Whether your flavor of training is aimed at CrossFit, wrestling, mixed martial arts, boxing, or the iron sports of bodybuilding and powerlifting, you no doubt understand the importance of resistance training when it comes to maximizing physical potential for performance and developing sustainable competitive advantages in whatever arena you choose. One of the most important areas targeted in all styles of training is the core (middle of the body) and most particularly, the lower back (lumbar spine region). A full 80% of adults will develop some form of lower back pain in their lifetimes, and it’s a safe bet that those tackling, bending, striking, deadlifting and fighting are very likely to fall among those ranks, thanks to the explosive nature of the sports they choose and the resounding negative effects that sudden and awkward movement has upon the back. Let’s examine some ways you can successfully protect your lower back during resistance training.
Understanding lumbar spine kinesiology
The lumbar spine moves in six possible directions, around a medial lateral axis. Keeping our focus upon extension and flexion, athletes should be aware than the low back is used for rolling, tilting, shearing and sliding. When the lumbar spine performs flawlessly, the muscles stiffen in order to stabilize the spine, accurately and in controlled manner, and often at very fast speeds, depending upon what sport in which the athlete is participating.
Spine injury mechanisms
Simple ligament and muscle strains comprise the majority of spinal lumbar injuries among athletes. Inadequate rest, imbalanced loads, and poor technique cause the majority of low back injuries. Most injuries happen when the spine is in a flexed position, so it is extra important for athletes to be cognizant of balance, movements and balance of load when their spine is flexed. Movements such as deadlifts, bent-over barbell rows, good morning, and ab work lead to move spine injuries.
Resistance training modifications
Speed is your enemy when it comes to spinal muscle injury. Locate the neural range (between relaxed and fully flexed position through stretching for 5 minutes before tackling any core movement which targets the lower back. Work to maintain weight load balance. Keep the body completely symmetrical at all time while lifting. When competing in contact sports, work to retreat the body in a balanced manner at all times.
Injury prevention exercises
Movements such as isometric horizontal side-support raises and single leg extensions can help to isolate the low back with zero resistance (other than body weight) to move blood to the region and provide the low back muscles with greater elasticity before engaging in resistance training. Simple use of walking to warm up the body before tackling the weights, along with stretching the core muscles for 5 to 10 minutes, can be beneficial as well.
While experts still debate the significant impact of lifting safety belts upon resistance training, the general consensus is that “they can’t hurt!” and are thus used by most strength athletes when performing lifting lower than 8 repetitions per set (read: heavy weights!) Injuries are rare and self-reporting leads to inadequate studies on the manner. Be sure to use the belt as a support for dangerous movements, and not a crutch for all lifts. Developing the stabilizer muscles of the core is important, and will not be complete if a belt is used at all times.
Low back pain hits athletes of all ages, sports, and levels of experience. There is no “safe zone” for competitors – low back injury can strike on the first day of training, or after 20 years of fighting in the cage. Understanding how the lower back works, how injuries occur, and in turn modifying your training protocols to protect against said injuries is imperative for long-term training success of the pain-free variety. Good luck!