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Real Life Nutrition Questions Answered

Real Life Fitness Questions Answered

Emma Brown
Nutritionist

Janet Aylott
Nutritionist

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant

Q.

What can I do about my bad back?

Hi, I've been having painful back spasms at night which seem to be improving now, but instead my back aches from bending down and sitting at the computer. I visited a physio and he said I have a joint sprain which is about waist level. Unfortunately he didn't give me any exercises but recommended I go back several more times - which I can't afford to do! Do you have any very gentle core strengthening exercises that I can do without making my back worse? Thank you!

A.

Our expert says...

Hi,

With all abdominal/core strengthening exercises it is very easy to activate already over tight muscles (not necessarily the right ones!) and put the lower back muscles under stress. This is why people commonly experience lower back pain/problems when doing or after doing abdominal exercises. The key thing about core training is the technique of how it is done? i.e. the speed at which its done, attention given to the right muscles and the control used.

I recommend you start with some specific exercises designed to improve the strength of your core muscles and your butt muscles – both of which are responsible for protecting your back and preventing it being overworked and injured. Once your ‘core’ is stronger you will find that you will be able to do other activities like swimming etc with minimal repercussions / stress on your back. There are four exercises I suggest you could start with:

1) On a DAILY basis you need to be training your deepest abdominal muscles (transverse abdominals and pelvic floor) so practice the 'drawing-in manoeuvre' as often as you remember. You can do this anywhere (nobody will know!) and it is great to do when you're in a car or at a desk (i.e. any sedentary position), simply start by taking a breath in and as you do, draw your belly button in towards spine.

You should feel a tension develop in your midriff (like you have put a belt on!), then as you breathe out, keep your belly button drawn towards your spine and breathe normally. Hold the tension for as long as you remember, although it won’t be long to start with. The more you practice this manoeuvre the more automatic it will become. By strengthening your TVA and retraining it to automatically activate and stay where it should, you can visibly reduce the size of your waist as well as protect your lumbar spine in the long-term.

2) Practice an exercise called the plank which involves firstly lying in a prone position with your elbows underneath your shoulders. Ensure you activate your core using the drawing-in manoeuvre, (as described above) then lift your bum up off the floor till it sits at the same height as your shoulders.

You should resemble a plank-type position with a straight back with your elbows, forearms and knees in contact with the floor. If you have your bellybuttons pulled in towards your spine and have lifted your bum high enough off the floor you should feel a tension and demand placed on the abdominals but not the lower back. When you have this position than simply try to hold it for as long as you can. This exercise trains your core muscles to stabilize your spine and strengthen to protect against the overuse of the lower back muscles.

NOTE: if you have a very weak core - which is very likely with recent back injury or chronic lower back pain - then you may well feel your lower back muscles help to hold your body in the plank position to start with. Do not work through it and focus on the abdominals and lifting the bum up towards the ceiling. This is NOT an exercise for your back it is an exercise for your core muscles! When you reach a point during the exercise where you can feel the lower back helping and can’t get the abdominal muscles to work any harder than that is the time to stop and rest!

The plank can be performed on a daily basis with two sets of up to a 1 minute hold (work up to it!) being performed with 30seconds rest in between sets. You will notice a significant difference in the size of your waist as well as your chronic lower back pain through this exercise. It is phenomenal!

3) Floor Shoulder Bridge and 4) single leg toe touches: The details for both of the above exercises are available (with pictures) on the website’s “resources” page, under the home exercise article section. Have a look and put the exercises together in a mini circuit so you would perform one set of shoulder bridge, followed immediately by single leg toe touches and then repeat this pattern 1-2 more times, so in total doing each exercise 2-3 sets. These two exercises are a phenomenal starting point to targeting the core and butt.

Once you are proficient with both then you can try progressing the shoulder bridge exercise and make it even more specific for inner thighs. Do this by simply adding a cushion between the knees and squeezing it as you perform the original shoulder bridge movement. This really fires up the adductor (inner thigh) muscles, in addition to your core and butt muscles!

If you find you are unable to do the above suggestions due to back pain (even when performed with disciplined technique) then you need to make some personal changes to your finances to allow you further treatment from a sports therapist or physiotherapist and get your muscle spasm released and reset effectively and fully.

Hope this helps,

Kelly

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