Lower Back Primer
It’s been said that up to 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their lifetime (ouch). As a trainer, I am asked all the time what are the best movements in the gym one can do to strengthen their lower back. How’s this for a paradox: Dr. Stuart McGill (author of such fantastic books as Low Back Disorders and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance) has stated on several occasions that lower back health is HIGHLY correlated with endurance, while those with stronger and more powerful lower backs are more commonly injured. So while you may think that those back extensions are helping you……..think again. Strengthening the lower back may not be such a good idea.
And on a further note: It’s rather asanine that the American Medical Association still uses loss of spinal range of motion as the classification scheme of lower back dysfunction. There isn’t a single study out there that shows that lumbar spine (lower back) range of motion is correlated with having a healthy back; in fact, the opposite is true! Again those with better STABILITY (super stiffness, as Dr. McGill calls it) and optimal hip MOBILITY are much better off. So, for all those physicians or personal trainers who tell you that all you need to do is “stretch out your lower back,” don’t listen to them. They’re giving archaic and outdated advice.
What can you do?
1. MOVE! We’re a very sedentary society, and as such, predispose ourselves to lower back injuries because we’re so locked up in our hips and thoracic spine (mid-back). These two areas typically need to be more mobile and when they’re not (because you’re sitting all day in front of the computer playing solitaire when you should be working), our lower back suffers, because it’s forced to compensate and use more range of motion. Range of motion it’s not necessarily designed to have. In short…get up and move around periodically.
2. A great exercise that really challenges your “core” and helps promote stability/endurance, is the plank. Get down on the floor with nothing but your elbows/forearms and toes touching the ground. You should position your body in a straight line, squeeze your glutes and try to keep a neutral spine. There should be no movement. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat for a total of 3-4 sets. Try to increase your time each week.