As we get older, our body starts to get used to movement patterns. I think we assume (especially if we aren’t lifting under a load), that our body wouldn’t perform any movement wrong unless we intentionally did so. You’d be right to an extent. The problem is, throughout our lives, because of injuries, or just muscles going dormant from lack of use (i.e. sitting all day), we little by little start to groove wrong patterns and not even realize it.
This is what causes chronic back pain. If you are sitting all day, your hip flexors tighten up and your abs, glutes, and shoulder blade muscles all weaken, because you let yourself round over, never letting those muscles fire and keep your body upright. Allowing for that 8 hours a day, multiplied over many years is bad news.
Prioritize Mobility Work
If you are guilty of this all is not lost. We need to get on top of it by gaining our range of motion back. Mobility is the ability to move through a range of motion with full control. Without this, you overcompensate by using muscles and areas of the body that aren’t meant to take on that extra load (i.e. when you lift something off the ground and tweak your lower back). It’s also a sign that your body is telling you something is not right.
Actively engaging these now dormant muscles (like the glutes, abs, and shoulder blades above) tell your body there is a use for them and keep that neural pathway laid out to fire them as they should.
It’s Not Just Stretching
So many people think if they stretch, that’s enough. It’s not just about stretching, but about taking your muscles through a full range with some load to create tension to keep the muscle activated.
By incorporating mobility drills, we groove a new, and PROPER movement pattern, teaching the muscle to fire the way it SHOULD be. Adding some light resistance will make sure it maintains that stability and control throughout the full range.
Floor bridge – start with both feet on the ground. Drive through your heels and make sure you feel your glutes firing as you hold the top position for 10-15 seconds. Do 3 sets. If you feel it in the hamstring more, then that is a sign you are not properly firing the glutes. Make this a focus!
90/90 – If you feel like your hips are tight, then spend some time stretching them out. Getting in the 90/90 position for each side, will show any glaring weaknesses. Try to lift up the foot of that back leg. If you can’t do it then you definitely have tightness in the hips that needs to be addressed. You may feel really tight getting into this position in general. If that’s the case, this should be a staple of your mobility routine. Do 10 seconds each side for 3 sets.
Palloff Press – This is an anti rotation movement. We don’t want to just have a six pack. We need to be able to resist and control rotation, especially when added resistance is being placed on it. When people get back pain, a lot of times it’s due to asymmetries among either side of the body. This can create unstable and added force favoring one side over the other. If one side of your core is weaker than the other we have a similar issue. We need a strong, stable core through an entire movement when heavy loads are being used. Do 3 sets of 20 seconds each side.
Bird dog – This is a glute and core focus. When people do an exercise like a squat, they tend to over arch their low back to squeeze out more range. This is a recipe for disaster. That is not only stretching out and thus, lowering the stability of your abdominals, it’s addressing that your core doesn’t have the strength to resist that compensation. It’s also highlighting your inability to fire the glutes. Make sure to squeeze the glute as the leg kicks back during this exercise. Don’t let your core turn either direction. 3 sets of 10 each side.
Dead bugs – Another great core exercise. I recommend this one if overarching your low back is a big issue. Lying on your back in this exercise really brings awareness to your ability to keep the low back pressed towards the floor the entire time. This is a good way of testing to see how much you use your low back for a lift. Really focus on squeezing your core and keeping that low back in contact with the floor. 3 sets of 10 each side.
Combat Stretch – Having tight ankles means sacrificing extra range of motion during a movement. This can lead to compensations elsewhere up the chain where there shouldn’t be. If you have trouble pushing that shin forward and over your feet during this stretch, you know this is the exercise for you. It’s very easy for our calves to tighten up from walking all day. Do 3 sets of 15 seconds each side.