I would like to keep training but these days my back pain and sciatica is back again (which I had several years ago).

What are the exercises and movements I can do without hurting my back in the Gym? Biceps, upper back, shoulders, abs, etc.

  • 3
    It might help to expand on what movements exactly cause you pain. What movements have you tried that cause pain, which don't?
    – Dan
    Dec 6 '19 at 17:17
  • any lifting more than 12Kg cause me soft feeling of rigidness on my right leg. for example like doing biceps with dumbbel in Standing position
    – Yaakov
    Dec 11 '19 at 16:04
  • 1
    Take advices from answers below. Plus I suggest you increase your own knowledge so that you are in charge of your training by reading some of Stuart McGill stuff (he also participated in some podcasts that are freely available) Dec 12 '19 at 11:28

Generally speaking the rule of thumb is just to avoid exercises that cause you pain and avoid the obvious ones like deadlift, rowing, and squatting . Otherwise what works for me..

Rest and recover. use a few weeks as back pain and sciatica in many cases in as little as 6 weeks can heal with conservative treatment. If you have chronic pain despite this, then see a dr.

Avoid deadlifting, rowing. or back squatting. Front squats might be ok. avoid standing shoulder presses as it requires too much lower back stabilization. For biceps as long as you stand while focusing on a neutral back you generally wont have issues. If you do. then preacher curls might help as you have the weight supported by the chair or rest pad, and your back isnt being used.

any chest-supported row is great for the upper back. and you can use supinated, pronated grips with a barbell or neutral dumbbells.

abs-you can use anti exercises (either static or dynamic) such as vertical pallov press, lateral pallov press, and regular pallov press. You can also do cable rotations, deadbugs, and even hanging knee raises which you can do in a roman chair with back support.

shoulders you can do front raises. lateral raises. and rear raises.

chest-you can probably get away with doing a dumbbell or barbell bench press if you can keep your back neutral and avoid arching it. otherwise flyes or chest raises(pressing together two weights with your palms in front of you and raising them to in front of you)

Legs- maybe front squats will work. otherwise bulgarian split squats, single leg romanian deadlifts. and single leg glute bridges work well. and allow you to reduce the weight.

Ultimately just see what does and doesnt cause pain. Your back pain might be bad enough to where you might have to do the senior workout by using machines for a while. You can also use high rep schemes with low weight to be easy on your joints.

You can also address the cause of the sciatica.. perhaps you have a curves spine or bad posture, sedentary lifestyle or job, etc..? you can see a sports physical therapist and an orthopedist to see if you can correct it and reduce the pain

  • Thanks a lot. That is what I need. Weirdly I have no back pain just the sciatica effect where I feel my whole right leg bit rigid and kind of thick . I already planned to see a physiotherapist
    – Yaakov
    Dec 12 '19 at 16:53
  • 1
    I have that currently.. it still means a disc is herniated or bulging just not causing you pain unless you have chronic sciatica.. I'd still take it easy. Have you tried supine nerve glides? Those relieve it for me
    – Ace Cabbie
    Dec 13 '19 at 2:30
  • ner tried it but I ll give it a go
    – Yaakov
    Jan 10 '20 at 15:41

Avoiding using your back is a bad idea for managing low back pain and/or sciatica. You should continue to exercise.


Clinical practice guidelines are in near complete agreement that remaining active is one of the most important means of treating lower back pain with or without sciatica, and bed rest is to be avoided.

Exercising your back does not wear it down or damage it, rather it makes it stronger. So you just need to figure out what exercises you can tolerate, by gradually introducing them and testing whether they cause pain or exacerbate your symptoms. If an exercise is uncomfortable at first but that improves throughout the workout, I'd take that as a positive sign. If it only becomes more uncomfortable throughout the workout, or if it causes significantly worse symptoms afterwards, then you may need to make modifications such as reducing range of motion, or choosing different exercises, until you find a selection of exercises that don't worsen your condition.

Basically just experiment and see what works for you, without deliberately trying to avoid using your back.

This video on managing pain in the gym would also be well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdwj5ORPmX0

  • 1
    Please, read his question again. He seems perfectly aware that he should keep exercising.
    – Chris
    Dec 12 '19 at 1:31
  • 1
    @Chris Both the title and body of his question imply that he intended to avoid exercising his lower back. Training biceps doesn't count as exercise in the context of low back pain management. Dec 12 '19 at 2:45
  • 1
    I support this. I also understood OP wants to stop exercising his back. And the advice here is one I would give : scale, modify exercises but keep working on the back Dec 12 '19 at 11:24
  • I wanted only to stop exercises that involves my back for a couple of weeks untill the rigidness of my right leg goes away. I have no pain back but my right leg seems affected somehow.
    – Yaakov
    Dec 12 '19 at 16:49

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