Every time a potential client sits down with us to talk through their health history and goals, we ask a simple question: “what injuries do you have currently and previously?”
And without having actual data tracked on this, I would venture a guess that 40% state they have low back pain or have had it in the past.
Additionally, when we do our movement evaluation, we often find 20-30% more people recall an episode of low back pain at least once in their life.
So, all in all we are talking about 60-70% of the people I have evaluated before EVER training with us have experienced low back pain of some kind.
Needless to say, it’s an important topic and something we put a TON of focus on when educating ourselves and teaching each other.
As an athlete, you can take action and help yourself. Because we tend to be stubborn creatures who often think we can just push through the pain or stretch it out and take care of it ourselves, it is probably good for you to have some tools in your toolbelt!
What I will teach you today should be MORE effective than things you have tried in the past to not only reduce or eliminate the pain during that training day, but actually provide long term relief of your low back pain!
Understanding the Movement Origins that Cause Low Back Pain
To best understand how this can help you, it’s first important to recognize the movement patterns that have caused YOUR back pain. They typically fall into 3 categories:
- Forward flexion/extension: you can imagine this as any version of bending forward to touch your toes or bending backward doing a big morning stretch
- Rotation around the trunk: this can be rotational sports like golf and softball to running. Basically anything where stability is needed from the trunk (abs and low back) to allow rotation from the upper body or hips.
- Isometric bracing: you will recognize this most during training but in reality this is life for a desk jockey. Being able to maintain a minimal level of tension in the trunk while sitting versus slouching or collapsing into the office chair. Sound familiar?
Before we move on, understand this: it is quite possible that you experience more than one of the above, or all three. That’s okay, that’s what the next section is for!
Fixing Low Back Pain During Training
I will be addressing the above three issues through this section, but I also want to give you a guide. Something so simple, you can always remember it and revert back to it:
Train inside out, brace before you move and exhale is KING!
- Ab training from the inside out
Often, when you are trying to brace your abs, you can’t actually feel them firing. What you are doing LOOKS right but the abs aren’t really active like you expect them to be.
What is often occurring is that you have out punted your coverage (sorry, football reference). Basically you have put yourself in a position where your abs can’t work properly so your body is seeking strength from other areas. Often it will be from the hip flexors, low back or mid back.
So, instead of holding your breath or attempting to squeeze abs that aren’t capable, try bringing the exercise back to the midline.
Example: Hollow Hold
Too often I see people start this from the ground and then lift their legs ever so slightly off the ground. But they feel more low back or hip flexors versus actual abs or obliques.
So instead, start in a deadbug position, extend your legs skyward and then brace HARD!
From there, breathe and slowly try to lower your legs down. It won’t be hard to figure out where your abs want to let go and where you can keep them active. So go to that point and own it. Soon, you will drift lower and lower in the hollow hold, but with proper ab activation that will make your back feel lovely!
2. Brace the core before the start of movement
This one is key for those that experience low back pain during flexion and extension movements: deadlifts, RDLs, swings and even squats!
There is an important thing that many coaches gloss over because they themselves do it well without thinking about it OR never think about it until they hurt their low back!
Movement doesn’t just start at the beginning of an exercise. It also re-starts each time you change directions.
Therefore, if the rule is to brace your core before the start of movement, that means at the beginning AND when you stop going one way and start going another. That is a BIG challenge for many people, especially those with low back pain.
Example: Dumbbell RDL
This is a standard Dumbbell RDL and can be quite effective for many athletes as a hinge variation.
However, if you struggle with low back pain, specifically in the forward flexion/extension pattern, this might not feel very good initially.
Learning how to brace the core to then move through the hips and create a true hip hinge might require a more focused “squeeze” variation, like the single
Dumbbell Squeeze RDL
As you start down, squeeze in on the dumbbell as opposed to just holding it.
The big key, when you stop going down, pause briefly, squeeze SUPER HARD on the dumbbell, then hold the squeeze and stand up. The squeeze will activate the obliques and low abs and force the glutes and hamstrings to do the work.
3. Exhale is king when you load a movement
When you think of rotational movements, there is a loading and unloading phase. Let’s think about the golf swing because it’s one of the more obvious ones.
As you swing the club back, you are loading the body, creating potential energy to eventually release into the golf ball.
Once you hit the top of the backswing, your goal is to keep the energy stored as long as possible to release at the point of impact with the golf ball.
The most effective way to load the body is to stabilize the core and then rotate around that solid foundation. And, if you exhale, you will feel your core fire up hard without having to do much else.
Example: Half Kneeling Trunk Rotation
When you are overextending or haven’t exhaled, not only do you put your low back into a challenging position but you also limit rotation you can create from the torso, as demonstrated in the pictures.
When you look at these pictures, you can see the ribs have been pulled down by a full exhale and strong abs.
Not only does this protect the low back and allow it to do what it is mostly intended to do, stabilize, it also allows for much larger rotation leading to more potential for power from a rotational movement.
So, when it comes to low back pain, there are multitudes of things out there to help you.
If you are interested in being actively involved in the process and using movement and strength to not only prevent current low back pain but help alleviate the pain FOREVER, remember this:
Train inside out, brace before you move and exhale is KING!
Be FIT Strong!