Important Update: Calorie Count will be shutting down on March 15th. Please click here to read the announcement. Data export is available.
Moderators: melkor

my lower back, like along the spine, hurts a lot when i bend, as though i pulled something.  do you think it's from cardio (arc trainer, which is like an elliptical) or from weight lifting?  i do exercises for my back, but maybe i'm doing them wrong/bad form? 

or do you think it's strain from working out too much?  i do back/shoulders 2-3 times a week.  i do arms/chest 2-3 times a week.  i do the "strive" machines once a week.  and one day a week i take off from weight lifting.  (cardio's every day.)

tomorrow's a "back/shoulders" day, so if it's my weight lifting form, that would be great to hear about.  i'd really love some advice.

17 Replies (last)

My guess would be your lifting form causing issues.  Do take tomorrow off if you still have an ache.  Healing your back take precedence right now.  I went through back surgery years ago and I can assure you that it is no fun...


Quote  |  Reply

It's probably your form.

You should be working your legs to (besides cardio). Ignoring your legs will eventually lead to a strength imbalance, which could probably put disproportionate strain on your back. 

hmm, dm84, but is this true even if i am gaining strength in my legs, just not the traditional way.  by doing a lot of cardio, i think i'm taking advantage of that phenomenon melkor talks about, something about lactic response or something.

my legs are really big, so they're definitely not long + lean as if i were running.  so i just don't really think there's a strenth imbalance.

Mmm, it could also be a mobility issue with your hip flexors - inadequate Range Of Motion in one bodypart leads to elevated ROM in another. So inhibited hip mobility leads to exsessive back mobility in the lumbar region - possibly also the thoractic region depending on just how inhibited the ROM in your hips is.

 That's also where strength training for your hip flexors and adductors come into the picture - like dm84 says, you need to train all of the muscles in your lower body to prevent longterm strength imbalances that inhibit proper ROM in your various joints.

 Lactic acid formation leads to growht hormone relase, and the work density of something like an Arc trainer with the resistance cranked up does promote muscle formation in the plane of motion you're training.

 The problem lies with the muscles that aren't properly trained in the particular plane of motion involved in most cardio machinery.

 Improper form when lifting exerbates the problem of course - but lowered mobility in your hips is probably at least part of why you're having trouble keeping correct form in your lifts.

Try The Essential 8 Mobility Drills by Michael Boyle to start with, have someone correct your form when lifting, and consider doing some extra work on strengthening your hips to prevent those stength imbalances that can get you into trouble.
It is very common for an elyptical cross trainer to cause a sore low back. It is from using stablizer muscles. It can also be when you use the machine hands free, it gets worse. Try switching machines and use a stationary bike. Also take a day off to heal if the soreness persists, you might be overdoing it.  Working out, without pain is not easy. Weight training should cause muscle soreness for a few days. Take asprin or ibprophen and a hot bath to relax the muscles. Good luck.
Hello there!

I'm with iron-mike here, had the exact same problem myself with epiliptical trainers. I always ran into back problems (lumbar spine and muscles) and now I've been working out regularly for three months but never once touched the eliptical and no problems at all.

Use the treadmill instead as it will get the same body parts moving pretty much but allows your back to balance a little easier and won't put as much strain on it.
stop doing back so much during the week! your lower back can only handle so much, it could also be your psoas muscle that is deep in your hip(it actually runs parallel to your spine and ties into the pelvic bone), stop working you back for a week, and try to stretch everything in body. if the pain is still there go get a massage and have them dig in there.

i really appreciate these responses.

as iron_mike and sabine mentioned, i do think it could be the arc trainer.  however, it's the only cardio machine that doesn't hurt my knees, so i'll have to stick w/it.

melkor, i'm definitely going to check out the mobility exercises this weekend.  i wouldn't mind doing leg strength training if it trained different muscles than i use on the cardio--i overwork those enough, and don't want to make a bad situation worse.  hip flexors and adductors, you're saying those are ignored in my workouts, so i'll check out some exercises for those (although i REALLY don't want my legs to get any bigger.  i'm not kidding, i seriously look like an olympic speed skater at this point).

i'm actually a real stickler about my form, but i'll try to watch it.  i don't think a trainer at the gym will be psyched to go thru my whole routine w/me, but i'll be careful (sometimes those last couple reps are poor on my part; i should quit unless i can do it right.  i did back/shoulders today, and it was okay.)

bodyscience - most of my back/shoulders exercises are for upper and mid-back (i think).  i do the lat pull down, bent over rows as well as rows where i pull my arm out before pulling it up, and then kind of like a standing row where my back is tilted forward and i pull the weights back.  the rest of the lifts are shoulders.  and YES, A MASSAGE SOUNDS GREAT!

all of those exercises will involve the Psoas muscle, massage and stretching should do the trick.

i did read a little about the psoas when i read your first post.  this article isn't very good, though, bec it's pretty vague erview/exercise/ex01.html.  and the exercises it suggests (like finding your back's "neutral" position) don't really sound like exercise to me.  i'll have to do a little more digging.

this article says that doing heavy lifting above the waist aggravates the pain. educe-low-back-pain i definitely do this just by lifting weights (biceps curls, shoulder raises, skullcrushers, when i triceps push-down w/a barbell, etc.)  how about bench presses, do you think that would aggravate the pain even though i'm lying down?  i just started real bench presses last week.

Quote  |  Reply
Benching is probably the the exercise that's harshest on my back and shoulders.

thanks, dm84, that's relieving to hear.  the more i think about it, the more the point about "above-the-waist" weight lifting putting a strain on your back is the culprit.  i just threw myself into bench presses the other day and repeated it two days later.  today when i did the bench press, it was just six reps each time (x3), and my back is feeling pretty okay. 

i do promise to look into supportive muscle stuff this weekend.  maybe that will help w/leg soreness too (chronic).

Quote  |  Reply
I would cut back on the cardio. IMO, cardio every day is excessive.


i just read the article on mobility exercises, as well as much of (not all, it's quite technical) boyle's introductory "a joint-by-joint approach to training."  i'm fascinated by the idea that i can do all the stretching i want, and that will improve my muscle functions; but to improve the way my body/joints move as well as their restrictions/dysfunctions, i would do mobility exercises. 

i think i'll do the leg swings and the lunge matrix (even though i hate lunges, it will broaden my horizons); i think the "split squat" is an umbrella term that covers the lateral and rotational squats.  is that right?

this was helpful, i appreciate it.  also there's a good article on that site on triceps, which are my personal favorite muscle group.  i'm going to have to study it for a while, though, before employing any of them.

Quote  |  Reply

FINALLY! I'm not the only with this problem!!

I've been having this same problem with the elliptical and lower back pain. Anyone I talk to (friends, personal trainers) tells me that the ellipticals are supposed to be good for the joints, back, low impact...blah blah blah. The only other place I heard this was from my friends nephew, a professional athlete, who's coach apparently told them about cross trainers/ellipticals and lower back problems.

My question is do we work around this problem? I'm hoping the pain is because of some sort of weakness in some muscle in the area. I've tried treadmills, but I hate them, my knees don't like them, and I don't get anywhere even close to the workout that I can get on an elliptical.

I'm just so glad to finally see that I'm not the only one. I'm sure others have 'googled' this issue luck I have without any luck.

So please to all the well learned and experienced fitness!


First...let me say your not alone...very common issue with "eliptical" training....happens to me as well.  Second...your working your muscle groups way to frequently.  If your training them hard during the session they DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH REST TO RECOVER/BUILD/TONE. 

Basically your over doing it in all aspects of your workout.  Work one/two muscle groups per strength training session PER WEEK.  Do cardio on an "off strength" training day.

Sorry to say......but the absolute best thing you could do for your body at this point is to stay away from the Gym for an entire week......get good sleep and for God sakes let your body rest.......this is very important for sustainability.

I work hard in the gym as well and hated to have to do the same thing a couple weeks ago......took a whole week off........was on the eliptical today for an back pain me it works......LISTEN TO YOUR BODY!



Quote  |  Reply

Hi bernibp,

Thanks for the reply!

Actually, I haven't worked out in a few months now. However, the last time I was at the gym, I thought, let me give this machine a try again. I worked out very lightly for about 20 minutes. I could feel some stress in my lower back. Not pain, but definitely my back trying to send me a subtle message.

Perhaps I could slowly build up endurance on the machine? Or target some muscle groups to help me out?

Greatly appreciate the info!

17 Replies