Strike a pose – avoiding back pain: Part 1

Whenever I start work with a new client, I always enquire as to any medical complaints they mave have that will affect their ability to train. The most common answer to this question is, “I have a bad back”.

Most of us know that we should lift with our legs, and not with our backs; we’ve all had the workstation assessments from the over zealous HR department and then promptly disregard any advice we are given – and yet we all seem convinced that a bad back is just something we are destined to put up with for the rest of our lives.

When working with clients I will spend a lot of time on technique, making sure that before trying to lift heavy weights or kettlebells that the client is making sure that the right muscles are taking the strain, the back is in the right position, and that they are concentrating on what they are doing.

In the 4 years I’ve been training others, no-one has ever injured their back in a class or session, even when being pushed to heavier and heavier weights under supervision. In that time, though, many clients have developed bad backs after performing some so called innocent action in normal daily life.

I’ve seen so many people very carefully lower 20kg kettlebells to the floor, knees bent, hips backwards, back straight and then the following day pick a child up in the playground with straight legs, bent back and rounded shoulders. The average 5-6yr old weighs about 20kg, and we will throw them about without thinking but you put a 20kg kettlebell in front of someone they will immediately back off.

Think carefully, how many people with bad backs or pulled muscles claim it was done whilst at the gym lifting weights? Now how many people have done it playing with the kids, lifting shopping in/out of the car, lifting furniture, gardening, loading the washing machine, getting out of bed etc? If you have a bad back, how do you load your washing machine? Do you bend over and stuff it in? Or do you squat or kneel down and put it in with a straight back? o you lift the washing basket off the floor with straight legs? Do you squat down and lift with a straight back? How do you tie your shoe laces, bent over, or on one knee? Do you see a pattern?

What about those who work in an office or similar environment? Is your monitor at eye level, or do you bend over and look down? Do you hunch over the desk, shortening your stomach muscles and weakening your back ones?

What about those who stand all day? Are you a hairdresser? Are your clients chairs high enough, are you bending constantly to cut their hair? Can you stand upright, and keep your shoulders back? Keen gardener? When weeding, do you kneel on a mat, or just bend down and pull, how do you empty the grasss out of the lawnmower? Bend, or squat down?

Ok, I’ve banged on enough, but the point is simple. Do you have a bad back, or are you giving yourself a bad back? If you do experience back problems, are you doing everything you can to protect it? By lifting and standing properly, not only will you strengthen and protect your back, but also your abdominal muscles and flatten your stomach.

This weeks challenge, is less about notching up numbers, and more about consciously thinking about how you treat your back.

  • If standing, roll your shoulders up, back and down to open up your chest.
  • Try to draw your abdominal muscles in by slightly tensing them.
  • Keep you back upright, if sitting, try to avoid resting on the back of the chair.
  • Try to arrange your working environment so that you can work without constantly staring down.
  • When doing any activity that reqires lifting or putting down on the floor, bend your knees and squat, or kneel down, avoid bending from the waist.
  • Keep any weight as close to your body as possible, and lift with a straight back by extending the knees and hips.

It will be tiring, and it will feel unnatural to many, but persevere because correcting your posture now could prevent many years of pain and discomfort in the future.

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