Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns or before beginning any new workout regimen.
Lower back pain is one of those things that creeps up on you. One moment you’re crushing your deadlifts and the next, you’re picking up a pencil from the floor and your back seizes up.
And when you’re suffering, you’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, eighty percent of the US population, at some point in their lives, will suffer from chronic or acute low back pain. About two to ten percent of people who experience low back pain develop chronic low back pain.(1)
Some evidence has suggested that it helps to exercise around your injury, because exercise can reduce lower back pain.(2) However, and this goes without saying, lower back pain can have a huge variety of causes — everything from inflammation to tight hamstrings to a weak core to old injuries to more serious ailments — so you should absolutely see a physician if it’s something you’re struggling with.
If you’re a lifter who doesn’t want to shy away from the all important hinge movement, there may be some hinges lifters can do without aggravating their back while they’re waiting to return to deadlifts.
These three exercises can help you train around your pain while still grooving good hip hinge mechanics — because no one wants to let their gains go down the drain.
Note: Please let pain be your guide. If any of these exercises causes pain, stop.
1. Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts
The single leg RDL is a hip hinge performed on one leg, and it’s a great exercise for building unilateral strength, but more importantly you can use it as a diagnostic tool.
The SLRDL can help you uncover weakness and imbalances in strength, flexibility, and stability that exist between your left and right sides. These imbalances can go unnoticed during the conventional deadlift because the opposing side of the body picks up the slack.
Imbalances may include:
- One hamstring tighter the other
- One weaker glute, usually on the lower back pain side
- Instability in the ankles
If you have any of these issues, it gives you something to work on before you go back to your regular deadlifts. And because of the reduction in weight and the loading of one leg, it puts less stress on the spine and can sometimes be a good substitute for heavier hinges that cause pain.
This exercise is best done in the 6 to10 rep range with moderate load. Let your ‘weaker’ side dictate the weight and reps you use.
[Absolutely do not miss our complete guide to correctly using and programming the single leg Romanian deadlift!]
2. Pull Throughs
Granted, all the air humping might make you feel you shouldn’t make eye contact with anyone while you’re performing it, but when you’re suffering from lower back pain pull throughs can be a great exercise for three reasons:
- Strengthens the abdominal muscles. The band’s resistance pulls you backward and as your abs resist, the pull helps to keep you balanced and upright.
- Strengthens weak or underactive glutes. When locking out correctly, you’ll feel a strong contraction in your posterior. The glutes play a huge role in stabilizing the lower back because when they contract, a compressive force is created at the sacroiliac joint.(3)
- Reinforces good hip hinge mechanics. The pull through forces you to sink into your hips, improving your hip mobility while you’re in deadlift purgatory
This exercise will effectively target the glutes while taking unwanted stress of the lower back. It’s a win-win. Perform reps in the 12 to 15 range and don’t be concerned about using heavy weight, as the focus needs to be on quality reps.
[Nail your form with our guide to the cable pull through!]
3. Banded Hip Thrusts
The glutes play a key role in taking stress of the lower back during multi planar movement. Not too many exercises strengthen this area better than the hip thrust.
The barbell version is the most popular but when you’ve got lower back pain, getting in and out of position may aggravate it.
The setup can be the Achilles heel of the barbell hip thrust because people with certain hip, pelvic and spinal structures may not tolerate the shuffling and shifting needed to get in the starting position. Having back pain, of course, further complicates matters.
Enter the banded hip thrust.
It’s an easier set up and the ascending resistance of the band hammers the glutes without the uncomfortable load on your pelvis.
Furthermore, both this and the pull through will help improve your lockout strength on regular deadlifts because weaker glutes are often the cause of this sticking point.
Higher reps work best with this movement, anywhere between 8 to 15, depending on the strength of the band.
A proactive approach to back pain works best because losing your gains is not an option. When everything in your body is screaming at you to stop, that’s when you need to find pain-free ways to move. But again, seriously — talk to your doctor if you have back pain.
Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions and opinions have been sourced exclusively by the author.
1. Freburger JK, et al. The rising prevalence of chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2009 Feb 9;169(3):251-8.
2. Searle A, et al. Exercise interventions for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Rehabil. 2015 Dec;29(12):1155-67.
3. Barker, PJ. et al. Anatomy and biomechanics of gluteus maximus and the thoracolumbar fascia at the sacroiliac joint. Clin Anat. 2014 Mar;27(2):234-40.