Yesterday I wrote a post that got a lot of attention about how fitness usually ends up hurting a lot of low backs (you can read it HERE). One of the big reasons is that we think huge amounts of strength is what our body needs in being more resilient. The reality is that the type of strength we need is far more complex than most people realize.
What experts like Dr. Stuart McGill point to, that most of what we do walking around in life 0nly requires our core to be about 10% active, that obviously isn’t huge. Now, if we have a more strenuous task then yes, we would need more. However, it isn’t just the low back or the abs work harder, it is how they work together.
I’m trying to simplify a ver complex idea of motor control. “The process of initiating, directing, and grading purposeful voluntary movement” is the medical definition of motor control, did that help? Probably not and I wouldn’t blame you for being MORE confused than when we began. I like Dr. Brandon Marcello’s definition of “timing and sequencing of muscle activity.
Dr. Lee Burton of Functional Movement Screen gave a great topic in regards to motor control earlier this year!
What that means is JUST because a singular muscle is strong, it doesn’t necessarily (often doesn’t) lead to better movement, performance, or recovery from injury. That is because our movement is very complex and we not only need a muscle to be strong, but to know WHEN to work, who it works with, and how does it work in the right sequence with its other members of the chain.
That is why in my last blog post, I wrote trying to use “strength exercises” to help the low back (especially those designed at targeting the low back) aren’t really effective. In fact, they can screw up some of the motor control that we are trying to improve upon.
Why Don’t You Hear MORE About Motor Control?
Of course the question above is probably one you are thinking about. If motor control is so important, why don’t we talk about it more in training? Well, there are a few reasons…
-No one cares!: What I mean by that is you don’t go to the beach during the summer and ask someone to check out your motor control. People are SO concerned with the cosmetic they have little care about the functionality of their training. Can you have cosmetic improvements AND improve your function? Of course, that is why we are such strong proponents of the way we use functional training in DVRT. However, you gotta explain things so OTHER people care enough.
Sadly this is the attitude of many even professionals.
-It’s too difficult: Even before social media, most magazines and other outlets wanted material they knew they could sell easily. It really wasn’t about informing people, it was about getting you subscribing and buying the next issue. Fast forward to today and it is the same, just about likes, shares, sign-ups, etc. So, if you give people what they WANT to hear, you will get much more of all of it. However, you probably aren’t really helping people either. Most of my clients over the years had goals, but they came to me because they had no idea how to achieve them. We can give people both what they want AND need!
-Most “Pros” don’t know: Going around saying I know more than anyone would be annoying and the simple fact is, I don’t (shhh, don’t tell Jessica). What I am REALLY good at is surrounding myself with REALY smart people that know various topics way better than I do. It is talking with them that allows me to form really innovative training ideas because sometimes these smart people never really thought about the application side or in this manner.
The reality is though, most fitness professionals and I would say strength coaches as well, don’t know very much about motor control. We get stuck on exercises and weight but not anything with much depth.
So, How Is Motor Control Going To Help My Low Back?
Man, we could spend a whole blog on each topic (hmmm…), but there are several ways that motor control is really important.
-Developing good movement patterns: This is one of the keys that Dr. Stuart McGill refers to in his work. Understanding how to move well and efficiently in base human patterns. That is why in DVRT we speak so much about movement patterns and not exercises or muscles. Sure, we use A LOT of both, but the “magic” happens in developing good movement patterns and this can have a profound impact on one’s low back.
Since we shared physical therapist, Jessica Bento breaking down the hip hinge yesterday, showing foundational squats seems to make sense. Using these strategies can really help people avoid their low backs and help their hip mobility at the same time. When we are looking at the squat in terms of movement patterns, we want a more upright squat that has great range of motion in the ankles, knees, and hips, as this plays a big part in healthy low backs.
While Dr. McGill calls these 6 patterns, I think we could easily argue it is more like 8!
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Strength Coaches, Joel Gunterman and Martin Adame walk you through some DVRT progressions to overhead pressing. Why am I discussing overhead pressing and low backs? The overhead press is an example where people think about muscles and not the movement. What most see is JUST an upper body exercise, but what Joel and Martin show is how the whole body is interconnected.
-Having a good foundation of stability. Again, stability training can be a WHOLE post in of itself, but what we want to have is the ability to resist unwanted movement (thanks again to Brandon for that simple explanation). What many people miss is that we can help low backs in this regards WAY more than trying to build up any specific muscle. Especially as this refers to resisting other planes of motion.
This is especially true of the lateral plane where many people are VERY weak and yet our core is much more designed for RESISTING lateral motion than it is for exercises like side bends and so forth. DVRT Master, Cory Cripe breaks down one of our foundations that people REALLY miss upon!
-Good pelvic control. Don’t get me wrong, what Cory taught above helps pelvic control, but we may have to start even MORE foundational or along with other drills to help teach how to control our pelvis. This especially important when we walk or move in life because locomotion is unstable and powerful so to help low backs we need to learn to control these motions which is why we use dead bugs so much. However, as Jessica explains, not all dead bugs are the same!
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The dead bug is a tremendous core exercise. It builds great pelvic control and teaches the core how to connect the upper and lower body while building other functional training qualities. However, not all dead bug variations train the same quality of movement that the base version teaches. Especially this kettlebell version can cause issues if we don’t consider how tools put our bodies in specific positions that can either help or potentially hurt us. Find out why…
The point of this post was to help people understand if we aren’t just trying to make muscles strong, what SHOULD we be trying to do. Low backs can be complicated and if you have pain you should be seeing your doctor and/or a good physical therapist. However, smart and intentional exercise can go a long ways in helping low backs, but it isn’t heavy deadlifts, 100,000 kettlebell swings, it is being very thoughtful about how our bodies function!
You can learn more in our DVRT Restoration certification or some of Jessica’s great DVRT courses. You can save 25% on ALL of them with code “save25” HERE
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Issues with low back pain is a personal subject for me. Most people know (as I have said it a lot:) that I have a very aggressive spinal disease and after 6 spinal surgeries I always am intrigued in how people are suggesting helping low back issues. After all, it isn’t as easy as just getting your body “stronger”. Low back can be complex and multi-faceted, that is why we teach #DVRT drills like these that actually accomplish far more than most people think! (You can read our FULL article with 🔗 in my BIO) _____________ The reality is most of the advice given in fitness isn’t designed for people with real low back pain. No, don’t get me wrong, there are ton of exercises to “work” the low back and abs, but it is this reason that people like spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill say, “As a spine biomechanics professor of over 32 years, I share with you an astonishing fact: Over half of the patients that had been referred to me for back pain were caused by personal trainers!” The reality is that much of this comes from our focus on strength and NOT the real issues we have to consider in low back issues. _____________ As Dr. McGill explains…”Too many patients remain long-term patients because of their misguided efforts to train their back strength. In many cases, their training approach needs an overhaul. Think of strength in relation to the body like horsepower in relation to a car. If a souped-up 500 horsepower engine is put inside a dinky, broken down car and then raced around town at top speed, it’s only a matter of time before the mega-engine rips the frail frame and suspension to piece. Similarly, a back patient who has developed a disproportionate amount of strength in relation to their current level of endurance can only expect further injury. We have measured this time and time again in strong back patients. Specifically, a resilient back has endurance matched to strength.” ____________ These drills aren’t about working isolated muscles, but chains that often play a much BIGGER role in low back pain and how we can make people feel better faster. Plus, patterning BETTER movement skills and teaching people how to use their bodies more efficiently.