Your abdominal muscles (core) & your back muscles share the responsibility of keeping your spine safe. Your brain understands that spinal stability must be maintained – no matter the cost. This means that when our abs get weaker, our lower back muscles start to work overtime. While this compensation doesn’t feel good, it is vital for keeping you safe in the short term.
If this relationship is left unchecked we can get into a lot of strife; our abs working less and less – our lower back muscles working more and more..
Your back muscles can’t be on over-time forever. Eventually they start talking to you, telling you they are ‘tight’, ‘angry’ & ‘tired’. They warn you to stop what you are doing, and if you don’t sometimes they will spasm.
When our core isn’t up to scratch, stretching doesn’t work. Neither does rest. The only thing that will give you long term relief from back pain is working out how to get your abdominals to come to the table.
A neutral spine
The curves in our spine are useful. They act like a spring & allow us to conserve energy. However, when we do something heavy, our ‘core’ is designed to push our spine back on top of our hips. This creates a straight line, allowing all of load to go straight into the hips, where our big muscles are.
Below is an example of a posture where the ‘core’ is weak. You can see the anterior pelvic tilt (which we covered in the last section), and the arch in the lower back. The .gif shows the transition from ‘APT and back dominant’, to ‘neutral spine, abdominally dominant).
Squatting and lifting with a ‘neutral spine’ is the key to protecting your back and developing your core function. If you are moving well, you should never feel your lower back while training. Exercise soreness in the lower back is a sure sign that your abs have turned off, and your lower back has arched.
Training for a Neutral Spine.
There are many exercises that can help you work out how to become abdominally dominant again. Learning to ab wheel with a neutral spine is a great example. When we do it correctly, we can maintain the straight line in our lower back, even under load. When we become fatigued, hold our breath or go too far out, the abdominals switch off, and we immediately feel our lower back take the weight of the movement.