Before reading this, I would suggest checking out PART 1 which explains how and why your back becomes injured, but if not, that’s cool.
The quick physics:
Your body is made up of levers. Depending on how you move, your body will utilise different levers (bone and muscle) at different intensities.
There’s a connection and cascading effect between muscle groups, so what you do at one joint will eventually affect what happens at other joints.
The quick physiology:
Your muscles have a given capacity to produce intensity (weight) and volume (repetitions of that weight) which is determined by the size of the muscle and your ability to switch that muscle on repeatedly from your central nervous system (brain).
These things are directly correlated with your previous exposure to stimuli.
I.e., if you have trained a given muscle to be bigger and stronger, it will have the capacity to do more things.
Most people are generally quite unaware of the individual capacities that each muscle group holds and generally overestimate how much intensity and volume that muscle can withstand.
(along with underestimating how much certain muscle groups are being utilised in other tasks as a supplementary contractor)
2 of the most common reasons we see people injure their back is because of the way they squat and the way they hinge.
- The squat: your torso angle during the squat will determine how much load gets put through your back muscles (erector spinae). The more upright your torso is, the less your erectors will have to work in order to “extend the spine” and stop you from folding in half like a deck chair. The more you bend over and look like a “good morning” the more your back has to work.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the position of a good morning, it’s a great tool to develop your back muscles and make them stronger, but it’s not good when your intention is to back squat it and you end up good morning-ing 120kg and outweighing your capacity for that task and muscle group.
There’s a difference between developing the capacity for a task and performing a task.
Anything that can be a medicine can also be a poison. It is the dosage that counts.
The squat should be prescribed based on your biomechanics and mobility standards, or it should be mechanically regressed to enable you to hit better positions (e.g. heels raised).
- The Hinge: the way we should hinge is by pushing our bum back and evenly distributing the load through the posterior chain (erectors, glutes, hamstrings).
The way most people hinge is by tucking the bum under and unevenly loading the erector spinae right around the L4 and L5 region of the spine. Think of a dog doing a poo.
Yep, that’s how most people look deadlifting.
Generally, this won’t kill you on day 1, but if you repeatedly ask your erectors to take the grunt work day after day with increasingly more and more work, without ever developing them in a sustainable way, you’re going to run into the issues mentioned in part 1.
Here are my back fix protocols also known as “RSM”. Release, stretch, move.
- The lower back roll: release your lower back muscles and alter the tonality between brain and muscle.
- The hamstrings: muscles that are super tight will be inhibited from true activation.
- The calves: if you have tight calves, you won’t be able to get your knees over your toes in the squat and won’t be able to maintain an upright torso and will lead to excessive loading of the trunk
Stretch: strength through a large range of motion is key to staying injury-free. When our body has more freedom to work into different spaces more freely, there is a higher chance we can develop strength there and therefore unlock the benefits of developing higher thresholds and capacities. In order to achieve that, we must stretch.
- The quadratus lumborum or Pancake with QL:
- Knees over toes split squat
- The hamstrings (front split)
- The calves
Move: avoiding the issues won’t work. You need to develop a higher tolerance and capacity to withstand intensity and volume. The way you can safely and efficiently target your back in isolation is with these drills below.
- GHD back extensions (posterior chain capacity) If you don’t have one, you can do these variations instead (one & two)
- Romanian deadlifts: learn to load the hamstrings and posterior chain with perfect form and time under tension
- Seated Good mornings: This will help you isolate and improve the erector muscles (extension) of your spine so that you can withstand more force and prevent flexion of the spine. By training this muscle group, you’ll create a robust spine and posterior chain.
- Pendlay rows: the hinged position will help stretch out the posterior chain and develop the capacity
- Heavy Goblet squats: will help with hitting better range in the squat as well as intra-abdominal bracing
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