The answer: Avoid it!
“Coach, what do I do for a tight/sore back?” is something your coaches hear a lot. It’s not your fault – the world around you is not designed for an active lifestyle. Deep-welled chairs are comfortable, but leave your quads and hip flexors too tight to allow full air squats without your abs relaxing and exposing your low back to excess flexion. Looking at your cell phone can cause you to cave your shoulders and upper back, bringing the spine out of alignment and causing any number of neck problems and pain to irritated, overstretched nerves.
If you find yourself in this situation, your first step is to talk to your doctor to rule out and/or treat serious issues, misalignments, etc. Once you’re given the green light to continue and train, the next step is to enhance your mobility and build your core. Here’s a brief look at what to do and why it should help, and how to begin.
Imagine we were able to close the Brooklyn Bridge for an experiment: we tighten all of the cables on one side of the bridge so they’re twice as tight as the opposite side. How long would the bridge last before something gave way? This is what excessive muscle tightness does to your body. When your hamstrings won’t release, the stretch they should have allowed becomes the low back’s problem, and low backs don’t have much tolerance for flexion. Discs aren’t meant to take that kind of force and will only do it so many times. To allow your back to stay flat, we can feed slack to it by loosening the large muscles around your pelvis. These muscles should be carefully released with pressure from foam rollers, softballs, and lacrosse balls, and then stretched under the guidance of your coaches.
– Quads, released with foam roller, then couch stretch
– Glutes, released with softball/lacrosse ball, then pigeon stretch
– Hamstrings, released with softball, then stretch with good mornings
– Tight upper back and neck? Release your pecs with a lacrosse ball, then roll the muscles of the upper back (traps and rhomboids) to release tension on the neck
Once your mobility begins to improve, back tightness should begin to decrease and allow you to perform more core exercises without pain. Planks, side planks, hollow holds, L or H sits, and other static positions are great options that appear regularly in our programming and which can be added before or after class to aid in building a strong, flexible grid of abdominal muscles which should further decrease wear and tear on your spine. Proficient weightlifters and gymnasts use these techniques to build spines that can safely withstand hundreds of pounds of force for decades, so it may be possible to train without pain, even if you’ve had pain in the past.
The final ingredient to continue life pain-free is consistency. If you’ve had back issues, you know how debilitating they can feel, and how hopeless they can make training feel, but consistent core and mobility work will pay off as you continue to train and stay healthy. Invest ten minutes before or after each workout to make sure the work you put in at the box is making you healthier and stronger.