Exercise Modifications for Back Pain

If you have lower back pain, you’re not alone. In fact, some form of back pain affects nearly 8 out of 10 women.

In many cases, back pain can be caused by alignment issues or improper muscle recruitment. But this does NOT mean that inactivity is the answer. There are many simple modifications that can reduce and eliminate low back pain by helping prevent weakness from inactivity.

At BeyondFit, we believe it’s important to focus on balancing and strengthening the muscles that surround the back in a way that promotes healing as well as prevention of injury.

Your spine is healthiest in neutral spine alignment, so this should be a focus during all of your weight training workouts.  


If you’re experiencing back pain, here are two factors  to consider during your workout to eliminate pain, pressure or discomfort:


  1. Slow and steady: When you move too quickly through a workout, alignment often becomes forgotten and improper muscle patterns may start to develop. When you’re beginning new exercises or a new series of workouts it’s important to move slowly and steadily through the movements. Be mindful of how your body is feeling and keep alignment in check. Not only can improper alignment cause an old issue to flare up but it can also create new issues. To protect your back and avoid pain, slow down and move with intention instead of momentum.
  2. Adjust your range of motion: Range of motion (ROM) is different for everyone. For some women, moving in a large ROM is not optimal. For women who have structural issues like a bulging or herniated disc, moving in a large ROM may put too much pressure on one specific area of the back. Adjust the ROM for each exercise based on how your back feels and any previous injuries or issues.


Here are some of the most common exercises that cause lower back pain and small modifications that can be used to strengthen the lower back in each movement:


  • Squat: You can easily modify this exercise by lightening the weight that you’re using, or performing bodyweight squats instead of weighted squats. To check your form, try using a stability ball between your middle back and the wall. Keeping the ball in this position forces the back to remain straight. In this position, it is impossible to lean too far forward, which is a major cause of lower back strain. Training yourself to have correct form will keep your spine and lower back in optimal health when progressing to moving off the wall and using weight.
  • Core Work: You can easily modify most core exercises by only coming up off the mat to where the shoulder blades come up off the floor. Keep a neutral spine throughout the exercises, whether they’re leg lifts, scissors, in & outs, etc. Be sure to draw your belly button in toward your spine and press the small of your back into the floor.
  • Deadlifts: Tight hamstrings often cause lower back pain. To modify deadlifts, you can change the starting point of the weights, which will reduce the strain on the back. Placing your weights on blocks or lowering weights only to knee height before lifting up to the thighs can help the lower back.
  • Planks: Planks are another form of core work that can be easily modified to protect the lower back. Whenever you’re in plank position your spine should be neutral. Avoid the urge to arch your back and drop your hips toward the floor or to raise your glutes too far toward the ceiling. A proper plank is when your body is forming a straight line from head to heels.  


exercise modifications for back pain


Proper posture is key to avoiding back pain.

It is common for many women to experience muscle groups that have become too tight, as well as other muscle groups have weakened.


Muscle groups that are often too tight which contribute to back pain include:

  • Hip flexors
  • Lower back
  • Thighs
  • Chest
  • Shoulders (particularly muscles that elevate the shoulder blades)
  • Back of the neck
  • Upper back muscles
  • External rotators of the shoulder
  • Glutes


If you have a postural imbalance it’s also important to strengthen your core and abdomen muscles, which will decrease the load on your lower back. Reconnecting, retraining and rebuilding your core will significantly help reduce lower back pain. Click here to learn about, Mom Tummy Rehab, which was designed to retrain your core.

In addition to correcting alignment issues, remember to focus on proper posture throughout the day as well!


The most common back pain inducing posture issues include:

  • Anterior Pelvic Tilt: Restore proper posture positioning your pelvis to a neutral position and stretching tight hip flexors.
  • Head Too Far Forward: Restore proper posture by massage and foam rolling of tight upper back and neck muscles.
  • Rounded Shoulders: Restore proper posture by being mindful of sitting hunched over and massage and foam rolling of tight chest muscles.
  • Posterior Pelvic Tilt (butt tucked too far under): Restore proper posture by positioning your pelvis to a neutral position and foam rolling and and stretching tight hamstrings.


As with any new exercise regime, talk with your doctor first.

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