Dec 1st, 2015
Category: Injury Prevention
Secrets to a Healthy Low Back & Sexy Six Pack – Part I
By, Mark Wine CSCS; NASM PT, PES, CES
65 million Americans, with many more in the world, suffer from back pain. Back pain accounts for the second most medical visits in America. This is a major epidemic in America and around the globe.
With bad news comes good news, “95 percent of lower back pain can be treated without surgery” according to Dr. Michael Roizen. Dr. Roizen also said “even more can be prevented by doing exercises that center around the pelvis and core.” Therefore, having a healthy lower back and a sexy six pack kills two birds with one stone. First, by strengthening your core (stone) you can get a six pack (bird 1) and prevent / treat lower back pain (bird 2). The questions remains, how do I prevent / treat back pain?
There are certain elements that must be integrated into a proper core / lower back routine to achieve optimal results. The following are helpful tips:
- Limit the amount of back flexion – ex: when you touch your toes and your back rounds
- Follow back flexion with back extension – often overlooked because it is often underperformed, is back extension movements / exercises. Back extension is when there is an arch in your lower back.
- Posture – this is often times the most simple solution; look at how you stand, research the lordosis position, this is the anatomical position your back should remain in.
Limit the amount of back flexion. Back flexion is when your back is rounded; examples of this are when you touch your toes, or when you sit in a chair and slouch. Rounding of the back puts extreme pressure on each disk throughout your spine, especially your lower back disks. The most commonly injured discs are L4-L5 and L5-S1. Disc degeneration is a long term result of excessive rounding. In the immediate, disc herniation and bulging discs are common. These discs can often put pressure on the nerves and cause a feeling of numbness throughout the lower extremities. This can be debilitating and lead to worse effects. Prevent back flexion by constantly checking your posture and strengthening your core through exercise. We will touch on the core later, but keep your posture perfect. Those who have jobs that require sitting all day often suffer from this syndrome. The second tip, always squat down when picking up objects. Do not hunch over, which rounds your back, but rather keep your eyes up and put more pressure onto the rear of your foot. Focus on keeping your shoulder blades pulled back / flexed to help keep your posture more upright. Lastly, excessively stretching can place pressure on your discs; therefore, limit the amount of stretches that require excessive back flexion.
Follow back flexion with back extension. Back extension is when it has an arch. The natural back posture position, “lordosis,” has a slight arch to it. Lordosis is the position the back should be in at all times. Lordosis places even pressure on the discs. During exercise, follow each exercise with a position of lordosis, or a slight back extension stretch / movement. When you sit for prolonged periods, stand up and lean back, getting into back extension slightly past lordosis. This technique relaxes and release pressure from your discs.
Posture is an imperative part of a back preservation program, which is often ignored. The questions we should ask ourselves is “how can I correct my posture?” First, research the lordosis position to gain a better perspective of the natural curvature of the spine. The lordosis position provides optimal pressure along each disc of the spine. Therefore, there will be minimal disc herniation and/or bulging discs. Second, asses your posture in different positions throughout the day. When you sit down, do you slouch? When you lay down, do you excessively extend your spine (too much curvature) by laying on your stomach? When you drive, do you excessively round your back by leaning back? These are just few of the questions you can ask that might make one aware of their posture throughout the day. The McKenzie principle (method) is a back program / theory that emphasizes posture as part of their rehabilitation / treatment method. This program even offers a customized pillow that supports this spine position. Although this apparatus can be good in certain situations, this pillow deactivates the core and back musculature from providing the support.
In the long run, the only way to prevent or treat back pain is through a comprehensive core and back exercise program that stresses soft tissue flexibility, core strength, lower back strength, and total body complex movements. We will touch on these issues during Secrets to a Healthy Low Back & Sexy Six Pack – Part II.
- Dr. Michael Roizen
- NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (3rd edition)
By, National Academy of Sports Medicine
Editors: Michael A. Clark, Scott C. Lucett and Rodney J. Corn