T Nation

The Lumbar Stability Thread


It's obvious that a huge point of concern for anyone that lifts heavy stuff is lumbar stability. This is extremely relevant to me, because, when I attended a 2-day seminar to become more familiar with the SFMA (Selective Functional Movement Assessment), the only thing they came across as dysfunctional on me is inadequate stability at L5-S1. Neither I nor any of you want a herniated disc, so it's only logical to compile what we know about avoiding such injuries. I hope this thread will serve that function for the T-Nation community.

I'll start by listing articles related to lumbar stability.

'High Performance Core Training' by Mike Robertson
-Core exercises that optimize lumbar stability

'A Joint-by-Joint Approach to Training' by Michael Boyle
-A discussion of hip inflexibility contributing to low back pain

'Mister Spine' Part 1&2 Interviews with Stuart McGill by Mark Demers
-McGill=brilliant :-0

'Back to McGill' Interview with Stuart McGill by Eric Cressey

'Debunking Exercise Myths, Part I' by Eric Cressey

'The Joint Health Checklist' by Eric Cressey

'Conquering Enemies of the Spine' by Michael Stare and Cassandra Forsythe
-Discusses what causes back instability and what contributes to creating back stability

'(De)-Constructing Computer Guy' by Tony Gentilcore and Jimmy Smith

'Core Training for Smart Folks' by Mike Robertson

'Anterior Core Training' by Michael Boyle

'Fix that Weak Link' by Mike Robertson

I'm sure there are more articles on here pertinent to lumbar stability, but that's a start.

Also, from my experience:

1) Ensuring glute activation seems to help resolve lower back tightness. I always focus on tensing my core when I do standing hip extension glute activation, and I use my fingers to make sure my lower back isn't flexing/extending during the motion. That hasn't been a problem for quite some time, so I'm making progress on this front.

2) As some of the articles state, improving hip mobility helps stabilize the spine.

3) Reverse Hypers seem to alleviate lower back tightness and even pain after a long day of sitting around in the office.

4) General core strengthening should always be a priority when trying to stabilize the lumbar spine (AKA always).

5) Going into hyperextension on back extensions seems to make matters worse

I'll think of more later, but continue the list if you want. I'd appreciate hearing some of your experiences with back strengthening, core strengthening, herniated spine incidents and the recovery process from said incidents, or anything pertaining to lumbar spine stability. I'm sure the community would benefit from other experiences too.


Good stuff. Hopefully I'll be able to chime in with some insight when Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance by McGill arrives.


I have a herniated l5-S1.

Pain was so bad at one point that I couldnt sleep or walk sometimes.

Here's what I did:

Right away: magnificent mobility every day, along with birddogs, front planks, side planks.

Introduced single leg movements (step ups, lunges) as soon as I could start. Developed a single leg squat.

Introduced a bodyweight only squat, worked up to many reps full ROM.

Introduced sprints gradually.

Introduced front squatting, worked up to sorta heavy over a few months. Started deadlifting very light every month or two.

Introduced back squats, started going pretty heavy, but mostly focused on front squats.

Finally started deadlifting again after a year or so (maybe I could have done it sooner) and have now (1.5 years after that) worked up to 450 at 185, never have any pain in my back.

My core is perhaps my strongest body "part" now, since introducing weighted front planks. Currently up to +280lbs for a strict 30 second hold.

Other stuff that helps:

Sleep with a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back, between your knees if you sleep on your side.

Don't do yoga, esp. Cobra/superman type moves. Don't stretch the lower back in general.

Do hip mobility and glute activation stuff all the time.


Good effort, how are you weighting yourself for this?


I have someone stack 45lb plates on my back.

And no, I don't know about other people doing this, but it really doesn't seem dangerous to me at all. Can feel fatigue coming on from pretty far away.


i am bookmarking this thread, as i have injured my right spinal erector many times


To add on the growing list -

check out Paul Chek's stuff, most of his articles on this sites are for the back and posture.

He's a way ahead of his time in terms of lower back training.


At a very simplistic level, do lots of walking and try to avoid sitting down for extended periods when possible. When my back gets stiff from sitting down too much (sometimes unavoidable due to my deskjob) I go for a walk at lunch time. Does the trick every time.

And fully agree with the reverse hyper, even though I don't have access to a proper one, I can rig a poor man's RH up quite easily in my crappy work gym by placing a boxing pad on top of the hip-rest of the regular horizontal hyperextension machine - it's just high enough so that my legs can swing freely through the bottom, I crank out 20-25 reps with just bodyweight or holding another boxing pad between my feet. Lower back feels fantastic and almost "lubricated" when I'm done, like someone has just greased up my rusty joints.


Awesome, I'll probably pick that one up as well. Let me know how it is!


Awesome post. Thanks for the contribution!!!!


Thanks. Yeah, he has interesting stuff.

He has one article in particular that throws me a curve ball. It suggests sucking your stomach in to activate TA and contribute to back stability that way, which is contrary to what I've heard from powerlifters that do the opposite (push their stomach out).

The common ground here is having a strong core and activating it as much as possible when lifting heavy stuff, but it's interesting to note such a marked difference in lifting technique.


6) There are very few cars that have seats with built-in support for the lumbar region of the spine. This is unfortunate for lifters like us, simply because if you do something a lot, your body realigns itself for that activity. This is basically The Law of Repetitive Motion in action (I=NF/AR). I don't remember where I heard this from, but take a towel (the larger the towel the worse your car seat's lumbar support) and wrap it up tightly and tie it tight with string or yarn or whatever. Simply put the towel in the bottom portion of your seat. Vuala! Cheap vehicle lumbar stability.


Great thread. Great articles. I've got (among other things) bad herniation at L4-L5-S1. The original messed-me-up injury that started my cascade of back/hip problems was 7 years ago with a really bad spondylolisthesis at L5-S1. Now I know how much my hips were the problem. Stretching the iliopsoas would have made all the difference in the world both in preventing and recovering from it. Unfortunately it never came up from docs or PTs and I hadn't educated myself enough to know about it yet.

The TA/multifidus activation by drawing in the abs gets some bad press but I know it works for me in getting things to fire properly after an injury. Once I get them firing then I can move on to abdominal bracing. Love doing "split squats" with a real good stretch at the bottom for the hips.

Also working on one leg stiff deadlifts and OH squats for stability in the back and mobility in the hips. Was doing pistols last year but they put too much strain on my messed up psoas and contributed to injuring them again which set me back another 6-8 months.


I lurked at T-Nation for a year or so and made my first post here after hurting my back: Degenerative Disc Disease, compression, and lumbosacral spondylosis in L5-S1 and L2-L3. I literally could not stand up or walk for days, until I good chiropractic care, then started rehabbing.

Interestingly, through my own research, I turned up many of those references that gi2eg wrote, and followed an almost identical path
(more detail in log: http://www.T-Nation.com/tmagnum/readTopic.do?id=2149580 ) . I have found however that in my case, sprints actually agitate my back.

I started out with single leg and bodyweight movements, progressing to dumbbells. Even though I've progressed, I still do them religiously as well as 'hang' anytime I can. When I finally got back under a bar, I started with front and zercher squats and didn't even put a bar on my back until about 8 months later. Now just over a year later, I've hit PR's in deadlift and squats-- but I took it slloooowww.

My back is still tweaky and there's really very few moments I don't think about it-- that 'pain memory' is what drives me to respect every rep (good form, body awareness, etc).

The mobility work is essential. Daily requirement. Like protein. In between sets I'll do deep BW squats. High leg stuff. Side-to-side hip stuff. Amazing how when that stuff is mobile how much my back feels.

Good thread, good info. Best of luck on the recovery!


Well there are two schools of thought there, one is bracing (Stuard mcgill) - pushing your tummy out and holding it and another is hollowing (hodges) which is to use the intra-abdominal pressure.

But from my school of thought, we use both - activating the TVA with hollowing then bracing it. It makes a huge difference, i personally did 350 for a strict RDL @ 198 BW without having my lumbar to round.


I got a loading pin and attached it to a dipping belt. Means I have to suspend myself between two benches, but it works. Only up to 110 lbs for a minute though.


terrific thread.

i'm undergoing my first back injury at the age of 19. got some X-rays done and apparently i have a slipped L5 disc.

i've been going to the Chiro for 5 days and i already feel better.

i'm sure this thread will help me really accelerate the recovery. thanks a lot for your contributions guys.

i have a question however: some of you mention front squatting even while having back problems. are you guys sure this is wise? although you're not using your erectors to move the weight, i still would think that having a heavy weight on your shoulders would force some unhealthy compression of the lower back.


FB -

You and your doc, PT, etc. must evaluate what load you can place on your body.

I went 3 months before I squatted a 10# dumbbell. I started with BW squats (sloow), BW lunges, BW stepups, BW 1-leg deadlifts, suitcase DB deadlifts (1 and 2 arm), lots of walking, and lots of mobility drills. Then, I progressed to holding a stability ball in front of me and/or over my head and squatting. Then medicine ball. etc.

I can only speak to my personal experience and my condition, but given the angle of the injury (ie posterior compression > anterior compression), the leverage of front and side loaded (ie with dumbbells) loaded squats were more comfortable than backloaded squats. At about 10 months post-recovery, my front squat was greater than my back squat-- perhaps that was more 'mental' than 'phyiscal', but I'm better for it with a stronger core.

I was very clear with my chiro what my goals were for recovery, and that "You'll never squat again" was not an option. I've posted this several times here: Don't be afraid to 'interview' your doctors to find one that understands your healing goals. I talked to several until I found my current one. She was a collegiate and current athelete, and holds a CSCS. She's not thrilled that I want to go as heavy as I do, but she understands and supports the goal.

Some days I wake up and frankly my back feels like shit all day some days not. I've re-trained myself to do things differently: I squat down to tie my shoes and pick things up (like kids do naturally). I lower DBs to the floor like a suitcase DL and pick them up the same. Etc. Sounds like overkill, but my squats have never been deeper and my form never so good.

Sorry for the long post, but it's hard to explain without giving some context because all of our conditions are unique, so there really is no one answer-- you MUST listen to your body.

Here's another example: I started a thread in the "Strength Sports" section asking about how to progress from DB rows because I maxed out the weight at my gym. A lot of the answers were "BO BB Rows", which I already do, but probably not as heavy as I could. It just happens that at that angle, I really feel the shear in my back, especially keeping good form. It's hard to convey the whole history why there's such a disparity between the two rows, but I've accepted for myself that that exercise will increase slower than others-- because my body dictates it.

You will heal. But don't rush it-- the patience will pay off. It's been over a year, and still continuing for me-- your situation may be different.


I'm going to second that you should definitely start doing exercises that will strngthen your back as soon as you can.

Don't be crazy, of course, but if you use proper form and don't try to set a PR every time you go to the gym, your back will thank you for it.

I have a spondylolisthesis at L5, meaning L5 and S1 don't line up perfectly, and L5 sits on the corner of S1 rather than the top, at an angle. I was told my doctors and chiropractors never to squat or deadlift again, but I noticed after doing them that my back actually felt better, and it got me thinking. And I decided that it was probably a bad idea to allow muscles responsible for my spinal stability to go untrained when I had an obviously weak spinal structure.

That's my two cents.


How many sets did you guys do these weighted planks for? What was the weekly frequency? Did you go for a solid 30 second hold and just increase the weight the next time to progress?

I think I'm going to include these in my training like so:

A. Weighted planks
30 second hold
3 sets
60 seconds rest
weight progression
B. BW Plank hold to failure
~ second hold
1 set
beat last week's best time

I think I'm going to use this exercise group 2x a week: once after my Front Squat session, and once after my Zercher Squat/Deadlift variation session.

The plank hold to failure is just an idea I had to get the concept of bracing my core under stress well 'learned'.