Trying to build your lower body can be a challenge if you have back pain, especially when you’re trying to replicate the workout you get from deadlifts and squats. But, there are alternative moves that can help keep your lower body strong without aggravating your back or risking further injury. By hitting the gym and learning your way around some new machines, you can strengthen your quads, hamstrings and glutes virtually pain-free. Before trying any new moves with a back condition, always consult your doctor to make sure it’s safe.
With its ability to mimic the squat motion while providing support to the lower back, the leg press machine provides a great alternative to standard squats. It works the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves while allowing you to rest your back against a padded support. These machines can be found either among the free weights or the cable machines at your gym.
Stability Ball Squat
If you really don’t want to give up squats altogether, you might be able to keep them by adding a stability ball to the picture. Stability ball squats provide support to your lower back and also prevent the common form mistakes that lead to back injuries during squats. Stand against a wall with the stability ball behind your lower back, and pressing your body into the ball, roll down into a squat and then return to standing. Due to the standing nature of the exercise, stop if you experience pain and choose another exercise.
If your back is preventing you from doing deadlifts, you’ll want to find a machine that focuses on developing your hamstrings and glutes -- two of the main muscles worked during the exercise. For a back-pain-free alternative, try the seated hamstring curl machine, which allows you to support your back while isolating the muscles. Tighten and stabilize your core as you complete each curl to take the pressure off your back.
With the deadlift’s ability to work so many muscle groups including the lower back, you’ll need to incorporate a back exercise into your routine if you want to replace them entirely. To keep from hurting your back or causing pain, try lying back extensions, commonly called Supermans, which are helpful alternatives that focuses on strengthening the lower core.
After graduating from the University of Kansas with a bachelor's degree in sports information, Jill Lee served for 10 years as a magazine editor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Also a published author, Lee now works as a professional writer and editor focusing on fitness, sports and careers.