A lower back injury is probably one of the worst injuries you can get in or out of the gym. With a lower back injury it hurts to lift weights, to run, to walk, and even to lay down. A lower back injury can cause immense pain regardless if you are moving or not. In my experience, going from a spinal fracture to working out with 400+ pounds again was A LOT of rehabilitation focused work outs. Even with just one month of physical therapy, there was over two years of my own rehabilitation focused work outs that targeted muscles needed to improve my lower back health. In this article I reveal the exercises that were a staple in my rehabilitation plan (and continue to use today).
1) Bird Dog: The bird dog should be the first exercise that you implement into your routine. They teach core tension/stability, while also strengthening your gluteal muscles.
2) Hip Thrust: The hip thrust is an exercise that emphasizes your gluteal muscles, while also placing a minute amount of tension on your lower-back as well. This allows you to engage your lower back without an immense amount of tension (which would result in more pain).
(Note: Do not perform excess movement of the spine during the extension/thrust portion of the movement.)
3) Single Leg Hip Thrust: An advanced version of the hip thrust is the single-leg hip thrust. By also incorporating a knee raise on the leg not being worked, you allow yourself to fully extend your hips and engage your core more.
4) Hamstring Curls (with sliders): After mastering the single-leg hip thrust, it is time to incorporate more of the posterior chain. By performing hamstring curls with sliders, you learn to engage your gluteals during other movements (even push-ups, pull-ups, and standing presses should have your gluteals engaged). By keeping your gluteals in an isometric hold, you stimulate them throughout the entire set (while also working your hamstrings).
(Note: Do not let your hips sag during the movement. Your hips should be fully extended the entire movement.)
5) Cable Pull-Throughs: Finally, an actual standing variation (the cable pull-through) for your gluteals allows you to engage more of your lower-back as well as the gluteals. This begins to target your entire posterior chain, without over taxing the lower back.
(Note: Your spine should be in a neutral position. Do not let your back round at the bottom of the movement.)
By starting from exercises that allows you to learn core tension and glute activation, you can progress towards exercises that strengthen your gluteals and eventually get you into performing exercises that help strengthen the entire posterior chain.
Disclaimer: I am by no means a physical therapist. However, I have suffered a spinal fracture and have gone from immense pain (even when lying down)....to performing squats and dead-lifts with 400+ pounds again (see video below).