Pain during or after exercise can be triggered by several different causes, but one common cause of pain comes from muscle groups taking on too much weight or performing more work than intended. Athletes who have tight muscle groups, or muscle groups that aren’t working at optimal levels, have to utilize other surrounding muscle groups to compensate for the primary muscle groups that aren’t assisting the movement. Over time, this can cause aches and pains in that area of the body, and can ultimately lead to serious injuries if left unresolved.
One of the main complaints I hear from athletes is that they are experiencing low back pain. My first recommendation is always to seek medical advice. After medical advice is sought and it is clear for the athlete to go back to working out, I take a look at the surrounding areas to try to resolve issues: the hips, glutes and abs.
I first check out the athlete’s hips and glutes to see if they are experiencing any muscle tightness or limited range of motion. Hips and glutes are often culprits for tightness - many Americans spend a majority of their day sitting, which can create a lot of tension in the hips and glutes due to the body holding one position for an extremely long duration of time. How does that translate over to low back pain? If your muscles in your hips and glutes are tight, those muscles won’t be able to “fire” as quickly or as efficiently as we need them to when we work out. During a movement such as a deadlift (which requires a solid hip hinge and a lot of power and drive from the glutes), this can cause a huge problem, and your body will look to send the pressure and force from other surrounding muscles in order to complete the movement. Often times, that pressure and force is sent to the low back muscles, which aren’t equipped to handle movements like deadlifts on their own. That extra pressure and tension can strain the muscles in your low back, causing aches and pains.
To help alleviate low back pain caused by tightness in the hips and glutes, you’ll need to focus on three key components:
1. Using myofascial tools to roll out the hips and glutes and relive some of the tension. This can be accomplished by using a lacrosse ball or a foam roller, and needs to be done before and after your workouts.
2. Activate the muscles by doing bodyweight exercises, lighter weighted exercises, or using a resistance band to warm up the muscles and prepare them to fire off efficiently during your heavier lifts.
3. Stretch - make sure you stretch before and after workouts, but also try to incorporate some light stretching during the day if you spend a lot of time sitting in one position. This will help keep the muscles from tightening back up again.
If your hips and glutes are firing and have good range of motion and you’re still experiencing some low back pain, start looking into strengthening your abdominal muscles.
If you were to cut your body in half, you could view your body’s muscles and see which muscles groups are opposite one another. Your low back muscles and abdominal muscles oppose each other, and if one muscle group is working much harder than the other during your workouts, that can contribute to aches and pains. By strengthening the opposing muscle group (in this case your abdominal muscles), you can perform your movements more easily and more efficiently, and you can help prevent aches and pains.
To strengthen the abs without agitating the low back, try working plank variations. Planks really work to strengthen the abs in conjunction with the glutes, hips, hamstrings, and lat muscles without crunching or twisting the spine and causing more discomfort the the low back.
Focus on creating a solid wall of tension during your planks and slowly work up the amount of time you hold the position, and you’ll notice that you can more easily utilize your abdominal muscles during your bigger lifts.
Try working on these couple points and you’ll start to notice your low back feeling less or no pain during your bigger strength lifts.
Lauren Weiss is a personal trainer and group fitness instructor based out of Long Beach, CA. She specializes in kettlebell training and unconventional workouts and has been working with both types of fitness for over a year. Lauren has her BOLT Kettlebell Sport Certification through the USA Kettlebell League and has expertise working with kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells and several unconventional fitness tools. Lauren received her BA in Journalism and uses her writing expertise to craft thought-provoking articles about trending fitness, health & wellness topics. Follow Lauren on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.
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