Weekend Workout - CSN's six exercises/tips to improve lower back
Many people suffer with lower back weakness and pain that can be caused by lifting weights. The cause of this tends to be a lack of conditioning, strength or proper technique when it comes to performing lifts that involve the lower back. Particularly the squat and deadlift can result in lower back injury to increased spinal loading without proper attention to strengthening the lower back through supplementary exercises. So here we have outlined some of our favourite compound and isolation movements to help you grow a thick, dense strong lower back to help protect it against injury.
1. Good Mornings.
Performing these both seated and standing are a great way to target the lower back. Standing movements have a tendency to recruit more of the posterior chain, including the hamstrings and glutes and allow a greater range of movement; whereas seated variations isolate the lower back more. Remember to keep the back in a ‘neutral spine’ position and perform the lift until the back is perpendicular to the floor with the chest almost touching the thighs. It is also important to remember to perform good mornings with a slow eccentric (lowering) phase of the movement and an explosive concentric (lifting) phase.
2. Single Arm Low Pull Seated Rows.
Normally when we perform a seated row (the type with chest support) we pull with both arms at the same time, this is undoubtedly a great back exercise, but to get more involvement with the lower part of the lats, which make up part of the lower back that is important for stabilising the spines, we should focus on pulling in a single arm fashion.
To perform this properly we need to focus on two things. Firstly, we need to concentrate on pulling low, keeping the elbow tight to the side of the body and trying to pull not just backwards, but in a slightly downward direct. Secondly, as we are using a single arm movement, this allows us to slightly twist our body towards the end of the pull (rotating in the same direction as the pull); aiding to pull in a fuller range of movement and recruiting as much muscle as possible. Focus on squeezing at the end of the pull, ‘pinching’ the shoulder blades together hard and driving the elbow back as far as is comfortably possible, making sure those lower lats fire.
3. Back Extensions.
Many people who perform these focus on forcing the back into hyperextension (arching the back) at the top of the movement. This will indeed recruit the muscles of the lower back, but many debates still exist as to whether forced hyperextension on the back is actually good for the area, and this includes during squatting and deadlifting too, which is a common when people confuse a neutral spine position with an over extended position.
Start by focusing on keeping the spine in a neutral position throughout the entire movement and controlling the load both eccentrically and concentrically using a slow tempo for both phases, only extending fully to squeeze the lower back muscles at the very top of the movement if required to feel them activate fully.
4. Rack Pulls.
The queen to the deadlift king, the rack pull should be performed with the bar set at just below knee height. Pulling from this point takes the initial, more vulnerable, part of the deadlift for many people out of the equation and allows the focus to be placed on the lower back muscles with greater weight in a stronger, safer position for the spine. Pull from a dead-stop position explosively, but with a smooth not jerking motion, pulling the chest though at the end of the lift and again, keeping the spine in a neutral position; remember to control the negative part of the lift to reset the bar for the next rep.
5. Dead Stop Bent-Over Rows.
Unlike conventional bent over rows, having to start from the floor each rep means that the body will have to start with the spine in a more flexed position with the torso almost perpendicular to the floor. When lifting the bar off the floor, the lower back will be recruited to help stabilise the spine in this position and also will extend slightly towards the top of the rep as we drive the elbows backwards to complete the lift. This is great for both activating the lower back muscles as stabilisers to the pulling movement from the floor, and through a small degree of extension as we pull the bar into the lower stomach. Perform these explosively from the dead-stop position and control the negative back to the floor.
No lower back tips and tricks would be complete without the deadlift. Despite their ability to grow a thick, dense back, many people avoid these due to injury potential or the fact that, much like squats, they are just hard work, especially at high volumes. The important thing here is to remember to use correct form, keep the spine in a neutral position and to progress your weights appropriately.
The biggest risk of injury from the deadlift, in our experience, isn’t from the actual performance of the lift itself, but it is just one of those lifts that for some reason people try to take massive leaps forwards with in progress without the proper programming. The deadlift is certainly not something you just jump in on from time to time and try and pull a one rep max, but unfortunately that is how many people treat it and get injured. The best advice we can give is work through your percentages and rep ranges slowly and progress your lifts and volumes like you would any other lift, using tight technique and stopping the sets when this starts to fail and the lower back rounds as the lower back muscles become fatigued.
If you’re looking to make some serious lower back strength and size gains then try our adding this quick back blast onto your normal back routine.
1A. Rack Pulls: 3 sets of 10 repetitions. Two minutes rest between sets.
2A. Good Mornings: 2 sets of 15 repetitions, superset with…
2B. Back Hyper Extensions, As many reps as possible. Two minutes rest between sets.
3A. Single-Arm, Low Pull Seated Rows. 3 sets each arm, no rest between sides.