Go heavy or go home

Mind your lower back

Lower back pain is a common occurrence among many people. While physical exercises can help sooth or get rid of this pain in some situations, they can also be the cause or aggravate it. Here are the most popular exercises that can place undue stress on the lower back if not performed properly.

The correct way of doing bent-over barbell rows with your back not rounded

The Squat

An excellent all-round exercise, the squat can also be a killer for the lower back if done incorrectly. Ensure you keep your back flat at all times throughout the exercise and not rounded, making you crouch excessively forward.

The back’s function during the squat is to transmit the power from the legs to the bar. If your back is rounded, it’s not going to do that efficiently. Imagine a twig breaking under a load and imagine a rigid rod not bending. Hopefully, you get the picture.

More on how to do the squats.

Leg press

Another lower back killer if you don’t know how to do it. Many people assume the leg press is safer than the squat to do because it is a machine exercise. You need to keep your back flat against the backrest at all times during the exercise. Don’t round your lower back, especially at the bottom of the exercise. If you feel your lower back lifting off the backrest, you shouldn’t lower the platform any lower. If your range of motion becomes limited as a result, try some stretching exercises to become more supple, especially with regards to your hamstrings.

More on how to do the leg press.

Hack squats

The same can be said for the hack squat – keep your back flat against the back rest as you lower yourself and especially at the bottom of the exercise.

Read more about the benefits of doing the hack squat exercise.

The Deadlift

This is an exercise that actually targets the back, with particular emphasis on the lower back. When straightening up, don’t bend backwards excessively, thus putting excessive stress on the spine. Only pull up until you are vertically straight. If fact, you want to stop just short of that because you reduce the involvement of the back if you are standing up straight.

Barbell curls

What do the biceps have to do with the back? It’s the posture of the exercise that involves the back, at least if you do it incorrectly. Never bend over backwards just to cheat and curl a weight that’s too heavy for you. The spine is not designed to take bend backwards with this sort of load. Sometimes though, the temptation to bend back just to finish that last curl is just too great. What I do is perform this exercise with my back against a pillar so I have no room to bend back.

Cheating in this way is also counterproductive as your powerful hips do all the lifting, followed by gravity once your lower arms go past the vertical; your biceps do little work.

See how you can benefit from barbell curls.

The Benchpress

It’s hard to damage your back during the benchpress. You’ll have to be in all sort of positions to do that. But some people do that and do end up with an injured back. The most likely position is when you raise your hips off the bench. This in itself is not too dangerous but when your body is under tension, when your back is acting as stabilisers to the pectorals and when you are pushing a heavy load tryingto just complete that very last rep, you are asking for trouble. So again, keep your back flat on the bench at all times.

Here’s a summary of the correct benchpress technique, something many of us get wrong from time to time.

What about back exercises?

It goes without saying that all back exercises could pose a greater risk of injury to the lower back due to the posture of the exercises and the load the back muscles are under. Always keep the proper posture, in particular a natural arch in the back and never round it up. I see way too many beginners doing the bent-over barbell row like a hunchback. Even the front lat pulldown, what could be the safest of all exercises, becomes a health hazard when people lean far back to pull down the load with momentum. I just avert my eyes in this case and mutter a short prayer for the fool doing this.

If you want to strengthen your lower back a little, you should read about these 2 great exercises I recommend.


Picture credit from Flickr.

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