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How do I decrease my risk of low back pain when performing cleans?

Eric Beard
Sports Medicine

To decrease the likely hood or low back pain during cleans develop; ankle mobility, hip flexor extensibility and core stability. If the ankles don’t move well then additional forces are driven into the spine. If the hip flexors do not extend or stretch like they should then they cause the low back to arch placing unhealthy loads on the inter-vertebral discs and surrounding muscles and ligaments.   If the smaller stabilizers around the spine are not developed sufficiently then they cannot hold the vertebrae in place potentially causing back pain.

Ankle mobility work and stretching for the calves will help with ankle mobility. Hip flexor stretching and glute strengthening will help with the hip flexor extensibility. Core stability is developed with exercises that require the athlete to maintain a neutral spine. Bird-dogs, planks, side-iso abs and hip bridges are some examples of these types of exercises. Preventing spinal movement is the most important part of these exercises and will help to develop a healthy low back. Most people move too much at the spine and not enough at the hip and ankle. This will lead to low back pain during cleans. 

Mastering technique is the next step to keep the back healthy during cleans.

You need to improve your clean technique and strengthen your core while increasing flexibility in your calves, hips and lower back. Increase flexibility by foam rolling the calves, hips and hamstrings, holding tender spots for 30 seconds. Then add in static stretches for the calves, hamstrings and  hips, holding each stretch for 30 seconds. By increasing flexibility on these regions will decrease excessive motion to occur at the low back and thus decrease stress to the region. Typically when an athlete has weakness in the core, the muscles of the low back are required to pull more of the load. Focus on strengthening the core with exercises like planks, crunches on a ball while holding a medicine ball and overhead squats while holding a bar overhead. Increase the strength of your gluteals with bridging movements and lateral tube walking. The stronger your core and low back and the better range of motion you have at your ankles and hips, the less low back pain you will experience.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.