“Which exercises are bad for my back?” What a great question.  As an Edinburgh osteopath and committed exerciser I think I can give you a great answer.  You decide.  Whether you have had back pain / sciatica or not, a lot of this advice applies to you.

First, do you have back pain?

If you have back pain or sciatica currently, you should always be guided by the rule “Use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it” (UIOLIBDAI).  For more on the UIOLIBDAI rule see “What’s the quickest way to fix my lower back pain / sciatica?” .  Put another way, staying active is really important, but so is avoiding things that make your pain worse (that’s the “abuse it” bit).  If you do things that hurt, you are preventing your body from healing.

When exercises can be bad for your back

Exercise can be a very very good thing.  But it can also do you harm.  You’ve heard the term “over-use”?  Well, many of us struggle to find that sweet-spot where exercise is good and not bad.  Even good exercise can be a bad thing if you over-do it. Olympic swimmers often develop shoulder problems, and frequently end up with arthritic shoulder joints.  Rowers usually develop chronic lower back pain.  This is simply due to the effects of cumulative loading, without adequate rest periods.

Cumulative loading exercises can be bad for your back

There are 3 types of loading – peak, sustained and cumulative. Habitual exercise can lead to cumulative loading.  You may only be lifting 60% of your maximum possible weight, but if you do many repetitions, that leads to cumulative loading.  If you do it badly and/or you don’t have sufficient rest this will probably lead to tissue break-down and then pain.  Sufficient rest is key, because it’s during the rest periods that your body gets stronger. You don’t have to be lifting extra weight; body-weight exercises (like running and yoga) can count as cumulative loading.

Summary of “which exercises are bad for my back?”

  • Exercises that hurt at the time or within a few hours after exercising are bad for your back
  • Exercises that load your back to the point that it may eventually fatigue (without sufficient rest) and become painful are bad for your back

That’s it!

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