I Suffered From Back Pain For 2 Years — These Are the 12 Exercises That Got Rid of It For Good
Sometimes it takes an injury to remind you just how important every bone and muscle in your body is. For me, I didn't realize just how important my back, core, and glutes were until I experienced lower back pain. For a good seven months, I got spasms daily, I could barely walk, and bodyweight exercises were too difficult to perform, which all led to me feeling depressed and like I was never going to get better. I had gone from being a Division 1, All-American sprinter to barely being able to do bodyweight lunges without pain.
After spending entirely too much money and two years looking for a physical therapist, I finally found a group of therapists who figured out the root of my back pain and helped me get rid of it for good.
What Caused My Back Pain
Long story short: my scoliosis has caused structural imbalances for most of my life, and as a result, I had muscular weakness and imbalances on the left side of my body. Not to mention, I learned that my L4 and L5 discs were herniated. My therapists also found that my glutes and core weren't firing like they should, which meant that every time I ran, lifted, and did anything that involved a heavy load, my back was absorbing a majority of that load instead of the appropriate muscle groups.
The Exercises I Did to Get Rid of Lower Back Pain
In order to get rid of back pain, I went to physical therapy religiously two times a week for about three months. During those sessions, I didn't do anything intense. I simply worked on glute activation and core activation exercises. I'm talking doing glute bridge variations and plank variations, and focusing on little details like making sure my spine was in a neutral position at all times and that I wasn't compensating on one side of my body.
It was boring, extremely boring, but it was absolutely necessary. Not only did I have to focus on my glute and core strength during physical therapy, but I also had to change my workouts to apply everything I had been practicing.
How I Changed My Workouts
Once the physical therapists were able to pinpoint the cause of my back pain, it was time to get to work. I had made the mistake of trying to do too much, too soon multiple times, which only set me back in the long run. Another mistake I had made before finding my team of therapists was doing intense workouts on the rare days that my back felt good. This didn't work in my favor because I never addressed the true issue, which was glute and core weakness.
With the advice of my therapists, I started out with bodyweight exercises and gradually increased the complexity of the movements and weight. Regardless of the exercise, I always made sure that my glutes and core were actually firing and to check my form in the mirror. Ultimately, I had to relearn how to move with and without weight, but it was worth it.
I know a lot of different things can cause back pain, so you'll definitely want to speak to a pro to figure out what is causing your pain. One thing I can say for sure, especially as a trainer, is that everyone can benefit from doing more glute- and core-activating exercises. I wouldn't do every single move from the ahead list at once. Instead, choose two to three core exercises (e.g. plank with knee tap, side bridge, and bird dog) and two to three glute exercises (e.g. glute bridge, fire hydrants, and donkey kicks) and complete them before every workout and at least two times a week. You shouldn't feel any pain while performing the exercises, and if you do, stop immediately!
If you are suffering from back pain, I highly recommend speaking to an expert, such as a physical therapist, who can come up with an individualized plan to help you become pain-free. In the meantime, check out the 12 exercises that helped me get rid of back pain ahead.
- Get on all fours, with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Remember to keep abs engaged and keep your back flat.
- Reach out with your right hand and extend your left leg out behind you.
- Round your back and head to connect your right elbow with your left leg under your body. This completes one rep.
Both the side bridge and side plank are great for building strength in the transverse abdominis and other muscles used to stabilize the spine. If you cannot hold a side plank or if engaging the abdominal wall causes pain, start with the side bridge.
- Lie on your left side with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle and your elbow underneath your shoulder.
- Push your hips forward, lifting your thighs off the ground. Rest your right hand on top of your right hip, and hold for 10 seconds.
- Be sure to keep your knees, hips, and upper body aligned. If you experience discomfort in your shoulder, place your right hand over your left shoulder with your fingers spread apart, and pull your right elbow down across your chest.
Traditional Bridge Exercise
- On your mat, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Be sure to keep your feet underneath your knees, not in front. Plant your palms by each side, face down.
- Raise your hips up to the ceiling, tensing your abs and squeezing your butt as you do. You should be making a long diagonal line with your body, from shoulders to knees.
- Hold for a few seconds, making sure your spine doesn't round and your hips don't sag. Keep your abs and butt muscles engaged.
- Lower down to the ground; this is considered one rep.
- Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
- Keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle as you slowly raise your leg to the right until it is parallel to the ground. Avoid lifting your right hip, as you should keep both hips squared toward the floor.
- With control, lower your leg back to the ground.
- This counts as one rep.
Plank With Knee Tap
- Start resting on all fours.
- With your palms flat, raise up off your knees onto your toes. Keep your hands directly below your shoulders.
- Contract your abs to keep yourself up and prevent your bottom from sticking up. Remember to keep your belly button pulled in.
- With your head and spine in line, keep your back flat — don't let it curve. Picture your body as a long, straight board.
- With control, slowly tap your left knee to the ground without moving your hips. Lift your left knee back up, returning to the starting position. Repeat the same movement with the right leg. This completes one rep.
- Start on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
- Keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle as you slowly raise your leg behind you until your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Pulse your flexed foot toward the ceiling by squeezing your glutes. Your back should remain perfectly still in a neutral spine. The motion should be small and controlled with your muscle doing the work, not momentum.
- Return to start position to complete one rep.
Plank With Clamshell
- Lie on your left side with knees slightly bent and your elbow underneath your shoulder.
- Press into your bottom forearm to lift the hips as high as possible, keeping your abs engaged.
- Raise your top knee to open the thighs like butterfly wings, then slowly lower the knee, completing one rep. The move is similar to the clam.
Elbow Side Plank
- Come into an elbow plank position and roll to your right side, allowing your feet to roll, too, so you're balancing on the outside of your right foot, stacking your left foot on your right.
- Place your left hand gently behind your head. Press your left inner thigh up into your right inner thigh; this helps stabilize you even more.
- Lie on your back with your hands by your side, and your heels about 12 inches from your pelvis. Press your heels into the floor to come into a bridge position with a neutral spine.
- Press your right heel into the floor, and keeping your knee bent, raise your left leg until your hip is at a 90-degree angle. Lower your left leg down, pressing through your glutes so your pelvis doesn't drift to the floor along with the leg. This counts as one rep.
- Start face down on the floor resting on your forearms and knees.
- Push off the floor, raising up off your knees onto your toes and resting mainly on your elbows.
- Contract your abdominals to keep yourself up and prevent your booty from sticking up.
- Keep your back flat — don't let it droop or you'll be defeating the purpose. Picture your body as a long, straight board, or plank.
- Lie on your back with a neutral spine and your hips and knees at right angles with your palms pressed into your thighs just above your knees.
- Pull your abs to your spine keeping your ribs and pelvis still as you lengthen your right arm and leg out until they are almost parallel to the floor. Keep your torso and spine completely stable as the arm and leg move.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat on the left side to complete one rep.
- Lie on your back and place your hands on the floor for stability as you bend one leg and lift the other leg off the ground.
- Pressing your heel into the floor, lift your pelvis up, keeping your body in a stiff bridge position.
- Slowly lower your body to the floor. This counts as one rep.