“You need to strengthen your back.” Maybe you have read this online somewhere or someone told you this after you “tweaked” your back… AGAIN.
Well the truth is, there is no such thing as “back strength”. Not every muscle in the body is the same. Some are long, others are wide. Some muscles are built for endurance, others are built for shorter bursts of energy. Some are better at stabilizing, others are better at producing strength. All of these things, and more, determine how a muscle acts.
What does this mean for you? It means that finding relief from back pain and stiffness requires you to work certain muscles differently.
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What we think of as the back is the muscles that span the lower back and some muscles that travel the full length of the spine. These are part of the core. The core muscles are best at producing stability. I define stability as the ability to resist force. If someone were to try and push you over, you would match their resistance to stand your ground. This is what the core muscles do, they do not produce strength. The core should be trained with isometric exercises (tensing the muscle without moving the joint(s) at the area you are focusing on) like the bird dog, dead bug, or side plank.
Strength is the ability to generate force by shortening the muscle to produce power. When you do a biceps curl, you are strengthening the muscle because you are producing force to bring the arm up and changing the length of the muscle. True “back strength” really comes from the glutes. The glute max is the main driver of motion at the hip (hip hinge, flexion/extension). Exercises to train glute strength include glute bridges, deadlifts, and squats.
Strengthen the glutes.
Stabilize the spine.
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