Use These Essential Exercises To Protect Low Back While Training

In any walk of life low back pain — even just the slightest bit — can be debilitating. In a sport like BJJ where your body is contorted in many different ways, this can be a real hindrance to your training. This has been the focal point of me even getting into “Mobillity Training.” A herniated disc in my lumbar spine that resulted in the end of my college basketball career and flares up occasionally has now has become the root of my life’s work.

In this post I seek to share a protocol you can tie in before and after training, as well as any time throughout the day, to make yourself feel stable and able to move a bit more confidently and without fear of pain!

McKenzie Protocol

The ordering of these low back exercises is crucial. I follow the McKenzie protocol to start, which helps cue extension before engaging core stability. This is a proven formula for low back therapy that is backed up by strength and conditioning/rehab literature! I didn’t make this up. Some of my biggest influences in this world — Stuart McGill, Craig Liebenson, and Steven Hoffman — advocate similar formulas.

Exercise # 1: Full Body Extension

Western culture forces us into flexed forward positions from sitting and commuting so often. This forward flexed position is the culprit in many low back issues.

This extension primer helps to cue the front side of the body to lengthen by extending my hips. Obviously, this will be great before training since you come from being in a car and possibly even a desk.

Performing this exercise as early and often as possible throughout the day helps create a foundation to approach the day with structural integrity. Foundation is everything — especially early in the day — because this is where the body builds its habits for the remainder of the day!

Aim to perform at least two minutes in this position, breathing slowly through your nose. Be sure to cue your inhalation from your lower belly. It should push outwards into the floor during the inhalation and come back in towards the spine on your exhale. These are foundational breath mechanics for any position!

Exercise # 2: Bird Dog

As a BJJ core exercise, this is a “must” when preparing for your training, as it engages your core and activates the stabilizers of your shoulders and hips. This engagement is essential for the limitless amount of coordination needed as a BJJ athlete.

Perform two to three sets on each side for no more than ten seconds at a time. Maximal contraction, not length of time, is the focus. This is how you create stability that protects your body.

Exercise # 3: Side Plank

As with the previous core “primer,” only do a maximum of 10 seconds per side. Intensity of contraction is the key!

Perform 2 to 3 sets depending on how activated you feel from the exercises.

Moving Forward

Once we’ve worked on cueing extension and creating full body stability, only then do I feel we should layer in our mobility exercises. This is a foundational aspect of my training philosophy. This is something I’ll cover in my next installment!

Final Considerations on Low Back Protocol

Begin applying this BJJ core exercise before training. So much of the sport involves us being tight, compact, and squeezing. Our training off the mats should encompass these motor firing patterns to make ourselves ready for the demands of the sport. These are also tremendous and simple exercises we can use to build confidence in our bodies if we have any injuries, specifically in the low back.

The core is the foundation of all movement, so by learning to use it properly, we are setting ourselves up for success and health on and off the mats!

I am a big proponent of greasing the groove. So even just doing one or a few of these exercises throughout your day will go a long way in ungluing your tight tissues. This will allow you to move more fluidly and confidently during your days on and off the mats.

I cover more performance training tidbits at that will help you prepare, recover, and perform better on the mats!


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