Exercises for LowerBack Pain

By Maggie Fazeli Fard |

Lower-back pain affects some 80 percent of Americans. And though they might be tempted to reach for meds or make a beeline for the couch when it flares up, exercise is a more effective — and increasingly common — treatment.

But for many sufferers, working out when their lower back is tight, tweaked, or tender is much easier said than done.

“There is a misbelief that pain and fear necessarily equal damage,” says Mark Schneider, a strength coach specializing in injury rehab and pain management. When something hurts, it’s logical to want to protect it with rest; it’s hard to imagine that physical activity counts as TLC. But that’s precisely what it is: Even when you’re sore, movement can help.

Strength training, in particular, can build both physical and emotional resilience.

And yet the key to motivating yourself to exercise when pain and fear are blaring like alarm bells isn’t as simple as knowing exercise is good for you.

When you’re in pain, it’s important to find ways to move that don’t hurt, Schneider explains. He recommends making pain-free modifications to common lifts — including asymmetrical, unilateral, and rotational stances — that allow you to move freely.

“If you can add more weight to your body in a position that doesn’t hurt, you’re getting stronger overall,” he says.

This, he adds, allows your body to self-correct pain, and it gets you to “a place where you can trust yourself more, do what you enjoy in life, and experience joy in your body without fear.”

Strength coach Mark Schneider recommends asking yourself the following questions as you begin exploring your back pain through movement: For example,after sitting at your desk all day might make for uncomfortable deadlifting. Test different positions and stances, with and without weight, to find what might be painless. Forget what you think you know about symmetry: Our bodies are asymmetrical, and that isn’t wrong or bad. “Forcing symmetry can be a stressor and trigger for pain,” Schneider explains.may cause stiffness as well as a higher breathing rate and poor breathing habits. This can disrupt diaphragmatic and , which in turn might cause pain even after an injury has healed — or if there was never an injury in the first place. “Relieving anxiety [by finding pain-free positions] can relieve the pain,” he says.“A perfect, painless utopia doesn’t exist anywhere. Pain is the body responding appropriately to what is happening to it. It’s common to dissociate our ego selves from our bodies, to assume our bodies are broken, to blame our bodies. Instead let’s take responsibility for what wedo.”

The following workout is day 1 of a three-day program designed by strength coach Mark Schneider. If anything in this (or any) workout or program causes more pain, stop.As a whole, the program focuses on eccentric movements — the ones that focus on the lowering phase of an exercise — and isometric holds to build tension, control, andwhile limiting impact.Any movement denoted with (x/x) or (x/x/x) represents a cluster set. Think of these as mini sets with a brief — 10- to 15-second — break performed consecutively before moving on to the next exercise. For example, on day 2, you’ll see “Squat (Front/Goblet/Back): (3/3/3) with five-count eccentric.” Translation: Perform three squats while counting to five on the descent, rerack the weight and rest for 10 to 15 seconds, perform three more of the same slow-descent squats, rest for 10 to 15 seconds, then finish with three more squats before moving on to the next exercise. This way, you accumulate nine totalreps in each set. The point of this is to build pain-free volume while avoiding fatigue with weighted movements.

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