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Why Core Exercises Aren’t Fixing Your Back Pain

    We have all been encouraged to believe that core exercises are the “secret” for eliminating back pain. If we only had more core strength! It isn’t the worst advice in the world, but it definitely leaves more to be desired. First and foremost, you need to understand what goal you are trying to accomplish with “core exercises.”

    To keep it short and sweet the low back is meant to resist motion NOT create motion. The inherent structure of the lumbar spine actually limits its ability to be flexible. In both life and exercise our goal should be to spare the spine by moving more fluidly from the hip joints and upper back. Often times we get it backwards, moving more from the lower back while the hip joints and upper back become stiffened.

    How Does this Tie Into Core Exercises?

    Exercises that create bending and rotation at the spine should be used sparingly, especially if you have low back pain. This means eliminate the Crunches, Resisted Back Extension Machine, Side Crunches, V-Ups and Loaded Twisting Movements. Everyone’s spine has a different amount of mileage that it can handle and for those with back pain you have likely exceeded it.

    Instead, substitute exercises that RESIST low back motion. Like Planks, Side Planks, Pallof Press, Bird Dogs, Ball Roll Outs and Stir The Pot to name a few.

    Pallof Press [Resisting Spine Rotation]


    Stir The Pot [Resisting Bending and Rotation]

    Ball Roll Out [Resisting Bending], Great video from Eric Cressey

    How Many Reps and Sets?

    Follow the Stuart McGill Method to increase endurance while diminishing soreness.

    Using a pyramid type scheme, hold each exercise for 8-10 seconds.

    Perform exercises 2-3x/week.


    6 Reps x 10 seconds

    20 seconds of rest

    4 Reps x 10 seconds

    20 seconds of rest

    2 Reps x 10 seconds

    Add 1-2 reps of each level of the pyramid as they become easier.

    These exercises don’t just teach you how to create a stable neutral spine position, they also build endurance around trunk muscles. Making you more resilient to stress at the back and less likely to sustain a back injury.

    Often times, resolution of back pain is more about what you stop doing rather than what you add. Removing low back bending and rotation exercises will dramatically reduce the compressive and shear force you are placing on the spine.

    If the thought of any exercise makes your back hurt you need to take a more rehabilitative approach. I always recommend seeing a medical professional first to help you create a strategic plan based on your evaluation. Rehabilitating a back injury is not as intuitive as other injuries.

    After an acute injury, you may have pain that is being generated from the spine, nerves and/or muscle. Disc injuries often present with pain down the leg (aka Sciatica). However, some of your symptoms (pain, muscle stiffness and numbness) can also be related to protective muscle tightness and nerve sensitization. 

    Big Keys:

    1.Get Treatment Early

    • Soft tissue work and the customized exercises can make all the difference.

    2.  Stop Stretching Your Low Back

    • Instead, start with extension exercises.

    3. Spare The Spine: Learn How To Move From The Hip Joints.

    4. Build Endurance In Neutral Spine Positions.

    Interested in a Home Exercise Plan for Lower Back Pain? Click HERE.


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