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Human Kinetics

Back Exercise

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Back Exercise: Stabilize, Mobilize, and Reduce Pain explores the anatomy and movement of the spine and offers exercises that will help you move—and feel—better.

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Book Description

Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives, but only a few have the resolve to seek answers and find relief. Back Exercise: Stabilize, Mobilize, and Reduce Pain explores the anatomy and movement of the spine and offers exercises that will help you move—and feel—better.

Back Exercise goes beyond exercise and rehabilitation to help you understand the why behind spinal conditions and back pain. Throughout the book, unique clay models of the spine reveal each layer of the spinal anatomy, from the spinal vertebrae and discs to the muscle and tissue. These engaging full-color photos make it easy to visualize the structure and biomechanics of the spine and uncover the sources of your pain.

You’ll then be guided through an evaluation of your current back health with a self-assessment. Using only the floor, a wall, and a camera, you can check your pain response to several simple exercises and identify postural deviations and muscular imbalances in your body.

Once you’ve assessed your back mobility, the book features 60 exercises—complete with instructions and safety tips—that help stabilize, strengthen, and rehabilitate the spine. Create foundational stability for your spine, extend your range of motion, and relieve pain with exercises that build strength, mobility, and flexibility in your back.

Finally, Back Exercise explores five common spinal conditions: nonspecific low back pain, disc bulge and herniation, spondylolisthesis, stenosis, and spinal surgeries such as spinal fusion. Six months’ worth of tailored exercise plans are presented for each condition, offering a safe progression of exercises to improve mobility, increase stability, and reduce pain.

No one wants to live with back pain or discomfort. With Back Exercise you will understand the sources of your pain and take control of your back health for the long term.

Individuals with back pain or back mobility issues. Also, personal trainers and other fitness professionals who work with people with back issues.

Table of Contents

Part I. The Spinal Unit
Chapter 1. Anatomy of the Spine
Chapter 2. Spinal Stability Training
Chapter 3. Assess Yourself

Part II. Exercises
Chapter 4. Supine and Prone Exercises
Chapter 5. Quadruped, Seated, and Standing Exercises
Chapter 6. Mobility and Flexibility Exercises

Part III. Common Conditions
Chapter 7. Nonspecific Low Back Pain
Chapter 8. Disc Bulge and Herniation
Chapter 9. Spondylolisthesis
Chapter 10. Stenosis
Chapter 11. Spinal Surgeries


Brian Richey is a personal trainer, educator, and industry leader in the fields of medical exercise and corrective exercise. His unique approach to managing clients’ medical conditions through exercise has helped thousands move better, stand taller, and exercise without pain.

Brian earned his BS in kinesiology and exercise science from the University of Hawaii. He has multiple certifications from the American Academy of Health, Fitness, and Rehabilitation Professionals: Medical Exercise Program Director, Medical Exercise Specialist, and Post Rehab Conditioning Specialist. He is a faculty educator and master instructor with Balanced Body.

Brian brings his knowledge in medical exercise, corrective exercise, and integrated movement to the masses through lectures and workshops, both in person and online. He is based in Washington, D.C., where he proudly owns and operates Fit 4 Life DC.


Most people think of the spine as a singular object. We call it our spine or spinal column, don’t we? But the spine is actually comprised of 25 individual joints (not including the coccyx) from top to bottom, and that only accounts for the vertebra to vertebra connections. In the thoracic region, you also have joints where the ribs attach, but that is for another book and another day. Each of these joints is made up of the top and bottom vertebra and the disc that sits between them. This is referred to as the spinal unit.

Understanding the spinal unit is important, especially when we begin talking about low back pain and specific spinal conditions. In looking at the spinal unit, you can see that each vertebra creates a joint that, depending on its spinal region, can rotate, and flex forward, back, and side to side. It also absorbs compressive (pushing together), tension (pulling apart), and shear (sliding) forces. Placing these spinal units together produces a spine that is strong and resilient yet still susceptible to injury.

We should mention something about “neutral spine” and spinal “bias.” I have had the pleasure of teaching thousands of fitness professionals for over 15 years. A question I ask that seems to stump the students is, “What is neutral spine?” The reason it stumps people is that, depending on the area of the fitness industry they are in, neutral spine may have different definitions. Pilates, yoga, bodybuilding, and general fitness professionals may all have slightly different ways to describe this concept.

The traditional definition that I learned years ago is that neutral spine is the posture of your pelvis in which the anterior superior iliac spine is in line with the posterior superior iliac spine. I probably just lost you, as most people have no idea what that means. Someone who has studied anatomy may understand this definition but it may not mean anything to the average person.

To help understand neutral spine, let’s demonstrate it. Lie down on the floor. Note how your low back feels on the ground. Do you have a high arch to your back, the sort of arch where a chihuahua could walk under it? Okay, to get to a more neutral state, flatten out your lumbar spine a bit. Think of the arch in your lumbar as a small foot bridge rather than the Golden Gate Bridge. On the other extreme, if your back is pressed completely flat to the ground, that is too flat. You need to have a slight arch in your spine. So, the rule of thumb upon lying down is that you want a small arch to your back as long as it doesn’t cause you discomfort or pain. That is your neutral spine. If it does cause you some pain, then find the position you can maintain without discomfort. For your body, that becomes your neutral spine. Even though it may not be the true definition of neutral spine, for your body, it is neutral. Over time, you may find that you are able to get closer to the traditional definition. This is called your bias.

Your directional preference, or pelvic bias, is the position of your pelvis relative to your lumbar spine that causes no additional pain or relieves pain symptoms. Some people feel better in a flat-back position; we call this spinal flexion or posterior pelvic tilt (see figure 1.6a). Other people prefer to be in more of an extended position with a larger arch to their spine; we call this spinal extension or anterior pelvic tilt (see figure 1.6b). Whichever position feels better for your body is your preference or bias. In fact, depending on your specific medical condition, you may need to exercise in your preferred bias in order to avoid pain. This preferred bias is your neutral spine.