Lower-back pain is one of the most common injuries at any age and in any sport. Worse, it can make it difficult (and even impossible) to do traditional leg exercises like squats and deadlifts. But if you do specific, free-weight exercises you can build strength and power in your legs without aggravating your lower back. That way, you can maintain (or even improve) your lower-body fitness while you do what it takes to heal your lower back problems.
Read on for some of the best exercises to help you keep your strength and conditioning on track:
BARBELL HIP THRUSTS
Hip thrusts are an incredible exercise to strengthen your glutes — which helps keep your lower back happy — and boosts your lower-body power. In fact, by adding this movement to your leg routine, you’ll notice more explosiveness when jumping and sprinting because much of that power is generated from the hips.
The move: Load a barbell and align it parallel to a sturdy bench a few feet away. Start by lying down with just your upper back on the bench and your hips below the barbell. (Put a thick pad or towel between your groin and the barbell.) From there, squeeze your glutes, drive through your heels and push the barbell up. Repeat.
If you have lower back issues, try leg exercises that keep your torso upright throughout the entire exercise. One of the simplest movements to strengthen your quads and hips is the split squat — your upper-body stays nice and tall and your legs do all the work. Also, because you use such a narrow base-of-support, it targets your core, balance and coordination all at once.
The move: Stand with one foot about 3 feet in front of the other so your knees make two 90-degree angles at the bottom. Drop straight down and drive with your front heel. Don’t let your front knee drift past your toe.
Step ups are another great lower-body exercise which keeps your torso upright. Even better, it’s easy to do and helps you maintain balanced strength between your left and right legs.
The move: Place one foot on a box or bench. Put your weight on that foot and drive yourself up by pushing through your heel. Avoid pushing off with your bottom leg.