these exercises make back pain worse

leg press

Low back pain is miserable and, may, or may not be caused by certain exercises. If you have low back pain, you may want to avoid doing the following exercises for 30 days to see if your back pain goes away.

Leg press. The leg press (photo of me above) is a great machine for building the quads (front of the leg, above the knee), and the glutes (butt). I loved that I could go heavy and feel my muscles working hard, but I also felt pain in my lumbar spine right afterwards, and up to several days after using the leg press. The further apart my legs were, to hit the glutes, the worse the pain was. Even when I put my feet low on the leg press, with my feet fairly close together, to target my quads, my back would scream in pain. To this day, I cannot use the leg press, even with light weight without feeling low back pain. It’s not just me, it’s the movement and exercise itself. Seated, with your feet in front of you, the lower back is rounded, and that added weight just makes matters compounded. If the leg press doesn’t bother you, you’re welcome to keep the leg press in your exercise routine, but if you have any back issues, you may want to skip it.


Deadlifts. The deadlift is a total body exercise that can build crazy strength, but has the capacity to leave you in a world of hurt. It’s an exercise that’s frequently done with incorrect form, and very difficult to perform with perfection continuously. The deadlift uses almost all of your muscles, but targets the low back and hamstrings. There are many deadlift variations, so you don’t have to skip it altogether, but the one that’s most likely to cause injury is the traditional deadlift with feet close together, toes pointed forward, with palms down on the barbell. Safer deadlifts are sumo deadlifts with feet in a wide stance, with toes pointed outwards, with a mixed hand grip (make sure to change the grip every set); and the trap bar deadlift is less taxing on your low back, where your torso is more upright, and your arms are at your sides. Less advanced deadlifts that shouldn’t hurt the low back are single leg deadlifts, but they challenge your balance more, which is not a bad thing.

back squat

Back squats. With a barbell on your traps, the back squat is an advanced exercise, and great for loading up with heavy weights since your arms aren’t taking the strain with dumbbells. A lot of people perform back squats with incorrect form or go too low. If you go too low in a squat, likely, what will occur is a “butt wink.” That’s where your lower spine curves under, which, like the leg press, puts you in a vulnerable position with all that load on your back.

In addition, if you don’t come up or down with the barbell evenly, it’s puts a lot of torque on the spine. Since one of my shoulders has less range of motion than the other, when I did performed the back squat, the bar wasn’t even. I didn’t think it through, the fact that the uneven bar, because I couldn’t get one of my hands back enough to match the other, meant that I wasn’t aligned and shouldn’t perform this movement until my full range of motion was regained. What I was doing, inadvertently, was twisting my back on the way up and down. I haven’t done the back squat since, and had to avoid all squats for a few months while my discs healed.

There’s lots of squat variations to play with, like front squats, goblet squats, sumo squats, and box squats. Giving up the back squat doesn’t, and shouldn’t mean you should give up squats altogether.


Crunches. Everyone wants strong, flat abs, but crunches put unnecessary load on the spine. Crunches are, basically, crunching your spine. Crunches are completely unnecessary, and won’t make your abs flat. Crunches only work the upper abs. The abs that typically need strengthening are the obliques (side abs), and the lower abs. Hanging leg raises with your arms in slings are great for targeting the lower abs and obliques, and most people can do them. I also like front and side planks, and the Pallof press to keep the abs and the core strong.

Some exercises are great for some people, and can cause harm for others. Do the ones you like, and avoid the ones that you hate, and cause you pain. I tell my clients that there’s numerous exercises for every major muscle, so we can always change the workout to make it fun without pain. Exercise is meant to be healing, not to cause injury.


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