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What Are the Best Exercises for Low Back Pain?

May 27, 2021

people exercising to reduce back pain

Lower back pain is something that many people deal with every day. If you’ve ever wondered which exercises are beneficial for relieving low back pain, the answer might surprise you. Any exercise can make a significant impact. Research shows that doing regular exercise is a fundamental way to keep your back healthy, and understanding lower back pain is a close second. Discover why enjoyable activities are important and how walking, squatting, deadlifting, and aerobic exercise are five great exercises that can help with back pain. 

The Top Exercises for Low Back Pain 

Understanding the foundational concepts for treating back pain is vital. Back pain is a common part of life, often triggered by activities like prolonged desk sitting or helping a friend move. Limited movement can weaken your core muscles which will make the pain worse over time. It can also potentially contribute to other health issues. The good news is that most lower back pain naturally diminishes within a few days or weeks. Discover the importance of combating the fear of activity and how enjoyable exercises play a key role in telling your brain that pain is not to be feared. 

1. Enjoyable Activities: The #1 Exercise for Low Back Pain  

One reason pain tends to linger is the fear of doing activities. Feeling anxious about current or potential harm leads to avoiding physical movement. Not moving is one of the worst things you can do for back pain. This is why the best exercise for low back pain is participating in an activity you enjoy. 

If you enjoy the exercise, you are more likely to complete it. Don’t like lifting weights? No problem. Like hiking instead? That is great for your lower back. By resuming activity after feeling pain, you are telling your brain that pain is not to be feared. Movement stimulates recovery processes as well. 

If the activity you love worsens the pain, ease into it or make a switch before trying again in a few days. Don’t worry about the type of activity being dangerous because it bends the back (e.g., bowling). Your spine is stronger and more resilient than you might think. It can handle the activities you throw at it. 

2. Walking: A Universal and Effective Exercise 

Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, regardless of your current fitness level. The benefits include building endurance, improving bone quality, and helping control blood sugar levels.  

Walking also helps with mental health. Studies have shown walking can be used to help treat depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, psychological stress, social isolation, and loneliness.  

It is a great exercise option for people with chronic low back pain. People often find walking programs more enjoyable than typical gym exercises leading to better consistency, which is key for any exercise program. If you want to learn more about the benefits of walking, check out this article. 

3. Squatting: The Fundamental Movement 

Squatting is a daily occurrence and one of the most fundamental movements you do in life. You squat to sit in a chair, use the bathroom, and pick up items from the floor. You will be hard-pressed to avoid the movement.  

The squat is also considered the king of exercises. It is a fundamental movement that trains the whole body. If you add weight – carrying or on your shoulders – you are building upper body strength. The goal of any exercise is to challenge the body. The squat does that. It is safe and effective.  

Squatting can be completed in many ways. Here are five effective squat variations to incorporate into your workout routine to help with lower back pain. They range from easy to challenging, so pick the one that feels best for you.


Five Squat Variations for Lower Back Pain:

  1. Bodyweight Squat: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, squat down as if sitting in a chair, then return to standing. 
  2. Goblet Squat: Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell at chest level, squat down, keeping the weight close to your body, then return to standing. 
  3. Sumo Squat: Take a wide stance with toes pointed outward, squat down, keeping knees aligned with toes, then return to standing. 
  4. Jump Squat: Perform a bodyweight squat, then explosively jump upward, reaching for the ceiling, and land softly back into a squat position. 
  5. Bulgarian Split Squat: Stand facing away from a bench or elevated surface, place one foot behind you on the bench, squat down with the front leg until the back knee nearly touches the ground, then return to standing. Repeat on both legs. 

These are just a few variations of squats. There are a variety of other types that are not listed here, but these are a good starting point. You can find more examples online if you’re interested in learning more.  

4. Deadlifting: Building Back and Leg Strength 

If the squat is the king, the deadlift is next in line for the throne. Like squatting, deadlifting is a daily activity. A deadlift is simply picking something off the floor, which is something many of us do daily. Training your body to improve endurance and strength by weight lifting will help with many everyday activities. 

Deadlifts are safe and great for building back and leg strength. In fact, deadlifts are one of the best ways to build lower back muscle, which helps reduce the onset of lower back pain. If your pain is severe, it might not be the best idea to start with deadlifts. You don’t need to push through the pain. However, don’t avoid deadlifting completely. Deadlifts are something you can aim to do in the future. 

Here are five deadlift variations that can help you strengthen different muscle groups in your body. Whether you have access to a barbell or just a pair of dumbbells, you can still perform these exercises effectively. 

Five Deadlift Variations for Lower Back Pain:

  1. Conventional Deadlift: Stand with feet hip-width apart, bend at the hips and knees to grasp the barbell with hands shoulder-width apart, then lift the barbell to a standing position, keeping the back straight. 
  2. Romanian Deadlift (RDL): Start with the barbell at thigh level, hinge at the hips while keeping the back straight, lowering the barbell towards the floor, then return to the starting position by squeezing the glutes and hamstrings. 
  3. Sumo Deadlift: Stand with feet wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed outward, grasp the barbell with hands inside the legs, then lift the barbell to a standing position while keeping the back straight. 
  4. Single-Leg Deadlift: Stand on one leg with a slight bend in the knee, hinge at the hips to lower the torso towards the floor while extending the non-weight-bearing leg behind, then return to the standing position. 
  5. Trap Bar Deadlift: Stand inside a trap bar (hex bar), grasp the handles with hands at the sides, then lift the trap bar to a standing position while keeping the back straight. 

 Incorporating these deadlift variations into your workout routine can help you build overall strength and reduce back pain. Remember to start with lighter weights and focus on proper breathing techniques. Whether you’re using a barbell or dumbbells, these exercises offer versatility and effectiveness in targeting various muscle groups and reducing lower back pain. 

5. Aerobic Exercise (Cardio): Cardiovascular Conditioning 

Aerobic exercise – also known as ‘cardio’ – is any type of exercise that conditions the cardiovascular system. The most common forms of aerobic training are running, biking, swimming, and rowing. Walking fits into this category as well, provided it is challenging. As walking has already been covered, let’s focus on traditional cardio exercises. 

Aerobic training stimulates endorphin release – a chemical produced by the brain that reduces perceived pain. Along with directly reducing pain, aerobic training has psychological benefits. It can help reduce fear of movement (kinesiophobia) and increase self-confidence. 

Finding activities that you enjoy and can stick to is important. If you dislike running, there’s no need to force yourself into it. There are plenty of other options available. Conversely, if you find joy in running and feel it’s the best fit for you, rest assured that it’s a safe and effective choice. With that in mind, let’s explore five cardio activities that can help you improve your cardiovascular health and decrease lower back pain. 

Five Cardio Exercises for Lower Back Pain:

  1. Running or jogging: This is a high-impact exercise that can be done outdoors or on a treadmill. It’s great for improving cardiovascular health, burning calories, and strengthening muscles. 
  2. Cycling: Cycling can be done outdoors on a bike or indoors on a stationary bike. It’s a low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints and can help improve leg strength and cardiovascular fitness. 
  3. Swimming: Swimming is a full-body workout that is low-impact and easy on the joints. It’s great for improving cardiovascular health, building muscle strength, and increasing flexibility. 
  4. Rowing: Rowing is an excellent full-body workout that can be done on a rowing machine or out on the water. It’s a low-impact exercise that targets multiple muscle groups and improves cardiovascular fitness. 
  5. Dancing: Dancing is a fun and effective way to get your heart rate up and burn calories. Whether it’s in a dance class or just dancing around your living room, it’s a great way to improve cardiovascular health and coordination. 

In conclusion, incorporating regular cardiovascular exercise into your routine can have numerous benefits for your overall health and well-being. Remember to listen to your body and adjust your workouts as needed. With dedication and consistency, you can improve your cardiovascular health while reducing lower back pain. 

Taking a Long-Term Outlook 

Exercise is one of the best methods to prevent low back pain. The goal is to establish a regular exercise routine that will improve your strength, endurance, and resilience. The exercises provided are not intended to be short-term solutions but rather fundamental exercises to use regularly. 

If you have concerns about beginning an exercise program, consult with one of our highly-trained physical therapists. They will conduct a comprehensive evaluation and develop a personalized program for you. 


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