Lower Body Exercises for Back Pain Sufferers Part II: Body Weight and Loaded

Last week we hit the essential “first steps” to training your lower body while dealing with back pain. I go into detail on the key warm-up drills and exercises I do that help get the muscles I need firing. You can check that out here.

This week we are going to go over the top 5 exercises I use in my lower body workouts to keep my back pain under control and inflammation down. In this article, you’re going to learn what exercises to pick if you’re dealing with lower back pain, why you should pick them and how you can modify them to fit you personally. 

Who this article is for 

Advanced lifter looking for recovery options and modifications to commonly loaded exercises. 

Beginners looking for some basic movements that challenge the lower body but keeps the lower back safe. 

Post surgery and rehab patients who are looking to get back into training again but are afraid of doing the “wrong thing”. 

Back pain sufferer looking to pick out underlying issues to common exercises they may be doing that are causing them pain.

After hitting a solid warm up its time to hand pick a few exercises that fit your current situation. You need to take caution when working through these exercises and make sure you have a good understanding of what your personal situation is. Follow these simple rules when trying to rehab your back on your own.

1. If it hurts to do it, you’re either doing it wrong or due to your situation, this is not a good exercise for you.

2. Choose the basics over everything else. Just because you’re doing a “low back friendly exercise” doesn’t mean you can load the crap out of one leg and start lunging. Start light and make sure you can perform the exercise pain-free before moving on.

3. Rehabbing your lower back without drugs or surgery comes with responsibility. You have to do the research and make sure you understand what’s going on with you. That’s huge!

When it comes to training the lower body, I am a big advocate for pre-fatiguing the muscle group before any larger compound exercise is done. For me, this typically consists of a few body weight exercises, single leg exercises and some kind of loaded finisher. I have a pretty sensitive lower back due to my ruptured disc so I have to listen to my body and adjust on the fly. I have gotten better at this over the years from learning what movements typically irritate my body or any underlying movement dysfunctions I have.

I have been recently incorporating loaded squats into my lower body day to see how my sensitivity is progressing. If I am feeling good, I’ll do them. If my lower back seems a little inflamed, I’ll stick with the other exercises I do for the day.  Squats are a great exercise but due to the high risk and lack of good coaching, most people mess this exercises up. I don’t cover the loaded squat in this article simply because I want you to get an idea of what your lower body days can look like without anything on your back.

Lower Back Friendly Exercises

So the first couple exercises I do are body weight versions of what I would normally do with weight. I would highly recommend mastering these while making sure you can do them slow, controlled and PAIN-FREE. You can even see how unstable I am doing the skater squats. A little moment of transparency here, single leg balance is an area I need to work on. If you are just starting out with an exercise like this, I recommend doing them without shoes. I want you to train your lower body from the feet up. This will help tremendously with balance and stability.

1. Skater Squat

Work on:

Level hips

Slow and controlled movements

Neutral spine

Bracing and Breathing

Even distribution of weight over the foot.

2. Assisted TRX Single Leg squat.

Work on:

Body position

Neutral spine

Bracing and Breathing

 

3. Bodyweight squat.

 

Work on: 

Gripping the ground with your feet

Ripping the ground apart with your feet (contracting the glutes)

Bracing and Breathing

Neutral spine

 

 

 

The next set of exercises would be the next progression from these. If your lower back is ready, you can start to add weight gradually to these exercises. The exercises below can be done without weight as well but are typically used in loaded situations. Feel free to do them however you like. Just make sure you are able to progress PAIN-FREE.

 

Modified Box Squat

Work on: 

Keeping the weight close to your body.

Bracing and Breathing

Ripping the ground apart

Modifications: 

Increase the height of the box if this depth is painful.

Adjust your foot width for optimal muscle contraction in the hips.

You can hold the weight on your back if front loaded exercises irritate your back.

 

Rearfoot Elevated Lunge 

Work on:

Protecting the lower back from over extension

Bracing and Breathing

Neutral spine

Squeeze the butt when descending

Modifications:

Lower the rear foot if you are extension intolerant.

Change the angle of the hip hinge. If being more upright causes pressure in the lower back then have a more forward-tilted hinge position like you see in the video. Adjust accordingly.

 

Lower Body Training and Back Pain: Things to consider

 

Your lower body day may look different than mine and that’s totally fine. You don’t have to follow these exercises simply because I told you they help with lower back sensitivity. There may be an exercise I mentioned today that makes your pain worse, so make sure you listen to your body. The goal of this is to stay away from traditional programming when it comes to the lower body. This website is far from teaching anyone to beat back pain with a bodybuilding style workout routine. This is where you and a little common sense comes in. If you’re new to the site, your number one goal when it comes to addressing back pain and training at the same time is learning why your back is hurting but also what exercises to use to help clean up any dysfunctions. You do not want to just find ways to train around back pain. I encourage anyone reading to always make your rehab and recovery a priority and sprinkle in exercises like these as you progress.

What a workout may look like. 

If your lower back is really sensitive, I would stick with one of these exercises and do as many sets as you can pain-free. Pick a rep range that is no greater than 15 that you can successfully do the exercise without pain or breaking form. After that workout see how your body feels and adjust the next time you train with either more sets or adding in a second exercise.

Sample Workout: 

Option 1 – Body weight box squat 3 (sets) x (of) 10 (reps)

Option 2 – Skater Squats 3 x 8 each leg + Box Squats Loaded 2 x 10

Option 3 – TRX Single leg squat 3 x 10 + Loaded Box Squat 3 x 8 + Rear Foot Elevated Lunge 2 x 8

 

Remember guys, these exercises are not the cure for back pain. The cure for your back pain is within you. I teach you how to pull these pieces of the puzzle out to solve yourself. Lower body training while keeping a healthy low back is paramount to seeing lasting relief. If you go into the gym and either leave with back pain or suffer with pain days or weeks after a lower body training day, it’s time cut back and get to the bottom of whatever it is you have going on.

Do you have a favorite exercise that you didn’t see mentioned today? Let me know which on it is in the comments below!

If this helped you out in any way, please share this article with the people in your life! The more people who see this, the less back pain people will deal with. Help me reach more sufferers! Thanks guys!

 

TTYS,

 

William

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