Lower back pain is one of the most common injuries in many sports, as well as for regular gym-goers, people who have desk jobs, and people who travel a lot for work.
Have you ever felt like you started a new gym routine, everything was going swimmingly, and then one day, bam! You’re doubled-over, struggling to get out of bed and wondering if you’re going to have to invest in Zimmer frame stocks and shares?
This is true for many people, but especially those who have started going to a gym/Crossfit box and/or performing high-intensity cardio exercise combined with high-volume weights.
This isn’t to say that going to the gym primarily causes lower-back pain and should be avoided, but it does tell us a lot about how bad our movement patterns are as individuals if the body feels broken after challenging it with new training programs.
So what’s to do?
Well first we’ve got to figure out why you’re getting lower back pain.
The most common reason you get lower back pain is that you’re relying on your lower back muscles (back extensors if we’re being technical) far too much instead of using other muscles that drive hip movements, such as the glutes (your bum) and hamstrings.
Those lower back muscles aren’t designed to be overloaded to that extent, and as a result, they become very tight, very inflexible, and more prone to tearing. These tears are often very small, but they are very noticeable and can affect every movement, not just lifting.
In fact, most people don’t feel lower back injuries whilst they’re lifting. They either feel the pain afterward, or it’s initiated by a very simple movement.
The number of people I’ve spoken to who have felt their backs ‘go’ just by picking up a cup of tea or bending down to do their shoelaces is remarkable.
But it’s not the shoelaces that have got you tied up in that position – it’s often lifting with improper form or being over-reliant on your lower back muscles that are the driving force behind lumbar pain.
So why are the muscles in your lower back doing so much hard work?
Unfortunately, it’s usually because of our sedentary lifestyles. Sitting down for long periods of time encourages our glutes, core and muscles in the legs to become ‘lazy’, and it becomes harder and harder over time to get them ‘firing’.
Firing or activating are just words for getting the muscles to work properly for the right movements. Our brain is in charge of getting muscles to activate and perform a movement, but sometimes we lose that ‘mind-muscle connection’ if we stop using certain muscle groups often enough.
This generally happens over a long period of time, especially for people who sit down a lot for work or drive long distances. However, it’s not just office workers and drivers who experience these problems. A lot of laborers, hospitality/retail workers and people in the care/health industry experience the same lower back pain, and the driving force is usually the same – overloaded back extensors and weak glutes.
So how does this apply to Crossfitters and gym-goers?
Well, when your lower back muscles are overloaded, this is going to transfer into all of your lifting movements, especially exercises that are either heavy on the lower back, core, legs, and glutes.
For example, the exercises that should engage the lower back muscles, core, glutes, hamstrings and/or quads are as follows:
– Back squat
– Front squat
– Overhead squat
– Clean and jerk
– Box jumps
– Any kettlebell movement: e.g. kettlebell swings and kettlebell clean and press.
– Assault bike
– Sit-ups/GHD sit-ups
– Wall balls
And the list goes on.
As you can tell, there are a lot of movements you can perform in the gym and other high-intensity sports that require strength in the glutes, core, lower back, and legs.
So you can imagine what happens if you’re only really using your lower back muscles to perform those movements.
Yup – pain city.
And if you’re passionate about your sport and being able to move without pain, you’ll want to avoid this kind of pain as much as possible.
Lower back pain is one of the most debilitating pains that a person can experience (except maybe childbirth).
It doesn’t just crop up when you bend down or lift a weight. It’s there in the morning when you wake up, follows you through the entirety of your day, making it hard to walk up and downstairs, get out of your car, or stand up from sitting, and it’s still there when you go to bed at night. If you can get to sleep that is.
On top of that, you’re unable to train for weeks, sometimes even months whilst you’re waiting for it to recover.
This is plenty of time for you to lose momentum whatever your goal – becoming the next Arnie, losing weight, gaining muscle and everything in between. Suddenly all of your hard work seems to go to waste.
Hence why limiting the chances of lower back pain is so important.
So what can we do to avoid this pain?
First things first: you need to strengthen your core, glutes, and hamstrings.
Working on these 3 main areas will massively improve your performance and prevent lower back pain.
Some of the best exercises for core strength are:
- Dead bugs
- Lying bent leg raises
- Full or half-planks – pay attention to ensure that your lower back does not take over the movement.
- Full or half-wipers – for your obliques
For the glutes, we recommend:
- One-legged squats (not pistol squats!Support yourself by holding onto a sturdy doorframe or similar, lift one leg and use your standing leg to squat down to parallel, then stand up)
- Banded air squats
- Banded crab walks
- Banded glute bridge or barbell hip thrusts
For the hamstrings, we advise:
- Straight-legged/Romanian deadlifts – if you are extremely mobile, you might prefer to use dumbbells instead of a barbell in order to get closer to the ground and therefore engage the hamstrings.
- Hamstring curls using a band or machine weights
- One-legged glute bridges
- Bulgarian split squats with or without dumbbells
Whilst you’re beginning to put these exercises into practice, it’s advisable to get some sort of treatment on a regular basis to support your training. If you’re prone to getting lower back pain, and even if you’re not, getting regular sports therapy treatment can help to relax muscles that are often overloaded or overworked.
This helps to speed up your recovery and prevent niggles and pains from cropping up over time, and will allow you to use the right muscle groups when lifting or even walking up the stairs.
We hope that our post today has helped you to discover the underlying cause of your lower back pain and given you the ability to take the necessary steps towards fixing and preventing lower back pain once and for all.
If you’re suffering from back pain, are a regular gym-goer or Crossfit athlete, or just want to make sure you never experience the agony of lower back pain, contact us on 07840074288 or firstname.lastname@example.org and get your appointment booked in with us today!