Weight Training Exercises for Back Pain

If you suffer from back pain, there is good news from a recent study that looked at exercise and its beneficial effects when it comes to pain. The study was small but the results are promising. There were 27 back pain sufferers in the study, which looked at the effects of aerobic training and resistance training.

Researchers reported that those who participated in the resistance training group who lifted weights had a 60% improvement in pain and function. Those assigned to aerobic exercise group who participated in regular activities such as walking or jogging, only improved by 12%.

The resistance training group used a full bodyweight training program, three days a week for 15 weeks. Participants increased the weight lifted over three weeks, reduced the weight every fourth week (for recovery) and repeated this for 15 weeks. As this is a small study, talk to your doctor before trying this yourself. The program in the study included the following exercises of three groups of nine people each.


Leg Press

leg press
Christopher Kimmel/Aurora Open/Getty Images

The leg press training exercise involves pushing a weight away from them using their legs. The muscles recruited in the exercise include those in the lower body.


Leg Extension

The leg extension exercise uses resistance such as weights on a specific machine. The user extends their legs up against a padded and weighted bar. The quadriceps are the primary muscles worked in this exercise.


Leg Curl

The leg curl exercises the hamstring muscles and involves the user curling their legs against a weighted bar behind them, usually while lying on a bench that is part of the machine.


Bench Press

The bench press is just like it sounds. The user lies on a flat bench with feet flat on the floor and pushes up on a barbell weight. This exercise works the upper body, including chest, shoulder and arm muscles.


Incline Press

Similar to the bench press, the incline press uses a bench with an elevated back, giving an adjustable angle that lifts up the user's upper body so that their back rests against a slightly inclined bench. This exercise works the upper body as well, but with more emphasis on the upper chest muscles.


Lat Pull Down

The lat pull down is a basic back exercise that focuses on the upper back.


Shoulder Press

The shoulder press uses two dumbbells held at shoulder level and are then lifted over the head.


Biceps Curl

The biceps curl is a popular exercise that builds the biceps, the muscles on the front of the upper arm. 


Triceps Pushdown

The triceps pushdown uses resistance to work the muscles on the back of the upper arm.  


Abdominal Crunch

Everyone's favorite, the ab crunch is a basic core exercise used to strengthen the torso muscles.


Ab Crunch on an Exercise Ball

Add an exercise ball (sometimes called a Swiss ball or stability ball) to the familiar crunch, and you get a more challenging exercise that supports the back while performing the crunches. To help balance on the ball, stabilizer muscles are employed, which help improve balance.


Prone Superman

This exercise is performed lying face down on the floor. It involves contracting your muscles to pull your legs, head, and chest up off the floor. This strengthens the back and core muscles.

1 Source
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  1. Kell RT, Asmundson GJ. A comparison of two forms of periodized exercise rehabilitation programs in the management of chronic nonspecific low-back pain. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(2):513-23. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181918a6e

Additional Reading
  • Kell, R; Asmundson, G. A Comparison of Two Forms of Periodized Exercise Rehabilitation Programs in the Management of Chronic Nonspecific Low-Back Pain. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 23(2):513-523, March 2009.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.