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Fast Five to Lower Back Health

Lower Back Health

I’ve recently been doing a lot of discovery around lower back strength and health.  We will be exploring this research more into 2010.  Lower back health is not reserved just for strength athletes, it is a must for everyone.  Muscle building programs found online miss this boat completely.   That is why I made it a focus in AMD and that is why it is a complete muscle building system.

How prevalent are injuries?  Just one look behind the scenes at Elite Fitness Systems you’ll see that approximately 80% of the questions (just from my observations) are injury related.

Do NOT miss this post!

  • How to rehab a knee injury
  • How to rehab a ankle injury
  • How to rehab a back injury
  • How to rehab a shoulder injury
  • How to rehab a hip injury
  • and the list goes on and on…TONS of questions.

With back and shoulder injuries probably at the top of the list.

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts go too hard and too fast WITHOUT attention spent to warming up and longevity.

It is a balance!  Remember that!

You create tension in the weightroom.  This tension weakens the soft-tissues and muscle fibers and rebuilds them to a stronger state.  This adaptation occurs at a cost.  Tension is stored in these structures in the form of shortening, adhesions, trigger points, inflammation and long term compensations accumulated over the course of a lifetime.

It is a daily fight, not only from recovering from the workout, but also high repetition, short range of motion postures throughout the day.

I wanted to give you five quick movements you can do everyday, in addition to your comprehensive warm-up and recovery that you normally perform (or should be performing), to ensure that you lower back feels great and you start moving better again.

Fast Five to Lower Back Health

Side to Side Shoulder Bridging

This movement is a combination of a glute bridge AND a thoracic mobility drill.  Opening up the upper back while activating the glutes (this is important for maintaining neutral pelvic alignment and which releases tension in the hamstrings and abdominals) and stretching the hip flexors (also important for improving posture).  A very powerful movement.

shoulder-bridging

Birddogs

This coordinated movement transversely activates (the way the body moves) the hip and opposites shoulder.  The glutes, hamstrings, erectors, rhomboids, traps, delts and a ton of other muscles are fired with this movement.  It reestablishes spinal stability and can be used in conjunction with plank variations.

birddogs

Full Body Circles

This movement is pretty simple.  Soften the knees and move your upper body in full circles all the way down to your feet and extend as the circle comes over the top.

full-body-circles

Seated Hamstring Stretch

This stretch is perfect for those who try to gain range of motion while stretching their hamstrings by rounding their back.  This doesn’t improve your hamstring flexibility it irritates your lower back.  Do not lift the leg, but rather drive the knee downward.  Lengthen the spine and extend the back into neutral posture.

seated-hamstring-stretch

Glute Stretch

This stretch is brutal but highly effective.  It gets a deep stretch in the hamstrings, glute and IT band.  More tension can be created by elongating the muscles even more by passing the leg outward into a 90 degree angle.

seated-glute-stretch

Sample Mobility Workout

  1. Side to Side Shoulder Bridging – 1 min
  2. Birddogs – 8 each side
  3. Full Body Circles – 8 upper / 8 lower
  4. Seated Hamstring Stretch – 5 each leg
  5. Glute Stretch – 10 sec each leg x 3

After improving your mobility and flexibility of your upper back, hips and hamstrings you must begin to strengthen the lower back.  Here is the right way to perform good mornings.  We used a safety squat bar which is much more difficult than a typical barbell because of the extra loading on the neck.

Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings

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24 Responses to “Fast Five to Lower Back Health”

  1. Jerry Shreck Says:

    Smitty,

    I love the points made in this post about injury prevention and what most people neglect. Injury prevention is the main goal of my programs-athleticism is secondary. It does not matter how strong or powerful someone is-if they are hurt then they can not contribute. Great post!!

  2. bryan Says:

    even though i called them something else, i have most of my clients actually do the birddogs

  3. Jim Says:

    Okay, so it says it is a private video… oh wait now it works!

    I like the exercise need to figure out how to rig it withthe equipment I have though.

    Thank you for your wicked insights to strength training!

    Jim

  4. TJ Says:

    Smitty,

    You make a bunch of excellent points, as usual.

    I have two questions for you.

    1) For the glute stretch, is it best to allow the back to round as you drop the torso to the ground (as depicted) or would it be preferable to stay propped up on the arms a bit, so as to keep the trunk slighty more upright and maintain a more neutral spine

    2) I see a lot of coaches saying that even using unloaded movements that involve side-bending and spinal flexion are a less-than-stellar idea. I have personally used these types of movements, and feel they are a great help, but the stock answer I’ve been getting from those I talk to is that I don’t have an issue YET and may be able to get away with it for now but that doing it without any discomfort does not mean it is a good idea to do or actually providing the benefit I think it is.

    You included it here, so you obviously see value in it in small doses. Do you think the people advising against it because of the side-bending, spinal flexion at the bottom, and even some potential hyperextension at the top (although I am guessing the goal is to still strive for as much T-spine extension as possible and to keep the glutes tight)are taking things too far by saying that even a drill like this is better left out/tossed on the exercise scrap heap?

    As always, thanks for the time,the knowledge, and all that you do for the fitness industry.

  5. Rob Says:

    Great stuff, Smitty!

    Quick question about the video…..do you always/almost always perform Good Mornings with chains on the bar versus plates?

    If so, is there one major reason why or is it a combination of several things? I would take a guess and assume that the de-loading at the bottom eases the stress on the lower back somewhat, while also forcing you to explode out of the hole; the free-hanging nature of the chain adds an extra bit of instability in a much more controlled manner than playing acrobat on a BOSU, and that you possibly do it because the chains lower the center of gravity to a degree and make you work even harder (as if the SS bar wasn’t doing enough already) to maintain T-spine extension/optimal posture.

    But I might be missing the boat entirely.

    Thanks for a fantastic post, or as I should have called it, “Your usual.”

  6. Coach mike Says:

    Nice stuff! I have to say you always challenge me to think. I do one called hip over center. Looks like your bird dog but both with hands on the ground. Then if my left leg is in the air I slide to the right forcing a stretch in the glute. I also do hip boxes, the Bretzel and back to the wall butter fly’s(use your hands to pressure your knees down). Any time my back is tender I do slow gramby rolls followed by cat stretches. I am a big believer that a proublem in one place will lead to a compensation else where.

  7. Dustin Lebel Says:

    I just tried those side to side bridges for the first time and they felt awesome! Great post.

  8. Matt B Says:

    Here is a sample Low Back/SIJD Hip Routine I have some of my athletes perform:

    Before Activity:
    Glute Activation
    1)Hip Bridges x 10
    2)Fire Hydrants x 10/leg
    3)Glute Alphabets – Get in quadraped position, extend one leg straight back and spell the alphabet with your foot. Repeat for both legs.
    Mobility
    1)Atlas Lunges
    2)Figure Four/Craddle Walks
    3)Butt Kicks (Dynamic and with added quad stretch)
    4)High Knees (Dynamic and with added glute stretch)
    5)Walking Spiderman Lunges with OH Reach
    6)Leg Swings (Hip Abd/Add and Flex/Ext)

    After Activity
    Stretching/Recovery
    1)Foam Roller/LAX Ball – Whole lower body, Upper Back, T-Spine.
    2)Full Lower Body Stretch, including Lunge Stretch (HF and quad), Figure Four Stretch, Supine Hip IR Stretch, 3 Way Hamstring stretch w/ rope (knee straight and bent), and Hip 90/90 stretch.
    3) I also have them stretch their lats as well. You’d be surprised how much that can influence the low back/SIJ

  9. Jim Smith Says:

    Great, great information Matt. Sounds like you are doing a lot of great work!

  10. Jim Smith Says:

    Awesome Dustin!

  11. Jim Smith Says:

    Definitely some good movements Coach Mike.

  12. Jim Smith Says:

    Actually we do them with straight weight, bands, plates or whatever we have available. We switch up the bars as well.

    The chains were just used for the instability factor, but the real goal for the day was more reps and a focus on form.

  13. Jim Smith Says:

    Thanks Jerry.

  14. Jim Smith Says:

    Thanks for the comments Bryan.

  15. Jim Smith Says:

    TJ,

    1) I’ve done it both ways TJ

    2) I think your assessment is correct. The goal is t-spine mobility and lumbar stability. This can be achieved by fixing the hips and locking the glutes on the full body circles. The problem is, people AREN’T MOVING AT ALL. They are fixed all day. The idea of the full body circles is just to get them opened up and unlocked.

    If someone is performing full body circles and there is discomfort, then a smaller range can be employed OR a different movement can be done.

    It is an individual thing.

    Just start moving 🙂

    Thanks for your kind words.

  16. tomas Says:

    Thank you alot smitty for this back rebah i needed it. This is truly one of the best sites for info on training thanks alot

  17. Doug Fioranelli Says:

    Another great post Jim!
    I see that you have a fairly wide stance for the good mornings, is this the preferred stance for better back health? I have done them both with a wider, squat stance, and a more narrow shoulder width stance.
    Thanks

  18. Jim Smith Says:

    Doug, the wider stance, improves the leverage. As you narrow your stance, the moment arm and disadvantage increases, making it more difficult. You can use this as a progression.

    Thanks bro!

  19. John Cortese Says:

    I tried this out just now as I had been experiencing some pretty bad SI/Piriformis/Glute pain/soreness… FEEL 5x better now.

    I’ll for sure be using this on myself as well as clients/athletes who have some low back/SI issues.

    My favorite had to be the side-side shoulder bridge. Never done them before, felt great!

    Thanks again, Coach.

  20. Derek Peruo Says:

    Great stuff Smitty! Never thought to do a seated hamstring stretch the way you describe above. Reminds me of a movement pattern I learned in college called “Happy Baby.”

    Very similar to your hamstring stretch, except the Happy Baby starts lying on the floor in a supine position.

    I have a really simple warm-up I teach my beginner clients:

    Bent Knee Twist – 8 ea.
    Trunk Twist – 8 ea.
    Glute Bridge – 8
    Cat/Camel – 12
    Birddog – 10 ea.
    Scapular Pushup from knees – 12
    Fire Hydrant – 10 ea.
    Calf Stretch – 8 ea.
    Hip Correction – 8 ea.
    Squat-to-Stand – 8
    I-T-Y – 3 circuits

  21. Jim Smith Says:

    Great routine Derek, thanks for the great comments!

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