Hello and welcome back to what I promise will be a great day of talking about training and training preparation. From a personal standpoint, I’m happy to talk about training and the mechanics and functions of various movements and their respective muscle groups anytime, with anyone that is interested and passionate. Just this morning after I finished my training session with my training partner Ryan, the topic changed from the days training to squat mechanics, and before you know it there was the two of us and a trainer going through the various movements and postures that all must be considered in order to squat correctly. This turned into a 20 minute tutorial more or less with all kinds of ancillary exercises and techniques to consider during the squat process. Considering we didn’t even train legs today, this speaks volumes about the excitement that some of us feel when the subject is training mechanics and muscles.
I know that those of you that make this site a daily stop are also very serious about your love of training. Today I will indulge that with you as well and I am happy to be a part of any follow up conversations that might get started in the comments section. Twitter is a wonderful thing for quick, back and forth chat, but the comments section allows for a deeper discussion. I’d like to try and encourage as well as generate more of that, if for no other reason than I’d enjoy interacting with more of you in a forum that allows for longer than 140 character quick tweets. It’s pretty hard to say much in that amount of time when a good conversation is rolling, and with the caliber of readers that I know visit here, I know we can make this a great meeting place for intelligent training, fat loss, muscle building, and nutrition minded people.
Having finally verbalized that thought that I’ve been meaning to get across for some time, let’s get on with the subject of today. As today is Thursday it means our discussion is all about the training and preparation to train the muscle group that is discussed on Tuesdays. I like to leave a day between the two for reasons of digestion. A lot of what was discussed regarding the muscle groups and their functions in The Posterior Chain: More Core article may not be familiar territory with all of you. As such, I like to give you ample time to read and possibly reread the information. This is how we all learn and have learned and my goal is to help everyone become more knowledgeable so that our training can excel and our quality of life can too as a result.
When I talked about the erector spinae muscles, I also touched on the thoracolumbar fascia, and the nuchal ligament. For todays purposes, I’m just going to refer to all of the many muscles that make up the erector spinae and the muscles that cover them and serve a similar function, as the muscles of the erector spinae. These muscles are very similar to our core in that their number is many, and their make up may be somewhat different, but they all work together to either straighten the spine, or provide side to side bending action – not to be confused with rotational action which is more the responsibility of the abdominal muscles. Of course during any kind of rotational movement, the muscles of the erector spinae would be very active in a stabilizing role.
So how do we train these muscles, which when taking physique composition into consideration, make up a relatively small amount of our body? Compared to the large muscles of the back such as the lats, traps and even rhomboids, these muscles definitely take a back seat. The erector muscles are similar to our core in the respect that our transverse abdominus may not even be able to be seen from the exterior, but the strength of this muscle is largely responsible for the further strengthening of the rest of the body due to its ability to transfer power to the limbs only when the core is sufficiently stabilized. The erector spinae is like that as well. If your spine is not stabilized and strong, there will be a point from which progress will be impossible. Your body will not allow itself to be put in jeopardy and will limit your ability until the issue of your erector spinae strength is dealt with. If you don’t believe me, load up a nice heavy deadlift that is well past your capabilities and give it a go. When you can walk again in six months, strengthen those erectors so that you will be able to continue to progress in lifts such as the deadlift.
Before you train this muscle, I recommend a good roll on the foam roller. This is fairly easy to do as you are going to simply roll your erectors from your neck, and down to your glutes. In the low back area I like to lift one foot off the ground as I find it deepens to tissue stimulation. The erectors are a tough area to stretch, and to some degree I don’t think it’s wise to stretch them too much unless your mobility is limited specifically from them.The area of your spine and low back is meant to be held in place, so getting these muscle loose prior to hoisting heavy weights goes counter to my training rationale.
I feel in lieu of stretching, this is an area that is best warmed up after you have completed the foamroller. Simply going through the movements that will be used in your training of the erectors, but with more of an emphasis on feeling the stretch, is a great way to warm them up. Obviously this will be done with very light weights that will increase after a few sets, and then the real work can begin.
As far as exercises that hit the erectors specifically, the list is somewhat limited. Hyper-extensions would be one that I would recommend to make part of your back training day. Unlike the reverse romanian deadlifts I told you about in Hamstrings: Explosive Power Muscles Part 2, these hyper-extensions will focus solely on the erectors. I like to do them with a relatively light weight held to my chest, as I feel that this exercise deserves a lot of concentration to roll the spine forward as I descend, and then straighten it as I come up, giving it a small pinch at the top. This pinch is the hyper-extension part. You go a little beyond that natural range of motion to get a good contraction at the top, by literally hyper-extending your low back. In this situation it’s okay to do. Never do this when deadlifting however, as you’ll be putting yourself into a risky situation regarding injury.
Another great option, and perhaps you can do this exercise with hypers on an every other back day alternating system, is good-mornings. This exercise is a great way to strengthen your erectors in the same manner that a plank is a great way to strengthen your core. By being forced to hold your erector spinae very stable during the movement, they will become stronger. Make sure that your form is very good or your low back will be put into a dangerous position. This exercise is similar to Romanian deadlifts in that it is a hip exercise. The back is used strictly as a hinge and for stability.
Some other exercises that are going to effectively target this muscle are similar to the above exercises that also target the back, and of course the hamstrings. This is why I always suggest that the back be trained with the hamstrings on the same day. The posterior chain is just that, a chain. As a result it works together no matter how you try to separate them. So make it easy on yourself and train them all together – it just makes sense. It’s a great way to really work the back side of your body as well.
These other exercises are things like deadlifts, bent over barbell rows, and low cable rows. Even using the rowing machine as part of your back and hamstring training will be a good compliment. All of the above mentioned exercises require a tremendous amount of stability, and as that is the chief function of your erectors in these situations and they will be heavily taxed the heavier you lift.
The posterior chain in general responds very well to heavy weights. If your body is in balance, then your ability to pull should always be greater than your ability to push. I like to keep the reps lower on exercises that target the posterior chain, but only those weights that are within my abilities. Of course the goal is always to push for more, but when my our spines are involved caution should always be of precedence. Make those increases in weight gradual and incremental. Adding the two and a half pound plates to the bar on deadlift day may not even be noticeable, but in a few months those weights become the 25 pound plates. If you get injured, then progress halts and slides into negative territory. Training smart is sometimes more important than training hard.
I’m thrilled to tell you that next Tuesday will begin the exploration of these large muscles of our back. All of this posterior chain, and core training that has been the focus of the Tuesday and Thursday muscle function and training will begin to branch out into the muscles that we can use for immense power as well as to pack some impressive mass onto. Without a strong core and erector spinae, the adding of strength will be next to impossible.
Sometimes we have to think laterally in order to progress. Increasing our squat or shoulder press is best be served through the increase of strength in the muscles of our core. It is hard to think that way at times, because it makes more sense in our logically ordered brains to spend more time squatting than it does to spend doing good-mornings in order to increase that squat. Don’t get me wrong, the dedication to squatting will result in an increased squat as well, but that is another exercise that relies heavily on the core and erector spinae. It likely isn’t the increase in leg strength that will allow your squat to grow, as much as it is in a stronger and therefore more stable core that will allow for the transfer of power to your legs that will be responsible for the gains made.
As always, this has been a pleasure. I hope it has for you as well. I urge you to add a little bit of time in your back and hamstring day to devote solely to the training of your erector spinae. The stronger we get in the center of your body, the stronger we become in the rest of our body. With that resulting stonger body, comes a stronger mind and an increased sense of belief in ourselves. All of this is conected to our quality of life and subsequent enjoyment of it. Tomorrow is of course Fat Loss Friday, and I’ll be continuing with more Fat Loss Factsthat you will be able to employ in designing your own fat loss plan. I hope to see you all here then my friends,