If you were to google “core exercises for back pain” right now you would get a couple articles from webmd.com and Spine-health.com’s site talking about generic exercises they prescribe to any and all who are willing to click and consume what they have to say. It drives me crazy because like any other normal human being typically the first thing that pops up in google is the first thing we go to seek answers to our questions from. It’s because of this that millions of back pain sufferers are having the wool pulled over their eyes and guided down a path with zero chance of getting the relief they want and deserve.
This freaking drives me crazy.
Today we are going to bust the medical and fitness industry-wide open and explain why you can’t always apply what the guru’s are saying.
Yesterday we talked about coordination and how back pain sufferers tend to spend way too much time focusing on strength. They think simply a STRONGER core will bring relief to their lower back. That’s wrong thinking that unfortunately a lot of sufferers pick up from their trusted medical professionals. I want to dive even deeper into this “coordination” idea and break down what exactly you’re looking to coordinate.
The best practice for anyone with lower back pain is to check in with their breathing and practice the right way often.
Try this: Breathing Crash Course.
-Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach and take deep breaths into your belly with the goal of making ONLY that hand rise with every inhale. Do this with 5 breath cycles.
– After the belly breaths, breathe only into your chest and try to only make that hand rise as much as possible. Do 5 breaths of that.
– Now that you have learned to separate chest breathing from belly breathing. Place both hands back over your chest and belly and do a slight contraction of your entire core. One way I like to coach this is to have you brace your abdominals and then do a quick short breath out. That ties in the obliques and any other muscles that are not activated.
-With this contraction on, I want you to breath into the base of your ribs. Think of it as the halfway mark between your belly and chest. You want to go through a few cycles of breaths focusing on the brace being on and your breath filling that area between both hands.
How was that? Hard? Easy?
Learning how to separate the chest and belly compartments through breathing teaches you control. Control, allows you breathe properly whether you are at the gym exercising or working around your house. This is key. Shutting your breathing down or only limiting it to your chest is a recipe for disaster and the body to not operate seamlessly.
Bracing is not just preparing for a punch to the stomach.
The key to a good brace is the organization you create around your spine first.
You can “brace” your stomach but if your pelvis and spine are not aligned you are bracing a lumbo-pelvic position that isn’t ideal which could cause more pain and more poor habits when it comes to movement mechanics. You ALWAYS want to organize yourself first then brace.
Let’s walk through how to do that.
This is a quick organization sequence that I use when getting ready to brace myself for a movement.
1 – Rock the pelvis forward and back and stop in the middle, between both end ranges. This is typically neutral. Hold that there.
2 – Draw your ribs down by slightly engaging your abdomen, pelvic floor (these are your “pee” muscles you would use to start and stop your stream. I know, I know I somehow am able to talk about peeing and core strength in the same article.) and bringing the base of your ribs into your stomach. Keep in mind, you are NOT flexing the lumbar spine to accomplish this.
3 – Stabilize your shoulders by bringing them back and down along with your chin back.
4- Once you’re organized, do a quick short breath out with pierced lips and hold the contraction this creates. That is how you quickly brace your core.
I know that sounds like a lot to do before grabbing a load of laundry, starting your lawn mower or taking the weights off the bar at the gym but what you’re doing at first is creating a new movement and bracing pattern. This is key. To break a bad habit you have to constantly reinforce what you want. At first, this is a slow and grueling process but as you go on you won’t have to keep rocking your pelvis back and forth to find neutral. You will just know.
Movement is the next most important thing you need to focus on BEFORE you start thinking about strength and endurance.
No, I’m not talking about Tai Chi or some weird yoga moves.
When it comes to building a stable and resilient core you have to think developmental before you think strong. Your medical professionals will use the term “weak core” as a blanket statement to cover a lack of knowledge or understanding of how core coordination and stability actually affects lower back pain. As a lower back pain student, you have to dig a little deeper to see if its strength you need or if it’s something more.
When it comes to introducing movement into your breathing and bracing you have to start slow. If you are anything like the majority of back pain sufferers, as soon as you start doing “core” exercises your stability muscles start turning off and other muscles start to compensate.
An example of this would be the lack of glute activation when squatting. If you sit a lot or have poor coordination in the chains that make up your core muscles, there will be other muscles such as your erector muscles that kick in and take over. They will practically bypass the glute completely and start taking the load. This is where the importance of coordination comes in. You have to retrain the body to use the necessary core muscles to activate and fire when they are supposed to.
Without this ability, exercises like the Plank, Bird Dog and Stir the Pot are worthless.
I want to teach you the most developmental way of organizing your spine, breathing and bracing at the same time. After watching this video I want you to pick up where it leaves off and do what I instruct below!
To see the very early stages of learning what proper COORDINATION looks like pickup where the video leaves off with whats below.
After watching the video all the way through I want to add this movement once you have the core locking down.
1 – With the deep core on and pelvic floor engaged, I want you to slowly drop the right knee to the side towards the ground. Slow and steady and maintain a normal breathing cycle and contraction.
2 – Before dropping the leg I want you to begin to exhale and continue the exhale as the leg drops. As you exhale the engagement of your deep core and pelvic floor should get stronger. At the base of the knee drop take a full breath in and breath out.
3- Return the knee to the starting position.
4- Repeat this 3 sets of 12 reps (each leg)
This is step one of the entire system I put my personal one-on-one clients through. They don’t move on or progress until they have mastered this (at least a week) and can do it with complete control over their pain and able to do it without losing control of any muscle activation.
How did you do?
How did it feel?
Were you able to keep your pelvic floor on while going through the movements?
A lot of people struggle with this first step and if you don’t that’s great but you might struggle at the next step. That’s the goal of following a well-designed system for rebuilding the core. You go through the process step by step from beginning to end to find where you are weak and to fix these specific areas. No MRI’s, No doctor visits, just trial and error until your weakest points are staring you right in the face and all you have left to do is fix them.
One thing that a lot of people are right about is the power of a well-trained core on correcting a lot of the issues that cause back pain. The disconnect is that you can’t just throw yourself into any old exercise and say you’ree doing good. 10 times out of 10 I will have a student go through an entire rebuilding process which will give you without a shadow of a doubt a fully capable core system and more control over your lower back pain.
Friday I am going to talk about the disconnect that the mainstream fitness and medical industry is causing for lower back pain suffers and why some of the best core exercises in the industry can be the worst for you.
ps. Next week I will be diving into something awesome with my students in my newsletter. If you are not apart of that group you can jump on below!
This is a big topic I see butchered by a lot of people in the medical and fitness industry. We are told our core is weak by our doctors and other trusted health professionals so we head to the gym and start trying all these complex exercises or think adding weight to what we were doing before is going make our “core” stronger.
Maybe you have never been to the gym before in your life. After being told your core is “weak” you start googling “core exercises for back pain” and you’re served a hot steaming pile of Dead Bugs, Planks, Bird Dogs and maybe some Stir the Pots. You get on the floor and start trying these magic back pain beating exercises out, only to have more pain and find yourself doubling up on your painkillers for the next few days.
The problem with the medical and fitness industry when it comes to back pain is that most trainers and doctors don’t know how to respond to clients with real back pain and those that do would rather send you to someone who has more time to break down the process of rehabbing your lower back. So you’re left with nothing but pieces to the puzzle.
We need to change that….seriously.
Over the next week, we are going to dive into the nitty-gritty of where you are wasting time and exactly what you need when it comes to core training for lower back pain.
Training for Strength vs Endurance when it comes to lower back pain.
I am going to be completely honest with you on this one. At first glance, I would say NEITHER. Neither Strength or Endurance is king in all situations. They are both needed and have their time and place when it comes to core training for lower back pain but never start there.
When it comes to putting the pieces that are often left out or overlooked in the fitness industry together I always suggest starting with coordination and muscle activation.
Without these, you can’t properly train for endurance or strength in the first place.
Often times you will have someone with lower back pain attempt a lot of the mainstream back pain reducing core exercises you find on the internet and end up in even more pain. Even when they figure out an “easier” way of doing it they still find themselves in more pain then before.This is where the big disconnect on priorities comes in with core training.
Let’s unpack this a little more.
Coordination and Muscle Activation. This is where you really should start.
A big disconnect you see with people with lower back pain is really understanding how to use your core to bring stability to the spine. It’s not a lack of brute strength or being able to hold a plank for 3 minutes straight. There is a marriage between breathing, bracing and movement that has to be understood and mastered if you want to really get benefit from training the core for relief. We will break these areas down in detail on Wednesday but today I want to focus and make sure you understand this key mindset shift from strength to coordination.
Coordination can be summed up by this.
“It’s the ability to brace and stabilize the spine while moving fluently and without restriction without losing the stability around your spine”
Typically what back pain suffers don’t do well is understand how to not only stabilize their spine properly but maintain a healthy stable hold while moving. Usually what happens is people start with a good brace but as they get tired, stop focusing or simply start moving they lose the stability they once had. They have trained their brain to disconnect with the body once movement begins instead of engaging the mind and all the active muscles that are used with daily movement.
A great example of this loss of coordination is the lumbar spine over working due to weak or underactive glutes. It’s not always about making the glutes STRONGER to help with back pain but learn how to turn the glutes ON when they are supposed to be active.
With each step you make you have muscle “slings” that contract and relax with movement. These slings are simply chains of muscle and connective tissue that connects and is intertwined over joints and segments of the body. They are coordinated with the rest of the body in order for everything to move the way it should. If underactive muscles such as weak abdominal muscles or glutes are present, the body has to continue to connect these “slings”. In this case, it’s typically at the cost of our lower backs. This lack of coordination can manifest itself into a lot of different painful areas such as neck pain, elbow pain, knee pain and foot pain. It just depends on what you currently have going on.
So when looking for help on core training you have to ask this one question.
You can teach anyone to lay on their back while lifting and lowering their legs but can that person achieve that same muscles contraction and stability going from being on their back to standing upright? That’s the magic sauce that I feel 90% of back pain sufferers are missing.
Don’t be worried! Something huge is coming next week but for now, we are going to dive into this topic hard this week so stay tuned!
See you Wednesday!
P.s I will be delivering even more content to those on my newsletter next week so if your not on it be sure to pick up my free gift today and don’t miss out on what’s to come!
These past two weeks I have spent a little time getting to know YouTube Live while answering some recent questions I have gotten from you guys in my inbox. Some of the questions can be read about in more detail through articles I have published over the past few years. What I wanted to do is give you guys a chance to sit down with me and get my take on some of these topics with current beliefs and practices. Don’t hesitate to send me your questions or leave them below here and I will make a video in response!
What happens when the doctor releases you back into the wild and says “Go, go and resume normal activity, oh and make sure to exercise more!”. Rehab is over and your insurance doesn’t have any more allowance for weekly physio visits. Well, now you’re on your own. This can be a scary and extremely frustrating time because you are either one of two people when it comes to exercising with back pain.
You understand that your recovery is NOT over and you continue to do the rehab exercises while progressing weeks at a time. You understand the importance of continuing to master the basics.
You put too much weight in your doctors words and take his/her clearance to resume exercise as the gospel and jump right back in. After this, you begin the dance between exercise, recovery and managing your constant underlying pain with medication.
I don’t want you to be number 2. I don’t want you to be one of those people who continuously choose to exercise despite their terrible lower back pain.
Today, I am going to answer a common question I get a lot in my inbox regarding returning back to the world of “getting in shape”. Each case is different so understand that you will need to tailor your approach to your own situation but the mindset and practice will be the same across the board!
4 non-prescription drug techniques to getting relief!
You know it’s bad when your back hurts even when you’re laying down. The last thing you want after a long shift, hard day of cleaning the house or the first leg of your cross-country RV trip is to lay down just to continue to wrestle with the same pain (if not even worse). We think we do too much walking, standing or moving around during the day so we crave that chance to simply kick our feet up and take the load off our backs. This back pain even when laying down is pretty common amongst your average back pain sufferer but always approached the wrong way when it comes to the safest and best return on your time investment. Today, I am going to show you how I approach my “rest time” when it comes to getting relief from what the day has done to my lower back.
Life transitions can be some of the most debilitating seasons of life you can go through. Some transitions are filled with positive upswings like a new dream job with higher pay and a shorter commute. While others are built around taking risks pursuing a dream or different life. Not promising anything better but simply different. To me, these transitions can be very different but both very necessary in life. Today, I want to bring you up to speed on what has been the biggest “transition” in my life and what I have learned about back pain and progressing through it.
When it comes to lower back pain and following an at home rehab program, I have narrowed it down to 2 things that play a major role in the amount of success most people either see or don’t see.
Number 1: Not knowing if what they are doing is the BEST thing for them.
Number 2: Not knowing when it is safe for them to progress to the next “level” or exercise.
Today, I want to shed some light on a few areas that need to stay in sharp focus if you’re going to venture out on your own and attack this back pain once and for all. My focus for today is for you to leave with a little more confidence in whether or not you are on the right track and progressing safely. If you’re still not sure if this article is for you then answer this question. Do you find yourself thinking or saying any of the things below?
1 – How do you know which exercises to start with if my lower back hurts?
2 – When should I try a more challenging exercise? How do I know if my lower back is ready to progress?
3 – How do I know if my lower back is ready to progress?