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Lower Back Training

by Racer X Virtual Trainer

I Don't Need That!
Proper form for the lower back extension.  Shown here on a Roman Chair Back Extension Machine.
We all have friends or family members who think they get enough exercise around the house or from riding their bike; they don’t need to go to the gym. My Dad and Uncle are perfect examples of the work-around-the-house theory. I would never take anything away from either of them as they are two of the hardest working men I know but when it comes to exercise and fitness they have completely missed the boat. Both are in their upper 60’s, have been overweight for the past 20 years, have chronic back pain, both have had their knees replaced, and they blame old age on their problems. Sure, some of their problems are due to getting older, but I have always proposed that their problems would be much less severe if they weren’t carrying 2 spare tires around their waist. I have grown up hearing things like, “instead of going to the gym all the time, get out here and cut some grass, pull some weeds, do some actual hard work!” Although I agree that these tasks are mentally and physically fatiguing, they are not quite the same as concentrated exercise. It’s unfortunate for them and many others that the value of preventative exercise sinks in only after a pain-shearing injury arising from a simple thing like getting up from a chair, twisting to pick something up, or cutting the grass. This theory also applies to the younger crowd who has a family history of back problems. Lower back injuries are very common in MX and most could be reduced or eliminated with proper training.

Of course, exercising doesn’t necessarily mean all back injuries can be avoided, but the likelihood for a serious injury to occur from day-to-day activity or racing MX is significantly lower if the back and hamstrings are strong. Often back injuries start out with a few small insults that accumulate over time. Eventually, the musculature reaches its failure point. As good as running and jogging are for increasing metabolic rate, mobilizing and “burning” fat and improving heart function, these provide little benefit for preventing a back injury. In contrast, resistance training – specifically, direct exercises like back extensions – can improve the structure of the muscles surrounding the weak links in the back so the chances of injury are minimized. Nevertheless, anytime you train the lower back directly, you must maintain a high level of concentration and care, because while weight training is the best way of reducing the risk for back injury, sloppy exercise form could itself be responsible for the pain you’re trying to avoid.

Lower Back Extensions can also be performed on a Fitness Ball. 
Weighted Back Extensions
Back extensions are sometimes called “hyperextensions.” The lower back can achieve a limited amount of hyperextension of the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae. Hyperextension of the vertebrae occurs when the extension goes beyond the point where the spine is in a straight line with the hip. This is recognized as an arch in the lower back. Generally, the “hyper” in back extension exercises should be avoided because an excessive (hyper) back extension can result in vertebral discs becoming compressed. That will cause the nerves that exit between the vertebrae to achieve the same undesired fate.
  1. Lie face down on a back extension bench. Most of the modern machines will have a pad that will cross the front part of your hip/pelvis. Position yourself with your knees almost (but not quite) straight. The bench pad should be comfortably placed across the pelvis – not low on the thighs or high on the abdomen.

  2. On most benches, you can place your lower leg under pads or rollers that will anchor you during the movement. The pads should be placed between mid-calf and ankle.

  3. The first “warm-up” set will be done without extra resistance. Cross your arms and lay them across your chest. Inhale, and then exhale, as you lower your upper body toward the floor by bending (flexing) at the waist/hip.

  4. Begin with a 90 degree angle between your upper and lower body. Then extend your back by lifting your torso until your back is parallel to the floor and there is a straight line through your back, hips, and lower legs. Do not lift higher than this to hyperextend your back. The force should come smoothly (no jerking or fast movements should occur) from your erector spinae muscles (a group of three postural muscles situated along the spine). Inhale as you come up on the movement.

  5. After the extension is complete, slowly reverse your direction and control the descent of the weight of your upper body until it is just short of the starting position. Then repeat for a total of 15-20 repetitions. This will maintain tension on the muscles throughout the effort.

Muscles of the upper and lower back.  It's easy to see with the complexity of the back why most of us have back pain.

Training Tips
The erector spinae group acts as primary movers, which extend the back at the hip and cause the torso to be moved upward, and control the downward movement to the final position. However, the hamstring muscles are strong hip extensors and they will also be active in this exercise. After your set is done, take time to stretch your hamstring muscles. You can do this by standing, straightening your knees and try to bring your head and chest toward your thighs for four or five stretches held for 10 to 15 seconds each. If your hamstrings become too tight (if you do a lot of sitting during the day they will already be too tight), this could also contribute to lower back pain. However, the stretches between sets will eliminate the tight muscles.

On your second set you can hold a light dumbbell in your hands with your elbows flexed and close to your chest while you control the extension (upward movement) and flexion (downward movement) of each repetition. You can induce a little more effort from the erector spinae if you hold your upper body at the top position for two or three seconds in each repetition. Do not swing the torso upward. Both the up and down phase of the exercise should be done in a slow and controlled movement. The key to injury-free exercise is maintaining strict control of your body, especially when holding the extra resistance. It’s also worth emphasizing that you must not swing your body upward, nor go too far back (i.e., do not hyperextend your back) on the upward part of the movement.

After only a few weeks, you should find that this exercise has revitalized your lower back. Your back stiffness and fatigue you get from either riding or sitting at a desk all day will all but vanish. Furthermore, your risk for injury will be significantly reduced, and this is a quality of life issue. Don’t be one of those who wish they had done some direct back exercise, but only realize their mistakes after it is too late, and they have hurt their back. Do something before you become a statistic for back pain or injury.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    raj August 14, 2010 at 6:59 am

    Thank you..

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer August 15, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    No problem. Glad the article helped.

  3. Gravatar
    Drew January 07, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Good tips for the lower back... a lot of people neglect direct lower back training as part of their core strengthening.

  4. Gravatar
    jose July 13, 2011 at 9:27 am

    wow...i hope this works...i was falling sleep on the couch for a while and my lower back laid directly on a crease...needless to say that my lower back was in pain. i will exercise but don't target the lower back. i will definately try this. thank you

  5. Gravatar
    James Johnson August 14, 2016 at 4:32 am

    Where can I get that Roman chair? I know it's made by KETTLER.

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