Training Your Lower Back

Many people suffer from lower back pain. This is sometimes the result of having weak muscles in the lower back or, more often than not, a weak core. To avoid lower back pain, it’s important to strengthen your lower back by doing functional exercises that build stability. If we take a look at the “joint-by-joint approach” (a theory that the body is made up of alternating stable and mobile joints), we will see that the lower back should be a stable joint. If you suffer a lack of mobility in your hip joints or thoracic spine (T-spine), then your lower back will sacrifice stability for extra mobility to compensate for your lack of hip and T-spine mobility. As you can see, sometimes it is not a lack of strength that is the issue, but rather a lack of stability.

The explanation above should help ease any hesitation or concern that you may have about weightlifting for your lower back. Everything in this article is meant to strengthen your core and stabilize your lower back. Functional strength is the key to avoiding general lower back pain.

Before You Lift:

Remember to keep your core engaged while executing the movements in this article. You can also perform each of these movements in front of a mirror, or record yourself, to double-check your form.

T-SPINE ROTATION

The reason this exercise is included again as a warm-up for your lower back is that a mobile T-spine will help your lower back stabilize while you perform the exercises in this article. Remember, your body works together as one big kinetic chain. Every muscle or joint helps another achieve a desired movement.

  1. Lie on your side. Reach both arms straight out in front of your chest with your palms pressed together.
  2. Straighten your bottom leg and bend the knee of your top leg so that it’s at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Slowly take your top hand and open it to the opposite side of the floor while twisting through your mid back and head so that your eyes are following your hand.
  4. Your arms should be straight at 180 degrees at the end of the stretch, with your head facing the opposite direction and your top knee still bent.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

DUMBBELL BIRD-DOG

ADDITIONAL MUSCLES WORKED: Core, Glutes, Shoulders

A proper Bird-Dog is a very effective core stabilizer. It teaches your lower back how to stay stable while you move your arms and legs. This is an essential skill to have when performing most weightlifting exercises.

  1. Begin in a quadruped position (on your hands and knees) on the floor with a dumbbell in front of you. Have your hips stacked over your knees and your shoulders stacked over your wrists.
  2. Stabilize your back in a neutral position by keeping your lower back from arching and your mid back from rounding. Your neck should also be neutral; do not bend or extend it. Imagine a pole on your back that you want to maintain contact with your head, mid back, and tailbone.
  3. Grab the dumbbell in front of you and extend your arm straight forward with your palm facing inward. At the same time, extend your opposite leg behind you. Keep your feet flexed and act like you’re trying to kick the wall behind you with your heel that’s elevated.
  4. Return your hand and foot to the ground at the same time, while still keeping your spine neutral.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

Lift Safely: Work on finding that neutral position with your spine and maintaining it throughout the movement. A neutral spine is the natural curvature that your spine should have at rest. There should not be any excessive flexion or extension happening.

Make It Easier: Perform this movement without the weight or reduce the range of motion.

Make It Harder: If you really want to work your entire back and build strength, perform pull-ups. You can do them at home by attaching a pull-up bar to your doorframe. You can also do assisted pull-ups at home by purchasing a chin-up max to attach to your pull-up bar. Most gyms have an assisted pull-up machine as well if you’re unable to do pull-ups.

GOOD MORNING

ADDITIONAL MUSCLES WORKED: Glutes, Hamstrings

This exercise helps strengthen the erector muscles in the lower back. It is recommended for people who have already mastered the Deadlift hip-hinge pattern and don’t currently have a lower back injury.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes facing forward.
  2. Hold a dumbbell with two hands at your chest and close to your body.
  3. Hinge at your hips and keep your back flat as you bend and lower your chest toward the floor. Stop once you feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.
  4. Squeeze your glutes to return to the upright position.

Lift Safely: Keep your back flat as you perform this movement. Do not bend your spine or arch your back. Go only as far down as your hip mobility allows. If you start to feel your lower back round at all, stop at that point and return upright.

Make It Easier: Perform this movement without the weight.

Make It Harder: You can hold a barbell on your upper back to load yourself with more weight. Also, having the load on your back as opposed to the front of your body increases the difficulty of the exercise.

CHILD’S POSE

This movement is really good for stretching the upper and lower back, as well as stretching the shoulders. It’s also a relaxing position for most people and can help increase range of motion in the hips and ankles. Better mobility in all of these joints can help relieve pressure in your lower back.

  1. Get in a quadruped position (on your hands and knees) on the ground, with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips, or wider if comfortable.
  2. Untuck your toes and lay them flat and facedown on the ground. Extend both arms forward as you rock your hips back toward your heels.
  3. Try to flatten out your back as much as possible as you reach your arms forward and your hips back. Your chest should be parallel to the floor and your forehead down when you hit the end range of the stretch.
  4. When you feel sufficiently stretched, return to the quadruped position by driving your hips and shoulders forward.

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