Core RehabFitnessLower Back PainPain and Injury Rehab

Five Exercises You’re Not Doing Right, Causing Back Pain

By March 25, 2020 No Comments
Five Exercises Causing Back Pain

Exercises causing back pain?!

Are there exercises causing you pain, maybe you suffer from pain after exercising?

We all (should) know there’s an inherent risk with any physical movement. However, reward heavily outweighs the risk regarding the many benefits of exercise.

There’s no such thing as a bad exercise or movement. There is such a thing as an exercise that has a better risk-reward ratio, or bang-for-your-buck than another.

With all of the noise and distractions in our current American “busy” culture, most of us don’t have time to spend hours on stretches and exercises.

I know I don’t.

If I can get the same benefit of three separate exercises by doing one exercise, I’m going for the one every time.

Quality > Quantity!

Many of the mainstream exercises are great exercises. Just about everyone who has stepped into a gym has performed all of the mainstream exercises. But how most people are approaching said exercises could use a makeover.

What I find is that many individuals fail to understand functional competency and capacity fully. In non-sciency terms, that means your “form” and how much your body can handle.

As a chiropractor, I’ve experienced that adjustments alone do not solve most problems that walk in the door. Addressing the behaviors that have caused or fed into the problem is imperative to maintaining a long-term correction. So, if you’re exercising poorly consistently, “breaking the scab,” you’ll be stuck in the vicious cycle of always needing to be “fixed.”

I picked out five popular exercises that, when performed poorly over time, increase your risk of back pain or injury.

Good news for you, the exercises I chose conveniently happen to have videos of how to make the moves better, already on our amazing YouTube channel.

The Five Exercises Causing Back Pain Problems

1. Burpees

Yes, numero uno is the good ol’ burpee, up-down, down-up — whatever you want to call it!

Burpees tend to be one of those exercises people love to hate.

On one side, burpees are an easy way to get your heart rate up there quickly, a full-body movement, and can do it just about anywhere. On the other side, they’re dreadful because they can deplete your tank, fast, where you end up peeling yourself off the ground on the last repetitions.

I’m not the biggest fan of burpees, especially if a coach/trainer is programming them for a client. But I know people do them and there’s no such thing as an inherently “bad” exercise. 100% of the time I would rather have someone exercise versus not exercise, regardless of the exercise choices.

Movement is medicine. Motion is the lotion.

The leading quality I dislike about the traditional burpee is the repetitive forward bending of the low back. Specifically, I’m not a fan of the knees-to-chest position while your hands on the ground in the pushup position.

It’s not wrong to bend your spine, but when you consider most of us in our culture sit all day, our low backs bend forward plenty. Why continue to bend it forward over and over again?

If your finger hurts from pulling it back into an aggressive stretch, would you continue to crank on it?

Far too often, I see patients who have flexion-intolerant spines due to their postural and movement behaviors. Going from sitting all day to a bunch of burpees, crunches, and sit-ups are like cranking that finger back, but it’s our spine.

Regardless if you’ve had or have ever suffered from back pain, I recommend what I call the “Sushi Burp.”

Sushi because of the sumo stance modification, and I think you can figure out the rest! I think I’m in the clear, but please don’t P.C. Police me — it’s supposed to be a memorable name.

I like Sushi Burps because it takes one of your top exercises causing pain, your standard burpee, and reduces the amount of repetitive spinal bending without making it too easy. If anything, it makes the exercise if you pop off the ground quickly!

Check out how to flawlessly execute your Sushi Burps below:


2. Squat

If you’ve ever attended circuit training, boot camp, or cardio type fitness class, you’ve come to expect multiple reps of some squat variation. ⠀

Squats are fantastic, and everybody’s doing them — even babies at right around 12 months!

How not to squat causing back pain

Brief details of the ideal squat form

However, squats have many moving parts though they look simplistic. All the moving parts need to work in harmony to perform an ideal squat. If not, it can be one of those common exercises causing pain.

Beginner squatters — those without the stability and mobility requisites to execute a solid squat — commonly round the low back or dive through the knees. Further, the tendency toward poor form becomes magnified as you get tired, performing rep after rep.

Yes, we want to lift with our legs and not with our backs, but not with our knees either!

You can critique squat form to ad nauseam. Still, the squat’s quality is only as good as the squatter’s understanding of squat mechanics and body awareness. Not to mention, everybody’s squat is different.

Coaches and clinicians, including us, are guilty of paralysis by analysis. ⠀

Let’s keep it simple!⠀

Utilizing the simple strategy of the 1-minute video below, you’ll understand how to perform a better squat. By making sure to hinge first, you’ll reduce the likelihood of overstressing your back and knees!

3. Abs Rollout

The abs do more than provide a washboard for your laundry!

Far too often, I see sloppy form with abs exercises where they could otherwise be getting way more out of the exercise.

The purpose of the abs (rectus abdominis muscle), contrary to popular belief, is not to flex/bend forward like a with crunch or sit-up. In essence, it’s to anti-extend, so you’re not compressing your spine in an aggressive low back arch.

The abs connection to the rib cage and pelvis directly influences their relative position to one another. ⠀ ⠀

As you’ll see in the video example below, with poor form (red arrow), the abs are unable to maintain a quality connection, resulting in excessive arching of the low back. In the example of good form (white arrow), the abs are maintaining connection, allowing the other core musculature to do their jobs well.

Ultimately, the ribs-to-pelvis connection via the abs results in a robust core, working in unison. A connected center establishes a solid anchor (fixed point) for the arms and legs to pull from, producing efficient movement and function.⠀

A stable center results in better mobility!

4. Planks

Like burpees, I believe it’s safe to say the plank a household name bodyweight exercise everyone loves to hate.

No further explanation is needed here as the plank is basically the ab rollout above but without the movement.

5. Glute Bridge

Glutes are more than just “junk in the trunk!”⠀

The glutes are one of, if not the largest, most powerful muscles in the body. They are a primary mover in bipedal propulsion; otherwise, known as walking and running.

The position of our low back and pelvis directly influences the glute’s ability to function. ⠀

The common mistake with the glute bridge exercise is bridging too high, which turns it into a back bridge. When you back bridge, you’re firing up the low back muscles instead of the glutes, which defeats the purpose of the exercise.

If you’re stuck in an arched spine (JLo booty posture), the glutes have weak leverage, which puts more load on the quads and hammies to complete the desired task.⠀ ⠀

If we’re stuck in a rounded spine (plumber butt posture), our glutes are mostly working as a core muscle to stabilize the pelvis. If the glutes are too busy stabilizing, they cannot perform their primary function of hip extension, which is kicking the leg back to create propulsion.⠀ ⠀

Note the glute bridge is not the best way to “strengthen” the glutes — do that using squat, lunge, and hinge variations.

It’s best to utilize the glute bridge to learn how to align, breathe, and control while driving hip extension to open up your hips. So, you can use it in your activities of daily living!

Bonus: Suspension Straps “TRX” Rows

We’ve went over the five exercises causing pain (when they shouldn’t). Though this is more of an exercise causing neck pain when performed poorly, enough people do it where it would be a nice bonus to the bunch.

Many people struggle with shrugging their shoulders up into their ears when doing upper body exercises. And squeezing or pinching the shoulder blades together may not be the best strategy to combat shoulder shrugging.

This video is longer (5 minutes) with a full explanation, so I’ll save you the time reading it here!

But Wait There’s More!

In essence, it’s really easy to workout at home. Practically speaking, it’s much easier to have guidance to know what to do, how to do it and for how long.

Dr. Burr developed the home workout program, MOM & DAD BOD WOD, which is 12-minute workouts built for busy parents, where you get the time to make yourself a priority. Sometimes life gets in the way of getting to the gym (like this coronavirus!). MOM & DAD BOD WOD delivers effective, 12-minute workouts without sacrificing your busy schedule. Because Fitness.

With social distancing and non-essential business shutdown, now is no better time to get optimize your home workouts so you what to do, know you’re doing it right, and have fun — all in 12-minutes!

Check out MOM & DAD BOD WOD now!


To good form,

The REACH Team

P.S., MDBW is running a special right now which is an absolute steal. Oh yeah, and it’s not anther one of those monthly subscription services you have to manage!


Do you value all of the benefits of exercise but you’re struggling to keep the pain and injury bug at bay? Work with clinicians whose knowledge is deep-rooted in movement and body mechanics. Get the treatment you need and learn valuable strategies to perform at your best.

Pain is complex and frustrating. With customized manual medicine and movement coaching, REACH takes the guesswork out of healing. Do more than relieve pain, be unstoppable.