I feel like if I asked a hundred people who experiences back pain, every hand would go up.
Whether it's from an injury, poor posture, sleeping "wrong," or stress, back pain is so common as to be ubiquitous.
As a personal trainer, my role is not to diagnose or try to cure your back pain. My role is to help you improve your strength, endurance, mobility and flexibility in spite of it. We work around the pain.
But experience has shown that with a combined focus on building strength in the right muscles, improving movement patterns to be able to move with ease and proper form, and stretching, many clients experience less pain and therefore relief! *
* I recommend you see your doctor before beginning any fitness program in order to diagnose the cause of your pain and determine the best and safest course of action. That may be physical therapy first. Think of physical therapists as the ones who get you ready to see me!
Once you've gotten the go-ahead from your doctor, here's my three-pronged approach to helping you keep your back as pain-free as possible.
People are big on stretching, but a missing piece for many people is mobility. Mobility is moving joints and body parts through a full range of motion. For example, you should be able to bend, arch, reach and twist with enough ease to do daily tasks without worry.
Here are some of my favorite mobility drills. Start with 3 sets of 30-60 seconds each.
Cat to Cow - wave between the two positions slowly and with control.
This one is SO GOOD:
If the muscles that support your ability to have good posture and quality mobility are weak, you're more prone to injury. You may simply lack the muscle endurance needed to sit and move with good posture!
EXERCISE #1 - Use Proper Posture
Start focusing on sitting and standing with proper posture. ALL THE TIME.
It sounds small, but you'll find it's harder than it sounds and you'll find yourself slumping back into poor posture without even realizing it. Every time you notice, correct it.
Pay particular attention when sitting for work, while driving, while sitting on the bleachers at your kid's baseball game, and while standing in line at the grocery store.
Like the image above, good posture doesn't mean arching your back and puffing your chest out. If means being in alignment and "growing" an inch taller through the crown of your head.
Can you feel how getting into that posture and holding it requires your muscles to work?
BONUS: The body language of sitting, standing and walking with good posture "says" you're confident, strong, and in control!
EXERCISE #2 - Work your front ab muscles.
My favorite exercise of all time for this is the Dead Bug. Your goal is to lock your hips and ribcage to the floor and keep them there as you extend with one leg and both arms.
Start with 3 sets of 45 seconds. Exhale as you return your leg and arms to the starting position.
Other gentle exercises for your abs:
LEAN BACK FLY for ABS
This is a great way to work your abs without going to the floor! Sit tall and reach your arms forward. Keep a neutral spine as you lean back a few inches until you feel your ab muscles working to hold that position. Keep your neck in line with your spine, or tuck your chin just a bit. Now open and close your arms in front.
Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds. Exhale at the hardest part of the exercise.
LONG LEG CHEST LIFT
With your legs extended and one ankle crossed over the other, aim to use your ab muscles to curl up. Let your head relax into your hands. Don't pull with the arms, simply support your neck as you curl your head and shoulder blades off the floor. Your chin should be about an inch off your chest in the lifted position.
Do 30 seconds. Then, cross the other leg on top and repeat. Exhale on the lift.
EXERCISE #3 - Work your back muscles.
Most people work the shit out of their abs and ignore working the muscles of the back. This can actually magnify an imbalance and make your back discomfort worse rather than better.
Do we walk around crunching and curling forward all day? No. But that's what you're training when all you do is crunches and sit-ups. So quit it. *smiles sweetly*
Back extension variations are great for your back in the same way dead bugs are great for your abs. They train the muscles to be strong in lengthened positions that support good posture.
Here are several back exercises to try. Do one or two in every workout.
Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds. Do not hold your breath.
EXERCISE #4 - Work your oblique muscles.
Your obliques help you bend and twist. In addition to strengthening these muscles to support your core and back, twisting can also provide some relief from the tension we carry in our back muscles.
The Oblique Knee Drop is a great place to start. Level I, with feet on the floor, will improve mobility. Level II, with feet lifted, provides a bigger challenge. Keep your shoulder blades pinned to the mat, and exhale the legs back to center.
I never make it a goal to drop the knees all the way to the floor. That's too extreme. Drop the knees partway. You can pause in that position, then control the return.
Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds, or 3 sets of 10 reps.
Here are a few other oblique exercises to try.
This one is harder than it looks:
EXERCISE #4 - Work your glutes.
My clients know I'm big on "butt stuff." (It's become a bit of a joke.)
Strong glutes can help reduce and prevent back discomfort as they're critical to hip mobility and posture. They support your hips and knees in safe movement.
Add one or more of these exercises to every workout. Try 3 sets of 30-60 seconds.
Some people think you should stretch before you move and build strength. I disagree. I believe we need to be flexible enough to have quality movement and joint integrity, but I don't view "being really flexible" as a goal for every client.
That said, tight muscles can inhibit range of motion, so improving flexibility to the points of supporting proper movement mechanics is worthwhile.
The stretches that will help will be unique to you. Consider where you experience tightness and discomfort and focus on those areas as appropriate.
The following stretches seem to be especially helpful to my clients.
Try my suggestions above for 4 weeks. There are a lot of ideas but you only need to choose ONE from each category and commit to doing them 3x each week for 4 weeks - that's how long it takes to feel results!
If that helps, please let me know - I'd love to get your feedback!
And if you have questions, leave a comment and I'll reply.
If you need more ideas for exercises, stretches, and mobility exercises, my YouTube channel is chock full!
If you need accountability to set goals and then actually do the things ̶(̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶a̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶n̶g̶e̶)̶, that's what the game is for!
If you want me to ̶k̶i̶c̶k̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶a̶s̶s̶ train you, message me!