Bad back holding you back (see what we did there?)? Here’s how you get back to 100%.
It’s no secret lower back pain is a wide spread problem. In fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine1, 82% of you reading this probably have some sort of bulging disc you aren’t aware of. Oh, you’re not hurting? Irrelevant, as the study looked at asymptomatic individuals from all age ranges, including young, active people just like you!
That’s pretty scary stuff, and it demonstrates the importance of keeping your lower back healthy. For even if you feel like it may be strong, you just one misstep away from pain! Which is why the three tips that follow below are of particular importance. Adhere to them, remain injury free, and watch your performance improve as well.
#1: Fix Your Hunchback
Before we can do anything to attack the health of your low-back, we first must get your posture up to par. As the saying goes, you can do all of the right things in the gym for one hour, but if you spend the remaining twenty-three reinforcing bad habits, that one hour won’t stand a chance.
Look at yourself reading this right now. You’re probably slouched! Look, I know it’s tough to always sit up straight, so here are active measures I want you to implement to ensure a healthy back:
Seriously, just stand up and move every ½ hour or so. Grab a drink at the water fountain, or just get the legs moving. Standing up will leave you refreshed and ready to practice good posture the next time you sit down.
Set an Alarm
On your smartphone or computer, set an alarm to go off every 15-30 minutes. The buzzer will be your reminder to get out of your slouch. It’s tough to always be thinking about sitting up, but the alarm will help reinforce good habits.
Employ these two strategies and you’ll immediately begin to feel better, while perhaps even improving your productivity.
#2: Control Your Core
Those crunches and bicycles might make your abs burn a little, but they aren’t doing much for your low-back.
Think about what we do when we sit (poorly). We hunch over and place our spine in flexion. If we go to the gym, and train our abdominals in flexion, we are only helping reinforce our poor habits from class/work.
Therefore, we need to figure out a different way to stimulate our core, while sparing our low back. The answer? Train your core to resist motion, rather than create motion. For this type of training, there are 3 basic categories:
Example Exercise: Stability Ball Rollout
Example Exercise: Horizontal Pallof Press
Example Exercise: Single-Arm Farmer Carry
Training your core this way ensures it provides stability, allowing your low-back to be…stable.
#3: Hammer Your Hips
While discussing the concept of stability, in Mike Boyle and Gray Cook’s Joint-by-Joint approach, the lower-back is supposed to be an area designed for stability. Here’s a complete diagram:
Specifically, the hips are of primary importance to the low back. If tight, your lower back has to compensate to make up for their lack of mobility. Since the lumbar is supposed to be stable, this results in a strain, or even worse, a herniated disc. Thus, we’ve got to get you adequate hip mobility so your lower back doesn’t have to work overtime! This can be addressed during your movement prep with several drills, and we’ll zero in on two that will benefit you immediately.
Set up on all fours with your knees directly underneath your hips and your hands right below your shoulders. Now bring your right knee out and around in a big circle, straightening out your leg at the end of the repetition. Bring your knee back through and repeat.
Split Stance Adductor Mobilization
These target the adductors (the inner thighs), which are a very important, and often neglected, component of the hip musculature. Set up on all fours before bringing your right leg directly out to the side, toe pointed forward. Push your hips and butt back to your heels, maintaining a flat back, until you feel a stretch through the inside thigh.
Lower-back pain is not an inevitable punishment, but rather an opportunity to train smarter. Use the tips above to get your lower-back functioning properly, and see for yourself the results on the field, in the gym, and in day-to-day living!
1. Jensen, Maureen C., Brant-Zawadzki, Michael N., Obuchowski, Nancy. “Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Lumbar Spine in People Without Back Pain.” New England Journal of Medicine. 1994.