The single best back strengthening exercise for firefighters

Over the past few months I’ve been talking about back injuries in firefighters. First I cleared up a few myths about back injuries. Then I went over exercises that firefighters should AVOID because they can progressively cause damage to the spine – totally counterproductive.

Luckily you can always work a muscle group in a way that is not overly stressful for the spine – one that places a healthy amount of force on the joints in your back – because you want to prepare your spine for your work but avoid hurting it in the process.

One great exercise to prevent back pain and injury is a plank walk. First, it’s ideal because during the exercise your back remains in it’s neutral position, which is the safest and strongest position for working your core. Second, it works not only the large muscles in your back, but a set of very small muscles that are responsible for moving each joint in the spine. Often these tiny muscles are not trained well and end up “turning off.” The best way to get them firing again is to do something that gets your spine slightly off kilter and requires small, quick movements to re-align the joints – which occurs when doing the “walking” phase of this exercise.

Plank walks with Elbow Push-ups

Start with your chest on the ball and slowly begin to walk out on your hands. Walk as far out as you can keeping your back straight. It is very important that you engage your core and don’t let your low back sink. Some people may not be able to walk all the way out so the ball is under their feet. That is something to work up to. Stop walking out when you become really unstable (but don’t be afraid of a little wobbling.) Walk back so your chest is on the ball again, repeat.

plank with ball attribute free digitalphotos.netPushup Exercise with Gym Ball

Once you can hold yourself in the plank position with your feet on the ball for at least 30 seconds, try an “elbow push-up.” With your feet still on the ball, put one elbow down on the ground and follow with the other one. Then, being sure your core is really engaged, come back up onto one hand, then the other. Be sure to lower with a different elbow each repetition.

Ok I want you to try it out and tell me what you think. I’m betting it was harder than it looks! Let us know in the comments.


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By | 2018-06-01T07:11:48+00:00 May 28th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off on The single best back strengthening exercise for firefighters

About the Author:

Dr. Karlie Moore has a PhD in Exercise Science and Nutrition and specializes in firefighter health. She has conducted fitness testing on hundreds of firefighters and has created the most comprehensive online wellness program for fire departments called the FitCulture program. Dr. Moore is also married to a firefighter and so understands their lifestyle and the health challenges associated with it.