8 of the Worst Exercises for Your Lower Back 

A man straining his lower back while lifting weights

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Millions of Americans suffer from lower back pain. While this condition results from multiple causes, including some of the worst exercises in your workout routine only increases your agony. 

Your lumbar spine is one of your body’s most delicate areas because of the lack of support. It does the hard work of holding you upright without a single prop to help it carry the load. 

Straining this region can make going about your daily activities excruciating. Avoid these eight worst exercises for your lower back to keep yourself standing tall and pain-free. 

Is Exercise Good for a Bad Lower Back? 

In general, exercise benefits lower back pain. Doctors often caution against remaining sedentary as it increases pain. A sedentary lifestyle can worsen ankylosing spondylitis and degenerative disc disease by increasing stiffness. 

However, not all moves are approved for folks with bad lower backs. In general, you should avoid contact sports or anything with excessive impact that could cause your discs to grind together. Furthermore, pass on moves that can tear surrounding soft tissues. While they may not cause permanent damage, they can alter your posture, affecting your spine. 

8 of the Worst Exercises for Your Lower Back

Give the following eight moves a pass if you have lower back pain, as they’re among the worst exercises for kicking up trouble in this region. 

1. Off-Road Biking 

If you have lumbar issues, you could find biking, in general, too painful outside of the recumbent models at the gym. Leaning over your handlebars can cause agony. However, even folks who do fine on pavement can find the rock-hopping and sudden jerkiness of off-road biking damaging to their spine. Instead, stick to a Pelaton or a similar device with a big screen that sends you on a virtual pedal adventure. 

2. Contact Sports 

Contact sports increase the risk of nearly any type of injury, and your back is particularly vulnerable. Reflect on your physiology for a moment — there’s nothing from your ribcage to your hips except your spine that can absorb a tackle besides soft tissue. Stick to sparring with the heavy bag and perform speed drills to maintain your ability to float like a bee, but stay away from actual punches. 

3. Double-Leg Lift

Double-leg lifts came into vogue as a move to blast your lower abs. However, it often fails to meet that goal, instead putting excess strain on your lumbar spine. When you lie supine and elevate your legs, it presses your lower back into the floor. However, dropping your legs restores that curve and strains your muscles. 

What should you do instead? The following moves blast your lower abs without straining your back:

  • Dead bug: Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up toward the sky and your legs lifted to 90 degrees, bent at the knee. Extend one leg while reaching the opposite arm overhead, then switch. 
  • Mountain climbers: Begin from a pushup position. Alternate bringing each knee toward your chest. You can also add a twist to work deeper into the sides of the waistline. 

4. Back Squats 

Placing a bar across your shoulders as you squat puts undue pressure on your lower back. Even if you use a belt, a slight misjudgment in form can result in a strain or sprain that lays you up for a week, stymying your progress. 

Instead, place the bar in front of you, just below your collarbones. You can also do a Zercher squat, which involves holding the bars with bent elbows instead of your hands. Grabbing a kettlebell to keep in front of you is an alternative to a barbell, as are using machines like the leg sled. 

5. Planks 

Hoorah! You finally have the perfect excuse to skip planks. While they’re fine for most people, a slight shift in positioning can cause a flare of agony in those with degenerative discs in their lumbar spine. It doesn’t take much to squeeze the jelly out of those donuts, and your spinal cord is exquisitely sensitive. 

Alternatives include side planks, which still work the transverse abdominal muscles without straining your lower back. Dead bug and standing crunches are additional options. 

6. Superman Lifts 

It sounds like a great way to strengthen your lower back — lie on your belly and extend your arms and legs. However, the classic Superman move puts undue strain on the lumbar spine. 

Instead, stick to good mornings for your wakeup back strengthening, standing with your feet hips width apart, knees soft. Keeping your spine long and straight, hinge your hips to 45° before rising to stand. Dumbbells and Romanian deadlifts are alternative back strengtheners. 

7. Traditional Situps 

Many trainers also advise staying away from traditional situps. They also rank as one of the worst exercises for other reasons, as they work your hip flexors rather than carving a 6-pack. 

Hanging leg raises are a great alternative, especially for those targeting the tough lower belly area. Bicycles are great for all-over abdominal toning. 

8. Rounded Hamstring Stretches 

Can you bend over and touch your toes? If doing so causes you to round your lower back, don’t try it. Rounded hamstring stretches can strain your back. Your best bet is to keep a straight spine, using yoga blocks to support your upper body weight if your fingertips or palms don’t reach the floor. Another alternative? Do a seated forward fold, keeping your spine straight and using a strap or a towel around your feet to increase muscle lengthening without rounding. 

Mythbusting: Is Yoga Always Good for Back Pain? 

A common myth is that everyone with chronic back pain should do yoga. Guess what? While that advice has merit, choosing the wrong style of yoga can do more harm than good. For example, the Ashtanga primary series is extremely tough on people with degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, as excessive forward flexion and extension create serious strain. 

That said, millions of people have successfully used yoga to alleviate back pain, sometimes for good. The key is to choose the right format. Stay away from more intense styles and look for soothing Hatha or restorative classes to get your fix. 

More Mythbusting: Is High-Intensity Exercise Always Bad for Back Pain? 

Likewise, many trainers advise clients with back issues to stay away from high-intensity exercises like running. In some cases, that advice holds. 

However, other people find greater relief from running than walking, as it burns calories more quickly, letting you get in your workout before the compression on your spine from remaining upright becomes too much to bear. Experiment and work with your doctor if you have an existing injury to determine what’s best for you. 

Worst Exercises for Your Lower Back

You work out to feel your best, not cause further pain. While the right moves ease aches, you should stay away from the worst exercises for your lower back if you’re one of the many with trouble in that area. 

You can still get your fitness fix. Simply replace the worst exercises above with healthier versions and enjoy a healthier, more pain-free you. 

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