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Back pain: exercises to ease it

The chances are that you’ve had back pain at some point: it’s a relatively common condition. And given that many of us are currently working from home with makeshift workstation set-ups, back pain is likely to be something many of you have recently experienced.

We talked to Harry Shahlaei, a personal trainer from Gloucestershire who’s trained some of the region’s top athletes and strongest men and women, (including an actual competitive strongman; his brother, Laurence Shahlaei) for his advice on simple exercises you can do at home to ease back pain.

Release the hips

Tightness or shortness in muscles that flex the hip including the psoas, the iliacus and rectus femoris can compromise the way our hips move and put excess pressure on the lower back, the hips and the knees.

Left to right: psoas, iliacus and piriformis

Similarly, tight posterior hip muscles such as the glute medius, glute minimus and the piriformis can cause pain in these areas too, and prevent good hip mobility.

To improve hip mobility, Harry recommends:

1. Foam rolling of:

  • Quadriceps

  • Posterior hip muscles including glute medius, glute minimus and piriformis

  • Adductors

Roll for roughly 1 minute on each area, but stop if it is too much. You don't want to overdo it.

2. Stretches of:

  • Hip flexor

  • Posterior hip

  • Figure 4

  • Adductor

Activate the glutes

The glute muscles and the hamstrings are responsible for extending the hips but tend to become a little tight when our glutes are inactive and our hip flexors are short (when we’re sat down for lots of the day).

This group of exercises is centred on activating these muscles with a gluteal resistance band. Put the band over the tops of your knees and do 10-20 repetitions of each of these exercises:

  1. Glute bridge

  2. Frog pump

  3. Seated abduction

  4. Hip extension

Stabilise and strengthen the core

The core is made up of a number of muscles including the transverse abdominis, the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques as well as the lower back muscles such as the spinal erectors, multifidus and the quadratus lumborum.

Left to right: rectus abdominis, multifidus, quadratus lumborum.

The muscles that make up the core are responsible for helping us move in certain directions and resist external stresses on the spine to help it stabilise under different loads.

Here are 4 exercises to strengthen these muscles and make our spine much more stable:

  1. McGill crunch

  2. Side plank

  3. Plank

Do 5 repetitions, holding for 10 - 20 seconds each time.

4. Dead bugs

Aim for 10 repetitions on each side.

Form when lifting

A final area to work on to keep our lower back feeling good is lifting and moving correctly.

We’re frequently told to bend our knees to protect our backs when lifting heavy objects, but, according to Harry, there should be an additional step: hinge at the hips first rather than just bending the knees.

The strongest joint is the hips, followed by the knees and then the ankles, and it makes more sense to hinge at the hips (which means we won’t flex the spine excessively and cause damage), and use bigger muscles such as glutes, hamstrings and quads as we lift.

Harry’s 2 favourite exercises for hinging, and for glute, hamstring and quad strength are:

  1. Romanian deadlifts

  2. Squats

10 repetitions of each per set is fine.


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