Customers often ask their trainers “Should I feel this in my back?”. If the trainer answers anything but no, then you should be immediately in the market for a new one (trainer, that is, not back). There is no exercise that is good for your body that you feel primarily in your back. For clarification, when the term “back” is used, 90% of the time it is referring to the lower back. If you are doing upper back exercises, you are typically working your scapular stabilizers and not actually the muscles in your back. That being said, if you are working on your upper back, then you should feel the exercise in the muscles in your back but not in the spine.
When we are doing “core” exercises, we should be feeling it in our abdomen and not our lower back. What the term "core" is referring to is the trunk of your body. Essentially everything outside of your legs, arms, and neck is considered your “core”. The definition of core strength is having a stable and strong trunk in your body. When the trunk of your body is balanced and strong, you can hold positions like planks, layouts, and any static or dynamic movement and your abdominal wall should be doing the vast majority of the work to keep you stable while the muscles in your back should primarily be passive except for small stabilizing movements.
What this means to you is that if you are doing a “core” exercise and you are feeling it in your back, you are doing it wrong or the exercise is too advanced for you. To try and correct this problem, here are a few simple steps to take.
1) You are doing a core exercise and you feel it in your back
a. The first thing to do is simply tighten your abdomen more.
b. The second thing you can do is change your position. Typically, this means raising or lowering your hips or rolling your pelvis forward or backward to try and properly engage your abdomen.
c. If, after the first two corrections, you are still feeling the exercise in your back, it is time to regress your exercise selection.
2) You are doing a core exercise and, after a certain number of reps, you start to feel it in your back.
a. Follow the above rules; if they don’t work, then you are done for that set.
b. You can return to the exercise when your abdomen has recovered, but again, if or as soon as you start to feel it in your back, then you are done for the set.
When you are asking yourself, or your trainer, if you should feel this exercise in your back, the answer is a resounding and unequivocal NO!