Nothing can stop you dead in your tracks like back pain, and in my 23 years of training I’ve had plenty of athletes come to me with what they thought to be bad backs. The reality is, they were simply imbalanced in key muscle groups and their back was taking the brunt of the imbalances. The imbalanced muscles I am referring to are the core complex and the glutes.
To bombproof your back you need to build a strong foundation, and by “foundation” I mean core. The muscles of your core include the abdominals, obliques, transverse abdominus “TVA”, pelvic floor muscles, and several others. They each serve a common purpose, and that purpose is to support and stabilize your spine. The most effective way to build strength in this “core” group of muscles, that I have found, is by incorporating 3 basic movements, or rather anti-movements.
Holding yourself in the plank position with your shoulders over your elbows, glutes, shoulders, and head all at the same level, and breathing through your diaphragm is hands down the best movement you can do to build a strong core to support your back during any activity. This movement can be done daily. I recommend starting with 3 sets of as long as you can hold without beginning to shake or feel any discomfort in your back. Feeling any discomfort in the muscles of your low back while planking is your body signaling you that your abdominal core complex can no longer support you in that position. That is your signal to stop the set.
Focus on keeping a relaxed diaphragmatic breath during the plank and by no means hold your breath. You don’t hold your breath while performing your sport so don’t do it here. Also, engage or “squeeze” your glutes for 5 seconds on, 5 seconds off during each set.
Same concept as the plank with the exception that you are on your side with feet stacked on top of one another. You will notice after the first time doing this movement that one side may be harder than the other. That is very common, as we tend to favor our dominant side, right hand/left hand, during sport, therefore creating an otherwise unseen imbalance.
Start each side plank on the weaker/non-dominant side. It will take more energy to hold the weaker side in the proper position, so use your energy for that side first.
Anti-Rotation “Pot Stir”:
Sport requires movement of the body while maintaining integrity throughout your core to stabilize/protect your back. The Pot Stir movement can be done with a resistance band, or cable, and can be performed at multiple angles to challenge and build a strong core. Standing perpendicular to the resistance with feet no wider than shoulder width apart, move the band/cable in a circular motion, as if you were stirring a large pot. Stay with your relaxed diaphragmatic breathing just as with the plank and side plank. I recommend 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions per side.
Challenge your core by bringing your feet closer together. The closer they are, the harder your core works to stabilize. Also, be sure to squeeze the glutes tight during each “stir” rotation.
Build your butt… When your glute complex (Glute Maximus, Minimus, Medius) are not functioning properly, and you squat, lunge, step, etc. the muscles of your back take on that responsibility and can cause significant discomfort and pain. Use this movement to build strength in your glutes that will take the stress off of your back.
Lying on your back with our palms by your sides facing up, tuck the heels of your feet closely to your glutes. Engage or “squeeze” your glutes and drive through your heels. This will elevate your hips into the air into a “bridge” position. Hold for 2-3 seconds at the top and then slowly lower your hips back to the ground. As soon as your glutes make contact with the ground re-engage and repeat for 10-12 repetitions. Do 3 sets of this movement.
Once you can easily complete 3 sets of 12 repetitions, advance to a single leg glute bridge by extending one knee and bridging with a single side at a time for 10-12 reps. If you feel any discomfort in your back with bridging, simply lower your hips until the discomfort goes away. That discomfort means you are bridging too high at the moment,therefore using your back muscles and you don’t want that J.
Each of the above movements should be performed daily, or at a minimum 4 times a week, as part of your active warm-up prior to training or during active recovery days. Make these movements a part of your daily activity, just as you put your pants on before leaving the house, hopefully, and you are well on your way to building a solid foundation for a bombproof back.