Oh, my aching back! How many limes have you heard that expression? It's often used in jest, but for many of us it is
stark reality. The number of work days lost through backache is absolutely staggering, probably greater than for any
other single cause. But if this is bad news for industry and the normal working population, to you, a dedicated
bodybuilder, it's nothing short of a disaster. Think of all those missed workouts a weak bock could cause you. Better
still, stop thinking and do something about it right now. Your pain-free back starts here.
The strange thing about back pain, particularly when it is in the lower back, is that many people get little help or relief from conventional medical treatment. The family doctor often fails to come up with a rapid and lasting solution, and the suffering has to take its own course, much like the common cold. Isn't it odd that the track record for these disc and nerve-related problems is not better?
Disc problems are universal. Very few people go through life without ever knowing the misery of backache, stiff neck or lumbago. A great number spend unnecessary weeks or even months in great pain and discomfort. Before looking into the treatment, let's examine sonic of the common causes of spinal problems and simple methods of prevention.
The most obvious cause of lower and upper-back lesions is lifting heavy objects. You should take care to keep the lower back hollow and as near vertical as possible. Your legs must do the work. This maintenance of a hollow back, or lordosis, as it's called, is very important. When you allow this hollow to round out, trouble may begin. For this reason sleeping and sitting lies are critical. Soft beds are out. If you have one, you can correct it immediately by inserting a sheet of plywood or chipboard under the mattress. When sitting, make sure that your lower back is kept hollow. An anti-slump cushion in the small of the back will do the trick when you're watching television on that "comfortable" sofa. When choosing sofas and armchairs, make sure they provide adequate support for the lumbar region. Car seats too are responsible for much back-ache, and an extra lumbar support is often the solution.
Television-watching is a great source of neck ache as the neck and head often tend to stay in the same posture for too long. Use the commercial breaks to rotate and stretch your neck, Make sure the television set is positioned for easy viewing without neck strain. A friend of mine was cured of what had been an almost permanent stiff neck when I persuaded him to change the position of his bedroom telly so that he could see the screen while maintaining a natural head position.
This advice applies also to computers, of course. If you use one, for work or play, place it so as to create minimum strain on the back and neck. Again, take regular breaks to do neck rotations and some lower-hack stretching (hollowing).
Exercises that should be avoided by people prone to back problems include all forms of toe-touching with straight legs, both standing and seated on the floor. Exercises with weights? I can hear the protests as I list the main bogeys:
Straight-leg deadlift: a definite no-no. Good morning exercise: no way. Standing barbell press: sorry, but that's out too. Squat: if you must, but use a weight that enables you to keep the upper body vertical and the lower back hollow. Bent-over rowing: to be approached with great care - knees bent, back hollow and chest out. This posture may make you look like a constipated chicken, but it gives the lower back the vital protection it needs.
Fortunately most of these dangerous exercises have substitutes. For instance, in place of good mornings you can do hyperextensions. For deadlifts do only the bent-knees version with back hollow. For standing barbell press you can substitute alternate dumbbell press. The beauty of this movement is that you have less than half the usual weight overhead at any one time, so you are reducing the strain on your lower back. Don't forget that upright rowing is also great for working the deltoids without puffing the lower back in jeopardy. Hack lifts and leg presses are good substitutes for the squat. If the "kids on the block" are taking the mickey out of your new bent rowing position, you can try the one-arm version with your no exercising hand and one knee on a bench.
Pulldowns on the overhead pulley or lat machine offer a very effective alternative to the rowing motion. They place no stress on the lumbar region and, in fact, the exercise gives the back a beneficial, therapeutic stretch as an added bonus. You can get even more of this stretch effect, which pulls the vertebrae apart and gives the discs room to breathe, by doing a few sets of chinning on the horizontal bar. And there you have another great back exercise.\
Incidentally, I have a close friend in London who is one of the leading back specialists in Europe and also a great weight- training enthusiast. He once told me in confidence that he owes much of his personal fortune to the good morning exercise and the deadlift!
To get back to the business of training for the backache prone, it's really a question of working around the area so as not to aggravate it. There are several movements you can do which will actually help the condition. Many of the top bodybuilding stars have lower-back problems from time to time, but they don't bring their training to a halt. They usually manage to work around the problem. This may mean dropping some of their favorite exercises, but at least they're able to carry on training.