Training with Back Pain Part 2 – The Role of Your Core

Training with Back Pain Part 2 – The Role of Your Core

Tya Waterman |

With Gust Blogger and Exercise Physiologist, Chris Schnare

In part one of our series on back pain management strategies, we discussed a few key points to help get you started with treating, managing, and training with back pain. Need a refresher? Click here.

It is my hope that with that article, rather than give you a series of exercises to complete and a step by step guideline, that you are able to devise a plan of action that gets to the root of the problem, builds a solid and trusted support team, and allows you to find enjoyment in your training again.  By doing so, you are able to continue being active and working towards your lifestyle or performance goals while still healing your injury.

In part two, we are going to learn about the true role of your trunk musculature (commonly referred to as your core).

Our “core” or trunk should be thought of as an interconnected series of mechanical systems, meaning that the core plays a role in the activation and care of many other muscle groups within the body. The core is composed of both active muscles and passive ligaments, fascia, and bones that together work to distribute stresses, support our spine, and create a solid foundation for limbs to move from. 

Although this description is simplified, it provides a general, thought-provoking way for you to think about how the trunk works together with other muscle groups within your body, rather than thinking about each muscle group individually. 

The trunk should be pictured as a stress distribution system, with the ability to also generate movement in many different directions.  All the muscles work harmoniously to give incredible strength and support to the body as a whole.

Dr. McGill often refers to the role of the core musculature as a system to distribute “hoop stresses.” All the parts of the core work together to spread out the stress that is being applied on the body in order to avoid any one particular tissue from being stressed beyond its tolerance level.

Simply put, if the tissues in the body are not able to withstand the stresses imposed on them, or if a particular element in the trunk is not able to perform its role in the total support system, tissue damage can occur to some degree. 


A simple example that many individuals can relate to, are discogenic bulges and herniations.  These commonly occur when the intervertebral discs in your spine are exposed to either a poor position for a long period of time, high stress loads without proper bracing, or if tissues are not given progressive time to adapt to training and recovery time between training stresses.

The amount of information that could be explained relating to cause and effect on back pain is incredibly lengthy, so with the example above as a reference, let’s just think of things like this:


The real take home point here is that the trunk contains an integrated series of structures that can withstand incredible stresses and distribute them efficiently throughout the rest of the body, resulting in less stress on each tissue individually which can help you to avoid injury.  Your core plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of back pain.

A problem can arise when one structure is neglected and its tolerance is lowered, leading to potential injury, weakness, and inefficiency within the system as a whole. It is important to strengthen all the working parts of the core in order to prevent back injuries. It is also the place where you can start in your healing process. 

In part three of the back-pain management series, we are going to give some specific guidelines to follow. These will be referred to as “fillers” or “plug in” exercises to include in your daily life and training plan.

We call these fillers for a few reasons, primarily because they do not substitute or replace a training program, but rather they are plugged into your life in a few ways (outside of regular exercise time, included in your warm up, in between other primary exercises).

By plugging these exercises in between sets, you increase your total volume, without making significant changes or taking away from the core exercises that make up a well-designed program.

We will start with beginner variations for those currently suffering from back pain, whom cannot tolerate high stress exercises, and finish with intermediate-advanced variations that lay a solid ground work for long-term training success.

I hope this general information sets you up to understand the primary role of the trunk (core) and gives you context to draw from when applying the following exercise guidelines to yourself.