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So it's often recommended that you don't lift with your back - that you instead lift with your legs, lest you injure your back. But a lot of exercises have you do just that. Dead lifts, hyperextensions, etc.

This leaves me wondering if I should avoid lower back exercises or if the traditional advice of lifting with ones back is bad.

So, should I be training my lower back?

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marked as duplicate by Dave Liepmann, FredrikD, Freakyuser, Lego Stormtroopr, Baarn Jul 5 '13 at 14:50

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Its hard to find adequate diagrams to illustrate this, but I'll explain as best I can.

For the average person, the teaching to not "lift with the back" is good advice

Someone who isn't used to lifting what the average person would consider heavy loads (lets say a 20kg box), bending at the waist to lift causes a rounding spine. Combined with weak hamstrings and back muscles, this rounding leads to unnecessary strain on the spine and can cause disc damage.

Instead, people are taught to stand close to the weight, pull it close and lift from a squat position, using the stronger quad muscles. Lifting from this position helps keeps the back straight and minimises pressure on the discs of the spine.

But, lifting with your back is not necessarily dangerous

As you pointed out, there are plenty of exercises that use the lower back muscles, such as extensions and deadlifts. However, you'll notice whenever people advocate for these exercises they stress the importance of good form - much more that in most other cases. Once trained in or aware of how to straighten and strengthen the spine, and brace with the "core" muscles to increase Intra-abdominal pressure, deadlifts are perfectly safe. Thus, for someone who has a 100kg deadlift, who keeps good form, straight leg lifting a 20kg box from the floor is perfectly safe.

What does this mean for you?

Firstly, always keep a strong/straight spine when lifting anything that isn't a balanced and uniform barbell. One difference between weightlifting and what is taught as "safe-workplace lifting" is the load is usually uniform and easy to lift in the gym, whereas the a box in the workplace may be imbalanced and hard to hold. So good spinal form is the most important part of the lift.

Secondly, continue to strength your lower back. With good form there is absolutely no danger to training your lower back like any other body part.

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I have a weakness in my back from an injury 20 years ago. I find that working my back to make it stronger is a great help. If I ignore my back I start getting back pain. I find that kettlebell swings, deadlifts (stiff legged and normal) and squats if I'm very careful about good form are all beneficial.

In general the advice to lift with your legs is good advice, but excluding your back from any exercise is not a good idea.

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