Lifts for People with Back Problems

I figured I’d start this list to see what else is out there.

I have recently decided to lay off ANYTHING at the gym that puts a good amount/any compressive stress on my lower back. This is due to a recurring injury that started 13 months ago with some deadlifts. I keep injuring myself and therefore figured I’d start a big a$$ list of lifts for each body part so nothing gets left behind.

If you can add to this list make sure you list:

BODYPART : LIFT (and explain if you think its appropriate)

Here is what I have so far:

Incline Bench (BB &DB)
Decline Bench (BB &DB)
Flat Bench (BB &DB)
Floor Press
Rack Lockouts
Close Grip
Blast Strap Push Up
Flyes (inc/dec/flat/db/machine)

Skull Crushers (seated w/ db & laying w/ bb)
C.G. Decline Bench
Cable Extensions (variations)
Tate Press
Dumbell Extensions (variations)

Pull Ups
Chin Ups
Dumbbell Row (chest supported/tripod)
Inverted Pushup (FMR)
Blast Strap Row

Curls (BB & DB)
Incline Hammer
Reverse Grip Curl
Wrist Curl (over/under hand)
Preacher Curl


Extensions (Single and Double Leg)
Belt Squat
Sissy Squats

Curls (Single and Double Leg)
Lying dumbbel curl
seated band hamstring curl

Farmers Walk
Calf Raise Machine

Band Pull Apparts (rear)
Incline Rev. Flyes (rear)
incline barbell front raise (front)
front raise (barbell, dumbbell)* [front]
lateral raise* (side) (wait for WEEK THREE)
steep incline press (barbell, dumbbell) (front)
chest supported scapular retraction (e.g. dumbbell shrug lying on incline bench) (rear)
cable crossover scapular retraction*
lying side lateral raises

Let’s see what else we can add to this; not just to help me, but to be a comprehensive list of stuff for people that hurt their lower back…b/c I know I’m not the only one.

For anyone working around an injury, they need to individually figure out which exercises flare up the injury and exclude them from their training, as well as learn which exercises do not incite pain.

For example, I have a banged up back (2 disc issues and compressive loads yield pain) and did very little (i.e. none) lower body work for a few years (yes, years. not months or weeks. years). I would love to be able to dead or squat but just couldn’t because of the inevitable pain both during and post- exercise.

So I decided to try rack pulls. Pain. No more rack pulls. I tried lightweight pullthroughs. Awesome, no pain!!! So I did these building up in weight over a few months, then decided to try semi-stiff legged DL’s (i’ve done these in the past with much success in hammy development). Again awesome, no pain!!! I only go over 5 reps on my warm-up sets and make sure to focus on “pulling” with my hammys and squeezing my glutes. Maybe one day I’ll try squats/DL’s again but not yet.

I’ve also incorporated single leg lifts (split squats, 1-legged DL’s etc.) with much success and no pain, as well as sandbag and medicine ball work. Mobility work has also helped immensely.

Your pretty lucky to be able to even do those two lifts man. I envy that.

I can’t do any squat or deadlift variation at all right now.

I’m switching to a purely isolation / bodybuilding type training for at least a year.

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well in adition to keeping compressive loads off my back by doing this isolation workout; i have other things i plan to do.

i do have a good amount of core work that i plan to do; planks (and their variations), ab pulldowns (after a few more weeks) and getting this issue diagnosed by my new sports medicine doctor, seeing a massage therapist and getting some help at a local mobility specialist.

it just seems that everytime i get “better” i do somthing to hurt myself; and its been going on 13+mo; so i’m taking all that has injured me out of the equation for quite some time.

I wouldn’t do farmer’s walks, either, if you’re looking to reduce compressive stress on your back.

My back problems were helped by doing squats and deadlifts. I wouldn’t avoid exercises that are going to make your back stronger, if it were me. I followed the advice of doctors and chiropractors who told me not to squat and deadlift for too long, and all that did was make sure I kept going back to them.

I’m not saying, of course, that you should go crazy, either. Always make sure your form is correct, ALWAYS. You can’t push yourself as hard with the weights, either, until you feel that your back is up to snuff. But don’t neglect your lower back muscles if you already have spinal instability, because that only further reduces your lower back stability.

Try throwing in some single leg exercises. You can still hit your legs and core pretty good without the extra load on your spine.

yeah i forgot to say i took out farmers walk, good eye though.

i’ll be tossing in alot of single leg stuff on my leg days for sure…i’m going to be going to the sports specialist on my leg days b/c that will be the hardest workout to not hurt myself on.

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You have not one exercise that hits the glutes, thats a recipe for disaster, especially those with a back problem. Most back problems are caused from weak glutes and hams, not from a weak lower back. Most people already have a strong and/or tight lower back.

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I find that SLDL or romanian deadlifts complemented by back extensions are great for the lower back. This is coming from someone who has had his share of back problems.

I do the deadlifts not to failure, I just bring the bar as low as possible without rounding the back (that usually means knee level or slightly below). For the back extensions, my only advice is not to hyper extend.

Also I would not do 1 arm dumbbell row because of the asymetrical stresses. These always seemed to irritate my back. Maybe you have a set-up where you can do both arms at the same time like chest supported row or cable rows.

Try Reverse Hypers

I made a thread recently about optimizing lumbar stability and dealing with herniated discs/back pain.

It’d be cool if you added the list of exercises you find to that thread!

I think that belt squats and leg curls hit the ass pretty nicely.

Belt squats specifically; they are amazing.

Just throwing it out there: Have you tried a wrestler’s bridge for your back?

i think (might be wrong) that it would make it worse.

i have an antieror pelvic tilk & lordosis; so that direction (flexion?) is pretty much the source of my problems.

i’ll know more tonight after my appointment.

lunges/split squats (with dumbbells) are great for the legs AND glutes.

perhaps the zercher good morning for the hamstrings AND lower back? i find it puts MUCH LESS stress on the spine than regular GM’s.

Having gone through a lot of lower back problems myself, I can offer you this advice:


-It was the key to eliminating my lower back problems. Add back extensions to your workout, along with side planks and regular planks at the end of every lift. These don’t have to be weighted extensions or 5 minute planks, but they will improve your lower back strength dramatically. Don’t push through severe pain, but adjust the workout accordingly.
-Look up any lower back stretch you can find, and do them. Once when you wake up, once when you go to bed, and if you have time, at least one other time during the day. Flexibility in the low back, as well as hamstrings, will really help reduce low-back pain.

After about 3 weeks of following this advice from my athletic trainer at school (I played D1 baseball for 4 years, tough on the low back) I was able to eliminate my back problems completely.

Finally, if you have been pain free, and want to introduce some type of squats back into your routine, move into front squats. Focus on keeping your low back and core tight through the whole movement. Because of the positioning of the weight, they force you to stay much more upright, and it will help develop the core muscles necessary to prevent low back pain when you go back to a back squat.

Hope some of this can be helpful to you or someone, if you have any questions, PM me or leave a post on here.