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Ask Greg: Strengthening the Lower Back
Greg Everett
May 17 2018

Wayne Asks: What are some of the best exercises you prescribe your athletes to strengthen lower backs? My weak lower back is more obvious from snatching than cleaning.

Greg Says: I choose different exercises in different circumstances. First, figure out where the lower back seems to fail. In your case, you say it’s more obvious in the snatch, but also look at what exactly is happening. For example, is it fatiguing after a long snatch session and hurting or getting softer? Are you unable to keep it extended properly with heavier snatches? Are you unable to keep it extended properly in all or nearly all snatches, even the light ones? How you address each one of these can be a little different.
I’m also very curious about why your back would be noticeably more of a problem in the snatch than the clean—you’re moving heavier weights in the clean than in the snatch and your posture should be pretty much the same, so a weak back should affect the clean more than the snatch. It makes me think there is something else going on specific to the snatch that makes it harder for your back to maintain its position. Likely this means you’re either rushing the bar off the floor in an effort to be fast and failing to set a solid arch before you begin, or you’re allowing yourself to tip too far over the bar (i.e. shoulders too far in front of the bar in the first pull), meaning that your back is contending with more force than it should be.
With that being said, I would focus on exercises that will strengthen your lower back, train some stamina for maintaining extension, and strengthen the proper first pull position. The top of the list for this would be the floating snatch deadlift; you can do floating snatch pulls as well, but because you’ll be thinking about extending quickly at the top, you’re less likely to focus on locking in your position and maintaining tension in the bottom, which is our primary goal. The next best would be snatch segment deadlifts or pulls with 3-second pauses at 1 inch off the floor and at the knee.
In addition to this, add in some back extensions (actual back extensions—flexion and extension of the spine, not just hinging at the hip). I like doing some of these every training session in the warm-up. You can alternate daily with 3 sets of 10 unweighted reps, and 1-2 sets of static holds in the extended position for 10-30 seconds (work up over time, but stay away from serious fatigue). Once or twice weekly, throw in 3 sets of 10 back extensions with weight. Make sure you hold the weight behind your neck so you can emphasize extension of the entire spine (you can start with light dumbells and work up to an empty and then loaded barbell). Ideally hold the extended position for a second on each rep.
Finally, be sure you’re working on general trunk strength and stability with plenty of ab work, particularly weighted planks, and focusing on your lift technique to consistently lift the bar from the floor with the proper back arch, position and balance.