Back to basics
Danny O'Dell explains how to look after your back with consideration to posture and stretching exercises
As coaches, we are required to set an example to our athletes. Young athletes will copy our actions so correct demonstration of technique is essential. We will stress the correct posture when running, throwing, jumping etc but our standing or sitting posture is just as critical to the well-being of our backs.
Look at yourself in a mirror. Are your knees hyperextended? Are your shoulders rounded or your head lined up forward of your shoulders? If one or all of these conditions are present, then undue and correctable stress is being applied to your back.
Make your body stand tall by keeping the weight evenly distributed over both feet. Keep your knees from locking by keeping them in a slightly bent or 'soft' state. Maintain your shoulders up and positioned back and keep a slight arch in the low back area.
If you look at yourself standing sideways in front of a mirror, an imaginary line dropped from straight down from your ears should go through the middle of the shoulders, continue to the hips and end up at the mid-portion of your feet.
Sitting down posture is similar in that your feet are flat on the floor, a lumbar support is behind your lower back for support and you do not lean forward to conduct your business while sitting. The imaginary line will go straight down through the middle of the shoulder to the hip joint and directly to the floor. Refer to the chart for percentages while sitting down.
Sleeping on your stomach is not bad for you as long as you are comfortable doing it in this way. Refer to the chart for comparisons of the different positions while lying down.
Now that you are aware of some of the stresses on your back consider the way you lift objects. Do you lift and twist or bend over and pick something up without setting your back? Proper lifting techniques are just as important in daily activities as they are in lifting heavy iron in the gym. The correct way to lift is the safest way to protect your back from a preventable injury.
Lifting technique suggestions:
A few extra precautions as you begin, and continue, to lift throughout your life are as follows:
Each exercise session begins with the obligatory warm-up and ends with a cool-down period and then a stretching session. In this sequence, not warm-up, stretch, and then cool down. It is a scientific fact that you will lose up to 8% of your peak strength if you static stretch before you do a power movement.
The general warm-up should consist of light physical activity. Both the intensity and duration of the general warm-up (or how hard and how long) should be governed by the fitness level of the participating athlete. A correct general warm-up for the average person should take about five to ten minutes and result in a light sweat. The general warm-up aims to elevate the heart and respiratory rate. This, in turn, increases the blood flow and helps with the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This also helps to increase the muscle temperature, allowing for a more effective sport-specific stretch. Skipping is a great way to get moving.
Sport specific warm-up
With the first part of the warm-up carried out thoroughly and correctly, it is now safe to move onto the second part of an effective warm-up. In this part, the athlete is specifically preparing the body for the demands of their particular sport. During this part of the warm-up, more vigorous activity should be employed. Activities should reflect the types of movement and action that will be required during the sporting event. The sporting activity now begins. Afterwards, the stretching or flexibility takes place as the muscles, tendons and the rest of the body are in a much better position to increase the joint ranges of motion.
Gaining and maintaining your flexibility may assist in the prevention of back injuries. "Flexibility is defined as the range of motion (ROM) of a joint or a series of joints." Stated another way it is "the ability of a muscle to relax and yield to a stretch or force." More commonly, it means the ability to move freely without restriction throughout the full range of motion. Full ROM helps to eliminate uncoordinated and inefficient movements that can lead to an injury. The ultimate goal of flexibility training is to enhance strength patterns throughout the full range of motion. Limitations on the ROM depend upon several factors, some of which are not controllable by the person; age, sex, genetics, injury or disease status. And some of which are controllable by the person such as the tolerance to exercise, the level of commitment brought to the exercise sessions and the motivation one has to exercise and improve their health. Demonstrable changes result from a faithfully followed program, but the adaptation process takes about six weeks to occur. It is a lengthy process and there seems to be no way to hurry this adaptation phase along. Stretching the lower back begins, as do other exercise periods, with a general warm-up.
There are many different stretching protocols of various methods, but they can be placed into two categories: Active and Passive. An active stretch takes place when the person doing the stretching applies the force to engage in the stretch. Passive stretching, on the other hand, requires a partner or machine to supply the force for the stretch. Some of the various stretching methods are:
While stretching your lower back; ballistic and dynamic types of stretching are not appropriate as the speed is far too great for this area unless under controlled conditions. These conditions refer only to highly trained athletes with a superb conditioning base of physical fitness.
Static stretching offers these benefits for the back:
Static stretches are performed in the following fashion;
A few of the stretches that are useful to the healthy back are the hamstring stretches, the press up, groin stretch, cat arch, the lumbo-sacral stretch, the Williams flexion series, the prayer stretch, and the piriformis stretch. All of which can be found in many good stretching books. After the initial stretching and the full ROM are both achieved, it is time to begin strength training.
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About the Author
Danny O`Dell is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of several training manuals including The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength training Secrets, Composite training and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living a healthy fitness lifestyle.