Lunges are viewed as a fantastic and functional lower body exercise.
And the fact that lunges activate many of the core muscles too means that you wouldn’t expect to experience lower back pain.
In fact, lunges should strengthen many of the muscles responsible for supporting the spine.
So, clearly something’s not quite right.
The most obvious reason you’ll feel lunges in your lower back is due to your torso position. Too upright, falling forward, or leaning back will place undue stress on the lumbar spine. Furthermore, it’s important to activate your core during lunges, especially your abs and glutes, as they play a supporting role. Any ab or glute weakness will make core activation more difficult, thus leading to lower back pain.
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Incorrect Lunging Torso Position
I have to say that a lot of information out there about torso position during lunges is wrong.
In fact, at the time of writing, a quick google search on the subject of lunges and lower back pain revealed one of the most well-known health websites on the first page of results.
And guess what?
The advice given about torso position was incorrect, and is likely to cause lower back pain.
Not good, I’m sure you’ll agree.
So, let’s set the record straight once and for all.
Whenever you lunge you’ll want to take up an athletic posture with your torso.
This involves the slightest of forward leans, typically a 10-20 degree angle.
Now unfortunately, much of the advice you’ll hear claims that you should keep your back completely straight and have an upright torso.
The “Upright” or “Leaning Back” Torso
Firstly, your back isn’t actually “completely straight”, so by adhering to this advice you’ll place your back in an unnatural position.
Realistically, the advice should be to maintain a neutral back position.
This simply means that you allow the natural curvatures of the spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral) to remain intact.
Next, by standing too upright and trying to maintain a “straight back” it’s likely that you’ll hyperextend the lower back.
In fact, I have often seen people lunging, while trying to maintain a perfectly upright torso, actually lean back, which increases lumbar spine hypertension.
This also puts you into anterior pelvic tilt, which can be extremely dangerous for the lower back, especially if you’ve added weight to your lunges.
So, always remember “athletic posture” and apply a slight forward lean to your torso.
The “Forward Collapsing” Torso
Another common mistake with lunges is allowing the torso to literally collapse forward.
This most often occurs in the bottom position of the lunge as you’re trying to push yourself back up to the starting position.
I would say that this typically occurs due to incorrect core activation, or indeed a weak core, which I will cover in more detail in a moment.
However, this can be avoided with the following simple form cues:
So, always be wary of exactly what your torso is doing when you lunge.
Weak Core/Lack of Core Activation
I’ve alluded to a lack of proper core activation, or even a weak core, as what is potentially causing your lower back pain during lunges.
More specifically, I’m talking about your abs and glutes.
In fact, this is exactly the same core activation that you should go through when performing squats.
Basically, you’ll want to ensure that your abs and glutes are contracted throughout each and every rep of lunges (and squats).
This provides additional support for the lower back.
You may even notice that this immediately eases lower back pain when you lunge.
Now, in order to properly activate the abs and glutes you really need to squeeze them hard and maintain this squeeze
However, more often than not, this either leads to you holding your breath or releasing the tension in your core muscles when you breathe.
So, this will take some practice if you’ve already got into bad habits.
I would say one of the best ways to practice this would be to perform planks, while maintaining ab and glute contraction, and breathing naturally.
That being said, I know that some people struggle to breath during planks, but you’d rather practice proper breathing with planks than weighted lunges.
Now, the fact that you may be releasing the tension during your reps could point to weak core muscles.
In fact, glutes that are relatively weak in comparison to the quads will put pressure on the lumbar spine during most lower body exercises, and lunges are certainly no exception.
Admittedly, most lunge variations are more quad-dominant, but they certainly work the glutes as well.
Plus, weak abs are generally responsible for the forward collapsing torso I spoke about earlier.
This ab and glute weakness is fairly prevalent in the modern day and age.
I guess this comes down to the number of hours most of us spend a day sitting and not activating the core muscles.
Therefore, you should regularly be performing exercises to strengthen the entire core area.
Your Hip Flexors May Be the Issue
For such a tiny group of muscles the hip flexors can certainly cause a lot of issues.
And unfortunately, tight or weak hip flexors are one of the biggest culprits for lower back pain.
Basically, hip flexors that aren’t strong and flexible can actually alter the alignment of your pelvis.
So, you can just imagine how much worse this gets when you’re exercising or performing any physical activity for that matter.
And it doesn’t end there I’m afraid.
If your pelvis isn’t aligned correctly it also impacts on your spine alignment too.
And this can actually cause low back pain on a more permanent basis.
Luckily, there are various exercises and even entire workout programs dedicated to loosening and strengthening your hip flexors.
Plus, you’ll also find that strong hip flexors will translate to more weight being lifted with not only lunges, but squats and deadlifts too.
Key Learning Points
- Your torso should be in “athletic posture” and leaning forward 10-20 degrees during lunges.
- Maintaining a completely upright torso, or even leaning back, will cause hyperextension of the lumbar spine.
- Ensure you don’t collapse forward at the bottom of the lunge.
- You should contract your abs and glutes throughout your entire set.
- Work on strengthening your abs and glutes, and core in general.
- Tight or weak hip flexors can alter the alignment of your pelvis and spine, so work on loosening and strengthening your hip flexors.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.