The low back takes a beating in most sports that involve impact and rapid force generation throughout the body. Without a proper in-season supportive plan, athletes can experience tight quads, hip flexors and calves along with weak glutes, often leading to low-back pain. This can leave a young, explosive player looking more like a bent-over octogenarian trying to cross the street.
Add one to three sets each of these seven exercises every other day to keep your body in line and avoid pain.
1. Band-Resisted Clamshell
The Clamshell is a classic low-back protector exercise. It targets the gluteus medius, an important lateral stabilizer of the pelvis and protector of the SI joint. Standing glute exercises may be more sport-specific, but in-season muscle imbalances and overuse can cause the wrong muscles to do all the work. Go back to this isolation exercise and you will be suprised at how weak it feels.
Expert tip: Put your hand on your hip to make sure your pelvis doesn’t hike or twist.
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2. Bird Dog, 6- to 8-Second Holds
ISO endurance is linked to back health. Dr. Stuart McGill recommends multiple reps of 6- to 8-second holds to condition endurance during static holds. Work your way up to 18 total reps. This will roughly match the average scores of male college students with healthy backs on the Sorensen back test, but with less compression on the spine.
Expert tip: Don’t twist your pelvis; keep your spine neutral.
3. Rectus Femoris Stretches
Easily overused in running, jumping and landing sports and in the deep football stance, this muscle, when tight, can weaken the glutes and limit hip extension. It can also lead to low-back pain.
Expert tip: Don’t use a step that is too high; it will force your pelvis to hike and aggravate your lower back. Make sure your hip bones are level.
Read more about how to relieve lower back pain by stretching.
4. Stationary Spidermans
Deep hip flexor and hamstring stretches can free up downward pull on the pelvis and take pressure off the lower back. This time-saving movement can free up the hips and prepare the body for action. Dynamic warm-ups have been linked to reduced chance of injury.
Expert tip: Make sure the weight is on your heel when you step forward and your spine stays in a neutral position. If it isn’t, you’ve stepped too far forward. Check out the video above for a demonstration of this movement.
5. Plank from the Knees With 2x Resistance
In-season athletes can easily disconnect from their deep core in favor of their hip flexors and low-back extensors. The Plank from the Knees is easy until you dig your elbows and knees into the ground and think about pulling in from both directions. The knee position also reduces the involvement of the quads during Plank.
Expert tip: Do 3 sets of 15-20 reps of 10-second pulls to restore endurance in the deep core.
6. Barbell Hip Raises
A paper by glute guru Bret Contreras established that an optimal horizontal exercise for glute max activation is the Barbell Hip Raise. Contreras emphasizes the importance of strong hip extensors through a full range of motion to prevent injuries. This exercise supports the lower back by keeping the glutes strong and awake during the season.
Expert Tip: Initially use a slow tempo to improve range of motion in the hips while avoiding low-back hyperextension.
7. Calf Stretches
The feeling of tight hamstrings can often be attributed to restriction in the calves. For deep squatters and jumpers, decreased calf mobility can cause forward lean during the Squat, putting more pressure on the low back.
Expert tip: Stretch the calf both with a straight leg and bent knee to open up the entire lower leg.
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- Clark, M, Corn, R, Lucett, S. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Specialist Manual. National Academy of Sports Medicine. 2007.
- Contreras, B. “The Top Five Glute Exercises.” WEB.http://charlieweingroff.com/pdf/TheTopFiveGluteExercises.pdf © CW Training Systems, LLC and Charlie Weingroff – 2010www.charlieweingroff.com. 2010.
- McGill, Stuart. “Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabilitation.” Human Kinetics, 2002. ISBN: 0-7360-4241-5. Printed in USA.
- Pontaga, I. “Muscle Strength Imbalance in the Hip Joint Caused by Fast Movements.” Mechanics of Composite Materials. 29(4) 2003: 365-368.
- Princeton University Athletic Medicine. “Pelvic Stabilization, Lateral Hip and Gluteal Strengthening Program.” WEB: https://www.princeton.edu/uhs/pdfs/PelStabHip-StrenPro.pdf.
- Winters MV, Blake CG, Trost JS, Marcello-Brinker TB, Lowe LM, Garber MB, Wainner RS. “Passive versus active stretching of hip flexor muscles in subjects with limited hip extension: a randomized clinical trial.” Phys Ther. 2004 Sep;84(9):800-7. PubMed PMID: 15330693.