Can I Exercise with Lower Back Pain?

Learn about how low back pain happens, how to exercise if your low back hurts, and how to stay fit when you have a low back injury.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read

Which Exercises Should You Avoid When You Have Low Back Pain?

In addition to exercising caution with high-impact activities such as sprinting and hard running on a treadmill, you should also avoid:

Any exercise in which you hold a free weight away from your body. Common exercises that fall into this category include side raises, front raises, back bends, side bends, and dumbbell overhead presses.

Any exercise that involves repetitive bending at the waist: such as crunches, low back extensions, squats, or deadlifts.

Any exercise that is painful! Even if it wasn’t mentioned in this article, if an exercise hurts, then don’t do it. Because there are many different kinds of lower back injuries, an exercise that works for some may be painful for others. Listen to your body.

A Sample Workout When You Have Lower Back Pain

Here is how a week of getting fit might look if you have a low back pain injury.

Monday: 30 minutes morning walk, followed by 30 minutes of aqua-jogging in the afternoon or evening, with 2 minute hard water running followed by 2 minute easy jogging.

Tuesday: A light warm-up, then 3 sets of 12 repetitions of machine chest press, machine shoulder press, machine rows, machine pull-downs, machine seated leg curls and machine leg extensions.

Wednesday: 30 minutes morning walk, followed by 30 minutes on the recumbent bicycle in the afternoon or evening, with 4 minutes of hard pedaling followed by 2 minutes of easy pedaling.

Thursday: A light warm-up, then 5 sets of 10 repetitions of body weight squats, knee or regular push-ups, dumbbell curls, and dumbbell cable triceps pushdowns.

Friday: 30 minutes morning walk, followed by 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer in the afternoon or evening, with 4 series of 2 minute efforts of 10 seconds hard, 10 seconds easy.

Weekend: A long hike.

Listen To Your Doctor

As you can see, with creativity, variety and a smart training plan, there is no reason that you need to gain weight and become de-conditioned when you injure your lower back. You should not consider this to be medical advice, and you should follow a physician’s recommendation for movement about an injured joint. However, if your doctor tells you to simply rest for 2-4 weeks, you need to specifically ask them about alternatives to that all-too-common prescription. There's no reason that you can't stay in lean and fit while rehabilitating your lower back!

But that's not it! Click here for my Quick Tip on staying fit while injured, or go here for more about exercising with lower back pain.

Lower Back Pain image from Shutterstock


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.