Back pain can range from being mildly uncomfortable to seriously debilitating and is incredibly common in the American population, with around 31 million people suffering from back pain at any given time.
One of the key factors in preventing back pain is strengthening and stabilizing the many different muscles of the core. However, often when people hear of their ‘core’, their minds instantly turn to images of ripped six-packs and strong abdominals.
Your abdominals actually play a leading role in supporting your spine. Ironically however, if you predominantly focus your attention on your rectus abdominus (abs) to the neglect of your other core muscles, you are likely to cause imbalance and weakness, putting your spine at risk.
For this reason many gym junkies or fitness fanatics, who are have not been properly guided in the do’s and don’ts of resistance training, often experience back pain, or worse end up doing some real damage.
So in today’s blog I would like to have a look at both understanding how to prevent back pain, and ways in which we can manage it.
Back Pain Prevention
When it comes to back pain prevention, in relation to resistance training, the key word here is ‘Balance’. Remember that even if aesthetics is your driving factor, strength, stability and balance should also be right up there on your list!
So firstly, let’s have a look at the back and the many different bones and muscles that comprise and support it:
The spinal column – This is made up of 33 vertebrae, 5 of which are fused and form the sacrum (S1-S5) at the base of your torso, and 4 that form the tailbone. 7 (C1-C7) more of these vertebrae are grouped together in a region known as the cervical vertebrae, which start from the base of the skull and move down. Then there are 12 (T1-T12) thoracic vertebrae, which is where the ribs are attached. Then there are the 5 (L1-L5) that make up the lumbar vertebrae, which form the lower back. Between each vertebrae is a cushioning disk that works to absorb any shock as well as keeping the spine flexible and limber. If these disks are put under too much pressure, from overloading or inappropriate movement, they can become injured. These injuries can range from mild to severe (such as disk herniation). When this happens the spinal cord, that runs internally through the spinal vertebrae, is at risk. These types of injuries can seriously impact on your mobility and independence.
Muscles of the core – The muscles of the core all work to provide stability, flexibility, strength and movement to your torso and spine. They are comprised of a combination of muscles found in both the abdomen and back, as well as including muscles of the hips, pelvis and neck. These core muscles can actually be divided into two main groups, those that are attached directly to the spine (the inner group) and work to support and stabilize its movement, and those that are attached to these stabilizing muscles (the outer group) and work to create your movement.
The major muscles of the inner group include:
- Transversus abdominus
- Internal obliques (fibres)
- Quadratus lumborum (fibres)
The major muscles of the outer group include:
- Rectus abdominus
- External obliques
- Quadratus lumborum
- Erector spinae
Even though the outer muscles are the ones that control the majority of your strength and movement (as well as the ones you can tone aesthetically), it is actually the inner group of muscles that need to be worked on to help prevent and manage back pain.
The reason for this comes back to what I mentioned previously; ‘balance’.
If your strength outweighs your ability to stabilize your core, then you are putting yourself at risk. You can look as strong as physically possible, however if you don’t cultivate balance into your workout, and strengthen these inner muscles that work to stabilize your spine during your movements, then you are likely to experience back pain or potentially do some serious damage.
This ‘balance’ also applies to the front, back and sides of your core. So when designing your workouts, make sure you don’t focus too heavily on one part (e.g. your abs) with the neglect of others (e.g. your obliques and lats).
This might sound like common sense, but I have actually spoken to many people who complain about experiencing back pain and find it hard to believe because they think that they keep their ‘core’ so strong. More often than not, this is simply because their focused workouts lack the appropriate balance needed for core stability and balance.
Ways in which to manage back pain
When it comes to managing back pain I’d like to firstly make it clear the importance of seeing an advanced practitioner who will give you a thorough orthopedic assessment (we have several advanced C.H.E.K practitioners here at Ascend) if you are experiencing any back pain that falls outside of general muscle soreness. As you may have noticed, your back is fairly integral to your wellbeing, so it is important that you look after yourself and not put your back at further risk.
From a physiological standpoint, the key to managing back pain is to get to the ‘core’ of the issue (please excuse the pun). By this I mean gradually working at both strengthening and stabilizing the muscles that support the spine.
In order to do this we need to focus our attention on the inner core muscles that are actually stabilizing the spinal column, as well as working at ‘balancing’ our outer core muscles.
The muscles that play the leading role in postural integrity are the internal and external obliques.
- The external obliques, located on either side of your abs, work to protect the lumbar spine against any rotations or twists. It is these movements that are most likely to cause damage to your spine.
- The internal obliques form the base support for the sacrum, as well as supporting the external obliques in protecting against rotations.
So which exercises are most effective at strengthening and stabilizing these muscles?
There are many exercises that have been devised by physiotherapists to specifically target the muscles required for spine stabilization, however you may be interested to learn that many of these exercises have actually been adopted from yoga.
In an interview between Ben Greenfield and the CEO and founder of Mindbodygreen.com, Jason Wachob, Jason actually talks about his struggles with being a 6”7 athlete with chronic back pain, and how yoga has not only helped him manage his back pain, but also eradicated the issue.
Another key component to reducing back pain and stabilizing the spine is reflecting on the way we breathe.
Poor breathing habits can actually contribute to a myriad of health condition including anxiety, heartburn, high blood pressure, digestive complaints and increased muscle tension.
Increased muscle tension in itself can contribute to poor posture and back ache, however it is the use of the diaphragm that plays a key role in both causing and helping manage back pain.
The diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle, positioned underneath your lungs and lower ribs, in the centre of your torso. Its is responsible for breathing, aids in digestion and is also the chief stabilizer of the lower back. It actually shares fibers and attachments with the lower ribs, and the deep stabilizing muscles of the lower back, as well as the serratus anterior (muscles of the shoulder).
When the diaphragm is being poorly activated, through bad breathing habits, the stability and support it offers the lower back and spine is lost. This can cause weakness and pain in these areas.
So what is proper breathing, you might ask?
From birth we breathe in a natural state, where the diaphragm pulls downwards, causing the belly to protrude slightly. The enables the oxygen to fill all the way down into the lower lobes of the lungs. This is called diaphragmatic breathing. We do this when we are in a relaxed state, such as when we are sleeping.
The problem is that the stresses and pressures of life has lead many of us to develop poor breathing habits that involve shorter and shallower breaths into our chest region, instead of deep into our belly.
This shallow breathing style can not only potentially cause problems with back pain, it actually tends to exacerbate the stress that causes us to breathe like that in the first place.
Ideally this style of diaphragmatic breathing should also be utilized during resistance training as much as possible. Instead of holding your breath during stabilization exercises, try to adopt a deeper version of diaphragmatic breathing.
So if you needed another reason to take some time out to internalize and relax.. Now you have one!
Remember to drink your water!
We recommend 1/2 your body weight in oz per day. That means, if you weight #180. You should be getting 90 oz of good clean filtered water per day.
Find yourself a glass or stainless steel container you love! Then figure out how many of them you need to get your water requirements for the day and keep filling up!
During and after a good sweat, add good quality sea salt into your water. Remember, your body is around 65% salt water! Water with a pinch of sea salt is mother nature’s Gatorade, only much better for you! Sea salt has up to 80 minerals that your body needs to perform optimally, increasing electrolyte balance and overall hydration.
Due to high levels of contaminants called trihalomethanes, or TTHMs, by-products of the heavy use of chloramine for disinfection of its tap water, we recommend a reverse osmosis or carbon filter for both drinking and shower water.
Using a good filter and hydrating with good clean water will increase your body’s ability to function optimally!
And don’t forget the lemon! Lemon’s atomic structure has similar properties to your digestive juices and promotes the production of bile and hydrochloric acid which in turn keeps food moving smoothly through the digestive tract.
Lemon also helps with nutrient absorption by slowing the digestive process and keeping insulin levels steady. Better nutrient absorption means less bloating and ultimately more energy. Lemon is a great blood purifier, boosts liver function by acting on enzymes and flushing out toxins.
Although acidic in nature, lemon is anionic and produces an alkalizing effect on the body. We are always looking for balance but by enlarge all dis-ease come about when our bodies are too acidic and in an inflammatory state. Encouraging a more alkaline state further helps detox the body and the skin, our largest detox organ!
A great resource for water filters and non-toxic household products:
Muscle memory is a term that often pops up in the fitness and health industry, and yet its relevance is often disputed amongst different fitness professionals. Even though this term often refers to the way in which our brain remembers repetitive movement, such as learning to play a song on a guitar or to touch type on a keyboard, in the fitness industry it is actually referring to something a little different.
It refers to the ability to regain strength, definition, movement and efficiency at a faster rate in muscles that have been trained in the past.
The term ‘muscle memory’ describes the phenomenon of how a person who has been training for an extended period of time can cease their training, allowing their muscles to atrophy and deteriorate, then gain their muscle fitness back much quicker when they resume their training, than it took to gain it in the first place.
Our muscles don’t actually have memory, not in the way our brain does, so how do our muscles remember what it was like to be bigger and stronger before?
The answer is to this question is actually twofold and quite interesting.
The first answer looks at the actual DNA retained within each and every muscles fiber.
To understand this we need to look at what makes up a muscle fiber. These fibers, or muscles cells, are also known as ‘myocytes’. Myocytes are unique cells for a couple of reasons. Firstly their shape is long and tubular. They are made up of a combination of different protein formed filaments, within which the glycogen and oxygen are stored and utilized to form the energy and movement our muscles need.
These myocytes are actually formed from the joining of numerous ‘myoblasts’, which are like embryonic myocytes, each bringing their own nuclei to the mix. So because of these numerous myoblasts joining and making up each myocyte, the muscles cells essentially have numerous nuclei, which is the second reason why they are such a unique cell type.
It is within the nuclei of a cell that the DNA is stored, which in the case of muscles cells includes all the information it has gained in how to build and repair itself stronger and more resilient than before.
So essentially each muscle fibre contains numerous little ‘brains’, all of which have retained the information needed to regain its current size and strength.
Recent studies have shown that contrary to what we have believed in the past, the nuclei do not atrophy along with the rest of the muscle fibre. Instead, as the rest of the cell withers away due to lack of use, these nuclei remain intact for an extended period.
This means that when you apply the right circumstances, including a healthy protein rich diet coupled with appropriate training, the process of rebuilding your pre-existing lean muscle mass back to its former glory, will occur quicker than it had initially taken to build them.
So yes, muscles do have memory. Not the kind of memory that we store within our brains, but a special kind of memory that is unique to the myocytes, or muscle fibres themselves.
Then there is the second train of thought that applies to muscle memory and how we are able to regain former strength and ability at a faster rate than which it took to gain it initially.
This train of thought focuses on your neuromuscular system. It looks at how developing your muscles strength and ability through consistent training over a period of time, enhances your motor neuron excitability. Ben Greenfield talks about this in depth in episode 115 of his podcasts, when he says that “[muscles memory is] The ability to recruit motor units, recruit more of them and recruit them more efficiently”
In his podcast he refers to how even though it may take 4-6 weeks for your musculo-skeletal fitness to return through training, after a period of neglect, your ability to return to your previous movement and efficiency will take less time (between 2-4 weeks) because your nerves within you neuromuscular system have learnt to be more efficient in communicating with each other and engaging each of the motor units in the process of muscle movement.
This means that even though your muscle mass might not yet be entirely regained, the ability of your nerves to stimulate the motor neurons within the muscle fibers is re-established quicker, making the process of retraining in a specific exercise seem quicker and easier.
The need to take a break from our regular fitness routines can come about for many different reasons. Perhaps our health demands that we take it easy, or life commitments come into play, or we have simply taken the time out for a relaxing holiday. Whatever the reasons, it can be frustrating returning to the gym, or to our yoga session, only to discover that we have set ourselves back in our progress.
However with a little love and dedication, we can regain our previous health, and even take it further!
Are you looking for a fitness and wellness community where you are encouraged to thrive?
Are you ready to learn, grow and work with the most amazing holistic fitness team in SF?
Are you looking for consistency and stability without clients becoming just a sales number?
We’ve got you!!
Ascend Body is a San Francisco based, holistic gym offering personal training, nutritional and lifestyle coaching, and massage therapy. We have regularly scheduled community group outings and workshops and are passionate about empowering our clients to live active, well-balanced, joyful lives. And, we’re excited to announce we’re hiring!
We’re searching for a part-time (20 hours/week) Head Trainer to manage our close-knit family of wellness practitioners! We’re looking for someone who resonates with our holistic vibe, loves learning and contributing to a supportive, collaborative environment, and is motivated by personal and professional growth.
If you’re a motivated self starter committed to transforming lives and having fun in the process, or if you know someone who seems like an awesome fit, let us know!
You’re not just a Head Trainer. You’re the person responsible for the ins and outs of our studio. You will coordinate community programs, oversee trainers and quality of fitness programming, manage client accounts, and maintain the quality of Ascend Body by upholding studio values, mission, and ethos.
You’ll instruct small group personal training sessions and also lead 1:1 training sessions as needed. All fitness sessions are tailored to each client’s personal wellness assessment, so you’ll prepare and deliver comprehensive fitness programs based on predetermined goals while motivating and inspiring! You’ll also be responsible for frequent client follow-up and reassessment to track and monitor progress toward goals.
Approved Personal Training Certificate
Current Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Automated External Defibrillator (AED)
Highly organized with an adept ability to balance multiple priorities
Strong written and verbal communication
Commitment to our mission: to teach passionately, inspire positively, and guide our clients to the highest possible level of strength and radiant health. Breathe, sweat, smile.
Collaborative, inspirational, and motivational ethos
Administrative work (MindBody preferred)
Ascend Body isn’t your typical, mainstream gym and we’re looking for someone with a holistic approach to exercise and wellness; you must believe in and live by a mind/body approach to cultivate sustained transformation.
Ideally, we’d like someone who is open and willing to work alongside CHEK practitioners. Although CHEK certification is not required, it’s important that you’re open to our methods and Ascend Body’s vision. All of our trainers and practitioners are upbeat, have positive attitudes, and love to inspire others with a natural talent for working with clients.
2 years of personal training experience required, preferably within a holistic wellness/fitness setting
High School Diploma or GED
Advanced training certifications and commitment to ongoing development
Willingness to pursue C.H.E.K Holistic Lifestyle/Exercise Coach certifications
Pay Rate: $30-$45 per-hour commensurate with experience and qualifications.
Earn commission for enrolling new clients and receive performance-based bonuses!
The more you bring to the Ascend Body table, the more money you make.
Continuing Education and Mentorships. You’re surrounded by a wealth of knowledge surrounding holistic wellness.
Sound awesome? Complete the following questions and email your answers with an attachment of your CPT Certification and resume to shane@ascendbodycom
1. What do holistic fitness and integrated wellbeing mean to you?
2. How do you cultivate these practices in your own life?
3. Are you open to taking the Holistic Lifestyle Coach Program Level 1?
4. List 3 examples of how being part of a team or community has affected your life.
5. Why do you feel you would be a good fit for the Ascend Body Team?
6. How do you interpret our mission, which is to teach passionately, inspire positively, and guide our clients to the highest possible level of strength and radiant health? “Breathe, Sweat, Smile.”
Kimberly joined us here at Ascend in July and is one of our most dedicated Boosters! She had been searching for a place where she could get her body moving but she wan’t interested in a typical gym environment. We’re super excited to have her here and to help her achieve her fitness goals, one of which is running a 5k in under 30 minutes. Watch Kimberly’s video to see what she has to say about her experience and the progress she’s made here at Ascend Body!
This is my story…
When I moved to San Francisco few months ago, I was looking for a place to help me become stronger, lose unwanted fat, improve my posture and be part of the holistic community. I should say that I was lucky to have found Ascend Body. From the moment, I walked into the studio and met Shane and his team, I knew that this is going to be the right place for me. What really made me join Ascend, was their holistic and integrative approach of combining fitness, nutrition, restoration and mindfulness into their program.
Since, I am a vegetarian, it has always been a tough battle for me to gain muscle while keeping fat in check. With Shane’s assistance, I was able to completely overhaul my nutrition plan. I realized that lot of my meals in the past had tons of sugar and carbs. And those easy to grab protein bars when you are hungry were actually the worst. I changed my food habits to include a clean diet that had good carbs, organic veggies, fruits and nuts. I complemented my diet change plan with the Boost workout training at least 3 times a week and stretching exercises to improve my posture and reduce pain. Simple and easy to do, things like, drinking more water, sleeping for at least 7 hours, meditating and getting massage, made a huge difference. I started seeing positive results both outside and inside.
When I weighed myself a month later, I was surprised that I had lost 10 pounds of fat while becoming stronger. Along with loosing fat, I was able to bid farewell to Ms. Stress and welcomed Mr. Energizing Bunny (and guess what, I don’t drink coffee.) This new energy inspired me to write a humorous book to make people laugh, called ~ 69 Hilarious Guests in just 14 days. I could have taken this renewed energy back into the corporate environment or I could use it to do something better and that’s when I decided to join Ascend’s team as their CDO (Chief Development Officer).
Living a holistic lifestyle is a continuous process and I am happy that I am in good hands.
Milesh Milan Jain
Riga came to us back in August, she was looking to loose some weight and also to add strength and weight training to her fitness routine. Riga has been faithfully attending our Semi-Private sessions and, in just a few short weeks was already seeing awesome results. Watch Riga’s video and see what she has to say about her trainers and her overall fitness experience here at Ascend Body.
Congratulations Riga, all your hard work and dedication has certainly paid off!
Sure, it’s August, but that doesn’t mean summer’s over in San Francisco! You and I both know there will be plenty more opportunities to throw off your shirt and show it off. The sun’s out, the days are still long, and the Bay Area is ripe with opportunities and sun-filled adventures. Plus, if last December was any indication, you know you still have time to look great for some warm winter weather!
Are you ready?
It’s true. Most people want to slim down before baring it all, so I’m here to warn you of the 5 Flat Tummy Myths that will slim your time (not your waistline!) and provide you with 3 steps to achieve the flat stomach of your dreams.
Myth #1: Do extra crunches to flatten your abs.
Excessive crunches are definitely not the answer to achieve rock hard abs. In order to flaunt a toned look, you’ll have to focus on burning off the layer of fat that is covering up your tummy, first.
- Tip: Don’t obsess about crunches – focus on total body fat burning workouts instead.
Myth #2: Take diet pills to speed weight loss results.
I know it’s tempting! So many television, radio, and internet ads make compelling claims about the power of popping a ‘magic pill’ to speed results. Truth is, diet pills are more likely to burn through your pocketbook than your gut.
- Tip: Don’t pop a pill – burn calories with high intensity interval training workouts and holistic food choices instead.
Myth #3: Eat packaged diet products to boost results.
Don’t fall for the highly-processed foods that are packaged as ‘diet’ or ‘weight loss’ aids. More often than not, these products are packed with refined sugar and other artificial ingredients that your body doesn’t need and certainly won’t help you attain that tight tummy.
- Tip: Don’t eat packaged diet foods – focus on well-rounded, wholesome nutrition and meal planning.
Myth #4: Avoid all carbohydrates in order to achieve tight abs.
Carbohydrates have been given a bad rap, which is unfortunate because you can (and should) eat carbs while slimming down. If your body can tolerate it, the key is to stick with organic fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, and brown rice while avoiding processed and refined flours and sugars.
- Tip: Don’t give up all carbohydrates – stick with wholesome carbs instead.
Myth #5: Starve your way to toned abs.
Trying to lose weight by starving yourself is not only ineffective but can also be dangerous. It may seem that severe calorie restriction would deliver the quickest weight loss, but your body is complex and doing so will disrupt your metabolism and actually slow your results!
- Tip: Don’t starve yourself – eat several small, well-balanced meals throughout the day and have plenty of high protein snacks on hand to stave off hunger and reduce impulsive cravings.
Now, it’s time to go over your flat tummy game plan! Here’s what you need to know in 3 simple steps:
Step One: No more junk.
The best way to do this is by purging your kitchen. Throw out the sugary, processed and fat-filled foods. Once the junk has been cleared out, don’t buy any more of it. Remember that your abs and health depend on what you eat.; flat stomachs are made in the kitchen.
Step Two: Eat whole foods.
Replace the junk food in your life with plenty of the following: cooked and raw vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, moderate amounts of seeds and nuts, lean meats and low fat dairy. Clean eating really is that simple.
Step Three: Train at Ascend Body
This is the most obvious step. You’re ready to get into great shape and I’m in a unique position to make that happen for you. Get started on an individualized, holistic wellness plan that will get you those amazing abs and more. #Ascend with us to a higher, more sculpted level.
Photo by Russ Anderson (Creative Commons)
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