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Back-oriented training

From local to global strengthening

One of the most common back complaints is pain in the lumbar region. In order to improve complaints in the long term, it makes sense to train the deeper muscles of the core in addition to using the backup.

But conventional strength training often focuses only on the global muscles. The person training is given instructions to protect their lumbar spine, such as tightening the abdominal muscles or keeping their back straight. These training tips aren’t wrong; however, they challenge the global muscles in particular, which give the spine some support through the increased tension in the abdominal cavity. This type of training does not sufficiently focus on the stability of the spine, which is so essential for a healthy back, nor on the precondition for spine stability: activating the local muscles that support the individual vertebrae. You should therefore follow these steps:

Step 1: low intensity for strong stabilisers

The success factors for back-oriented training are strengthening the local and global muscles, and stimulating the fascia. This approach works from the inside out: the goal is first to strengthen the local muscles. These are located close to the joint. They react to changes in the body’s position. That means that to improve the local muscle system and thus the stability of the individual vertebral bodies, the focus needs to be on slow, coordinated movements. The aim is to improve your awareness of your own body, that is, your ability to direct your perception inward and, in doing so, relieve muscle tension.

It is important to note that the local stabilisers have their greatest effect at low-intensity training, about one third of their highest possible tension. A higher load, on the other hand, leads to the activation of the global muscles. So, in order to achieve precise strengthening at low intensity, it’s necessary to perform exercises tailored to this goal. The primary aim is to train your ability to maintain tension in different body positions.

Step 2: strengthening the global muscle system

In the first step, the focus of the training was on targeting the deep muscles, activating and strengthening the local muscles to create a stable basis for the musculoskeletal system. Once you reach the goal of step 1, it is important to integrate the body’s underlying tension into the strengthening exercises that address the global system.

Now, the training of the superficial, global muscles is added. While the local muscles were activated through static or slow movements, intensive, dynamic exercises with a large range of motion are used to address the global muscles. Targeted stretching exercises additionally counteract the shortening and tension of the muscles and fascia. The focus of training is not only on the back muscles, but also on other muscle groups such as the abdominals. This is because the back muscles can only keep the spine upright with the support of strong abdominal muscles. Here too, optimal interaction is what counts.

Increase basic strength for a healthy back: in order to optimise movement patterns and protect the back from pain and dysfunction, basic strength is a decisive factor, in addition to improving sensorimotor and coordination skills and strengthening local muscles. Basic strength is the force that a muscle or muscle group can put up against fixed resistance.

Increasing basic strength helps to optimise posture and relieve stress on the joints. Targeted flexibility training also increases the range of motion of the joints, which prevents avoidance movements and provides additional relief for the spine.

Stages of muscle stabilisation

In sport as in life, many roads lead to Rome. Accordingly, there are many ways you can strengthen muscles through training. What’s important is that regardless of which exercises you perform during training, your focus always needs to be on proper form and execution.

You can use the following five points to design your own basic strength-training workout:

Point 1: do a decent warm-up

Good preparation is everything. In order to avoid injuries, perform your training safely and prepare your body for the upcoming workout, you should schedule at least five minutes of warm-up exercises before the start of every training session. The goal is to stimulate your blood circulation, gradually increase your pulse and body temperature and prepare yourself physically and mentally for the strength exercises. Your warm-up can include activities such as light jogging, skipping rope or cross-training.

Point 2: no additional weights, lots of repetitions

For basic strength training, the focus is on exercises using your own body weight. No additional weights are used. To increase your basic strength, the rules of strength-endurance training apply: Work out two to three times a week, with three to five sets of about 20 repetitions and one to two-minute breaks between each set.

Point 3: slow execution

When performing the exercises, pay attention to your speed: your workout should be dynamic, but you should perform your exercises slowly and with concentration. If you have little or no workout experience or your fitness level is particularly low, it’s preferable to perform the exercises in the first training phase statically.

Point 4: don’t forget stabilisation exercises and breathing

In order to adequately protect your spine during training, you should pay special attention to stabilising your core and integrate those exercises into your workout. In order to avoid forced breathing, you should breathe calmly and regularly during the entire workout.

Point 5: stretching after your workout

Every workout should include three elements: warm-up, mobilisation and stretching. Like warming up, stretching is doubly effective: on the one hand, it promotes flexibility, helps against shortened muscles and loosens hardened fascia. On the other hand, it also supports mental regeneration. But be careful. Your muscles and fascia may be extremely inflexible owing to a previous lack of physical activity and load. The rule of thumb is therefore to stretch slowly and ensure relaxed breathing. It’s better to give the muscle a bit of occasional relief, and then repeat the stretching position and try to increase the stretch gradually.

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