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Five exercises for low back pain

Many people in Singapore experience back pain on a daily basis. It disrupts our daily lives and affect everything from work productivity to mundane daily activities.

While pain killers and massages may be the go-to-treatment for most people, clinical guidelines around the world all agree that staying active and exercising is the first-line treatment for low back pain.

Today we share with you five exercises of various difficulty that could be helpful for your recovery.

McKenzie extensions for painful backs

Developed in the 1950s by Robin McKenzie, the McKenzie extension is a tried and tested exercise that can easily alleviate mild back pain.

To start, lay face down (supine) with your arms by your side in a comfortable and relaxed position. If you experience pain getting into the position, take a few minutes or deep breaths to settle in.

Once you are ready, push your forearms (or palms) into the ground as you gradually try to lift your chest from the ground. As much as possible, try to keep the movement to the symptom-free range. If that is not possible, limit your range of motion to within your baseline symptom experience. E.g., If you experience 2/10 pain at the relax position, move within the 2/10 pain range and not go into the 3/10 pain range.

This exercise is very similar to the cobra pose in yoga. However, it should be noted that the exercise is design to promote spinal movements rather than to stretch your back muscles.

The McKenzie extension is extremely easy to perform and can be done at any time of the day.

Difficulty: 1/5 

Glute bridges or pelvic bridge for less painful backs

As you start to experience an alleviation in your symptoms, you may want to consider exercises that are slightly higher in intensity.

The glute bridges is a great exercise that involves your posterior chain (low back, gluteal, and hamstring muscles) as well as your trunk muscles.

Lay on your back with your knees bent. When you are ready, slowly push your feet into the ground and lift your pelvis at the same time. Once you are at your top-range, you can slowly relax again to return to the start position.

Similar to the McKenzie extension, this exercise is not designed as a stretch and there is no need to hold the top position.

For patients with a sensitise lumbar spine, you may feel an increase the symptoms as you approach the top end of your range of motion. In such cases, it will be advisable to limit your movements to the sensation-free range.

Difficulty: 2-4/5 depending on variation

One leg deadlift for unilateral back strengthening

Your recovery shouldn’t stop at symptom resolution.

It is common for low back pain patients to assume that they are recovered when they experience no pain. However, our latest understanding of pain science suggest that this is not true.

It is important to progressively increase load through the lumbar spine during recovery to restore the robustness and resilience of your low back. The one leg deadlift is a great exercise for this.

Start by standing on one leg holding on to a weight that is in front of you. If the choice of weight (e.g., dumbbell) is too close to the ground, do elevate it by putting it on a stack of books or a low stool. This is your start position.

The exercise start with you standing up into an upright position weight the weight and lowering yourself back down to the start position again. It’s common for people to pause or rest at the standing position. However, the standing position is not the end position.

If a break at the top is required for you to complete the workout, consider regressing to a lighter weight or an easier exercise before trying this again.

Difficulty: 3-4/5 depending on weight 

Jefferson Curl for extra flexibility

Forward flexion is a movement that is poorly explored by most people because of the perceived danger of a round back.

However, research doesn’t support that a round back is dangerous for you.

The Jefferson Curl is one of the favourite spinal conditioning exercises for top gymnasts around the world. The movement improves not only strength but also flexibility through your full range of motion.

If you are experiencing tightness or soreness from your low back from long hours of sitting or a sedentary lifestyle, the Jefferson Curl could be a good exercise for you to explore in the future when you are ready.

Kettlebell Swing for the HIIT lovers

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Having a comparable aerobic and metabolic effect as running, kettlebell swings is a great spinal conditioning exercise for HIIT lovers.

On top of burning calories as with all aerobic exercises, kettlebell swings also train glutes and hamstrings which will contribute to your low back well-being.

To increase the difficulty without increasing the weight of the kettlebell, consider variations such as one-handed swings and swing swaps to improve overall coordination and balance.


The spine plays a crucial role in all human movements. From the Olympic lifts to mundane everyday tasks, it is inevitable that you use your back.

Remember, motion is lotion.