There are so many great exercises out there, but if you're injured, you want to be very careful with which exercises you select to achieve your fitness goals.
Yes, there is a way to achieve your fitness goals safely, even eliminating your back pain in the process. However, you need to stop listening what the "experts" say about the "best exercise." The bottom line is that the "best" exercise might not be "best for you." Be willing to let go of some good exercises in order to choose some safe exercises. These new exercises are going to help you achieve your fitness goals without aggravating your back pain.
I have identified five exercises that, although great exercises, will not support you in your goal of becoming pain-free.
Exercise #1 - Replace Burpees with Inchworm
First, I'm sorry to offend any of you Cross Fitters out there, but I have to put the spotlight on Burpees. Again, I'm not saying that it's a bad exercise. I'm simply saying that if you are suffering from back pain, stiffness, tightness, it might not be the best bet for you. The main reason is that you are using such fast movements, and there is a lack of stability throughout the motion. Instead, we want to select an exercise to replace Burpees that is more controlled and deliberate.
So, instead of Burpees, what do we do? If we dissected the elements of the Burpee, we conclude that it is a front to back motion, or in the sagital plane. So we will choose a replacement exercise that is slow and controlled and also in the sagital plane. That exercise is called inchworms. There are four steps to the inchworm:
Exercise #2 - Replace Squats with Wall Sits
Next, I'm committing blasphemy but I will go on record saying that if you have back pain doing squats is a horrible choice for you. Even bodyweight squats put you in a compromised position because there is a forward lean, which if you already have too much tension in your lower back, will only create more. Squats are phenomenal exercises for strengthening the glutes and the quads. But we need to select an exercise that will accomplish this task without putting the back in jeopardy.
That exercise is known by many names: Wall Sit, Air Bench, Imaginary Chair. A few key points here: first, make sure your lower back stays flat into the wall. This allows the wall to support your lumbar spine and prevent it from arching excessively. You also want to keep your feet and knees roughly 4 inches apart from each other, with your feet pointed straight ahead. Many people prefer bringing the feet wide, which is also fine as long as your back stays supported.
Watch this video to see how it's done.
Exercise #3 - Replace Bench Press with Push-Ups
The next exercise that I recommend you stop doing is for a different reason. In this next exercise, your back is supported. But the reason I recommend giving it up is because it is a weightlifting exercise and it's so easy to add too much weight, and therefore compromise form. That exercise is the bench press. Again, bench press is a fantastic exercise, but if your goal is a pain-free back then this might not be the right one… at least right now.
The replacement exercise for bench press is very similar in its motion, and that's the good ol' fashion push-up, with one restriction: if you are not able to do at least 30 push-ups in a row, I want you to do push-ups from your knees. Yes, even if you are a man you have to do "girly" push-ups.
Exercise #4 - Replace Dead Lift with Superman
The next exercise I will take out of your program for the same reason as the squats. That is dead lift. Your body weight is pitching forward, which puts a lot of extra stress on the lower back. Again, the dead lift is a fantastic exercise for building overall strength. It's also very practical. But if you have back pain, I would highly recommend that you stop doing it.
Now let's figure out which exercise to put in its place. The dead lift is phenomenal for both hip extension and building the muscles of the back. The replacement for the dead lift is probably in my top five exercises of all time, mainly because so few people can do it correctly and everybody needs it. That exercise is Superman. Superman is a great exercise for glute development, back development, and even hamstring development. Most people are very weak in their posterior chain, the muscles of the back of the body. And this is a great exercise to build that up.
One word on form. Make sure that there is some abdominal engagement, so that your lower back does not hyper-extend. You do want extension, but don't get too much extension. Watch the video to see how to do it properly.
Exercise #5 - Replace Crunches with Pullovers w/ Leg Raises
Everybody wants a six pack right? So, crunches right? Well, crunches or not the best way to work the abs, especially since they put the spine at such a tough angle. Going into spinal flexion might cause extra tension in the back. We definitely don't want that if you have back pain. But it's very important to work the abdominal muscles, especially since having strong abdominals will help reduce back pain, in the long term.
So the exercise that we choose to replace the crunch needs to not only work the abdominals but also keep your spine in a stable position. This is called pullovers with leg raises. The most important thing here is that your lower back stays completely flat. There's no crunching up, your head stays on the floor.
Only go as low as you can control, keeping her lower back flat. Watch the video for further instructions.
Although the five exercises that I am replacing in this program for back pain are phenomenal exercises, I would highly recommend they stop doing them, at least until you're back pain goes away. For a program that is geared toward eliminating your back pain and allowing you to get a great workout without the flareups, check out my program Help! I Threw Out My Back. It will guide you through step-by-step as far as how to settle the back relax the muscles, and then begin to systematically strengthen the muscles so that it does not happen again.
Thank you so much for reading to the end of this blog post. If there's anything that was unclear, please feel free to email me Chris@mycorebalance.com.