Low back pain can be debilitating. It’s one of the worst things that can hit you, and in your lifetime, it is bound to happen at least once. What’s worse is that often there isn’t a specific cause as to your pain.
We could put blame on herniated or bulging discs, however some people have pain associated with it, and some are completely unaware that they have them. So that’s out. Some people have no damage whatsoever but are in pain. So structural damage isn’t really telling us the whole story.
Leave it to Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the leading experts on spinal health to set the record straight as to why some people have low back pain and others don’t. “If I were asked to choose the single most influential variable that links back pain and performance enhancement it would be an underperforming core.”RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Based on the above quote, the TRX is a perfect tool to improve an underperforming core. The TRX is all core, all the time. Plus it’s one of the most versatile tools that you can incorporate into your workouts.
Why? Well outside of the fact that it can be adjusted constantly to vary intensity, there is usually a large core component to each exercise. This means that you’ll get a killer TRX core workout with each and every exercise you choose. How does this translate to helping your low back pain?
Treatment of low back pain often starts with wanting to strengthen the soft tissues like the muscles, tendons, ligaments & fascia that surround the spine. It’s also important, in order to regain good low back health, to focus on a few milestones.
Re-learning and addressing faulty movement patterns, building stability (especially in the spine), increasing muscular endurance and strength should be a staple of a program devoted to back health.
That’s where this great tool, the TRX comes into play. By altering the 3 principles of TRX training (vector, stability, & pendulum), you can change one exercise into several variations, each with its own effect on how the deep core muscles activate, get stronger and develop endurance.
Let’s get to the workout. What specific exercises using the TRX can we do to help strengthen our bodies and in turn lead to a less probability of suffering from back pain? McGill has three movements or exercises he suggests for back rehabilitation that seem to have a great effect and great amounts of success.
They are the bird dog, the curl-up and side bridge/side plank. In addition to these three exercises, three others that will help alleviate back pain and strengthen are the TRX Row, TRX Assisted Squat, & TRX Glute Bridge.
TRX Assisted Squat:
One of the most important things when trying to overcome a back injury or back pain is to re-groove movement patterns, specifically ones that you may use on a day to day basis.
That’s where the Assisted Squat becomes so useful. Using the TRX as a support, you are able to teach yourself how to get up and down in a squat pattern. Now this isn’t specifically challenging to your core, but it can teach you to keep your core braced as you move through the squat.
Start off with 1-2 sets of 15 reps, making sure you focus on form throughout the entire exercise, every rep.
If you’ve ever done a TRX Row before, what does it look like? At the simplest level, it looks exactly like a plank, just a bit angled.
Planks are one of the top core exercises, however when you’re experiencing low back pain, it may be the last thing you want to do. While maintaining a plank position, you want to pull your hands to either side of your chest.
Make sure that you initiate from the upper back and not the shoulders and keep that plank position tight throughout the entire movement. Start off with 1-2 sets of 15 reps.
TRX Standing Side Plank:
For this exercise you are going to have to put the TRX in Single Handle Mode by looping the handles through each other twice. Make sure you have a secure fit. Just as the TRX Row, you‘re going to want to get on an angle till you feel your obliques active.
So why is the side plank such a great exercise for low back pain prevention?
First you are maintaining a neutral spine, which is great for back health, and second you are targeting what is usually a weak muscle, the quadratus lumborum. Additionally, this movement or lack thereof trains the obliques and transverse abdominus.
Start off with 1-2 sets of 10-15 seconds and build from there.
TRX McGill Curl Up:
The number one exercise people run to when they want to work their abs is the crunch and/or sit-up. However, the problem with that is the amount of flexion that results in the low back.
Enter the Curl-up. What this exercise essentially does is maintains your spine in a neutral position relative to the low back while getting the abs to contract, specifically the rectus abdominus.
By using the TRX as part of it, you are able to get significant latissimus dorsi recruitment for greater core stability. Remember this is not a crunch, so the neck and shoulders should not come forward, neutral spine is a must.
A good cue to remember is to keep your chin tucked, imagine giving yourself a double chin. Start off with 1-2 sets of 5-10 unless fatigue hits, in which case stop the exercise.
TRX Bird Dog:
Issues arise with the low back most often because the back muscles have either no strength, no endurance or both. The bird dog is a great exercise to train the lumbar extensors without putting any load on them.
Ensure that there is some abdominal contraction going on and think about pushing the leg or arm out instead of up. You want to see a straight line from the foot to the hand. Start with 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps each side.
TRX Glute Bridge:
If you read my article on the importance of glute strength, you likely saw that it has a large role in the health of your back. By having strong glutes that function, your back has to do less work to stabilize your body.
If you can stabilize your lumbar spine via your glutes in hip extension it will greatly reduce the work and strain on your lower back and thus reduce pain caused from compensating.
Be sure to engage your core and not simply arch your spine to create the appearance of the exercises position. If you begin to feel your hamstring cramps during this exercise, reset your position and try again, this should not be happening. Start with 2 sets of 10-15 reps.
When you think TRX and core exercises, you might expect to see some cool moves like the Atomic Push-up or Suspended Crunches or Pendulums.
As you can see, when you are trying to recover from low back pain or injury, it’s better to start with basics and earn each progression as you can handle it. After the exercises listed above, you can take a crack at planks and suspended planks before adding movement.
Recovering from back pain takes patience, steady progression, and often times regression. Your first step of action should be to develop stability, endurance and strength throughout the core and extensor muscles, along with mastering typical movement patterns like squatting and hip hinging.
This isn’t the end all be all of exercises to help strengthen the core, as there is a whole lot we could cover on just breathing and its effects on stability and strength. However, these are a few beneficial exercises that you should take into account when working with the TRX.
Regardless of how or why your back pain has started, doing these exercises will provide a great benefit, especially if you know your core strength is lacking.
Being able to create tension or stiffness through your core will help you progress to the things you want to do, whether its running, or lifting, or just playing with your kids.