How do I use exercises to strengthen my back?

May 25, 2013

Q: I have a question about my lower back. I’m a 40-year-old male who hurt my back nine years ago. Do you have any suggestions I can incorporate into my workouts to help prevent the occasional flare-ups? Do you have any tips that might make me feel better and help me strengthen my back?

A: Twenty years ago I sustained a back injury that changed my life and revolutionized the way I train. In hindsight, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it forced me to try a different approach. Here are a few of the things I have found to work best when recovering from a back injury.

Increase your flexibility

Muscles around an injured area have a tendency to tighten up to protect the body from further trauma. This will cause you to be stiff and immobile. It can also cause pain and further injury; that’s why it’s important to incorporate a daily stretching routine into your program. Lower back injuries require focus on lower back and hamstring stretches to keep your body loose and able to function correctly.

Strengthen your abs

Your abs wrap around your waist, supporting your body and protecting your back from injury. If your abs are weak, you will never make a full recovery. In fact, you will be more likely to get hurt again. However, if you strengthen your abs, they will help support your body weight and take a lot of pressure off your back.

Strengthen your lower back

It’s important to remember that whatever you do to the front of the body you must also do to the back, and if your lower back gets injured and you don’t strengthen it, the surrounding muscles will shrink and weaken, causing even more problems in the future.

Therefore it is important to target the lower back with low-impact exercises that will help you stay strong and injury free. Birddogs and supermans are great exercises to accomplish this goal.

Foam roll

Foam rolling is a great way to keep your body healthy, loose and functioning at optimal level. It can reduce muscle soreness and joint stress and can increase circulation, flushing toxins and helping the body recover faster from tough workouts.

I have found it particularly useful in recovering from my back injury. Injuries that have plagued me in the past like lower back pain have become nonexistent.

Lose extra body fat

Anyone suffering from a back injury should pay particular attention to their body weight. If you are carrying a few extra pounds on your frame, it would be a good idea to drop some weight. Each extra pound puts constant stress on the injured area and makes it more difficult to recover.

As you get leaner and drop extra weight, you will find that your back will naturally feel better.

Learn to sleep correctly

Back injuries can make it very difficult to sleep comfortably. In fact, sleeping in the wrong position for eight hours a night can be very painful. Think about it - the average person spends 56 hours a week in bed.

Therefore, it’s important to learn how to sleep in a position that puts the least amount of pressure on your lower back. Try sleeping in the fetal position with a pillow between your legs or lying flat on your back with two pillows under your knees.

Wear good shoes

Most people don’t realize that back pain has a lot to do with your feet. Think of your shoes as shock absorbers that protect your joints from high impact. If your shoes are worn out and have no cushion, the impact will cause more back pain. Boots and flip-flops are particularly hard on your back. It’s a good idea to get a good pair of running shoes or invest in arch supports.

Last but not least, consult a doctor before trying any workout program. Get advice on what you are capable of doing based on the seriousness of your injury.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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