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Whether you are sedentary for most of the day or a highly active person it is possible to develop back pain. If your pain isn't the result of a specific injury but is the kind of pain your doctor may term "non-specific" then you need corrective exercise.
A corrective exercise is one that helps to re-balance the body and reduce compensatory movements. By re-balance I mean strength imbalances, certain muscle groups may be weaker or less sensitised and therefore need to be trained more specifically to reduce compensation and improve recruitment patterning. That is where corrective exercise comes in.
These are the kinds of exercises you should be including in either your warm ups or your accessory work at the end of a gym session, if not both. One such exercise is the loaded carry. Loaded carries come in various forms and I'm going to show you a few variations here.
First off you have the basic carry, known as a farmer's walk because it looks like you're carrying a couple of pales of milk.
It's important to get your form right, so you should hinge the hips and keep the spine in neutral position, this means no flexing or rounding of the back. Grab the weights, but don't lift them just yet.
Once in that position, slightly shift your weight back towards your heels and (if necessary) shift your hips back and up slightly until you feel tension in your hamstrings. Squeeze your arm pits, lift your chest until you are almost arching your mid-spine and keep everything nice and tight.
You're not pulling the weight up with your arms, you're stabilising the spine with your core muscles and then think about driving your feet through the floor to extend the hips. This way you lift with your hips and not your back. It's basically a deadlift and just like a deadlift the set-up is as important as the last rep. Make sure you reset each rep.
Now, stand tall with your chest up and your shoulders down, slightly flare your Lats (imagine you are holding rolled up news papers under your armpits) and walk.
Pick a distance, if your gym has a track in it you can walk from one end to the next, set the weights down and then turn around, lift and walk back. Do this several times. Many gyms have a carpeted track for just such exercises, this is usually the area where they have battle ropes and, if it's that sort of gym, prowler sleds. An ideal length is at least 15m, but you could just aim for 20-odd paces or walk for 20-30 seconds continually. If you can't do it in a straight line just walk in a circle around the room.
I like to use a variation called the suitcase carry. This is where you carry a weight in one hand only. The reason for this is to create "anti-rotation" - if you read this blog then you understand why anti-rotation is important, especially if you suffer with back pain - This is where the lateral muscles of the core have to engage to prevent unnecessary movement of the spine.
It's great for stabilising the lower back. It's one of the exercises in my Back-Pain Solution. The same rules apply here, as with the Farmer Walk, with the obvious exception being that uni-lateral unweighted/weighted element. Picking the kettlebell up is like a suitcase deadlift, again don't rush the set-up.
Now, if these aren't challenging enough for you and you are a recreational athlete aspiring to Herculean levels of strength and fitness then there's the Cook Carry. Created by famed physiotherapist Gray Cook. He claims that if more people did loaded carries there would be less need for corrective exercises
A bold claim but he's worked with thousands of athletes so who am I to question? Here's a clip of him explaining his principles of stability:
The Cook Carry is a waiter's carry, where you hold the kettlebell overhead, set a timer for 12-minutes or so and walk around as long as you can until your form breaks and you are no longer able to hold the weight overhead with stability. Then, bring the kettlebell down to rack position, continue until your form starts to go and then bring the kettlebell down into a suitcase carry.
Do that on both sides and it's a workout in itself.
I used to say that if you only do one strength exercise you should do heavy deadlifts. I still love deadlifts but I now believe that loaded carries are the one. If everyone did these, and I do mean EVERYONE (even your mum) many health problems, especially those associated with age related physical decline would drop massively. Sure, a loaded carry won't build muscle, it's not for aesthetics, but it will increase core stiffness, full body strength and bone density - all of the things an ageing individual or an elite athlete needs.
I mean, just look at it! What exercise has more of a functional carry-over to daily living than one that trains you to be better at carrying bags of shopping, luggage or drinks trays?
Couple these with a healthy diet and a good night's sleep, and you may just evade the onset of sarcopenia, osteoporosis, chronic back pain, adult-onset diabetes and other chronic conditions. Try incorporating loaded carries into your workouts and see how everything else improves as a result. Including your back pain.
Learn to remove your back pain; check out my online program the Back-Pain Solution
Or, if you want to get into kettlebell training then try my 6-week kettlebell challenge
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- Coach Troy
OK, you’re not an idiot not as much as me anyway. But, I want to explain a really simple template for programming your workouts. It’s super easy to over complicate these things, so this blog is going to be a basic step by step guide on how to put together your own training plans, why you should program it that way and also how a trainer can involve their clients in the process.
First off, you need to understand your goals. I mean, if you want to enter a bodybuilding competition and you’re running 20k per day you’re going to look shit on stage aren’t you? So, when it comes to deciding on exercise goals use the SMART template. This video explains more:
Enjoy that? Good. So, essentially you have to know what it is you want to achieve, why that’s important to you and then you reverse engineer the process. The process goals are the actions you have to take in order to reach the desired outcome. Easy right?
It may come as some surprise to you that I have long suffered with lower back pain. It has taken me years to get to the bottom of it and although I still experience occasional flare ups I now have a good strategy for dealing with it and getting back to normality as quickly as possible.
Without boring you too much with lots of technical anatomy information let me just explain this. The joints in the body alternate between mobile and stable in an ideal world. The lower back, or lumbar, has a tremendous range of motion compared with other parts of the spine. 40-60˚of flexion 20-30˚ of extension, 15-20˚ of lateral flexion and 3-18˚ of rotation. Yet, the lumbar spine should be a stable joint and the problem for many people who develop chronic “non-specific” back pain is that their lumbar has become unstable. The reasons for this are many but if the hips and mid-spine, or thoracic, have become stiff and immobile the lumbar will compensate for much of that lost range.
If your lower back flares up and becomes painful, you would likely benefit more from doing some simple mobility exercises for the t-spine and hips and avoiding stretching the lower back completely.