Workout Routines For Bad Backs

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // January 10, 2022

Back off, back pain! We’ve got 10 exercise moves to add to your workout routine if you suffer from a bad back. As a personal trainer, I see so many people suffer needlessly with sore backs, tight backs, or other stiff muscles that cause problems for their back.

There are many reasons for having a bad back, but plenty of solutions cost nothing, improve your back pain, and help you get rid of back fat in the process.

One of those important solutions is exercise. Strengthening the entire core and keeping it stretched will help ease back pain and prevent future injury.

So if you are someone who has a bad back, these are the ten best exercises you can do for a stronger and pain-free back.


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    1. Medicine Ball High-To-Low Chop

    This move develops strength throughout the entire core and puts the back through a controlled rotation. Practicing controlled rotation, especially with some weight, will put you in a better position to avoid injury should an unexpected jarring or twist on your body occur. If you don’t have a medicine ball, use a dumbbell.

    1) Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding the ball in two hands up over the right shoulder.

    2) Bend knees and lower body into squat position as you pull the ball down toward the left ankle.

    3) As you stand back up, reach the ball back up over your right shoulder.

    Repeat 8-10 and switch sides.

    2. Superman

    Very few exercises are this subtle with such powerful results. Done properly, this exercise directly strengthens the muscles around your lumbar spine or your “low back.” This is where most back injuries and pain occur. Modify this move by lifting just your right arm and left leg first, then left arm and right leg.

    1) Lie down on stomach with arms and legs long. Draw abdominals up and away from the mat and pull shoulders down away from ears.

    2) Squeeze abs, back muscles and glutes to lift arms and legs off the mat. Release to start position with control.

    Perform 10-12 repetitions.

    Related: 7 Workout Mistakes That Can Leave You In Pain

    3. Medicine Ball Plank

    This is a step up from a traditional plank. Placing your hands on the ball provides an unstable surface for your body. Rather than being steady on the floor, the obliques and surrounding core muscles have to work to keep you from wobbling back.

    If you already experience low back issues, start this move with knees on the ground and progress to a full plank, or eliminate the ball and just practice a traditional plank.

    1) Begin kneeling on the floor with hands cupped around medicine ball.

    2) Tighten abdominals and glutes and stretch your legs behind you to a straight line. Straighten arms but keep shoulders down away from ears.

    3) Breathe and hold your body in a straight line. Avoid sagging through the low back.

    Hold for 30 seconds. Rest. Repeat if desired.

    4. Overhead Pull

    Often we overtrain the front of our body, including the chest and bicep muscles, and forget about our upper back. This leads to the rounded shoulders or the “hunchback” look you see in so many people.

    It’s crucial to strengthen the space between and surrounding your shoulder blades. This move not only accomplishes that, but adds deep core strength as well.

    1) Lie on back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Arms are extended above chest to start. Engage your abdominals.

    2) Lower dumbbells past your head, keeping arms mostly straight with elbows slightly bent. Keeping abdominals tight, raise dumbbells back to start. The low back should stay firm against the floor throughout.

    Repeat for 12-15 repetitions.

    5. Mid-Back Extension

    This is a sister exercise to the Superman listed above but keeps the focus on the mid-back. It teaches you to relax your low back and isolate the mid-back muscles to do the work on their own. Too often, our low back kicks in where it’s not needed.

    1) Start lying face down on the mat. Lift abs away from the mat to engage them and slide the shoulders down the back. The head is lifted in a low hover. Your body is one long line.

    2) Using your back muscles and core, lift the chest away from the mat into extension as you exhale. Think of lengthening from the crown of the head.

    3) Inhale and return back down to the mat, slowly getting longer through the spine as you return.

    Repeat ten times.

    6. Bird Dog Crunch

    This exercise strengthens the front and backside of the mid-section, both of which need to be strong to prevent low back pain. A balance challenge is presented with the leg and arm extended, and the transverse abdominus is strengthened as it works to keep you from tipping to one side or another.

    1) Kneel on the mat on all fours. Reach one arm long, draw in the abs, and extend the opposite leg long behind you.

    2) Bring the elbow and knee to your center. As you round, your back remember to draw in your abs.

    Repeat for ten reps, then switch sides.

    7. Medicine Ball Overhead Slam

    This move works on strengthening the abdominals and entire core plus gives special attention to the muscles of the upper back. Strengthening upper back muscles is going to help promote good posture.

    1) Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hold the medicine ball with two hands directly overhead.

    2) Slam the ball to the ground in front of you as hard as you can, engaging your abs, glutes and upper back.

    3) Catch the ball after one bounce and raise it back overhead.

    Repeat for 30 second. Rest for 15 seconds. Repeat again for 30 seconds.

    Related: 12 Yoga Poses To Alleviate Back Pain

    8. Renegade Row

    Start with a plank. Add a mid-back strengthener. Now you have a move that strengthens the whole body with focus on the back side. If you struggle with this move, place your knees on the ground to modify.

    1) Begin in a full plank with dumbbells in hands, arms extended, and on toes. Engage your abdominals drawing the belly in towards your spine.

    2) Pull right dumbbell up toward right hip bone keeping weight close to your side. Slowly return it to the floor and repeat with the left dumbbell.

    Perform 10-12 per arm.

    9. Full Body Roll-Up

    A classic Pilates exercise, this move strengthens the mid-section and stretches the back and hamstrings all at the same time. In addition, the slow movement of one vertebrae at a time—or “articulation”—is important for developing a more flexible back less prone to pain and injury.

    This move can be done every day!

    1) Start lying on mat with arms extended overhead, legs long, and feet flexed.

    2) Inhale as you lift arms up and begin curling chin and chest forward. Exhale as you roll the entire torso up and over legs keeping abs engaged and reaching for toes.

    3) Inhale as you being rolling your spine back down one vertebrae at a time and exhale as the upper portion of the back lower and arms reach pack overhead. Repeat moving slowly and using the abdominals to lift and lower, not momentum.

    Perform 8-10 total roll-ups.

    10. Downward Dog

    After any workout or even just waking up in the morning, the downward dog is going to open up your back side. It stretches you from your heels to your head. Remember, your body is a kinetic chain so a bad back isn’t isolated to the spot you feel it.

    Likely, the tightness or pain involves other parts. This stretch will cover a wide spectrum.

    1) Begin in a kneeling position on your mat with hands directly under shoulders, fingers spread wide.

    2) Tuck your toes under and engage your abdominals as you push your body up off the mat so only your hands and feet are on the mat.

    3) Press through your hands moving your chest gently toward your thighs and your heels gently toward the floor.

    4) Relax your head and neck and breathe fully. Hold as long as you like.

    READ THIS NEXT: 4-Minute Yoga Flow For A Bad Low Back

    Fitness, Pain + Recovery, Training Advice, Workouts

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    on Reply

    Hi I have a lower back pain since last November ,my MRI showed L4 & L5 desiccated. L4-5 and L5-S1 disk heights are slightly reduced. I have gone for acupunture and physio but still having pain. Shall I see the Pain Management. Please advise. Thanks.

      on Reply

      Gosh - that is tough! I also have deterioration between my L4 and L5 ... and I've learned to manage the pain with daily exercises and using my massage ball - DAILY is the key to managing the pain - see if this video helps you!!

    on Reply

    if someone has disc herniation he should start stretching of legs specially of calf and hip muscles second must lose weight if he can not walk coz of pain he or she can lose weight by diet i lose 7 kg by diet so its not difficult

    on Reply

    I have 2 herniated discs, and a pinched ceiaticic nerve. Are there any of these I shouldn't do? I don't sleep good at night because I have pain in my hips, and I have to keep rolling from side to side. What can I do? I really need to lose weight, but it's hard. I'm 100 lbs over weight.

      on Reply

      Hi Cynthia - make sure you talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what exercise you shouldn't be doing. These exercise have been helpful for my bad back, but everyone's pain is different!

    on Reply

    I modify or eliminate some exercises because of 4 bulging discs in my C1,2,3 , 4 and L5,S1 slippage . I understand and relate to many of these comments..oh and I also have a Rotator Tear in my rgt shoulder..

    on Reply

    I am a dental hygienist. We sit "hunched" over patients for 8-10 hours a day. Pretty much ever hygienist I know suffers from neck, shoulder and especially back issues. The next time you are having your teeth cleaned, observe your hygienist's posture and think about what exercises you feel could strenghten the areas our work position abuses the most. These 10 look like a good start. My neck feels the worst-but I don't know what is best to help strenghten the neck muscles but not risk developing a thick, masculine looking neck, either. Thanks. Sharing this link with a huge hygiene facebook group, for sure :)

    on Reply

    Love your work outs what about squats with light weights with lower back issues and jogging 2to 3 miles 3 x per week?? Thank u

      on Reply

      Hi Bernie! Both exercise are fine depending on your back issues. If you are experiencing nerve pain, that's a different story and perhaps chiropractic would help. Light weights with squats and short distance running is just fine as long as you continue to work on your core strength and make sure you are stretching your lower body so your legs, glutes and hips don't get too tight which affects your low back.

    on Reply

    I have lower back pain every morning upon waking.I hope these will help with your blog! Thanks for sharing.

    on Reply

    I like superman exercise is ideal for strengthening the low back muscles.

    on Reply

    Full body roll up hurts my back so much.

      on Reply

      You can do planks to work your core as an alternative.

    (This will help us personalize your experience so that you can get the best advice possible from us!)
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