Lower back pain can be really obstructive to your workout as it can prevent you from doing exercises where you have to bend forwards.
Most training programs utilize back squats and deadlifts to build strength and size and with lower back pain, you can most likely not do them, or only use very light weight.
So how can you bypass this and still give your legs a good stimulus with training.
Leg extensions? Not even close.
First off, bending forward is the main reason for experiencing lower back pain during exercise. To bypass this you can pick exercises that target your legs where your upper body is more upright or completely upright.
Single leg (unilateral) exercises, such as Bulgarian split squats, pistol squats, lunges, step ups, etc., are exercises where your body will be more or less completely upright which will minimize back involvement.
Other two leg (bilateral) exercises that also minimize back involvement are hack squats, front squats, goblin squats and leg press (and leg extensions but this is really an inferior way of training your legs).
With unilateral exercises you use much less weight than with bilateral exercises and this will also help with minimizing pain. Unilateral exercises have also been shown to produce equal muscle activation compared to heavy bilateral leg exercises, so they are perfect if you only want to have them in your workout.
With bilateral squats, most people struggle with front squats because of reduced ankle mobility and benefit greatly from stretching their calves and ankles. Free weights such as front squats are better for building strength, hypertrophy, stability, functionally, etc., than machines so I always advise getting better in some kind of bilateral free weight exercise for building size and strength.
Apart from a lack of ankle mobility, people also struggle with the front squat because of a weak upper back, thus they struggle to keep the weight up. Strengthening the upper back will help greatly in getting better with the front squat.
In the meantime, while you’re adjusting and getting better at front squats, you can do single leg exercises to target the legs and then as you get better with the front squats, switch most of your volume to the front squat.
You can also incorporate other machine bilateral exercises in your routine.
E.g. starter workout:
- 3 sets x 8 reps Bulgarian split squats
- 3×8 hack squats
- 3×8-12 front squats
E.g. more advanced workout:
- 3×6 front squats
- 3×8 hack squats
- 3×8-12 sets Bulgarian split squats
If you don’t have lower back pain and want to maximize strength and muscle growth, my Ultimate Strength, Size and Skill Program will help you do that. It contains the perfected formula that produces the best results every time, all you have to do is implement it.