I am yet to come across a tradesmen that does not have some sort of niggling lower back pain either once a week or daily. The reason I am writing this blog is to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to live like that; in pain, tossing and turning each night as you try sleep. I’ve been there before.
Before I concentrated on my Fitness career, I was a roof plumber. I started an apprenticeship when I was 19 years old and saw the entire 4 years out; and then some. I know what it’s like to have back pain, I know how much it affects your general well-being and quality of work.
Something changed for me when I was 23. I learnt how to lift properly in the gym, which I was then able to carry out onto the job site. This is why we are called Functional Fitness; in short, we do exercises and lifts in the gym which increase your quality of life in the work force or just in general behaviour.
Let’s look at why the lower back cops all of the brunt.
Assuming that you have no pre-existing injury and just general tightness/pain. We hear all the time to bend your knees? It’s a pretty lazy comment to make. You can still bend your knee’s and lift something with your back taking all of the load. The most important thing you need to understand is “neutral spine” and “core activation”.
Neutral Spine or good posture applies to the three sections of the spine; Cervical, Thoracic & Lumbar. Meaning that all 33 vertebrae are completely in line. Below is the most common scenario. We have a massive flexion of the thoracic spine (mid-section) putting an extreme amount of pressure through the spinal cord from the Neck to the tailbone, putting an extreme amount of load on the spinal erectors and QL (lower back muscles). When in Neutral (notice head position, chest position through extension of thoracic and no pressure through lumbar. All loading through Quads, Hamstrings & Glutes.
Notice that a straight line can be drawn through the 3 points of contact (see below); Tailbone, Middle of Shoulder Blades & Back of head. Now you can see the curve of the spine… it’s pretty f#cking ugly when done incorrectly!! It’s more of an ’S’ shape which all tension on your spinal cord!
How do we get into Neutral Spine? You need to retract your shoulders blades (Pinch your shoulder blades together by activating your rhomboids) and point your chest upwards, be mindful not to shrug your shoulders up towards your ears as this may cause unwanted neck pain. Be mindful of your head/chin position. A great way to practice neutral spine with your head position is too bite your shirt! Sounds silly but effective, you will only need to do this for a week or so to re-train your motor neurone pattern.
Now, all of the above is all well and good in theory, but if you are unable to activate your core to it’s full potential, all of the above basically becomes irrelevant. You need to be able to “Turn your core on”, see link to video below. Basically we need to understand breathing pattern utilising the diaphragm as the primary intake (not your lungs), to activate your deeper core muscle group; not the beach muscle 6 pack that you see. You can still have a rockin’ 6 pack with a week as p#ss core!
To perform diaphragmatic breathing, lie on your back and breathe in through your nose (Your filter), and into your diaphragm/belly so to speak. As your belly rises, release the air out from your mouth and begin the process again. It takes quite sometime to master. Once you have done at least 10 repetitions of the above, I want you to take a big breath in through your nose and expand your diaphragm and hold the air. DO NOT LET ANY AIR OUT YET. Whilst holding the air in with your belly expanded, draw your belly button in towards your spine. Now the tricky part, start releasing air out through your mouth as you continue to draw your belly button in. As you let your last bit of air out and you still have your belly button tucked into towards your spine, your core is now activated!
The key is to do this on demand. You get better at it, it takes practice and this exercise alone will build your core better than any amount of sit ups. When we are born, we breathe through our diaphragm, as we get older and lazier, we decide that our lungs are easier to use.
Training to strengthen the posterior chain
Your posterior chain is what needs to be solid to allow you to lift heavy objects without injury. You chain is primarily made up of from your Hamstrings, Glutes, Spinal Erector’s and QL. (Quadratus lumborum) These 4 muscle’s must fire in that exact order when lifting an object. If your glutes fail to fire, then your spinal erectors will take more load than they’re meant to, creating pain/tension.
Performing Functional exercises re-trains motor neurone patterns (Muscles activating in proper sequence and pathways) providing they’re done correctly.
Some of the best functional exercises to strengthen the posterior chain are Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, Barbell Squat Variations, Glute-Ham Raise, Good Mornings, Back Extensions & Barbell Glute Bridge.
So you have 3 things to practice; Neutral Spine(Thoracic extension, head position), Core Activation (Diaphragmatic breathing) & Posterior Strengthening Exercises (listed above).
Be mindful of the way you lift, drive through your heels firing your hamstrings, glutes then push your hips forward as you get about half way up from the lift!
Watch our video on core activation here —-> http://bit.ly/CoreActivation