I know I promised you PART II of the self-testing for back pain this week but I wanted to share some GOLD I ran into over the weekend. Stay tuned for PART II this Thursday 🙂
What if the problem we face with back pain isn’t necessarily strengthening a weak muscle? What if it has more to do with correcting what has been jacked up for so many years? Thats exactly what I want to teach you how to do today!
Another guy I look up to and read a lot from is Dean Somerset over at www.deansomerset.com. He has developed a name for himself in the industry by helping tons of people like you and I get through common pains with fitness. One idea that came to mind while reading some of his work was this myth that I hear too often about back pain being linked to a muscle weakness. Your back hurts? Make it stronger…yeah, just make it stronger and that will do the trick.
That misconception of pain being caused by a lagging muscle makes total sense. I remember sitting in the doctors office for the first time getting the results from my MRI and listening to him describe what I did to my disc. At the time I was dead lifting over 400lb and squatting over 350. Which is A LOT compared to what I do now :(.
I sat there thinking what the heck was I not doing to cause my disc to fail? What didn’t I work or do enough of to maintain the “strength” I needed to keep my spine stable. I was dead lifting over 400lbs for pete’s sake!
Years go by and it finally clicks. What if it’s not so much the weakness in the muscles but the way I use them? What if on the path to creating these muscles I didn’t check other things like posture during my lifts or bad body mechanics…?
Well something that I have recently discovered about myself is I tend to favor extension. For years and years and years I can remember always putting myself into more of an extended position also known as “hinging” at whats called the thoracolumbar junction (we will just call it T-L Junction). I remember getting set to pull weight and basically shoving my butt back and up and trying to stick my belly button out to the bar (similar to a seasoned gymnast signaling to the judges before her floor routine). To me that’s what created a “tight and stable core”. So I would repeat this over and over with everything I did. To me, that was what a neutral spine was all about. Well, it landed me looking like this guy.
Can you see how everything is hiked forward? about an inch above his waist line you can see where that T-L Junction is and it’s almost at a hard angle instead of having natural slope. This is where compressive forces can do some serious damage. Especially if you’re loading your spine and getting into that hyper extended position.
So what do you do?
Well we need to work on resetting our posture and learning to use those deeper core muscles that have been napping all this time. Again, the main focus with correcting this hyper extended problem is about reprograming the muscles that are already there to do their job.
The first thing your going to do is get a feel for what hyper extension looks like. Often times we can judge this issue by looking at the rib cage. An easy way to do this is by having someone lift their arms straight above their head and taking a picture of them from a side profile. Just like this.
You can see the lower rib cage flaring out and that T-L Junction making a move to its “comfortable spot” which in this case causes back pain. Try this out for yourself. Get someone to snap a picture of you in this position and grade yourself or you can send it over to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to help you out!
Now, to fix this you’re going to do what are known as anti-extension exercises. These exercises are going to challenge your ability to stay out of extension. One exercise that both Dean and Dr. McGill use are variations of the Dead Bug. I want to show some love to Dean so check out his video below.
Place a small hand towel under the small of your back and try to smash it by not going into extension (you basically want your lower back as flat as possible over top of the towel). Once you have your rib cage locked in the down position (not flaring out) and your stomach is tight begin the variations seen in the video. One of the main goals of this exercises is to activate the lower abdominal muscles so your entire core is working as one solid unit. Often times with lordotic or hyperextended clients, their core is broken up into a strong upper abdominal area and weak lower abdominal area. In actuality, these muscles are all in the same it’s just that we don’t use them the way we should.
Another great anti-extension exercise can be seen here. Skip to the 2-minute mark where he starts talking about leg drops in a neutral spine position. I do the same thing in this video here, he just explains exactly what is going on
Remember, the goal of these movements is to take yourself OUT of extension and into a more neutral spine position. This is going to take time so don’t get discouraged. A good way to remind yourself throughout the day is to place a sticky note somewhere in your office that says “Lock down your rib cage” not only will your coworkers think your crazy but you will have a constant reminder of the changes you’re trying to make to your posture.
Hope this helps!
Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments below!! Find a friend with back pain and share this resource, you never know how it could change their life!