Bad Back and Big Belly

John Rozelle

Nov 6,2014

Bad Back and Big Belly

This week I’m very happy to respond to a reader question this issue. To paraphrase, he feels like some of our movements are not ideally suited to his situation. He has a “big belly and a bad back”.

I’m guessing he’s not alone, as many of our golfing compatriots have spent more than their fair share of time sitting behind a desk and lavishly entertaining clients and government decision makers in order to achieve the level of success that allows them frequent access to our fair sport.
I’m going to address his concerns in two parts. Let’s talk about the movements and then layout a program to help both back and belly.
First, every movement we have explored can be done by someone with a belly and a bad back, but you must scale things to your current limitations. While I might use 20kg dumbbells for my Warrior Makers in last month’s article, your back problems would likely be made worse jumping into this new movement with that much weight. If you use a light weight for your condition, say 5kg, however, you will likely find the same movement very therapeutic. You must always make the technique your primary goal. Once you’re comfortable you’ve mastered the technique then you can explore high reps at high intensity or more weight.

Certain movements may not be possible if your belly restricts proper form, but there’s always a work-around to achieve the same result. Think about the components of a movement and find other movements that will add up to the same thing. We had a plank-knee-to-opposite-elbow hold a few months ago. You can achieve much of the same benefit with a combination of a plank-knee-to-same-side-elbow combined with the Windshield Wipers from the same sequence. If the windshield wipers are difficult on your back you can bend your legs to reduce the strain.
As for a program to help the back and belly, the main focus should be weight loss through muscle development. Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume. Since I’ve been asked to focus on athleticism here, I’ll make the diet talk simple.

  1. Leave every meal a little hungry.
  2. Cut your rice, pasta, bread and sugar consumption by 80%.
  3. The majority of your meal should be vegetables.
  4. Fat isn’t as bad for you as sugar, so skip the nonfat diet pseudo food snack and have a couple sticks of sate without the peanut sauce.

Since muscle burns fat and your legs are both the largest muscle group and likely connected to your back problems let’s start with squats and wall sits. For a squat you place your feet just wider than your shoulders and bring your hips below your knees. Work to keep your chest up so someone standing in front of you can read the lettering on your shirt. Push your knees out to help your hips and make room for your big belly.

For a wall sit, place your back against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground and make a right angle with your calves. Your knees should be over your ankles. Keep your stomach tight and engaged while you hold this position. Always warm down with a forward fold and the half-pigeon stretch we learned a few months ago, as well as a good quad stretch.

Bridge pose

Next addressing the back directly let’s look at a Bridge. Lay down on your back with your knees bent so that you can touch your heels with your fingers. Raise your hips off the ground so that your weight is in your shoulders and your heels. Bring your hands together under your hips, gently pinching your shoulder blades together. Focus on tightening and lifting from your stomach and your legs. You’re using your back, of course, but we don’t want to over emphasize those muscles. Athleticism and good lower back support comes from proper collaborative muscle engagement.


Last we will incorporate the windshield wipers we discussed earlier and a conditioning movement called a mountain climber.  Laying on your back bring your feet straight up above your hips and your hands out at a 90 degree angle from your side. This is a 4 part movement. The feet drop to the ground on the left side, keeping both hands on the ground. Then when they come back up over the hips they drop to touch the heels to the ground beneath the butt, before coming back up above the hips again. Lastly they drop to touch the ground on the right side, before coming back up above the hips and touching the ground in the middle again. That’s one repetition.

Windshield wipers

The mountain climber is similar to the plank-knee-to-same-side-elbow except from the plank position we will bring our right foot up and place it flat on the ground just outside our right hand. We will then jump, switching our left foot to the outside of our left hand and replacing the right foot to its base position in the plank. This is a hopping motion, but try not to let your hips come up too high. Try to keep a good plank position throughout the effort. One repetition sees the right foot stat in front, switch and return to the front.

Mountain climber

Let’s put these five movements together as follows, for 10-15 minutes you are going to work yourself continuously through the following sequence:

  1. 10 Squats
  2. 10 Windshield Wipers
  3. 10 Count Hold of Bridge
  4. 10 Count Hold of Wall Sit
  5. 10 Mountain Climbers

Pick the length of time that works best for your current condition, starting at 10 minutes and progressing to 15 minutes.  Keep focused on your form, and the increase in number of rounds you can complete will come naturally. Afterwards complete the stretches we discussed for at least as long as your did your workout. Add in any other stretches that improve your hamstring, quad, and hip mobility.