Maintain Your Stance! Core Conditioning You Need

A picture of a wrestler in a blue singlet in his wrestling stance. He's leading with his left leg.

It makes sense that maintaining a position like this over the course of a match would cause fatigue in your low back.

Add to that someone constantly pulling on your head and there’s an even greater need for core stability. Now factor in having to brace your core to finish shots, and other situations on the mat. It suddenly becomes quite clear how important it is to have a core that’s “in shape.”

However, I’ve neglected to address it before since low back fatigue is not something the wrestlers I work with have ever mentioned to me.

But, this situation was recently brought to my attention by Nick, a wrestler who left a comment on my blog last week.

Because there’s a lot more to it than 1 or 2 simple recommendations, I thought I’d address it with a post.

Anyway, let’s get started. First, I’ll introduce most of the relevant quotes I found in 2 books published by Stuart McGill, PhD. Dr. McGill is the world’s leading low back/spine researcher.

What The Expert Says

“In general, cross-sectional studies of strength seem to have little to do with low back pain status even though increasing torso muscle strength is a popular objective of low back rehabilitation protocols.”

“Leino et al (1987) found that neither isometric nor dynamic trunk strength predicted the development of low back troubles over a 10-year follow-up period.”

“The Biering-Sorensen (1984) study previously noted found that isometric back strength did not predict the appearance of low back trouble in previously healthy subjects over a one-year follow-up.”

“Holmstrom and Moritz (1992) recorded reduced isometric trunk extensor endurance times in male workers with low back disorders compared to those without, but found no differences in isometric flexion or extension strengths.”

“Both Biering-Sorensen (1984) and Luoto and colleagues (1995) suggested that while isometric strength was not associated with the onset of back troubles, poor static back endurances scores are.”

“Strength appears to have little, or a very weak, relationship with low back troubles. In contrast, muscle endurance, when separated from strength, appears to be linked with better back health.”

“A recent study (McGill et al., 2003) has suggested that having a history of low back troubles is associated with a different flexion-to-extension endurance ratio, with the extensors having less endurance and the flexors having more endurance.”

“This imbalance in endurance also appeared between the right and left endurance holding times (e.g. (Right side bridge)/(Left side bridge)) ratio that differed by more than 5% was linked to those who had a history of low back troubles).”

“But what was so interesting was when the workers were observed lifting, those who had back troubles lifted in a way to load their backs to higher levels. They did not use their hip capacity. In fact they used more back strength capacity! Programs designed to build hip extension capacity spare the back.”

“In summary, “bad backs” generally use their backs more and their hips less- consider this in the rehabilitation plan.”

“A stable spine, maintained with healthy and wise motor patterns and higher muscle endurance, protects against back troubles and generally enhances performance.”

“Strength appears to have little, or a very weak, relationship with low back troubles. In contrast, muscle endurance, when separated from strength, appears to be linked with better back health.”

“Perhaps it is the inactivity in the back patients that causes their muscles to adopt an anaerobic metabolism characteristic of fast twitch motor units. However, the back muscles are designed, and better suited, for endurance capacity. Certainly, a stable spine requires endurable muscles, not necessarily strong muscles.”

Here are the scores for the various core endurance tests McGill has arrived at:

Men average age of 21- Back Extension (161 sec), Situp (136 sec), Right Side Plank (95 sec), Left Side Plank (99 sec).

Men average age of 34 who reported no back troubles- Back Extension (103 sec), Situp (66 sec), Right Side Plank (54 sec), Left Side Plank (54 sec).

Back Extension (all the positions below are to be held for max time):

A picture of Dickie White holding a parallel back extension in the top position.

Situp (place something just behind your back so that when you touch it, the test is over). Aim to hold the position at 55%:

A picture of Dickie White holding a standard situp at 45-degrees with a small blue yoga block an inch away from his low back.

Side Plank:

A picture of Dickie White holding a Side Plank. The picture is taken from the front showing the length of his body.

Another shot to give you an idea of how straight your body should be.

A picture of Dickie White holding a Side Plank. The picture is taken from the top of his head to show how straight you should be when performing this exercise.

How To Apply

Below is a copy and paste of a message I recently sent to one of the members at my gym. I’m working with him on some low back issues similar to those that Nick left a comment about.

Alright, a lot of science stuff above. Here’s what it means to me:

1. Goal number one of your program should be to increase your Back Extension time.

The current ratio of 77 seconds (back) to 136 seconds (situp) produces a near 57% difference.

Additionally, your Situp time is average for males with the average age of 21 (136 seconds). Your Back Extension time is considerably lower in this age group (161 seconds).

While I think you can benefit from an overall increase in your core endurance, bringing your Back Extension time up should help.

2. Goal number 2 should be to decrease the ratio between your Right and Left Side Plank. Your ratio is currently 8.3%. This is greater than the 5% difference suggested by McGill.

Although there is a lot of fancy science lingo above, I don’t think it means that you need to go overboard in the program design phase. This is especially true considering you’re just getting started.

Here’s one way to go about it:

Simply add the following to your current routine; I’d say probably toward the end of your workout. This is commonly the best place for endurance training, especially in your case. The reason being is that you don’t want to pre-fatigue your core at the start of a workout as it will increase your risk of a low back injury.

2-3 sets of holds on the Back Extension (as you did on the test). These don’t need to be all out holds, just a submaximal effort.

Week 1 shoot for 3 sets of 30-35 seconds and follow a linear progression from there. Look to add a few seconds weekly or add a set in an effort to increase the total time your back is engaged.

2-3 sets of Side Planks with the same ideas as above. Always start with your right side AND keep the times between both sides the same. Don’t do more on your left because it currently has a greater endurance capacity. This will only make the imbalance worse.

A simple circuit at the end will suffice- 1 set of Back Extension, 1 set of Right Plank, 1 set of Left Plank.

Here’s a sample progression to follow:

Week 1- 3 sets of 30 seconds.

Week 2- 3 sets of 35 seconds.

Week 3- 3 sets of 40 seconds.

Week 4- 3 sets of 45 seconds.

Week 5- 2 sets of all out time.

Week 6- re-test times. Compare your results to how you’re feeling in terms of back pain and see what your scores suggest.

References

McGill, S. (2009) Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance- Fourth Edition. Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Backfitpro Inc.

McGill, S. (2002) Low Back Disorders: Evidence-Based Prevention and Rehabilitation Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Conclusion

Low back fatigue/pain can be very complicated and be the result of a number of factors.

However, in Nick’s case, it sounds like his back is simply getting tired as the match goes on. This indicates to me it’s probably an endurance related issue.

Hopefully this post helps provide a solid explanation on the research behind identifying and testing the endurance qualities of the core musculature. I hope it also gives you a feasible plan to implement and make improvements.

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you.

Related Posts:

Exercises for Wrestlers- Core Strength and Stability

The Foundation For Core Training

A Must Have Core Exercise

Core Development of Elite Japanese Wrestlers

Wrestling Training- Core Exercises 1

Wrestling Training- Core Exercises 2

3 Killer Band Core Exercises

A picture of Kyle Dake and Dickie White.
Hi, I’m Dickie (the author of this blog). Here I am with my good buddy, Kyle Dake. While he doesn't have a nice coat like me, he is pretty good at wrestling. Here's what he said about my training system:

Before I began lifting using Dickie's system my wrestling skills were getting slightly better. I've now been lifting under his guidance for more than 5 months and I have begun to dominating ALL of my competition. At first I had little faith in Dickie and his program, but now I would run into a wall if he told me I would get stronger! I know it sounds insane, but I would. The bottom line is Dickie is an expert and knows what he is talking about. If you want to defeat those kids whom you've always lost to and reach a level you never thought possible, I suggest you start lifting using Dickie's system immediately.

-Kyle Dake, 4X NCAA Division 1 National Champion
_________________________________________

Want to see what other wrestlers are saying about my training system? Check out my Success Stories page.

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Want to learn more about Dickie? Check out my About page.

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Want to get started on a program today? Read this post and download your free program- 12 Week Training Program For Wrestlers.

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20 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks man, I appreciate it! I’ll do the test tonight!

    Reply
  • Dickie,

    Much thanks, one of your best articles, imo. As I get into my later ’20s, this is something I’ve been giving some thought, especially as I’ve watched ‘strong’ adults I grew up around suffer all sorts of aliments as they get older. I really enjoy the format you’ve been using by including peer reviewed articles.

    Cheers,
    Bob

    Reply
    • Hey Bob, thanks for comment and the feedback. I’m glad you’re enjoying the incorporation of the articles and research papers. I saw the format used on another blog earlier this year and thought that it did a great job of substantiating the claims being made. It also helps me to stay on top of all the info out there rather than to just settle on a system and use that for everyone and not take into account their personal needs and goals.

      Thanks again for the positive feedback and let me know if you have questions on anything.

      Reply
  • 103 sec back extension
    138 sec sit up
    75 sec left side plank
    86 sec right side plank ( but I think my waist wasn’t fully atraig like i wasnt in a completely straight line. till I fixed it so figure like 80)

    Reply
    • Nice. Yeah I definitely think based on the averages for a 21 year old male that you could benefit from increasing your low back and side plank scores would be helpful. Does the sample progression in the post make sense and is it feasible for you to be able to do it a 3-5 times a week?

      Reply
  • Yeah should I do it like Monday Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday since I have to wrestle on Saturdays? So you want me to do 3 sets of each everyday and just go to like 50-60% failure correct?

    Reply
    • Yeah those days should work. Because your situp time is fine, I’d say just do a circuit with the Back Extension and 2 Side Planks. Start with the week 1 or 2 above and see how that goes. Use that to gauge where you go from there. But yes, don’t push each set to failure. The idea is to build up your total time which is best done by working at sub-maximal efforts over more sets rather than maximal effort over fewer sets.

      Reply
  • Yes sir. I found that wrestling from here //images.maxpreps.com/site_images/editorial/article/3/8/4/384ba2e9-cc22-de11-a973-001cc494dda6/4d0e818a-d822-de11-a973-001cc494dda6_original.jpg also really helps with my back. Whats the negatives to wrestling like that? oh and by circuit do you mean go do 1 set back ext 1 set left side plank 1 set ride side plank repeat or do you just want me to do 3 sets of each?

    Reply
    • Ha! I love the pic of young Kyle. Talk to your coach about that stance and come to an agreement on it. Also, watch some of Kyle’s matches to see how he uses it. I can offer my opinion if you want, but those are your best bets.

      From a posture standpoint, this stance does put you in better alignment, and would therefore, I’d bet, make you less likely to fatigue in the low back as quickly.

      Yes- go from 1 set of each exercise rather than 3 sets in a row of each one. Hopefully that helps keep you from getting fatigued too quickly.

      Reply
  • Alright, thanks alot Dickie! Ill go do it again tonight. Ill let you know how it works out or if I have any questions!

    Reply
  • Well its helped greatly. But Ive found another thing I gotta work on I was wrestling like the tenth ranked kid in the state. It was the second period and I chose top. I returned him to the mat so many times quite a few of him I had him head high and slammed him and he just kept getting up over and over the whole period. I was dead I had nothing left come the third. And about half way through the third he pinned me I literally had nothing left. How can I work on this?

    Reply
    • Hey man, sorry to hear about your shoulder. Hopefully it heals up and you’re ready to go for the end of the year. Glad the core conditioning helped. There are a couple things you could do in regards to the conditioning.

      First, check out some of the posts in my conditioning section.

      Second, more specifically, what I would look at are these two posts- conditioning post 1 and conditioning post 2.

      In the first post, I detail research that studied the positive effects of a 4 week sprinting program. I’m not sure what equipment you have access to, but I know you’ll be able to do sprints (especially now that you may be limited because of your shoulder). Additionally, I like this because it’s only 4 weeks, which will probably get you pretty close to the end of the year tournaments.

      The second post details a research paper that found an explosive effort occurs in a wrestling match every 6 seconds. The paper then goes into a program you can use (that the coaches consulted for the study actually used). This would be very beneficial in terms of training your body for the specific mat return situation you mention.

      Anyway, take a look at those two posts and the conditioning section and let me know what you think. Talk to you soon.

      Reply
  • Oh and three weeks ago friday night at practice I was wrestling with our 182 and he went for a throw and I tried to not go with it and we both landed on my left shoulder and it cracked. Im pretty sure I seperated it. I think its just a grade 1 cause I can still move it fine and the bumps not too big. I can still do horizontal pulling but I cant do much vertical till it heals. Im still as strong vertically its just hard to stablize it. So I cant do much vertical pulling.

    Reply
  • Alright thanks Dickie! I read em I think the first one will be perfect. I think Ill do them do Monday and Thursdays in the mornings before school so theres more time between workouts and Ill just go to bed earlier and wake up earlier. Thanks man I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.

    Reply
    • Good plan and glad to hear they were helpful. Let me know how things go. Talk to you soon man and all the best during this last part of the season.

      Reply
  • Hey Dickie! I made it all the way to states and lost to the number 2 kid in the state.
    Then I lost to the kid who got 6th I think. But it’s all good I’m happy I made it to states and I only wrestled 3 years. I won every match by pin beside two. One I teched the kid and the other I just wanted to beat em for the whole 6 mins haha he was pissing me off. But thanks for all the help man I appreciate it greatly.

    Reply
  • And that’s without wrestling during the off season or cutting weight. I’ve always wrestled at what I walked around at. I never got the point of getting smaller to wrestle smaller guys. I always wanted to get bigger and wrestle bigger guys.

    Reply
    • Hey Nick, that’s awesome to hear. Glad that your season finished up strong and was such a success and I’m happy to hear my blog played a small role in helping you get to where you needed to be. Thanks so much for following up and letting me know how you did and big congrats on the strong finish man!

      Reply

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