Strengthening the Weightlifter’s Lower Back
Bruce Klemens Photography
We seldom see Olympic-style weightlifters who might fare well in physique contest. Sure, lifters have more muscles than most other athletes, but they are generally not known for excessive hypertrophy, or muscular development, as one is likely to see with bodybuilders.
On occasion, slender lifters, sometimes known as “muscleless wonders” have been known to stand atop the victory podium at the Olympic Games. But even among these lifters with little hypertrophy, a closer exam is likely to show excellent development of the muscles of the back, particularly that group of muscles collectively referred to the erector spinae, or spinal erectors. This is the set of cable-like structures located on either side of the spine. This group runs from the sacrum to the neck.
Why is this area so well developed in weightlifters? Well, the snatch and the clean both involve lifting heavy weights from the ground and the lifting should be done with what is referred to as a neutral spine. Neutral simply means the space between the intervertebral discs are as they appear in a healthy spine in its natural, or standing, posture.
A neutral spine is not flexed forward, as in reaching down to touch one’s toes with a rounded back. Neither is a neutral spine hyperextended, as when one leans rearward and looks upward.
Repeated snatching and cleaning, along with a lot of pulls (both snatch and clean), with a neutral spine leads to a great amount of hypertrophy (muscular growth) from the low to midback areas of the human torso. This development is so extreme on some lifters that a neutral party could easily insert their fingers between the two muscles to a depth of approximately 1 inch.
In addition to all the pulling movements performed by weightlifters, some assistance exercises prove invaluable in developing the spinal erectors. Coaches should accelerate, especially with beginners, the development of these muscles through movements such as the back extension.
Intermediate lifters, with some months of basic training experience, and advanced lifters who have a history of platform competition, may benefit from more advanced movements, such as the stiff leg deadlift and/or the good morning.
Watch these videos for greater details on assistance exercises that develop the spinal erector muscles:
Be sure to access this exclusive SportsEdTV blog and PowerPoint presentation by Dr. John Garhammer that explains and illustrates in-depth strengthening of the entire torso.