Training for Athletes with Extension Based Back Pain

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Every summer we see some similar patterns with our athletes. One is that extension based back pain starts resurfacing.

There are a couple of reasons for this. I think the most prevalent one is that activity usually sees a large increase. Without school, kids need to keep busy somehow. This is when camps, summer teams, and extra work come into play.

All of this extra time can start nagging at backs. Running and playing most sports are extension based activities.

Extension based back pain is noticed when it gets worse after arching the back. This is often displayed with a rib flare under rest.

Most athletes are also lacking core and glute strength anyway. When we add this volume of activity in, it can start to cause some issues.

Reducing extension based back pain can be simple though.

Back off of Running

Most athletes start to over condition themselves in the summer. They try to do so much extra stuff on their own. I appreciate the desire to be ready for the fall but at some point we need to know when to stop.

We run our athletes pretty good during the summer. Most kids need to be ready to pass their conditioning tests in the fall, sometimes a week after they leave us. We have to make sure that they are ready to go.

Sometimes athletes add in way too much on their own. When shin splints and back pain start to set in, it is a warning sign. Ease back and manage your training a little bit more.

Good Core Control

Core control is one of the best ways to manage extension based back pain. The reason your back hurts is usually because that control isn’t there yet.

Performing exercises on the floor, lying supine can be really helpful. The floor provides some stability and feedback for what should be going on.

They also teach how to pull the ribs down and activate the core.

The above progression starts with just moving the legs, then the arms, and finally both. Anytime you move a limb away from the body it increases the core demand.

Train the Glutes

Most athletes with back pain have really weak glutes. These muscles are some of the biggest in the lower body and often lack strength.

The glutes are also responsible for posteriorly tilting the pelvis. This brings down the arch in the low back. It will provide relief for those in pain.

Sometimes these athletes should temporarily stop loading the spine depending on the case. We can still get that person to train with loading while also improving their symptoms.

The glute bridge is a good one because it can be loaded heavy, while targeting the glutes, and not loading the back.

The following are also glute focused exercises that will help.

Single Leg Work

Athletes can still get really strong taking a break from bilateral lifts. A short bout of single leg work will reduce loading while still training the legs.

The key is to do exercises that can be loaded well to get the best strength benefits.

The one mistake to avoid is going with single leg exercises that are so complex that we can not load them. People like to get too creative sometimes. It is important to continue to intelligently load the body.