08 Jul A No-Nonsense Plan To Keep Your Back Healthy And Strong
Developing a strong, healthy back is an important training goal.
Not only is it important, but it’s a requirement for long-term health, performance, high function and happiness.
Yes, happiness. Because when you’re in pain, your life is miserable.
Believe me, I know. I’ve been there, done that.
I want to tell you how you can forge a back of steel.
A back so strong, it’s like iron. Durable, strong, resilient.
It’s been estimated that up to 80% of the population will experience back pain at some point in their life.
Actually, I think I’ve seen stats higher than that, but whatever the real stats are, most of us will experience back pain in some form throughout our life.
Building a strong back is a central component to a healthy, dynamic body.
When you have back pain, it can be devastating and severely limiting in just about every way possible.
Unfortunately, I know a lot about back pain.
I say “unfortunately” because I been through hell and back with severe, excruciating back pain that ruled my life for a period of time. While it was a horrible thing to go through, it shaped who I am and how I train.
Back pain doesn’t just happen.
You don’t suddenly move a certain way or sleep wrong and develop back pain.
No, there was something going on that was a pre-cursor to that.
My original situation was a little different than the usual “I tweaked my back.”
I used bad body mechanics lifting a heavy load (specifically, a flexed spine under heavy load).
Then I failed to listen to my own body and tried to train through an injury.
How freaking stupid.
I was young and dumb, but that was then and this is now.
But, I learned a lot from what was one of the worst experiences of my entire life.
That experience forms the basis for the 5 concepts that I use today to keep my back healthy, strong and pain-free.
Here are the 5 concepts.
#1: PERFORM PAIN-FREE EXERCISE
Exercise must be pain-free. I know this seems like common sense, but common sense is usually not common practice. If you have any kind of back pain or situation you’re dealing with, then your exercise program must be pain-free. It should be pain-free regardless. This means you have to toss out your favorite exercise if it’s causing you pain. Move well, move without pain. This is the first key point about forging a strong, powerful back.
KEY POINT: Do no harm. You must keep exercise pain-free. Pain is a sign that something is wrong. Avoid it.
#2: PRACTICE THE HIP HINGE
The hip hinge is the basis for spinal health. Ten years ago, I had no real understanding of the hip hinge. Then, I discovered kettlebells and learned about the hip hinge movement pattern by using the Russian-style kettlebell swing. The hip hinge is a folding movement that occurs at the hips. The hips hinge and the spine maintains a neutral or non-compromised position. Learning to hinge is vital for building a resilient back. A hinge saves the back.
Remember this, a healthy back means using the hips. A healthy back means strong hips.
KEY POINT: Learn how to hinge at the hips. A hinge is not a squat. A hinge maintains neutral spine position and utilizes movement through the hips. Hinge.
#3: BUILD STRENGTH ENDURANCE
Muscle endurance – or strength endurance – seems to be the most desirable quality we need to optimize back health. While strength is important, our back muscles are most suited for endurance, not maximal strength. Think about walking or the daily movements that we typically do during the course of any given day.
Our back muscles are primarily tonic muscles. Tonic muscles, as opposed to phasic muscles, are more involved in repetitive activities according to Dr. Vladimir Janda. These are certainly our spinal extensors that are responsible for static postures during walking, standing, carrying and even sitting.
The more we can keep these trunk stabilizers conditioned (strength endurance), the more protective it is for our spinal health. This is why exercises such as kettlebell swings and loaded carries are so effective for back health – they build work capacity.
KEY POINT: Work on the quality of strength endurance. Think planks, swings, carries, crawls, brisk walking and even higher volume, pain-free spine health exercises.
#4: HAVE A “BIG 3”
Dr. Stuart McGill of BackFitPro.com (renowned spine biomechanics expert and multiple book author) has developed his “big 3” exercises for spine health. The “big 3” consists of the bird dog, the curl-up, and the side plank. These 3 simple exercises have been shown to effectively strengthen the “core” muscles.
Personally, I have extensively used these 3 exercises in my own approach to optimizing back health and I strongly recommend them to people to help “bulletproof” their own back. They work and Dr. McGill’s work supports that.
The bird dog, in particular, is a wonderful exercise for posterior chain activation and learning how to maintain proper spinal alignment and positioning while moving the arms and legs. It also follows the 2 things I like most about any exercise. It’s simple and effective.
At the end of the day though, it’s up to you to find your own “big 3.” In other words, what are the top 3 to 5 exercises that provide the most value to you? Here are some of the most valuable things I do for my own back health, but there are a few that I consider most critical* for long-term spine health.
- *McGill’s “Big 3”
- *Hip bridge variations
- Dead bug exercise
- Anti-rotation movements (with resistance bands)
- Leopard crawls
- *Kettlebell swings
- Kettlebell snatches
- *Kettlebell carries
- Kettlebell bottom’s up holds and walks
- Deadlift movement patterns
- Goblet squat
If you’re wondering, there are reasons for everything on this list. For everything that is done, there must be a strong reason why.
KEY POINT: Know your “go to” exercises for spine health. In general, I think it’s about 3 to 5 core things that you will always do at some level.
#5: NEVER STOP TRAINING
The final point is to never stop training. The training I’m referring to is training for spine health. What I have found is there are certain exercises that are vital keeping my back healthy, strong and pain-free. I just shared them with you. We have to keep doing these exercises on a consistent basis. I’ve seen where people do their exercises, then stop the program when everything is feeling good again. This is normal. But, the reality is that spine health is a lifetime training plan. At least if we truly want a healthy, strong, pain-free back.Spine health is a lifetime training plan. -Rdella TrainingClick To Tweet
One more thing.
It should be noted that back health exercises are most beneficial when they are done daily. I know when I take off from training for a week or so, my back usually starts to get a little cranky. Once I resume, things are good again. My back seems to respond very well to good training and doesn’t do well with time off.
KEY POINT: Train for life. When it comes to back health, always train for a healthy, strong back. Never stop.
Here’s the truth and this is coming from one back patient to another (if you’ve got back issues).
It’s up to you to take control of your back health. Accept that reality.
You must find what works.
You must take control of your back health because if you don’t, no one else will. Yes, you may need a health care professional to help or assist in your treatment plan, but it’s up to you to “own” your long-term back health with the things I have shared with you here.
Go train. Train smart and do it for the rest of your life.
A solution for the 3 most common mobility problems…
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