Stronger backs protect the body

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan A. Furash
  • 55th Medical Operations Squadron
The American College of Sports Medicine currently estimates that four out of every five Americans will, at some point in their life, experience lower back pain. The four most common reasons for this are traumatic injuries, medical conditions, strains and sprains. No one can predict an injury, but the easiest way to avoid injury to the back's muscles, tendons and ligaments is to strengthen them. 

A strong lower back is vital to a healthy fit lifestyle. Strengthening the lower back is an excellent way to prevent and reduce future lower back injuries because strong muscles are less susceptible than weak ones. 

The lower back assists the body in maintaining proper posture, which can also reduce the incidence of injuries, aches and pains in the back. Good posture also helps increase the efficiency with which the body can perform the lifting and moving that occurs with daily living. 

In addition, the lower back is part of a core muscle group, and having a strong core increases the efficiency of breathing. This is particularly noticeable in cardiovascular exercises, such as running. 

Three different exercises can be utilized based on personal preference and skill level. The first exercise, which is primarily for beginners, is the prone lower back raise. The second, the superman raise, is an intermediate level exercise. The third exercise is the dead lift. Done routinely, these exercises can help strengthen the lower back and help reduce the chance of injury. 

The exercises should be performed in three sets of 10 repetitions. Once completing three sets is no longer difficult, continue onto the next exercise. 

The prone lower back raise is very simple and requires no equipment. To begin this exercise, exercisers should lie on their stomach with their hands on the curve of the lower back similar to the position of parade rest. Then simultaneously lift the upper body and legs so that the body is supported on the ground by the pelvis. Pause in this position for half a second before slowly lowering the upper body and legs to the floor. 

The superman raise is a two-part exercise that will eventually require the use of a pair of dumb bells. The starting position is similar to that of the prone lower-back raise, but differs in the positioning of the arms. Again, begin by lying on the stomach with arms extended in front. Next, raise the right arm and left leg approximately 6 inches off the ground and pause for half a second before lowering them. Then repeat the exercise using the opposite limbs. This counts as one repetition. Once three sets of 10 repetitions can be done with ease, add a 5-pound dumb bell in each hand. Increase weight as it becomes easier, gradually increasing to 15-pound dumb bells. 

The final lower back exercise is the classic dead lift. This exercise requires a bar and weight plates as strength increases. Stance and grip are very important for this exercise. Begin by placing the feet shoulder-width apart with the bar directly in front of the body. Arms should hang directly downwards, with the hands gripping the bar, palms facing inwards. Make sure hands are spaced equal distances from the center of the bar. This is done to provide balance and prevent injury. To pick up the bar, squat downwards, moving buttocks toward the ankles; arms should be outside of the legs and the upper back should be completely straight. Stand up using the thigh muscles and buttocks, taking care to avoid bending the back. Rest the bar against the upper thighs. This is the starting position for the dead lift. 

To perform the dead lift, assume the starting position and slightly bend the knees. In a slow, controlled motion, lower the bar to mid-calf level, bending only the lower back. At this point, the bar is at the middle of the lower legs. The buttocks should stick out, the upper back should be completely flat, and the arms should hang downwards. Pause in this position for half a second before slowly returning to the upright position, making sure to keep the bar close to the body. Increase the amount of weight lifted in five pound intervals. 

While it is important to develop a strong lower back, there are a number of safety concerns that everyone should keep in mind. First, if there is a history of back problems or if someone has recently experienced back pain, they should consult a doctor to make sure exercise will not cause any further injury. Second, immediately stop the exercise and take a break if there is any sharp pain or prickly sensations. If pain persists, stop the exercise for the duration of the workout and see a doctor. Finally, hamstring muscles may mildly stretch when performing the dead lift. This is normal and should not be any cause for concern unless there is pain. To reduce this stretching, bend the knees deeper and it should pass.