Whether you’re brand new to strength training or have been lifting weights for years, chances are you’ve had some experience with lower back pain. (If you are a newbie, congrats! Here are some great ‘get started’ with weight lifting posts for you to read).
Not the ‘OMG I can’t move my legs’ pain; that’s indicative of a serious injury and needs medical attention stat.
But rather that nagging ache that comes and goes and forces you to take a few days off training, seek some relief on the heating pad and pop an Advil or two before bed.
Most lower back pain is mechanical in nature. Meaning that it’s not caused by injury per se, but by muscles that are weak, inflexible or out of balance with the muscles around them.
The most likely culprits?
Weak or inhibited glutes, weak abdominals, tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors. The very same muscles that are required to perform the exercises that form the foundation of most strength training programs; squats, lunges, dead lifts and overhead presses.
Ineffective recruitment and coordination of the lower body’s ‘power muscles’ increases the stress and force on the lower spine, setting the stage for a variety of conditions ranging from mild muscular strain to ruptured disks.
The good news is, most lower back pain is preventable. Try adding the following five exercises to your regular strength training program to strengthen your lower back and reduce your risk of injury.
The added bonus of a strong lower back? Your’ll likely be able to squat heavier and dead lift more.
5 exercises for a strong lower back
Come on to all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Tighten abdominals and simultaneously lift and extend the right arm and left leg so that they’re both parallel to the ground. Keeping hips square and level, hold for 3 to 5 seconds before returning to the starting position. Pause and repeat with the left arm and right leg. Continue alternating until you’ve competed a total of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Start by laying on your back, with knees bent and feet on the floor. Tighten your bum cheeks and belly to lift your torso up and off the floor. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Lower, rest and 8 to 10 times.
Modified clam shells
Lay on your side with hips and knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Top knee and ankle should be directly over the bottom knee and ankle. Flex your feet and using the side of the top leg, lift the top leg up to open the hip. Imagine that your bent legs are the top and bottom shells of a clam and your pelvis, the hinge. Slowly lower and repeat. Complete 10 to 12 repetitions on each side.
Come into forearm plank, on either knees or toes. Forearms will be on the floor, parallel to one another, with elbows directly underneath shoulders. Tighten abdominals and glutes to lift and hold your body in a straight line. Keep shoulder blades retracted to encourage the muscles of your upper back to participate in the exercise. Hold for 30 s. Rest and repeat twice more. (Once your toe plank is solid, you can make this move more challenging by lifting one foot off the ground and turning it into a 3-point toe plank).
Prone chest raise
Lay face down on a yoga mat, with legs wider than hip distance apart and feet flexed. Place hands behind your head, with elbows bent and fingers interlace. Inhale, then exhale as you use your glutes and lower back to lift your chest up and off the floor. Pause at the top before slowly lowering yourself back to the ground. Rest and repeat for a total of 8 to 10 reps. (Once you get good at this one, you can progress to the back extension machine in the gym).
Of course, don’t forget to book-end your workout with some stretching for those overly-tight hamstrings and hip flexors. You can find sample hamstring stretches here as well as the essential stretches every midlife exerciser needs to be doing here.