Build a Resilient Spine: Start Here

Matthew Ibrahim


Medford, Massachusetts, United States

Strength Training, Mobility & Recovery


You wake up with a sore lower back, and you go to bed feeling the same way. The discomfort is a constant reminder of how deconditioned you are. Trust me, I’ve been there. You know there’s something wrong. What gives?


If you’re dealing with debilitating lower back pain that just won’t relent, you’d benefit most from physical therapy and rehabilitation treatment. However, most people aren’t at that stage. Rather, they’re just dealing with a weak lower back, and are in dire need of good strength training.



But there’s something in between physical therapy and strength training. This is the grey area otherwise known as “prevention.”


Prevention Is Synonymous With Training

Mike Boyle talks about how “[ACL] injury prevention is just good training.” Replace the word “ACL” with “lower back,” and this statement still holds true. Check every physical therapy treatment program and look into their exercise prescription for rehabbing the lower back. Do the same thing for all strength and conditioning training programs, and see which exercises they’re using to build core strength and stability for their clients.


You’ll notice a trend. There’s an overlap that can’t be denied. Most of these exercises are the same for both ends of the spectrum, with the only difference being various levels of progressions, regressions, and intensity.


Let’s look at these overlapping exercises to build a resilient spine, and how you can incorporate them into your training.


Exercises for a healthy back.

These four exercises are insurance for your back. Upper left: RKC plank; Upper right: Side plank; Lower left: Bird-Dog; Lower right: Half-kneeling chop.



Proper Alignment Sets Your Foundation

The most important aspect to conditioning your core and building integrity in your spine is proper alignment of your rib cage over your pelvis. Imagine your rib cage representing the top floor of a building and your pelvis representing the bottom floor of a building. If you don’t want this building to collapse, the top floor (rib cage) needs to sit in proper alignment directly positioned over the bottom floor (pelvis).


Improper alignment of the rib cage and pelvis ultimately leads to an unstable midsection that isn’t primed for power output. This can be seen through ribs flaring out or an anterior pelvic tilt where there is excessive arching in the lumbar spine. You can’t build strength from this position. Either an injury or general soreness is likely to occur.



The first step to acquiring proper alignment is to incorporate breathing patterns for optimal positioning. Breathing can seem boring, but it is one of the most beneficial skills you can develop. Breathing drills should be a staple in every training program, as it will transfer directly into stronger, more powerful lifts and movements.



Do This:

  1. Inhale through nose for 3 seconds.
  2. Exhale through mouth for 6 seconds. That equals 1 rep.
  3. Perform 10 reps.



The Lumbar Spine Was Built to Stabilize

Train function, not anatomy. This is especially true when it comes to your core and lower back. The spine is a unique multi-segmental joint that requires mobility and stability in different areas to operate at full capacity.


Sequence of joints

The joint areas of the body alternate in purpose between mobility and stability.


Per the joint-by-joint approach, the lumbar spine is meant for stability. Below it we find the hip joints and above it we find the thoracic spine. In both of these areas, we’re looking for the opposite of stability – mobility. Having adequate mobility in the hip joints and thoracic spine enhances our ability to create stability in the lumbar spine.


With this concept, we can begin to appreciate that the lumbar spine was intended for stability. Building stability in the lumbar spine is the most essential aspect to core development.


Below are four exercises that will serve as your building blocks for creating a strong and stable lower back:


  1. RKC plank
  2. Side plank
  3. Bird-Dog
  4. Half-kneeling chop


Continue for Video Demonstration of the RKC Plank

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