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Fit 4 Life | The missing ingredient for a strong back

Published:Monday | March 18, 2019 | 7:55 PMMarvin Gordon/Contributor
Improving the erectors' ability to stabilise and move the spine through training, grants protection against back pain and injuries.

Strong, healthy spinal erectors are a fundamental element of a healthy body. The erectors are not 'show' muscles and they receive even less attention than other back muscle but their role is not something that should be overlooked. Still, most people have probably never heard of them.

The result: a high incidence of back pain and training injuries. 

WHAT ARE THE SPINAL ERECTORS?

The erectors are three long, thin muscle groups running vertically up each side of the spine, starting at the sacrum and ending at the base of the skull.

WHAT ARE THEIR FUNCTIONS?

The erectors serve a few important functions, including:

• Extending the spine

• Flexing the spine laterally (to the side)

• Facilitating spinal rotation

• Providing stability of the spine 

WHY TRAIN THEM?

Training the erectors improves their strength, endurance and flexibility. Studies have shown that weak or underactive erectors are a major factor in back pain. Improving the erectors' ability to stabilise and move the spine through training, grants protection against back pain and injuries. Strong erectors also provide the benefits of greatly improved overall strength and athletic performance.

SAFETY FIRST

Great care should be taken when training the spinal erectors. 

AVOID TRAINING TO FAILURE

Poor form is extremely detrimental when performing exercises in which the erectors are a prime mover. Training to failure tends to result in sets which start with beautiful form only to devolve into ugly, injury-hunting movements by the last rep. Instead, choose exercises and rep ranges which allow you to perform full sets with perfect form while still providing a challenge.

STEADY, CONTROLLED MOTION IS KEY

The erectors are predominantly slow-twitch. They are designed for high endurance, not ballistic movements. Fast, unsteady movements increase the risk of injury while reducing the effectiveness of the exercise. Choose exercises and resistances that allow steady, controlled movement.

FIND YOUR RANGE

The range of motion is key when training these back muscles. The range available differs greatly from person to person for various reasons. Men, for example, usually have a different range of motion from women.

Do not try to force any extra-range; train within the range your body comfortably allows. A simple test is to ask yourself, 'Am I forcing my body into this position?' 

AVOID ROUNDING YOUR BACK

While many bodybuilders and powerlifters do this, the risk far outweighs the rewards. Rounding your back is a surefire way to injury for most people.

EXERCISES

Common exercises which target the erector spinae include:

• Deadlifts hit both the upper and lower erectors but place greater emphasis on the lower back.

• Rows target the upper erectors.

• Back extension and hyperextension exercises target the lower erectors.

- Marvin Gordon is a fitness coach; email: marvin.gordon@physiqueandfunction.com; yourhealth@gleanerjm.com