Back pain is an everyday topic for most people.
For some, it does in and out. For others, it is something that they are left to deal with.
What I have noticed is all too common is the non specific, stiffness in the back. This pain is not due to an acute injury but more likely long term poor posture.
Manual labor and active lifestyles are too areas that I have noticed are good candidates for back stiffness.
People who exercise are particularly vulnerable to this type of annoyance. It is ironic that super active people do not get a pass from issues.
The reason for this is simple. Most activities- running, lifting, and whatever else- are done with the spine in extension. When we are standing the spine is extended. If we make a bigger arch in the back then we are in hyperextension.
The problem is not the extension, it is the lack of supporting muscles to brace the extension.
Keeping the spine in a stable position needs to be done with the low back muscles, glutes, and abdominals. 90% of people have weak glutes and abdominals. This leaves the low back muscles.
When the low back muscles are left to do all of the work, they get overused and will feel tight as a result. They may also grow which will put compression on the spine.
Runners and lifters are both particularly susceptible to the same kind of annoying stiffness.
Runners often only train by running and dismiss the notion of lifting weights to get strong. This article is not going to go in depth as to why runners are actually hurting their ability to run by doing that but they are. Having strong glutes and a stable core would mean faster running times and better resistance to injury. Providing that stability for the spine would take the pressure away from the low back muscles and make life a little bit more comfortable.
Lifters are not free from this notion either. Bad programs (or no program for that matter) is what usually causes this. A program that has a lot of cleans, squats, and deadlifts is often a good program. The only downside is that the program usually does not include core stability or true glute exercises.
Core work usually consists of crunches and situps which are doing nobody any good, only making problems worse. Sprinkle in some supermen which puts more tension on the low back muscles and we have a ticking time bomb.
Deadlifts should train the glutes really, really well. This is only true if the person knows how to activate the glutes. If they don’t then they are going to get to a standing position by arching the low back.
Relieving tension in the low back
Anyone can make a peanut by taping two tennis balls together. Lay on your back and put the two tennis balls on either side of the spine.
This will probably hurt a lot.
Give it time and the tension will slowly start to reduce. Targeted areas should be above the low back curve all the way up to the shoulder blades.
After some time this will not seem so bad anymore and you will need to spend less time on it.
- Core Stability Training
We must train to resist movement in the low back, not cause it. You may not feel the same burn in the abs that situps do but neither type of exercise is getting you a six pack so don’t worry.
Better choices are planks, deadbugs, leg lowers, stir the pot, body saws and other movements where the idea is to resist motion.
Having the right stability will alleviate back pain and improve performance in strength exercises.
- Activate the glutes
Here is a good test of glute stability. Perform a single leg bridge on either side and hold it for 15 seconds. If this was felt in either the low back or hamstring then it is not a pass. If the hips drop or anything starts to cramp then it is also not a pass.
Most people will not be able to pass this test. It is really hard to do it.
Activate the glutes can be easy though. Lay on your back and squeeze your butt hard, then one side at a time. After that we can move into a bridge and then single leg.
Learning how to do the above 3 things will significantly help with reducing low back stiffness.
Oh and remember you do not need low back exercises.