Back pain and strength training can go hand in hand if you don’t know what to avoid or assess prior to starting a program. It’s important to know that with the right approach and knowledge, chances of back pain can be avoided all together.
Have you ever gone to tie up your shoes or pick up a pen and felt your back “go out”? This is all too common these days with people not moving well, sitting for a living and not learning correct techniques in the gym.
Don’t get angry at the pen or the shoes you are trying to tie up! They are only the straw that broke the camel’s back! Last time I checked, a pen didn’t weigh that much and tying a knot wasn’t exactly the most gruelling task… So why did it hurt only after that specific event?
There can be several reasons why, but the most common one that I see is the accumulation of poor movement over time. Joints and structures of the body have an optimal way of cohesively working together, however when weakness, tightness, structural limitations or poor motor control interferes, this is where things start to go wrong.
As the saying goes, “It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.” You might be lucky enough to get away with bad exercise form or not taking into account the above-mentioned factors, but it’s only a matter of time before neglect comes to bite you in the back!
For anyone who has experienced significant back pain, you know that it’s one of the most debilitating injuries that can keep you from doing even the most sedentary tasks. Unfortunately, people only start to pay attention or read articles like this once they have experienced this type of back pain, when they could have avoided it if they took the right precautions.
The sad thing I see is people training for a period of time only to get hurt, then see their rehab specialist, and months later, the same cycle continues. Getting injured and having repeated visits to the rehab specialist isn’t an acceptable solution. If you’re seeing a rehab specialist for long periods of time, then you need to be asking yourself, “Are they really fixing me? Or am I doing something out of their control that is putting me back to square one? I.e. poor exercise technique.”
Remember prevention is better than cure, so don’t get
trapped into the reactionary treatment process of always needing to be “fixed.” It is important to note that these are generalised statements and there are always exceptions with diseases and conditions depending on the individual.
The majority of back injuries in the gym com
e from axial loading, which is a fancy way of saying when your spine is loaded with weights. So it’s imperative that we look at these exercises with a fine toothcomb, in particular squats, deadlifts, lunges, bent over rows and any type of overhead pressing. When done correctly, back pain or injuries are not an issue, however when done incorrectly, they can be very compromising.
For the vast population, there is no reason why back pain should be an accepted recurring part of training. Train smarter and you will train longer!
If you want to assess your risk for a back injury, when strength training see below.
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Here are 4 tips to train smarter and avoid back pain:
- Technique is king – Poor form or bad movement is the single most effective way to reduce the chances of injury or back pain. People skip over this and think, “Yeah… but my form is good! I go up and down in my squat, what else is there to do?!” Squats and deadlifts are simple primal movements, but at the same time they’re technical lifts that require respect and care with no exceptions. Knowing what a perfect rep looks like will help you assess what might be going wrong with your technique.
- Video yourself – This might sound a little narcissistic but believe me, you will see things that you weren’t aware you were even doing. Make sure you take multiple angles. Posting it online can also be a way of gaining wanted and unwanted feedback on your form. There is no shortage of people with opinions on the Internet. Just make sure they have the credentials or experience when taking their advice.
- Strategies for heavy weights – As Mike Tyson famously said “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s much the same with heavy weights/maximal loading. You might have the most picture perfect squat until the load gets heavy and your plans/form goes out the window. You need to develop the skills and strategies to maintain a safe technique otherwise injuries are imminent. It’s crucial to understand breathing and developing tightness throughout all axial loading lifts.
- Check the ankle and thoracic spine – Now there can be many other joints and structures that can be assessed when qualifying for specific exercises, but these are the two areas that I have found present the most problems for creating back pain and bad form in the gym. They are a must to understand.
Remember, lift smarter and you will lift longer.