It is estimated that 8 in 10 Americans will experience back pain in their lifetime. Back pain can be caused by many things, and much of the pain could be alleviated by sitting, standing, walking, or exercising just a bit differently than you might be accustomed to. A key to unlocking better, pain-free movement could be in learning how to make a small postural change, starting with your hips.
Back Chain & Front Chain Explained
The word chain refers to how muscles that are close to one another activate in a sequence, much like a chain. There is a chain of muscles on both the front and backside of your body.
“Back chain dominant describes a hip back posture. With the hips back, powerful muscles on your backside such as the glutes, hamstrings, and erectors are in a position to provide the body with strength and stability.” said Brady Vernon, health fitness specialist from SamFit Corvallis.
Many people, however, tend to leverage the muscles on the front side of their body for strength and stability, which could set them up for nagging back pain.
“A forward hips position, which can be described as front chain dominant, shortens the backside muscles and lengthen the muscles on the frontside of the hips,” said Vernon. “This posture gives responsibility for strength and stability to the front side of the body, and very little on the backside.”
So, how can you tell the two postures apart? Try practicing the following hip positions:
- Stand up.
- Clasp your hands behind your back and push your hips back as far as possible. Do you feel your backside muscles activating as they lengthen? Does your spine feel long? If so, this means you are in a back chain dominate position.
- Next, grab your elbows with both hands, like you’re crossing your arms, and push your hips as far forward as possible. Do you feel your front side muscles activating as they lengthen? Does your lower back feel compressed? If so, this means that you’re in a front chain dominate position.
“Repeating these steps a few times can help you understand the difference and help you to make adjustments so that your body is in a position to feel it’s best,” said Vernon.
Understanding the difference is important since the back chain muscles provide strength and stability in ways that the front chain cannot. The front chain muscles are not best suited for spine stability, and their chronic activation can lead to chronic back pain. What direction your hips go with incoming force, might explain why your back aches.
“Back pain can be caused by bad posture,” continued Vernon. “People commonly think of posture corrections happening at the shoulder level, but posture can originate with your hips. When the hips are forward and the glutes inactive, the front side of the body will be more active than the back side, and this causes a rounded forward posture.”
Keeping your hips forward while sitting, walking, and exercising can easily create a curl in the spine. The spot where the spine curls acts like a hinge point to handle incoming force, but the spine is not best used as a hinge joint and this can cause nagging back pain that gets worse throughout the day.
Becoming Back Chain Dominant
The best path out of front chain dominance and the chronic back pain it can cause is through hip posture correction. It might sound too simple to be true, but gravity never takes a break – and neither should your posture.
“How one absorbs gravity can be their saving grace or the cause of their pain. Small actions, like keeping the hips back, spine erect, and shoulders pulled back will make a tremendous difference over time,” said Vernon.
See Vernon’s video below with recommendations and exercises for becoming back chain dominant, and follow these four guidelines:
- Pay attention to your hip position throughout the day. When you are standing to do tasks like washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, or preparing a meal, lean slightly forward and push the hips back. Don’t let your hips touch the kitchen counter.
- When you sit, choose a position that leans your shoulders forward while also rounding the shoulders back. It is helpful to have your arms supported on your legs or on the table. Avoid leaning back for long periods of time as this leads to the back chain muscles relaxing, and the spine curling. Lay down flat instead to relax the back chain muscles.
- While walking, lean forward and push your hips back. Too large of steps that strike your heel in the ground can pull your hips too far forward, so take smaller steps that put less pressure through your heel.
- Perform resistance training for the full body in a back chain dominate way.
“What a person habitually does determines the person as a whole, including the abilities and the pain that accompanies,” said Vernon. “It is possible to live without back pain, but it may mean you need to relax less in chairs and keep your hips back when you walk. The power is in your hands – or rather your hips – and practice can begin now.”
Ready to establish back chain dominance and learn more about exercises that can help keep your muscles in good health? Connect with the team at SamFit today.