Exercise and Back Pain: Are Your Workouts Causing a Bad Back?

- Article from Steve Hefferon, C.M.T., P.T.A. – http://www.EasyBackPainFix.com

Exercise and Back Pain: Are Your Workouts Causing a Bad Back?


Sometimes, even the best stretching and flexibility program can’t prevent the damage of a faulty and improper exercise program…

Do you remember the old adage, “People like to do what they are good at and comfortable with”? Are you living that old adage at the gym? Most people do. They have a set routine at the gym and it’s that routine coupled with the mechanics of the equipment that can lead to trouble–either very quickly or over time.

Here is the problem. Working out can lead to injury, no question. The challenge is in knowing how it can happen and how to prevent it. There are two basic categories of injuries: the sudden accident (a.k.a. trauma) and what can be described as the Process Injury (in other words, the long, slow development of a condition.) My goal is to protect you from both types of injury.

Painful Injury at the Health Club

Let’s start with the five basic concepts of exercise in order to show you how easy it is to injure yourself in a traumatic way.

Intensity: How hard you work out.
Frequency: How often you work out.
Duration: How long you work out.
Progressive Resistance: Using more resistance with each set you perform.
Progressive Overload: Starting at a higher level of resistance at subsequent workouts.

Each one of these principles has the ability to cause injury. But when you couple them with having a trainer or workout partner egging you on to eek out one more rep as you get fatigued, you go into all kinds of contorted positions to get the job done.

All of a sudden, Wham-O! A hundred different injuries can happen. And they will take a long time to heal. You will have defeated the entire purpose of going to the gym in the first place.

Please understand that the body can tolerate a lot of abuse before you pay the penalty of an injury. Just know that injuries can happen in seconds and the effects can last a lifetime.

Injuries are a Process

Traumatic injuries do happen. But more often it is the slow progression injuries that are far more sinister and very well may be the root cause of some traumatic injuries. So I would like to focus on what happens over the long term so that you can make a change now to prevent injuries.

I have spent the last 10 years of my life dealing specifically with what are called muscle imbalances and their effects on the back and body. In describing the concept I will use some examples and try to make you aware of what possible injuries you could be facing.

Let me begin by describing what muscle imbalances are and then give you an example. Muscle imbalance can be defined as strength and flexibility of one muscle group compared to the opposite muscle group. So if you compare the strength and flexibility of the quadriceps to the opposite muscle group, the hamstrings, in nine out of 10 people the quads will be overly strong and overly tight compared to the hamstrings. That’s the definition of having a muscle imbalance.

The Reason Why Back and Body Injures Start

The quads are always going to be stronger then the hamstrings, so you may be wondering what is wrong with that. Let me give you some possible examples of what can happen if your quads are out of balance with your hamstrings. As I give this example, understand that there are other imbalances that often happen at the same time to develop this condition. For example, the hip flexors and the glutes can be out of balance too.

When the quads are out of balance with the hamstrings, there can be uneven and excessive wear and tear on the cartilage and ligaments of the knee. The knee will not function correctly and conditions will develop to the point were running or physical activity will be impossible.

Second, balance between the quads and the hamstrings keep the pelvis in a neutral and stable position. But when you have overly strong and overly tight quads, your pelvis will be pulled in several different directions. In some cases the whole pelvis is pulled excessively forward. In other cases one side of the pelvis comes even more forward and the hip goes too high, causing the pelvis to rotate. This is very common in physically active women over 40.

When the pelvis is not in the most neutral and most stable position possible, the spine may go into abnormal curvature. It is that abnormal curvature caused by the muscle imbalance that can set you up for hip problems, SI joint problems, back problems and sciatica.

Why Does This Happen?

The very equipment you are using at the gym is either directly or indirectly helping you develop your muscle imbalances and setting you up for future problems.

Some examples… You cannot help but develop raw quad strength when you use the leg extension machine. As I asked you before, do you stick to exercises that you like to do? Let’s face it, everyone hates to work the hamstrings because they are weak and it is hard to do. So most people overwork their quads and under-work their hamstrings.

Another example is the calf raise machine. Again, the calf muscle will always be stronger then the muscles in front of the shin, but when you blast your calves and do not work the muscles in the front of the shin you are setting yourself up for planter fasciitis, heel spurs, Achilles tendonitis and even knee problems.

Let’s recap. Working out with gym equipment puts enormous unnatural force through the joint, restricts movements to linear motions and can very easily overdevelop muscle groups. This combined with the development to muscle imbalances—is a hidden root cause of most if not all physical injuries at the gym.

Four Action Steps

As with any new desire to make a change in your life, you must first have a starting point. There is no easier way to get started then to take an inventory of where you are right now. It will not help you at all to make subjective assessments about yourself and not be honest, so I have a few suggestions:

Take photos of yourself. I would not always recommend this. But in cases were your health and wellness are at stake, why not? Here is what you can do. Put on a bathing suit and have someone take photos, front, back and both sides, making sure that you see head to toe. Then take a look–not with a judging eye but a caring eye, looking for areas that are not in balance. For example, is your head straight? Is your head over your shoulders or is it forward of your shoulders? Are your shoulders level? What about your hips, are they level? (Look at your side view and suit line as a guide.)

Those are just some of the areas that you can gauge yourself on. You can also use the photos as a reference of how you are now so you can look back at how you were then.

Feel the pain. The best way to assess pain is by asking yourself how you feel in the morning, during the day and at night. With this one you will need to be honest with yourself, and I suggest that you write this down. You can even mark up the photos you took by writing on them at the body part or parts where you feel pain.

Listen to your body. If you are working out and you feel a little something and you’re not quite sure what it is, rest assured it’s your body telling you it does not like what you are doing to it.

Build your awareness. If you live with fear, worry or doubt about your weight, health or medical condition, the best way to overcome that it is to build your knowledge on the subject. Study what others already know. And remember to always stay enthusiastic about the process. That is the secret to achieving your goals.

If you do not mind I would like to end with a short story of a one of my clients. She is a 43-year-old professional with a desk job. One day she decided that she was going to lose 20 pounds by summer. So she joined the gym, where she took a spinning class, used weights and at the same time trained for a 6K run on Memorial Day. She did this for about four months. Fast-forward to race day. She starts the race and within the first mile she knows she is in trouble. But she decides to finish the race because the pain is not that bad.

I get a call that night. She tells me that she cannot walk and asks if massage would help. I go over that same night. When I get there she is on crutches. She cannot walk. She has foot pain, knee pain and the effects of Piriformis irritation. I agree to work with her and only do what she can tolerate. I then urge her to see a doctor. On Monday morning, she does.

At the appointment she was diagnosed with a bone spur in her heel, a stress fracture on her tibia by the knee and wicked Piriformis Syndrome. As I write this, two months later, she still has not been able to return to any physical activity.

Tune In and Listen to your body. It could be telling you something…

Steve Hefferon is a Certified Massage Therapist, Certified Post-Rehab Specialist and Co-Founder of the Healthy Back Institute. His work has helped thousands of people diagnose and address the root cause of their back and body pain by identifying simple muscle imbalances that pull the back and body out of proper alignment and function. Click here => http://www.EasyBackPainFix.com to read your FREE ‘Back Pain Relief Guide’ and to learn more about Steve and The Healthy Back Institute.

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Stretching for Flexibility, Fitness and Quality of Life

- by Joey Atlas, Author of Amazon Bestseller – ‘Fatness to Fitness’

Stretching for Flexibility, Fitness and Quality of Life

I came across this article recently and thought it would be good to share with you for 2 reasons.

1 – It makes some very points that are in line with my philosophy on stretching and fitness.

2 – There are some points that I would approach and advise people on in a different manner. I will address those in the next article…

Here it is – as printed from The Oregonian – ‘Fitness on a Budget’, June 18th:

The most neglected component of fitness is stretching. As you learned in today’s cover story, meditation offers huge benefits, and during stretching it’s really easy to get into a meditative state.

Unfortunately, most people either don’t stretch correctly and long enough, or they skip it altogether. For people who are tight, stretching can be painful — their muscles shake, and they usually can’t wait to release the stretch. It’s easy to see why they eliminate stretching from their workout.

After working in the fitness industry and training clients for more than 20 years, we’ve come up with a system that has even our most rigid, tight, “can’t touch their toes” clients enjoying their stretching segments. We’ve found that if we can make a stretch comfortable enough that clients don’t even realize they’re stretching, they will often hold it long enough to allow the muscles to lengthen.

For this reason, we’ve found wall stretches to be most successful. While clients stretch, their back is in its neutral position, which is comfortable, and they don’t have to use their muscles to support it. Instead, they can relax and focus into the stretch. Or read or watch TV, which can increase the length of time they hold any stretch.

Our clients find these stretching segments so enjoyable that they hold stretches longer than they ever have and now stretch every day. They would have never dreamed of stretching this much before!

Sample wall stretches

Hamstring: Lie on your back with your legs against the wall, heels toward the ceiling. Find a position where you feel a light stretch in the back of your thighs. To make the stretch more intense, move your buttocks closer to the wall; to make it less intense, move your buttocks farther from the wall. Hold for as long as you feel comfortable. Try to relax and breathe into the stretch. Feel free to read or watch TV.

Hips and back: Start with your legs in the hamstring stretch position. Slowly let both legs fall to one side until they are resting comfortably on the floor. (If you’re tight, it’s OK to have the legs suspended above the floor.) Bend the bottom leg and keep the top leg straight. Try to feel this stretch through your hips and lightly through your back.

Adductors: Start with your legs in the hamstring stretch position. Slowly separate your legs into a V-position until you feel a light stretch through your groin area.

Glutes: Move about a foot from the wall. Position one leg so the bottom of the foot is in contact with the wall and the knee is at 90 degrees. Cross the other leg over so the ankle is resting on the thigh. To make the stretch less intense, move your buttocks farther from the wall. To make the stretch more intense, move your buttocks closer to the wall, or lightly press the crossed leg away.

Remember to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. This is when the real stretching begins, so holding a stretch for anything less than 30 seconds will not increase flexibility. And remember that light stretching is much better than deep, painful stretching.

Not a bad article – but again there are some points I will address a bit differently in the next article – stay tuned…

Your trainer,

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