Having a strong and robust lower back is an important preventative measure for lower back pain. Have no doubt that the barbell is one of the best tools you can use to prevent this lower back pain. Some of these exercises do require a good level of technical ability, that being said, if you’re able to dial in the technique these will be some of the best exercises you can use to improve lower back strength.
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Lower back pain is one of the biggest health problems that faces society currently. It causes people constant pain and can lead to extremely high number of days absent from work.
Thankfully strengthening the lower back has been shown to be a successful intervention to preventing and treating chronic lower back pain.
The core musculature is critical for success in sport and in life. The lumbar spine (lower back muscles) is a key part of this lower back musculature, and strengthening the lower back will improve the strength a critical part of the core.
So many other movements in training require a strong lower back to be performed correctly, without losing a neutral spine and putting the spine under undue stress. If we look at the front rack curtsy squat for example, and exercise which challenges predominately the glutes yet requires large amounts of lumber stability to perform correctly. Thats why using barbell exercises such as these are so important to lay the foundation of a strong lumber spine (lower back).
Athletes need a strong core musculature including the lumber spine (lower back). These barbell exercises will be extremely beneficial to all those trying to improve their athletic performance through resistance training. If we think about some sports where this sort of positional strength may be useful, like rugby or American football, it’s clear that having a very strong lower back would transfer into improved performance in these sporting situations. Not only will it help improve performance, but will also help to mitigate injury.
These exercises should be integrated into a full body resistance training plan that develops the strength of all the entire body. The training split (the way in which the week of training is organised) doesn’t matter that much as long as the entire body is targeted throughout a cycle.
Avoid solving individual problems like lower back pain with isolated solutions, like using barbell exercises. Add them to a long term health strategy like doing full body resistance training 2-3 times a week as well as some cardiovascular training.
The barbell straight leg deadlift is probably the go to exercise with a barbell to try and improve lower back strength. It requires good hinge technique which can be challenging for some. These should be attempted with light weights unless you’re very experienced with this style of exercise. It’s important not to feel as though you need to touch the barbell to the floor. You need to move through your full range of motion, this may mean the pull on the hamstrings may happen when the barbell passes the knee if you lack flexibility in the hamstrings or it might mean you can touch the barbell to the floor, use your current range of motion to execute the exercise correctly. Maintaining a neutral spine is critical to success in the exercise if you’re looking to reinforce the strength of the lower back.
The away from body straight leg deadlift is a more challenging variation than the barbell straight leg deadlift. The effect of moving the barbell away from the body makes the exercise much more taxing for the lower back and hamstrings. This needs to be taken into consideration when adding weight to this exercise as it can get very difficult, very quickly. It needs to be performed slowly with precision, the pull on the hamstrings will usually happen before the plates hit the floor unless you have very good levels of flexibility. There needs to be a great deal of emphasis put on maintaining a neutral spine throughout the entire exercise.
The barbell good morning is an excellent exercise for strengthening the lower back and the hamstrings. It requires very good hinge technique to be performed with a lot of weight, similar to the other exercises in this list. This exercise is a very effective tool to strengthen the lower back using the barbell.
The rear foot elevated straight leg deadlift is one of the most challenging hinge variation available. It requires excellent hinge technique, hip and core stability. If you are able to perform this exercise with good technique it is one of the most effective at strengthening the lower back. Be very cautious about adding weight to this exercise overtime. It needs to be loaded slowly over time.
The sumo deadlift is more of a full body strength development exercise unlike the other barbell exercises which target more locally the lower back. That doesn’t take anything away from its effectiveness at developing strength in the lower back. This exercise can be loaded with very heavy weights like a conventional deadlift and is a great tool in the tool box for lower back and hamstring strength development.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.