Physical Activity

3 Low Back Exercises to Heal and Strengthen

As a Corrective Exercise Specialist who works regularly with CrossFitters, I find that athletes who incorporate a regular practice of mobility and corrective exercise programming are the people least susceptible to injury from poor movement patterns and chronic muscle and joint pain.

When combined with quality nutrition, hydration, and rest, quality time invested in learning how to use your body within the frame of it’s proper design and function gives your body the best chance to perform and recover optimally.

When it comes to exercise, Low Back Pain [LBP] is perhaps the most frequent injury that takes athletes out of the game or activities they love. With 80% of all adults in the USA reporting LBP at some point in their lives and 10-15% of all sports-related injuries involving the spine, LBP is not something to be ignored [1].

The back is easily susceptible to injury when the body shifts out of optimal postural alignment due to muscle and load joint imbalances cause the pelvis to change position (it can tilt anterior/posterior, elevate and/or rotate).

One of my favorite teaching cues is  “Exercising on an imbalanced pelvis is like hammering on a bent nail.” Herniated discs and fusions of the L4, L5, S1 seems to be all too common problems plaguing athletes of all types, including CrossFit. While I personally do not believe that CrossFit or any other form of physical training is inherently dangerous, a body out of balance is.

Even athletes with the strongest and most physically chiseled bodies can have very weak or injury prone backs. This weakness can develop from an accumulation of previous injuries (acute or chronic), faulty movement mechanics and poor posture habits. Over time, these imbalances result  in repetitive stress to muscles and joints due to compensations and dysfunctions causing the pelvis and spine to shift out of optimal alignment under load. In my experience, most athletes diagnosed with LBP have lost their ability to engage the posterior chain of muscles.

Engaging the Right Muscles

How many times have you been coached or overheard a coach telling an athlete to engage their gluteals, hamstrings and lumbar area?

Anyone who’s ever acutely injured the low back or deals with chronic pain in the area, well knows how difficult it can be to access and engage these muscles, let alone know what it feels like to properly engage the posterior chain when you hear that cue.

If you are an athlete stuck in the chronic pain cycle and focusing solely on your pain symptom(s) but doing nothing to address and correct the imbalances above and below the pain site, I can guarantee you this. The pain may be mitigated for a period of time, but it  is only a matter of time until it comes back.

Overtime, the intensity, duration and degree of severity of your LBP will increase because in my experience, the low back muscles have actually become too weakened to hold the corrections made to the spine position.

Research shows that learning to brace the core of the body through strengthening the back extensor and posterior chain of muscles can be effective in promoting long-term relief from chronic low back pain (2,3).

It’s also important to keep the anchoring muscles of the legs strong and flexible. These muscles act on and cross the hips, knees and ankles. When they are strong it helps  stabilize the body and avoid imbalances that can result in strain on the supporting structures of the back. Stabilization movements that target all these muscles and build endurance are keys to a successful back pain relief program.

Enter Foundation Training

When in comes to resolving LBP in a way that appeals to athletes, the most effective protocol I’ve come across is Foundation Training. These simple looking, yet profound movements are the best life habit changes I can encourage you to learn, incorporate and cultivate into your 2016 #HeathyFuture.

“I don’t care how strong an athlete you are.  If you take the time to master Foundation Training and include it in your existing training program, your athletic ability, strength and poise will improve dramatically.” 

~ Dr. Eric Goodman [4]

Foundation Training (FT) is a simple, yet intensely effective series of exercises that teaches athletes how to engage and strengthen the posterior chain. Developed and introduced to the world by Dr. Eric Goodman, FT was birthed out of his own personal experience of dealing with debilitating back pain and the desire to be a pain-free athlete (5).  You can learn more by watching his Tedx American Riveria Talk.  

Known as a low cost/high reward program, FT allows an athlete to train and use the body the way it was designed. The exercises promote proper lumbar stability but also help individuals re-balance and build up the strength necessary in the corresponding postural muscles. Back pain is relieved, posture improves and athletic performance is enhanced. It is ideal for anyone experiencing chronic back pain, poor posture, or just wanting to learn how to move properly.

3 Foundation Training Exercises to Help Heal Low Back Pain

Professional, olympic and elite athletes world wide are incorporating Foundation Training into their training programs. FT can be a stand alone workout on recovery days, or incorporated as a complimentary warm-up or cool-down to any training program. I regularly incorporate FT in my mobility, corrective exercise and yoga classes at my box.

Here are three simple FT movements for you to try out on your own:

1.  Founder

2.  Prone Decompression

3.  Founder, Fold & Lunge Stretch Combination

In as little as 10 minutes a day, a combination of these three simply, yet powerfully effective LBP relieving movements can help you anchor your leg muscles and engage the posterior chain all while stabilizing and decompressing the spine. Think of it as powerlifting for the deep postural muscles.

However, it is important to also point out that as with any form of exercise, a video doesn’t always do the information justice.  Some people will connect to the movements easily, and for others, the potential benefit will be completely lost in translation. That said, please do not throw the baby out with the bath water. If it peaks your curiosity but you’re not “feeling it” after trying it out on your own, I highly suggest you seek a Certified Instructor in your area who can help you learn along with free teaching resources available on their Youtube channel.

If you’re an athlete looking for a simple and effective LBP relief protocol to implement into your training, find a class and invest in your health. There are Foundation Training classes popping up at CrossFit affiliates, Pilates and yoga studios around the country.

The best part of learning FT is that once you’ve learned how to connect to the key movements you can do it on your own almost anywhere. Becoming empowered with the  skills to help your body restore itself and function optimally is truly priceless.


  1. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. November 3, 2015.
  2. McGill SM. Low Back Disorder: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation (2nd ed) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers, 2007. 
  3. Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Vol 32(3):33-45. June 2010.
  4. Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence. Eric Goodman. 2011.