The Top 4 Gym Mistakes Causing Back Pain (and How to Fix Them)

By Injury Specialist & Kinesiologist Rick Kaselj, MS
Expert Educator to Healthcare & Fitness Professionals

Rick-presentingIt’s nearly impossible to go to the gym and NOT see someone doing an exercise or stretch incorrectly. Human nature begs us to reach out to these misguided lifters BUT we can’t solve every issue out there…it’s just not that easy. What I can do for you is focus on the most prevalent movements done poorly and explain how you can avoid these common mistakes.

After working with thousands of people over the years, I’ve found the mistakes below to be the root causes of a majority of the lower back pain people who exercise are suffering with.

The real trouble is that often times this “pain” begins as a subtle, nagging sensation and it’s ignored. Over time this once small, annoying pain becomes a monster that sidelines you from doing what you love.

If you love weight training you’re not going to stop working out over something that doesn’t seem like a big deal.  However, if you keep putting yourself under heavy loads with compromised technique, it will only perpetuate the problem until you are forced to face it.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the common pitfalls you’ll find at the gym that can lead to serious back pain and more importantly, fix these mistakes once and for all. If you’re interested in keeping your spine healthy and free from pain for years to come and maintaining an active lifestyle, keep reading.

Exercise Mistake #1: Choosing The Wrong Hamstring Stretch


This looks like something we’ve all seen at the gym, the park or wherever people exercise. When trying to stretch the hamstrings many people create unnecessary stress on their lumbar spine by reaching for their toes from a standing position. This obvious bend in the thoracic spine (or mid back area) puts both the pelvis and hamstrings into poor position for a proper stretch and breaks the natural curve of the back causing the lower back far too much strain.

hamstring - correct

By laying on the floor with one leg elevated and the other bent, it is possible to maintain a flat body position and avoid any strain on the lumbar spine. By fully bending and extending the straight leg, you can actively stretch the hamstrings (one at a time for optimal results) thus creating absolutely no stress on the lower back. Do this repetitively holding the leg straight at the top for several seconds pushing the heel towards the sky.

Exercise Mistake #2: Poor Deadlift Technique

deadlift - incorrect

One of the most popular exercises done in any gym is the Deadlift. Without getting into the many variations of the lift, let’s focus on the crucial elements of the movement itself. Whenever a person performs a lift or exercise, having a neutral spine is essential. Try to always maintain perfect spinal alignment in all phases of the lift.

That being said, you shouldn’t be cocking your head awkwardly back to look forward when getting into position with the bar, rather look at your eyebrows with your head and neck in line with your torso.

The other huge problem with the Deadlift is the hyper extension of the body at the top of the lift. When trying to fully contract the glutes and legs, people will lean backwards and look up, again putting their body in poor alignment and leading to undo harmful stress on their lower back. Let’s look at a Deadlift with proper form.

deadlift - correct

Notice the crown of the head to the buttocks forms a perfect line. The knees and hips are bent and the body is put into a very strong lifting position. At the top of the exercise, the glutes, quads and abdominals are fully contracted keeping the body rigid. The shoulders are back, chest is up and the upper back muscles are also contracted to maximize tension throughout the body and protect the lower back from any unnecessary strain.

Exercise Mistake #3: Rounding the Back on Barbell Row

bent over barbell incorrect

The Bent-Over Barbell Row is notoriously done improperly. Many people have a difficult time with pelvic tilting (posterior and anterior) and don’t realize how to position themselves while their body is under loads. Many people, unfortunately, don’t have the capacity to “turn on” certain muscles so assuming various positions seems almost impossible to them.

The thoracic spine or mid back is absorbing all the tension and putting the lower back into a very stressful situation. Anyone who does this routinely will be in discomfort and at serious risk of back injury.

The best way to correct this poor body position is to shift the pelvic girdle and assume an athletic stance. Think of a linebacker in the ready position on the football field. Hips are bent, knees are bent and the butt is pushed back creating a long and strong spine. The weight has now shifted to the appropriate back and leg muscles for optimal lifting position.

bent over barbell correct

Let’s now look at the proper technique for this exercise. When done with the proper mechanics, the exercise looks much less dangerous for the lower back. Notice the mid back area is now in line from head to buttocks. It is obvious that the legs and back muscles are properly engaged to handle the load and keep the back free from pain. The body is technically in an athletic position also known in sports as the “ready position.”

Exercise Mistake #4: “Tail Tucking” on the Goblet Squat

dumbbell squat - incorrect

Enter the “King” of all leg movements, the Squat. Again, there are several variations of the squat and without getting into all of them, let’s focus on the basic mechanics. The starting position doesn’t illustrate the poor mechanics of the exercise like the finished position does. The only minor adjustment could be with the head position which can be easily fixed by tucking the chin in.

In the finished position it is plain to see that the hips have dropped far too low creating a “tuck effect” of the pelvis putting your back at risk of injury. Your back may hurt just looking at this position. This also can negatively impact the knees bending them to such a high degree under load.

dumbbell squat - correct

The spinal alignment has been altered enough to create unnecessary pressure and strain on the lumbar spine. What is most apparent in the correct form photos is not only the head position but also the line created by the body from the shoulders to the pelvis.

The knees are bent just slightly past 90 degrees and the pelvic girdle stays in a strong, supportive position avoiding the “tuck effect” and creating zero stress on the lower back. All the load bearing and tension remains in the legs, abdominals and appropriate back muscles creating a pain free environment.

I hope after thoroughly discussing the most common mistakes made in the gym that cause back pain, you feel more confident in facing your pain and not avoiding it any longer.

If You’ve Been Making Some Of These Mistakes Don’t Worry…

BR3-3If you’ve been doing some of these harmful stretches for years and have any degree of back pain don’t feel totally frustrated.  I have teamed up with Critical Bench to publish a quick & easy 10-minute pre and post workout routine you can follow to reverse any damage that may have been caused from exercise form that is not ideal for the lower back.

Dealing with back pain in general even if it’s mild most often times involves endless cycles of appointments, investigations, stretching and strengthening.

After having hundreds of my clients go through this run-around, with minimal success, it has led to the creation of “Fix My Back Pain” utilizing the BR3 Method which is based on one key concept: Reshaping your lower back from a painful lower back to a pain-free lumbar spine, but I do have to warn you…


  • If you are only looking for a solution to the symptoms instead of the root problems of your back pain, then this is NOT for you.
  • If you are convinced that surgery is your only option at this point, you don’t need to read any further.
  • If you are looking for some miracle medication drug to eliminate your back pain and get you back to pain free workouts, then this is NOT for you.
  • If you don’t mind sitting on the couch and missing out on your workouts and other activities, living the rest of your life in pain this is NOT for you.

It’s time to take charge of your back pain and silence the menacing discomfort that keeps you from exercising and doing what you love in the gym. If you’re ready to take control of your pain or avoid it altogether and what you’re currently doing isn’t helping, you’re in good hands.

I help athletes and serious fitness enthusiasts get back to what they have a passion for instead of telling them to stop training and avoiding what hurts. Sound good?

Here’s What You Should Do Next…

If you’d like to escape a major blowout and fix your back in just minutes…so you can get back to your 100% intensity pain-free workouts without feeling bullied into appointments, medications or going under the knife, I have some amazing tips for you on the next page.