When your lower back is sore, traditional cardio such as running and sprinting can aggravate your symptoms. The impact forces from your feet striking the ground not only puts you in pain, but often worsens the situation.
Rather than calling it quits with the cardio when your lower back is sore, perform conditioning that requires less impact on joints and muscles of the body. You can still achieve a sufficient cardiovascular response without running or sprinting, and this will allow you to continue to improve your overall health and fitness, even when your lower back is sore.
Get in the Water
When your body is submerged in water, there is less gravitational influence — thus, there is less stress on your back and body as a whole. You can perform exercises such as walking or jogging, or you can complete some form of swimming.
For swimming, start by treading water, kicking your feet and pumping your arms slowly. If the movement of the legs and arms does not bother your back, you can try swimming some laps.
With the laps, start slowly, as the more aggressive leg and arm action can create a twisting force on your back. Again, if you are without pain with a slow swim pace, you can increase the pace, never going fast enough to create pain in the back.
Focus on keeping your abs engaged the entire time to help stabilize the hips and spine and take excess pressure off of the back.
Try the Bike
The bike, especially one that also has moveable handlebars to work your upper body, too, is a piece of equipment that can help you complete cardiovascular conditioning without the impact stress on the back. However, if the arm action is creating rotation through the body that hurts your back, simply stop using them.
Start with a slow and steady pace; if you are responding well, you can try to pick up the speed. When you're ready, move into some interval work, such as 30 seconds of work with 30 seconds of rest.
As with swimming, the goal is to keep the abs engaged, not allowing your torso or hips to rotate during the exercise. This will help to ensure that the back stays in a neutral position and is less likely to become irritated.
Throw a Medicine Ball
If you have a medicine ball and a wall that can take the pounding, throwing a medicine ball repeatedly will definitely create a cardio response, and can do so without taxing the lower back.
Start in an standing position keeping your abs engaged. Push your hips back, so that your hips are soft as well as the knees. From here, throw the ball at the wall using a chest pass. Try going for 20 to 40 reps or for 10 to 20 seconds. Rest for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat for five to 10 rounds.
Once the standing position feels good, you can then work from a split-stance position (one foot forward and one foot back) and eventually work into throwing the ball sideways. As long as the back doesn't feel like it is taking the brunt of the work, there are many variations you can perform.
Try the Battle Ropes
Battle ropes are a less-conventional approach to cardio exercise. The goal of the battle ropes is to move the ropes as fast as possible without the torso or the hips moving. This will help you create a cardio effect without placing stress on the lower back.
Like the medicine ball throws, start in a standing position with the abs engaged and the hips and knees soft. Make small, but quick up and down motions with the ropes, making sure to keep the body as still as possible.
Try 15 to 30 second rounds with 15 to 30 seconds of rest and repeat five to 10 times.
Lastly, if your back has responded well to the previous forms of cardio exercises, you can try sled pushes. The sled, although an intense exercise, demands more core stability and places less stress on the lower back than traditional cardio exercises.
The goal is to keep the abs engaged and feet stepping straight ahead in line with the hips (imagine a line between your feet, don't let your feet cross over it). This will help to prevent any excessive rotation at the lower back.
With a sled, lean into the handles so your body is at 45- to 60-degree angle from the ground. Keep your abs engaged as you push the floor behind you with each step. Start with a slow and controlled stepping pace, working your way up to a quicker pace.
Try pushing the sled for a distance such as 20 to 40 yards of for a set amount of time such as 20 to 30 seconds. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat for five to 10 rounds.