For anybody who is new to the game they may not realize that all gyms get crazy busy come the New Year. People are always looking to get in shape and it always seems like a good place to start. This is certainly the case, but it is important to keep a few things in mind to make sure that this is a sustainable practice. Being in physical therapy we are of course talking about how to keep in the gym for the long haul without injury and since 85% of people will experience back pain in their lifetime this seems like a good place to start.
Let’s explore the top 4 ways that you really can avoid back injury and really help you kick the New Year off right. We do love to see you, but would rather show you the best practices to help avoid physical therapy.
1. Get Some Help: This is probably the biggest thing that you can do in the gym that will really help you out overall, not just avoid back injuries. Finding a trainer (or physical therapist) that can show you what to do is a must. Investing money in this will save you a lot in the long run from avoiding having to go to the doctor, get imaging, miss work and physical therapy to get back to where you were in the first place. What you need to learn:
- What to do: This of course is a pretty broad topic, but what I am referring to are what it is that you need to do for your body to correct any imbalances as well as help progress your exercises. Doing the same thing week in and week out will keep your body right where it is. On the same token, if you avoid certain movement patterns this can really bring you out of balance. One thing that is often neglected or trained improperly is the low back. Be sure to learn what you need to do to avoid injury.
- Proper Form: Sure this seems pretty obvious, but I can count on one hand the number of people that have come into our office that use proper form with just about any movement. There are always cues for proper form and when it comes to the low back this is something that is very sensitive as being off just a little can do a lot of damage. It also must be noted that just because an exercise does not seem to be targeting the low back, does not mean that not doing it properly cannot affect the back greatly. Learn and use good form with all movements.
2. Limit Your Machine Use: This is one that most people do not see coming, but is another critical step in your avoiding a back injury. It is often thought that it will help support the back and to an extent this is true, but this is not a good thing. Because machines limit your recruitment of inner unit stabilizers (multifidus, rectus abdominis, pelvic floor and diaphragm) these muscles start to turn off, get weak and don’t work when you actually need them, but unfortunately this can be too late and you end up getting injured. Next, the question that always comes up is what to I do. Well go back to step one and ask for some help of course!
3. Train Your Inner Unit: While this is not an article on how to train the inner unit, there are a few simple things that you can focus on to help get the ball rolling.
- Learn to Breathe Properly: If there is one exercise that you are going to do in order to help protect your low back from injury this is it. This is something that you do about 25,000 times per day, so you better get it right and because of where the diaphragm attaches on the low back it is critical in keeping it stable.
- Do Exercises in Quadruped: These are a slew of exercises that are done on your hands and knees. They are a great way to help isolate the smaller stabilizer muscles to help progress you into properly stabilizing your low back with bigger movements, both in the gym and around the house or at work.
4. Don’t Progress to Fast: Wait, isn’t moving forward and getting stronger always a good thing? Yes! It is, but as long as you progress so that all of your muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and fascia can adapt properly. What this means is that you want to be able to progress about 1%-3% either in weight used or repetitions completed each week with a given exercise or workout. If you are progressing slower than this, then your program is probably not structured right (again see step 1 for help) or you are not recovering fully and need to take a dive into things like nutrition and sleep. If you can go up more than 4%, just save it and take that increase the following week. This is all about the longevity game and keeping that back healthy!
For those of you who are looking for a little more info on preventing low back pain both in and out of the gym then check out our Free Low Back Pain Video Course. Through the course and following the steps above you will be well on your way to keeping your back strong and avoiding injury as you hit the gym.
If you are ready to get started right away then do not hesitate to give a call at 610-841-3555 and get started on the path to healing right away.
That’s all for now! Feel free to post any questions in the comments section below and if you sign up for a course you will be able to get to stay on top of all things Robbins Rehab!