4 Low Back Tips For Exercise Enthusiasts (aka Gym Rats!)

Last week, I provided some easy suggestions on how to manage and prevent low back pain for folks at work.  This week, I want to address another group of people who I see alot of at the office….the Exercise Enthusiast (EE).  You probably know at least one in your life.  Someone who works out or exercises regularly at the gym and is there almost daily.  But the EE is susceptible to aches and pains like the rest of us, particularly if they are not training with good technique!  AND they usually want to continue working out even though they are still recovering from injury. Here’s what I typically recommend to these hard core types but it applies even to the not so exercise inclined:

  1. Back stretches are bad! – which might sound contrary to what you may have typically been told, but flexion-type stretches can actually exacerbate any back problems you already have.  For example, bending forward at the waist to touch your toes or lying on your back and pulling your knees into your chest are common stretches that might feel good but could be doing more harm than good!  This is because disc herniations most frequently occur when the spine is fully flexed.  Recent research out of Denmark found that men with greater low back flexibility were more likely to injure their low backs than those with poor flexibility.  So by frequently stretching or doing exercises that put you in the most compromised position, you set yourself up for potential disaster!
  2. Stiffen that low back – most EEs love to do deadlifts and good-morning exercises…which no doubt are good exercises for your posterior chain if done PROPERLY!  So make sure you maintain a neutral spine when doing either of them.  And if you have any sort of low back problem, just avoid them altogether until the injury is fully resolved.
  3. Light ‘n easy in the morning – after a night of rest and lying horizontally in a non-weight bearing position, your intervertebral discs have a chance to fully rehydrate.  These fully hydrated discs are larger and less flexible when bending and if you do bend forward there is three times more stress on them than later in the day when they are less hydrated and more pliable.  So if you plan on working out and doing anything that involves spinal flexion, postpone your workout at least 2 hours after waking up to give the discs a chance to lose some fluid.  Bad exercises to do first thing in the morning are deadlifts, squats and abdominal crunches/situps.
  4. Breath ‘normally’ -you’ve heard it over and over: “Breath in when lowering a weight and breath out while lifting it”.  This advice is based on good intentions as holding your breath during lifting can cause a small increase in blood pressure.  The reality is that it’s unlikely going to cause you to blow a gasket somewhere in your cardiovascular system.  Meanwhile the benefit of holding your breath during an exercise is that it helps create internal pressure that stabilizes your spine.  So instead of following your trainer’s advice, let your body dictate the appropriate breathing pattern because it will naturally do what is necessary to put you in the best position to perform the exercise safely.
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