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Core Training 101: Back Injury Prevention with Dr. Mike Bracko

Published December 20, 2017
| Written By Mike Bracko, Dr  

Dr. Mike Bracko is a fitness educator, author, hockey skating coach, and strength and conditioning coach, in addition to an occupational physiologist. His expertise spans numerous topics including fitness, sports performance, back injury prevention, and ergonomics along with strength and conditioning boot camps for hockey players. Traveling cross country to speak at fitness conferences on countless genres, he brings that same knowledge to nationwide gyms and health clubs to further educate his clients.

When BackerNation reached out to him, we were pleasantly surprised at his prompt response and enthusiasm for our back pain community. He desired to bring his experience to our platform in an effort to provide awareness for avoiding movements and chronic postures throughout fitness, manual labor, office environments, and other activities for daily living in order to promote back pain relief.

Take it away Dr. Mike Bracko

Most people in the fitness industry assume that if your back is stronger, you are at a decreased risk for injury. Generally speaking, that’s true but it all depends upon how you take care of your back and overall health.

Essentially, there are two kinds of people in our world. There are people who have office jobs and there are people who don’t. The people who don’t have office work are typically FedEx drivers, shippers, and receivers, or heavy-duty mechanics — things like that. Then there are people who have sedimentary office jobs whether they are using a standing station or sitting at a desk all day.

All of this — it relates extensively to how I do my core training for back injury prevention.

And I always cite the work of Stuart McGill, a Ph.D. professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada. He was one of the first people to talk about what’s called neutral spine loading. It goes way back to the old days and even to a certain extent today where you’d do core work while someone held your feet with your hands behind your head so you could do sit-ups. One after another — sit up, sit up, sit up.

What happens when we do sit-ups, crunches, an incline sit up (where your feet are hooked underneath a pad)? Every time we come back up, we have what’s called trunk flexion that squeezes the intervertebral disc, which is a cartilage and jelly-like "shock absorber" between the vertebrae. So, during trunk flexion, or every time you come up, the jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposus pushes the disc backward.

Athlete performing ab crunchesCaption: A hockey player demonstrates trunk flexion as he does some crunches. 

If you continuously do this enough times for training or have to do a lot of trunk flexion for a job, it can eventually weaken the back of the discs. If that happens, you’re at a higher risk for herniating. The disc has concentric ligaments around it and what can happen is those ligaments will weaken. They have a tendency to split apart. When they do split apart, the nucleus pulposus can go through there.

So, you can have a bulging disc that puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, which would produce centralized pain. Now, if you have a full blown herniated disc, you will experience a lot of pressure on the sciatic nerve, which can be central or peripheral causing a lot of pain going down the hamstring to the calf or even the foot.

A lot of professionals in the fitness industry say, “Keep your back straight. Keep your back straight.” I say that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s nearly impossible to keep your back perfectly straight all of the time. In other words, it’s preferred to keep it neutral and have it conform to the natural curve of your spine instead of going out of your way to keep it straight.

Fitness expert and doctor, Mike Bracko.Caption: Bracko takes a break in between conferences to share a headshot —as seen on his personal website,

BackerNation truly thanks, Dr. Bracko for taking time away from his busy traveling schedule to further educate our community on back pain prevention.

For our Backers who may want to know a little more about Dr. Bracko, check out his online shop for additional resources on Workouts  |  Fitness Lectures  |  Back Injury & Ergonomics.

Updated: March 13, 2019

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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