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Thread: Strengthing the lower back

  1. #1
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    Strengthing the lower back

    I've had lower back pain for years now. It comes out when I start putting a bit of stress on it. I feel like strengthing my back will be the foundation of other exercises so I want to get it healed and/or strengthened. Could someone give me some ideas on stretches and exercises that will help strengthen or heal the lower back or the whole back in general?

    Thank you

  2. #2
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    4 main core lifts:

    Bench
    Shoulder Press
    Squats
    Deadlifts

    Stengthening your lower back is about strengthing your core. Most back pain that does not stem from injury usually occurs with weak core muscles (hamstrings, abs, hip flexors) or a muscular imbalance between these.

    Focus on lifts that work multiple muscle groups such as the four above to give you a good base in all areas. These will engage your core as well. Most "ab" exercises hit the abs and hip flexors some more than others so change it up.

    Good mornings, Straight leg dead lifts, lunges, overhead squats, flutter kicks, super mans, planks


    The most important thing it to focus on FORM. Start slowly and learn it right.


    Also consult with your doctor before beginning, because all this will cause stress and could possibly aggravate the existing injury regardless of doing it right or wrong.
    Last edited by nickdich; 03-09-2012 at 11:58 AM. Reason: spelling

  3. #3
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Quote Originally Posted by nickdich View Post
    The most important thing it to focus on FORM. Start slowly and learn it right.
    He's right this is the most important part. If you're unfamiliar with a lift, have someone who is experienced with it teach it to you. Look up videos on how to do it properly, and then when you do them make try to have someone watch your form. You want to make sure you have good spinal alignment so you're not putting any shear forces on discs.

    You especially need to watch this with the deadlift and squat.

  4. #4
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Quote Originally Posted by koldfyer View Post
    He's right this is the most important part. If you're unfamiliar with a lift, have someone who is experienced with it teach it to you. Look up videos on how to do it properly, and then when you do them make try to have someone watch your form. You want to make sure you have good spinal alignment so you're not putting any shear forces on discs.

    You especially need to watch this with the deadlift and squat.
    x100 I'm dealing with the after effects of a) not so great form on deadlifts and b) using the Smithson machine as a squat rack. It does not provide for you to have a natural range of motion. Did that last month and still dealing with it. Back pain is not something to take lightly.

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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    On squats really focus on depth. You don't engage the glutes and the hamstrings as much when you do a quarter/half squat (what 90% of people who do squats in the gym do).

    While you'll see some benefits doing it this way, it will lead to a muscle imbalance. Your quads will overpower your hamstrings and glutes and leave you at a greater risk for hamstring tears - this also won't help your back either.


    On the deadlift. It's really important to not thing of this as a "back" exercise. It's a full body exercise. Think of more of a LEG exercise. You won't feel it as much in your legs as a squat, but you lift with your legs and not your back. It's important to drive your heels down to the ground and to make sure your back is not bent or else you'll probably do more harm then good. Make sure you carry this over to any time you are picking something up with weight. Do not lean over to pick it up. lower your body and pick it up properly. At the lockout phase avoid over-extending your back. Once your body and spine are in alignment the lift is complete. Hold it for almost a second and slowly resume down. Do not bounce the weight off the floor either. It's called a deadlift for a reason. Start dead. This also gives you a window to reset your hands or form if needed.


    Standing shoulder press, push press, or a jerk variant it's important to have good alignment and to not hyperextend your back when locking it out. THe same goes for the bench too. It's important not to arch your back up and to keep it flat and aligned on the bench.


    Don't let all this ^ scare you away. These are great lifts with great benefits. It will take a long time to learn how to do properly, but it's worth it.

  6. #6
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Wow. Thank you for the detail of your explanations. I will take it all in and learn how to do it properly.

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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Quote Originally Posted by nickdich View Post
    4 main core lifts:

    Bench
    Shoulder Press
    Squats
    Deadlifts
    These are definitely 4 lifts you should be doing but I wouldn't count on benchpress and shoulder press helping out your core or lower back much.
    Squats and Deadlifts are great, but as mentioned before make sure you use perfect form. Don't round your back on these lifts.

    To really strengthen your core I suggest you do research on gymnastics exercises. Front levers, Back levers, planches, L-sits all require a lot of core strength. You won't start out doing these like gymnasts but there are progressions to get you to the real thing. Personally these have helped strengthen my core a lot so I would check them out.
    My Training Blog - http://jag5543.blogspot.com/

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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    As for strecthing, research dynamic stretching and begin your workout with that. At the end do traditional stretching on all your muscle groups for about 5-10 minutes. This is probably the most tedious part of the workout, but really beneficial in the long run.

    A few of my favorites:

    Hamstring: stand with your feet together. Take 1 step out with your right foot. Bend over and down and try to touch the ground on the right foot. The key to this strectch is making sure your knees are straight and not bend. Repeat on the left side. Hold for at least 10 seconds.

    Hip Flexor: Deep and wide lunge keep your back straight up and head facing forward.

    Abs/lower back: Google the cobra/upward dog yoga position. Very good stretch.


    Building up your flexibility will make going through the full range of motion in these exercises much easier.


    Don't forget to check out the holy bible (Physical Training Guide) and the Injury prevention guide on the front site.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Atromos's Avatar
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    I wouldn't quite count benchpress as one of the main lifts unless you also count bent over row as one as well. But beyond that, your legs and arms are your engines, your core is your transmission... it's what lets you put the power down, so to speak.

    Your abs stabilize your spinal region, and the spine is pretty freagin important last time I checked. Most low back pain is from weak core, and after a good core workout I'm always hard pressed to have ANY back pain. You will find that standing strict press, push press, push jerks, and split jerks all require you to have epicly perfect posture or else you'll be feeling your smoked lower back afterwards... I can attest to that right this very minute! (crossfit 12.3 anybody? 5 rounds + 17 more reps =P)

    Anyways... if you knock out a king's ransom worth of squats, your low back WILL be tired as hell. If you knock out even a reasonable about of deadlifts, your low back WILL be tired as hell. And if you knock out olympic lifts, your low back will be tired as hell... but in all of those cases it will be stronger. Now if you do any of those lifts and your round your lower back, your lower back will be SMOKED... and I'm not talking "feel the burn, bro i'm so freagin' pumped right now the ladies love it!!!" I'm talking can't get up to take a dump - smoked!

    So... recap. Hit core, not just crunches... CORE! Planks, side planks, Power Lifts (include: squats, deadlifts, over head presses), and possibly olympic lifts (clean & jerk, snatch, and their variations). Assuming you're even asking about this, I wouldn't recommend olympic lifts without a coach... epic amounts of technique required. A strong core allows you to use your strong legs and strong arms to move your whole body, so if you do those exercises right you will link your engines up to your transmission. Once you hit all that and you feel you still need more core, THEN hit abs on the way out... otherwise the PST prep from the PTG should do you right. I'm basically just agreeing with Nick this whole time but.... I hope that helped in some way. GL.

  10. #10
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    What my physical trainer has me doing to strengthen my back is planks and bird dogs. I have suspect back as it is, so it's crucial for me to complete these on a daily basis. I do front planks 10 times for 10 seconds each. Then I do side planks for 10 times 10 seconds each. Of course when doing side planks do both sides. And lastly I do bird dogs. 10 times each side for 10 second holds.

  11. #11

    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Quote Originally Posted by nickdich View Post
    4 main core lifts:

    Bench
    Shoulder Press
    Squats
    Deadlifts
    You forgot about your upper back. Either pullups or Bent Over rows.

  12. #12
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    My recommendations: (In addition to practicing the ones you'll do at BUD/S)
    Exercises: Wheel
    Stretches: Cat stretch

  13. #13
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    I know this site is geared for the younger audience to learn more about the general navy and seal requirements, but come on spex at least read the entire FIRST entry before randomly trying to correct someone. The original poster (OP) requested lower back strengthening exercise... how would him forgetting to target his upper back have any relation to his lower back? Also, I don't think pull-ups sufficiently work the upper back as much as they work the biceps and lats. The OP has chronic low back pain, after I assume he has implemented some of these lower back strengthening exercises. That leads me to believe that either A) he's cured, or B) he's not (and IF he's not then strengthening his lower back didn't help)

    If he's not, the problem was probably lumber hyper extension, most probably caused by tight hip flexors from sitting down (hey we all have to learn), from running or biking a lot, and from lack of stretching. The spine should be straight, when it curves, the body tightens muscles so it creates stability where there should have already been stability naturally from good positioning. Sources: NASM, MobilityWOD, Anatomy Trains, Yoga

    Recap: Just because your low back hurts doesn't mean it needs strength. If I try to run on my face and it hurts, do I strengthen my face... or do I correct my running technique? Food for thought.

    Programming Recommendation: Stretch your hip flexors and quadriceps, then do planks and other iso-metric (holding still) core exercises. You can additionally do the Bird Dog, Superman, and Bridge exercises (and maybe wipers, not sure) in the iso-metric format by holding it as a pose for 30 seconds to a minute (or longer... 18 days?).

  14. #14

    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    I do yoga to keep my back loose from all the running and lifting. Works wonders.

    You'll find that the seemingly awkward postures hit a lot of the supporting and stabilizing muscles that you don't usually work.

  15. #15

    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Quote Originally Posted by ham30 View Post
    I do yoga to keep my back loose from all the running and lifting. Works wonders.

    You'll find that the seemingly awkward postures hit a lot of the supporting and stabilizing muscles that you don't usually work.
    I agree with this 100%. I was in physical therapy for a while for my back and made very little to no real progress. When I was discharged from therapy I started to yoga and it works amazingly well. It's a long term deal though. The first couple sessions didn't immediately cure my pain. But now that I've been doing it for two months, I have almost no pain at all. Give it a shot and really strive to achieve perfect posture, position control, and well regulated breathing.

  16. #16

    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    on the PTG there are lower back exercises.

  17. #17
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Strengthening the lower back more to combat lower back pain isn't the answer - it's deepening the problem.

    There is a misconception that lower back pain is directly associated with a weak lower back. I would venture to say that most of the time, this is not the case. Lower back pain can commonly develop through what's called a "muscle imbalance", or more specifically, a "lower cross imbalance". In another thread called, "Log PT's might be my deterrent" in the "Shoulders" section, I explain what a typical "upper cross imbalance" is and how to fix it/methods presented by LCDR Cowan, the head physical therapist at BUD/S on how to fix it (please read thread to fully understand). These principles also apply to the typical lower cross imbalance.

    The typical lower cross imbalance looks like this: tonic (or tight) thoracolumbar extensors (lower back muscles) - to - tight hip flexors (this is the first cross). Then, weak abdominals - to - weak glutes (this is the second cross).

    The other lower cross imbalance is exactly the opposite (I have this imbalance). The glutes and abs might be strong, but the hip flexors and lower back are weak.

    Looking at your posture is a key way to tell where your lower back pain is coming from. Perhaps you only experience it when lifting overhead. Tight lats will keep the arms from extending fully upward in a good anatomical position and to compensate, your lower back is arched and overly extended (hypolodosis). That is a bad position for your back to be in and will cause back pain over time. Technique might also be to blame. Maybe you are not tightening your abdominals enough on the lift. It goes without saying that maintaining a tight core, front and back, is essential for a safe and successful overhead lift.

    Your posture tells other things as well. Mr. Caviston has talked about the importance of a neutral pelvis during exercise. If you look at yourself from the side and your butt sticks out, belly "hangs down" so to speak and you have lower back pain, chances are you have the first type of lower cross imbalance I described. It's a constantly occurring version of the anatomical position I described in the section above - hypolodosis, or an over exaggerated curve in the lower spine. This occurs because the muscles of the lower back and hip flexors (which actually tie into the lower part of the spine from the front of the leg) are much stronger and tenser than the muscles in the abdominals and glutes, both weak muscles which should be stronger and balancing your posture. This is the cause of your back pain.

    This means that strengthening the lower back more to solve the back pain with this imbalance, when it is already strong and causing your back to arch in hypolodosis, will further the problem. What must be done is what I talk about in the thread I mentioned earlier: stretching and strengthening to get rid of the imbalance - stretching the tight, tonic muscles and strengthening the weak ones.

    So then, the answer is to actually strengthen the abdominals and glutes, and stretch the hip flexors and lower back, in order to get rid of lower back pain with this imbalance. It is vital that you do both of these and not neglect one or the other. You should be stretching the tonic muscles 2-3 times a day in addition to the times you stretch in your warm up and cool down before and after exercise. All you have to do to stretch the lower back is bend over slowly and hang at a level that is comfortable. Try going for 15 seconds at a time. You may feel a stronger stretch in your hamstrings, but that's ok, your lower back is still being stretched. Don't try to kill two birds with one stone, though and have that be your bad-postured hamstring stretch. For the hip flexors, the most effective stretch is difficult to describe and worth googling or youtubing: Lay a pillow or some padding on the ground near a bench or chair. Get down on one knee and place the knee on the padding with the bench or chair behind you (the knee on the ground is the hip flexor you will stretch). Then, raise the foot of the leg on the ground and rest the top of your foot on the bench or chair. Then, slowly lean forward on that knee, flexing knelt leg forward. You should feel a stretch in the front of the leg, near the hip pocket. Be wary of knee pain and go slow. You can perform this exercise without resting the top of your foot on something, but I've found it generally causes more knee pain to do it that way.

    If your posture is such that your butt is sort of tucked under (like mine) then you will have to do the opposite, stretching and strengthening the appropriate muscles aka doing a whole lot more flutter kicks haha.

    So, evaluate your posture and performance, stretch and strengthen the appropriate muscles and get rid of back pain. Good luck.

  18. #18
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    *leaning on your other leg, going forward* (knee that is bent in the air)

  19. #19

    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    I agree on dead lifts and squats as long as they are done correctly.

  20. #20
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    Re: Strengthing the lower back

    Quote Originally Posted by PJxNS View Post
    I agree on dead lifts and squats as long as they are done correctly.
    *facepalm

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