Lower back pain plagues most exercisers at some point. One false move and your back is tweaked. Take a few easy steps to protect your lower back and reduce the risk of pain.
1. Warm Up and Cool Down
You'd never start a workout without a warm up, so get started! Complete some body weight warm up exercises that mimic what you will be doing in your weighted workout. Doing squats today? Try body weight squats before your workout. Deadlifts on the menu? Burpees will get your heart racing and be sure your back is ready to bend.
Be sure to cool down, finishing your workout with big stretches that keep your back limber and ready for your next trip to the gym. After a slow cool down, lie flat on your back and reach your legs out, toes pointed, and arms above your head, fingers as far from your toes as possible. Let your back come off the floor naturally. Then, bring your right knee into your chest, and let it fall over the opposite side of your body. Reach your right arm out to your side and look over your shoulder, twisting your body at the hip. Keep both shoulder blades on the floor to feel the stretch in your lower back.
2. Work Your Abs and Keep them Tight
Your abdominals and lower back are opposing groups of muscles, so the stronger your abs, the more infrequently your lower back needs to jump in to help you. When you're working your abs, be sure you're really working them and not your back. Every time you perform crunches, reverse crunches, lower or upper ab exercises, your lower back should stay glued to the floor. Try completing crunches on an exercise ball to increase the work that your abs need to do.
The next step is to keep your abs tight and core braced, the entire time you work out. To do that, suck your belly button in toward your spine, as though you were trying to draw in your lower abs, or the area underneath your belly button.
3. Perfect Your Posture
In all exercises, perfect posture will keep your back protected and prevent lower back pain. Shoulders should be back, with your shoulder blades curled around your spine. Your knees should stay soft with a slight bend during the entire exercise. Concentrate on maintaining that posture for all exercises, whether doing bicep curls or deadlifts. The key is to check in with your body through the last rep of the exercise to ensure that you are maintaining your form for the entire set. Make it a habit to check your posture when you are about three reps away from done with the set. This is when fatigue sets in and form flops. Ask yourself: Are my shoulders down and around my spine? Do I have a slight bend in my knees? Are my abs tight to support my back?
4. Work Your Way Up
Most people jump right in and pack the weight on their barbell, but too heavy lifting can send you packing - as in ice packing! Work your way up every other time you lift weights, especially in exercises where you are holding weight above your waist (like exercises for your shoulders and arms) or on your back (like lunges and squats) and add weight slowly. This will make sure that the muscles that you're targeting (and stabilizing muscles) are ready for the extra pounds.