Lifters and Back Pain

The following article came out of a conversation regarding the use of unstable loads as a fix for lifters suffering with back pain.

Back pain is ridiculously common.

And the stories that have been built around it are many.

There is such a term as "non specific low back pain"

Which is to say, "your back hurts but we don't know why"

I don't like terms like non specific back pain, I'd much rather day "you're back hurts and we don't know why"

Old school physio is to advise strengthening the core to help support the spine.

There's logic in this.

If you are dealing with non specific pain, in that you can't identify the cause, then a non specific intervention that reduces pain is a good thing.

For a while Pilates was the treatment of choice, and if you look on my bookshelf there is a very well worn Pilates book that you should study.

After Prof Stuart McGill came into the spotlight, a lot of the strength community moved away from Pilates type exercises towards McGill style "anti" movement exercises.

This means resisting movement, of which the unevenly loaded bar, especially the "Bamboo bar" idea of an unstable load (as in the Squat U video) is an example.

The wobbly load is asking the Central Nervous System to react to the wobble. Every vibration from the hanging weight out on the end of that barbell will stimulate muscles to be reacting, contracting and relaxing to keep the body in position.

It's exactly the reason why bottoms up Kettlebell work is so good for the shoulders, the chaotic interaction between the unstable load and the muscles holding it is too fast, too chaotic for the person to handle conciously, so the CNS has to up it's game and take control sub conciously.

Other "anti" movements would be:


Pallof press

1 arm press/pull

Renegade row

Single leg RDL


And so on.

While these build strength and potentially upgrade CNS action around the spine, they're not dealing with the root cause.

If the back hurts but was never injured, why does it hurt?

The body rarely makes mistakes, almost everything that happens has a reason.

A very large percentage of people I personally have helped with back pain are loading through the area that hurts.

Try this:

Stand up, now shift your weight until it is resting predominantly in one heel. Keep this shift subtle, small, but feel your weight move into that one heel and just stay there.

Stand for a few minutes.

Do you feel, any pressure or even pain in the back?

Swap sides, compare the difference.

What do you notice?