As a guy who has been dealing with low back pain for many years, I want to share one of my favorite low back pain workout routines. Although I have recommended many back pain products on my website, including inversion tables, back braces and seat cushions, one of the best things you can do to combat low back pain is exercise. In this post, I will walk you through my lower body routine that really helps to build and maintain muscle which helps to fend off my pain.
My back pain problems started in my 20’s, and I had horrible shooting pain in my lower right leg in 1999. The pain was pretty severe, shooting all the way down my calf into my toes. Through months of doctor visits and physical therapy sessions, I was not getting any better. I tried injections as well, and nothing was providing any pain relief.
I had trouble sleeping at night, and just getting up from a chair was really tough. I looked like a very old man hobbling around. It was determined that I had a herniated disc and after 9 months of trying different treatment options, surgery was the recommended next step. So at 27 years old, I had back surgery.
Since 1999 I have dealt with more problems, so surgery was definitely not a cure-all. If I had known then what I know now, I would have just dealt with the pain and not opted for surgery. But there is nothing I can do about that now.
Anyway, in 2011 I had a pretty bad recurrence, where I heard a “pop” in my back. I worked with a back pain specialist, and again we tried shots and physical therapy. After 16 months of walking around in pain, I basically woke up one day and the pain was gone.
Fast forward to 2015
I thought I was golden, hadn’t had any back issues to speak of for a few years. I started working out harder, lifting heavier weight. I was doing things that a guy with a history of back pain should not be doing. That is how I ended up with a sprained SI joint and spinal stenosis.
I found a great chiropractor and spent months doing treatment with him. I hobbled around, bent over at my waist about 30 degrees. I slept on the couch for about two months because I needed to be propped up in the seated position, I couldn’t lay down flat on my bed. This went on for months, but I was determined not to have surgery again.
When I was finally ready, after six months, my chiropractor gave me a workout plan. I have kind of adapted the workout to my needs, and that is what I want to share today.
If you are dealing with back pain, you definitely want to clear this with your doctor before you start working out. You don’t want to make matters worse.
My lower body workout consists of the following exercises:
- Walking lunges
- Goblet squats
- Prone leg curl
- Kettlebell squat/press
I will walk you through my routine and how I incorporate this group of activities into my life.
I start my workout with 10 minutes on the elliptical machine. I typically use a manual mode and start on level 7 or so out of 20. One thing I do different from most people on the elliptical, is I squat down a little bit and I ride it with my arms at my side. So, I don’t use the handgrips. This really makes your legs work harder.
If you are just starting out, you may not be able to do that for 10 minutes, and that is okay. Try it for as long as you can, and build up. I started off intermittently without using my arms and eventually got to where I was doing that for 20 minutes.
If you are a veteran elliptical user, give this a shot if you have never done it before, this can add a whole new dimension to your elliptical routine.
Walking lunges are definitely one of my favorite aspects of my low back pain workout. After I am sufficiently soaked from the elliptical, I move on to my first set of walking lunges.
I demonstrate my lunges in the video below, it’s in my backyard :). I usually do these at the gym, but the beauty of the exercise is you can do them anywhere.
I do 4 sets of 25 lunges, so that makes 100 lunges with no weight. I do this immediately after my elliptical warmup. So I do 25 lunges, with no weight, take a few seconds, 25 more, take a few seconds, 25 more until I reach 4 sets for a total of 100 lunges.
That is the FIRST set of lunges. I repeat this process two more times, and I will explain this more a little later, and it will make more sense. Primarily I use lunges as my starting point, then move on to another exercise, then go back and do 100 more lunges, following this same process.
After the first 100 lunges, I move on to goblet squats. I use a 53-pound kettlebell, upside down, for this exercise. I demonstrate this in the video again.
Proper form is really critical with this, and all exercises, especially when you are dealing with back problems, I learned this the hard way. You want to make sure to stick your butt out, keep your back straight and not extend your knees over your feet. Maintaining correct posture throughout the motion is very important.
You may not be able to do this with a 53-pound kettlebell, maybe you start out with a can of soup. The thing I want to stress is that this is a really full body exercise, which engages your quads, butt, and hamstrings, as well as the upper and lower back. The upper back comes in when you are squeezing the kettlebell.
With the goblet squat exercise, I do 5 sets of 20 reps (100 total) with a 15-second break, and it’s not easy. The first 3 sets are not too bad, then it gets a little hard to catch my breath and recover for the final 2 sets. Okay, it’s actually kind of brutal.
Back to walking lunges
After I have a minute or so to catch my breath, I then move on to set #2 of walking lunges. So, another 4 sets of 25 reps, with about 15 seconds break between each set. This put us up to a total of 200 walking lunges so far with this workout.
Next up, leg curls. Again, working on the 100 rep goal, I do 5 sets of 20 reps with a 15-second rest between sets. I do about 80 pounds. The first 3 sets (60 total reps) are pretty easy. The last 2 sets are hard, and honestly, the very last couple of reps are really hard.
When I am done with this, I move back to, yep more walking lunges. I told you earlier I love walking lunges. Finish with another 100, 5 sets of 20 reps and that makes 300 total for this workout.
Kettlebell squat and press
And just when I am about toasted, I have added some lightweight kettlebell squat and press into the mix. Again, the video shows how I perform this. I typically do about 4 sets of 15 at this point, because I am spent.
So, to recap, the whole workout looks like this, the order can vary, but I usually do it like this:
- Warm up with 10 minutes of elliptical, no hands
- Walking lunges, 4 sets of 25 reps for a total of 100
- Goblet squats, 5 sets of 20 reps, 100 total with a 15-second break between sets
- Walking lunges, 100 total
- Leg curls 5 sets of 20 reps, 100 total
- Walking lunges, 100 total
- Kettlebell squat and press as many as I can muster at this point
The reason I do 100 reps is to build a more robust body. I am at the point where I need to do high reps with low weight. Using short periods of rest between sets, makes for a really good workout that gets your heart rate up. My chiropractor equates it to winning a street fight. Not that I get in many street fights, or have ever been in one, but you want to be able to outlast the other guy J.
I do low weight with a lot of reps rather than heavy weight and low reps because that is what works for me and my back, which is the most important thing to me right now. I don’t want or need to get super huge, I just want to protect my spine the best way I can.
Conclusion: Low back pain workout
These exercises work your butt, hamstrings, quads, and abs, as well as the upper and lower back. I can argue that all of those muscle groups are part of the core. For me, it’s all about strengthening this group of muscles to help protect my spine.
The walking lunges also really help stretch out my butt, hamstrings, and quads. Do you see a theme here? Butt, hamstrings, quads.
I do this lower body work about 3 times per week. I can tell you from experience that if I don’t do walking lunges 3 x per week, I get tight on my right side in the upper hip, lower back area. Lunges are a huge part of my program since it is a low impact exercise that is great for lower body and core.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Do you have any experience with these exercises?
What go-to exercises do you use for back pain?
Thanks for taking some time out of your day to stop by.