Properly trained, strengthened and stretched muscles provide support for our complicated skeletal system, especially the spine. According to the American Chiropractic Association, as much as 80% of the population experiences back pain of some variety at some point, and lower back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Creating the appropriate support system for your spine through strength training can prevent back injury, relieve current back pain, and minimize the severity of injury if it is incurred.
Fun fact, if you lay out the average adult human spine without supporting musculature, it can only support about 35 pounds. Okay, that fact is actually a little scary, but fear not! The rest of your weight is distributed through and supported by strong abdominal, oblique, back, shoulder and pelvic muscles, as well as the additional supporting tissues. Building strength in these muscle groups requires a balanced approach to training, targeting all of the different muscle groups while also maintaining their flexibility.
As we addressed in our blog post on the benefits of strong hamstrings, muscles work in pairs. Much like weak hamstrings leave the quads to do all the work and promote improper alignment, leaving any part of the spine’s support system untrained while focusing on the others can cause unnecessary strain and ultimately do more harm than good. Once you’ve strengthened the whole system, these muscles can provide the support necessary for the spine to progress through movements that stretch and twist the upper body.
The number of exercises out there for these different muscle groups is a bit intimidating. For back muscles, this article from Muscle & Fitness does an excellent job of breaking down the different muscle groups in the back, as well as suggesting specific workouts and emphasizing proper form. Core strength is a widely covered topic, but if you’re new to core work try out different plank variations. They are simple, use the whole core, and you can really do them anywhere. As far as glutes go, squats are king and come in a multitude of styles and levels of difficulty.
Powerful hips come from strong, stretchy hip flexors - the unsung heroes of much of the power necessary in weightlifting exercises. If you don’t know much and out your hip flexors, you can get to know them in this short article. As with all of these muscle groups (with all muscles groups, period), it's important to keep hip flexors both strong and flexible. Once you know a little more about your hip flexors you will actively notice if they are tighter than they should be, as this limits your range of motion pretty substantially.
Stretching out the muscles around your spine after working out is pretty simple and beneficial. Well-loved introductory yoga movements like cat-cow and half lord of the fishes pose are easy to grasp and can provide a quick stretch no matter where you are. This short slideshow provides some greater super-simple stretches to try out. The thing to remember with these stretches is that you have to be consistent and incredibly gentle. The last thing you want to do is force any of these stretches.
I hope that it goes without saying, but it might not: take your current and past health into account before doing any of these exercises or stretches! If you've suffered from past back injuries, no amount of articles can take the place of a knowledgeable physical therapist.
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