Exercises to Support Low Back Health

The first thing everyone needs to understand is that you body is a unit and every part of it interacts with the other parts.  If chronic tightness and weakness exist in any part of your body, it translates and effects another part biomechanically, creating strain and potential injury.   This can even translate from joints as far away as the ankles or shoulders to the low back.  For instance, if you have chronic ankle tightness in the soleus or gastrocnemius muscle, it’s lack of flexibility can prevent your lower leg from bending far enough forward in a motion such as the squat, and travel up to and be delivered to the low back.  Being your center, the low back is the only place that motion can be delivered or effectively you would fall on your face.  The lower back should always stay static.  It’s use is generally isometric (no movement) and it is simply there to hold your posture.  When motion and force is delivered to the low back from tight musculature, it’s never a good thing.  Overall strength in the motion as neutral position is lost and forces that can cause injury are increased.

What do we do to be sure our low backs don’t take pressure during our workouts?  We need to lengthen and strengthen shortened overly tight musculature that create these imbalances.  Those shortened and weak muscles can be specifically assess by any of our qualified trainers.  The typical shortened weak culprits include the hamstrings, medial gluts, TFL (hip flexors), IT band, and adductors of the upper leg.  These muscle groups can all be lengthened from their tightened state by doing foam roller exercises and static stretches.  Let’s start with foam roller supporting low back exercises.  For the glut, sit on the foam roller, placing all of your weight on one cheek with hands behind you on the floor and your opposite foot on the floor.  Roll back and forth, about a 3-5 inch range of motion, through the muscle.  After 15-20 repetitions, you can move the roller to the upper part of the hanstring, right below your buttocks and repeat the same motion on the hamstring.  From there, move the roller toward the knee and roll out the lower part of the hamstring in a similar fashion.  Rolling on to the outside of your leg, you can repeat the same motion on the IT band.  Like the hamstring do the upper part of the muscle (towards the hip) followed by the lower part (towards the outside of the knee).  The last part of the upper leg is a little more difficult to position.  To lengthen you hip flexors (TFL) you have to roll laterally almost facing down with both hands in front of you on the floor.  From that position, roll forward and back across the muscle that crosses the front of the hip.  Make sure you do both sides equally.  There is a good chance that you will find one side worse than the other.  It is important that those imbalances get close to evening out.  Pulling to one side creates even more issues than even front to back tightness.

It is hard to roll out adductors (inner thigh) muscles, lower leg muscles, and shoulder muscles.  These muscle groups can all be stretched and lengthened with static and facilitated stretching.  For instance, for a static stretch designed to stretch the adductors, stand with legs spread apart, bend one knee and shift to the side keeping one leg straight while the other leg leans down and back (like during a squat).  Once you feel tension on the inner thigh, press down on that leg with our hand right below the hip.  This will engage the stretch further.  Facilitated stretching is a method of assisted stretching that allows for deep stretching by causing the primary muscle to completely relax.  A person trained in facilitated stretching (like myself) can show you the technique and how that can be applied with any partner of your choice.  This technique is especially useful for stretching the muscles of the shoulder joint.

In combination with keeping your muscles in a lengthened neutral position, you also need to strengthen those muscles.  The key to any workout program is to be sure you create balance through the whole body.  Never work chest and not back, quadriceps and not hamstrings etc. because if you do, you can create postural imbalances that can lead to chronic health, gait, and joint problems.  It also is key to use your muscles in open chain exercises where many muscles have to work together.  This, in general, is how we move during every day activities.  For example, doing a standing squat position row uses not only the back muscles but the leg muscles too.  Planks are also very valuable exercises that focus on isometric use of stabilizing muscles of the back and they should be a part of everyone’s workout regiment.  I can’t emphasize how important it is to have a well rounded, muscle group balance exercise program to encourage proper posture for long term back health.  Consult with one of our trainers about how to balance your program out if you are unsure that you are on the right track.  Have your imbalances assessed, stretch/lengthen, and strengthen shortened weak muscles and your body with be on the right track to supporting your back.

Here is a link to some photos of the correct position for the roller exercises of the upper leg.