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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Skip the Abdominal Crunch and Try These Core Strength Exercises

Screen Shot 2021-09-07 at 4.16.27 PMWe all know that core stability and strength is an important factor in exercise, athletics, and even daily living. Being able to properly brace and stiffen the core is an important skill in preventing lower-back injuries when attempting certain movement patterns that occur every day. The abdominal crunch, which people often think of as a core exercise, is actually not a movement we see in our day-to-day lives. Try and think of a time you have had to mimic the abdominal crunch under a heavy load: it simply does not occur.

More often than not, we need to be stronger in the core in a more upright or natural standing posture. The abdominal crunch is now being found to stress the low-back area, can cause discomfort by compressing your back joints, and can even lead to injury after a while.

So you are probably wondering, how do I strengthen my core in an upright position? The answer is through anti-movement patterns. These could be anti-rotational, anti-flexion/extension, or anytime you are forcing your body to resist being moved from a normal posture. These patterns can be accomplished in an isometric hold or a dynamic pattern with bands, kettlebells, or weights.

Anti-rotational Exercise: The Paloff Press

An example of an anti-rotational exercise would be the Paloff press, shown here:

The goal is to press the handle from your belly button slowly and in a controlled manner so that the core has to work to not let your body turn.

Anti-Flexion or Extension Exercise: The Plank

An example of an anti-flexion or extension would be a plank, as shown here:

The goal is to keep your hips down and really engage the core area by pulling your belly button in. You can add weights to your back or increase the time you do these to make them more challenging!

Strengthening Exercise: The Kettlebell March

An example of strengthening the core in that normal standing position would be a kettlebell march, where you can either do two kettlebells in the front squat position or one held out in front. Both are shown here:

Marching slowly and controlled is the key for this exercise. While doing this, all the muscles in your core fire to prevent you from falling any direction while you balance on one leg.

Core Blog

See a NIFS Health Fitness Specialist to learn how you can start strengthening your core in a neutral position to assist with your exercises and your day-to-day life. See these links for more information:

ACSM core PowerPoint: http://forms.acsm.org/TPC/PDFs/23%20Best.pdf

PT Dr. Aaron Horschig: “The Big Three”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_e4I-brfqs

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This blog was written by Grant Lamkin, NIFS Health Fitness Specialist. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: injury prevention videos core strength core exercises lower back pain anti-rotational anti-flexion

Baby Steps to a Stronger Core

GettyImages-463173555Low-back pain is an issue with so many people who are spending entire days sitting to do work. Stretching and mobility work will help ease the lower-back pain, getting the muscles to relax and loosen. Here are some moves to get loose and then start to strengthen the core to keep the pain away.

Cat-Cow/Child’s Pose Mobility Move

Start on your knees with hands under your shoulders, with your toes curled. Using your breath, inhale; then exhale as you tuck your chin toward your chest; and round your low back toward the ceiling. Think about pushing your belly button to the sky. Inhale back to your start position, then exhale looking up slightly and dropping your belly button toward the floor. You are thinking of tilting your hips downward. Inhale back to your start, but reach your hands in front of you, extending the arms and flattening your feet. On your exhale, drive your hips back and enjoy the nice long stretch from your arms through the low back.

Go slowly with your breath for 4–6 rounds. If one position feels good, stay for a few breaths. You can do this multiple times a day and up to every day.

Bird Dog

Start on your knees with hands under your shoulders, with your toes curled. Extend one arm ahead of you and the opposite leg behind you. Think of someone pulling your arm forward and pulling the heel of the extending leg into the wall behind you. Hold for a 5 count. Do not be surprised if your balance is off. (If it is, it’s easy to fix by closing your eyes). Come back to the start position and switch to the opposite arm/leg combination.

Hold each side for a 5 count, with easy breathing. Do up to 5 per side most days of the week.

Plank

Start on your elbows and knees, with the body forming a nice line from your ears to your knees. Think of keeping your glutes tight, and bracing your abs. Build your hold up to 1 minute. If that is too easy, extend your legs and form a line from your ears to your ankles. Think of the same holds, breathing easily. Work up to 1 minute. Then add sets.

NOTE: many people with weak cores will feel some low-back soreness. If this occurs, do a body check: are you in a good line? If so, stay in the plank only until you feel discomfort. Try the other exercises listed and build up your core strength, slowly.

You can do this most days of the week but remember that all muscles need rest and recovery to get stronger.

Heel Touch

Lying on your back, bring your feet up with your knees at 90 degrees. Flatten the low back and keep it flat. Exhale and lower one leg until the heel touches the floor, raise back to start, and repeat on the other side. You may be surprised that it’s easier to keep flat on one leg. Keep working to get the sides even. Do 6–10 on each side. You can do this most days of the week, but remember that all muscles need rest and recovery to get stronger.

Lower back with Kris

There you go! Start (re)building your core with these moves. Stay in a pain-free range and use the exercises that you can do first, and then build to the more challenging ones later.

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Join Kris for her Core and More Fitness Master Class on Wednesdays at 11:15-11:45. Free to NIFS members, this class focuses on core and functional movement exercises with a fast finisher in a compact 30-min workout.

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This blog was written by Kris Simpson BS, ACSM-PT, HFS, personal trainer at NIFS. To read more about Kris and the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: yoga stretching core strength mobility core exercises core stability lower back pain low back pain

3 Simple Rules to Train When You Have Pain

GettyImages-1017760106How many people do you know who suffer from a form of back pain? I’d be willing to wager it’s at least one person, and perhaps that person is you. The prevalence of nonspecific lower-back pain alone is estimated at 60-70% throughout the lifespan of a citizen of the United States and other industrialized countries. If you fall into this category or know somebody who does, first direct them to my previous blog about warming up with back pain to get started. Once you’ve made your way through that, keep reading to find out how to design a great workout even if you’re in pain.

For some, the idea of working out with pain is strictly off limits for fear of further injury. For others, the workout must be completed as planned, no matter how intense the pain might be. As usual, the solution will likely require a balanced approach between these two ideals. Unless your pain is an emergency (and this article might give you an idea of whether or not it is), there is likely something productive you can achieve by not skipping your scheduled workout. For one, if one of your goals is to establish a new habit or routine, making it to the gym for some self-love might just keep you on track. Self-love can mean foam rolling or other soft-tissue work, properly prescribed corrective-based activities or stretching, walking, or virtually ANYTHING that helps you feel better. The bottom line is that it must provide a feeling of relief.

Great, so you’ve made it to the gym and you’re feeling better than when you walked in thanks to some well-thought-out pain-relief techniques, or maybe just 10 minutes in the sauna. In any case, you’re ready to sweat and help that heart of yours pump some blood. Before you get too carried away, there are some general rules I like to follow if I know somebody has a history of, or is presently experiencing, back pain symptoms.

1. If It Hurts, Don’t Do It

This one sounds too simple to be genuine advice, and I’ll admit I stole it straight from my own father’s dad-joke arsenal. I’d say, “Dad, it hurts when I do this,” and he’d invariably respond, “Then don’t do that.” Of course, the older I get, the more I realize how wise much of his advice was, especially that nugget. If there is a particular movement or activity that you know for a fact will reproduce your pain symptoms, simply avoid it, at least until your symptoms go away. You can almost always find an alternative exercise to accomplish what you wanted, especially with the staff here at NIFS ready to provide you with such options. Regardless, no exercise is worth potentially worsening your symptoms, causing an even greater setback, or worse, leading to yet another injury.

2. Keep the Weight Off Your Back

The last thing you want to do while experiencing back pain symptoms is to make it any worse, and I see the risk as far outweighing the reward in having a barbell or any other load compressing your spine directly. You’d also be wise to approach higher-impact activities such as running and jumping with a fair amount of caution. Although not directly loading the spine, the landing portion of these high-impact activities requires a fair amount of compression throughout the body, particularly through the spinal segments. If a contributing factor to your flare-up of pain was a lack of integrity in your core strength and control, these higher-impact activities become even more risky.

3. Use Perfect Form

This should be a no-brainer, even when you’re not in pain. However, it becomes vital when the fear of pain is on your mind. Use this time to make sure every aspect of your movement is as close to perfect quality as you can get it. When in doubt, refer back to Rule #1. A great way to monitor your form closely is by either performing each repetition with an extremely slow tempo, or doing some static holds (unless you have high blood pressure or higher risk for aneurysm), meaning holding still during the repetition. Performing your repetitions in this manner will also require you to use significantly less weight, therefore limiting another risk factor. Many of our members take advantage of completing a Functional Movement Screen, which allows one of our trained fitness professionals to analyze your movement on a fundamental level. This is included as part of your membership at no extra cost, and it can provide essential strategies for you to make sure you’re moving to the best of your body’s abilities.

You may have noticed this post is largely about what not to do instead what you should be doing. That’s because each presentation of pain is completely different from another, and should be approached individually, and with care. No two humans are the same, which is what makes us fascinating creatures, but it also provides a challenge of finding the proper activities for each unique case. This is true no matter what your current physical condition is, but requires special attention when you’re limited by increased symptoms of pain. Whatever the case, movement will almost always be the answer to returning to your “normal” self; it’s just a matter of what type and how much.

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This blog was written by David Schoch, CSCS, FMS, and Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: injury prevention pain lower back pain back pain

Fight Back Against Back Pain: Fitness and Wellness Solutions

GettyImages-866081050With millions of people around the world suffering from back pain, is there any hope for relief outside of traditional methods? Low back pain can be excruciating and immobilizing, but there is still hope. When dealing with any pain or injury, exercising might be the last thing that crosses your mind, especially if it’s chronic low back pain (CLBP). However, that’s exactly what is recommended and what can help.

Research is revealing that people who exercise and stay flexible are better able to manage pain than those who are sedentary. So my charge to anyone reading this, whether or not you are living with low back pain, stay proactive and make health and fitness a priority. Rather than be forced into reacting to an injury that might have you sidelined for months, take a step toward low back pain relief.

The Impact of Lower Back Pain

Alarming statistics reveal that the single leading cause of disability globally is none other than low back pain. According to the American Chiropractic Association, “Back pain is experienced by 31 million people at any given moment.” After all, it is the third most common complaint during doctor visits and accounts for more than 264 million lost work days annually.

What Causes Low Back Pain?

Low back pain can flare up and subside in the blink of an eye. Often there is no warning and there are no other accompanying symptoms. Pain can occur in varying intensities and pain levels. It is important to take back pain seriously because it is your body trying to tell you that there is something wrong and that you need to make a change. Common causes include the following:

  • Muscle strain/sprain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Bulging discs
  • Arthritis
  • Skeletal irregularities

What You Can Do: Fitness and Wellness Ideas

Fortunately, there are several precautionary steps that you can take to prevent low back pain episodes as well as further injury. Keep in mind that humans are complex beings and it is important to address overall health.

  • Start and maintain an exercise program. Our NIFS staff can work individually with members to develop a proper strength-training program that addresses cardiovascular fitness as well as flexibility and mobility.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. According to the National Arthritis Foundation, “Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees.” Therefore losing a few pounds can take pressure off the back and knee joints.
  • Limit and manage stress levels. Paying attention to stress levels can help you avoid behaviors that lead to obesity such as overeating and a sedentary lifestyle. If stress levels stay low, it can help improve overall health.

Always keep in mind that we are complex beings and it is important to address our overall health needs. It might take multiple methods to address back issues, but why not jump ahead and try to prevent them through proper health and wellness strategies? Visit www.nifs.org to find out more information, see the up-to-date Group Fitness Schedule, and start your fitness journey now.

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This blog was written by Cara Hartman, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: stress group fitness muscles weight management pain fitness and wellness lower back pain low back pain arthritis