Thursday, May 12, 2011

Step 6: Stabilize your lower back


The Desk Warriors Guide to Building a Healthy Back 6/10

Before getting into the importance of low-back stability, I want to rant about a common misconception that leads to many ill-informed folks doing various ineffective and potentially injurious core exercises. Core strength SHOULD NOT be measured by your ability to perform sit-ups, crunches, weighted sit-ups or any other bending/twisting exercises. Core strength IS the ability of your core musculature to RESIST MOVEMENT against an external force. More simply put, core strength is your ability to resist being moved or bent by something or someone. We're talking resisting the effects of gravity, meeting a fullback in the hole, lifting a sack of concrete overhead, squatting a 1/2 ton etc... not doing a weighted incline sit-up with a 45 lb. plate on your chest or doing 1000 crunches per day. If you want to get herniated discs perform them as desired.

The person who can tense their core to the extreme is the person with the strongest core, not the person who can do the craziest variety of sit-up. The hardest hitters in football are those who upon impact tense their entire bodies so that in effect, they are hard as rock. The impact generated when they hit their opponent loses very little energy thus the impact happens instantaneously rather than over time. The result is an astronomical collision that leaves the foe decimated and draws a penalty and a fine in the newly soft NFL. This ability to resist movement against an external force is not generated by performing bends and twists. It is generated by resisting gravity in extreme situations, squatting heavy, practicing levers and overhead lifts etc...

The desire to get 6 pack abs almost always leads to exhaustive amounts of forward bending. Targeting those elusive lower abs with various bending exercises is a huge waste of time and detrimental to the lower back. Don't believe me? Check out the University of Waterloo's own Professor Stuart McGill as he takes you through the science. The truth is, you can get similar or even greater contractions from those target muscles with exercises where you are not repeatedly flexing the spine. Getting full muscular contraction under a fully flexed spine is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, exhaustive ab work doesn't do a damn thing to the overloaded fat cells floating atop that ripped six pack that we all have. Doing crunches doesn't elicit fat loss from your love handles. QUIT WASTING TIME AND DAMAGING YOUR SPINES!

For those of you who want to get started on your path to ultimate performance, or just reduce your back pain. First master these three exercises.


These three exercises were found by McGill to be the best bang for your buck. During EMG testing they elicited the great contraction from the target muscles while having minimal amounts of spinal compression and virtually zero spinal flexion. As we learned, this is a good thing as full spinal flexion coupled with compression is a recipe for disc herniation soup.


The cumulative effect of practicing these 3 exercises will train your core musculature to act like a spinal stability belt. You see these 3 exercises target the spinal erectors, the internal and external obliques and the anterior abdominal muscles. These muscles wrap all 360 degrees of your torso so that when trained properly you'll essenetially have a bulletproof core. If you still have LBP and decent endurance in the big three, you may benefit from increased posterior chain work in the form of glute-bridges and supine planks as McGill found those who suffered from LBP had a poor ratio of posterior extensor endurance to anterior musculature endurance.


I am not speaking from an ivory tower in regards to this back injury and rehabilitation stuff. As a reckless youth, I managed to herniate my bottom disc (L5-S1) and 2 years later the disc above it (L4-L5) while simultaneously re-injuring the initial disc herniation. Yes, my lower back is jacked up! Both of these injuries were earned by performing deadlifts with poor form coupled with a tad of trying to be Superman. The pain came quickly and chronically after both injuries. After the second injury when I herniated both lower discs I spent months limping out of bed, crippled by sciatic pain. It took me a few hours to be able extend my right leg more than a short strides length without horrible pain.


By practicing what I preach & what I've taught you in the previous six posts I have been able to regain my function. It was a long hard road but I now manage the injuries without the help of any health practitioners and NEVER used any pain medications. LBP starts a downward spiral in the health and wellness of many and it doesn't have to be that way.


The above 3 exercises were integral in my rehabilitation process & should be a part of yours. (check with your Doctor. & don't sue me yada yada) My CHRONIC lower back pain decreased as my endurance and proficiency in these moves increased. As they got boring and easy, I was able to progress to higher level movements; starting with increased lumbar stability challenges & culminating with 52" Box Jumps, 385 pound Squats & 600 pound tire flips.



The main reason I know so much about building a healthy back is that I have successfully done it myself. If I do ANYTHING wrong, my lower back let's me know about it. This has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I educated myself by reading 4 books by the best people in the spine-sparing universe and now possess the knowledge that can many people with bad backs & a curse because, well I'm sure you can figure that out!


I hope this information provided aids you in your efforts towards building a healthy back! Please post questions and comments.


1 comment:

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