Does a ‘6 pack’ prevent back pain?

This is a great blog from CrossFit Anaerobic:

I read once that only 5% of the population have the ability to attain a true and visible ‘6 pack’ of muscle in the abdominal core, irrespective of diet and training. I am glad that I am not one of that 5%. I don’t feel the pressure to keep something I don’t have so it then affords me the luxury of a glass or 5 of tasty carbohydrate laden Australian cool climate Shiraz every night.

Attaining the ‘6 pack’ of muscle in the abdominal core is a fine balance between genetics, good nutrition (often the low carbohydrate variety espoused by the bodybuilders and fitness competitors) and good training. But does a ‘6 pack’ guard against the dreaded modern day curse of low back pain.? Well I would argue that in fact it may, for a whole bunch of reasons.

“‘6 pack’ holders generally don’t use spine threatening machines like the abdominal curl machine. They are the clever ones who perform controlled ‘floor crunches’ and ‘plank’ type exercises. They don’t need or choose to use these gimmick machines.”

Firstly, in order to have the much sought after ‘6 pack’, you need extraordinary low body fat levels. Interestingly, one of the biggest predictors of low back pain is in fact obesity. Generally people who carry too much weight place too much stress on their low backs in bending due to the extra leverage that the upper torso places on the spine. Clearly, those with a ‘6 pack’ don’t carry any unnecessary baggage to place stress on their spines.

Furthermore, research shows that in the treatment of chronic low back pain, moderate exercise can sometimes be as effective as countless hours of physiotherapy and chiropractic work. Why? Because when you increase from being sedentary to slightly active, you immediately start to use and recruit dormant muscles particularly the ‘core stabilisers’. One would argue that you could directly measure the inner unit (or inner core) muscles of someone who sports a ‘6 pack’ and chances are the muscles will be reasonably functional. It’s because they use these muscles in all the movement that they do.

Those with a ‘6 pack’ generally also have above levels of flexibility. They are training machines who cover all bases including regular stretching. And what we physio’s know is that if you have flexion based back pain – the type caused or exacerbated by forward bending or prolonged sitting – then by stretching your hamstrings and gluteals your back pain should diminish somewhat.

Lastly, those with a ‘6 pack’ actually train their low back muscles and abdominal muscles. There is a lot of truth in the notion that some ‘abdominal’ training exercises place enormous and dangerous strains and pressures on the discs in the low back. For example, the abdominal curl machine (the one you sit on and have a roller against your chest and you ‘crunch’ to bring the roller to your knees) will place massive compressive pressure on the disc and potentially cause a low back injury. But the ‘6 pack’ holders generally don’t do these exercises. No they are the clever ones who do controlled ‘floor crunches’ and ‘plank’ type exercises. They don’t need or choose to use these gimmick machines.

So does that mean that in order to have a pain free low back you need a ‘6 pack’?. Absolutely not. But by implementing these principles, you may increase your chance of having a functional low back;

  1. Lose some weight
  2. Move. Do something as simple as walking, or better still walk in a pool.
  3. Stretch you hamstrings and glutes
  4. Train your abdominals in a smart and sensible manner.

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