Sometimes we inflict harm on ourselves, like life isn’t giving us enough to deal with already. Oh, my bank account is empty; I’m going to go buy a new TV. Or, I know that sugar is bad for me, but it’s a birthday party, and I love cake. Ten pounds later we are depressed and moneyless. We can’t even buy another pant size up . . . because we spent our money on a TV. So we are stuck squeezing into our small pants. (When I say “we,” I’m just assuming I’m not the only one . . .) We finally decide to do something good for ourselves, and we join a gym, which isn’t good for our bank account but at least it’s good for our bodies. But the more we exercise, the more our back hurts. WHY! We wonder. We’re doing everything we can. Why can’t life just give us a break?!
Take a deep breath. I’m here to help. Here’s what exercises you shouldn’t do and how you can tweak your workout to fix the way you’re exercising so you can get back to eating that cake with a pain-free back:
Quick movement sports. Sports that require quick movements or twisting, such as tennis or golf, might not be the best for your back. Twisting can worsen existing back pain or create a new injury, especially when you jerk that tennis racket or golf club all the way around your body. If you have back pain, take a break from sports like these until your back heals. Instead, try another sport like swimming.
Heaving lifting. Especially when done incorrectly or when you lift more than you can handle, heaving lifting puts a lot of extra weight on your back, duh. Sometimes, even if you lift correctly, lifting a lot of weight can tear or strain your muscles and compress the discs in your back. Compressed discs can cause a lot of problems, such as bulging or herniated discs. If you have back pain or if lifting heavy caused your back pain, stop lifting until your back heals. While your back is getting better, use weight machines because they are easier to lift weights with the proper form. If you don’t have access to a weight machine, lift light free weights with the correct posture and positioning until you can learn the right way to lift. That way when you’re ready to get back to heavy objects again, you’ll have less of a chance to strain your back because you’ll remember the correct way to lift.
Sit-ups and leg lifts. You might think that sit-ups would be good for your back because they strengthen your core. But sit-ups and leg lifts can actually put a lot of pressure on your lower back and could strain your back if your core isn’t strong enough. Try other core-strengthening exercises until you’re strong enough to do these exercises again.
Toe touches. Gentle stretching is actually good for your back pain. But often, toe touches are done in rapid motions within a workout, which puts extra strain on your muscles and can aggravate existing back problems like sciatica. Toe touching or repeatedly bending over can also overstress the ligaments and discs in your spine. Instead of doing toe touches quickly, stretch slowly on the ground. If any part of your workout causes you pain, stop. You shouldn’t overwork your body.
Cycling. A lot of cyclists have back pain. Their pain is caused by bad posture, inflexibility, or a lack of core strength. If you want to keep cycling, try stretching and exercising your core regularly. Exercise helps you strengthen the muscles in your back and prevents pain. You should also try getting your bike sized to fit your body. When you’re not cycling, focus on your posture at work, while driving, and even at the dinner table. If you just can’t stop riding that bike, when you’re cycling, tighten your abdomen to focus the pressure somewhere besides your back muscles.
Running. Running can also be good for your back, so just hear me out. Some say that running puts strain on your joints, tendons, and discs while others say that running healed their back. Everyone is different. If you have back pain while running, it could mean that you already have a herniated or damaged disc. If you find out that’s true, try walking briskly until your back heals. There could be other things about running that are causing you pain like the heel strike. Learning to run toe first might be better for your back. The bottom line is, if you experience pain while running, see a doctor, and they will let you know if you can keep running or if you need to go for walks instead.
The Superman pose. The Superman isn’t the best for your back, especially when you could just do the plank instead and strengthen your core muscles just as much. Doing the superman causes back extensions or hyperextensions. Replace this workout with the plank, and you will be good to go. Just make sure to keep your back straight and butt down while planking.
If you decide to ignore everything I just said, just make sure that when you do perform the activities listed above that you move slowly, use your abdominal muscles, and take some much-needed time to rest. Develop a workout routine that is consistent and includes a variety of exercises: core strengthening, low-impact cardio, and flexibility training. I will warn you again though. If you experience pain while doing these exercises or immediately after exercising, you might want to talk to a doctor about your back. Your muscles are trying to tell you something. Listen.