The Athlete

Back Pain

Did you know that the most effective way to relieve back pain is with exercise? It ' s ironic, of course, because when one suffers from back pain, the mere thought of exercise hurts.

Why? First, exercise stimulates endorphins, the body ' s natural painkillers. Second, exercise

HOME EXERCISES

To relieve back pain, try these exercises that will increase flexibility and restore the lordosis, or natural curve, to your back.

Exercise No. 1 - KNEES TO CHEST
Lie on back, lift one knee, then the other, to chest. Hold for ten seconds. (For a variation, try this exercise lifting one leg at a time, leaving the other leg stretched out in front of you.)

Exercise No. 2 - HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Place left knee on towel. Place hands on right thigh. Keep back straight. Slide hips forward until you feel a slight stretch on upper left thigh. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat with other leg.

Exercise No. 3 - LUMBAR ROTATION
Lie on back, shoulders flat, knees bent, feet on floor. With knees together, slowly let knees drop to one side, hold for 10 seconds, and repeat to opposite side, (For a more advanced version of this exercise, extend your top leg while leaving your bottom leg bent, and move your arms in the opposite direction as shown.)

Exercise No. 4 - PRESS UP
Lie face down.  Using your arms, try to press up and back as far as possible.  Relax your back as you press up.  Hold for 10 seconds.

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

While slight sore muscle soreness with any new exercise is normal, your back pain should not increase with these exercises.  Follow this rule:  If your back hurts worse with a specific exercise, stop doing it.  If after three days, your condition has not improved, play it safe and see a spine specialist.  Persons with serious symptoms such as foot drop (when a foot drags because the leg muscle cannot raise it) or loss of bladder or bowel control, should seek immediate attention because of the risk of paralysis.

Ask an Expert: Crunching Right

With Exercise, Form is King

Yesterday, I did about 150 reverse crunches, and today my lower back is so sore I can hardly move! What did I do wrong?!
- Carrie

TheAthlete.org's response:

Your back is sore because your form was wrong. If your form was right, not only would your stomach be sore (instead of your back); but you probably wouldn't have been able to do 150 of them!

Much of exercising is ensuring that you maintain proper form. Doing so will not only get you better results more quickly; but it will also help keep you from injury. Follow these 7 rules to maintain proper form on any exercise, and watch the results!

rule #1: always engage the core!
The "core" is the group of muscles that comprise the abdomen. They include 4 muscle groups: the rectus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, and the tranversus abdominis.

You must always keep them engaged or "tight" when performing any exercise, as this gives you the stability required to do the exercise correctly. Imagine sucking your belly button in to the back of your spine to get an idea of how it feels. As you develop your abdominals, you will learn more and more how to engage all of these muscle groups.

When you lose "core integrity", you begin to use different muscles than you want to perform the exercise. In your situation, your loss of core integrity most likely led to an arch of the back which caused the muscle strain you are describing. I recommend you ice, rest, and stretch gently...

rule #2: proper range of motion (ROM)
You must always maintain the proper range of motion. This means that you must allow for a full concentric and eccentric motion. For example, on a leg extension machine, this would mean that you fully extend your leg without hyperextending the knees, of course; and then allow the legs to bend all the way until the weight stack is about one inch from touching, which would result in a rest. Apply the same principle to all your exercises.

In the example of the rev. crunch, put your hands under your hips, cradling your back on the floor, and engage the core to keep it pressed against the ground. Then slowly extend the legs until you feel a slight pull in the stomach and you feel like you would lose core integrity if going any further (back would begin to arch). From there, pull back slowly to the beginning of the rep.

rule #3: proper speed
Always maintain a 3-4 second pace on the eccentric and the concentric phase of motion. So, when you go "up", you go through the proper range of motion in a smooth 3-4 seconds.

Follow this with a one second muscle flex (of whatever muscle you are working).

And then a 3-4 second "downward" motion. At the "bottom", wait for a second, allowing the bar (or whatever) to become perfectly still, so as to not carry any momentum. Begin again.

rule #4: isolation
You must always isolate the joints above and below the muscle group being worked.

In the case of a Bicep curl,for example, you must isolate the shoulder (above) and the elbow (below). This means you carry out the ROM at the proper speed while ensuring that you do not move the elbow or the shoulder at all! Easier said than done!

rule #5: proper weight
Always lift a weight that becomes challenging at rep # 10. You should feel as if reps # 11-12 are difficult to complete. If you feel like you could have done 15-20 with proper form (see above), then you should increase the weight accordingly. If you are unable to complete the 12 with proper form, then you must lower the weight.

rule #6: number of sets per muscle
Large muscle groups: 8-12 sets of 12 reps.
Large muscles are: Chest, back, quads (thighs), hamstrings

Small muscle groups: 6-10 sets of 12 reps.
Small muscles are: biceps, triceps, shoulders (front, side, and rear delts, and traps), calves.

So, for example, you can do 2 exercises at 5 sets each to reach a total of 10 for the large muscle group; or you could do 3 exercises at 4 sets each, or 4 exercises at 3 sets each. It really doesn't matter as long as you have the muscle working with proper form for this number of reps.

Remember, muscle growth is all about time under tension!

rule #7: maintain proper form
Much of the exercise isn't how much weight you can lift, but how much you can lift properly. Constantly checking, tweaking, and perfecting your Form will allow you to get more results, faster. It's all about time under tension (for muscle growth), and if you follow the above tips, you should be able to perfect your form easily. Just remember, you can always do it better and tighter. It's a constant battle, but it does get easier (and it is rewarding!)

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