How I workout with a bad back

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I have to be completely honest. I just haven’t been feeling it lately when it comes to working out.  I am always looking for ways to workout with a bad back, and it can be really challenging.  Honestly, it really sucks working out with a bad back, I have to be very careful with the exercises I choose and the weight I lift.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash


Today though, I tried something different, and it was just what I needed.  I have to mix it up when I workout, to keep my mind distracted. After a long day of work, and commuting, I am ready to go to the gym and blow off some steam.  Keep reading, and I will walk you through how I changed it up today and powered through my much-needed workout.

First a little background on me

I have been dealing with back problems for the majority of my adult life.  It started when I was 26 years old. After about 9 months of trying different treatment options, I had surgery.  If I had known then what I know now, I never would have had surgery, but that is a story for another day.

The first 8 years after surgery, everything was pretty good with my back.  I was doing just about everything that I had been doing before surgery, I was just as active and didn’t really think too much about it.

Then a series of events over the past 12 years or so have left me in pretty bad shape at times.  In 2011 in picked up my daughter and not only felt but heard a “pop” in my lower back. I spent 16 months hobbling around, sometimes unable to walk from the parking lot at work to my desk.

We tried just about everything under the sun, from a treatment perspective and then one day I literally woke up, and the pain was gone.  I was not going to have surgery again.

2015 changed everything

In 2015 my life changed.  I had been working out harder and lifting heavier weight than ever (for me anyway).  I thought more weight was going to be better for my body and help me build a strong back.  WRONG!  One fateful night at the gym, I let my ego get the best of me.  I ended up with a blown disc yet again and a sprained SI joint.  I ended up with spinal stenosis and was bent over at a 30-degree angle for months.

I ended up working with a highly recommended chiropractor, and he helped turn my life around.  A lot of the training I do now is a result of his guidance.  I can’t take credit for it, but I love to write about how it has really positively impacted my life.

So, given that, let’s walk through today’s workout

  • Elliptical machine

I started off with 20 minutes on the elliptical machine. This is pretty typical for me.  I absolutely love ellipticals, and these machines are a fantastic option for people like me who live with pain.  Ellipticals are a great low impact workout option and depending on how you use it, can effectively work different parts of your body.

I start the first 10-12 minutes without using any handgrips, AND without bouncing.  Lean back into your butt, so you are squatting a bit, don’t use the handles and try not to bounce. Give it a try if you have never done so, its great for your low back, butt, and quadriceps, so it covers a lot of core muscle groups.  It will help to improve your balance and really make you work.

  • Goblet squat         

Another one of my absolute favorite exercises is the goblet squat. I use a kettlebell flipped upside down when I do this exercise.  Again, this is a low impact leg workout that really engages the whole body as you have to squeeze the kettlebell between your hands.

If you have never tried a goblet squat, you will be amazed at how many different muscle groups this works and you will definitely feel it in your core, specifically the low back and butt.

I have to admit, I am a little bit crazy when it comes to some of these exercises.  I do 5 sets of 20 reps with a 15-second break in between each set.  This really gets the blood flowing and the heart rate up.  I LOVE IT!

  • Treadmill with incline       

Here is where things changed for me.  I usually don’t use a treadmill because I hate running.  Not only do I hate running, but I prefer an elliptical trainer as my body doesn’t need to take the extra pounding.  But today, I wanted to try something different, so I used the treadmill.

I set the incline to the max, and I walked at a brisk pace.  I was really looking for a way to keep my heart rate elevated after the goblet squats.  This was surprisingly difficult to maintain a fast, almost jogging pace, while walking uphill.  I did this for about 5 minutes just to do something different. I will definitely mix this into my workouts going forward.

  • Sumo squat

Next up was something I have been meaning to try, but just haven’t done it yet.  I get so used to my same routine, that I often times just want to get through it so I can go home.

But today was the day I tried sumo squats. Legs wide and feet open, this really works the inner thighs and butt, again, critical areas for me dealing with back problems.

I did 5 sets of 20 reps with the same 15-second break between sets like I did with goblet squats earlier.  I used a 53-pound kettlebell.

  • Back to the treadmill

Since this has been more of a high-intensity workout, I went back to the treadmill with the jacked up incline again.  I wanted to keep my heart rate up and get some more leg work done. By this time, I was pretty well done!  I finished off 5 more minutes on the treadmill.

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BUT there was some more, I just couldn’t help myself.  Once I get to the gym, I get my work done that is for sure.  Half the battle is just getting there.

I finished up with leg lifts, dips, and chin ups. Okay, now I am done!

I am always looking for innovative ways to get a great workout in, that will build my core muscle groups and help me maintain a healthy back. I usually do a lot of walking lunges, but today the gym was packed, and I was in the mood for something different.

A word of caution: Before you workout with a bad back

I do have to warn you though if you are experiencing severe back problems, or you are unsure if you should be doing this, you need to check with your doctor.  When I was recovering from my injury in 2016, I was under very strict orders, and I was in no shape to hit the gym.

Photo by Martin Brosy on Unsplash

It took about 4 months of chiropractor visits and me doing therapy before I was ready to get back in the game.  So, talk to your doctor before you do this stuff.

Also, I have built up to this point, I wouldn’t expect someone who has not worked out or who is experiencing back problems to be able to do all of this.  My best advice, after seeing your doctor, is to start slowly and work up to it. Maybe you do the goblet and sumo squats with no weight for starters.  The whole point is to build a healthy back, not cause further damage.

I really hope you found this post helpful.  My intent with this blog is to help people like me who experience back problems to build a healthy back.  I have dealt with a lot of back issues over the years, and I do this stuff so that I can hopefully avoid injuring myself in the future.  I am also a lot more careful now than I used to be.

2 thoughts on “How I workout with a bad back”

  1. Hi Steve, Boy you have gone through a lot with your injuries. Your advice is welcome as my father has had many issues himself. I will share how you overcome your bad back with him. I’m sure he will find it useful. Thank you, Irene

    • Hello Irene, thanks for stopping by today. I appreciate your comment. For me back pain is always on my mind, so I treat it every day. Best of luck to your dad and thanks again.


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