Lower back injuries have caused many athletes to miss games and sometimes seasons. These types of injuries can even end careers. Many times a muscle spasm in the lower back will occur just from bend
By Bigger Faster Stronger
Published: Winter 2000
When I see an athlete with a lower back injury, two thoughts immediately cross my mind: One, the athlete or coach simply did not know what to do; or two, the athlete or coach refused to do what he/she was supposed to do.
Injury prevention of the lower back depends on two factors. First, every athlete must know how to get into a safe, strong lower-back position, not only in the weight room, but on the field as well. This was the most overlooked area of coaching in the 1990’s. The vast majority of coaches never help their athletes with their lower backs. I see it everyday. Don’t believe me? Go watch a coach at any level working with kids from grade school to high school. Watch when the coach gets the kids in lines to do a wave or shuffle drill. The coach will say “ready” and they will get into a “hit” or “ready position”. Then the coach will have them shuffle right and then left. You will hear the coach say “don’t cross your feet” but you will never see him/her fix those many horrible lower-back problems prevalent in every group of athletes. You must know how to fix an athlete’s lower back to be a superior coach!
The second factor in preventing lower back injuries is strengthening the lower back and abdominal area. Straight Leg Dead Lifts, Squats, Hex Bar Dead Lifts, Cleans and Ab work will reduce the risk of back injury and increase recovery time if an injury does occur.
HOW TO IDENTIFY& FIX
A BAD LOWER BACK
The first step in correcting back problems is identifying the problem. To do this, get all of your athletes lined up in a “ready” or “hit” position and analyze each athlete’s lower back position. Athletes that look like Picture 1 need to be corrected.
The easiest way to correct this lower back problem is to have the athlete sit on a bench or a BFS Squat Box as shown in Picture 2. Then, all you have to do is say the magic words: Be Tall and Spread the Chest. This will dramatically assist the athlete in locking-in his/her lower back. Sometimes you may actually have to mold the athlete into the correct position. Do not accept anything less than perfect. It should look exactly like Picture 3.
Sometimes athletes will still have trouble, even after using the magic words and trying to mold him/her into the correct position. For these hard cases, tell them to lean forward a little with their upper body and bring their shoulders and shoulder blades back. Mold them into the correct position by pressing in on their lower back and pulling back on their shoulders. Always continue to tell them to “spread the chest” and to “be tall”.
When the athletes can get their lower back looking great on the box or bench, then they can try the “ready” position again. Hopefully, they will now look like Picture 4. If some athletes revert back to a bad back, you must have them return to the box. However, this time, have them get into a bad position and then say “fix it”. Fix it means spread the chest and be tall. If they can “fix it” correctly, then say “bad back” and have them make a bad back again. Then say “good back” and see if they can fix it again. If this goes well, repeat this process three to five times. Probably only one in a thousand will still have trouble after all this technique effort.
Another quick method to fix backs can be done by placing the athletes hands on their knees with their elbows locked. Begin by putting pressure on the knees with the hands. Now, tell them to “spread the chest” and hopefully everyone will look like Picture 4. If not, then those athletes will need to use the box/bench technique as previously described. Correct back position on the core lifts can be seen in Pictures 5-9.
Every athlete’s back should look like Figure 4 when lifting, blocking, tackling, rebounding or doing any power movement in sports. At anytime during any lift, if the lower back comes out of its tight locked-in position an injury is more likely. Bad back position during any lift or exercise, no matter how simple, easy or small it seems, can cause lower back problems.
Setting a bar down incorrectly after a lift is also a major problem. It happens literally thousands of times a day. Look at Picture 10. This athlete has her head down and hips up, with no bend in the knees. Put down the bar the same way it was picked up--spread the chest and squat down (see picture 6).
HOW TO STRENGTHEN
THE LOWER BACK
Strengthening the lower back and abdominal areas is the second factor in preventing lower back injuries. Straight Leg Dead Lifts can have a remarkable positive effect in strengthening the lower back. Performing Squats, Hex Bar Dead Lifts and Cleans correctly can add great strength to the lower back as well. These exercises can also make the abdominals extremely strong. Specific “Ab” work can be done in addition.
Remember to never twist out of position at any time during any lift. This can cause lower back injuries. Do not twist to get an extra rep. Don’t even twist to get out of a Bench Press. Read your body and make a great decision when selecting a poundage. If you put on a weight that you are not ready for, the risk is higher for injury. Never sacrifice technique for a few extra pounds.
Picture 11 illustrates the Straight Leg Dead Lift. This is a top priority auxiliary exercise in the BFS Program. By purposely rounding the back, the lower back muscles can be isolated, stretched and strengthened. By strengthening these muscles, the chance of a serious lower back injury is significantly reduced and, if an injury does occur, recovery time is hastened.
Because the back is rounded, only light weight should be used. Advanced lifters should use no more than 40% of their Parallel Squat Max. Beginners use only 45 to 95 pounds. Keep the knees locked and go straight down in a very slow and controlled manner.