Weight Lifting and Back Pain

Strengthening Exercises for Your Spine

Written by Graeme Keys, PT, Dip MDT

It may seem counterintuitive, but weight lifting and strengthening exercises can actually help reduce back pain. However, the point isn't to bulk up your muscles like a body builder—it's to develop strength, especially back strength.

The muscles in your back help keep your spine moving as it should. If you have a weak back or weak abdominal muscles, you could be more prone to back strain. Strong, healthy back muscles are also important because they're associated with your posture. And in some cases, chronic back pain is a result of poor posture.

But focusing on strengthening only one part of the body, such as your back, isn't enough. It's crucial to strengthen other parts of your body, too, including your core and leg muscles. Overall body strength can lead to less back pain and can help you perform daily activities, such as lifting, better.

There are many other reasons why weight lifting and strengthening exercises are beneficial, but the most important reasons are that they:

You can work with a personal trainer to get started. A personal trainer can teach you simple, specific weight lifting and strengthening exercises. You can also work with a physical therapist. He or she can develop a customized weight lifting program for good back health and prescribe specific exercises to reduce your pain.

For the best results, you'll need to incorporate a mixture of weight lifting (using actual weights and exercise machines) and strengthening exercises (using your own body weight as resistance) to maintain a healthy back.

To help you get started, below are a few examples of weight lifting and back strengthening exercises that may help decrease or prevent back pain.

These exercises and the number of repetitions are just suggestions. Talk to your doctor before you incorporate these exercises into your routine. Remember to listen to your body and stop immediately if something doesn't feel right.

Push-ups help strengthen the back, chest, arms, and core muscles. All you need is your own body weight as resistance. To do this move:

Chest Flies
Chest flies are excellent for building muscle in the upper back and chest. You'll need a set of dumbbells, but you can also do this move on certain exercise machines for your upper body. To do this move:

Lateral Raises
Lateral raises help strengthen the entire back. All you'll need is a set of dumbbells. To do this move:

As with other weight lifting and strengthening exercises, these exercises should be performed slowly. You can gradually build up to doing more complex movements and lifting heavier weights. Also, remember to breathe naturally. Holding your breath during these exercises can make muscles tense—the opposite of what you want to achieve.

It's also important to note that doing weight lifting exercises incorrectly can actually lead to more back pain, so be sure you're doing the exercises correctly. If you experience any pain while doing these exercises, stop and call your doctor or physical therapist immediately.

Before adding weight lifting or strengthening exercises to your routine, talk to your doctor about exercising with back pain. He or she may let you know if there are specific movements you should avoid.

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