I was watching Wizard of Oz yesterday (it always seems to be on TV over the Christmas holidays) when I was reminded of the importance of protecting your lower back in life and in the gym.
You see I noticed how the Tin Man was walking and it reminded me of myself in the past when I’ve been a bit, shall we say ‘over zealous’ in my workouts.
If you’re over 40 years old, and not quite as flexible as you once were in your glorious prime (!), it can be tricky.
On the one hand you want to protect your lower back, glutes and hamstrings by not doing anything dumb;
On the other hand, strengthening this posterior chain is vital if you want to stay fit, strong, mobile and an all-round useful human being as you get older.
Fortunately it’s been several years since I’ve had a Tin Man episode, so I wanted to share the approach I’ve taken to safely strengthen my lower back and glutes, so you too can stay bulletproof as you get older.
Why Do We Have Such Weak Asses?
The nature of our lifestyles as we get a little bit older is that we sit down and lie down A LOT.
We get up out of bed.
We sit down and have breakfast.
We sit in our cars and drive to work.
We sit in the office.
We come home and sit down for dinner.
We sit on the sofa.
Then we lie down in bed again.
There’s not a lot of deep squatting, glute stretching and leg bending going on right?
And sadly, lunging around your workplace and lying down on your office floor to do some impromptu Hamstring Bridges tends to be frowned upon.
So in general we walk around with a crazy-tight posterior chain.
In a burst of motivation we then go to the gym, try and do some squats and… it doesn’t go particularly well.
Because your lower back, glutes and hamstrings are so tight, and you just can’t get your ass anywhere near low enough to get the most from the exercise.
Now, you can push your luck and try and go deeper than your body really wants to let you go… but we’re dicing with danger there.
So what do we have to do?
Well we need to find a way of developing some strength and flexibility in your lower back, hamstrings and glutes, while at the same time protecting ourselves from injury and excessive muscle soreness in the following days.
And we can do that by:
Staying as flexible as possible outside of our workouts; and
Not being stupid during our workouts
How to Stay Flexible and Mobile Day to Day
If I’m working out I do this little routine beforehand in the gym, or if I’m not working out that day, I do this before I jump (well, drag myself…) in the shower.
Either way I do it every day, and it takes 3–5 minutes and loosens me up wonderfully.
First spend some time just hanging down trying to touch your toes (without bouncing or forcing things). Allow your calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back to feel some tension for a good 30 seconds. Groaning noises are optional but I find they help ;-)
Now lie down and do some slow, controlled Bridges, driving your hips up towards the ceiling, again feeling some great tension in your hamstrings and glutes as they get stretched out. Like this:
Then if you’re in the gym, grab a kettlebell that feels light to YOU, and do a set of 20 kettlebell swings, just to grease that groove between your glutes and your lower back.
And finally there’s a great stretch that sciatica-sufferers will know well, lying down or sitting, while pulling one knee across your body for the ultimate glute stretch — feeling a little burn is a great sign here. Here’s just your typical everyday example of a beautiful woman doing this stretch by the side of a road:
Safely Punishing Your Lower Back In The Gym
Life is too damn short to get injured and be waddling around for days or even weeks after a workout.
So let’s be sensible in your workouts, regardless of how much you want to look like an Adonis ASAP.
After doing that mobility routine before your workout, if your lower back and glutes STILL feel tight, and you’re unable to get that deep into a simple bodyweight squat, then…
Today is simply not your day to push your luck.
Live to fight another day, and take things easy on your posterior chain. If you can stick with that mobility routine for a few weeks you’ll start to feel more capable in the gym.
BUT if everything now feels nice and loose because you’ve done a bit of mobility work beforehand, then let’s go for it, while taking a Quality over Quantity approach to training your lower back.
1. Do ONE exercise that really batters your lower back (in a good way), so a deep squat, deadlifts, glute ham raises, heavy kettlebell swings.
2. After that one solid exercise that has worked your posterior chain hard, try and work around your lower back for the rest of the workout.
There’s is absolutely no point in continuing to put your posterior chain under unnecessary tension throughout the rest of your workout, as it will limit your progress in other exercises.
For example, if you’ve decided to do deep squats but also you have programmed Bent Over Rows for the latissimus muscles of your back, the lower back may be so tired that it’s that area that gives out before the target area of the exercise. This isn’t great.
So instead you can leave your lower back well alone while still working your lats by doing chest supported rows like I’m doing here:
Daily Mobility & Targeted Punishment
When it comes to protecting your lower back when you’re lifting weights, doing some mobility work daily, either as your warm up or just at a regular time of the day is your first step to not feeling like a Big Tight Mess all the time.
Then during your workouts, play it by ear.
If you still feel tight, tread carefully. But if you’re good to go, hit your lower back, glutes and hamstrings hard with one quality exercise… then leave it the hell alone!
Life is too short after 40 years old to kill yourself in the gym. One workout isn’t going to make a difference. Consistently being able to work out WILL make the difference, and we can only do that if we can actually move freely, instead of waddling around like the Tin Man.
Click Here for all sorts of free tools, guides and programs I’ve created to help the out-of-shape Over-40s get fit, slim, healthy and happy without turning life upside down!
Get Your Body & Mindset Working FOR You (Not Against You) After 40...