My best, and worst, back exercises

‘What exercises should I be doing for my back?’ This is a question that pops up rather a lot. As with most things, there’s no simple answer – otherwise we’d all be doing it. The advice I give will be tailored to your needs and specific to your back, and may change over time as well. But, for a bit of an insight I’ll run through what exercises are out there and when they may be appropriate.

  1. Walking – yes, boring I know, but this is the best and most underrated back exercise out there. If you put your hands on your low back as you walk you’ll feel the muscles in your back working. So walking is a core exercise. Even better than that, walking is also a mobility exercise – it moves and frees up your back at the same time as strengthening it. This is why it is the best exercise to do. You can, and should, be doing short walks with acute low back pain. You can also do longer walks to help mitigate the amount of time sat down in the day.
  2. Cardio – again a bit of a surprise for a back exercise, but the same principle applies here as for walking, only it’s a little more intense. Jogging, cross trainer, swimming, and rowing (with perfect technique) can also strengthen the back. These are exercises to avoid during episodes of back pain, but to engage more with when pain-free.
  3. Gentle mobility exercises – these involve controlled twisting of the back to free up vertebrae and to stretch muscles. Good to do with during episodes of back pain and as things begin to settle, get specific advice with these.
  4. Pilates and yoga. Pilates involves both mobility and strengthening exercises and is ideal for those with long term back pain, or people who have had acute back pain which is now more or less settled. Yoga is more advanced in terms of flexibility training and should really be left for those with strong backs.
  5. Weight training. When done right this with strengthen the back. There are some major risks here, if you’re back pain is due to too much tension in the back then weight training will only add more tension and prolong the problem. If you’re technique isn’t perfect or you’ve had a disc injury in the back in the past then there is a risk of further disc injury. This is not the exercise to be doing while in pain.

Hopefully that gives you some insight into how certain exercises can help or hinder back pain recover. The key is to be doing the right one at the right time. Your chiropractor will explain what to do, how to do it and when to be doing it.