Is avoiding strength training with weights best for your low back pain?¬† Many people believe they should not lift weights because of their chronic aching back.¬† This belief is unhelpful and can perpetuate your back pain. Strength training is a safe and effective way to decrease your persistent back pain.¬† This article addresses how you can structure your strength training program for the best results.
Strength Training Proven to Decrease Back Pain¬†
Multiple studies prove the benefits of strength training for people with persistent low back pain.¬† A 2014 study conducted at the University of Florida separated 49 individuals with back pain into 1 of 3 groups.¬† One group performed low back muscle exercises.¬† The second group performed a total body strength training program.¬† The third group performed no exercise.¬† After 4 months both exercise groups showed large improvements in back pain.¬† Disability in the total body strength training group decreased the most.
Another study out of Sweden showed similar benefits.¬† In this study lumbar stabilization exercises were compared to heavy strength training.¬† The heavy strength training program consisted of only the dead lift exercise.¬† Pain, disability, and quality of life showed significant improvements in both groups.¬† These studies prove strength training with weights is at least as effective as traditional low back-specific exercises.
The 5 Basic Movement Patterns to Manage Back Pain
Designing your strength training program does not have to be complicated.¬† The best programs incorporate all major muscle groups of the body.¬† More importantly, the 5 basic patterns of movement are included.¬† These are the squat, hinge, push, pull, and carry.¬† We will discuss each of these movement patterns as they relate to low backpain in greater detail.¬† For recommendations about sets, reps, frequency, and the amount of weight to use, go here (Preventing Muscle Loss).
The squat wrongfully gets a bad rap.¬† Squatting is not harmful for your low back.¬† Squatting is a fundamental movement pattern that you repeatedly perform during each day.¬† There are many squat exercise variations available.¬† The leg press is a basic squat pattern performed with a machine.¬† This is a nice option for people with back pain because the spine is supported.¬† The barbell back squat is a more technically challenging exercise.¬† There are many variations in between.
The goblet squat is an excellent option because it helps reinforce proper squatting mechanics.¬† The basics of the squat include keeping the chest up, back straight, and knees out.¬† You also want to ‚Äúsit back‚ÄĚ into the squat as if you were sitting into a chair.¬† When performed properly, the squat is arguably the best total body exercise.
The hinge pattern involves flexing your hips with your spine in a neutral position.¬† The dead lift and all its variations are the classic hinge exercises.¬† These exercises strengthen your backside.¬† This includes your hamstrings, glutes, and low back muscles.¬† Unfortunately, many people are unable to properly perform the hinge pattern.¬† Improper form combined with heavy loads often leads to injury.¬† Get help from your physical therapist if you are having difficulty.¬† The Romanian dead lift (RDL) is mastered before progressing to any type of conventional dead lift.
Push exercises include the bench press and military press. It also includes the push-up and all its variations.¬† These exercises strengthen your shoulders, chest, and arms.¬† To get the best total body benefit, we recommend the landmine press.¬† The landmine press is performed in a standing position.¬† This activates your lower body, core, and upper body muscles.¬† It is also less stressful on your shoulder joints.
Pull exercises include the row, pull-up, and lat pull-down.¬† These exercises strengthen your upper back muscles, shoulders, and arms.¬† Similar to pressing movements, we recommend standing or weight bearing exercises with free weights in place of seated machine-based exercises.¬† This activates your lower body, core, and upper body muscles in a more functional way.¬† Rows can be performed in many different fashions.¬† Be sure to include at least one row exercise in your program.
Loaded carries are often neglected in strength training programs.¬† However, carrying heavy objects is a natural part of our lives.¬† Your body should be prepared for this; especially if you have a history of back pain.¬† There really is no better core exercise than the loaded carry.
When first starting out, incorporate the 2-arm farmers carry with kettlebells or dumbbells.¬† Begin with 20% of your body weight in each hand.¬† Over time, perform the farmer‚Äôs carry with at least 50% of your body weight in each hand.¬† The length of your carry should be at least 25 feet and back.¬† With heavier loads, walk shorter distances.¬† And if using lighter loads, walk a little further.
Total Body Strength Training for Your Back Pain
If you have been dealing with back pain for many months or even years, strength training can help.¬† It is important to start small.¬† Choose one exercise from each of the 5 fundamental movement patterns described here.¬† It is fine to start with 5 exercises performed 2 to 3 days per week.¬† Keep the weights light until you master the movement pattern and gain confidence.¬† If you need help, call your physical therapist.¬† We are here to help you move and exercise without pain.