How has your back been feeling lately? Has it been a little achy? A bit stiff in the morning? The cause may be something as minor as the way you hold your back when you're working out.

We humans put a lot of pressure on that column of bones we call the spine. There are only 33 of the small vertebrae bones that twist, turn and hold our bodies upright while surrounding and protecting the spinal cord that allows us to move. Between these vertebrae is a gel-filled pillow called a disc that cushions the back bones. A common cause of pain is anything that affects these discs; but it's wrong to ever call a condition a "slipped" disc. These little pillows don't ever slip out of place; though they may be damaged in the rare circumstance of one or more vertebrae becoming dislocated - though if that happens, your problem will be far more serious than a backache.

A condition that is far more common is disc injury - where the disc is squeezed, torn, or even starts bulging. Mild but consistent pain often is a signal that you're putting pressure on a disc; and the most frequent cause is bad workout posture.

Take the lumbar vertebrae, for example. They support your upper body. Stand up straight, and those bones in your lower back will rest comfortably on their discs and you won't have any problems. But suppose you're doing a squat with bad form - sticking your stomach and chest out, for example. Suddenly, all the weight of your upper body, plus the weight that you're squatting, rests on a mere five bones. Naturally, that's going to compress the discs, causing the tissues to push outward. But they can only compress so much before one or more begins to herniate - to rupture - causing excruciating pain.

But a disc doesn't have to rupture to cause pain. Even being squished a little can do it. When it comes to back pain from working out, the root cause is almost always bad form.

If you're bending over while performing a resistance move, your back should always be flat. If you allow it to curve at the upper back, you're again piling weight on just a few bones that aren't designed to handle it. Or, you may be using a treadmill or stairclimber without proper posture - running or climbing in a slumped or twisted position, rather than standing erect so that your spine can fully support your upper body as your legs run and lift.

Ask a trainer or an experienced gym rat to watch you as you do an exercise. They can let you know if you're leaning to one side while doing a biceps curl or bending at the waist instead of the hips while doing a deadlift. Two good rules to remember are: When using one side of the body to move a weight, never favor that side; keep your core stationary. And second, whenever bending over to move a weight, bend from the hips, never at the waist. That will cause your back to hunch and curve, so the weight is not properly distributed over the spine. In addition, remember to always work out with a flat back. Your back should never curve over. If you can't keep your back flat, then you're lifting too heavy. You'll never gain the strength or power you want if your lifting form is bad.
Keep your back in the proper position while you train, and you'll pretty much eliminate the cause of back pain.