Next to sore throats, back pain is America’s most common ailment. It’s nature’s fault-we’re really not built to stand and sit erect. But since we can’t zap ourselves a few million evolutionary years into the future, the best way around back pain is to work toward proper posture. Proper posture is a learned, athletic skill; like any athletic skill, it involves muscular support and awareness. Weight training can help you develop the muscles you need for good posture, and you can work out with weights whether your back is healthy or in need of rehabilitation. (If you have a bad back, check with your doctor first.)
Measure yourself when you get up and before you go to bed, and chances are you’ll have shrunk: Gravity spends the day compressing your spine. To keep your back healthy stretch it several times a day. Stretching your spine, then twisting it gently while it’s elongated, rehydrates your spinal disks,” says Ongenius.
Stretching is easy to do in the weight room. Using the lat pulldown machine, stack on weight that exceeds your body weight. Position the thigh bar so you’re held snugly in place, grab the bar and hang-don’t worry if your buttocks lift.
if your wrists are too weak to hold onto the bar, try hanging from straps attached to it. Hang for about 30 seconds, then rotate your rib cage gently to the right. Keep your pelvis facing forward by pressing your left buttock into the seat, and breathe deeply and evenly. Rotate for 15 seconds, then reverse. Make sure you’re hanging evenly (have someone check you from behind), and don’t roll your pelvis forward, which forces your lower back to arch.
If you currently have back pain, start your workout with this exercise, and return to it any time pain recurs. If you’re pain-free right now, incorporate this stretch into your workout to help prevent future problems. Follow the stretch with an overall body warmup.
BUILDING BACK STRENGTH
If you have back pain, chances are your back and abdominal muscles are weak. Strengthening them will speed up your recovery and make you less susceptible to a relapse.
The hyperextension bench is an excellent tool for strengthening the lower back. if you’re injured, lie so your navel is at the edge of the pad. Place your hands on your shoulders, lower to 45 degrees, then lift to parallel and hold for five counts. Never lift above the parallel position if you have an injury
Do as many lowerings and lifts as you can. If you can easily do more than 10, hold a weight behind your head. When the set is completed, let your whole pelvis slide off the pad and hang with your head toward the floor to stretch your back. You’ll probably experience some tightness in your lower back after completing this exercise; this is a sign your back muscles are working. To alleviate the tightness, stretch on the lat machine.
To strengthen a healthy back, position your pelvis farther forward on the pad. You may lift higher than parallel (to tone gluteus and hamstring muscles) if your back is pain-free.
Strong back muscles are useless without strong abdominals-together, they hold your spine in proper alignment. Strengthening abdominals is a three-part process: You need to work your lower abs, obliques, and upper abs. Use the knee-up machine for lower abs. Keeping your whole back flush against the pad, bring your knees toward your belly, then push your legs out to a diagonal. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Do two sets of as many as you can.
For obliques, use the tricep pressdown machine with the rope grip. Kneel on the floor with your back straight, and pull the rope handles down to your ears. Using your stomach muscles, bring your left elbow toward your right knee; your back will round. Repeat 25 times, then switch sides. If you can easily manage sets of 25, add more weight.
To tone upper abdominals, lie on your back with your knees at a right angle over a bench. Contracting your abdominals, lift until your shoulder blades clear the floor. Start with two sets of 1 0; work u p to as many as you can do.
Developing correct posture and body awareness is the key to alleviating back pain. If your back hurts while you’re lifting, listen to it: That pain is telling you your form is wrong. Train wisely, and you’ll develop the muscular support your back needs to be healthy.