My low back hurts when I do ab work, how do I fix that?
I have recently come across several articles in which the authors stated that you should work the lower back first and then the abdominals. According to these authors a tight lower back can cause back pain and other back problems. To a certain extent a large majority of the medical profession also agrees with this point of view.
If this were the 1920's I might be able to agree with this point of view. At that time manual labor was quite prevalent and it was not surprising to find many workers, as for example ditch diggers, with erector spinae muscles so well-developed and hypertrophied that you could actually put your fist in between them. There was no doubt that these muscles were very tight and some stretching could have been beneficial in alleviating any soreness. After bending over hundreds of times during the course of the day it was no wonder that these workers would get lower back problems.
These days most people are very sedentary and have weak backs not strong ones. Thus, the key is to strengthen the lower back muscles and not just stretch them. The spine should be flexible, but the muscles must be strong enough to move the spine through its full range. Merely stretching the lower back to get a full range of motion does not strengthen the back and in the long run can weaken it greatly.
Today, we need stronger and "tighter" erector spinae muscles of the lower back. Instead of these muscles getting tight during the day these muscles get excessively stretched in most people. If you are sitting down reading this article, I would venture to say that you have a rounded back--most people do. It is rare to find someone sitting perfectly erect.
Many times it is not your fault; it is the fault of the chair or the couch. For example, many people pick out a couch that is soft so that when they sit in it they sink 6 to 12 inches. This may feel very comfortable on first plopping down, but it also puts your spine into a rounded position. In this position the erector spinae of your lower back are excessively stretched.
If you lift a weight with a rounded back the chances of rupturing a disc or injuring your back are very great. In fact, lifting weights with a rounded back is probably the number one cause of industrial back problems. This is nothing to sneeze at since lower back problems cost the nation billions of dollars a year in surgery, rehabilitation and lost work.
I firmly believe that if individuals with "bad backs" were taught how to lift correctly and how to strengthen the lower back and maintain it in correct position, the number of back injuries would decrease greatly. The same concept holds true for chairs and couches. If they are made to assist you in sitting with an erect trunk your back would be much stronger and less prone to injury. But by assuming the rounded position which many times you must because of the poor construction your back only becomes weaker.
When you get to using your torso in your training session, train the abs first so that the lower back experiences a stretch with every contraction. Finish off the torso by doing lower back work because the lower back muscles tighten up after being contracted, which will help with your back posture.