How to build low back strength endurance without damaging the spine

Apr 18, 2023

When clients ask me about building endurance I always tell them there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it when it comes to impacting the spine. In this tutorial I want to look at the right way to do it.

The anatomy of the spine and surrounding muscles

The main components of the spine are the vertebrae, the discs and the facet joints. The vertebrae are the boney bits, the discs sit between them and then the facet joints sit in between the vertebrae to the rear, between the processes that are positioned at the back of the spine.

Then there are the muscles.

When it comes to the spine, there are 3 main muscles, iliocostalis, longissimus and QL. You can watch the video above for a detailed description (with diagrams) of exactly where these muscles sit. But in summary, the longissimus and iliocostalis anchor onto ribs. While QL connects the pelvis, the spine and the rib cage.

What are these joints and muscles doing?

I often say it, but as a quick reminder - strength is the...

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Why can fast walking be so good for low back pain relief?

Mar 17, 2023

One of the therapies I use to overcome lower back pain is fast walking. But why is it so good and how exactly should you go about it for best effect?

The benefits of fast walking for lower back pain relief

Walking is a whole body exercise. It allows us to work a number of core muscles and tissues. And in fact, for various reasons, walking fast is more beneficial to the body, and the back in particular, than walking slowly.

This is a therapeutic technique that is advised by Dr McGill, and it’s one that I often recommend to my clients. So here I’d like to help you understand a little more about the science behind why it’s so effective, and how you can be sure you’re doing it right.

The role of Myofasciae in walking

Myofasciae are bands of connective tissue that are present across the whole body. Their main function is to hold everything together, a little like an elasticated body suit. It actually does loads more for us than this – it’s involved in...

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What is a mobility workout?

Jan 17, 2023

If you’re looking to improve your mobility it’s about more than just stretching. You’ll need to do a specific type of workout. Simply making your muscles more flexible will not achieve this. Instead you’ll need to focus on increasing the range of movement of the joint.

Here’s how.

Mobility versus flexibility

Mobility and flexibility are often used interchangeably, so to differentiate we have to think about the result not just the muscles. In short, the muscles are the means to the end, the mobility is the end we have in mind - the range of movement of a joint. While flexibility is more about the muscles specifically, how much they can stretch, or how long they can become.

Of course when it comes to a joint, there are multiple muscles at play, meaning that having one or more long muscles doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have good mobility at the joint. Simply stretching out the glutes, for instance, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to...

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Do you need stronger back muscles?

Nov 23, 2022

When people come to me with back pain they often talk about strengthening their back. The thing is a ‘weak’ back is rarely the cause of lower back pain. After all, there are plenty of strong people who have bad backs and plenty of weaker people who don’t.

But if that is not the answer to back pain, what is?

As with many things, it’s more complicated than you might think.

Lower back muscles: what is strength?

The strength of the lower back muscles is the force or tension that a muscle, or more correctly a muscle group, can exert against a resistance in one maximal effort. By maximal effort we mean using the greatest amount of strength they can use at that one time. But when we’re talking about back pain that happens over a period of time, there has to be more to it than a problem with that one-time strength.

To try to understand it we have to look at the function of the muscles.

What is back pain?

Put simply, back pain is pain that originates from the...

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Oct 14, 2022

A lot of people come to see me because they are struggling with lower back pains and have been told they have a weak core. They know they need to strengthen it.

But how can you tell if you are in the same boat?

Do you think you may have a weak core?

If you believe you have a weak core the first thing you need to do is work out whether you need core strengthening or core stabilizing. Only by identifying the differences can you work out how to fix the problem.

Core strength versus core stability versus core endurance

First we need to identify core strength, core endurance and core stability – what are they?

Core strength is the ability to get into a position and hold it initially.

Core endurance is the ability to hold the position for a period of time, resisting and minimising fatigue.

Core stability is more about the muscle control that results in smoothness of movement.

But how can you identify which one of these you need to work on?

Many people say they have a weak core but...

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Sep 14, 2022

Do you struggle to get down far enough when you squat? Do you feel restricted when you’re deadlifting, doing particular movements in the gym or simply as you’re moving around in everyday life?

It could be that you have tight hips.

How can you tell if you have tight hips?

If you are suffering with tight hips, the first thing you’ll notice is muscle restriction. You may feel that your muscles are unable to move or flex as much as you want or need them to. You can tell this by simply sitting on a bench and actively rotating one of your hips externally.

  1. Turn your hip out to 45 degrees.
  2. Take that a step further, so by lifting your foot the bottom of your leg runs parallel to the floor. In order to do this you should use your hands to lift your foot into position. This is called a passive movement.

You should be able to lift your foot higher with the aid of your hand than you can by trying to do the movement actively. If you can’t, that indicates your hip is...

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Core Training for Beginners

Aug 15, 2022

If you’re new to core training it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why in this tutorial I chose to concentrate on one simple exercise and break down exactly how to perform it. You’ll then be able to take this and apply it to many other exercises in order to work towards a stronger core and healthier spine.

Let’s focus on the Plank

I always advise that the easiest way to start with a plank is to move into it from a kneeling on all fours position. Focus on keeping your spine straight, or with a natural curve, keep your elbows directly below your shoulders and your forearms parallel to one another. You’re looking for a straight line from your shoulder to your knee. It doesn’t matter if you start with the back arching a little higher as it will allow for you to drop a little as you fatigue and still maintain an effective position rather than bowing.

Extend the legs to plank position…

Once you’ve found the position on all...

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Jul 18, 2022

I may have said in the past that the biggest mistake people make when treating lower back pain is using exercise. However I’m about to contradict myself. There is a time and a place for exercise in lower back rehabilitation and it’s all about creating a stronger biological scaffold to help support the spine during the rigours of everyday life.

Understanding pain triggers before introducing exercise

All manner of daily activities can cause stiffness and pain in the back. So our first step is to work out what it is that is triggering your pain from an everyday perspective? Can you sit at your desk and be pain free? Can you go to the shops and lift your shopping bags up pain free?  We need to work out how to manage the movements that are causing a problem.

Once we’ve got to the bottom of these we can start to understand how we build exercises that help rather than causing further issue. The aim is to reduce pain and build endurance. In the video tutorial above I...

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Why is hip mobility important for squats and deadlifts?

Jun 13, 2022

Have you ever considered the importance of your hip movement when it comes to supporting you with squats and deadlifts? In the tutorial above I shine a light on exactly why it’s important to undertake some hip mobility exercises and some of the things you should be doing to get those hips in the best possible shape for squatting and deadlifting.

Why are hip mobility exercises important?

There are several reasons why it’s important to focus on hip mobility exercises if you want to improve your squats and deadlifts and reduce the risk of injury.

  1.  Hip mobility gives us a margin of error for pain and injury

When we move ineffectively, or put our joints into a sub-optimal position, we create stress, which can lead to stiffness, aches and even pain. It could be that we are unsure how to move safely in a particular way, or it might be we’re unable to move in a way that protects the joint due to tightness or lack of function.

If we’re trying to lift a...

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Core muscles vs the core: beginner to advanced core strength training

May 16, 2022

Ever wonder how you go from a beginner level up to an advanced level in core training?

Put simply it’s about understanding how the core is designed and built and using that knowledge to select exercises that work with rather than against it. That’s why in this tutorial I go through:

  • How the core is built
  • Exercises that work against that build and design
  • Exercises that work for that build and design

Once you understand this you can start to build dynamism, movement and extra weight into the exercises you are doing without risk of injury. And in doing so you can safely and effectively take your core strength training from a beginner to an advanced level.

Four things to understand about core muscles

  1. The core is not one muscle it is one ‘unit’ of muscles:

With rectus abdominus on the front, the obliques on the side, spinal erectors on the back, transverse abdominus deeper along with quadratus lumborum (QL) and some deep spinal erectors, the trunk of our body...

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