First of all, it's important for you to distinguish between good pain and bad pain. Good pain feels like a dull, aching muscular soreness which occurs when a muscle is fatigued during a reasonably intense set of an exercise. Bad pain feels like a sharp, piercing ache which can occur during or after an exercise is performed. Good pain should dissipate relatively soon after muscular fatigue occurs whereas bad pain may linger for a while.
Back pain may occur at any time and its occurrence in many cases is unexplainable. Nevertheless, any back pain should be taken seriously as it can be quite debilitating. Normally, your back (particularly your lower back) will be involved to some degree when performing most exercises, especially those that involve standing. This is why it's important to strengthen your core muscles (your lower back being one of them) in order to maintain postural integrity. In fact, poor posture due to weak core muscles may exacerbate back pain as a result of muscular imbalances.
If you experience back pain (especially lower back pain) while exercising, do NOT be alarmed. Your lower back is essentially the link between your lower and upper body. As such, the erector spinae muscles need to be strong to withstand the daily strains that occur. Remember that dull aching pain is normal and you need not be concerned with this when performing exercises like the squat, deadlift, lunges, etc. But if you feel sharp pain that feels severe, then it's time to take a break and give your back some time to heal and recover. See other articles elsewhere within this blog for tips on treatment for back pain. There may be particular exercises that simply don't work for you and seem to aggravate back pain. If this is the case, avoid doing them. Maintaining good posture is extremely important when executing exercises and if at any time your posture becomes compromised, this may be the cause of your back pain.
BOTTOM LINE: Listen to your body! Know the distinction between good and bad pain. Always be aware of your posture when performing exercises and when in doubt, either seek tips from a professional personal trainer or else refrain from doing the exercise.
Utilizing foam rollers has become very popular lately as a means to increase flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. The technique is known as self-myofascial release (SMF). Additional benefits include enhanced muscle recovery and increased movement efficiency. SMF is ideal for people who tend to have poor posture and/or employ repetitive movements daily which increase muscular stress. Poor posture and dysfunctional movements over time tends to cause adhesions or scar tissue within muscle tissue which can lead to muscular imbalance. Thus, the primary benefit of employing SMF is to alleviate soft tissue adhesions (also known as "trigger points" or "knots") in order to restore optimal muscle function. The pressure of the body against a foam roller can inhibit muscular tension and thereby allow hypertonic muscles to stretch more optimally.
It is recommended that you should use SMF as a method to warm-up your muscles prior to working out before dynamic stretching. Investigate particular sore areas of the body while lying on the foam roller and then spend between 30 seconds to a minute on these spots without movement. The objective is to relieve possible trigger points. Be sure to slowly roll over the lengths of each muscle.
To summarize, the benefits of using a foam roller are the following:
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Facilitate optimal muscle stretching
- Increase muscle relaxation
- Improve joint range of motion
- Improve neuromuscular efficiency
- Enhance muscle recovery and reduce soreness
- Reduce trigger point sensitivity
- Reduce muscular hypertonicity
- Decrease muscular stress
This comes down to incorporating the fundamental aspects of training smarter and safer. You should perform these five steps each and every time you weight train:
In addition, consider performing sets of relatively high repetitions (e.g., >20 reps) of the same exercises the following day of your heavy workout day to facilitate the recovery process. If you have an existing injury, perform high reps during weight training to lessen further injury while also maintaining your strength level. BOTTOM LINE: Having an injury should not preclude you from working out. Use common sense and "listen to your body" to guide you on workout intensity. Take time to warm-up prior to your work sets.
- Cardio warm-up (5-8 mins)--Systemic cardiovascular warm-up to holistically get your body ready for what's to come (e.g., bike, rower, treadmill, stairstepper, etc.)
- Joint rotations / dynamic stretching (1-2 sets)--Depending on whichever muscles you intend to work out for the day, be sure to warm-up the associated joint. For example, perform arm-and-shoulder rotations prior to working the chest and back muscles. Perform slow, careful bouncing single-leg deadlifts prior to working the hamstrings.
- Warm-up sets (1-2 sets)--These sets should be at about 50-65% of your working set load to ready your body for what's to come.
- Working sets--Be sure to perform each set using good posture.
- Static stretching (2-4 sets)--Hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds for the muscles that were worked during the workout to help enhance the recovery process.
Poor posture is usually indicative of weak and/or tight core muscles (e.g., weak erector spinae, weak gluteals, weak abdominals, and especially tight hamstrings). Your posture is tremendously affected by how you "hold" your body throughout the day. If you slump in your chair most of the day with your shoulders hunched over and your lower back in perpetual excessive stretch, your body will respond accordingly (i.e., sunken chest, chronic lower back pain). It is essential to strengthen as well as stretch your core muscles to alleviate the tendency to assume bad posture. The solution to alleviating lower back pain does NOT come in a pill. You must strengthen your core muscles, especially your abdominals and lumbar. Some key aspects to focus on while performing the following exercises include:
Here are some recommended exercises to get you on the right path toward having better posture: Execution: Lie on your back and pull in one knee while extending and elevating the other leg to about 45 degrees. Flatten your lower back against the floor and draw in your navel toward your spine. If your lower back arches, raise the elevated leg higher. Perform 12 to 15 leg raises per side. Execution: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Flatten your lower back against the floor and draw in your navel toward your spine. Now press each hand against your thighs while lifting your head and shoulders off the floor. Hold the top position briefly before s-l-o-w-l-y lowering your back against the floor. Ideally, only your lower back should contact the floor on the descent. Perform 12 to 15 curl-ups. Execution: Lie on your back with legs extended and flat on the floor. Flatten your lower back against the floor and draw in your navel toward your spine. Now raise your arms (elbows straight) over your shoulders with thumbs interlocked while lifting your head and shoulders off the floor. Continually raise your body, one vertebra at a time until you are in a full sit-up position. Perform 12 to 15 sit-ups. Execution: Lie on your back with one knee tucked in and the other leg extended and elevated. Flatten your lower back against the floor and draw in your navel toward your spine. Now place your hands behind your head and rotate one elbow to its opposite knee. Rotate to the other side as you draw in the other knee while extending the opposite leg. Perform these movements in a s-l-o-w fashion to achieve the most benefit. Perform 12 to 15 rotations.
- Draw in your naval toward your spine
- Move s-l-o-w-l-y but purposely
- Breathe evenly and do NOT hold your breath
Execution: Lie on your stomach with palms flat on the floor beside your ribs and legs extended. Draw in your naval toward your spine and lift your chest and legs off the floor without bending your knees. Pause in the top position before s-l-o-w-l-y lowering your body to the floor. Perform 12 to 15 reps. Execution: Get down onto the floor with hands/elbows and knees with palms/elbows under the shoulders. Extend both legs behind you with toes pointed toward the floor (i.e., initial push-up position). Drop your hips to achieve an alignment while drawing in your naval toward your spine. Be sure to look only slightly ahead but still in a downward direction. Hold this position for a duration of one minute. Perform this posture 2 to 3 times.
- Cobra with hyperextension
Your success in accomplishing your fitness goals is largely dependent on psychology. Remember that your mind ultimately controls your body. Here are three aspects which will affect your success in accomplishing your fitness goals:
All three of these aspects or factors are intimately linked and therefore are not mutually exclusive. Self-confidence is the belief in yourself and your abilities. Vision is your fitness goal, whether short- or long-term. Process is the method in which you must use to accomplish your goal. You cannot achieve your goal without a road map or plan (the process) to get there--a good personal trainer can help by designing the appropriate workout program. The process is dependent on what your goal is (your vision)--you must have a goal in order to go from point A to point B. Your vision is dependent on self-esteem, optimism, motivation, and a good attitude (self-confidence)--this must be inherent or else your success in accomplishing your goal will be fruitless. A personal trainer can lead you on the path to your goal but you must believe in yourself and your abilities in order to make it happen! Your focus, determination and motivation to succeed while exercising is essential in order to achieve your fitness goal.
Another factor which will affect your success in accomplishing your fitness goals is called imagery. Imagery relies on imagining the performance of an exercise or movement in your mind before actually doing it. Athletes such as powerlifters, sprinters, football players, etc. use this technique in order to perform seemingly unimaginable feats.
Here's the imagery technique:
- Close your eyes
- Imagine the ideal posture to achieve the movement effortlessly
- Go through the exercise or movement in your mind
- Think about each joint and muscle involved
- Open your eyes
- Now perform the movement
Sitting actually compresses the spine more than standing. The greater intradiscal pressure can cause nerve impingement and degenerative osteoarthritic changes. Always remember to take periodic breaks (an alarm set to go off hourly helps) and stand up and walk around to lessen muscular aches and pain. Here are some recommendations for you to do to help minimize lower back pain:
- Limit the duration of time you spend sitting
- Support your lumbar while sitting in your chair (e.g., use a rolled up towel held within rubber bands or a specially-designed foam roller)
- Your chair should have arm rests
- Your chair should be able to recline (optimum angle is 120 degrees)
- Sit with your knees open
- Place your feet on a small step to reduce lumbar strain
- Purchase an ergonomic chair suitable for the height of your desk
- Chair height should allow you to rest your elbows on your desk without shrugging your shoulders or leaning forward
The benefits of good posture are numerous and cannot be overstated as the nature of your health and wellness later in life may depend on your posture now. That is, if your posture is poor (i.e., rounded shoulders, drooped head, etc.) due to sedentary behavior (i.e., sitting for extended periods of time in front of a computer), adverse effects on your body will become more apparent down the road. Such conditions as joint osteoarthritis and spinal misalignments may develop due to stresses incurred as a result of poor posture. Good posture means drawing your chin back, relaxing your shoulders, stretching your chest forward, tucking your navel toward your spine, sitting with your knees lower than your hips, and having both feet planted firmly on the floor. Here are some benefits of having a good posture:
- Efficient function of your internal organs (i.e., rounded shoulders can affect the function of lungs and therefore breathing capacity due to constriction in the chest cage)
- Efficient function of your limbs (i.e., forward-facing feet and legs while running)
- Improves exercise performance (i.e., tight hamstrings can affect your ability to properly perform a squat or deadlift due an inability to arch the lower back)
- Reduces back pain
- Boosts metabolism
- Improves feelings with regard to your body
- Enhances self-esteem
- Enhances sense of self-confidence and how confident you look to others
- Enhances sense of attractiveness
- Enhances ease of movement
- Optimizes breathing
- Keeps your blood pressure in check
- Improves core strength
- Increases testosterone levels
- Lowers cortisol levels
- Lowers inhibitions
- Reduces joint stress
- Improves balance between your muscle strength and flexibility
- Decreases risk of falls
- Reduces headache frequency
- Optimizes movement efficiency
Here are some self-check methods to assess your posture for any deviations from good posture:
For your information, here are some postural misalignment terms and their possible causes:
- Mirror assessment. Stand sideways to a full-length mirror. Close your eyes, bend forward, then stand up quickly and gaze at the mirror to check your posture. Are your shoulders slumped? Is your head tilted forward? Does your chest have the appearance of being caved in as if someone just punched you in the sternum? Is your lower back flat or excessively arched? Ideally, your posture would be considered good if your shoulders are pulled back, your head is upright, your chest is expanded, and your lower back is in a neutral position (i.e., not flat but not excessively arched either). Now turn and face directly to the mirror and check your posture for symmetry. Is your head tilted to one side? Are your shoulders misaligned? Are your hips misaligned? Are your knees lined up? Your head should not be tilted to the side, shoulders and hips should be aligned and knees should be lined up.
- Wall assessment. Stand with your back against a wall. Do your heels, calves, butt, upper back, and head touch the wall? If not, there may be some postural deviation in your body.
- Hanging string with weight. Find a piece of string at least six feet in length and attach a small object to one end. Fasten the other end of the string to a ceiling in front of your mirror. Now stand directly behind the string so that it bisects your body and look at your image in the mirror. The string is a reference line for you to compare the symmetrical appearance of your shoulders, hips, and knees.
Possible cause(s): tight hip flexors and/or lumbar spinal erectors and weak abdominals and/or hip extensors
- Lordosis--excessive anterior pelvic tilt (i.e., excessive lumbar arch)
Possible cause(s): tight obliques, pecs, and/or lats and weak thoracic spinal erectors and/or mid/lower traps
- Kyphosis--excessive anterior-posterior spinal curvature (i.e., hunched upper back)
Possible cause(s): tight hamstrings, abdominals, and/or hip extensors and weak lumbar spinal erectors and/or hip flexors
- Flat back--posterior pelvic tilt (i.e., insignificant lumbar arch)
Possible cause(s): tight neck extensors and/or upper traps and weak neck flexors You don't have to live with aches and pains in your body as a result of misaligned joints from poor posture. Physical therapy, chiropractic care as well as the services of a good personal trainer can rectify any musculoskeletal imbalances within your body. A knowledgeable personal trainer having a sound background of anatomy, kinesiology and biomechanics can strengthen and stretch the appropriate muscles in order to rebalance and reduce postural deviations. Having good alignment will enable you to live a pain-free, mobile and functional life.
- Forward head--excessive neck protrusion (i.e., jutting neck)
Correct posture is absolutely essential when executing resistance exercises such as overhead presses, bench presses, squats, etc. Improper form when lifting will undoubtedly detract from an efficient workout that maximally targets the intended muscles. The key to safely and effectively engage your muscles is to assume stability in your body when lifting. In order to do this, you need to practice and adhere to the following fundamentals of posture no matter your body position in space (e.g., standing, sitting, supine):
Note: Most clients have trouble assuming the anterior pelvic tilt posture but it is absolutely essential in order to effectively target muscles such as the hamstrings or gluteals when performing an exercise like the deadlift. To practice, try lying in a supine position (i.e., face up) on a floor and arch and flatten your lower back repetitively for up to 25 reps for 3 sets daily. Be sure to feel your lumbar contact and lift off the floor as you flatten and arch your lower back. Next, practice performing the same maneuver of arching and flattening your lower back while standing sideways to a mirror. Be sure to observe the action while looking at your profile to ensure it is done properly.
- Eyes focused on a reference point in front of your head
- Shoulder blades squeezed
- Chest out
- Abs tucked in
- Lower back arched so that your butt is to the rear (anterior pelvic tilt)
- Knees slightly bent (applies primarily to standing posture)
- Feet at least shoulder width apart
- Bench press: feet should be pressing into the floor at all times!
In addition, be sure to always inhale when performing a pulling action and exhale when executing a pushing action. For example, when performing a bench press, inhale as the weight is lowered to the chest and exhale as you press the weight upward. Another example, when executing a squat, inhale as you bend your knees and exhale when straightening your knees as you press upward.
By following the aforementioned recommendations you will find you will be much more successful in achieving your fitness goals. Remember to always work smarter, not harder!