When we think of back strength and increasing back strength, we tend to automatically think of exercises like deadlifts, pull ups and rows. And rightfully so. They are all excellent exercises for increasing back strength and building muscle throughout the back. However, today I wanted to take it a little ‘outside the box.’ I want to focus on the core, the gluteals (bum), and middle trapezius muscle. Strengthening these key 3 areas can go a long way to creating a stronger, more stable back and therefore, reducing the chance of injury and back pain.
Let’s look at the core. We’ve all heard that engaging your core can create stability throughout the torso. And core strengthening is more than just 6 pack abs. Developing strong abdominal muscles may actually help prevent back pain by making you less prone to back injuries and teaching you proper spinal alignment.
Many people have back pain, whether it’s upper back pain or low back pain, and this may be partly caused by weak abdominal muscles. Since your abs are the front anchor of your spine, if they are weak, then the other structures supporting your spine (your back muscles, for example) will have to work harder. By developing stronger core muscles, you’ll be less likely to injure or strain your back muscles. Theoretically, if your muscles around the low back are weak, your body will rely more on passive structures for stability, including ligaments, the tissue that connects bone to bone, as well as the spinal bones or discs which lie between the spinal bones. This can cause pain.
If you think about it, your core is in the centre of your body. It needs to be strong to support the weight of your entire body, including your back and neck. Adding core strengthening to your exercise routine can help protect these regions. By boosting your core strength, you’ll also be less likely to rely on other back pain treatments, such as medications. Win! Win!
Now we’ll look at the bum, or the gluteals to be more anatomically correct. This complex of muscles (glute maximus, medius and minimus), are incredibly important for preventing lower back pain. The Glute Medius and Minimus play a larger role in stabilisation while the Glute Max is our powerhouse. Without proper stabilisation the pelvis will have excessive movement. What do you think sits in the pelvis? The sacrum, which is the base of your spine. So, if your base is unstable it will make your spine unstable, causing lower back pain. Prioritising some specific glute work will pay huge dividends when it comes to reducing or alleviating back pain.
Thirdly, the middle traps. The traps, though typically thought of as one muscle, actually function as three different muscles that facilitate three individual movements. The middle traps primarily pull the shoulder blades together. Why is it important to get that region stronger? Think about setting up for a deadlift or even a bench press for example. You want to squeeze your shoulder blades together to create stability. If those middle traps aren’t strong enough to hold that position (shoulder blades pinched together), then you may find that you lose form quickly during a deadlift and shoulders may roll forward (shoulder blades seperate), and this is a huge no no! It’s also worthwhile mentioning the lower traps too. They are responsible for pulling the shoulder blades down, which along with pulling them together via the mid traps, is an important set up technique prior to lifting. More stability through the shoulder girdle will also reduce the chance of injury at the shoulder joint. A bonus!
Introducing some specific work to the muscle groups above into your training regime may well be just what the doctor ordered! Ask your RFT coach for some exercises on how to go about it to ensure you set yourself up for pain free lifting.