back endurance not strength

Back Endurance, NOT strength

Back Endurance, NOT Strength

Back Endurance, not strength, is the key to back health. The ability to lock the core in and remain motionless under load is critical. This article will discuss a common misconception I see daily with my back-injured clients. Unfortunately, this mistake leads to injury, and the person will most likely stay pained without changing the approach to core training. I will then suggest other strategies to help build a more resilient back.

Bodybuilding and Isolation core training

“I train my core; I have a strong core.” Training “Abs” in the traditional sense of isolating the rectus AB, obliques, and the back extensor muscles with bodybuilding-Esq twisting, extending, and flexing of the spine will not help you build your core endurance. Isolation of these muscles can lead to discrepancies in strength from anterior to lateral to posterior, leading to deficits and, therefore, back problems. Training your core in the ways described above can no doubt build an aesthetic-looking core, but not a functional, resilient one that will help you get or remain pain-free. Not to mention, many of these exercises are pain provocative for the same clients, and they unknowingly crush their spines daily in the name of fitness.

Working the core as a whole

Instead of exercises like Russian twists, sit-ups, and back raises, consider exercises like side planks, dead bugs, and reverse planks (static holds on a back raise). Notice, I didn’t even name the McGill big 3. In my opinion, you should be doing these every day, but I digress! Lock the core with rigidness and adequate stiffness for the task’s demands without micro-movements. Exercises like stirring the pot, loaded carries, planks for time, and anything that teaches you to remain locked in position will be best in most cases. These are just a few of my favorites and suggestions for clients who want to build a strong foundation or eliminate their back pain.

In summary, core endurance matters for back health, no matter how strong you think your core is.

I suggest reading Back Mechanic and Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance by Stuart McGill for much more on the spine and how Endurance matters.

And for those of you who are lost in your training and/or need help rebuilding your back and/or your core, you can book a consult with me HERE. 

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Brian Carroll

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Brian is a retired world-class powerlifter with over two decades of world-class powerlifting. From 1999 to 2020, Brian Carroll was a competitive powerlifter, one of the most accomplished lifters in the sport's history. Brian started off competing in bench press competitions 'raw,' then, shortly into the journey, he gravitated toward equipped lifting as there were no "raw" categories then. You only had to choose from single-ply (USPF) and Multi-ply (APF/WPC). Brian went on to total 2730 at 275 and 2651 at 242 with more than ten times his body weight in three different classes (220, 242, 275), and both bench pressed and deadlifted over 800 pounds in two other weight classes. He's totaled 2600 over 20 times in 2 different weight classes in his career. With 60 squats of 1000lbs or more officially, this is the most in powerlifting history, regardless of weight class or federation, by anyone not named David Hoff. Brian realized many ups and downs during his 20+ years competing. After ten years of high-level powerlifting competition and an all-time World Record squat at 220 with 1030, in 2009, Brian was competing for a Police academy scholarship. On a hot and humid July morning, Brian, hurdling over a barricade at 275lbs, landed on, fell, and hurt his back. After years of back pain and failed therapy, Brian met with world-renowned back specialist Prof McGill in 2013, which changed his trajectory more than he could have imagined. In 2017, Brian Carroll and Prof McGill authored the best-selling book about Brian's triumphant comeback to powerlifting in Gift of Injury. Most recently (10.3.20) -Brian set the highest squat of all time (regardless of weight class) with 1306 lbs – being the first man to break the 1300lb squat barrier at a bodyweight of 303 lbs.
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