One of the common reasons for people not to lift heavy is that they have back problems. As someone who has had back and hip issues since high school I know they can be a giant pain in the ass (literally). I used that excuse for a couple years but due since I decided I wanted to try a powerlifting meet I had to find some way to squat and pull big without ruining my back. Here are the top 5 things I’ve done to help me be at least 99% pain free. I still need a chiropractic adjustment from time to time, but nothing serious.
1. T-Spine/Hip Mobility- If you don’t have the hip mobility to get to parallel you’re going to end up rounding your back and shooting your knee’s forward to get deeper. In order to improve my hip mobility I needed something simple I could do not only as a warm up but on my off days as well. Enter Defranco’s Agile 8. Some other incredibly useful movements were the cossack squat, the squat to stand with reach, the glute stretch (00:16-01:10), the piriformis stretch, and the hip flexor stretch. For the t-spine mobility try these two (1, 2). Nick Tumminello also has some great upper back mobility exercises.
2. Ab Strength- Typically if you have lower back pain the exercises you want to focus on are STABILIZATION. That’s the primary function of your abdominal complex (which also includes your spinal erectors). Rollouts, fallouts, pallof press variations (1, 2, 3), and landmines are all great exercises.
3. Upper Back Strength- This aspect is critical for finishing deadlifts, creating a shelf for the bar when you squat, and acting as stable platform when you bench. It’s also great for posture. For this one I used pullups (and it’s variations), kroc rows, face pulls, pendlay rows, and pull aparts were the staples for this.
4. Learning to Use the Belt- while I don’t advocate that you use a belt for everything you do in the gym, when it comes to the 1-3 rep sets where the weight is up near your max I do feel you should use one for protection. Most people, however, use them completely wrong. Quite often people will suck in their stomachs as far as they can then crank the belt down just as far as possible so that it’s so tight they can’t hardly breathe. After that they’ll take a deep breathe into their chest before attempting the lift. The belt should be tightened down to the point its very snug, but not cutting off your breath. Next you need to breathe into your BELLY in order to create the intra-abdominal pressure to protect your spine.
5. Form, Form, FORM- You’ll never hit the lifts you want if you can’t maintain the right form when you’re putting out 100% effort. It’s not hard when the weights are lighter but when it starts getting heavy, your form will crap out before you actual strength levels do. When you can give 100% effort without your form breaking down you’ll be a great lifter. In order to get the proper form engraved into your nervous system so that it becomes automatic you have to perform every single rep right. Just because your earlier sets aren’t max effort doesn’t mean your form should be slacking! EliteFTS has a great series on how to squat and bench, (at their site search “So you think you can Squat, and “So you think you can Bench”) and with any luck they’ll be doing a “So you think you can Deadlift” series as well. For those who pull conventional check out this video HERE, and for those who pull sumo check THIS out.