Reduce Low Back Pain With This Exercise!

January 8, 2018

What’s up Rockaholics! Happy New Year!

How is your habit of doing 10 squats and drinking a glass of water every morning when you wake up going??

Hope you enjoyed my first Down With The Fitness Vlog last week. I think that’s a good way for me to keep pumping out content consistently, since these blogs that go over exercises can be a little-time consuming to put together.

If this is your first time checking out Down With The Fitness, welcome! You can check out all my past blogs here.

I'd recommend starting with this one. Using the links at the bottom of each blog, it will take you through all the exercises I've already covered, in order, and guide you on how to set up your own daily exercise routine!

You can also sort exercises by lower body, upper body, and core.

Last week I got a message from the beautiful and talented Intisaar. You may know that Intisaar is an awesome band, but the name of the band is also the name of their lead-singer. Intisaar the lead singer of Intisaar is the one who messaged me, not the whole band Intisaar. Got it...? Good.

She wanted advice on how to jump-start the process of getting healthier. She’s “starting from nothing”, wants more energy, has some low back issues, and belongs to a gym.

I thought that sounded like a lot of people and my response could benefit those people, so here it is (slightly edited):

Okay, to help your low back I'd recommend core exercises. I've written blogs about 2 of my favorites that are particularly helpful for the lower back... The Plank and Dead Bugs.

The first thing to do is to learn how to "engage/brace your core" which is basically flexing all the muscles from your abs down to your spine. Think about holding in, or pushing out, a fart! Feel those muscles working? Boom. 2 slightly different sensations that essentially accomplish the same thing. There are minor (dis/)advantages to each. Use whichever feels more natural.

Now do that while DEEPLY breathing into your stomach. Maintain tension while you breathe out forcefully (think blowing up a balloon). Adding breathing to it without breaking tension takes some practice at first. That’s fine. You got time. Figure it out.

Then you can hold that core positioning with the plank and dead bugs (which make it more challenging using gravity and leverage, respectively). Those can be done at home and for best results should be done daily. Although whatever you do will be better than nothing so really, just as much as possible.

That will help everything else I'd recommend, which for now would be going to the gym a couple times a week and just experimenting with different weight exercises, finding ones you like and feel comfortable with. Machines are fine, but many find them boring so I prefer bodyweight and free weight stuff.

Outside of those core exercises, which will specifically help your low-back, the key is simply finding physical activity you genuinely enjoy doing and thus will do consistently.

Like what you would WANT to do 5x a week?

It can be as simple as walking, or yoga, or swimming. I know some of that's super vague, but hopefully the more concrete suggestions will be a good starting point for you to begin experimenting with things to find something you like (my blog is a good starting point for bodyweight exercises, and will continue to have even more in 2018), while helping your low back in the meantime.

As for nutrition/energy: Top 5 habits to build (in any order, start with what you feel most likely to succeed with):

  • Hydrate! Start w/ half gal a day and try to work up to a full one. If that’s too much to start, add a glass when you wake up, another before meals, and another before you go to sleep.
  • Eat more veggies! 4 fist-sized servings a day is a good goal.
  • Eat more protein! 3-4 palm-sized servings a day is a good goal.
  • Eat slower! Simple AF, but takes some conscious effort. Try adding 5-10 minutes to a meal, put your utensils/food down after every bite, finish chewing every bite, chew slower. (I suck at this one!)
  • Eat til you're 80% full. If that’s tough to sense, it’s because you’re used to just rifling things down. See the above recommendation.

There's a lot of stuff for you to try. Sort through it all at your own pace, experiment away!

If you stayed committed to trying all these things and finding ways to make them regular parts of your life- consider 2018 one big experiment- by this time next year you’ll definitely be healthier. More importantly you’ll have a REAL good idea of how you’re going to keep moving forward.

People quit cuz they're trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, forcing exercise programs and diets that they don't like. There are a million and one approaches to both, and the one thing all their success stories all have in common is consistency. So find what you can be consistent with!

If you haven’t found something, keep experimenting! Time is the ultimate variable.

Let me know if you've got any questions!

Alright on that note, how about a new core exercise that will be helpful for everyone, especially people like Intisaar with low-back pain?

Today’s I’m going to show you how I like to do the side-plank. It is going to be very similar to the plank I already went over here so if you missed that or need to brush up, now’s a good time to go check it out. There’s a hyperlink above but here it is again.

The plank, dead-bug, and side plank are three of the best exercises for core strength, period. Certainly in terms of body-weight exercises that are scalable for all fitness levels, these are the Three Musketeers. Except instead of the King of France, they protect your spine.

3 Focus Points:

  • Positioning. Think about creating a straight line from your ear to your bottom ankle, with your elbow directly beneath your shoulder. Feet should be lined up heel-to-toe with the top leg in front. This will give you more stability, allowing you to “own” the position more, so you can focus on ratcheting up the intensity:
  • Intensity. 10/10! Focus on creating as much tension as you can by bracing your core and squeezing your butt cheeks like it’s nobody’s business! You’ll get WAY more bang for your buck holding this for less time, than trying to do it for a minute-plus. You should notice the harder you squeeze those muscles, the more you feel it in your side. Ahhh, the proverbial “burn”... That's the good stuff right there.
  • Breath. Speaking of getting more bang for your buck, make sure to breathe forcefully into your belly on the way in, then maintain that force on the way back out- think about blowing up a balloon. If the whole breathing out-while-bracing-your-core thing is tricky at first, no worries. That’s normal. Stick with it. Takes some practice.

Pace: If you can hold it for more than 20 seconds, you’re not squeezing hard enough! My favorite way to do it is by counting breaths. I shoot for 3-5 BIG powerful breaths per round.

Programming Suggestions: 3-5 rounds of less than 20 seconds, or 3-5 BIG powerful breaths, with a short rest of 5-10 seconds (or 1-2 breaths) between rounds. Do one side at a time.

To Make Them Easier: Bend your knees to 90 degrees. Obviously this will mean your knees become your lower-body contact point, instead of your feet. This reduces the amount of leverage you have to fight.

To Make Them Harder: Stack your feet on top of each other. This makes the position less stable so your muscles have to work harder.

Recommended Listening: I feel like it’s only fitting I introduce you to my favorite Intisaar song, right? This one’s called Cold Front. It’s probably not the first thing you’d think of as workout music, and it’s definitely the most mellow song to be featured on this blog, but it’s just SO F***ING GOOD!

Honestly now that I’m listening to it, it’s actually awesome for a side plank. Trust me, I’ve done side planks to Hatebreed. It doesn’t really work. It just makes me wanna go deadlift.

For the side plank, your best bet is to put on some Intisaar, get into position, tighten everything up, breathe deep, and let her beautiful, soothing voice distract you from that burning sensation in your side :)

Next Up: The Tripod Challenge!

If you've got any questions/comments/success stories/struggles, feel free to come join the private Down With The Fitness Facebook Group

Take Great Care!

-Matt Koch