Protect Your Back

A few easy steps to ensure your back’s good health when you’re working out.

BodyYou’re having an amazing workout, when suddenly everything stops. A stinging sensation moves from your leg all the way up your back, sending paralyzing pain through your body. Could the pain have been prevented? Probably. Here are two tips to help you do just that.

Stretch It Out

Before beginning an exercise routine, stretching your body out slowly is still one of the best ways to prevent injury. To stretch out your back, try the following:

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground, knees bent, and both hands resting on your chest. Then allow both legs to fall gently to one side of your body, while keeping your body in its original position. Raise your legs back to the starting position and allow them to fall to the other side. Hold each stretch for 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Lie on your back, feet flat on the ground, knees bent. Pull one knee to your chest at a time, holding for 15 seconds. Repeat for the other leg, and then pull both knees to your chest for one or two repetitions.
  • Resting on your hands and knees, relax your back and let it sag toward the ground while keeping your arms and legs in their original position. Once your back is as far down as it is going to be, bring your back to its original position and slowly arch your back like a cat toward the ceiling. Repeat two or three times.

Strengthen Your Core

In addition to stretching out your back, you should also actively work to strengthen your back. To do this, you’ll need to strengthen the muscles that protect your back – the core muscles. However, if you’re suffering from back pain, you should avoid some of the most common exercises that focus on the abdominal muscles, such as sit-ups (both regular and partial sit-ups) and lifting both of your legs in the air while lying on your back. You should also avoid other exercises that result in back pain or demand a lot from your back, such as standing toe touches.

If you aren’t experiencing back pain, any exercise that helps your core grow stronger is going to help you avoid back pain in the future. At the same time, you can go a long way toward protecting your back by performing other exercises properly and not involving your back in exercises that aren’t meant to work the back.

When Prevention Isn’t Enough

Despite your greatest attempts, you won’t be able to avoid back pain every time. When you begin to hurt in your back, you can often help your back pain feel better at home. A good first step is to ice your back. After a couple of days, you can alternate ice with heat.

While you may think staying in bed will help your back recover, taking bed rest will actually prolong the time it takes for your back to feel better. Instead, stay moderately active, being careful not to further injure your back. In the event your back pain doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, seek medical attention, as it may require more intensive care than you can provide on your own.

When the Pain Is Too Much

If you’re suffering from unbearable back pain but want to stay fit, there’s good news. Getting some exercise is one of the best things for your back pain. You just have to choose carefully.

For most people with back pain, walking is a great way to stay active. But for those who can’t handle walking because of never-ending back pain, swimming in a pool is a great alternative that is usually tolerable no matter how much pain you’re in on land. So when the pain becomes too much for you to bear exercise, hit the pool!

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Reduce Exercise Muscle Soreness

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Many people should probably exercise more often and with more intensity. Now is the time to kick excuses out the door, because you’re about to learn how to reduce your risk of sore muscles. You’ll feel so good that you will be motivated to make time in your day to exercise. So get started!

Okay, so now you might be thinking about where to start. Should you warm up or stretch first? Here’s the simple answer – both.

Start with a good warm-up to lower your risk of having sore muscles the next day. Warming up your muscles (especially the major muscle groups you’ll be using during exercise) is one of the best ways to prevent muscle stiffness and injury. A good warm-up consists of moving your body by slowly walking, gently jogging, and light participation in the activity you’re warming up for. The goal is to increase your heart rate a little bit, which increases your muscles’ temperature so they move more easily. Your warm-up period doesn’t have to take long, either. Five minutes or so will do the trick.

Once you’ve revved up your body with a good warm-up, you’re ready to start stretching. Stretches are most beneficial when you hold them for at least 30 seconds, but a good rule of thumb is to start by holding a stretch for just five seconds and work your way up to 30 seconds as your body gets used to the stretching and exercise. As you stretch, be sure not to bounce as this action can increase your risk of injury. If you’re not sure how to stretch or you want to make sure you are performing your warm-up and stretching properly, visit your local gym for advice.

It’s true that the warm-up period of your exercise is more self explanatory than stretching, so here are a few simple stretching techniques and positions that may help.

Calf stretch – This is a great stretch if you’re going to be using your legs during exercise, such as when you run or play many team sports. Begin this stretch by facing and standing about two feet away from a wall. With your heels flat and your back straight, slowly lean forward and press your hands and forehead against the wall. You should feel this stretch in your calf right above your ankles.

Hamstring stretch – You’ve likely heard of a lot of people who get hamstring injuries, so this exercise is obviously very important. Lie with your back flat on the floor and both knees bent. With your feet flat on the floor, slowly bend your right knee up to your chest, place both hands behind your right thigh and then extend your leg upward. You should feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Repeat this exercise with the left leg.

Neck stretch – This is a good stretch if you’re going to be working out your upper body, especially the shoulders. Standing upright, hang both arms by your side. Then take one arm and twist your palm so it is facing out. At the same time, grasp your head with your other hand and gently pull your ear toward your shoulder. Stop and hold when you feel the first signs of stretching along the side of your neck. Repeat on the other side.

Okay, there’s no time for excuses anymore now that you know how to warm up and stretch. Get out there and get moving and have a great time – you’re going to feel great!

The Other Side of Warming Up

Yes, that’s right. Warming up and stretching are not the only parts of a healthy work out plan. Cooling down is just as essential if you want to prevent injury and sore muscles the next day. Just like you spent a few minutes warming up your body and your muscles in order to exercise them, you should take at least five minutes to cool down the temperature in your body and muscles after a good work out.

Walking is a great way to end your exercise session, and you can even utilize many of the same stretches to cool down as you did to warm up. With a cool-down period, you give your body a few minutes to relax and return to normal functioning after exercise.

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