Examining the ‘low back pump’, as sign of dysfunction.

‘Muscle Pump’ is lingo for a muscle that appears swollen and expanded after a weight lifting session. Muscle pumps aren’t harmful, unless you’re getting a muscle pump in an area that wasn’t the target of the exercise.  

When you’re lower back starts to look like a second set of glutes, you’re in need of help.

If you’ve hung around a weight lifting gym you may have heard the term ‘low back pump’ tossed around. This is a phrase used to describe swollen lower back muscles, usually after a set of deadlifts.

Why is this harmful?

The actually low back pump itself isn’t inherently harmful but the movement dysfunction it represents is.
The deadlift is an exercise that targets the entire posterior chain and requires the ability to generate full body tension.

What a Low Back Pump is indicative of:

1. Insufficient Abdominal Bracing Strategy

If you are not bracing your abdominal wall, diaphragm, and pelvic floor sufficiently, you are not optimizing for the use of your thoracolumbar fascia. Making your lifts much less efficient and more dangerous for other tissues.

2. Progressive Lumbar Disc Damage

When the muscular and fascial tension is insufficient surrounding the spine, excessive load is placed on the anulus fibrosis (outer casing) of the lumbar discs. This generally goes unnoticed until a herniation of the nucleus pulposus occurs.

3. Underactive Gluteal Musculature

A.k.a. Glutes aren’t firing. Better described as ‘poor neuromuscular activation of the hip complex’.

The real reason gluteus muscles become inhibited is the inability to generate a stable surface to pull on (central super stiffness), and a lack of oppositional muscles to hip extension (psoas inhibition).

Causes of this can be:

  • Previous injury
  • History of rotational sports (ex. baseball, hockey, volleyball)
  • Excessive sitting
  • Excessive driving
  • Anterior hip impingement

How can we fix it?

The look of an exercise from the outside is important to observe. However, the actually activation pattern of the muscles and functionality of the joints involved is much more important.

Stop the Back Pump before an Injury Occurs:

1. Get a Hip Health Screen

    • Joint-by-Joint Examination of the Body (SFMA/FRA)
    • Muscle Testing
    • Orthopaedic Examination of the Hip Complex

2. Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing and Bracing

    • Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization Techniques
    • Postural Restoration Institute Techniques
    • Art of Breath
    • Yoga

3. Prime your Muscle Activation in Your Warm-Up

    • Psoas Activation Drills
    • Pelvic Tilt Control Drills
    • Movement Sequencing Drills
    • Neurofunctional Acupuncture

4. Film your Lifts and Put Together Your Performance Team

    • Get skilled set of external eyes and hands on the issue
    • It’s not what you do – it’s how you do it