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This Lower Back Workout Will Help You Nix Pain And Level Up Your Fitness Performance

Erase the aches of #adulting.

Headshot of Amy WilkinsonBy Amy Wilkinson
a femme person's back with sweat droplets falling down
James Macari

Every few weeks during my social media scroll, I’m served a new version of a meme that goes something like this: “Welcome to your 30s, where sneezing wrong means two weeks of low-back pain.” Each time, I chuckle knowingly.

Given that these posts rack up thousands of likes and shares, it’s clear I’m not the only one experiencing fits of lumbar lousiness. Research proves me right: Up to 23 percent of the world’s adults suffer from chronic low-back pain, with up to 84 percent of people experiencing at least one bout of low-back pain during their lifetime. (Adding insult to injury: Women of all ages are more likely to suffer from it than men, studies show.)

The pandemic exacerbated the issue—and in ways you might not expect. Both the prevalence and the intensity of low-back pain increased during this period, compared with pre-pandemic rates, a recent meta-analysis found—due in part to more sedentary living. The other piece(s)? Stress and anxiety, which are both contributing factors, other research confirms.

Meet the experts: Alicia Ferriere, DPT, is the owner of Fortify PT in New York. Tatiana Lampa, CPT, is a corrective-exercise specialist and the founder of the Training with T app.

If you’re feeling crunchy and resigned to living with it because you’re in your 30s (or 40s or 50s), you don’t have to! See what experts prescribe for managing, even eradicating, stiffness and soreness in our modern world.

Causes Of Low-Back Pain

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, says Alicia Ferriere, DPT, owner of Fortify PT in New York. “The low back is in the middle of the body, so it’s an area that takes stress,” she says. “If forces aren’t managed above or below it, pain can appear there.”

Low-back pain, then, is often a symptom of a deficiency—in strength, flexibility, or a combo of the two—elsewhere in the bod. Perhaps your core is weak, so instead of sharing the work to keep your torso upright while sitting, it’s forcing the back to do more than it should. Or if your hips are tight, they might be pulling up into the back.

Improper form while exercising can also create issues. Hinges (think: deadlifts) in particular are often performed incorrectly, says Ferriere, with the bend coming from the spine rather than where it should: from the hips.

Certain types of workouts can also irritate preexisting low-back sensitivities. Corrective-exercise specialist Tatiana Lampa, CPT, has her achy clients take a break from HIIT and running. “We slow it down to strength-training and low-impact workouts until the back is strong enough to support you in high-impact exercises,” says Lampa, who is also the founder of the Training With T app.

A slew of everyday behaviors add up to ouch too. (I can’t be the only one pulling eight-hour shifts from my non–ergonomically sound couch.) “The majority of the causes are lifestyle,” Lampa says. “Stress, poor sleep, and not exercising can be some major factors in why low-back pain shows up.”

How To Erase Low-Back Pain With Exercise

“Strength training and mobility drills are the gold standard to decrease back pain for so many of my clients,” Lampa says. Research also lends credence to a blended approach of strengthening and mobilizing. For instance, Pilates relieved low-back pain better than several other forms of singularly focused exercise (such as stretching, aerobic exercise, and general strengthening alone), according to a recent meta-analysis.

Striking the right balance between strength and flexibility work will look different depending on your body’s unique needs. “Certain people run stiffer and certain people run more loosey-goosey. The people who run stiffer are going to need more mobility, and the people who run more loosey-goosey are going to need more strength,” Ferriere says. “You’re looking for both.”

To that end, Ferriere created the pain-eraser workout ahead, which is full of flexibility and strengthening moves for relief and reinforcement. You’ll open up tight spots and strengthen the core—through activity and more.

Instructions: Work through this regimen two or three times a week. Soon, your body will thank you. (If pain worsens, skip that movement for now. As always, see a pro for an evaluation if there is no improvement.)


The Low-Back Pain Eraser Workout

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Why it rocks: By moving you through both flexion and extension, this exercise emphasizes spinal mobility.

How to:

  1. Start on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees.
  2. Arch back and look slightly forward and up. If it feels comfortable, try extending right arm to frame face (not shown).
  3. Reverse, rounding back (while sweeping arm toward hips). That's 1 rep.
  4. Repeat. Complete 5 to 10 reps with right arm before switching sides.

Good Morning

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Why it rocks: Having strong, mobile hamstrings (targeted here) shores up stability for the pelvis, preventing the low back from overworking to stabilize.

How to:

  1. Stand with knees slightly bent and hands behind head.
  2. Keeping back flat, hinge forward at hips, sending butt back.
  3. Bring hips forward and torso upright to stand up tall. That's 1 rep. Do two or three sets of 10 reps.
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Seated Windmill

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Why it rocks: Integrates spinal mobility while focusing on opening the hips.

How to:

  1. Sit with one leg behind you and other leg in front, each forming a 90-degree angle. Place hands on floor behind you for stability.
  2. Keep feet on floor as you lift knees through the center, then back down on other side (effectively changing which leg is in front and which leg is in back). That's 1 rep.
  3. Continue for 20 total reps. (As you advance, lift hands off floor and extend them in front of body.)

Thread The Needle

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Why it rocks: We too often skip rotational movements during the day and in our workouts. This dynamic stretch gets ya twisting and “greasing” the spine and back.

How to:

  1. On all fours, thread right arm under torso to left.
  2. Then, unthread right arm, rotating right sidebody open and looking toward right fingertips. That's 1 rep.
  3. Repeat. Complete 5 to 10 reps with right arm before switching sides.

Bear Plank (Optional Mini Band)

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Why it rocks: Ignite the core—while avoiding the spinal pressure a full plank can sometimes cause—with this variation.

How to:

  1. Start on all fours with a neutral spine (neither arched nor rounded—you can flow through the cat-cow motion to find the in-between spot) and toes tucked.
  2. Keeping a neutral spine, lift knees off floor an inch or two in a hover. Hold for 10 deep breaths.
  3. On each exhale, focus on “wrapping” abdominals inward. That's 1 rep. Do 5 reps.
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The Stress And Back Pain Connection

you are a lot stronger than you think
Mikolette//Getty Images

Pain is a result of our brain interpreting signals from our body, so thoughts and emotions may have more sway over how we feel physically than we realize. In fact, pain in this region was linked to psychological issues ranging from catastrophizing to loneliness and social isolation, recent research found. (The reasons aren’t clear, but hormones may have something to do with it.)

Another eye-opener: “The narrative we tell ourselves when it comes to pain is huge,” Ferriere says. If, whenever you feel a twinge, you think, Oh, I can’t do X—it will hurt my back, you may be perpetuating or worsening your problems. “The muscles and joints that allow you to do said movement will have little experience,” she says.

Then, when you have to perform the motion you think causes pain (e.g., lunges or other staple exercises you avoid, or taking the stairs as you get older), the body will be less amenable to it, perhaps resulting in injury. “If you change your behaviors based on pain, this can lead to reduced mobility in the area, potentially creating more harm than good.” Because remember: “Movement is often medicine,” says Ferriere.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean you should completely ignore your body, but just understanding how it responds to pain is key.

Headshot of Amy Wilkinson
Amy Wilkinson
Amy Wilkinson is an entertainment editor who also specializes in health and wellness. When not editing or writing, she can be found teaching Pilates as a comprehensively certified instructor.
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