Luckily, recently, there has been a lot of good research on this subject. Stuart McGill is spine biomechanist who has been involved in a lot of good research and the author of a few good books on the subject. His Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance and Low Back Disorders are great resources (I have Low Back Disorders on my book shelf).
Summary of Basic Back Health Principles:
- Maintain a neutral spine position always (whether working out, doing chores, whatever)
- Develop strength and endurance in all of the muscles of the trunk ( including the abdominal muscles and low back) while maintaining a neutral spine (think bear crawl, or planks)
- Do not allow the spine to bend or twist, especially with resistance (like this)
- Strengthen and learn to effectively use your glutes (usually weak or not used much in lot of people)
I have incorporated these principles into my training and have seen great success with many clients who have had a history of back pain. An initial assessment is very valuable. Many clients don't even know they bend through their spine when they move. I need to teach them how to stabilize the spine and move through the hips. Also, shoulder dysfunction can affect your lower back, too. You only get one spine, keep it healthy so you can remain active stay strong.