Conquering Low Back Pain While Getting Fit…Part III

August 20, 2007

In Part I of Conquering Low Back Pain, I discussed how I slipped a disk in the gym many years ago and how this injury kept coming back. In Part II, I discussed the exercises to avoid at all costs if you have a low back injury. In this final post, Part III, I will discuss the solution to low back pain.

The Correct Way to Prevent Recurring Low Back Pain.

The best way to prevent low back pain is to strengthen the low back muscles while your back is in the proper alignment. There are three main exercises you want to focus on…”planks”, “bird dogs” and “supermans”.

Here is a Video of a Great Demonstration of “Supermans”

This guy does a great job of showing why this exercise is so good. Do you see how his lower back is curved correctly throughout the entire exercise? With this exercise you are building the muscles while the spine is in proper alignment. You can’t round the spine at all, which makes this exercise ideal for rehabilitation.

Here is a Video of How to Do “Planks” Properly

Here is a Video of a Guy Doing “Bird Dogs”

This guy isn’t showing the best form in the world. What you want to do is hold for 5 seconds in a straight position and then alternate just like he does in the video and hold again in the straight position for 5 seconds. This exercise works the small muscles in the back called the multifidus muscles. There is an entire book on this exercise called The Multifidus Back Pain Solution: Simple Exercises That Target the Muscles That Count. The author of this book believes that the key to solving back pain lies in working the small mutifidus muscles. After doing this exercise for 4 years, I completely agree!

Why These Three Exercises Work So Well Together

1) “Supermans” reinforce correct curvature of the lower back.
2) “Planks” strengthen the core and build abdominal endurance to protect the spine.
3) “Bird Dogs” strengthen the multifidus muscles which quickly alleviate back pain in the majority of people with low back injuries.

How Many Times Per Week?

I would recommend that these exercises are done in the same order as listed here, three times per week. Do 10 reps of “supermans” on each side…holding for 5-10 seconds in the flexed position. For “planks”, do the regular version for 2 minutes and add the side versions as you gain more abdominal endurance. Finally…finish up with the “bird dogs”…10 reps each side and hold for 5-10 seconds just like you do with “supermans”.

These Exercises Have Vastly Improved My Quality of Life!

I have been 100% pain free for 4 years now. If you know of anyone with chronic back pain, please refer them to this three part post. If I would have had this 12 years ago, I would have saved myself from years of pain and misery. Please leave a comment below if you have any comments or questions…I do my best to answer as many as possible.

Low Back Pain

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Angie August 26, 2007 at 11:11 am

Thank you for this! I have had lower back problems for the past 15 years also. I do these exercises but also do the ones you don’t recommend, so now I will throw those out and focus on the ones you suggested! Again..thanks!

admin August 26, 2007 at 12:02 pm

Angie,

Yeah…I did the same thing! Stuart McGill addresses the issue that most physical therapists are getting it wrong. His book is a massive hardcover book that goes deeper into this subject than anything else I’ve ever read. I’m 100% convinced that you do not want to do those exercises shown in part 2 of this 3 part article.

It is incredible to have a pain free back!

Rusty

Neil Baber August 27, 2007 at 10:06 am

Very good points, and very good site. The only thing I would say is that for some people doing crunches carefully, and partial sit-ups may well be good for them. I think it depends on the person’s particular back-related problem.

I like your site alot, though. If you’d like to join forces, just let me know. I’m new to internet marketing, but I’m doing alot of work (including The 30 Day Challenge).

My skype no. is neil.baber

Best regards,

Neil Baber

admin August 27, 2007 at 6:31 pm

Neil,

Yeah…good point about carefully doing crunches. I think it would be wise for people to avoid them until they don’t experience back pain anymore…but after that, they could give them a shot and see if they remain pain-free.

I had a pretty severe back injury, so I don’t go near them. There are people out there with minor back injuries that could get away with doing them, but I would caution those people to do them vary carefully.

My blog is really new as well. I was writing articles and submitting to article directories and they were received so well, that I decided to start this blog. I like the fact that I can show videos and pictures…plus I can answer questions directly.

My goal is to help steer people in the right direction. Getting toned is easy as long as people don’t fall into the trap of listening to popular opinion.

I’m getting a lot of visitors to this site already, so now I am just focusing on helping them. I will definitely be up for a JV of some sort in the future as long as it is a benefit to my visitors.

Cheers!

Rusty

Mark September 3, 2007 at 7:59 pm

Rusty,

Great stuff!! Thanks!

I’ve been doing this lower back routine for about 2 weeks now and I feel better already. Really. I notice a difference.

A couple of questions: when doing bird dogs, when your leg is extended, should you be pointing your toes or your heel?

Also, when doing supermans and bird dogs and holding in the extended position, should you keep breathing or hold your breath?

Regards,

Mark

admin September 3, 2007 at 11:09 pm

Mark,

I like to hold bird dogs for 5 seconds extended. Supermans…about 2-3 seconds. I like to breath naturally when doing these exercises…neither holding my breath or breathing out.

For bird dogs…I like to point my toes away from my shin (does that make sense). Also for bird dogs…It is recommended that you try to reach your finger tips forward and your toes backward when you are in the extended position. You are pretending to lengthen your body (although it isn’t visibly noticeable).

Rusty

Ben September 7, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Rusty,
Love the site, thanks for the great tips.

I just have a question for you that goes hand-in-hand with how not to stretch the lower back: How DO you stretch the lower back? Do you have any stretches you might recommend?

Thanks!

Ben

admin September 7, 2007 at 8:26 pm

Ben,

Here is the deal…there really is no reason to stretch you lower back. The only reason you would want to do any sort of “bend down” type stretch is to stretch your hamstrings.

If you have never had any back problems, then you can do a hamstring stretch by bending forward. Make sure you don’t bend forward at your lower back…bend at your hips and keep your lower back straight.

A better alternative is to stretch one leg at a time on a chair.

hamstring stretch

(This guy is rounding his back a bit…try to do it with a straight back).

I know it sounds crazy…but you really don’t ever need to round your lower back on purpose and stretch in that direction. If you have suffered a lower back injury (especially a spinal injury)…avoid these types of stretches at all costs!

Rusty

PS: Glad you like the blog! I used to just write articles and distirute them all over the web, but with a blog I can answer quetions and include pictures, etc…I’m hoping to reach as many people as possible to help them get fit.

Rajiv Mittal September 9, 2007 at 2:44 pm

Rusty,

Its a great site , I am suffering from Slip disk ( L5/S1 and L5/L4) from past 2 years , I started doing Yoga , One year back and got lot of relieaf( similiar to supermans with one hand and one leg posture) , but after doing bird dogs and planks from last one week . I think I have improved more .
But I have a question even there is no pain now , can i resume my benchpress exercise . I kind off feel that my chest has lossen up a lot in last 2 years

regards
Rajiv

admin September 9, 2007 at 6:24 pm

Rajiv,

You should be able to do almost any exercise as long as you watch your lower back…just make sure you don’t round it. With bench presses there is very little chance that this will happen.

You can do bench presses, dips, pushups, etc…none of it is going to hurt your lower back at all.

Great to hear that your lower back is feeling better! Probably the most important exercise for lower back health is the “bird dogs”, since it plays a large role in really strenthgening the multifidus muscles. This is supposedly the key to help your back remain pain free.

By all means…feel free to begin exercising again!

Rusty

JQ October 7, 2007 at 12:42 pm

hi , wanted to know, by doing these exercises , would I get a six pack abs …. I have a slipped disc, and I am working on my back , how do I work on my stomach muscles or rather get it atleast in shape ?

your feedback would be appreciated.

thanks
JQ

JQ October 7, 2007 at 12:49 pm

Hi ,

I wanted to add something more. Basically a person with back problem, what are the other exercises along with these , which he can do without hurting his back, making his back strong AND giving him a good body shape.

Great site.. and always would appreciate your answer.

thank
JQ

admin October 7, 2007 at 2:37 pm

JQ,

It really depends upon the nature and severity of your back problems. If you do a lot of cardio and eat a healthy diet to get your body fat low…it goes a long way towards getting really defined abs.

The “plank” exercise as described above also helps you towards the goal of getting six pack abs. What you can do to make this even more effective is to contract your abs for 5-10 seconds and then relax them for 5-10 seconds while you are in the plank position. You WILL notice a difference.

Another really good plank variation is to do it with your elbows on an exercise ball.

Also…read this post for an interesting yet effective abdominal exercise: Bruce Lee’s Secret Six Pack Ab Exercise

In the future I will try to include more posts about working with injuries.

Hang in there!

Rusty

Tomek October 10, 2007 at 10:29 am

My comment. You are adressing here situation where you have injured yourself during an exercise. Most people have lower back pain due to muscular imbalance. There might still be an accident, but that’s just a trigger. The way to go about lower back pain is to get sructural balance back. Here is an article that decribes it very well: http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=1508256

admin October 10, 2007 at 1:36 pm

Tomek,

Great comment. Yeah…my article has to do more with spinal rehabilitation for people with back injuries.

The article you recommended is perfect for anyone trying to prevent those injuries in the first place. It is a long read, but goes into detail why injuries occus in the lower body.

Thanks,

Rusty

kalpesh March 18, 2008 at 10:24 am

Hi sir this is Kalpesh Mavlankar from India.I am 21 years old.
I am suffering from slipped disk between L5-S1 while i was doing workout in my gym since last 8 months.I was taken the physio-therepy treatment.Now i am feeling quite well.Now a days the pain is came on to the one spot of my lower back.So sir what should i do to recover completely from this injury??What type of diet should i take?& should i join the gym again in future?Should i drive the bike?Please reply me sir!!!!!!!
Regards
Kalpesh Mavlankar

admin March 19, 2008 at 2:07 am

I feel for you! Don’t ever do any exercise that flexes your spine forward…ever again. Do the exercises that I recommend in these articles.

I didn’t sit on an exercise bike for one year after injuring my back. Do the treadmill and stand in great posture. Try to every exercise in great posture. No matter what you do don’t ever flex that spine forward again. I still consciously do this.

Feel free to join a gym…just be very careful. It is going to take you up to a year to be pain-free if you work really hard at it!

Rusty

Bianca June 16, 2008 at 12:44 pm

Hi Rusty!
I have been enjoying & loving your blogsite for months & every article is absolutely amazing! I am just finding this particular article now unfortunately because I have had back pains for years. I have a random question I was wondering if your knew the answer to….is it bad to crack your back??? I love twisting my shoulders around in my chair, holding on to the back of my chair & cracking my back. Also my neck cracks very often & very loud I’m not sure if it is bad for my spine but it feels so relieving.

Bianca

Erika June 26, 2008 at 1:02 am

Hi Rusty,

I have really been enjoying your site, and thank you for this article. I have had hip pain for a while which I am told may be due to my lower back, and I can feel direct twinges in my lower back as well- so I am going to start doing these exercises. One of the questions above mentioned this issue, but it seems to be a big deal to me and I would like to hear more of your take on it: bike riding. In a few months I am moving to a “bike town”, and will be commuting every day for a few miles via bicycle. It seems to me that the biking position often does put a curve to the spine, including the lower back. So, do you think that this is a big issue? Should lower back pain sufferers avoid standard biking altogether? I hate to think that my method of transport and all of that great cardio will be confounded because of the position biking requires.
Thanks so much,
Erika

admin June 29, 2008 at 2:35 am

Bianca,

I would ask your doctor about back cracking. I don’t know the answer. My guess is that it is fine as long as you are slowly rotating to one side. I know that chiropractors crack backs (in a targeted manner) to heal.

Erika,

I ride a bike at times, but I keep my back as flat as possible. Just consciously make sure you are hunching you lower back and you should be fine.

Rusty

Morgenster July 15, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Slipped disks can occur higher up as well!
I used to have trouble with that around T3-5 and sometimes pains lower down or higher up in the neck.
I like how you describe stabilisation exercises that will strengthen the surrounding muscles to prevent these injuries.
I went to quite a few physical therapists in my short lifespan up until 8 years ago. The last one I went to did something completely different from the others: Instead of laying me down, massaging and cracking and all the other stuff this one put me to work and at the end pretty much told me that I’d best take up powertraining for the rest of my life considering that I have very flexible joints.
There is however, one slight remark I have here: the focus is solely on stabilisation (which is good) but that’s not the whole picture. Usually there will also be a mobility problem as well and these exercises could make this post complete.
Mobilisation exercises will prevent your discs from getting stuck in the wrong spot and even alleviate pain when your back is hurting as long as you do them FAST enough when the pain sets in. These exercises are actually very easy and more akin to good stretching routines.
There’s three basic ones that will do the trick nicely.
1) lie down on your back, keep your shoulders on the mat, rug or whatever and bend you knees so your heels touch your butt. While keeping your shoulders to the ground, rotate your knees to the ground slowly in both directions alternately. 2 or three times shoudl be enough. = good for lower back
2) in that same position stretch one leg, and roll onto the side of the stretched leg so that the knee of the other leg touches the ground. Then slowly rotate your upper body to the other side with one hand in your neck so that it looks as if your twisting yourself like a wet towel. Do both sides two or three times. = good for mid back.
3) Finally, get on hands and knees and keep your back straight. Put your hands below the center of your shoulders so that at any time you can balance on any hand. Then swing one arm out upwards (in a rotation)while following the swinging hand with your eyes and head. Do this faster than the other exercises but don’t force yourself to go higher than you can and do it gently. 10 times each side. You can do this while in a pushup position as well but that one’s more difficult. swinging straight up works the upper back, swinging up and forward out works the neck.
If you have back pains when you do these exercises you will actually feel more pain directly afterwards, but the pain will be way less an hour or so later.

Morgenster July 15, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Forgot to mention that if you do the exercises and there’s something that’s blocking you with pain while attempting them: GO SEE a DOCTOR.
These exercises can be done anywhere anytime but are useless if you don’t do the stabilisation exercises as well.

Usman October 23, 2008 at 5:45 am

Hi Rusty, amazing website. I love every part of it. I have a quick question? How about arching your back inwards? I usually arch my back in while pulling my shoulder blades together and keeping my butt on the bench. Would you consider that bad?

admin December 8, 2008 at 4:23 am

Usman,

Thanks for the compliment. You will be fine arching your back inwards while benching. This is actually the best way to perform this lift. Almost zero chance of injury doing this.

Rusty

rw December 12, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Rusty,
This is the first time I have seen this page, even though I’ve been reading your site off and on for a while. I have the same back injury as you, from loading up with a leg press machine in high school, but compounded by skateboarding, snowboarding, and I used to do the jumping events in track and field. Bulging and slipped L3/L4/L5 discs. It comes back to haunt me every so often. Sometimes skateboarding, other times just by putting a dish in the dishwasher wrong…

Anyway, just wondered what you think about Yoga. I had a free trial this past week and it seemed to be helpful. As you probably know, a crappy side effect of a back injury is that it makes your hams super tight. Yoga definitely seems to help out here. However, I’m worried that some of the moves involve rounding the back. I can’t really remember because I was kinda lost and just trying to keep up with the class! Do you do any yoga yourself? Thumbs up, thumbs down?

Dave December 28, 2008 at 1:45 pm

I found your site by chance and am glad I did. You are very informative. Your three exercises are very similar to what I have been doing, and done, with a few others. I have sciatica. An extrusion of either the L4 or L5 disc is pressuring my sciatic nerve. I just cannot remember which one it is from the MRI results. Recovery has been great until recently. After a few months of physio I had an appointment with the doctor. The go ahead to ‘push’ me a lil harder was given, which was exactly what I wanted to hear. Towards the end of the second week of ‘stepping it up’ the Gabapentin I have been taking for pain, three times daily, doesn’t seem to be working anymore or like it use to help. I also take one Naproxen daily. I am starting off very slow and don’t think I am pushing myself too hard yet. Any comments on sciatica or the use of prescription drugs during recovery would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

Dave

dx February 4, 2009 at 6:23 am

Hey rusty,
awesome site! dude Im a avid gymer. I love the gym cant live with out it. but sadly i have 3 prolapse disc at L3, L4, L5. i took a break for a period of 2-3 months. Then i went back to hitting the gym hard like always. and the pain is back. im afraid that im makin my back worst.Im jwondering is it ok 4 me 2 continue gyming? if yes what exercises can i do? cause i still have a competition comin up and i really gotta train 4 tat. Thanks man!!!

DX

Brad February 9, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Will these exercises work for a sacro-illiac joint that’s been bothering me for 2-3 years now? I’m 40, like to workout, play basketball, but can’t do any squats (pressure on that joint just kills me), or anything that extends my upper body out away from my body because it seems to cause the joint to go out of whack, as does basketball if I make too sudden of movements with my back. My spine is fine, but the pain in this joint when it goes out is extremely painful, and usually sidelines me for about 3-4 weeks.

Brad

Procerin Reviews March 20, 2009 at 5:39 am

I have gone through the other two posts on conquering back pain and found them very useful. Thanks for sharing.

-Mini

Zach April 26, 2010 at 2:42 am

How many sets of each exercise should be performed? Or do you just run through the circuit once?

sciatica cure July 20, 2010 at 10:22 am

Exercise is a good way to keep muscles relaxed rather than tense. It improves movement and flexibility. Exercise improves blood circulation and therefore nourishment of tissues in the body. Eating healthy food to nourish your body is always a good idea. For your body to function well, it should have the necessary daily dietary requirements such as proteins, vitamins and minerals among others.

sciatica treatment September 19, 2010 at 5:00 am

Doing exercise everyday can not only keep a good health but also strengthen muscles .Thanks for sharing these main tips.

jim vanloozen November 12, 2011 at 6:08 pm

reverse back extensions have saved my back by strengthening the muscles in my lower back. i swear by them but the superman, plank and bird dogs are worthwhile also.

manpreet September 20, 2012 at 11:35 am

hi
my mom s suffering from serious back pain going down to legs even, she has a slipped disk due to which she cant stand for 2mins even but wen she lays down on bed she feels much better, pls advise on d same at present phisiotherapy treatment s going on

MK March 14, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Hey Rusty,

Very good site, but i have a question i hope you can help me. I have a lower back pain when i do abdominal exercices, just after 10 or 15 reps when my abdominals get tired i feel pain in my lower back. i’ve been doing the exercices for almost two weeks i think i am getting better, but for example when i do planks and after 1 minutes my abdominals are fine not tired but my back begin to hurt me, thing that makes me stop. is this normal? should i continue with the exercices?

Thanks.

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