How to Work Out If You’ve Got a Bad Back
Hint: It ain’t crunches
Back pain sucks, this we know. But sadly, it's not an excuse for not working out. On the contrary: Exercise could help your spine specifically. A study by researchers at UCLA showed that after a year and a half of regular exercise, patients with a history of chronic lower-back problems were 31 percent less likely to experience an increase in pain than their sedentary counterparts. Great…but if you are currently hurting, where the hell do you even start? We have some thoughts.
Instead of running, try swimming. High-impact aerobic exercises like running and jogging are jarring to the back. A low-impact workout that’s just as effective but much more forgiving is swimming, since the water provides both support and resistance.
Instead of stationary bikes, try recumbent bikes. Water is not always accessible to everyone. A great non-pool option is the stationary bike, but leaning over to reach the handlebars in spin class is often tough on your spine. Make the recumbent bike (you know, the one where you lean back and the pedals are out in front of you) your friend.
Instead of cardio aerobics, try hot yoga. You like a group class, but you can’t keep stomping to Britney Spears. Surprisingly, vinyasa yoga--especially in a class setting--is fast paced enough to get your heart pumping and your sweat pouring. (The heat also loosens up any tension.) The key here, though, is to communicate to your teacher what you physically can and can’t do. Once aware of any limitations, he or she should be able to tailor sequences to your abilities.
Instead of crunches, try planks. Now let’s talk single moves. Sit-ups and full crunches put too much pressure on the lower back, and are often done incorrectly, which could worsen existing injuries. Instead, strengthen your abdominal muscles in a plank. Your form is super important here, so while holding the "up" part of a push-up--keeping your spine as flat as can be--set your gaze a few inches in front of your hands.
Instead of squats, try wall sits. Yes, squats are terrific for toning your legs and glutes, but they're also notoriously hard to perfect, without injury. A foolproof alternative (that's also great for your abs) is the wall sit, which works many of the same muscles and has the added back support of the wall.