How to NOT Injure your Back at the Gym!

How to prevent back pain

Worrying about injuring your back at the gym is understandable, especially given the potential for serious repercussions. A back injury can not only disrupt your fitness routine but also impact daily life and your long-term health.

Is your gym workout helping your posture? Or could it be creating an underlying postural weakness that leads to injury?

Many gym routines do not consider the most essential part of any workout: working out our ‘nervous system’ in the best way possible.

What controls posture and alignment?

The brain – and the nervous system!

So, this is where we need to start! It’s not about muscles; it’s about how the brain communicates to muscles. Failure to address this scientific fact, will lead to 3 signs of compensation.

1. Deviations in Postural Alignment

Postural compensations sap your energy and performance and cause perpetually tight muscles! The brain expends 30% of its total energy production just on maintaining posture (1). One common sign of postural compensation is the incessant need to stretch and roll tight muscles. Though stretching is important, tight muscles are the most common compensation of a postural problem. And energy will slowly diminish due to the demands on the body to hold the bad compensation.

2. Restricted Breathing Patterns

Restricted breathing patterns are very much linked to poor postural compensation. The diaphragm is part of our core muscles and will start anchoring around our spine to help out our poor posture. This restricts breathing, which is not just bad for energy but for many other health issues like stress and anxiety.

Considering that we breathe on average 23,000 times per day, the knock-on effects are huge.

3. Injuries that Reoccur for No Apparent Reason

Injuries that occur at the gym, are most commonly put down to poor form. While that may be true some of the time, most people will report an injury doing something quite trivial, like “I just reached up to move a weight off the bar” etc. The reality is, this is HOW spinal compensation occurs – muscles are recruited by the brain to help out with posture (that shouldn’t be), areas fatigue, and the brain loses the ability to anticipate how everything needs to move to maintain alignment, then injury occurs.

The 4 Key Principles

In this blog, we look at 4 key principles that will not only help prevent back injury but also improve posture!

We use the Bridge exercise balancing on a fit ball (Figure 1.) as an example to explain these four principles.

Figure 1. Bridge exercise balancing on a fit ball.

1. Whole Functional Movements

Workouts that isolate muscles can cause problems. Isolating muscles in exercise has long been demonstrated to create long term imbalances. Your body is designed to function as a whole. Each exercise should consider using the whole body as much as possible.

In this exercise, while targeting the shoulder and chest we are also engaging large portions of the core – which is essential for shoulder stability, in keeping it aligned and in the right place! This exercise helps the whole postural system support the shoulder movement.

2. Maintaining a Neutral Spine

The normal curve you can see looking at a spine from the side is called a lordosis (Figure 2.) It is your natural shock absorber! We need to maintain this curve as much as possible in all our day-to-day activities to protect our spine. When we workout the same applies. In Figure 1, the Bridge exercise is strengthening whole muscle groups around the neural spine, building endurance in postural muscles. 

Figure 2. Neutral Spine

3. Maximise Nervous System

Our brain and nervous system rely on clear communication and sufficient electrical energy to control muscles effectively. Many exercises fail to stimulate this system adequately – like machine exercises which do the stability and control for you! This means your nervous system does not do the work it needs to. This leads to weak CONTROL of postural muscles. Using unstable surfaces (like a fit ball in Figure 1) boosts activation of stabilising muscles and nerve receptors, enhancing balance and postural control significantly.

Take note of the Bridge exercise in Figure 1. By doing the shoulder exercise, the nervous system is engaged to maintain balance, and in order to stay balanced the weight cannot be too heavy. In this way you are building nervous system strength in the muscles and regulating how much you can lift at the same time. This builds protection and better posture.

4. Stand rather than Sit

Sitting is the new smoking. Our body’s nervous systems is inherently built to stand tall and strong, yet achieving good posture becomes a daunting challenge when we find ourselves in the seated position. It doesn’t make sense that we would exercise in a seated position to strengthen a seated posture. Though Figure 1 is not standing, it is an example exercise of not sitting. Look for alternatives where possible.

The 4 key principles can be applied to any workout routine, and when used correctly, will assist you in not only preventing injury, but also in helping to build posture.

Are you ready to transform your posture and reclaim comfort? Your journey to improved posture starts here. Act today, feel better tomorrow!

To book an appointment with Dr Ben at Blue Align Chiropractic in Stafford, either call our friendly team on (07) 3356 9552 or book online below. We’d love to help you experience better health.


Exclusive Event – Wednesday, 12th June at 7pm

“Unlock the Secrets of Better Posture”, with Dr Ben Lowe, Chiropractor

Are you tired of slouching at your desk all day?
Do you want to improve your posture and feel better in your body?

Join us on Wednesday, 12th June 2024 at 7pm at Blue Align Chiropractic to learn tips and tricks for better posture. Dr Ben will share secrets to help you stand taller, reduce back pain, and feel more confident.


1. The 4 Common Postural Deformities You Can Prevent.
2. Workout Principles to Save Your Back and Improve Posture.
3. Gym Mistakes to Avoid for a Healthier Spine.
4. 5 Ergonomic Steps for Better Posture at Home and In the Office.

… And Much More

Don’t miss out on these clear, actionable tips to transform your posture and well-being, and take the opportunity to pick Dr Ben’s brain!

Register your spot at Dr Ben’s talk HERE!

Exercise Methods of Dynamic Stability Training

  • Performing exercises on an unstable platform or soft surface
  • Standing, rather than sitting
  • Using free weights, rather than machines
  • Training unilaterally with dumbbells, rather than barbells

Bird-Dog, Side Bridge, and Planks are great exercises because they are building strength (endurance) and control around a protected neutral spine with minimal stress. That’s why we recommend adding DST to these foundational exercises balance by incorporating unstable platforms. 

These exercises add balance by incorporating unstable platforms.


These exercises add balance by incorporating unstable platforms.

1. Plank

The Plank serves as a basic stability via challenging the anterior core – or your muscles at the front. The goal is to resist gravity, and prevent the abdomen from dropping to the ground. Find the minimum brace via maximal muscular activation — instead of over-contracting. Maintain neutral hip/spine posture.

Notice one hand is placed onto the opposite elbow. This requires higher neuromuscular demand, to prevent rotating or twisting of the torso.

The bands increase demand of whole body core, leg and should stability.Control the level of difficulty with the body incline.

The renegade row (also known as a plank row) is almost a variation of the dumbbel row.

2. Side Bridge

‘Flys’ in this position (Fig. 6) add significant difficulty and require building further muscle-postural endurance.

3. ‘Stir the Pot’ or ‘Roll-Outs’

These exercises are a great alternative to sit-ups, without causing damage to your spine.

Building a level of difficulty from the Plank style of exercise, and for those who want to feel an abdominal ‘burn’, this exercise will not disappoint, but great control is essential.

A good alternative is the Stirring the Pot exercise.

The Exercise

In the proper Plank position on a stability ball – In neutral spine position with abdominal brace – move your forearms in a circular fashion, aiming to limit movement of the lumbar spine, hips, and pelvis. You need to widen your stance to achieve this.

To make it more challenging, narrow your stance (or just have someone kick the ball randomly as my son loves to do!).

4. Bridge

Please note the use of Bridge exercise with unilateral weight, rather than weights on both sides (Fig. 8). If weights were used on both sides at the same time, you would be more balanced and need far less core stability.

The beauty of this type of training is that the weight lifted (how heavy) becomes calibrated to your whole-body stability, rather than isolated muscle strength. It’s self-regulating, which is great because unless your stability is good, you won’t be able to lift heavy weight.

5. Stand Rather Than Sit

The seated row or seated rowing are very popular exercises (Figs. 9a & 9b). I totally understand if you are training for rowing as a sport, then you must row. But you need to be aware that if you sit all day at work, then efforts should be made to counter the negative postural effects of sitting.

It’s important to note that the seated row will develop your ability to lift heavy weight, building larger muscle size of your back muscles. However, increased muscle size will not help prevent injury.

6. Squat

Adding balance to your squat, with slow repetitions to build endurance can help build pelvic-core stability, and should be prioritised before adding weight, or moving to One Leg Stands.

An alternative to using a pull-down machine. A band can be used by itself (a pull-down), then used incrementally (with different band strengths) to assist with pull-ups on a bar.

DISCLAIMER: All content is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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