When it comes to problematic areas of the body, the lower back is often a major concern. Lower back pain is chronic in our modern day society. If you take a quick look at our lifestyles, they include a lot of sitting down….too much in fact.

We spend enormous amounts of time hovering in front of computer screens and watching tv, and invariably we do these things in a slouchy, poor-posture position. Add to that, the increasing amount of text messaging going on (creating “text neck”) and our poor backs are taking a beating!

There’s hope however, I have trained quite a few people who suffer from lower back pain. They regularly have to see medical doctors and chiropractors, UNLESS they improve their bodies.

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I have seen countless situations where a person improves to the point where the doctor appointments and back pain are both virtually eliminated! The key is simply performing simple movements (correctly) to allow the body to improve to the point where it SHOULD be.

The lower back is built for strength. Powerful muscles! The lower back is typically centred around the erector spinae, or spinal erectors, but the lats and the mid-back (between the shoulder blades) also have a role here, as do the hip and glute region. Properly training these muscle regions will provide sure-fire results.

Exercises to strengthen lower back

Bent Leg Deadlifts

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The lower back is designed to allow us to bend over at the hips and stand back up. Simple. All we need to do is add resistance and this powerful muscle region will adapt and get stronger. Now there’s the issue of safely training. Many who have back pain shy away from deadlifts, however if they perform them properly, it’s actually a very safe exercise.

A common mistake is to grab a barbell at arm’s length and just “bend over”.What happens is that the barbell moves forward away from the body, increasing risk of injury. Instead, the hips should slide backwards as you descend so the bar simply travels straight up and down, not forward.

Try this tip: Start the movement in the “down” position and allow the bar to rest at the top edge of the kneecaps. Look forward and raise the chest out/up so the back is now “flat”, not rounded. Drive the hips forward until you’re standing up straight. Next, slide the hips back allowing the bar to descend back to the kneecaps. Repeat for reps.

Another discussion is just how low to go. Well, the above description should leave your hips bent at approximately 90 degrees in the ”down” position. This is a very safe range of motion and is plenty for most all of us. Now, an athlete may need to descend all the way to the floor, but for the rest of us, not so much.

Standing Glute Squeeze

This is a great movement and needs no equipment. Perform this in front of a chest-high bar, in a doorway, or even facing a wall. Stand fully erect with your feet directly under you and under each hip, in other words a normal good-posture stance. Using one leg, knees locked, swing one leg backward while using the other leg for support.

Do NOT allow the knee to bend, rather move the stiff leg backward. Don’t allow the foot to turn outward either. You won’t get very far until you feel the contraction in the hamstrings, glute, and up into the lower back, all on that same side. Perform extra reps here, say 20 or so. A simple movement but it really goes after the hip region and the muscles just above and below as well.

Pull-ups

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The lats encompass a very large area of the back and they attach down low. They not only cause adduction of outstretched arms, but also retraction in the back area. In order to safely train the back, it must be kept “flat”, and the lats help in this effort.

I recommend using a palms-forward, wide grip, and I prefer an angled bar where the ends taper downward slightly. Pull yourself up allowing your chin to approach the bar, keeping your neck straight or perhaps tilted back looking up slightly.

Now here’s the problem: the average adult can perform how many reps? ZERO! It takes a little time to develop the ability to do pull-ups/chin-ups. That’s why they invented the “Lat Pull Down” from a high cable. Same movement essentially, but now you can work with less resistance than your full body weight. Try these sitting and straddling a bench and use a wide bar.

Scoot forward slightly, look up at the cable pulley and keep your head/neck in that position. Pull the wide lat bar toward your throat (please don’t smack your throat!). Most people aim for the strernum/chest but that’s too low a mark.

Just allow the bar to come back right under the chin. Tip: your abs will try to contract to help the bar come down so puff your chest upward toward the oncoming bar. If you can’t do that you need to lower the weight.

Rows

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This one is simply to train the muscles of the mid-back, between the shoulder blades. Retraction is also necessary here in order to maintain good posture for a “flat” back. Use a cable in each hand or a rubber tubing handle in each hand.

Stand with good posture, split stance(one foot forward, the other back) and puff up the chest. Move the elbows outward (like wings) until they are just below shoulder level. Keep hands palms-down and keep them fully as wide as your elbows.

Maintain that wide grip throughout the movement. now, simply try to “squeeze” the shoulder blades together. This allows the rowing motion to rotate the shoulders backward. Your arms/hands don’t travel very far here but you will feel a strong contraction between the shoulder blades. Don’t make this an arms/biceps “pull”, rather just a shoulder blade “squeeze”.

In summary, train the lower back with a deadlift and avoid high reps or “burn sets”. Add extra reps to the glute squeeze, and train the assisting muscles, lats and mid back, in the usual way of 8–12 reps. Do this and you won’t be having back pain or problems. Remember: a strong back doesn’t necessarily mean a weak mind.

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