At some point in your life, chances are you may have experienced an injury or some sort of physical limitation that has prevented you from exercising. One of the most common areas of injury are the hips, glutes, and especially the lower back.
Why is the lower back area injured so frequently? Is it due to poor posture? Weak supporting muscles? Sedentary lifestyle? Sitting too much? It’s a combination of all of these.
A Big Problem: Sitting
“Sitting is the new smoking. “Sitting is killing you!” Chances are you’ve seen some dramatic headlines in recent years about sitting too much or too often. While those may be a bit dramatic, there is research supporting the fact that sitting can contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle.
From increased risk of heart disease, to increased cancer risks; the take-away here is we are too sedentary and sit too much. We are not designed to sit in a chair in an unhealthy flexed spine position for 8+ hours a day. This poor posture is hard on our bodies, especially our lower backs.
The Solution: Move More
So what’s the solution? Get your joints more mobile? Get your muscles and joints stronger? For many of you active folks, you may only focus on one strategy or the other.
A more complete approach that combines mobility and strength work might be the way to go. Once you’ve improved the mobility of a joint, add some stability and strength to that improved range of motion.
While sitting for prolonged periods may have negative effects on the entire body, let’s focus on “opening” up the hips, “activating” the glutes, and “strengthening” the lower back.
Open, Activate, Strengthen
Sitting shortens the hip flexors and weakens the core, glutes, and muscles of the posterior chain. These are all things that can contribute to lower back pain. If the hip flexors are shortened, they can essentially pull on the pelvis and put you in an unhealthy anterior pelvic tilt position which puts added stress on the back muscles.
Having a weak core and glute muscles forces the lower back to pick up more of the slack with certain movements which can also add more stress to these muscles. Over time, these structural imbalances will lead to lower back pain and eventual injury.
We need to combat these imbalances and this inactivity by improving range of motion and strengthening the muscles on the backside of the body. While there is certainly no “one size fits all approach” when it comes to fitness and injury prevention, there are effective movements that can be done to be proactive and help mobilize and strengthen these problem areas.
Let’s take a look at 4 exercises that will help to get us out of pain and feeling great.
Lower Back Workout Strategy
This 4-movement circuit can be incorporated into part of your warm-up, or as a quick stand-alone session whenever you need a 5-minute break from your desk.
Hip 90/90: Mobility Drill
Perform 5 reps.
Begin seated on the ground with one bent leg out in front of you and one bent leg out to the side. The “90” refers to the angles of the knee joints. Initiate the movement by “opening the side knee” (i.e. hip external rotation) up as far as your flexibility will allow. Then begin to bring the other knee up off the ground to follow. Continue to rotate your body until both knees hit to floor.
You should now be in the same position you were in at the start of the movement, just facing the opposite direction. Be mindful of your back and think “tall spine” throughout the exercise. Repeat the movement to get back to the start for one complete repetition.
Total Gym Active Hip Flexor
Perform for 30 seconds per leg.
This is a slight variation to the popular hip flexor stretch that many people are familiar with. The biggest adjustment is that we will remain very “active” during the stretch. We are also working on maintaining a neutral pelvis to help increase the intensity of the stretch.
Total Gym Superman
Perform 10 reps.
While this might seem contradictory to some, strengthening the anterior core muscles in a safe manner is a great way to help alleviate lower back discomfort. The ability to stay braced and control the movement as you extend your body helps to develop strength all the way up the chain. Be sure to resist anti-extension in the lower back as you extend your arms out in front of your shoulders.
Total Gym Glute Bridges
Perform for 20 reps.
Begin seated on the ground with your upper back against a bench. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the ground and extend your hips as you lean back onto the bench.