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4 Popular Exercises That Can Really Mess Up Your Lower Back

These common workout moves are great for your lower back—unless you're doing them wrong.

For far too many of us, the lower back area is a hypersensitive area. In non-COVID times, in fact, some form of back pain is the among the top reasons that Americans seek out health care—right up there with the common cold. The NIH has reported that "one-quarter of adults have at least one day of lower back pain in a three-month period." In COVID times, when an untold number of people are working from home and suffering from "pandemic posture," those figures are no doubt worse today. If you're sitting for too long, it'll lead not only to a weak core and tight hip flexors and hamstrings, but also puts too much stress on your lower back.

To fight this, many people know that they need to perform certain exercises, from popular kettlebell swings to deadlifts. They're right. But if you're not careful—and you're not using the right form—you can do far more harm than good, and you could ultimately injure yourself and lead to some serious back pain that will persist for some time. What follow are four popular exercise moves that, when done wrong, can wreak havoc on your back. So read on, and for some great workouts you can try now that won't put your back at risk, see This 10-Minute Total-Body Workout That Will Transform Your Body Fast.

Back Extensions

back extension exercise

The biggest mistake people make when doing back extensions? They flex their lower back when finishing the movement. This places a lot of stress in the lumbar spine—and, trust me, it does more harm than good. Instead, start the movement by leading with your hips going down, and finish the movement by squeezing your glutes rather than hyperextending the lower back.

Kettlebell Swings

kettlebell swings exercise

The kettlebell swing is one of the best exercises you can do to build your hamstrings, glutes, and core. It can also be an awesome movement for fat loss and conditioning. However, it's a very technical—and ballistic—exercise and many people end up doing it with improper form. If you let the kettlebell get too far out away from your body to the point that your weight shifts forward even a little, and you're yanking it up, it can cause an incredible amount of stress to the lower back.

When performing swings, make sure that your chest is tall, your core is tight, and the bell is close to you on the way down. Finish the movement by standing tall and squeezing your glutes instead of your lower back.

Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

stiff legged deadlift

The stiff-legged deadlift, in which you only slightly bend your knees, is a popular exercise, but it places a lot of stress on the lower back because of the nature of the movement. Most people tend to bend from their spine when their legs are straighter—and they don't have the flexibility to load their hips. Rather than doing stiff leg deadlifts, I recommend swapping them out with Romanian deadlifts.

Good Mornings

good morning exercise

Unless you're a powerlifter, there's simply no reason at all to be performing good mornings. You're placing your lower back under a heavy load and the risk of injury is very high. If you want to do good mornings, keep the load light and lead with your hips rather than your back. Otherwise, ditch them for Romanian deadlifts instead. And for more great workout advice, see This 1-Minute Workout That Builds Strength and Relieves Pain, Say Experts.

Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.
Tim Liu, CSCS, is an online fitness and nutrition coach based in Los Angeles Read more about Tim