I recently injured my back and am anxious to get back to the gym, but I'm used to free-weight exercises and not exactly excited about having to use machines. Are there good options for lower body, free-weight exercises that protect the back?

Edit: My injuries are in the lower back where I tore some soft tissue due to hyperextension. The original injury was years ago, but it is very easy to reinjur and it happened again a week ago. My doctor simply prescribes an anti-inflammatory and to "go easy".

  • You'll probably get better answers if you specify closer the type/severity of your injury.
    – VPeric
    Jul 6, 2011 at 17:37
  • @VPeric, I agree that more info is needed about type and severity of the back injury. Also it depends whether or not you have finished rehab. Jul 6, 2011 at 23:55
  • @Chris, Thanks for the edit info. You may want to call around to find a good physical therapist, one that can help you segmentally stabilize your back to help prevent reinjury. Jul 9, 2011 at 19:54

2 Answers 2


Swimming is probably going to be the best active recovery for you. Back injuries do happen, and they aren't to be trifled with. Depending on the severity of the injury, it might take as little as a couple days to heal or it might take a whole week or two. Either way, you don't want to overstress your back during recovery.

When you get back in the gym:

  • Warmup. You will need to take a little longer to warm up your muscles, and stretch them a bit before you get the heavier loads on the bar.
  • Deload 10-20%. Focus on form, and keeping that back straight throughout your lifts. This will help strengthen the smaller muscles in your core until you get back to your old work weights. If you usually use a weight belt, ditch it during deload time. You need to make your core stronger, and they don't help that.
  • Stretch after your session. Your muscles should still be warm, and this helps improve the flexibility you need for the squats, deadlifts, etc.

Lastly, according to Mark Rippetoe in the Starting Strength book, deadlifts are an effective exercise when done correctly to prevent further injury. If you don't have the book, I highly recommend getting it. There's a lot of good tips on recognizing form problems and correcting them.

  • 1
    Some back injuries can be aggravated by the rotational movements with strokes such as the freestyle. Also deadlifts can aggravate disc injuries depending on the stage of healing. Hopefully, Chris will give more info. Jul 7, 2011 at 0:01
  • Agreed. Deadlifts done incorrectly can also cause disc injuries, so special attention needs to be put on form. Chief cause of DL related disc injuries is over-extending the back on lockout. The shoulders should be back and the chest up, but the thoracic portion should be kept straight. Jul 7, 2011 at 13:12

Avoid compound exercises until you heal

Compound exercises are exercises that utilize a wide range of muscles such as running, dead lifting, sports, push-ups, pull-ups, etc. Basically, exercises that use a wide range of muscles almost always utilize your core.

Not only do you want to avoid using your back but also your abs until the damage is healed.

The only exception to this rule would be low impact exercises like swimming.

Your best bet is to either limit yourself to a very small subset of isolation exercises that strictly avoid using your back, quit exercising and let it heal, or hop in a pool.

The pool is probably your best bet as it will allow you to stretch and use the muscles as they heal without causing any additional stress/injury.

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