In all likelihood you have experienced back pain at some point in your life, especially if you are over 50. Here are a few quick facts about back pain:
- Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide.
- One-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year.
- Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work.
- 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives.
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain
According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors for back pain include:
- Age. Back pain is more common as you get older.
- Lack of exercise. Weak back and core muscles can lead to back pain.
- Excess body weight puts extra stress on your back.
- Diseases. Some types of arthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain.
- Improper lifting techniques can lead to back pain.
- Smoking can keep your body from delivering enough nutrients to the disks in your back.
So, where do we start to reduce back pain? See your doctor first! Get a diagnoses to establish if there is any risk to starting a core strengthening program. (Yes, the core is where your training should begin.)
The first exercise for most individuals (everyone’s case is different) is to learn and practice core bracing. This is where you draw in the waist as if you are trying to fasten pants that are a bit too tight. This girdling creates pressure inside the abdomen which, in turn, supports the low back. Because this exercise supports the back and doesn’t bend and/or rotate the spine, it can usually be done with no harm to the back. You need to practice this to both strengthen the core muscles and to be able to call on that strength when needed.
In my experience, one of the best ways to “find” this bracing is to sit on the edge of a chair and then, while keeping your face straight forward, push the top of your head toward the ceiling. I call these “sit-talls” because that’s what you’re trying to do, sit as tall as you can. In order to be tall, you need to lengthen your spine. To do that, you need to draw in your navel toward your spine and that is the core bracing.
Once you learn what bracing is and how to do it, other static (non-movement) exercises can be incorporated to get you started on the road to better back function with less discomfort.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Snap, “I’ve got the power.” came to mind as I was thinking about power training. Oh, and how many of you remember Power Man, the super hero that recently made a comeback on Netflix’s “Luke Cage”? hmmn? I digress… The point is power. Did you know that power training is one of the most important things you can do as you get older? Let’s back up and start by defining what is meant by power. Power is Force x Distance divided by time or… for the rest of us, it’s not just how much weight we can move from one point to another, but also how fast. So, power training has speed as a key component. Why is that important to train as we get older? There’s research that suggests that power is even more closely associated with a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living than even strength. Well, strength is just one part of power and not only is it important to be able to move weight (like your bodyweight), but also to move it quickly.
Power is also relative. We don’t need to be able to dunk a basketball, but if we want to play sports, acceleration is power. That acceleration may be swinging a golf club or throwing a kick in martial arts. It’s also being able to get out of the way of an oncoming car, or react quick enough to not fall when we’re off balance.
Power training is about utilizing explosive exercises. This can take many forms including jumps or throws. A cautionary note, however, power movements are high-intensity and having a proper progression to keep you safe and maximize your results is essential. Work with a certified personal trainer to make sure you’re on the right track.
Is power training part of your program? Let me know what kinds of things you’re doing in the comments below.
As a personal trainer, I’ll ask clients what their goals are and occasionally I get an answer like, “At my age, I’ll be happy if I can just go up and down the stairs without getting winded.” Then I’ll look back down at their medical history and see that they are only 52. This always prompts me to ask, “How many years do you think you have left?” Usually they will say they hope to live into their 80’s or 90’s. Well that’s thirty to forty years to go. What are those years going to look like? Are you going to spend twenty years in a walker or a wheelchair? That doesn’t sound like much fun. Just because we’ve hit 50 (or 60, or 70…) doesn’t suddenly mean that we are done, that we are no longer physical beings.
The truth is that we have been conditioned by what has come before. In our parents era, it was believed that we would lose a certain % of our muscle and flexibility and gain a certain % of fat every decade beyond our twenties. Pretty depressing. Well, the truth is that we would see those declines when we slowed down and didn’t continue to challenge ourselves physically. Think about it. We finished playing our sports in high school and college, got a 9-5 job, got home after work and just wanted to relax. As we did less, we are able to do less. It truly is “use it or lose it.” The good news is that most of what we saw as age related declines (also called sarcopenia) were because of the activity decreases and that does not need to be our fate. Whether you have been on that downward slope or just want to make sure you stay off that path as long as you can, the right exercises and diet can keep you fit and able to do what you want well into our final years.
Back to the original question, how many years do you have left? Here’s the follow up question, of those years, how many of them would you like to still be able to do what you want and enjoy? You can choose how you want those years to play out. Don’t settle for climbing stairs when you can climb mountains.