“I hurt my back while I was doing crunches!” I have heard this not just once but numerous times. Back pain is one of the commonest ailments that afflict the modern man; partly because of sedentary life that weakens core muscles but partly also because in the race to get fit quickly, exercises that shouldn’t really be done are done with great zeal. This leads to a back injury and then, of course, all exercise is given up forever. The solution is to know the right kind of exercises for your body and this only comes from consulting a professional. Anyone who joins a gym without hiring a certified fitness trainer is looking for trouble. The same goes for anyone who begins an exercise program on their own at home by following online videos.
In my experience the worst five exercises to do if you want to injure your back are as follows:
- Sit-ups or crunches. This may be the most unnecessary and most dangerous exercise done. In the elusive chase to get “six packs”, people end up doing a zillion sit-ups a day; mostly incorrectly. Even if they were done the right way, not only are sit-ups not very effective to strengthen to the core and to get a “six-pack”; it is also making your back more vulnerable to back pain and ‘slipped disc’. As an alternative do exercises that work on the core in a wholesome way without putting your back at risk. Doing planks and side planks are more challenging, fun and much more effective. So my advice is to completely eliminate sit-ups from your work-out routine.
- Bilateral leg lifts: This one makes me cringe, not just the sight of seeing someone doing these but also just the mention of it. I can actually visualize the back undergoing enormous amounts of strain and about to give up! If you lift both your legs up while not maintaining your spine in a neutral position (back is arched a lot while lying on your back), your back muscles are in an inefficient position and very likely to go into a spasm; maybe even create enough pressure on the lumbar discs to cause a ‘slipped disc’. If these are done under the watchful eye of a certified trainer or a physiotherapist then its fine but otherwise this exercise must be eliminated if you want a pain-free back.
- Weighted squats: Squats are wonderful to do for many reasons but these are also done wrong by most people. Keeping your back straight, not crossing your knees in front of the toes and keeping thighs parallel to each other are some points to keep in mind while doing squats. However, even if done the right way, if you keep weights on your shoulders or overhead, this creates a lot of compressive force on your spinal discs making them vulnerable to injury. Holding weights in your hands by your side is an alternative instead of overhead.
- Weighted back extensions: To do this you lie on your stomach and raise your upper body with weights on your shoulders or hands while your feet are fixed. While back extension (bending backward) is generally a great exercise and one that I prescribe most often; doing this with weights creates problems. To lift the weight, you may arch your back excessively or cause torsion at a particular spinal segment, in turn, causing the back muscles to spasm. Alternatively, do these without weights or do Superman (lying on stomach lifting both arms and legs up). These are more effective while also protecting your back from injury.
- Foam rolling the lower back: Foam rolling works wonders for a lot of things from loosening up tight muscles to becoming an adjunct for a core workout. Often people look up videos online to use the foam roller and end up using it incorrectly. The foam roller is supposed to be used on muscles groups and not on bone or joints. Using the foam roller on the back is one of the things that should be avoided since it may cause awkward twisting or compression leading to back problems.
So do a killer workout to attain all your fitness and health goals but keep in mind to avoid these 5 exercises to keep your back healthy.