other limb is strengthening in different dimensions, keep up the great work good luck in pt school I want to become a pt one day, and I work with usc graduate pt, she also went to ucla for masters degree, you guys would love her, she also likes to rep ucla

    • Arash Maghsoodi February 15, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Hey there Alex I see what you are saying. Just wanted to add that there is no idea form for squatting, the truth is everyone has a different anatomical structure! At the end of the day, you have to think to yourself what is my intent with this exercise, and then work backward and change foot position, trunk angle, foot width to allow you to optimally achieve your intent. Thanks for reaching out and showing your appreciation! Let us know if you have any questions moving forward with your quest! Boo UCLA lol.

  2. Felipe Brain Ross February 7, 2017 at 2:46 am

    Hi, I’m from chile and I had a surgery in L5-S1, I had a Hernia, they also made me a Rysolizis and they put me Stem Cells.
    This surgery was 9 months ago and I still have some pain and irradiation on the rigth gluteus.
    I follow you instagram and i try to do the excercises you recomend.

    I will be very grateful if you can recomend me some excercises and how I cand return to run.

    I’m writing to you because I’m worried about this injury…and I dont find solution.

    Thank you very much

    Felipe Brain

    • Arash Maghsoodi February 15, 2017 at 11:38 am

      Hi there Felipe,
      Have you seen a been seeing a Physiotherapist within the last 9 months?
      It would be a disservice to you if we gave you recommendations without fully looking at why you are having this discomfort.
      These exercises shown in this article show different ways to strengthen, improve control, and range of motion of muscles surrounding your lower back which may help with your issue.

  3. Donald Harris February 12, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Wow, informative post! I am also suffering from back problem. That’s why this post is really excellent. All video is really mesmerizing. I love it and thank you for sharing it!

    • Arash Maghsoodi February 15, 2017 at 11:40 am

      Thanks! Wish you a good road to recovery.

  4. Sergio Sánchez February 27, 2018 at 8:44 am

    Maybe the stir spot could be one of the plank progressions? I don’t think anyone can do that exercise.

    THX and good job!

  5. mitch June 5, 2018 at 4:43 am

    this website was so helpful I cant squat as I have no legs and the only thing I can do is bicep curl as everything should be BICEPS!

  6. Kris January 2, 2019 at 11:37 am

    I tried squatting under the supervision of movement specialists for months, but almost without fail would have increased lumbar pain for the following two days or so (background is two surgeries: a micro and foraminotomy at l5/s1). This occurred even when I would put a box under my butt and only go as low as the beginning of anterior pelvic tilt. Even light KB squats aggravated it. So I gave up squatting, instead opting for sled, single-leg lowers, step-ups, and lunges. Deadlifts with the bar also bothered my back, so I do hex-bar deadlift instead. Annoying that this is the case, but such is life.

    Will incorporate some of these into my routine.

    • Michael Lau January 3, 2019 at 7:53 am

      That’s very unfortunate! Sometimes there movement and positions that will be more aggrvating and you will have to make smart training changes to your programming. Ultimately, you are still getting a good stimulus with all those other exercises!! Hope these exercises help!

  7. Projeto Você Feliz November 18, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for sharing!

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