Back Pain, What if it comes from the butt ?

Rowers have back pain! It is a fact, we all know at least one teammate who had back pains that seriously interfered with his rowing during competitions or even at practice. Back pain can have many origins therefore many solutions. I suggest you discover or rediscover one of the possibilities to prevent back pain for you, your teammates or the rowers you train.

Back pain is also called “The pain of the century” it is in connection with the digital revolution and the increased number of sedentary people who work 40 hours a week seating, move in cars and never take the stairs. All of this leads to an under stimulation of the buttock muscles which have yet a role of the utmost importance in the balance of the pelvis which has an important function for the stability of our spine.

Shooting Pôle France, Hugo Boucheron. Samedi 18 mai 2019. © Frank Leloire

Waking your glutes up could cure your sore back :

Nowadays, many people spend their days in a chair, yet the prolonged sitting position can lead to pains and illness. One of them is called “the gluteal amnesia”. By my reckoning Doctor Stuart Mc Gill was the first to define this phenomenon in his book “Low back Disorders”.  The gluteal amnesia is a disconnection between our nervous system and our gluteal muscles. The brain can no longer activate the latter for lack of use. When this link brain-glutes is cut, the synergistic muscles of the glutes take over to perform the movements the glute are responsible of, such as, hip extension or spine elevation. 
These muscles are too weak for these functions and all this leads to imbalances and compensations that over time affect several joints, including the lumbar spine, knees and hips. 

All therapist will tell people that to avoid gluteal amnesia it is necessary to do more sport, to be more active … But that is where the problem with rowers comes from since we do sports while sitting!! And doing more rowing will not solve the problem since the hips are always in the bending position on the ergo as well as on the water. 

On the other side of the globe, a New Zealand physiotherapist, Robin Mackenzie, has developed a method of rehabilitation of the musculoskeletal system that includes the diagnosis and treatment of pathology of the entire musculoskeletal system. His works are known and taught all over the world as soon as one is interested in the science of movement, it is the famous Mackenzie method. 

In this method, it is a matter of relieving and if possible curing the spinal pain by extending the spine back like on these exercises. The human movement is a balance, I like the image of the bank account that had given us an osteopath who had come to us to make an intervention on the back pain. He said that if you spend a lot of time in hip flexion it is the same as when you are spending money, like you have a capital flexion, and then you have to “pay back” by spending time in hip extension. 

The two approaches of Mc Gill and Mackenzie converge on this point: spend time/ exercises in hip extensions for the health of the spine.

Gluteal muscles strength training :

A third man will come at this precise moment to take the training of the gluteal muscles, Bret Contreras Phd alias «The Glute Guy» has been interested for 15 years in training the buttocks for all possible and imaginable objectives. Before he started working on the topic the exercise library that target the glutes was almost empty. Today, thanks in large part to him, we know an incalculable number of exercises and methods to develop glutes. 

He condensed his knowledge in a book : « Glute Lab » 

The movements where the glutes are the main motor are hip extension, hip abduction and spine erection. All the exercises involving these movements will activate glutes muscles that are not victims of amnesia. To wake up glutes from amnesia you must do exercises that isolate them. That is to say, exercises in which glutes are indispensable. 

For instance, the main poly-articular hip extension exercise hip thrust is a very good example. Moreover, it has become one of the main exercises of strength training in my eyes. I put it at the center of my programs in the same way as the movements of the olympic weightlifting, power lifting or the tirades (board draw for the non-specialists of the rowing). So I advise you to incorporate it fully into the weight cycles whatever quality you are looking to work. Everything is good for the glutes: maximum strength, endurance of force, hypertrophy, power, speed we must never forget them even if in our sport they do not constitute a factor of performance they participate in the prevention of injuries.

Exécution d’un Hip-thrust : LE mouvement de musculation pour les fessiers et la chaine postérieure

A second tool that I particularly like to work our glutes are the elastic bands that surround the knees (or ankles). The idea is to work in hip abduction or to counter the hip adduction that the elastic triggers. Incorporating two or three exercises targeting glutes into a workout might be a good idea to strengthen them. We can also wear an elastic band around the knees during leg workout that already exist : jumps, squats, cleans and the leg press are opportunities to wear an elastic band around the knees and thus to work the glutes at the same time as the other muscles and cardiovascular system. 

I will conclude by saying that we must keep in mind that the gluteal muscles are the most powerful muscle group of the human body so we must not be afraid to use it with intensity. Also keep in mind that the hip extension targets the gluteus maximus while the abduction activates in priority the gluteus medius.. 

Conclusion :

If this topic interests you I recommend the works I mentioned through the article: 

“Low Back Disorders” by Dr. Stuart Mcgill. Specialist of the spine this book is an overview of the problems and therapies known concerning the pain of the century. His website is also very interesting: www.backfitpro.com

“Glute Lab” by Dr. Bret Contreras. This book is a training library, you will find all the possibilities to work on your glutes according to the objectives you want to achieve and the qualities you want to develop.

• Robin Mckenzie’s work as a whole is also a very interesting approach to movement therapy. And finally I advise you to follow Bret Contreras on Instagram, his account is full of coaching advice and he is a really very inspiring coach.

If you want to have more informations about glute training for rowers or sportsman and woman feel free to download my “Little Guide of Glutes Training” you will find interesting content to work with. The sell of those guides help us to afford the site so if you like our work and to support it you know what to do !

Finally, if you want to receive a specific program, made just for you in order to cure an amnesia, train your glutes for any kind of goal, or improve your performances just to contact me and I will answer your request.


Thanks for reading, see you around a lake ! 

Bibliographie : 

1) Broussal-Derval A & Ganneau S « L’art du mouvement » 4trainer edition. 2018

2) Contreras B Phd « The Glute Lab » Victory Belt Publishing. 2019

3) May S & Ross J « The McKenzie classification system in the extremities: a reliability study using Mckenzie assessment forms and experienced clinicians » Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, vol. 32, no 7, p. 556–63.  2009

4) McGill S « Low Back Disorders » Human Kinetics. 2015 

5) McKenzie RA,  May S « The lumbar spine. Mechanical diagnosis & therapy » Spinal Publications New Zealand, 2003

6) Starrett K, Cordoza G « Deskbound » Victory Belt Publishing. 2016