Lower back pain may be caused by a mild muscle strain or a bulging or ruptured disc. Weight training programs for people with back pain vary based on the type of injury, severity of symptoms and your overall fitness level. However, general guidelines may include slow progressions, stabilization and one-plane movements. Your weight training program should also exercise the whole body, while emphasizing the muscles surrounding and supporting the low-back. Consult your physician prior to starting a weight training program.
Slow Progressions & Recovery
Following a back injury, a weight training program should progress slowly to allow the body to adapt without re-injury. Weight training breaks down muscles and bone to promote strength gains; but rest and recovery between weight training sessions allows the body to heal. Increase the weight or resistance of an exercise after the current weight becomes easy; and increase in increments of one to five pounds. Weight training should also be performed only two to three days a week, not on consecutive days.
When beginning a new weight training program, perform exercises in positions that provide lots of support; especially if you are still experiencing lower back pain. Positions that help stabilize and support the back are sitting on a bench or chair and lying down on a flat bench. Slowly progress to more unstable positions to help improve muscle strength and stability around the back. For example, start with a seated leg press and progress to a chair squat.
One-plane resistance exercises isolate weak muscle groups, help improve strength and reduce the risk of injury. According to a 2008 article in the “Australian Journal of Physiotherapy," exercises that isolate and strengthen lumbar extensors help with the rehabilitation and prevention of lower back pain. Many resistance machines provide excellent one-plane movements such as torso flexion and extension and hip abduction and adduction. Perform exercises for one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Functional exercises are dynamic in nature and therefore more advanced than one-plane movements. Incorporating functional exercises into a weight training program may increase strength and stability of the lower back during everyday activities. Functional resistance exercises may resemble activities such as carrying grocery bags, lifting boxes and moving furniture. Other functional exercises include squats and lunges. Progressions include increasing the weight, adding an arm movement or adding rotation. Perform exercises for one to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.
Although weight training may help strengthen muscles and rehabilitate lower back problems, improper techniques may cause re-injury. Therefore you may want to consult a personal trainer or physical therapist for a weight training program and guidelines. For low-back pain sufferers who are still apprehensive about starting a weight training program, wearing a weightlifting belt may provide additional lumbar support, according to a 1991 “British Journal of Sports Medicine” article.
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Effect of a Weightlifting Belt on Spinal Shrinkage
- Australian Journal of Physiotherapy: A high-Intensity Lumbar Extensor Strengthening Program is Little Better Than a Low-Intensity Program or a Waiting List Control Group for Chronic Low Back Pain
- ACE Fitness: Enhancing Low-back Health through Stabilization Exercise