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. 

back endurance not strength

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Brian Carroll

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Brian Carroll is committed to helping people overcome back pain and optimizing lifts and movement. After years of suffering, he met back specialist Prof. McGill in 2013, which led to a life-changing transformation. In 2017, they co-authored the best-selling book "Gift of Injury." On October 3, 2020, Carroll made history in powerlifting by squatting 1306 lbs, becoming the first person to break this record. He retired with a secure legacy and a life free from back pain.
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