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Protecting the Lower Back

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Bodybuilding and Fitness Newsletter 10/31/2018

How to Protect Lower Back During Exercise

by Matt Fish

Most people fail to take full consideration of the spine when they workout...until something happens and they get injured.

For proper, pain-free functioning in everyday activities and maximum performance in nearly every sport, the muscles of the abdominals, inner and outter obliques, and back extensors must be well conditioned. Football players, martial artists, and other combat athletes should perform a variety of movements to strengthen the spine from all angles including crunches, reverse crunches, spinal rotation, back extension, and lateral flexion.

A similar approach could be taken by the average individual, but it would be very time consumeing. In reality, only a few basic exercises, if properly performed, will go a long way to protect the spine and aid in proper alignment. for example, a properly performed crunch will strengthen not only your rectus abdominis (a.k.a. the six pack), but the inner and outter obliques and transverse abdominis (a deep muscle which aids in spinal stability) as well. A variety of crunches such as basic floor crunches, ball crunches, and reverse crunches can be used along with dumbbells, cables or machines to increase resistance. A variety of exercise do not necessarily need to be performed in the same workout.

While most people perform ab work in their workouts, it is essential to learn proper technique. One should also increase the difficulty of each exercise on a regular basis through increased weight or more challenging variations (i.e. decline situp) to ensure continual benefits.

Although abdominals are one of the most popular body parts to train, the back extensore are probably even more important to proper posture and spinal health. Just because you can't easily see them in the mirror does not mean they should be ignored.

The lower back should be strengthened by using one or more back extension exercises. Beginners can start with basic body weight exercises using only an exercise mat or a swiss ball. Again, at some point it becomes essential to add resistance via a weight machine or adding dumbbells to a free standing back extension bench (commonly refered to as a hyperextension bench). I recommend working the spine through a full range of motion by slowly and deliberately flexing and extending the spine. For some individuals (beginners or rehab patients), it may be safer to start with a isometric type movement in which the muscles of the spine contract, but the spine stays in its natural position.

The abdominals and back are not the only important muscles which influence the lumbar spine. The muscles surrounding the hips must also be strong and flexible. Tight hamstrings can cause hyperlordosis (an increased curvature of the lumbar spine). Tight hip flexors can prevent proper upright posture and increase stress on the lumbar vertebrae. Check out the links below to see some good stretches for the hips.

Most Americans will experience low back pain at least once during his/her life. Proper exercise can decrease the chance that you will experience problems and will help alleviate propblems once they start (in most cases). Strong abdominals, thick back extensors, and flexible hips can't assure against all back problems, but the will surely help a great deal.

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