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How To Exercise For Spine Health

Have you ever returned home from the gym with sudden back pain? Have you ever finished your last rep of deadlifts just to collapse to the ground because you physically cannot come back up with the weight? This all starts with poor form when exercising. First and foremost, it is important to note that form and technique are two completely different things. Exercise technique is the way you perform a move to target a specific muscle group; exercise form is the way you perform a move to protect your joints and prevent injury. In this article, the focus is on exercise form and how important it is for back health. When performing any type of exercise that involves weights or cardio, your form is the most important thing to focus on. Exercising with proper form allows you to fully put your muscles to work while preventing injuries and pain.  

It is important to know the difference between good pain and bad pain after a workout. ‘Good pain’ includes muscle soreness from lactic acid buildup, and is common to experience after a workout. However, if you experience soreness, stiffness, or pain in your joints after a workout, this is a sign that an underlying issue is taking place.

Common Causes of Back Pain

Sprains and strains are the most common exercise-induced causes of low back pain. They are caused by overstretching and/or tearing ligaments. This can happen when twisting or lifting something improperly, lifting something that is too heavy for you, or when overstretching a muscle-joint group.

By bettering your form during exercise, you will have a better chance of preventing any back or spine injuries.

How Can I Practice Better Form?

Practicing your form when exercising is vital in preventing injury. It does not take a professional athlete to teach you proper form; in fact, even professionals constantly work on their form when exercising. Everyone needs to revisit the basics every once in a while, so don’t feel as if you are taking a step backward. Here are some tips to get you practicing better form:

  • Warm up. Wake up your muscles and joints by doing light-impact activities that focus on form. This can include walking on the treadmill, yoga, pilates, or other stretches that are easy on the spine. Don’t ever exercise without a proper stretching session first; consider this the introduction that your body needs in order to do more difficult exercises properly. If you can’t stretch properly, you probably can’t do the rest of your exercises properly – and this can be detrimental to spine health in the long-term. By incorporating a stretching routine before working out, you are keeping the muscles flexible in order to maintain the proper range of motions in the joints. However, keep in mind that it is possible to overstretch. It is incredibly important to know your limits, to not push yourself too hard, and to know when it’s time to rest. Remember: strength and flexibility comes with time, repetition, consistency, and practice. Be patient and keep a journal to record your progress!
  • Lift comfortably. When you get into weight lifting, start with weights that are very comfortable to you. If you have a hard time doing more than 6 reps to start with, then you should take off a few pounds. Start with a weight that you are able to do at least 10 reps with. Doing more reps with less weight is better for your joints than to do fewer reps with more weight. Focus on endurance while lifting, not sheer strength. When it comes down to it, the person who can lift for longer is better off than the person that can lift more weight for a shorter amount of time. Remember: you aren’t in the gym to impress anybody by how much you can lift; you are there to improve your joint health, so do it properly and set a good example for others!
  • Form, form, form! Here is the important part to remember. When you grab those weights or start that run, always think about your form. If you notice yourself slipping, fix yourself before you hurt yourself. Try to get into the habit of monitoring your form while you exercise; eventually, it’ll become like second nature and you won’t even think about it. Remember: it takes time to get used to the feeling of proper form. If you’ve been squatting wrong your whole life and suddenly do a proper squat, it can feel unnatural. Read up on proper exercise forms to ensure that you are working out properly. Remember: sometimes, exercising in proper form can feel much more difficult; this is because it ensures that the right muscle groups are being targeted and that you are putting your weight in the right places. Don’t give up – it’s better to do fewer reps with proper form than more reps with poor form.
  • Always stand straight & bend the knees. This is a great way for you to perfect balance. While your knees are bent, you can handle the extra weight you are adding to your body. By maintaining a straight back, you are preventing any neck or back injuries. Keep your back straight at all times and keep your knees slightly bent (never locked) when lifting.
  • Keep your head and neck aligned with your body. Pretend an apple is being held up by your chin and chest. Never look up at the ceiling when doing deadlifts or squats. It is important to keep your head aligned with your body so you aren’t closing the neural transmission along your spine. Look straight ahead while exercising – not at the ground or ceiling, and especially not sideways! It’s normal to want to check out your form in the mirror while exercising. However, try this instead: set up a video camera (or balance your phone against a wall) to record yourself while you exercise. Watch it later to see if your form is right, and make changes accordingly! This allows you to focus entirely on your body alignment while exercising and prevents distractions. Plus, it’ll make you want to do your best since you’re on camera!
  • Know when to stop. If you cannot continue to hold the correct form when finishing that last set or that last mile, it’s time to stop. Those who overwork their bodies are the ones who are most likely to experience back and spine injuries in the future. While many bodybuilders swear by this, don’t focus on reaching your ‘max weight’. As we mention above, endurance is more important than sheer strength. Pushing yourself to your breaking point will not get you anywhere. Trust the process and trust your body!

If you think you may have an exercise injury or are experiencing back pain, schedule a consultation with Dr. Hooman Melamed. Call today at (310) 928-2769 or go online! We’ll help you get your life back on track.