Kettlebells and Back Pain

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Kettlebells give your back muscles a whale of workout. You rely on the psoas to flex the trunk, as you drop down to initiate a kettlebell deadlift, snatch or similar moves. Then, the erector spinae need to return your spine to the erect position. With any luck, kettlebells will prevent or even heal back pain, given the strengthening these moves bring to your back muscles. Conversely, a lack of proper form can lead to discomfort.

The Good Part

Researchers have found support for the idea that kettlebell workouts can help strengthen the lower back to diminish back pain. In 2011, office workers in Denmark were asked to test this hypothesis. Participants in a training group performed ballistic exercises, such as the snatch and the swing, three times a week for eight weeks. The results, published in the “Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health,” noted a 57 percent decline in lower-back pain. The workers also found that neck and shoulder pain lessened by 46 percent, compared with colleagues in a control group.

Address Spinal Stability

If your back hurts because of kettlebell workouts, you have several choices to solve the problem. Lorna Kleidman, three-time kettlebell world champion, suggests that you start with work to improve your back strength. “Take a couple of weeks away from the bells to focus on abdominal and spinal stability movements,” she advises. Work on bridges, diaphragmatic breathing and supermans. And hold forearm plank and side forearm planks for time. Start at 30 seconds for three sets per day and work up to one minute or more on each side.

Work on Hip Flexibility

When you return to your kettlebell workouts, learn how to flex from your hips while keeping the spine straight. “The back is a stabilizer with KB moves, not a prime mover,” Kleidman observes. Place the edge of your hand and your pinkies into the crease of your hips, just below your hipbone, palms facing up. “Crush” your pinkies as you send your butt back, flex your hips and slightly bend your knees, she suggests. This cue will help you to move from your hips and legs, and not your back, Kleidman says.

Foam Roll Your Glutes

“Sometimes inactivity and sitting for long periods of time creates tightness in the glutes,” Kleidman notes. The solution: Rolling your butt on a roller or semi-soft ball. This promotes blood circulation and prepares the tissues for the lengthening that is necessary to achieve proper hip flexion, she says.

Go Easy at First

If you are new to kettlebells, take it easy. “Your sole focus should be on perfecting your form, not going heavy or for long sets yet,” Kleidman notes. Take frequent breaks and listen to your body, she adds. “The effort should be felt in the legs and hips, not the low back.”