Whether it's desk jobs, poor posture or wear and tear, so many of us get bothered by back pain. Your first thought may be that training will hinder, rather than help your back. However, with the right guidance, training can actually protect your back. We asked PT Cassie Grul about the best exercises to keep your back both strong and mobile.
Can strength training help protect your back?
Yes! Strength training can be used to improve the strength of muscles, support our thoracic and lumbar spine and overall spinal health. Specific strength and mobility exercises can be used to improve posture imbalances and provide stability.
Why is it important to strengthen your core to support your back?
Having a strong core is very important when working on your back and spine to ensure it is always working correctly when doing various compound exercises (e.g. barbell back squats and deadlifts) and also to prevent injury. Our ‘core’ is made up of various muscles:
• Pelvic Floor
• Transverse Abdominus
• Internal & External Obliques
• Rectus Abdominus (6-pack muscles)
• Erector Spinae
Working internal and external core muscles will give you the best chance of developing strength and stability around your mid-section, which can improve posture, alleviate back pain and can actually help you breathe easier.
What are some simple core exercises that may help?
A simple exercise like lying on your back on the floor with your feet flat on the ground with your knees bent. Suck your belly button in and push your lower back to the floor. This will activate the Transverse Abdominus (deep core muscle) that is used to stabilise our spine and pelvis.
Another great core and spine exercise is the Plank, lying prone on the floor with your elbows positioned under your shoulders, legs straight with toes on the floor. Ensure you hold your core tight and keep your spine neutral. Other exercises include Bird Dog, Crunches and Side Plank.
Are there certain exercises that can help strengthen your back muscles?
Strengthening our erector spinae (muscles along the spine) are also important to work on to prevent back injuries and improve strength. There are resistance exercises that can strengthen your back like Back Extensions, Deadlifts, Bent Over Rows and Reverse Hypers. But, it’s best to work on your mobility and stretch out tight muscles before you start doing resistance training.
How about mobility exercises and stretching – can they help?
I feel that mobility and stretching should be considered before strength training as you need to be moving efficiently before doing any exercise under load. Some great mobility exercises and stretches for your back include:
• Lying down flat on the floor and pulling one knee into your chest. Hold for approximately 30 seconds and swap legs.
• While lying down still, position both feet together and knees toward your chest and rock slowly side to side.
• Lie down and pull knee towards chest and across your body to your opposite shoulder and keep both shoulders on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side.
• Other stretches include a Quadruped, Cat Cows, Child Pose stretch and using a foam roller on your thoracic spine.
Would you recommend different exercises for say, lower back versus upper back?
The mobility exercises and stretches mentioned above are good for both lower and upper back, but there are many other stretches that can be used. In reference to resistance training for upper back these can include:
• Seated Row
• Lat Pulldown
• Bent Over Rows
• Reverse Flys
Lower back resistance exercises can include:
• Hip Extensions
• Reverse Hypers
• Prone Extensions
• Deadlifts (These work your upper back as well)
Is there anything to consider before you start mobility and strength exercises?
Before you start any resistance training and/or if you have existing or previous back pain, always consult a health professional. You may need to focus on stretching and mobility before starting any resistance training (depending on what your injury or pain is). They can identify if there is anything specific you need to avoid or perhaps focus on something that needs attention. Remember to warm up beforehand and ensure you are pain free before doing any kind of exercise. Remember to train SMART not HARD.
Cassie Grul is the owner and Head Coach of CJ Coaching and Performance. She’s a personal trainer based in Sydney and also offers specialised online coaching programs and tailored nutritional advice. Cassie has 3 years experience in personal training and she is passionate about helping people achieve their fitness and health goals and build confidence to achieve long lasting results while living a balanced lifestyle. She has also competed and placed 1st in various Bikini Bodybuilding competitions and knows what it takes to work hard and get great results! You can connect with Cassie here: Facebook | Instagram | Website