The Low Back

In the “mobility” series that I’ve made, we talked about every major joint from head to toe( literally) and gave you practical solutions for improving mobility in every one of them. If you know you got some mobility problems make sure to check out that series as it covers all the basics.

Today we will talk about the bridge that basically transfers all your strength and explosiveness from your lower body into the upper body and hands so that loaded bar can fly up in the sky. That’s right, today we go BACK to baseline to:

The lower back

As I said, the lower back acts like a connector, a bridge of stability to express the force produced by your legs and hips. Because it does not have the mobility of the joints that surround it, the low back needs to remain stable and as stiff as possible during heavy loading, especially talking about the snatch and the front rack position( or when doing full cleans and front squats).  Think about it like this: you cannot fire a cannon from a canoe. Even if you pack a massive amount of power, the unstable surface will just absorb and dissipate it. Or jumping as high as you can while being on the sand. The sand will just fall under your legs and you will perform way submaximal.

Assessing the lower back

The low back is compromised mainly from the lumbar vertebrae L1-L5 that stand between the rib cage and the pelvis. They are also the largest segments of the vertebral column.

Having relatively limited degrees of flexion and extension( and a little rotation too) we will assess the low back through the lens of “stability” and not “mobility”, because as I said, in the movements performed in weightlifting we want a reduced degree of movement in that area.

1. Dead bug

Any variation of the dead bug works just fine, what we want to look at here is that the middle part of the body remains stable and does not flex and extend without control as we lower the arm & leg.

2. Planks

Again any variation will work fine, the goal is to have the pelvis in a neutral position and to keep is that way for no less than 1 solid minute.

3. Bird dog

Again what we are looking after is that neutral position of the pelvis and solid, braced core that remains stable through the whole movement.

Exercises

The first thing you will observe is that these exercises target the “core” muscles all around, and not just the lower back muscles. That is because to use another analogy, you need support from multiple sides when trying to keep a tower standing. You can’t just pull it from one side and expect it to remain in the same position! As in the human body, you need forces that exert simultaneously from multiple directions to keep your mid part stable so again, you can express force.

Carry / one-side carry

Will work your “core” all around, good for teaching a good bracing and maintaining it. Do it after training, nothing really heavy but you should feel it, for rounds/sets/laps/distance/time. Don’t burn yourself, a couple of walks weekly should be enough.

Bird dogs / dead bugs

These 2 are not only tests but also good practice to keep the mid part of your body stable! Practice them with a conscious focus to squeeze all the muscles. You can also brace, and pretend like you are moving heavy weight with the arm and opposite leg. Do them as warmups, before the main movements you practice that day. 2-3 sets of 5-6 quality reps/side should be enough.

Plank kettlebell swaps

This will teach bracing and “core” control like no other. Just pick a heavier-than-you-would-like kettlebell and start dragging it! Brace consciously again. You want to aim for either lower reps with a heavier weight or higher reps and lower weight. You can go as low as 6 total reps and as high as 20-30 total reps/set. And also, I would not pick anything lower than a 12 kg kettlebell, for anyone!

Neutral pelvis back extensions

Consciously keep a neutral pelvis( do a posterior pelvic tilt, google it if you don’t know what that is) and extend your body. You will feel that you are much more limited than in “normal” back extensions. That is because you are keeping your pelvis that way! Do them after hard training, for a couple of sets, higher reps( 10-20 reps). Add weight when you can do 20 easy reps.

Barbell good mornings

Again, with a neutral pelvis and consciously bracing. Make sure to bend the knees just a bit so you allow some movement there. Keep your trunk as stiff as you can. 2-3 sets a couple of times a week for higher reps. Nothing lower than 10 reps.

There you have it! Now you go and bulletproof your lower back and mid trunk and see your numbers climb!

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