How to Reduce Back Pain with Strength & Conditioning

Back pain is one of the most common issues people have to deal with. It is prevalent due to our very sedentary ways.

I have had chronic back pain which has been helped by some of the tactics I’m going to talk about in this post.

I hope the techniques help you!

Muscles of the Back

The major muscles of your back are:

  • Trapezius – this is the V-shaped muscle which fans out from the middle of the spine (C1-12) to the shoulder blade (scapula) and up the back of the neck. It is used primarily in movements involving the arm and shoulder including:
    • elevation of the scapula (shrugging),
    • depression of the scapula (downward shrug)
    • Adduction or retraction of the scapula  (when you bring your shoulder blades together; like with a rowing motion)
  • Latissimus Dorsi – covers a large area starting from the lower back (T6-S5) to the upper arm (the intertubercular sulcus of the humerus bone). Movements performed by the latissimus dorsi include:
    • Extension (raising of the shoulder or glenohumeral joint; extending your arm backward)
    • Adduction (bring your arm down to your side)
    • Internal rotation (if you were to rest your arms by your sides with your palms facing you and then turn your palms outward – with your pinky finger facing forward, that would be an example of internal rotation)

Main Issues

Back pain is a broad term that isn’t specific enough to address without asking some more specific questions. Where do you feel your back pain? When do you feel it? When did you first notice it?

In my experience, physical pain can be divided be attributed to these six causes:

  • Acute injury – if you had an accident recently resulting in an injury. Most times this can be obvious – but not necessarily.
  • Overuse injury – If you often do the same type of movements, an overuse injury may result. However, with proper maintenance, this may be avoided. I would put sitting too much in this category.
  • Faulty movement – Are you moving correctly? I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage about learning to walk before you can run. Often times, in our rush to “get ahead” we may take shortcuts or become unaware of dysfunctional movement patterns. A simple example might be that you have a limited range-of-motion (ROM) in your shoulder, so when you reach for something overhead, you might stand on your toes. While this may strengthen your toes and calves (gastrocnemius and soleus), it is not making your shoulder ROM any better.
  • Structural issues – No one’s perfect. I’m a great example of this. My toes are mostly crooked, the left side of my chest is kind of caved in. My point is that a flaw in the structure may result in reduced functionality or even pain.
  • Psychosomatic – as someone with a neurological condition, I am well aware that mental/emotional states can manifest physical pain. Just think of it this way: if you can alleviate your pain through meditative practices and positive thinking, you surely can do the opposite.
  • Dietary – through re-tooling my diet, I have been able to see some pain disappear. Our high salt and sugar diets (through processed and packaged foods) can affect the way our bodies metabolize fat and generally leave us weaker – depending on your particular food sensitivities.

The last two are deeper reasons I’ve come across any may or may not be the source of your pain. I would look at 1-4 first. If problems persist, then perhaps look at the bottom two (although it is always good to be aware of them)




One of the things we do most often that creates back pain is sitting. Most of us sit for too long, in the wrong position thereby creating weaknesses and imbalances in key areas: the butt (gluteus medius, maximus), the hip flexors (iliopsoas).

Another issue is that when we do move, we move incorrectly. To make sure we are moving correctly, regular assessments need to be done (either through a fitness professional or a self-assessment) to determine weaknesses, imbalances, overcompensations, etc.

Below, I’ve identified some key practices that have helped me address upper back/shoulder issues.


The truth of the matter is most people don’t mobilize. By mobilizing, I mean the consistent, slow practice of basic movement patterns. Remember hanging from monkey bars as a kid? That’s exactly what we want to do. For me, doing some regular work in this area has meant an increase in the ROM (range of motion) of my shoulders plus a decrease the instance of upper back pain.

Back pain is a regular occurence for me. I try to keep sitting to under 4 hours a day, with the rest spent working out or helping teach, but frankly standing all that time makes my upper back tired. I do the following program regularly:

  • Passive Hang (90s-120s rest between each)
    • Pronated grip (overhand) – hold for 60s; you can start with 15s and slowly work at getting your time up. I’m aiming for 2 min. See video below for proper instructions.
    • Mixed grip/switch grip (right overhand, left underhand) – hold for 60s – I do it without swinging as shown (for now)
    • Alternate mixed grip (right underhand, left overhand) – hold for 60s
    • Supinated grip (underhand) – Hold for 60s
    • Rest 2 min.
    • Active Hang – Activate your scapulae by pulling up with the shoulder with your elbows locked  – 3 set of 10 reps with 2 min. rest between sets.

Passive Hang – Pronated

Passive Hang – Mixed Grip

Passive Hang – Supinated

Active Hang


Much of the work I do is centered around the lower body. Since the movement disorder I have affects my legs most of all, it makes sense for me to focus on this area and coordinating it with my upper body.

Our upper body movements are supported by large lower body muscles. If these aren’t trained properly, upper body weaknesses are sure to arise. I recommend a lot of squats, lunges, walking lunges, and deadlifts. That’s not saying that these have to be done with heavy weights.

Here’s a helpful video which explains it some more detail:


Work on incorporating some stretching into your daily routine. I’ll just leave you with this video from GMB Fitness:

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