Bodybuilding is here to stay. As long as there is a desire to get stronger, grow bigger, or look better, bodybuilding will remain an invariable foundation in the world of physique improvement.  With numerous training systems available (bodybuilding, powerlifting, functional training, Olympic lifting, endurance training, and body weight training) to accommodate different ability levels and different outcomes, there is also one constant that remains in the shadows of all gym corners waiting to veer its ugly head. It’s called injury, and it can put a screeching halt to any program that a lifter follows.

Now, this is not another article on pre-habilitation programs or movement preparation programs to follow prior to a workout. The information I’m going to share with you is pertinent to gaining size and getting strong by blending different movements into your current bodybuilding routine.

A typical bodybuilding routine consists of a mix and match of body parts combined with a strewn of isolated movements to induce hypertrophy, and in some cases, fat loss. Because of the nature of bodybuilding’s split routines and isolated movements, the likelihood of injury is always plausible. Most lifters depend on multiple sets and high volumes to elicit the response they desire, but most never engage in what I call, “tightening the corset.” This expression is used to simply reinforce the underlying muscles and fascia to act together while still being able to perform isolated movements. No, this is not another core article. I’m going to get deeper, and we aren’t going to perform any squats with a stability ball. Read on.

Fascia is an uninterrupted, three-dimensional web of tissue that extends from head to toe, from front to back, from interior to exterior. It is responsible for maintaining structural integrity, providing support and protection, and acting as a shock absorber. Fascia is comprised of soft tissue that surrounds muscles, bones, organs, nerves, blood vessels, and other structures. It functions as the body’s first line of defense against pathogenic agents and infections. After injury, it is the fascia that creates an environment for tissue repair (1).

Fascia is a highly adaptable tissue. Due to its elastic properties, superficial fascia can stretch to accommodate the addition of adipose tissue that accompanies weight gain. The superficial fascia can also slowly revert back to its original level of tension after weight loss. Deep fascia can contract. What happens during the fight-or-flight response is an example of rapid fascial contraction. In response to a real or imagined threat to the organism, the body responds with a temporary increase in the stiffness of the fascia. Bolstered with tensioned fascia, people are able to perform extraordinary feats of strength and speed under emergency conditions (2).

Deep fascia also has the ability to relax. However, some tension is needed in order to maintain proper function of structures—much like ligaments around a joint. One of the largest areas of fascia is located at the trunk. The thoracolumbar fascia and the rectus sheath provide strong fascial support between the bottom of the ribcage and the top of the pelvis. This area forms your “corset.”

The thoracolumbar fascia (lumbodorsal fascia) is a deep investing membrane that covers the deep muscles of the back of the trunk. Two main muscle groups lie within the layers of the fascia. The quadratus lumborum muscle lies between the anterior and middle layer, and the erector spinae muscle is enclosed between the middle and posterior layers. These two muscle groups are responsible for lateral, flexion, and extension of the vertebral column and should be strong specifically for vertically loaded lifts like squats, push presses, and deadlifts. They are also located at an important junction of the fascia.

Typical bodybuilding training systems neglect this junction simply because of the isolation principles of hypertrophy. The importance of considering fascia tension and its encompassing muscle as an aid to stronger lifts is supported by studies that demonstrate the contractibility of this intersection. Studies show that although fascia is normally thought of as passive, there is some evidence that it can contract in a smooth muscle fashion and affect musculoskeletal dynamics (3).

Effective load transfer between the spine, pelvis, legs, and arms allow these segments to work as an integrated system. In some studies, it has been shown that even the latismussis dorsi muscle couples during rotation of the trunk to help stabilize the lumbar and sacroiliac joints (4). Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to train the area to unite the lower and upper segments of the body to stimulate stiffness and build a stronger trunk?

So, how can we persuade bodybuilders to conjoin the upper and lower segments of the body via the trunk by using the thoracolumbar fascia as a vehicle? We introduce trunk specific exercises and drills to enhance trunk function.

Self-myofascial release on the thoracolumbar fascia

Self-myofascial release on the lower back is not a recommended thing when you have little to no muscle mass in that area. However, some experienced lifters and bodybuilders will have a very well-developed erector spinae muscle group and can tolerate foam rolling the area. However, we can devise other ways to increase blood flow around the thorocolumbar fascia by using a massage stick.

With a massage stick, roll up and down the length of the lower back to where the glutes attach. Apply considerable pressure to the area by flexing the trunk forward and laterally. Avoid rolling over the bony structure of the spine if you lack muscle mass in that area.

Side lying trunk rotation stretch

Some short duration static stretching is beneficial for increasing the cross-sectional area of the oblique muscles that encompass the trunk. Lie on your side with the upper leg bent. Turning at the trunk, press your arms in a semi push-up position with the shoulders square. At the same time, make sure to keep your hips pressed into the floor and keep both upper arms parallel with the floor. Hold each position for about 3–5 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times on each side.

Contra-lateral cable squats

This exercise is typically used in the physical therapy realm of training. However, it is great for “stiffening” the trunk and training the external obliques, erector spinae, and latissimus dorsi, as agonist muscles control the recoil effect of rotation (5).

Stand to the side of a cable column with a pulley set low or level just below the knee. Grasp the handle and cross your upper arm with the cable. There should be some tension on the cable so don’t be afraid to add some weight. Also, make sure you stand about 8–10 inches away from the column. Descend as you would into a squat. The idea is to not let the cable pull your torso in the direction of its tension.

Barbell landmine

There’s no fancy equipment here. Just stick a barbell into a corner of the gym and add weight. Unlike the resisted contra-lateral cable squat where the corset of trunk muscles must stay isometrically contracted to avoid torsion, the landmine offers an isotonic effect for the obliques, pelvis, lats, and leg muscles. This exercise displaces an anterior load laterally and demands the aforementioned muscle group (mainly obliques) to resist the contra-lateral rotation. If done correctly, the hips should not move and the lumbar region should remain stable—with little to no emphasis on the arms.

To execute, begin by holding the fat end of a barbell (Olympic preferred). Hitch the other end into a corner or against a fixed object that will not restrict the bar from moving during the exercise but will anchor the end. With a simple grip (left on top of right or vice versa), keep the chest erect and the abs braced. Position your feet shoulder width apart and externally rotate the hips (and feet) outward slightly. This will stabilize the pelvis much more easily. Then shift the barbell (you can add weight to the top end) from left to right. The movement should end when you have one arm crossed over your chest. Initiate the return and pause at the center before shifting the bar in the other direction.

The lumbar spine never moves, and the hips and shoulder remain square. It may be an environment for arm work, but the experienced lifter should be able to integrate proper trunk stiffening during this exercise, especially the lower the bar comes to each side.

Slideboard prone jackknifes

We didn’t forget about the rectus abdominals as our anterior trunk ally. Using the slideboard for ab work not only intensifies the movement but allows the anterior chain to work together to stabilize and decelerate at the point that the body reaches a lengthened lever position. A similar action to the ab wheel, the prone jackknife also creates an autogenic stretch for the thorocolumbar region—the antagonistic of the rectus abdominal sheath fascia. The more explosive the movement, the more muscle action needed from the upper extremities, which makes this exercise a great unifying piece for the upper and lower body segments.

To execute, position yourself with your knees and torso over a slideboard. Keep the hands off the slideboard and place them in a push-up position. When ready, lift the hips high and keep the shoulder girdle stiff. Slide the feet down and powerfully retract back so that the hips flex and the buttocks rise high. It is very easy to lose the stiffness in the trunk when the feet slide down, so make sure to keep the abs braced and don’t let the hips overextend.

These exercises and drills can be added into a routine as auxiliary exercises or for movement preparation. They are best combined with vertically loaded exercises or movements that lengthen the body as a long lever arm.

For instance:

Contra-lateral cable squats

  • Deadlifts
  • Split squats
  • Lunge
  • Step-up

Barbell landmine

  • Squat
  • Step-up
  • Push-up
  • Bench press

Slideboard prone jackknifes

  • Front squat
  • Push press
  • Standing military press
  • Chin-/pull-ups

Adding these three exercises and the preceding fascia maintenance drills will allow the trunk to remain a strong and functional intersection. Ultimately, it begins with minding the quality of the fascia in the area and understanding the importance of how it can benefit your lifts.


1) Paoletti Serge (2006) The Fasciae: Anatomy, Dysfunction & Treatment. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, 151–161 (ISBN 0-939616-53-X).

2) Paoletti Serge (2006) The Fasciae: Anatomy, Dysfunction & Treatment. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press, 146–147 (ISBN 0-939616-53-X).

3) Schleip R, Klingler W, Lehmann-Horn F (2005) Active fascial contractility: Fascia may be able to contract in a smooth muscle-like manner and thereby influence musculoskeletal dynamics. Med Hypotheses 65(2):273–7.

4) Vleeming A, Pool-Goudzwaard AL, Stoeckart R, van Wingerden JP, Snijders CJ (1995) The posterior layer of the thoracolumbar fascia. Its function in load transfer from spine to legs. Spine 20(7):753–8.

5) Kumar S, Narayan Y, Zedka M (1996) An electromyographic study of unresisted trunk rotation with normal velocity among healthy subjects. Spine 21(13):1500–12.

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