Fix your back pain with a team of pros

Kevin Mullins, a master instructor for Equinox Sports Club in Washington, D.C., understands low-level chronic back pain and found three recurring issues that personal trainers can address with their clients. Excess body weight, sedentary lifestyles and improper exercise selection are areas that a trainer can help a client with, all factors having a correlation to low back pain. It is estimated that more than 84 percent of the population will experience an episode of low back pain, from children to the elderly, at some time during life.

How the spine functions and its relationship the rest of the body is the key to being free of back pain. Through proper exercise, movement and posture, even disc bulges can be made less painful, and usually pain-free, he notes.

Tip No. 1: The Big Picture

Of course, it’s hard to stick to a program if you are in pain. You lose the very conditioning that could help treat LBP, or even more frustrating, gain unwanted weight. That extra weight is the No. 1 reason clients turn to a trainer, with or without low back pain. Healing starts to occur when you keep the bigger picture in mind; a good diet, adequate sleep and a matched activity/training program.

A traditional strength training program can im-prove strength and muscle mass. Overall body strength as well as a daily walking regime are important parts of a client’s program to become free of back pain.

Tip No. 2: Bend at the hips

There is a direct correlation between posture and pain. You can reduce episodes of back pain by reminding yourself to bend at the hips, which is a ball-and-socket joint, not the back. The spine does bend, but repeated spine bending, whether it’s picking up a weight in the gym or swinging a kettlebell, could eventually lead to delaminations in the layers of the discs. When you’re performing squats, for example, sink your hips back towards your heels, like sitting onto a low park bench. Keep your eyes forward. Use your hips rather than round your back.

Tip No. 3 Rethink the core

To enhance back fitness, you need a strong focus on core strength, as theses muscles play a protective role. The internal and external obliques, transverse and rectus abdominals and the erector spinae are arranged around the spine and act as guy wires to allow the spine to control movement, bear loads and facilitate breathing. But all too often you see good athletes and gym members entirely focused on just the rectus abdominis, commonly known as the “six-pack.” If we go back to our car analogy, focusing on only one part won’t solve back pain.

The core musculature extends to the entire body, not just the six-pack. The lats, trapezius, the gluteals, hamstrings, hip flexors and inner and outer thighs all have an impact on the spine. The musculature extends from all the way from the upper back down to the pelvis.

Your progression, with an awareness on good movement patterns, including planks, back rows, squats and bridges, for example, should be aimed on strengthening more and more of your whole body, back to health.

Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at

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