Ask the Coach
What are some exercises I can do to help alleviate lower back pain?
Lower back pain is becoming more and more prevalent across all segments of the population. When lower back pain flairs up, you may want to rest, but movement is the key to getting better. Exercises for lower back pain strengthen your back, core and legs. These muscle groups help support your lower back. Always check with your health care professional before starting an exercise plan for lower back pain. Depending on the source and intensity of your pain some exercises may not be recommended.
Partial crunches strengthen your core, but form is very important. Good form reduces stress on the lower back. Your knees should be bent, hands behind the head or crossed across the chest. Don’t pull on your neck, elbows remain out to the sides. Tighten your abs and lift your head and shoulders off the ground. Pause for a second and return to the start position. Your feet, low back and tail bone should remain on the floor.
Hamstring stretches are a must. Lie back, bend one knee and place a towel around the ball of your foot. Straighten the knee and pull back on the towel for two seconds. Repeat 8-10 times and switch. Keep the knee as straight as you can to stretch the hamstring.
Wall Sits: Stand 8-10 inches from the wall and lean back until your back is flat. Slide down the wall until your knees are bent, but keep your lower back against the wall. Hold for 10 seconds or more. Repeat 8-15 times.
Press Up Back Extensions: Lie on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders. Slowly press up, lifting your shoulders off the ground, while squeezing your glutes. If it’s comfortable, place your hands under your shoulders and hold this position. Keep your pelvis and lower stomach on the floor.
Bird Dog: Get on your hands and knees. Lift and extend one leg behind you, keeping the hips level. Hold for five seconds and switch to the other side. Repeat 10-15 repetitions. To advance the exercise, try to extend the opposite arm and leg. This is a great way to learn how to stabilize the lower back during movement. Do not let the lower back muscles sag. Only lift as high as you can maintain neutral lower back position.
Knee to Chest: Lie back, knees bent with feet on the floor. Keep the lower back pressed into the floor. Raise one bent knee towards your chest and hold 15-30 seconds. Switch legs. Repeat 5-10 times.
Pelvic Tilts: Lie back with knees and feet on the floor. Pull in your stomach muscles, feel your pelvis tilt, pressing your lower back into the mat. Hold for 10 seconds while maintaining your breathing. Repeat 8-10 times.
Bridging: Lie back with knees bent and just heels on the floor with arms by your sides. Push your heels down, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips until your torso, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. Hold for 6-10 seconds and repeat 10 times. Avoid excessive arching of the lower back.
Lifting weights can help but should only be introduced after the acute phase of lower back pain has subsided and after consulting with your physician. Seated positions are best when first introducing weight training.
Try aerobic activity, which strengthens your heart, lungs and blood vessels. This can help you lose weight, further reducing stress on your low back. It’s good to start with low-impact activities such as the elliptical, cycling, swimming, walking on a soft surface treadmill. Build up your time slowly.
Yoga, Tai chi, and Pilates are also great activities to stretch and strengthen your core. Make sure to let the instructor know you have low back pain. This will allow the instructor to show you modified moves.
There are many causes of low back pain, and it usually takes a multifaceted approach to ease the pain. Sitting for extended periods, improper lifting technique, repetitive motion and poor posture are often the culprits. Hot tubs, massage, icing, heat, water consumption, electrolyte balance, sleeping habits, work ergonomics, posture and shoes all play a role in alleviating low back pain. You can get better with a good plan and consistency.
What are the pros and cons of hiring a personal trainer versus taking exercise classes?
Do you want to exercise at a large club that often offers a variety of group exercise classes for the monthly membership ($45-$65 a month)?
Pros: Classes are usually offered on a suspended floor designed for low-impact on your joints and spine. Mirrors, great music and a motivating instructor are standard fare. Big clubs usually have the equipment to handle larger classes and locker rooms to freshen up. Class times vary at 45-60 minutes in length or longer. Group fitness classes are designed for the masses, not geared towards your individual goals, past injuries, predisposed injuries or medical conditions. Most large clubs have staff personal trainers that have been vetted for certifications and are insured by the club. Usually packages are offered for a fair price. Some trainers offer small groups for better rates too.
Cons: Classes have to be offered at times that match up with your schedule. Class instructors may vary and retention of good Group X instructors can sometimes be challenging for large clubs. If the staff trainers are not what you had in mind, most large clubs do not allow you to bring your own trainers, even for a fee. Consider all aspects when signing a lengthy contract.
Pros: Small studios that offer group exercise classes usually offer packages, monthly or by the session. There are usually no long-term contracts. This allows you to follow instructors you enjoy and try new ones. You might enjoy boot camp at one facility but enjoy yoga somewhere else. Personal trainers who are not affiliated with a big club may work out of their own studio or smaller club. Many experienced trainers prefer this because they keep more of their own fees. This type of small to medium size facility does offer more privacy but services may vary.
Cons: You need to check out the certifications, insurance and backgrounds of the instructors and personal trainers yourself. The facility class floor may not be built to absorb impact as you would find in a larger club. Full-service locker rooms with shower facilities are rare. Climate control of the environment may not be optimum. Prices and fees vary.
Personal trainers who are educated, certified and insured are always going to give you personalized service tailored to your goals and abilities. If you can afford it, train 1-2 times a week with your trainer, do some cardio activity on your own and clean up your diet. Most trainers monitor your progress by testing your body fat and getting you to weigh in. This would yield the best results. Trainers fees in our area can be $45-$100 a session depending on who you hire, their experience and where they are working. If you are not self-motivated, have injuries, or medical conditions, a trainer is the way to go!
Classes are definitely cheaper, $10-$18 by the class. Exercising in a group can be highly motivating. Class times are usually offered throughout the day and evening. If you are injury free, comfortable in a class environment, self-motivated and have a budget, this may be the option for you. Set yourself up for success by personalizing your program to fit your needs!