Preventing Back Injury Starts at Your Core:
When it comes to protecting your low back and discs against injury, increasing stability is essential. Leading spine biomechanics researcher Stuart McGill has developed the “big three” exercises aimed at increasing spinal stability. This is accomplished through activating and enhancing the endurance of the muscles that support the spine.
A common perception of strength training is that it involves working on one muscle at a time, bulking it up and increasing its muscular strength. Current research into back pain prevention shows that the greatest strength and stability of our spine is achieved if all of the supporting musculature can be activated simultaneously and this contraction maintained during tasks that stress our low back.
When the muscles supporting a spinal segment are trained properly, our spine can sustain a compressive load without buckling and becoming injured. If the muscles supporting the low back are weak, compressive loads placed on the spine can cause a bucking phenomenon may damage the tissues of our low back (McGill 2007). It only takes one muscle not functioning properly to increase the likelihood of sustaining spinal buckling injury.
The stability of the spine comes with sufficient muscular stiffness. The more we can train these stability muscles to increase their strength and endurance the more protected we are against spinal injury. Endurance is key, because if we lack the ability to maintain sufficient stiffness throughout the course of performing a task we will increase our injury risk.
There are three exercise that are great at activating the muscles that support the spine, we refer to them as “The Big Three”:
1. Modified Curl-Up
Starting out, try for 2-3 sets of each exercise per day. All three exercises – the curl-up, side bridge, and birddog – should be held for no longer than 7-8 seconds. Holding for longer than this cuts oxygen supply to the muscles. Relaxing the contraction after 7-8 seconds restores blood flow. To build endurance, you should increase number of repetitions rather than duration of each repetition.
Dr. Brennan Dynes BA (Hons), DC
McGill S (2007) Low Back Disorders, 2nd edn., Champaign Illinois: Human Kinetics.