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7 Exercises for Lower Back Pain

People who spend long days at their desk usually have similar aches and pains, especially in the lower back. Here's how to prevent it all.

If you’re like most men, you spend most of your day in front of a computer, slumped in an office chair and hunched over a keyboard. Odds are, you’re doing this right now. You’re doing your lower back no favors and you know it. The human body isn’t designed to remain stationary for very long, let alone for 8 to 12 hours a day. The result of all that sitting and lack of full-body exercises is poor posture, weight gain, and, yes, lower back pain.

While frequent stretching breaks are helpful in staving off the effects, your body needs exercise to reverse the damage. These exercises for lower back pain will help fix the damage the sedentary life has done to your body. (Your soul — that’s for another trainer.)

Squats

Why? “When the glutes and hamstring muscles are weak, the back takes a lot of the slack,” says Dani Singer, a Baltimore-based certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist. “Squats will strengthen them, which will take some of the pressure off your lower back.” He says make sure you perfect your form first and build from there. Start with a single rep and perfect your form before moving on to more.

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How to Do It

  1. With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at your knees and hips to get into a squat; your back should be straight but tilted forward.
  2. Make sure your butt is sitting back behind you and that your knees don’t move too far forward in front of your feet.
  3. Squat, going slow as you’re able (ideally past 90 degrees)
  4. Pause at the bottom for 2 seconds, then push into your heels. You should feel your glutes contracting as you push up.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Why? “The muscles on the front of your hip are contracted all day when you’re sitting. You need to stretch them out periodically,” says Singer. Tight hip flexors contribute to back pain. Hip tight flexors — that’s what you call guys who can rock a singlet.

How to Do It

  1. Drop into a lunge position, with your right knee on the ground and left foot forward.
  2. Lean forward until you feel the stretch in the front hip of the back leg; keep your abs and glutes tight. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds while breathing deeply. Switch sides and repeat.

Planks

“Weak abs force the back to take on additional load,” Singer says. “You think your back is hurting because it’s weak, but it’s likely that your other muscles aren’t strong.” Planks use your abs the way they’re meant to be used, to stabilize your core. (And to do 4-year-old memes.)

How to Do It

  1. Get into the plank position by either getting into the top of a push-up with your palms on the floor and your body straight, or by resting on your forearms.
  2. Flex your abs and glutes and hold them tight, making sure your body doesn’t droop. Don’t hold your breath.
  3. Hold your body in this position for 30 seconds. Rest and repeat 3 times.

Resistance Band Rows

Your lower back isn’t the only area suffering at your desk job. “When you’re hunched over from sitting at a desk all day, your upper back also becomes weak and your chest gets very tight,” Singer says. “This affects your posture.”

How to Do It

  1. Anchor a resistance band in the door hinge at chest level.
  2. Lean forward slightly, bend your knees, and grip the handles. Your arms should be nearly extended and your palms should face down.
  3. Pull the bands toward your chest until your elbows are bent and squeeze your shoulder blades together. (Avoid letting your shoulders go into internal rotation; your elbow should not go further back than your shoulder.)
  4. Pause and return back to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Chest Stretch

A day of sitting makes your chest stiffen up nearly as much as your hamstrings and hip flexors. This simple stretch helps get some of that flexibility back.

How to Do It

  1. Put your forearm on a doorway, then step forward and lean into the stretch.
  2. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, breathing deeply. Switch sides.

Neck Tennis Ball Massage

A day of sitting leaves your neck with more knots than a schooner (it is a sailboat). “It could be in a constant state of spasm,” says Singer. You can correct this by pulling your shoulder blades back and down during the day. “Try to keep them from inching up to your ears and think about moving them down towards your feet.”

If you do have pain, Singer says to relieve it with a mild fascia release — which isn’t as sexy as it sounds. “This will release the tension in the muscle. It’s painful while you’re doing it, but the muscle will relax when you’re applying pressure. When you come off the wall you’ll feel much better.”

How to Do it

  1. Hold a tennis ball against a wall with your neck.
  2. Lean into it, moving the ball around to find the tight muscle—your most tender spot. Hold it there for 20 to 30 seconds.

Last bit of business. Stop sitting so much. Yes, it’s hard when all you do is punch a keyboard furiously and literally keep your head down. But go ahead and set a reminder to yourself to get up once in a while. You can even try to do some of these exercises while you’re at work. That break room isn’t just for microwaving Lean Cuisines.

Push-Ups

Remember that thing we said about weak abs leading to back pain? The more you can do to shore up your core, the better. Old-fashioned push-ups — with good, rigid form — are an essential part of a workout routine to do just this. Try this variant for extra ab work:

How to Do it

  1. Do a standard push-up
  2. With a rigid body, touch your right hand to the left shoulder and place it back down on the ground;
  3. Touch your left hand on your right shoulder and place it back;
  4. Do another push-up; repeat 6 times. Complete 3 sets.