When I first came back off of my injury: my biggest focus was getting my core as strong as possible. I knew that if I was ever going to be able to lift again, I needed to be patient and focus on getting my core and low back as strong as possible first, before I would be successful in getting under a barbell. Here are my favorite exercises that I did, and still do today, to keep core strength.
This exercise is great for loosening up the back and getting blood flowing. It’s also great for cooling down after a heavy training session. That alone will go a long way towards keeping your back healthy.
- Using the Reverse-Hyper MachineKeep the weight light to moderate and perform 10-15 reps per set. Use a strap and place both feet inside. Tighten your glutes and every posterior chain muscle, then get the weight moving. Extend until the legs are in line with the rest of your body. Allow the momentum of the weight to pull the lever down. Maintain control, but don’t resist the downward swing of the machine. This allows that lower back to be loosened up, and gets the blood flowing to that area of the spine.Using a glute-ham raise
If you don’t have a reverse-hyper machine you can use a glute ham raise. You won’t be able to go as heavy, but you can essentially accomplish the same goal. Lay backwards and face down over the top of the machine with your hips dangling over the pad. Grab onto the foot hold with your hands. You will perform the same motion as on the reverse-hyper machine. Tighten up the posterior chain and extend until your body is in a straight line, then lower your feet. If the design of the machine allows it, let your feet swing under the pad. Just be sure to leave some space between your feet, otherwise you’ll end up with box jump style shin wounds.
Good mornings are a great way to gain back strength without a lot of direct pressure and loading. You will also get an incredible pump through your hamstrings and butt with this movement, hence the name. You’ll be sore the next day, trust me.
Start with the barbell in back squat position. Keep a slight bend in your knees, push your hips back slighty, then fold forward until you feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Don’t go too deep. If your back is past parallel to the floor then you’re likely rounding over too much. I keep these very light and with higher reps, 8-10 per set. Adding too much weight to these can be too stressful on a weak lower back, so by keeping it light you will be able to gain strength without pain or risk.
Traditional back squats with a weak or injured back can be painful. I’ve found that the box squat allows you to sit back further, forcing you to drive up with the hips first. If you can keep your butt from popping up you can really reduce the strain on your low back. Once comfortable you can pull the box and get back to some regular squats. This exercise also quickly strengthens the glute and hamstrings, which is incredible for all around performance.
Set up is the same as your traditional back squat, but you will squat down onto a box that puts you at parallel or just below.
Go straight down and physically sit on the box when you reach it, relaxing your hamstrings and glutes for a count of 3 seconds. Drive with your hips and strand straight up to full extension. This will teach your body to activate and fire your hamstrings and glutes quickly, which is exactly what you want.
You can’t have a strong back without having strong glutes as well. This exercise goes perfectly with all of the current movements.
Start out by lying down on the floor with your knees bent. Raise your toes up until you have all your pressure on your heels, then drive your hips up toward the ceiling. Extend as much as possible. Control your decent back down to the floor and just gently tap your hips before extending up toward the ceiling again.
You can increase the difficulty of this exercises by doing them single-legged, with your heels up on a bench, or, you can add a barbell or heavy sandbag across your waist.
Sometimes simple is better. This exercise seems really easy at first, but it will quickly show you if you have a weak back and core within just a few reps.
Start on all fours. Keep the spine neutral during the whole movement and never allow the chest to drop, or the hips to elevate. Keep flat. Now, extend your opposite arm and leg into a fully straight position, and then return to the neutral starting position.