Speed can be everything for competitive athletes, particularly those in year-round sports. Sprinting is an essential, yet trainable skill for athletes that compete in a variety of sports, such as track, football, soccer, lacrosse, and basketball to name a few. An athlete’s sprint speed can be the difference between scoring the winning goal or getting beat to the goal. One often overlooked component of increasing speed is lower back strength and its vital role in helping to produce high speeds. Since a weak lower back can compromise an athlete’s ability to sprint at their fullest potential, it’s essential that athletes allocate the time necessary to strengthen it. In this blog post, we will explore why having a strong low back is crucial for improving sprinting speed, and one of our favorite exercises to use to help build that strength.
Importance of the Low Back in Sprinting
The low back is responsible for essential functions in the sprinting movement. When an athlete sprints, the back muscles contract isometrically, helping to not only maintain posture, but provide stability as the extremities go through the necessary motions. A low back that can not maintain the strength necessary to withstand the sprint forces can compromise posture, causing inefficient mechanics, and expend unnecessary energy. Not only this, a weaker lower back can increase the risk of injury because it does not have a high enough threshold to accommodate those same sprint forces, putting the muscles and joints around it at risk as they would now have to bear the loads.
The lower back is a key contributor to core stability. Stability in this sense refers to the core’s ability to resist movement despite the forces being placed upon it throughout dynamic movement. The more stable the core is, then the better able it will be to generate and transfer forces deposited by the lower body during extreme movements. It is also worth noting the heavy rotational aspect the occurs at the trunk during sprinting.
The arm action (rapid extension and flexion originating at the shoulder joint), causes the torso to rotate along the spine. During a sprint, the core is literally violently twisting, stopping, and twisting in the opposite direction over and over again. And just as important as it is for the core to be able to generate rotation during a sprint, it is just as important for it to be able to stop and redirect that twisting, over and over again.
The lower back play a crucial role not only in facilitating this pattern but doing so while keeping the torso upright during this movement.
Reduction of the Risk of Injury
Sprinting is one of the most taxing activities that the body can undergo. The forces place an extreme demand on the joints and muscles. As mentioned before, a stronger low back will reduce the loads placed on other muscles involved in sprinting, such as the hamstrings and hip flexors; two commonly injured muscles caused by sprinting.
A low back unable to sustain the demand placed on it can cause the hamstrings to work harder than necessary, and fatigue more quickly. This creates the conditions for them to get strained and or “feel tight”.
While there are a plethora of exercises available to increase low back strength, generalizing them to every single athlete may not be the best way to do so.
Yes. Low back strengthening in principle should be apart of every athletes’ training regimen, as the benefits are across the board for any sport. However, exercise prescription should always be based on each individual athlete’s condition, biomechanics, and what they have available.
Key concepts to understand are the movements the low back contributes to (extension, flexion, and side bending to a degree, and rotation), and the three phases of movement; eccentric, isometric, and concentric.
So rather than just assigning “deadlifts”, and back extensions for the sake of it, make sure to include tempos to target the specific phases of movement of the low back. For example, eccentric strengthening of the low back will help it’s ability to tolerate more loading, while isometric strengthening will help it to maintain its strength integrity against resistance.
Absolutely, exercises like deadlifts, and back extensions, squats, etc have their place and can be of extreme benefit, but it’s deeper than just the exercise, and more about the intent. Simple resistant bands, sleds, dumbbells, and other implements can be just as effective as the aforementioned exercises.
Sled variations like the resisted back walk we utilize heavily for strengthening and prepping for linear speed days.
A strong lower back is essential for improving an athlete’s sprinting speed. It helps maintain posture, improves core stability, reduces the risk of injury, and improves sprint posture integrity. For high school athletes and their coaches, a comprehensive strength training program that includes lower back exercises, should always be included. Parents of athletes should be vigilant that their child’s training program includes lower back exercises to minimize any potential risks for developing problems with their lower back later on, and truly maximizing their speed potential. When it comes to developing speed, a strong lower back is a key component of any athlete’s training program. No it is not the flashiest and most talked about strategy when it comes to speed training, however the results are undeniable, yet unfortunately overlooked.