The sport of powerlifting and weight lifting has certainly had an impact in the health and fitness industry. As a result, there is a growing need for some “powerlifter rehab”. Gyms are adding more weight plates, squat racks and dead-lifting platforms to their floors. Despite this, it seems gym-goers almost have to form a cue to use all of this gear as it has become so popular in the gym community. Whether you are a competitive powerlifter or someone who regularly incorporates powerlifting exercises into your weekly workout routine, there are some vital therapeutic exercises you should consider doing to prevent injury.
Powerlifting revolves around three primary lifts: the squat, the bench press and the deadlift, but powerlifters incorporate many more movements into their exercise programs. These may include shoulder pressing, front squats, sumo deadlifts, clean and jerks, and the list goes on.
The three fundamental exercises of powerlifting share a common risk factor with regard to joint health in the body, that is – compressive force. The squat and the deadlift produce large amounts of compression through the spine, whilst the bench press creates compression mostly through the shoulders. Thus, we can anticipate the need for a preventative, “powerlifter rehab program”.
The following exercises are the most effective treatment for powerlifters, as they are designed to unload those joints most affected by the exercises involved in powerlifting. Doing these exercises post training or in-between training sessions will ensure greater longevity in the sport.
Rehab exercises for powerlifters
1. Back block
Position the back block under your sacrum about level with your bottom. Extend your arms and legs one at a time. Lying backwards over the block passively opens up the lumbar spine, like pulling open an accordion. This exercise creates a traction, or pulling, force between the vertebra which is opposite to what the spine experiences during squatting and dead lifting. Lie like this for two minutes.
2. Pelvic rock
After using the back block, it is common to feel sensitive through your lower back. Bring yourself to a position where your knees are now bent so that your feet are flat on the floor. Repetitively flatten and relax your back against the floor as if trying to squash your lumbar spine against the floor.
This is only a very gentle decompression movement that is more so a bridging exercise to progress the person from the back block to knees rocking which is more intense.
3. Knees rocking
Hold your knees with your hands so that the weight of your lower body is held entirely in your hands. Your ankles should be crossed and your knees spread apart wide. Pull your knees toward your chest repetitively but without tugging or bouncing. In addition to teasing out tight muscles and ligaments in your back, this exercise creates flexion movements between the lumbar vertebra.
4. Reverse curl
Perform 15 reverse curls for every minute spent on the back block. Doing these stimulates the lower abdominals which help to support the lower back. Failure to do this after the preceding exercises will perpetuate lower back stiffness and soreness.
Hanging can help decompress the spine but depending on how your spine is put together, there may be a more effective way. When you hang, try bringing your head forward towards your chest whilst at the same time, bringing your knees towards your chest. This curling whilst hanging will open up your entire spine just a little more. This is particularly true in the lumbar region where straight-legged hanging may see your pelvis extending slightly and thus not really aiding decompression force very much.
6. Childs pose
The childs pose [from yoga] is a fantastic spine opening and decompressing posture. To add more effect, have a partner apply pressure over your lower back to increase the stretch.
7. Toe touches
These may seem controversial to the informed athlete. Toe touches involve a rounding of the back whilst bending forward and down. Contrary to what most lifters may think, forward bending with a rounded back is not harmful to the lower back, at least, not with ones own body weight. Again, this exercise merely opens up the lumbar spine and is a useful alternative to do throughout the day.
Whilst the above exercises may seem simplistic, rest assured there is quite a lot of science behind how and why these exercises help the spine. The purpose of this article is not to delve too deeply into this science but rather to provide lifters with an easy, “powerlifter rehab program”. It involves an easy spinal decompression routine that does not require too much equipment.
If you feel that your lifting of heavy weights has caused more injury than can be relieved by these simple strategies, there are some very effective conservative treatment options available that will be an excellent adjunct to your powerlifter rehab.
Restoring range of motion to the joints where they have become restricted from repetitive lifting will alleviate almost instantaneously some causes of spinal pain as well as dramatically increasing ones ability to lift. Special attention to the sacroiliac joints [SIJs], hips and thoracic spine will see the most impressive results.
Improving range of motion at the SIJs and hips helps with the depth of squatting. Freeing up the thoracic spine will enable a more comfortable bar position during squatting, as well as enabling better posture during squatting and dead lifting.
Mobilisation techniques are similar to manipulation techniques in that they improve joint range of motion. Mobilising the hip joints will provide a very beneficial stretch to the joint capsule. When addressing lower back complaints, a lack of hip motion can cause compensatory motion in the lumbar spine which in turn leads to increased shear stress and load to the spinal soft tissues.
3. Active Release Technique
This gold standard of soft tissue treatment is extremely effective for treating muscles, ligaments and nerves throughout the body. There are areas within the body which when treated, will greatly enhance performance of powerlifters in their sport. Treating the latissimus dorsi in combination with the lumbar erector spinae and lumbopelvic fascia will reduce tissue immobility and tightness. It also restores any irregularity in the normal functioning of these structures that can cause imbalances at the lumbopelvic region.
The dreaded tightness that follows tough workout sessions in the gym is a phenomenon powerlifters know all too well. Discomfort experienced when trying to tie shoe laces, bending forward or even moving to sit down on a chair can become very frustrating. This tightness can also be the reason for not returning to the gym sooner. A regular massage can help flush the body of the metabolic by-products of exercise and see you returning to the weight lifting room earlier and with reduced potential for incurring injury.
Competitive powerlifters in particular, should seriously consider receiving regular treatment from a health practitioner. In the same way that your car needs servicing every six months or 10,000kms (whichever occurs sooner), so too does your body. You probably use your body more so than your car so book it in for a tune-up regularly and reap the benefits of preventative therapy that keeps you lifting longer and stronger.
If you’re lifting regularly, you should be doing some powerlifter rehab regularly too!
*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this discussion are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.