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Your Back is a Lever

When you perform a lower body lift (squats, deadlifts, etc.) your legs perform the work against a weight that is supported in some way by your shoulders – either by a bar resting on them or hanging from your arms. Since your back lies between the load and the force, the more efficiently it transfers the power from your legs to the load supported through your shoulders, the more effective and stronger your lift will be.

A comparison I like to make is a brick and a sponge.

  • If your back is rigid, solid like a brick, the power from your legs is transferred directly to the load, driving the load in the desired direction (up) with as much acceleration as your legs can generate.
  • If your back is soft and malleable like a sponge, power will be inefficiently transferred from your legs to the load. Before the bar moves, the slack in your back needs to be taken up as sponge compresses and your back flexes. Only then will the bar begin to move. In addition to inefficiently transferring power, a loose back also increases your injury risk and gives you less control over the load.

To tighten your back up, think of it in two segments

  • Upper/thoracic region: The upper back can be tightened by creating a strong upper back contraction to pull your shoulder blades downward, ‘tucking them into your back pockets’.
  • Lower/lumbar region: Strong bracing to create intra-abdominal pressure braces the lower back creating good stability. You do this by taking in a deep breath of air, allowing it to expand into your abdomen, then tightening your core and pushing down (hard) with your diaphragm like you’re trying to push out a turd.

Building a strong back, and learning to leverage it, can have a direct, significant impact on your lower body lifts.



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