7 Tips to Prevent Lower Back Injuries in the Gym
Back pain is a common problem in the gym. Many lifters experience occasional lower back discomfort that throws them off their workout. If you are experiencing back pain after an exercise, it is easy to wonder whether you did something wrong or if the pain could be a sign of serious injury.
Nowadays, there’s a ton of information about back pain and how to fix it. However, it can be quite confusing and might not suit you since every case of back pain is different for each person. What works for others may not work for you since back injuries can be caused by many factors that require personalized management.
Hence, focusing on preventing lower back injuries is better, especially in the gym. After all, prevention is better than cure. This article will discuss tips for avoiding back pain and injuries during training.
In the gym, many cases of lower back pain are caused by excessive or unnecessary stress on the spine and its surrounding structures, such as ligaments, discs, and muscles.
Improper form, especially when the back is rounded (spinal flexion), takes a toll on the ligaments and disc of the spine. Too much rounding of the spine while lifting heavy weight creates pressure in the space between the vertebra.
This pressure can push the vertebral disc out of its place, causing impingement of the nerve roots in the spine, leading to irritation and pain. This can also lead to inflammation of the surrounding soft tissues in the spine.
Warming up is like a golden rule if you want to prevent injuries.
You need to prepare your body for the physical demands of your activities.
Before performing a lift, you can do a little warm-up by toning down the weight to 30 to 50% of the load for a couple of reps to engage or “activate” essential muscles you need during the actual lift.
Mild cardio aerobic exercises at the start of your training would not hurt you either. For example, 5-10 minutes of light treadmill or elliptical is enough to raise your core temperature and start your heart pumping a little more.
Your training in the gym is not just about building muscles and improving strength. Joint mobility also plays a crucial role in how well you execute movements and could be the difference in acquiring an injury.
Tight hip muscles and restrictions around the hip joint can add a lot of stress to the spine, causing accumulative stress that may lead to injury.
Try these mobility exercises:
- Cat cow
- 90 - 90 drill
- Kneeling lunge stretch
Hip hinging is an essential skill you must master to perform heavy compound exercises safely. Most compound exercises like deadlifts use hip thrust to complete the movement without relying on the spine.
Ball and socket joints such as the shoulder and hip joint are designed to produce a high amount of forces with a high degree of range of motion. However, this is not the case with your spine.
Simply bending forward increases the load in the lumbar spine by at least 50% compared to standing upright. Study shows that lifting a 20 kg (44 lbs) object in a rounded back posture increases the load in your spine by as much as 120 kg (264 lbs). Of course, these numbers could be much worse if you are bigger or lifting heavier weights.
The joints of the spine are not designed for repetitive bending motions as these movements cause wear and tear to the discs.
Over time, lifting with poor form accumulates damage to the spinal discs. This is further exaggerated by having poor posture throughout the day.
Stacking your spine is key to preventing injuries. Ensure a straight spine, bend your knees, and don’t bend your back during deadlifts, squats, and other exercises.
When standing in a relaxed position, stand tall, align your ears with your spine, roll your shoulders back, and move your weight to the ball of your feet slightly. This posturing takes away the tension on your lower back.
Engaging your core muscles helps protect the spine, especially when you feel worn out in the middle of your training. By keeping your abs and glutes tight, your core can provide additional support to the spine and help prevent rounding of your back.
How to engage your core? Pull your navel up and in towards your spine. Your core should be tight and contracting, but you should still be able to breathe normally.
It is also essential to train your abdominal muscles properly to prevent injuries to the spine.
It is essential to measure your current strength in particular exercises. Keep a tab of your personal records (PRs) and train around those numbers gradually as you build strength.
As a general rule, you must prioritize your form over the amount of weight you could lift. Unfortunately, many injuries happen because lifters lift too heavy or too soon.
Start by lifting weights that you could do comfortably in 12 to 15 reps. These are lighter loads but are enough to challenge your muscle endurance, train your exercise form and build confidence in your lifts.
Sometimes a coach or a partner can help provide feedback and improve your overall strength and quality of your exercises.
Training to failure can be an excellent way to maximize your muscle growth. However, it can also compromise the safety of your spine, especially when doing compound movements such as deadlifts and squats.
As your muscles get tired, your tendency to execute exercises in poor forms gets higher. In addition, your joints will absorb higher stress as your muscles give out.
A lot of lower back pain occurs due to muscle imbalance. Weak glutes can cause lower back problems as activation of the glutes is also essential in completing various movements such as squats or deadlifts.
Weakness of the glutes can lead to compensatory movements or recruitment of other muscles that can strain the lumbar spine in the long run.
You can try these isolated exercises to strengthen your glutes:
- Barbell hip thrust
- Bulgarian split squats
- Banded side lying clam
- Single leg glute bridge
A workout you have to try:
Don’t train through the pain. Exercising can be strenuous, but it shouldn’t be painful. Muscle soreness and fatigue are normal during working out, but sharp or odd pain in your lower back or legs could be something else.
Remember that pain is a natural signal from your body telling you something might be wrong. It is best to rest and recover if you are experiencing pain or injury.
It is better to prevent lower back injuries than to fix them. To prevent lower back pain, ensure that you have proper hip mobility and keep your spine stacked during your workout. In addition, address muscle imbalances and take adequate precautions when hitting the gym.
These simple things are pretty simple, but they could go a long way in keeping you healthy.