We live in a world today where back pain is so prevalent, you’ll be lucky to talk to someone who at some point hasn’t experienced it in some form or fashion. Especially in my profession, I see people in droves heading into our office looking for that “magical fix” to relieve themselves of that pesky pain, hindering them from their daily routine.
Well I am here to tell you there is no magic to maintaining good back health or preventing back pain; it’s a work in progress everyday which entails being well versed in a healthy diet, proper lifestyle habits, exercise and being well adjusted (so establish a local chiropractor now!!). Today this article is aimed at giving you the exercise side of things through a gym workout guide to prevent back pain for 2015!
Areas of focus
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When we talk about a gym workout guide to prevent back pain, we first have to talk about and establish which areas of focus will get you the most “bang for your buck” in giving you the best results. In order to maintain a healthy back free of pain, one must focus on the ability of the core muscles to function properly in stabilizing the back each day during dynamic movements as well as static posture.
Now most people here core muscles and immediately think “ripped, shredded” abdominal muscles; but when I say core and envision the core muscles, I think of everything in the human torso starting from the yoke of the neck down to the knee caps.
We have to focus on how the muscles in the anterior chain (pecs, abs, quadriceps, etc.) work with the muscles of the posterior chain (traps, lats, glutes, hamstrings, etc.) in perfect synergy, not hindering one another in order to prevent back pain.
Normally, with the lifestyles we lead today (sedentary desk jobs) the anterior chain of muscles are over-active with the posterior chain in most cases being weak which distorts posture, putting unwanted stress on our backs leading to chronic back pain.
So my job today as stated earlier is to give you a simple gym workout guide to prevent back pain and to re-establish that synergy between the anterior and posterior chains on the core.
The workout guide
So let’s get to it and lay out this gym workout guide to prevent back pain in 2015! To get started we have to establish and learn the ability to perform a proper abdominal brace. The brace is very important in every movement we do; so this is to be practiced as much and as often as possible as it’s a foundational move.
The abdominal brace is the ability to create a 360 degree muscular brace around the midsection. As a beginner you can have someone or yourself give tactile cues by touching different areas of the midsection with their fingers cuing you to contract and push the muscles out in that area towards their fingers.
Eventually, of course you want to be able to make this full 360 degree contractile muscular brace without cues and all in unison. This move is a work in progress and takes time to master, so continual practice is key. So I’ve come up with 5 exercises, some with variations to increase difficulty, to guide you in the gym to prevent back pain and here they are:
Planks (front and side)
Front planks in essence are a total body workout, as they work both the anterior and posterior chains of muscles we’ve discussed earlier in an effort to stabilize the back in a straight line, if done properly. To perform a front plank you assume a push-up position, but rather holding your upper body steady on your hands, you stabilize the upper body on the elbows and forearms.
It’s important in this move to keep the back, hips, neck and head aligned and to not stick your butt in the air higher than your back or let your midsection dip to the floor so that the back and hips are lower than the neck and head. Also do not let your mid back dip so that the shoulder blades are touching.
During this move it is important to have that abdominal brace that was mentioned earlier in the midsection and to contract the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes in an isometric contraction all while maintaining the alignment in the hips, back, neck and head. Remember to breath and focus on the global contractions going on in your body to maintain the best form.
Perform 3-4 sets of this exercise holding for as long as you can; it will be short in the beginning but will improve in time. To make easier if beginning, start the front plank on the knees and forearms rather than toes and forearms.
And if you’re looking to make this move difficult place forearms on a bosu ball or exercise ball to perform the move.
The side plank works the oblique muscles of the abdomen as well as the deeper layer of muscle in the abdomen called the transverus abdominis. To perform this exercise you lie on one side and then lift yourself up on your forearm and elbow on that side which should be in line with your shoulder joint.
If you are a beginner, then leaving your knees bent while lifting yourself up into the side plank is acceptable; but if you’re no stranger to this move then straighten your legs out with the top leg resting on top of the bottom leg and then lift into the plank.
Again, alignment is key, so the back, hips, head and neck again should be in a straight line when lifting into the plank. Do not let your butt stick out backwards as that will take you out of alignment. Once again create that abdominal brace in this movement as well.
Make sure to breath and focus on contraction again as well. Perform this movement 3-4 sets as well, but on each side, holding for as long as you can. To increase difficulty here again place forearm and elbow on a bosu ball or exercise ball while performing this move.
The glute bridge activates primarily the glutes and abdominal muscles; but also works the erector spinae in your back and hamstrings as well. To perform a proper glute bridge, you lie on your back with your legs bent and about shoulder width apart and you arms stretched out to the sides.
The movement is to thrust the hips upward so that the back and hips are aligned. At the top the thrust you should squeeze your buttocks for a second or two to further activate the glute muscles.
Again, focus on breathing, maintaining alignment and muscle contraction. You should perform this move for 3 sets at about 10-12 reps. To make this move more difficult try single leg glute bridges with one foot in contact with the floor; or to take it up further in difficulty place one foot on a bosu ball or exercise ball while performing this move. In these cases do 2-3 sets and 8-12 reps on each leg.
Wall slides work to bring the upper/mid back back to proper posture by strengthening the lower/mid traps and scapular retractors. To perform this move you stand with you back against a wall, with a slight bend in your knees, and arms stretched up and over your head in a more diagonal plane versus just straight above you head.
Maintaining a flat back on the wall and your arms and backs of hands flat on the wall you slide you arms downward in attempt to squeeze your scapulas at the bottom. You hold this squeeze at the bottom for a few seconds to further activate the muscles. Perform this exercise 3-4 sets for 8-12 reps.
Cat Camel stretch
The cat camel stretch is more of a way to stretch and mobilize the back in a gentle fashion while in essence removing the body weight which usually loads the spine. This stretch also helps to move nutrition in and out of the discs which is vital for disc health.
To perform the stretch you get on all fours (hands and knees) with hands shoulder width apart and aligned with the shoulder joint and the knees aligned and under the hips. The first movement of this stretch is to arch your back up (like a camel), head pointing downwards and rock the pelvis backwards so your butt is pointing down.
The second part of this movement is the complete opposite of the first part in that you arch the back downward (like a stretching cat), head points upward and rock the pelvis forward so the butt is in air. Once you’ve established each part of the movement correctly, slowly transition between the two fluidly to perform the stretch. Make sure to focus on proper breathing and form in this stretch.
Perform this exercise for 1-2 sets at 10 reps (this can be done a few times a day outside the gym as well), one rep being that you go through the two parts of the movement fluidly.
Here is your gym workout guide to prevent back pain going into 2015! A strong core is key in exercise terms to prevent back pain. Perform this regimen 3-4 days a week if possible and this can be done before, after or as a part of your general strength training plan in the gym.
If done properly and regularly, these 5 simple exercises plus mastering the abdominal brace, can be profound in preventing back pain of all kinds. Good luck and Happy Back Training to you all!