I am not a fan of targeted low back exercises.
With the amount of low back pain in pretty much everyone at this point I do not see the value in such exercises.
Some powerlifters swear by training the low back, but this is not a type of athlete that I work with.
What I have noticed about most of the people that I train is that they can always use more:
- Core stability
- Glute strength
- Soft tissue work
This goes for people in pain and healthy individuals.
One big gripe with low back exercises is that they promote motion in the spine. We spend a lot of time trying to resist motion and develop stability. Having someone train through motion is counterproductive.
A simple superman has twice the amount of compression on the spine as a sit up. A sit up puts enough compression on the spine to cause damage.
People that tend to be on their feet more than they sit can also develop s-posture. This usually includes a large arch in the low back and can be very painful. It also may include anterior pelvic tilt.
Having someone perform low back exercises from this posture is only going to reinforce bad habits. It will counterproductive and the person will be complaining of their back locking/stiffening up constantly.
Dedicated low back training will also cause growth in the spinal erectors, the muscle group that runs down along the spine. Too much hypertrophy in these muscles can put a lot of pressure on the spine.
Training this muscle group should be part of a co contraction of low back and abdominal muscles. Getting all of those muscles to fire together to provide stability is the real goal of training the core.
Better Core Training
A big push in the industry is training movements, not muscles. Training muscles in isolation is for body builders, right? Well that’s all well and good until you start doing core work from 1975. Train to resist motion in the spine, not cause it. Core stability is made up of four movements:
- Anti-extension: Rollout, birddog, plank, leg lowers, stir the pot, body saws, flutters
- Anti-rotation: All variations of Pallof presses, chops, and lifts
- Anti-flexion: SA Rows, RDLs, Deadlifts
- Anti-lateral flexion: Side planks, SA carry, SA hold
If we train these categories we are going to get a back that is stable and free of pain. Strong core stability, in proper alignment, is the best strategy to reducing and preventing back pain.
Use Those Glutes
A lot of glute exercises get confused as low back exercises since that is where most people will feel them right away.
A bridge is a good example of this. It is a simple and most people think they need to do 50 of them to get a good set in. When asked where most people feel bridges I hear low back and hamstrings. When told to squeeze their butts hard they will then feel it in their glutes.
Strong glutes are necessary for taking tension out of the low back. As a result we cannot be feeling glute exercises in the low back.
When told that they have to feel their glutes firing and nothing else, a simple glute bridge may cause some people to sweat. A lot of people struggle with glute activation but it can really improve their performance.
Combining great core stability with glute than can fire hard is going to start to build a bulletproof lifter.
Low back muscles get overused pretty easily. Poor posture and everyday tasks can cause things to get tight.
Luckily we have tools that we can use for a self-massage.
A foam roller is simple and can hit a lot of the muscle groups that we need to. Rolling out the glutes, back, and lats is really helpful.
We can also grab the peanut which is more targeted.
It is smaller and goes into the spinal erectors. The space in the tennis balls means no direct pressure to the spine.
Laying on the peanut is the best exercise that anyone can do because you just have to lay on it.
I know that the info in this post is a little bit different than what you have been led to believe in the past.
I feel like this is what I am always doing. Trust me on this one, doing low back specific exercises is not necessary and can do more harm than good.