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How to Alleviate Lower Back Pain Through Exercise

Oct 30, 2019

Have you ever bent down to grab something and felt a sharp pain in your back? You’re not alone. Lower back pain is incredibly common, and yet, it’s a condition that can be prevented and mitigated by the right movement.

To find out why lower back pain is so common and how to alleviate it, we spoke to James Mingle, head personal trainer at Fitness Together’s flagship corporate location, Denver Tech Center in Southern Denver. As head trainer, Mingle is instrumental in overseeing all the programming for Fitness Together across all locations, and he’s an expert in back health.

Mingle became an expert in all things related to the back, because he has his own story of back pain. He broke his back while playing football in high school and was hardly able to move once he sustained the injury. However, he was consistent with physical therapy and became completely amazed by the results he got from daily work, even returning to mixed martial arts just a year-and-a-half after his injury. From that point on, Mingle became passionate about understanding the human body and working out. He majored in kinesiology at University of Maryland and received his master’s degree in exercise physiology from University of Northern Colorado.

Here’s what Mingle had to say …

Why is lower back pain so common?

Sitting and inactivity. Most people spend at least eight hours a day sitting down at work, and they do that five days a week, all year long. Even if they start the day with good posture, they will likely start slouching and rounding the back as they sit. Then, they drive home from work hunched over in their cars and eat dinner hunched over the table too. And unfortunately, in this position, the muscles that hold good posture start to become both weak and tight.

Once the muscles are weak and tight, it’s just a matter of time before you do something simple like lean down to pick something up off the floor, and you feel a sharp pain. We don’t realize how important mobility in the back is until an injury like this occurs.

What are the causes of lower back pain?

It’s a slow build up to the point where the muscles become weak. Then, when you get a demand for those weak and unconditioned muscles, they can’t perform. The muscles become strained when you push them. And usually, once you actually feel lower back pain, it’s just the result of years of underuse.

How can exercise help with lower back pain?

When you get injured, the area gets inflamed. Then, your muscles naturally go through cellular respiration to process the inflammation, and during that time, they produce waste products — an injured muscle produces even more waste products than a healthy muscle. That’s where exercise comes into play. You need to do specific exercises to flush the waste products out of the inflamed area, while also increasing blood-flow to the area to bring nutrients back to the injured muscles.

How can you prevent lower back pain?

In order to prevent lower back pain with our clients, we do a functional movement screen on them when they first start working with us. This gives us a chance to see their individual movement patterns and then put certain exercises into their dynamic warm-ups that will help the lower back area.

Our main goals are to increase both the mobility and performance of the back and have proper mind/body/muscle connection. We do this by teaching people how to feel and properly activate the right muscles, so they can keep the core tight and squeeze the glutes during exercise. This proper activation helps to keep the back safe.

We also focus on slow and controlled movements that increase blood-flow to the back muscles, get the overall heart-rate up, raise the body temperature up and activate the right movement pattern, while serving as a dynamic warm-up before a workout.

What are the best exercises to alleviate back pain?

We like to have our clients do exercises that are based around the fetal position on the floor, which is a stable position for an injured back. Many of these exercises keep the lower back in an isometric contraction.

Here’s a natural progression of movements to try to alleviate back pain and strengthen the back. These should be done slowly, and they are not designed to bring fatigue, but instead to increase blood-flow and mobilize …

Pelvic tilt:

  • Lie down flat on back.

  • Place heels by butt, with knees bent.

  • Squeeze abs, rotate pelvis up by arching back, then push lower back into floor to set position.

  • Hold each position for 1 second.

  • Complete 8 to 10 repititions.

Knee tuck:

  • Lie down flat on back.

  • Place heels by butt, knees bent.

  • Bring one knee toward chest using abs and hip flexors.

  • Return leg to starting position and switch legs, stabilizing pelvic floor and abs.

  • Hold each position for 1 second.

  • Complete 8 to 10 repetitions.


  • Lie down flat on back.

  • Place heels by butt, knees bent.

  • Tighten glutes and lift hips off ground, while upper back stays on ground.

  • Return hips to ground, keeping abs and pelvic floor stabilized.

  • Optional variation: Lift toes off ground to activate back side of body and repeat bridge move pushing through heels.

  • Hold each position for 1 second.

  • Complete 8 to 10 repetitions.


  • Lie down flat on back.

  • Bend knees, lift knees up over hips off ground, shins at 90 degree angles.

  • Extend both arms straight up from shoulder, perpendicular to ground.

  • Straighten right leg out from body to touch ground and reach left arm back behind head to touch ground. Repeat on opposite sides.

  • Lower arm and leg at same time, while keeping abs tight and lower back pushed into ground.

  • Hold each position for 1 second.

  • Complete 8 to 10 repetitions.


  • Flip over onto all fours, hands on ground, knees on ground.

  • Reach right arm straight out from body off ground and left leg straight out from body off ground.

  • Repeat on opposite sides.

  • Keep hips parallel to ground and abs tight.

  • Hold each position for 1 second.

  • Complete 8 to 10 repetitions.

How often should do you these exercises?

These exercises are not supposed to bring fatigue like a typical workout, they are supposed to strengthen the muscles and get the blood flowing. You can actually do these exercises as often as twice a day, but definitely at least a few times a week, as part of your dynamic warm-up before a workout. You can also do these exercises right after you wake up, as the muscles get stiff overnight lying down, or do them right before you go to bed or before/after a long drive in the car when you’ll be sitting. It only takes about five minutes to get through them all.

When we get people doing these exercises and moving safely, often the pain goes away within the first couple of weeks,” says Mingle. “The root problem of back pain is often poor posture and weak muscles, which is why one of the best things I recommend is for people to not immediately jump to painkillers to help, but try treating the pain with these exercises. They are totally free, and they work."

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