5 tips for protecting your back when strength training

UK Google searches for ‘pain’ have reached an all-time high this year. Looking closer at the search data, ‘lower back pain’ saw an all-time high in March 2024 and has been the most searched type of pain in the UK since 2004. In fact, there has been 59,000 searches for ‘lower back pain’ in the last month alone, and this figure is rising.

There can be many contributing factors to back pain whether that be poor posture, injury, activity or a medical condition. In some cases, incorrectly performed exercise, in particular weight training, can be the culprit.

To help navigate the risks involved with weight training, the fitness experts at Fitness Superstore have provided their advice on how to protect your back while training, reducing the risk of pain in this area and strengthening your back muscles to help you avoid this pain in the future:

Perfect your form

Your form is crucial when weightlifting, not just for protecting your back and reducing the risk of injuries but for getting the most out of your workout. The form you need will change depending on which exercise you are performing, so you must understand the form requirements for different types of lifts. You may want to schedule a session with a personal trainer if you’re looking for some form advice, as they will be able to demonstrate the right forms for each exercise themselves, as well as correct your stance.

While your form will change from exercise to exercise, there are a few general principles for all weight training workouts to keep in mind:

Your stance will vary depending on the exercise, but generally, your feet should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider for stability.
A lot of the time you should keep a straight back, as lifting with a curved spine can put. excess strain on your back muscles. However, some exercises do require to curve your back, such as with hyperextension exercises. If you are unsure if you need a straight back or not with a workout, it’s best to speak with a professional.

Warm up thoroughly to ensure you have a full range of motion to help you achieve the best form.

Don’t increase your weight or reps until you know that your form is in good shape.

Strengthen your core

Your core muscles are one of the most important muscle groups in the body, especially when it comes to the back. A weak core can leave people prone to poor posture which in turn can cause lower back pain. Strengthening your core can also help you improve your flexibility and your balance, both of which are beneficial when it comes to perfecting your form.

To strengthen this muscle group, make sure that your core is engaged throughout your weight training session. This is especially important for core-focussed strength training exercises, such as planks, squats, barbell rows, and overhead presses. You may also want to supplement your weight training regime with other core-building exercises, such as yoga, Pilates, swimming, and skipping rope workouts.

Go lighter

It can be tempting to push yourself as far as possible when working out by going straight for the heaviest weight possible. However, this won’t help you improve in the long run and is certainly not beneficial for your back. As well as making your weight training sessions unsustainable, going for the heaviest possible weight every time can add strain to your muscles and joints and increase your risk of injury. The right weight also changes depending on the exercise you are performing, as generally upper body workouts require less weight than lower body workouts to be effective.

So rather than going straight to the heaviest weight, opt for something a little lighter to start with. Choose a weight that you can comfortably lift for up to 15 reps, and gradually increase this over time. If you are new to strength training, you may want to start off with bodyweight workouts before adding weightlifting to your routine.

Bring a friend

A great way to make sure you are practising good back care while working out is to bring a gym buddy to your training sessions. There are numerous advantages to working out with a friend, from having someone to spot you to giving you a motivation boost, and another hidden benefit is having someone to keep a close eye on your form.

As we already know, having good form is essential when it comes to protecting your back while working out. But it can be difficult to check this yourself, even if you’re working out in front of a mirror. Having someone check out your form from all angles, including from behind, can help you make sure you aren’t putting your back at risk of injury.

Don’t work through the pain

While you may have heard “no pain, no gain” in your fitness circles, this actually couldn’t be further from the truth. If you are in pain when exercising, this is a major sign that you are overdoing it. While some muscle soreness is to be expected, especially if you are new to weight training, sharp back pain that causes serious discomfort shouldn’t be worked through. Pushing through this pain can lead to excess strain on muscles and joints which may cause injuries. This can in turn set your strength training journey back, as you will have to take a longer rest period to recuperate from more extensive injuries.

Make sure to listen to your body and pay attention to when your muscles start to feel fatigued or weak, as this is usually the best time to wrap up your workout to prevent injuries. Don’t worry if it feels like you are ending your routine too early. As you train more, your strength and stamina will increase so you will be able to work out for longer and comfortably push yourself further, so patience really pays off here. It’s also a good idea to target different muscle groups each day to avoid overworking some areas.

About Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing News 4427 Articles
Editor Lisa Baker is passionate about the benefits of a holistic approach to healing. Lisa is a qualified Vibrational Therapist and has qualifications in Auricular Therapy, Massage, Kinesiology, Crystal Healing, Seichem and is a Reiki Master.