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If you’re reading this, chances are you are already suffering. Maybe you strained it shoveling snow, or trying to hold your kid as they flip flop through ‘stiff as a board’ and ‘dead weight’ modes. Or maybe you just sneezed and ruined your life. It can happen at any time, and more often than not it turns into something chronic. My best advice for back injuries is – don’t get one!
Easier said than done. The thing is, that particular moment where you got up weird or just reached for something wasn’t actually the trigger. Unless you were in a high impact accident, most back injuries happen over time. Lack of stability, overloading, loading with bad posture or hyper-flexibility can all, slowly lead to wear and tear that at some point gives way at that final “trigger” moment, where you felt sever pain. So yes, prevention is best but often times our only clue that something bad is happening is pain. And if pain has started, then you are most probably already at a point where some damage has been happening for a while. Unless you are very health conscious and have had an awesome training program designed for you by someone who has done a full physical evaluation that focuses on injury prevention…this was bound to happen. Right now your saying “oh great, so I’m fuc*ed!”. Yep. See ya!
Just kidding. Here is my best advice on what to do right now. Get a proper diagnosis – this takes a few steps. A physiotherapist, chiropractor or Osteopath can’t actually diagnose you. They can tell you what the source of pain is. that’s the easy part. But telling you that your pain is located in your sacroiliac joint is not a full diagnoses but is still the first step. A scan, isn’t a full diagnosis either, but it is also necessary. Without getting in their and seeing if you have severe disc compression, disc bulge or vertebrae slippage, or whether you have sacroiliac joint dysfunction or tissue inflammation, you won’t actually know how to approach remedying the pain. Again, identifying the point of pain is not necessarily going to fix the problem in the long term. With a scan, you can then head back to a physio or osteo and try and figure out what the source of the problem actually is. If they are good and take a holistic approach they can then deduce where it might have all started – pronated feet, unstable knees, rotated pelvis, etc..
Okay, so you have a full diagnosis of where the pain is – if there is a structural, or tissue problem and if it is degenerative or not as well as a pretty good idea as to how it all started (often not in the back). What now? Surgery may be your best bet for pain relief but it won’t end there. You’re gonna have some homework. Forever.
Also manual therapists will never heal you. This isn’t my opinion its actually the opinions of both of the osteopaths I go to and I trust with my spine (life). What manual therapy can do is reduce pain and put your body in a place where you can then work on stability, mobility and strengthening so that you can prevent further degradation and pain.
Once this is all figured out, what exercises work best?
It depends on the source of the problem but you will probably need a 2 pronged approach. Exercises that stabilize and/or mobilize the area of pain and then exercises that focus more on fixing the true source of the problem. Unfortunately I can’t give you any magic exercises that will work for your specific lower back issue. But my approach to most injuries is stability first, then mobility.
First things first for stability work. You need to learn how to brace your core. This is paramount for performing exercises properly but also for surviving the day to day movements that may put strain on your back. For a quick breakdown on this go read my article on fixing diastasis recti. There are also 2 exercise examples for beginner stage stability work that are perfect for low back problems.
We use more than a dozen exercises, with various progressions to work on core stability. You want to try and find movements that activate more than one aspect of your core; your transversus abdominus, pelvic floor, major abdominals, low back muscles, priformis and glutes all need to be worked. You also want to do exercises in different positions, not just on the floor. Though there is a natural progression for all of the movements we use at the studio, I am going to jump ahead to 3 slightly more advanced exercises that I like.
In all honesty these 3 exercises all but eliminate my back pain, and when I am consistent with them, they allow me to move and train the way I normally do. Consistency is key. But remember I have spent years building stability beforehand, so these 3 may be too advanced or just may not work the same way for your injury.
– You will need a small resistance band that you can wrap around your legs, just above your knees for all 3 of these exercises. You can order some from amazon here –
1 – Pelvic raise and knee press – Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet hip width apart and heels fairly close to your butt. Draw in your abdomen slightly. Press your pelvis upwards as high as you can squeezing your glutes hard. At your topmost position press your knees out against the resistance band. Bring them back in and then return to starting position. Repeat. Start with 3 sets of 10 reps and work your way up 20 reps. Go to a higher resistance band once this gets easy.
2 – Standing fire hydrant – You can also do this on all fours. But this is an easier progression for when you’ve recently hurt your back.
Stand just beyond arms length of a wall, feet hip width apart. Draw in your abdomen slightly to create a brace that you will maintain for the entire set. Place your hands directly in front of your shoulders on the wall in front of you. You should be leaning forward on a slight angle, keeping your torso and head in line with your legs. Raise one knee off of the floor, bending it at about a 90 degree angle. The raised knee should be slightly ahead of the planted knee. Now bring the raised knee to the side and slightly behind you, pressing against the resistance band. As you do this your foot should, more or less, remain in the same position. It’s just the knee that is going outwards. Repeat 10x before switching sides. 3 sets. Make your way up to 3 sets of 15 before switching to a higher resistance.
3 – Quadruped glute raise – Start by kneeling. Create a strong abdominal brace. You need to maintain this brace for the entire set. Get on all fours, hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Keeping a 90 degree angle in your knee, press one foot upwards towards the ceiling, squeezing your glute. You want to try and maintain as stable as possible. This exercise, when done properly is way harder than it looks. You want to perform each repetition without shifting your weight when you lift your knee off the floor. You also want to avoid rotating your hips as you lift. This may limit your range of motion but for the time being that is just fine. Repeat for 10 reps then switch sides. 3 sets. Make your up to 3 sets of 20 then switch to a higher resistance.
Once a moderate amount of stability has been accomplished I like to start working on mobility. Mobility is not the same as flexibility. Stretching or increasing range of motion in the spine and hips is often times our reflex to relieve pain and ‘prevent injury’. But increasing range of motion without increasing control or strength is simply expanding the range of movement in which you can get hurt in. So we put together some movement patterns in which you can run through to gain further control in. As your mobility increases, your control of movement within your current range of motion. You can then extend that range gradually and let your body tell you if it is okay or not.
The patterns we use are too complex to describe in a blog post but you can find some good examples in this video. Start slow and listen to your body. After doing a mobility session take a day or two before doing it again to make sure it did not tweak anything.
As for the corrective exercises pertaining to the true cause of your injury, these will have to come from your osteo, physio or trainer. Every situation is different and it is well worth exploring different avenues to find the right combination. If your therapist or trainer does not do a full physical assessment before prescribing a program, walk away. Do not ask your doctor for exercise ideas, go seek a specialist. It will take a bit of trial and error but the right person will do so in a safe manner.
As a fellow sufferer of low back injury, I wish you the best of luck and can assure you that investing some time and money in getting a full diagnosis and proper individualized program will save you from a lifetime of pain. These injuries don’t go away without work. Sometimes they lay dormant until the next time it gets aggravated and each time it will be worse. So get out there and get your life….back.
Want to come in for an evaluation or sign up for our online training program? Contact us at email@example.com
You can lose fat and build or maintain muscle at the same time. In fact this is what happens the majority of time with the average person. If you are building muscle, then you are losing fat. The rate may be different and what you are eating will effect this heavily.
If you are already muscular and simply want to define further by reducing the last bit of fat, then this is a slightly more complex version of the same thing. If you are trying to bulk up heavily, than maybe what you eat will focus a bit more on the bulking rather than the trimming part. But you can still do both. You don’t need different phases. Though separating it into phases can simplify things nutritionally for those who are competing. The problem I have with phasing things is that this can mimic a “diet”. If you are eliminating a lot of foods and/or cutting calories significantly and consistently then we may be looking at a hit to your metabolism and hormone balance.
Dieting is NOT going to help you maintain weight. CONSISTENCY with nutrition and exercise is what is going to get you lean or ripped and it is what is going to keep you there.
The following are general rules but the details of a workout and nutritional program depend on the individual. Everyone performs movements differently, digests different foods with ease, finds motivation from different sources, etc..
Forget cardio. I’m sure you have heard this a lot. If you follow my blogs then you’ve been hearing me say it for about a decade now. Use cardio to maintain or improve cardiovascular ability specific to whatever movement you prefer. Other than that…it’s not helping you. In fact its probably hurting your progress.
Resistance training keeps you in a higher metabolic state so that you are doing “work” for longer periods of time. And if you lift with short breaks you will still maintain an aerobic effect which will keep your endurance capacity up.
You don’t have to lift heavy
The majority of studies comparing heavy to light resistance training shows statistically insignificant results favoring the heavy side. Many studies show that high rep/low weight will do just as well as low rep/high weight. There are 2 things that make this less appealing to most. First, it takes longer to do high reps..people want a more efficient program. They also lose focus quickly and we need perfect form for every rep. The other problem is that we tend to want to impress with big plates and heavy dumbbells. But you know whats more impressive? Not injuring yourself. If you think a lifetime of lifting heavy isn’t doing damage to your connective tissue, you are lying to yourself. Lifting lighter still adds stress to the tissues enough for you to build size but it keeps the load low on your joints and tendons. This will allow you to stay strong for longer. Longevity is the goal, folks….sorry sorry getting shredded is the goal…just for longer.
Try 30-50% of your max weight for a movement. Upwards of 20-25 reps. 3 sets.
You can try adding one set where you increase your weight by 10-20%, reducing the reps accordingly. One study showed this to be effective in building mass while maintaining a minimal load for most of the workout.
You can also prolong muscle activation by adding tempo to your lifts. Try a moderately heavy weight but elongate the eccentric phase of the motion. You can even hold the pose for a few seconds before the concentric movement. As long as you can keep perfect form, this is a way to keep the load lighter and maximize results.
A common tempo for a bench press would be 4-1-1-0. This translates as 4 seconds of the lowering phase then a 1 second hold, then 1 second to press the weights up and no rest at the top (0).
DO STABILITY WORK
Your ability to train for long periods of time depends on your foundation. Stability in movement or under load while static is going to be a major factor in your success in consistency. Build a strong foundation and you will find less need for prolonged recovery from physical stress.
EAT WELL AND EAT LOTS
You need lots of protein to repair and build muscle tissue but you also need lots of fats and micronutrients for recovery and to keep your digestive and immune system working properly. Your demanding more of your body when training hard so don’t deny it nutrients thinking it will help you lose fat while you build muscle. Without the proper intake of micronutrients your recovery, focus and performance will all hurt. This may lead to injury which will slow down the whole process way more than the added calories will. More over all calories will increase the training effect, just be smart with what you’e fueling with!
You don’t need to carb load. But if you do, first figure out if your body can handle the sugar spike. You can often find glucose level testing kits at the pharmacy, go grab one and see how your body reacts to a plate of pasta or a couple sandwiches. If your blood glucose and insulin (you can test for this too) spikes and if you feel tired or bloated or low energy afterwards, you are unable to handle carb loading.
If you are training for 2 hours and lifting really heavy while adding a prolonged cardio segment to your routine, than you will definitely need some fuel. But I would suggest changing the routine rather than the over eating. Seems like a waste of time and unnecessary stress on the body. Again, this is for the average person trying to put on muscle, not for a competitive body builder.
Start by adding 250 calories per day. Monitor your progress for 3-4 weeks. If you haven’t gained any muscle then add another 150-250 calories. It may take a bit of time before you see results so don;t rush into a massive increase just to force it. You may end up putting on fat as well.
HARD GAINERS – Train less / eat more – but watch out for the gremlin
If you have a really hard time putting on muscle than you will need to adjust a bit further. 500 extra calories a day may not cut it. But start with that and increase/monitor if need be. I have a tried and true method for both vegans and non vegans. It means counting calories for a couple months but then it becomes second nature.
Train less – eat more. Sounds good, right? It’s not. You need to watch what you eat still. funyuns and pizza pockets might jack up your calorie count but this is going to set you up for low returns in your performance – in the gym and in the sack! Your body is under performing in its capacity to build tissue so lets figure out why. A hormone profile may do you some good. I would test for food allergies and micronutrient level as well. But often times it comes down to you just not eating enough for your metabolic rate.
Even so, get everything working well so that when you do flood the system with high quality foods, it will use them accordingly. Try not to eat 5-6 times a day. Eat 2-3 big meals and don’t snack too heavily. We don’t want to spike your insulin too often. Again, we want consistency. Find something sustainable and healthy, If you get your body used to food intake all day long, your circadian rhythms will follow. You will teach your body to expect and want food all the time. Lets say you go on vacation for 3 weeks. Lets be real, not all of us keep up our training nor our eating habits when we are on the road. But guess who is coming with you on this trip – the gremlin. You fed the gremlin for the last several months..it may have been fruit and nuts or veggies and hummus, but now you’re traveling and the closest food is pizza, croissants or ice cream. Its going to happen…the gremlin is real and it is hungry.
If you become dehydrated, your energy will lag and your performance with your weight training will be hampered. This is going to slow down your progress physically but it will also take a bite out of your mental game. Consistency fuels motivation and so we need as many good days as possible, Hydrating keeps everything running smoothly so that we can surpass any mind games that come up when we are struggling a bit due to external factors such as work stress or every day obstacles.
I talk about this all the time so I won’t go into detail here but Sleep is so important. Your muscles heal when you sleep, your brain heals when you sleep, you work out complex emotional problems when you sleep. Some people say they thrive on little sleep, I don;t buy it, I’d say they thrive until they dive. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are both linked to lack of sleep. We need to rest and recover in order to be healthy for long periods of time. It is really the easiest thing we can do to improve health and fitness. Stress borne adrenaline can keep someone running for a while, until adrenal fatigue sets in and when it does you are in real trouble – this can take a long time to recover from.
So take recovery days from your workouts, practice stress management techniques and get some sleep!