Ouch, My Aching Lumbar

Aching Lumbar

Exercise is Sometimes the Best Medicine

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The gym owner was leaning back in his chair, his feet crossed at the ankles resting on his desk. He was browsing through a bunch of fitFLEX articles, checking out the latest advices. He glanced up to view his gym members on the gym floor sweating and grunting like cavemen. A half smile crossed his face as he contemplated his success at running a thriving training establishment. The gym owner nonchalantly stifled a yawn and took a sip of his coffee. In the peace of the moment, his eyes closed.

"Hi coach," greeted a familiar voice. It was Onslow. The gym owner jumped out of his dreamlike state, turned around, rolled his eyes back and delivered a sound that was somewhere between a groan and an expletive. "What the heck are you doing here so early?" the gym owner asked. "And why the hell are you on crutches? Did you try and cross the highway during rush hour?"

"Very funny coach,** said Onslow, "Actually 1 was just being a good guy, helping my training partner with his benches, 1 lifted the weight off the racks and* pop - my lower back went out big time. Why would this happen, coach? I've been lifting for years"

"Did you keep your back flat when you handed your partner the bar?" asked the gym owner.

"Yes, coach." said Onslow, "I always hand the bar that way, because you told me to when I first started training."

"I also told you to always include specific lower back work in your routinesP but you never followed my advice on that suggestion, now did you Onslow?"

Onslow mumbled inaudihly, put his crutches together and totally uninvited, slumped down in the chair facing the gym owner. "Coach," he said, "I never could see the point of working the low back. It's not really a show muscle, is it?"

"Quite on the contrary, Onslow - today's bodybuilding judges look at all parts of a physique. Bodybuilding contests have been won and lost based on levels of lower back development."

"Yeah! Right," retorted Onslow. "I can just see it in fitFLEX now: 'Mr. Olympia wins because of his amazing lumbar muscularity.'"

"You know what? You'd better leave, Onslow. I'm getting pretty fed up with your snide, impertinent remarks. Let's face it, you're hobbling around on crutches because you were too lazy to include a few sets of lower back exercises in your routine," said the gym owner, leaning forward in his chair while simultaneously removing his feet from atop the desk.

"No, no bossman," gulped Onslow. "I didn't mean to be impertinent," Onslow admitted, having difficulty pronouncing the word. "As soon as I'm able to train again, I'll get right into lower back training. Just tell me what to do. I promise, bossman, no more snide remarks. Forgive me please, coach."

The gym owner again leaned back in his chair, his half smile resurfacing. He cleared his throat and took another sip of coffee. "You see, Onslow, the lower back is the foundation of all human strength. Ever since man adopted the upright stance though, as opposed to walking on all fours like our ancestors, the apes, we've had problems with our lower backs. You don't just need lower back development for physique display, but you also need it for everyday activities and an injury-free existence. Most men over 50 have experienced chronic lower back pain that makes their lives a living hell when their lumbar regions decide to act up. Some people even have low back problems all their lives."

"What are the best lower back exercises?" asked Onslow, struggling to get comfortable in the office chair. He winced as a sharp pain darted in and out of his lower spine.

"What you're going through now," explained the gym owner, "could've been avoided if you'd maintained a strong lower back."

"Write down the exercises for me, coach," said Onslow. "As soon as I get better, I'll follow your suggestions to the letter."

"The point I'm trying to make, Onslow, is that lower back exercise should be an important, and regular, part of your weight-training routine. I'm going to give you five exercises that have been proven effective over the years. Naturally, you won't do them all in one workout... that would be crazy. Select two of the five exercises - you can stick with those ones for a month, and then select the other ones, or you can rotate the exercises performing a different two every lower back workout. Got it?"

"Yes sir, bossman, coach, I understand and I'll follow your advice," said Onslow.

"The first exercise for the lower back is probably the best move there is," said the gym owner. "Prone back extensions are pure lower back - no other muscles are strongly activated in this movement. You lie facedown on a back extension bench (pictured on angled bench). Place your hands behind your head or crossed in front of your chest. Lower your body as far down as you can, then immediately return to where the torso is completely straight Go for 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps. As you get stronger, you may want to hold a weight disc against your chest for added resistance.

"The good morning exercise is another move where no other bodyparts are involved. Start with a light barbell placed behind your neck - you may want to wrap a towel around the bar for added support. Stand with your legs apart, holding the barbell in place with your hands. Keep your back flat, and lean forward until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Then, immediately return to the upright position. Go for three sets of 12 reps.

"The deadlift is the daddy of all exercises, and it works the lower back to a significant degree. You always have to warm up carefully with this exercise, however. With the weight resting on the floor, place your left hand on the barbell with an underhand grip, and your right hand with an overhand grip. Bend down in the squat position with your head up, butt out and back flat. Now, keeping your arms straight, lift the bar from the floor until you're in the standing position. Focus on using your quads and glutes only, with the lower back contracting to hold your torso in the upright position. Lower and repeat the movement. When you get used to this exercise you'll realize that heavy weights can be used safely, but don't forget to warm up. Try four sets of 4-6 reps.

"The stiff-legged deadlift works your hams and glutes in addition to your lower back. It's similar to the romanian deadlift, except that the bar travels a few inches further away from your shins, which puts more emphasis on the lower back. Though the name might suggest that you lock out your knee joints, you actually want to keep them soft with a very slight bend. Be careful not to lower the bar too far down as doing so could cause your lower back to round, which puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the discs - not where you want it. Try four sets of 8-10 reps.

"Power cleans are another great lower back movement. You start with the barbell on the floor. Stand with your feet spread comfortably apart, and your hands (palms down) a little wider than shoulder width on the bar as you assume the start position for the deadlift. Keep your back flat and head up, and bring the barbell up until it's just under your chin, then lower and repeat. Aim for four sets of eight repetitions."

The gym owner seemed relieved that he'd done his good deed for the day. He grabbed the crutches and extended a hand to help Onslow out of the chair. As he helped Onslow up, the gym owner felt a painful twinge in his own lower back, and forced a muffled cry of agony.

"Are you okay, coach?" asked Onslow. "I'm fine," replied the gym owner. "It's just a touch of indigestion. The old lady gave me pancakes for breakfast instead on my usual egg-white vegetarian omelet."

"Oh, too bad," said Onslow. "Hey, my lower back might be messed up coach, but I can still do bench presses. How about you come out on the gym floor and help me out, get the bar off the racks and spot me?"

"Err ... not now, Onslow. I've got to get back to my office work. Besides, I've helped you enough for one day."

"Righto," said Onslow, as he hobbled off to the locker room. The gym owner's eyes followed Onslow until he was out of sight. He once again leaned right back in his chair and brought his feet atop the desk.




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