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Back Pain Center

My Back Muscles Tighten Up Every Time That I Exercise

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
My Back Muscles Tighten Up Every Time That I Exercise
Lower back tightness during exercise is a sign that your abs aren't doing their job. Photo Credit mheim3011/iStock/Getty Images

Even though exercise is supposed to make you feel better, sometimes it just makes your body cranky. If your lower back tightens up every time that you exercise, it can cut your workout short and make you feel uncomfortable for the rest of the day. If you feel like your lower back is always tight when you exercise, it's probably caused by tight lower back muscles and weakened ab muscles, according to a 2011 study in Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Lower Crossed Syndrome

A physiotherapist named Vladimir Janda discovered the upper and lower crossed syndromes in the mid-1900s while working with polio patients. These syndromes describe two very common postural problems that people tend to fall into. The upper crossed syndrome is when your shoulders and head are slumped forwards. The lower crossed syndrome is when you have a deep arch in your back and your butt sticks out slightly. The upper and lower crossed syndromes are predictable ways that the human body moves. Janda observed that the shoulders and hips tended to move the same way. The shoulders would round forward and the hips would tilt forward.

If you feel tightness in your lower back during exercise, you might be experiencing lower crossed syndrome. In the lower crossed syndrome, your lower back and hip flexors are tight and your abdominal and glute muscles are weak.

Read More: 10 Stretches to Get Rid of a Stiff Back

Lower Crossed Syndrome Effects

The lower back muscles and abdominal muscles are opposite from each other. The abs tilt your hips backward and your lower back muscles tilt your hips forward. If you have lower crossed syndrome, which many people do, and you don't take care to strengthen your abs, your back muscles will continue to overpower them.

When your lower back muscles tighten up, your abdominal muscles can stop it — if you know how to make them work. In order to neutralize your lower back muscles, you need to understand why they get tight in the first place. Anxiety is a possible cause of back tightness, as well as sitting thtoo much and breathing improperly.

Why Your Lower Back is Tight

Read More: Exercises for a Tight Lower Back

Anxiety, sitting for too long and improper breathing are three big reasons why your lower back tightens up when you exercise.

When you're anxious, hormones seep into your blood stream that make you more alert. These hormones make your muscles tighter to prepare them for activity. Exercise is a form of stress that causes these hormones to flood your blood stream, which can make your lower back tighten.

An increasing number of people have jobs that require them to sit for most of the day. When you sit your ab muscles aren't being used and your hip flexors get tighter because they're shortened. This combination makes it harder for your abs to fight against the tension in your back when you exercise.

Sitting can cause your hip flexors to tighten, which makes your lower back tightness worse.
Sitting can cause your hip flexors to tighten, which makes your lower back tightness worse. Photo Credit ChesiireCat/iStock/Getty Images

Workout Modifications to Combat Tightness

If you're one of the many people who are stuck at a desk all day, your workout should begin with a proper warm up to get your blood flowing and joints moving. Because your hip flexors are shortened while you sit, you should incorporate hip flexor stretches into your warm-up. Loosening up your hips will make it easier to stretch and move your lower back.

Proper breathing mechanics during exercise are easy to learn and maintain. The easiest way to learn how to exhale properly is to blow up a balloon. While it may sound childish, it's one of the best ways to practice breathing out and engaging your abs. Try blowing up a balloon a few times before or after your workout to get your abs engaged, which will help your back relax.

If you back tightens up during your workout and breathing doesn't help, you can try stretching your lower back muscles. Child's pose is one of the best lower back stretches. Try holding the stretch for a minute or two, then return to exercise.

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