four reasons you want a strong back
Think back (haha) to when work, for the majority of the population was physical work, requiring strength and stamina. When men and women stood up straight after a long day at work, and looked forward to a good night's sleep, because sleep is always easier when you are physically tired. "Put your back into it!" had a much more literal meaning in those days.
Now think forward, to current times when more and more of us sit hunched over a desk, sedentary for most of the day, hopefully heading off to the gym, or going for a run at some point, to make up for the lack of movement, but often too tired in a different way, to make the effort.
Our backs, formerly the biggest economic asset of the worker bees, have arguably become a liability - a neglected muscle group we hardly notice until it gives us problems.
And if we do make it to the gym what do we do? Cardio? Check. Arm exercises for those biceps? Check. Abs for the fantasy 6-pack? Most definitely check! Back....? No?
Neglecting the back when it comes to exercise is a common mistake. Maybe it's because we can't see it, maybe because it just gets on with its job and we take it for granted. But anyone who has ever had back problems will tell you it's not an area to be taken lightly. Back pain can bring us to our knees, lay us flat, impact every movement that we make, interfere with our sleep - when we have a back problem we can't even relax in comfort!
Our spine needs proper support from the surrounding muscles for alignment and good posture.
So in case you need more incentive to refocus on your much neglected back, here are the four reasons to pay it some attention:
Avoid back pain
An enormous number of us will suffer from back pain at some point in our lives - it's a huge source of lost workdays and one of the most common reasons for doctor visits in the UK and the US. Unless we pay attention to them, our back muscles tend to weaken with age and people with weak back muscles are more likely to suffer with back pain. A strong and flexible back protects the spine, allows the rest of our torso to twist and bend and reduces the load on our intervertebral discs, so we also reduce our chance of injury. Back pain can be very, very debilitating so this alone should be reason enough!
Our spine is connected to our hips, chest, shoulders, neck and abs - it's the central core and our back muscles are an important part of its stability. A strong and flexible back is going to have a knock on effect for other parts of our body. There aren't many physical tasks that don't require our back in some way, so keeping it strong means that everything else becomes easier and more importantly pain-free. Just make sure that you lift heavy weights properly and use those strong thigh muscles to push up instead of bending from the waist and putting all the strain on the lower back. A quick way to a strain and pain!
Having a strong back will make us stand straighter and taller, which takes the pressure off those individual vertebrae as well as making us appear taller, slimmer and more confident. Cool! And because we all want to look good - strengthening our back muscles can help us look slimmer overall, because a nice strong, lean back can give the illusion of a flatter stomach. So if you spend a lot of time doing abdominal exercises in search of a toned waist, it's time to start working on your back too. It's important to do exercises which balance the body - if we do a lot of abdominal exercises and don't balance it with exercises that strengthen our back, the stronger abdominals can pull the pelvis, for example, out of alignment and actually be the cause of problems with our (weaker) back. In the same way, weak abdominal muscles especially when the glutes and hamstrings are tight will pull the lower back out of alignment - we'll get a sway back, putting a lot of pressure on our lower vertebrae - it's all about balance! And let's not forget form - as Shane tells us - good form is essential to prevent injury while we strengthen our bodies.
And an added - and important - benefit of good posture is the increased expansion of our lungs with the consequent better oxygen supply to all our body tissues, so that every cell functions more efficiently! But wait there's more - increased oxygen supply also improves our mental capacity with better focus and concentration and improved mood. Bonus!
If you are a runner or a cyclist you will know that if you neglect training your back muscles you will find it's a weak spot that negatively impacts your performance. It will be hard to maintain good posture, your form will suffer and as a result your endurance and your speed. But you don't need to be an athlete to take advantage of this fact - strengthen your back and enjoy an easier life all round!
This week, Shane adds three back exercises to his "A Great Way To....' series, so head over there now and give your back the attention it deserves!
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