Lower Body Training without Loading the Spine

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Back pain is a major issue for most people. It has been reported that close to 80% of the population will experience low back pain in their lives.

One of the best ways to manage and reduce back pain is through movement. The only problem is that most people do not move properly.

Everyday life develops compensations and stress on the spine which leads to back pain.

We can train intelligently, to help manage the occurrence of this. The key to that is finding someone that actually knows what they’re doing. Too often someone reads that back pain is caused by a lack of core strength and then they pile on the situps and supermen, not knowing that they are making things worse.

When we are looking at training around back pain and starting to improve movement, we must first remove all aspects of the program that may add compression to the spine.

It is only temporary but back squats, deadlifts, and bad abdominal exercises are out.

We then need to train the core to resist movement. Training in anti-extension, anti-flexion, anti-lateral flexion, and anti-rotation are much better choices than traditional ab exercises.

Planks are probably the exercise that most people can relate to in this regard. A well done plank forces the body to avoid letting the hips sag too low. This is anti-extension because are preventing the spine from hyperextending.

Aside from reducing compression on the spine and core training, we need to train the lower body for strength. Specifically, the glutes need a ton of work.

When the glutes are strong they will provide support for the low back. If the muscles are capable of doing their job, then the passive structures of the spine (ligaments, tendons, etc.) can relieve stress.

The erector spinae, the two long muscles along the spine, can also stop becoming prime movers that are responsible for solely keeping the back stable.

Training the lower body while reducing spinal loading is a challenge to a lot of people but it does not have to a complicated process. There are 4 ways to accomplish this.

  1. Single Leg Work

Single leg work reduces loading on the spine because the weight used is much less than a bilateral squat or deadlift. The use of dumbbells, kettlebells, or bodyweight is a good strategy to spare the spine.

Training on a single leg is also going to train the glutes to stabilize the hip. Strong glutes are the best defense against back pain.

  1. Pull Throughs

The pull through is often done with a band or a cable. This exercise is a good way to practice a proper hip hinge.

cable pull through

A good hip hinge involves sinking the hips back with a neutral spine and is a foundation for squatting and deadlifting. Grooving a good hip hinge is a preventative measure for the back by reestablishing good movement.

To set up for a pull through, use a squat stance and only hinge back with a neutral spine. If the pelvis starts to move, shorten the range of motion.

Pull throughs are great for training the glutes while practicing proper movement.

  1. Glute Bridges

Glute bridge and hip thrust variations are really taxing on the glutes. These are a good choice to really build strength through the backside.

The best part? The bar is located on the hips and does not add stress to the spine.

Adding in these variations is a must for those that have back pain and still want to train.

bb glute bridge

  1. Sled work

Sleds are a versatile piece of equipment. They can be used to build strength or for brutal conditioning work.

When used for strength they are perfect for training around back pain. The first reason is that they allow leg training without adding compression to the spine. The spine stays unloaded.

Prowler-Push-Jim-Wendler

They also remove any kind of eccentric, or lowering, movement which gets people into trouble if they are not strong enough to handle the load.

The lack of eccentric action also means that soreness will be minimized.

Sled work is also low impact which means that a lot of it can be done without beating on the body.

Sleds are probably the most underused piece of equipment for people with back pain. They may seem intimidating and not everywhere has them, but they are a really effective tool.

Following these guidelines is a good way to reduce back pain but still train hard.

After a short period of time the body will be stronger and ready to move back into the classic “big” lifts if one so desires. It is always good to give the body a chance to recover and build new strengths.

Taking this break will make the other lifts much stronger and easier than before.