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The Best Exercise to Strengthen Your Back

The “Best” Exercise to Strengthen Your Back

By: Dr. Arnan Sisson

There’s a lot of controversy out there about what exercise truly is the best at strengthening a healthy back. And we’re going to dive into that today, but before I move forward, I do want folks to know. That exercise is terrific at not only improving overall health but also keeping a healthy back healthy. But one frustrating fact that is true in the case of the back, is that very rarely can general exercise alone fix a back that’s been in pain for a very long period of time. 

Yes, it will make it feel better, but it rarely gets rid of back pain completely. This is why traditional physical therapy gets a bad name, because of its approach. It uses general stretches and strengthening exercises (sometimes not even the best ones but will get to that later…) to try to treat back pain.

While these approaches may fix a few backs here and there it’s not going to fix a mechanical problem in the back (i.e. a blockage of the joint from years of poor posture). That requires postural adjustments and reductive movements that are the corner stone of treatments in my back practice. But we’ll leave that for another day.

So the take home point is general exercise has amazing benefits to health but its not the greatest front line treatment to back pain. Its better suited to maintain a health back and prevent back pain from coming.

With all of that covered, what is the best strengthening exercise for the back. To best answer this I’m going to cover some basic anatomical principals, and once we can figure out the strongest position of the back. Then we can just promote exercise in that position. It’s that easy!

So, the lower back, aka the lumbar spine is strongest in a slightly extended position. This is a position where the back is nearly straight, with avoidance of excessive amounts of bending and twisting. This position is anatomically sound, it produces an improvement in the strength of the back by almost 200%.

That’s why I like to position folks while on the couch, at work, and even in the car with this position in mind. So, it makes perfect sense that we uphold this with exercise. 

And I do want to make it clear that bending and twisting isn’t something that should be avoided entirely. There two normal human movements, but when we stress our bodies through exercise and place a load on them. It makes sense to place the spine in its strongest position to keep us save.

So, to apply this to the back, simply perform exercise where the back is straight and ridged. A squat and even a properly performed deadlift are common movements I use in my gym. They work extremely well. Not only do they keep the back in a slightly extended position, but they use lots of muscle mass.

A common exercise I actually encourage folks with back pain to avoid is curls or sit ups. With the high volume of repetitions or weight added this can aggravate backs due to the load applied in the flexed position.

That’s it for today everyone, remember movement is medicine!

P.S. Want to start a workout program or maybe just do a mile or two a day but your back won’t let you? If so, let our doctors take a look at your back to determine the mechanical cause and not only fix it. But get you back to being as active as you once were! To set up an evaluation feel free to call us at (804) 493-0002 or click here today.

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