Many of my regular patients are athletes and exercise enthusiasts. Some play professional sports while others routinely attend cross-fit classes, dance or aerobics. Unfortunately, regardless of the particular exercise routines, many come to me with complaints of lower back pain. For these athletes exercise and pain go hand in hand. If you take notice of those movements which are causing you discomfort, however, you can easily modify them so that the pressure is taken off your back. By doing this, you can allow yourself to heal (and prevent further injury) while I help to get you back in alignment.

Here are some common exercises that you can modify to reduce the impact on your spine.

1. Exchange Back Squats for Front Squats

While squats produce great results they can also cause back strain if done improperly. Of course, there are modifications (which I will get to in a moment) but first and foremost, remember this – whenever you do a squat, be sure to keep your back flat. If you over-arch or round your lower back, you are putting serious pressure on your spine. Try and keep your back as neutral as possible anytime you do a squat exercise. This may eliminate a majority of the strain you have been feeling. If this still doesn’t seem to help, there are other ways to exercise these  muscles without causing further damage.

The most common type of squat many lifters do is the barbell back squat. Even when done correctly, there is still a high risk of injury. Changing to a front squat can actually yield great results with far less pain for many athletes. In fact, the activated muscles are the same as those used in the back squat. If you aren’t sure how to do a front squat on your own, be sure to ask your trainer but it looks like this.

2. Keep Ab Exercises Low

Full situps can cause strain to the lower back. You can get some great ab definition by keeping your movement lower when activating the muscles. Try decreasing the height you come up when doing a situp or crunch. Lie on your back so that you have the full support of the floor and bring your knees into your chest. Raise your head and neck up slightly (supporting with a rolled towel if necessary) and hold this position while pulling your belly button toward the floor. Repeat this several times.

3. Switch out the Leg Press for a Ball Squat

If the leg press is done improperly, the spine may become compressed and cause lower back pain and strain. In some cases, even if the exercise is done as instructed injury can still occur. If you want to work these same muscles without causing excessive strain you can try the ball squat instead. This will engage those same muscles with less risk of inuring or re-injuring your spine. That’s because the type of resistance and the position of your body are entirely different during the ball squat than they are in the leg press. Through the use of a stability ball, your back with have proper support. Talk to your trainer about modifying your program if the leg press is causing issues for you. Here is what it looks like .

4. Avoid Jumping Fully Off the Floor 

Many cardio exercises like jumping jacks, jump squats etc. require both feet to come up off the floor. If you are finding that these movements are causing you pain then be sure to keep one foot on the ground at all times. You can make the same motions you would if you were jumping but simply step instead of hop.

The good news is that any trainer who is well educated in what he or she does will be able to modify your exercise routine to accommodate for your injuries. In fact, becoming inactive as a result of lower back pain can lead to even larger issues so keep up the exercise (as long as the injury is not too severe). Strong core muscles are effective in reducing back pain and injury and building your overall strength will also ensure your health for longer. With this in mind, simply look at these modifications as a new challenge and always, ALWAYS listen to what your body is telling you when you work out. There is a difference between fatigue and pain so be sure not to ignore important indicators that an injury is occurring.