Lower back pain (LBP) is a condition that plagues many people. In most cases, it is caused by inactivity and muscle weakness. But what if you are active and have LBP? In fact, what if you actively engage in exercises that help to strengthen your back, and you still have LBP? If this sounds like you, then you have what I like to call “the recreational exerciser’s LBP”.
What does it feel like?
LPB feels like constant stiffness or tightness in your lower back. Sometimes it can be made worse by sitting, sleeping or intense exercise.
The Underlying Cause: Chronic Hyperlordosis
Many avid exercisers and even athletes have a posture that is a dramatic curve in the low back, called hyperlordosis, or an exaggerated anterior pelvic tilt (where your butt tilts outward). These are caused by the squats, deadlifts and other exercises we do in the gym. Putting your hips in an anterior pelvic tilt is proper form in the weight room to ensure safety and correct technique; however, this posture can lead to some back issues if used in daily life. To remedy this problem, we will discuss three components that will help bring your spine back into alignment.
- Glute Activation
- Abdominal Strengthening
Glute (Butt) Activation
Most people tend to use their lower back for the brunt of any exercise, especially hip-extension based movements (Romanian deadlifts, bridges, deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings, walking etc..). This can cause inflammation and extremely tired or tight low back muscles (erector spinae). The key is to shift the load from your lower back to your glutes.
The way to do this is, first and foremost, always keep your weight through your heels. Next, consciously think about your glutes throughout the entire range of motion of a movement. Contract the glutes forcefully during your hip extension-based movements along with everyday activities such as walking. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store, keep your glutes contracted (just don’t let anyone see you, haha). Once you have masterred this technique,you should notice a decrease in back pain…..not to mention rock-hard glutes!
Key Exercise: Pelvic Lifts
- Lay on your back with knees bent
- Push your hips up through the heels focusing on the contraction in your glutes
- Lower back down and repeat
- 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
If you try these techniques but glutes don’t fire properly, you may need some more specific glute strengthening exercises. If this is the case, talk to your fitness practitioner for a more specific prescription.
Two key areas to maintain flexibility would be our hip flexors and hamstrings. Due to the Western American lifestyle, sitting makes up a great part of our day. This can lead to postural misalignments such as tight hip flexors which result in an anterior pelvic tilt and/or tight hamstrings which can induce a posterior pelvic tilt (the former is far more common). These muscles are attached at the pelvis and lower part of our spine which can begin to pull on that skeletal complex if they are not flexible. Make sure to stretch these muscles daily and talk with your practitioner about different strategies to stay limber.
Strengthen Your Abdominals
People with an anterior pelvic tilt tend to have a lot less abdominal strength vs. low back strength. The weakness in the abs occurs in both the muscles you see, the rectus (or so-called “6-pack”) and ab muscles you don’t see, the transverse abdominals. When your lower back is much stronger than your abdominals it will pull the abs in an elongated position. Strengthening both your rectus and transverse abdominals will counteract that overly tight lower back and pull your posture out of that hyperlordotic position.
Key Exercise: Pelvic Floors
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- There should be a gap between your low back and the floor
- Actively push the low back into the ground and hold for 2-3 seconds, relax and repeat
- You will feel this exercise deep in the abdominal wall.
- 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps to start
To get your body out of a hyperlordotic position and ease back pain activate your butt during workouts and everyday life, stretch the hip flexors, hamstrings and strengthen your abs!