Low Back Pain
We don’t think very much
about our backs—that is, until they start to hurt. And many of us are
hurting as back pain is now one of the most common medical complaints
in the U.S.
Back pain can be caused by poor posture, sciatica, disc abnormalities,
spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and a variety of
The good news is that, in many cases, back pain can be
prevented. Here are the American Council on Exercise’s Top 10 ways to
maintain a healthy back.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess
weight tends to creep up slowly, so we may not be aware of how it
affects us. But try carrying a 20-pound pack on your back all day and
you’ll have a better idea of how extra weight takes a toll on the
- Strengthen the abdominal and back
muscles. You’ve heard it before, but strengthening the abdominals
really does help protect the back. In fact, a strong core—which
includes all the muscles of the trunk—is important for avoiding
injury, whether you’re cleaning your house, playing tennis or sitting
at a desk all day.
- Lift items properly. Protect your
back when lifting anything by standing close to the object with your
feet apart to give you a stable base. Squat down while keeping the
spine in proper alignment and contract your abdominals as you lift
using your legs.
- Strengthen the leg muscles. Along
with the core muscles, the leg muscles play a vital role in helping
you maintain good posture and body mechanics. And strong leg muscles
can take much of the burden off the back when you’re lifting heavy
items (see above).
- Stay flexible. Flexibility in the
hamstrings, hip flexors and muscles attached to the pelvis relieves
stress on the lumbar spine which in turn reduces the risk of low-back
pain. Inflexibility in the
form of tight hamstrings and a limited range of motion in the trunk
can increase your risk of injury or make existing back pain worse.
Some forms of exercise, such as yoga, Pilates and tai chi, may help
relieve or prevent back pain by increasing flexibility and reducing
tension. These exercises should not be done, however, if they are
uncomfortable or place a strain on the back.
- Maintain good posture. Correct
posture and body mechanics play a vital role in preventing back pain
because pressure on the discs and strain of the muscles, ligaments and
back joints is aggravated by incorrect posture and body mechanics.
When your posture is good and you move your body correctly, you reduce
the strain on your back.
- Buy a comfortable mattress. Most of
us spend a good deal of time in bed, which is why a good mattress is
such a wise investment. Do some research, test the mattress out at the
store and ask for recommendations. Remember—what works for one person
may not work for you so take the time to find the mattress that suits
- Reduce stress. Stress increases
tension in all your muscles including your back. Reduce or better
manage your stress and you may literally feel as if the weight has
been lifted from your shoulders.
- Warm up before activity. Beginning
any activity with cold muscles and joints puts you at risk for injury.
Jumping right into intense activity increases your risk of injury, so
take the time to get your muscles and joints warm and limber first.
- Support the lower back when sitting.
Use a rolled towel, small pillow or specially designed seat support
available at medical supply stores. Remove the support every half hour
for five minutes to give your lower back a change of position. After
sitting for a prolonged period, straighten your back to an upright
position and, if possible, stand and walk around to give your back a
The American College of Sports
Medicine (ACSM) has recommended the following guidelines
for healthy adults:
- Mode of activity:
Any activity that uses large muscle groups that can be
continuously maintained. Examples include walking,
jogging, running, swimming, skating, bicycling, rowing,
cross-country skiing, rope jumping, jazzercise, dancing
of various kinds, and other rhythmic activities.
- Frequency: 3 to 5
days a week.
55%/65% to 90% of maximum heart rate. (Maximum heart
rate is approximately 220 minus the person's age.)
- Duration: 20 to
60 minutes of continuous or intermittent aerobic
activity. (Intermittent means bouts of 10-minutes or
more accumulated through the day.)
- Resistance training:
Strength training of moderate intensity, with one set of
8 to 12 repetitions of 8 to 10 exercises that condition
the major muscle groups 2 or 3 days per week.
- Flexibility training:
Sufficient to develop and maintain range of motion; a
minimum of 2 or 3 days per week.
Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!
Plyo Hop Push-up
Plyometrics are not just for the lower body.
There are a variety of explosive upper body plyometric
exercises that can be incorporated into an athletic training
routine. Using the same basic mechanics as the "clap"
push-up that our grandfathers probably remember, the plyo-hop
push-up adds a lateral motion to this explosive movement
creating and additional challenge.
chest, arms, shoulders (pectoralis major, triceps brachii,
As with any plyometric exercise, make sure you are warmed up
and stretched well first! Starting in a standard pushup position on one side of a flat
line (real or imaginary) explode into a push-up so that your
upper body leaves the ground and you come down on the other
side of the line. Imediately explode into another
push-up, returning back to the starting position. Repeat
for the desired amount of repetitions.
Have you seen the cost of some
of those fitness gadgets nowadays? You've got to be
For those of you that have been
reading my newsletter, you know that I'm a big fan of
bodyweight exercises. They cost nothing (besides some
calories and sweat) and you can do them almost anywhere.
Whether you're traveling on a business trip or vacation, or
you just can't get to the gym, you can complete a total body
workout wherever you are.
Of course, it is often more fun
to use various pieces of fitness equipment, and sometimes
more productive depending on your desired results. I'm
not telling you to run out and spend all kinds of cash on
equipment. In fact, with a little creativity, there
are endless gadgets and tools that you can use in your
Ever since I was a kid, I was
always trying to figure out how to make stuff. I
started dabbling with exercise equipment back in high school
when I built a preacher curl bench in wood shop and made a
lat machine in my basement out of garage door pulleys and
cable. Hey, they worked, and they didn't cost all the
cash I would have dropped on the real thing!
After becoming a personal
trainer, I became very interested in medicine balls and the
various functional exercises that could be performed with
them. Have you every priced those things? I was
searching for them on Google and I ran across an article of
how to make medicine balls.
I bought a basketball from Walmart for $3.35 and a 50 lb bag
of sand for another $3. So for about $5.00 I made my
first medicine ball which weighed a whopping 25 lbs. A
medicine ball of the same weight sells for $89.95 at most
fitness suppliers! Since then I've made numerous balls
of 10, 15, 20 and 25 lbs for myself and others.
Home Depot is your friend if
your are feeling ambitious. I've made an agility
ladder out of PVC pipe and rope, a kettlebell out of regular
plumbing pipe, agility hurdles out of PVC pipe, chin-up bar,
suspension straps, body bars, and a few other training tools
that I thought were cool. If you're feeling creative,
check out my
budgetbody link on the todayfitness website for
Of course, you don't always
have to make the equipment that you use. You can use
use soup cans, soda bottles or gallon jugs as dumbbells.
You can hang from playground equipment, tree branches or
anything sturdy for many back and bicep exercises. I
personally find a lot of use out of folding chairs on a
regular basis. The point is, the most important part
of your workout are the exercises that you perform, and the
effort that you put forth, not that equipment that you use.
Where there's a will, there's a way!
Flexibility training, strength
training, cardiovascular training... you've got them all
incorporated into your workout program for 2008, right?
Don't skimp... they are all important to a well rounded
exercise program that will give you your best return on your
February, March, April, May,
Swim Suit Time! So you really have only about 4 months
to decide what type of suit your going to want to put on to
either show-off or cover-up your physique! I'll give
you my standard, new year speech... 4 months = about 16
weeks. At the safe rate of about 1 to 2 pounds of fat
loss per week, you have the potential of dropping a whopping
16 to 32 pounds... IF you have it to lose, you put in the
effort to do so, and last but not least.. you WANT to lose
the weight and make it a PRIORITY!
Whatever your goals are for
2008, fitness or otherwise, make a game plan for how you are
going to accomplish them. Break your big goals into a
series of small goals that will create easier to reach
"steps" that will keep you on track and motivated.
Remember, your goals should be SMART - Specific, Measurable,
Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. Prioritize your
goals and decide how important they are to you. If
they are important enough, you will find a way to make it
happen. The choice is yours!
Last but not least, I expect all
of you to be pulling for my Giants in the Super Bowl this
Sunday! It's going to be a tough one, but that's what
makes it all worthwhile... get the picture?! Go Big
For prior issues of this
newsletter go to
“You can make excuses or you can
but you can't do both”