What area do you feel “on fire” or “working” when performing deadlifts, snatches, cleans, kettlebell swings, or squats? Or maybe a better question. What area do you must frequently injure when performing those movements?
If your answer is your Low Back, you are not alone!
But just because you aren’t alone with that answer, doesn’t make it “normal.” Feeling some tightness in your back with heavier lifts due to stabilizing is normal, but straining the area or feeling the burning pain after lifting is not normal. You should never feel like you can’t move the day after performing any pulling type lift.
Most low back injuries when performing the different lifts or movements are due to improper movement patterns. With the movements, the hips and glutes are the areas that should be working to stand the body up, but instead our bodies use the low back muscles to stand us up. The back can handle this for a couple reps, but with high reps or high weight, the muscles cannot tolerate it, resulting in muscle strains.
But why does this happen? Weakness, tightness/stiffness, and habits!
The glutes are a very large muscle group, but one that is also very weak in many people. When we sit, the glutes naturally shut down temporarily. Over time, they get weaker, especially if we don’t move in ways to strengthen them or do specific exercises to strengthen them.
The body, being smart and wanting you still to function, learns how to move around that weakness. This means you become very quadriceps dominant and low back dominant with your movements. Eventually, this repetitive pulling with your back results in an injury.
Due to sitting, shoes, and habits, our hip and ankle joints become stiff and the surrounding muscles tight. Because of this, we cannot get in the proper positions to perform some of the lifts properly, especially any that require a squat. If you can’t get in the right position to fire the glutes, your back and quadriceps automatically become the muscles that work to stand you up.
Squat down to get something out of a bag or a low cabinet. Where are you positioned? Are you forward on your toes? Or are you back on your heels in a good squat position? My guess is you are on your toes.
Like I mentioned before, our bodies are smart. They learn to compensate in order to keep us functioning. This means our movement patterns change due to the weakness, tightness, and stiffness mentioned above. As you start changing your movement patterns, they become habit.
For most people, these habits set in early. We start seeing the change in position and movements patterns from grade school as kids are sitting more rather than up running around and playing. Once our bodies learn that, it continues until we tell it otherwise.
So what do I do about it?
Glad you asked! First and foremost, you must work to correct your movement patterns. You must learn to feel your glutes working rather than your low back.
There are a number of ways to work on this. Check out these videos to see if they help you.
Even better than getting out of pain, once you learn how to move properly, your lifts will increase significantly fairly quickly. Translation: improve your movement patterns and start hitting PRs!!!
Have more questions about this? Or need help correcting your movement patterns? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your questions answered.