fat loss
weight loss health information build muscle


No progress?
Click here

Get 6-Pack Abs

Free info

Fat loss
Weight loss

About us

Contact us


Stabilizers vs. Prime Movers:
Understanding How to Strengthen Your Back and Avoid Injury

Watch most people do deadlifts, squats, or even bench presses, and you are watching a back injury in the making. The reason? They are using their stabilizers to move the weight. When they do that, the stabilizers are not free to keep the back stable and neutral. This allows the back to float. Further complicating matters, this also exhausts the stabilizer muscles so the back is in jeopardy long after the exercise is performed.

This begs the question, "What muscles are the stabilizers and which are the prime movers?"

Ask a trained clinician this question, and you are likely to get back an answer with the clinical names of the muscles. Probably, this would be of no practical value to you. So, here's a more useful way of looking at it:

  • Stabilizers are the muscles that keep your back in alignment. The are also the muscles that hurt when you lift a weight with your back rounded. But which muscles are these, exactly? They are the small muscles of the lower back and the central spine.

  • Prime movers are muscles that aren't attached directly to the lower back or the central spine. They are large, because their job isn't to hold the small bones of the back in place but to provide locomotion.

Viewing this in a slightly different way, the stabilizers are the muscles that hold things in place and the prime movers are the muscles that move things. The stabilizers can be misused to move things, but that takes them out of the stabilizer role. The prime movers can be used only to move things.

Now that we have this understanding, what does in mean in practical terms when designing or performing an exercise? Here are some basic rules derived from this:

  • Keep the back neutral. Don't arch or bend the back to gain leverage in lifting. If you are training with weights, this defeats the exercise--so, no purpose is served. No matter the reason for lifting, bending the back to aid in the lift will strain the stabilizers.

  • Think leverage. Think of your body as a collection of levers. What are they prying against? If you are performing an exercise such that the force centers on your stabilizer muscles, your form is wrong.

  • Keep the stabilizers strong. But wait--if you're not supposed to lift with them how can you strengthen them? Easy. Bad posture lengthens the stabilizers, which weakens them. Practice good posture, and you have stronger stabilizers. They get plenty of exercise just doing their normal job.

That "normal job" of stabilizers doesn't mean they never get any hard exercise. When you do your core exercises, you give the stabilizers additional work. You keep them from overworking by adhering to two practices:

  1. Use good form. We touched on this, earlier. In addition to the proper mechanical techniques for lifting, practice the proper breathing techniques. Don't suck in your gut--instead, let it relax while you take in a deep breath of air. Then, contract it a bit as you lift. This properly pressurizes the abdominal cavity, creating a sort of internal weight belt.

  2. Don't overtrain. You can't do core exercises all the time. Because they are so exhausting if done correctly (see our intensity article), you need long rest periods between them. That's one reason, for example, you get better results from doing squats twice a month than from the often-used "total body three times a week" method that is suitable only for physical therapy or for adding to gym profits by taking away the progress that keeps you using the gym membership you paid for.


Of course, this isn't the whole story on back pain prevention. But it does address a very common cause of backpain among people who exercise to prevent that kind of thing.


For more information, get the Lose the Back Pain Video. Order your copy now!

Resources for Fitness
Fitness quick links:



Article Authorship

The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
  • The articles comply with the accepted principles of the bodybuilder literature.
  • The articles comply with the teachings of such luminaries as 8-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney.

 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

Supplecity is a subsidiary of When you follow the links from this site to the purchase area, you will go to Mindconnection's secure server.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please view the aboutus pages, or write to mark @ We do want your business.