We all know by now that strength training is good, right? It’s great for boosting metabolism, maintaining a strong core and increasing bone density, amongst many other reasons.

We do, however, get some people coming through our door who started with all the right intentions but ended up doing more harm than good though lifting weights. Here’s our short guide to what to avoid the next time you hit the gym to make sure you’re getting the best from your workout.

1. Not paying attention to form

I know the mirrors in gyms can be a massive distraction (who wants to see themselves a sweaty, grunting mess, right?) but the reason they are there goes beyond vanity. Use the mirrors to check your technique, making sure your spine is neutral with no over-arching or bending as you lift.

2. Not engaging the core

Particularly important if you’re doing free weights, you need to activate and engage your core muscles as you lift to protect your spine and avoid back pain.

3. Ignoring pain

It’s easy to ignore niggles when you’re warmed up and in the zone (I know this from experience) or to take painkillers if you have an injury and ‘train through it’ but pain is a warning sign that we mustn’t ever ignore. It’s our body’s way of telling us that something’s up, so listen, take a rest and come back stronger when you’re fully recovered.

4. Only training the fun bits

It’s so common – especially as summer approaches – to only want to train the parts of your body which are on show, or which respond best to training. An imbalance of strength can lead to poor posture and leave you vulnerable to injury. Train your body as a whole unit, making time to include every muscle group (especially the core which is often forgotten) and you’ll reap the rewards with a strong, balanced body.

5. Going too heavy

If you go too heavy without the strength to handle it, your form will suffer. Choose a weight which challenges you, but one at which you can also maintain a full range of movement without using momentum to follow it through.

We conducted a survey recently of people suffering from back pain and the effect exercise has on the level of pain experienced.

The type of exercise you should choose if you have back pain may vary according to your diagnosis, but here’s a quick rundown of things which are safe for the vast majority of back pain sufferers:


Pilates can help improve posture, core strength, flexibility and balance.

It involves slow, controlled exercise to work the whole body, but with a focus on the back and core muscles, making it great for people suffering with chronic back pain, as often the core and back muscles are weakened.

When you have back pain, there may be some more advanced moves which you may need to avoid.

Make sure you tell your instructor about your back so they can modify your routine.


A gentle, flowing yoga practice will help improve flexibility through stretching and relaxation techniques.

Using just your body weight, there is also an element which helps increase total body and core strength.

Again, make sure you tell your teacher about you back as there may be some moves which you should substitute.

Nikki at Urban Yoga holds lunchtime classes at Core Strength Studios.

Weight Training

The better supported your body is, the less pressure your back will be under.

By maintaining a strong frame, you can protect your back against pain and leave it less vulnerable to future attacks.

Free weights and functional training are great as they also work your core muscles, but be aware of moves such as burpees, kettlebell swings and other explosive moves which may aggravate your back.

Start gentle, and work your way towards more dynamic moves as you get stronger, and be very careful to use correct technique.

If in doubt, grab an instructor for some guidance.


As well as providing cardiovascular benefits, walking is ideal when you have back pain. When we move, our joints secrete a fluid to lubricate and keep them moving freely.

The movement when you walk will help the release of this fluid and make you feel looser and less stiff. In addition, your core muscles will be ‘switched on’ which helps maintain their strength which in turn helps keep your spine supported.

It’s also a low-impact workout which, if you have back pain, may be more comfortable.

To make it more of a workout, increase the pace or take in a few hills to get your heart pumping!