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3 ways to strengthen your Spartan spine and avoid back pain


Back stretch
Stretch to protect your back. Image from Spartan.com

Lower back pain can make everyday mobility as challenging as a Spartan Beast and bring formal physical exercise to a screeching halt.

When training for a Spartan Race, we prepare for the expected and unknown challenges on the race course. By taking an aggressive approach to training your lower back, you can stay in-motion and remain in the happy 20 percent of the population with a healthy spine.

The pillars of a Spartan Spine

Hamstring stretch

1. Stretch Your Hamstrings

The hamstrings, three long muscles that attach your pelvis to the back of your legs, influence the movements of your pelvis, sacrum, and lower spine.

Flexible hamstrings, by contrast, allow your pelvis to move freely. Spartan Racers feel the benefits of flexible hamstrings most often during the Inverted Wall.

Think about it: how hard would it be to climb if you couldn’t lift your ankle above your knee? It’s easy to forget about your pelvis when it comes to performance and injury prevention.

How to Properly Stretch Your “Hammies”

  • Stand facing a stable object like a chair or step.
  • Raise one leg onto the chair or step while keeping the ground foot pointed directly forward to avoid twisting the lower back.
  • Stabilize your body with at least one hand on a wall or table.
  • Keep both knees in complete extension with your quads (muscle on the front of thigh) contracted.
  • Keeping your shoulders back and head up, breathe slowly and deeply while focusing on expanding the lower back rib cage.
  • While maintaining slow and steady breathing, lean forward by bending at the hips, not at the lower back. Focus on three points of reference: Shoulders tall, navel towards the thigh, butt back.
  • Maintain your form and breathing until you feel a moderate, not intense, stretch in the hamstring on the backside of the leg.
  • Hold completely still in that position for five slow breaths.
  • Repeat two to four times, and then switch legs.

2. Build a Strong Core… the Right Way

Question is: What do they consider the “core?” I consider the “core” to include everything from the thighs to the upper back. These core muscles include the abs, quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, IT bands, smaller hip rotators, back extensors, lats and the groin muscles.

All of these muscles affect the spine in three ways that are especially important to all-around athletes like Spartan Racers:

  1. They absorb force. Much like the laces in your sneakers, your core muscles compress your guts and surrounding muscles to absorb the massive forces applied to your torso.
  2. They align the spine. The core muscles surround your spine to keep it in a safe and effective position to run, jump and climb.
  3. They stabilize the pelvis. If you have ever tried to stand up in a kayak or canoe, you can appreciate the value of a stable base of support. Strong and effective core muscles provide a stable pelvic base for the spine, torso and upper extremities.

To train your back, target the larger core zone:

Tips to Train Your Core Zone

  • Perform a complete and rapid exhalation whenever forcefully contracting the abs during exercise.
  • Ensure muscle fatigue is located in the right muscle(s) by using proper technique and form.
  • If you have a history of low-back problems, keep both feet on the ground for all isolated abdominal exercises.
  • Vary training surfaces to build balance (Spartans love to train outdoors, and a trail run is an example for how to do this).
  • Do static strengthening exercises such as wall sits, kettlebell holds and planks.


3. Fix Your Posture

People with bad backs say, “Sitting is so painful, but once I walk around for a bit, I start to feel better.” Why?

Sitting with poor posture puts the lower spine in a slouched position, which from the side looks like a “C,” with the opening of the “C” facing forward, aka the BAD CURVE.

In contrast, standing and walking naturally put the lower back into a “C” position with the opening of the “C” facing backwards, aka the GOOD CURVE.

This puts the right forces on the right tissues and pushes the discs forward and away from delicate nerves.

How to Keep Perfect Posture

To keep your posture perfect, practice solid body mechanics by maintaining the GOOD CURVE of the lower spine as much as possible. I mean 24/7, while you are:

  • Lifting weights
  • Tying your shoes
  • Sitting on the toilet
  • Getting out of your car

When performing such activities and when transitioning into and out of those postures, focus specifically on maintaining the GOOD CURVE.

View your Spartan training as a way of being and building resilience, and pay attention to all of these moments to ensure you stay a member of the 20 percent club.

Read more at Spartan.com