The biggest challenge for most weightlifters with a back injury is having enough patience to fully recover before resuming their intense workouts,” says Daniel Lucas, co-founder of Nimble Fitness, a boutique strength-and-conditioning facility in New York City. If deeper stabilizing muscles are not working right, exercise stress makes its way to your hamstrings and lower back. “Stabilizers respond to time under tension, so low-intensity loads with longer holds are much better for rebuilding back strength,” Lucas explains.

According to Rachel Parrotta, D.P.T., A.T.C., a physical therapist at Shift Integrative Medicine in NYC, muscles turn themselves off because they’re in positions that are too short or too long to work effectively. “This often occurs after sitting for too long or because of training errors, and muscles can then develop trigger points and spasms.

Lucas’ advice: Pay attention to form. If your core isn’t strong enough or your hip/leg muscle flexibility isn’t sufficient, you’re not ready to add a heavy load. Do activation sets before exercising, including multiplanar movements, and active stretches that warm up your core and stabilizers. But until you seek medical advice, warns Parrotta, avoid aggressively stretching hamstrings, as this may aggravate certain conditions. Also make sure to work up to the heavy weight over a specific period.

To train without strain on big moves, hold a strong, neutral pelvic position and control your hip flexion (don’t tuck your butt or overextend your back) during squats, deadlifts, and other lower-body moves. This will activate all trunk muscles, not just the rectus abdominus. 

For better support, think plank exercises instead of a ton of crunches or ab curls, Lucas says.

Common Causes Are Weak… 

  •  Transverse Abdominus
  •  Glutes (specifically gluteus medius)
  •  Diaphragm

Exercises to Avoid:

  •  Ballistic and plyometrics
  •  Flexion and rotation of the spine
  •  Weighted ab moves
  •  Unstable surface exercises
  •  Forward fold exercises (deadlift, clean, snatch)

Limber Up!

  • Gently stretching these muscles can help alleviate pain:
  •  Psoas (part of hip flexors)
  •  Tensor Fascia Latae (outer side of glutes)
  •  Hamstrings/Calves

4 Must-Do Exercises

Toe Tap to Single Leg

Lie faceup on floor with your knees and feet raised and your spine neutral. Exhale and press your belly toward your spine without your spine flattening, which indicates that you’re flexing your rectus abdominus. Slowly lower one leg to the floor, holding spine stable.

Mega Clam 

Lie on side with head supported, pelvis neutral, and knees bent, aligning heels with butt. Lift top leg while keep-ing feet together. Do 15–20 reps slowly. Switch sides.  

Variations: Use tubing around knees; straighten top leg and swing forward and back, or bicycle; do inter-nal/external rota-tion or single-leg pulses.

Bird Dog

This isometric hold assists the core, hips, and back in firing together. From your hands and knees, with pelvis and spine in neutral position, lift your left arm out in front of you to ear height and the right leg behind you, holding 5–10 seconds. Do 10–15 reps, alternating legs.


The now-classic plank exercise trains your spine in proper form. Don’t allow your hips to sag; do make sure to keep your pelvis in a neutral position.  

Easy: Knee plank 

Intermediate: Plank on toes

Hard: Plank on Bosu or physioball