Lower back pain has really become the boogeyman of the gym. It starts off innocently enough. Just a bit of soreness that fades before you step outside of the gym. Nothing to worry about, right?
Well, if you’re not careful, that pesky soreness can turn into something much worse. Fortunately, we’ve got a few tips that you can use to avoid and even manage these issues.
Understanding the Posterior Chain
Let’s not beat around the bush: the strength of your posterior chain is one of the deciding factors of your overall fitness. That might seem a bit far-fetched (especially considering that most workout regimens don’t focus on developing your posterior chain), but once you understand what this muscle group is responsible for, you’ll realize why it’s so critical.
Now, it’s important to realize that this particular topic can get pretty dense. For an in-depth breakdown, you’d need to understand the vertebral column and a variety of other muscles that we won’t get into today. For the sake of brevity (and clarity), we’re going to identify the posterior chain as your lower back (extensors and flexors), core muscles (obliques and abdominal wall), glutes, and hamstrings.
As an athlete, you need a powerful posterior chain because it makes you stronger, faster, and sturdier. Having a powerful posterior chain gives you the ability to safely exert more force and perform to the best of your ability. It might not be sexy (you probably won’t get a ton of compliments on how strong your lower back is), but if you’re constantly pushing your body to the limit, nothing is more important than having a strong foundation.
The Secret to Strengthening
Now, if you’re looking to take care of your lower back, there’s no single exercise you should be doing. Granted, there are a few exercises that target your posterior chain, but it’s best to incorporate a variety of different exercises when trying to avoid back issues.
We’ve already talked about them in previous articles, but squats and deadlifts are going to be your bread and butter when it comes to preventative exercises. These compound exercises are great for engaging your entire posterior chain (yes, even your abdominal wall).
Squats will mostly target your quads, hamstrings and calves. However, when done with proper form, your abdominal wall should be engaged and you’ll definitely work those extensors and flexors (responsible for locking out and bending forward, respectively).
Deadlifts are the other side of the coin when it comes to preventative exercises. A properly executed deadlift will target the same muscles a squat does and then some. Quads, hamstrings, calves, abdominal wall, lower back muscles, and even your glutes will get a workout.
That being said, proper form is even more important with deadlifts than any other exercise. Why? Well, when lifting the weight of the ground, your legs and lower back need to be perfectly synched up. Try to lift with your back too early and you’ll put your lower back in serious jeopardy. If you can’t engage those extensor muscles correctly, you’ll have a tough time locking out and completing the exercise.
An important side note: if you’ve developed poor form over the years, you’ll probably need to take some time to re-learn the movement patterns. Will it be easy? Nope. But by dropping the weight, having someone coach you through proper form and focusing on executing the movement correctly, you’ll definitely feel a difference.
Stretching for Safety
Okay, we get it: stretching isn’t fun. Or exciting. Or something that most gym rats do. But if you’re dealing with lower back pain (or trying to make sure you never do), stretching can go a long way in helping you out.
The more you exercise, the tighter your muscles will become. That tension not only ruins your mobility and reduces your range of motion, but can actually lead to some pretty serious muscle pain.
If you’re new to the gym… you still need to stretch. Aside from the fact that it’ll help you develop a better range of motion (a critical aspect of proper form), you probably still have some serious tension in your lower back considering that the average American sits for an average of 13 hours a day.
Don’t worry; no one is asking you to reinvent the wheel here. Yoga can actually be a cool place to start, but feel free to keep things simple, if you like. Start with something as simple as a butterfly stretch (to stretch out your hips and inner thighs). Follow that up with a couple hamstring stretches and maybe even a pretzel stretch (to target those glutes).
Our personal favorite? The prone press up, which can help relieve tension in your lower back surprisingly quickly. Honestly, it’s not about which stretches you choose to do. What really matters is that you actually do them consistently.
Just 10 minutes every day can help you manage any pain you might already have and avoid any lower back injuries in the future. We know what you’re thinking: “all of this sounds like a lot of work.” And you know what? You’re not wrong. It’s not easy to be consistent.
But you know what’s even harder? Taking 3 months off from training because of an injury you could have avoided in the first place. Take care of your body, fellas. You’ve only got one.