The Seven Things That I Do (And Don’t Do) To Help My Back

Last week, I wrote an article on an injury that I sustained back in 2010 that completely changed my life.  If you haven’t read it, check it out here:

Last Saturday, one of our newer members came to me to talk about my story.  He didn’t know that it happened and asked if I ever have issues with it now.  I do sometimes.  If I sit in a car for a long time, lay on my stomach when sleeping, or sometimes even sneezing, I’m reminded that it’s still there.  I know how I’ve been able to go through life with minimal problems and actually, been able to accomplish some cool things since then.  Here are some of the things that I do to help my back.  Before going on, if you have back pain, see someone who specializes in this matter.  This is only what I do.  If you need help finding some people, I can help with that as well.

1) I Move Everyday: Whether I’m lifting weights, walking, or foam rolling & other mobility things, I move every day. Since quitting my previous job in late August, I found myself experiencing neck and lower back pain. The two things that changed after I quit was I was sitting more (admin work) and I wasn’t getting my daily walks in with the worker’s comp people (I really miss that). For me, sitting is the worst thing. When I drive down to the beach, I’ll get that “hearbeat” from my left glute down to the back of my calf and sometimes down to the foot.

2) I Work On My Ankle, Hip, and Thoracic Spine (T-Spine) Mobility: Ok, I’ll be honest. I should work on this a little more. What’s in between your hips and t-spine? Obviously your back. What I have found out in myself as well as with working with other people who have had back pain, stiff hips and t-spines are big contributors. For me personally, when I don’t work on my ankle mobility, my hips get stiff. So once per day, I try hit these areas:

3) I Warm Up Properly: We have beaten this to death the last couple of years but it amazes me the people who don’t warm up at all or just walk on a treadmill. This is huge. I warm up the same way as we warm up our adult and athletes up before sessions. I foam roll, work on mobility (the key areas that I mentioned above), do some activation drills for my hips and upper back, throw in some single leg & multi planar work, and some things to slightly get the heart rate up.

4) I Do A Lot Of Posterior (Backside) Work: I once was told to go home one day and look in the mirror naked. I was told that what I didn’t see in the mirror is what I should be focusing on the most. Glutes, hamstrings, and upper back work is missed a lot in most people’s programs. Despite being fit during my bad back years, I can honestly say that this was a neglected area. Myself, as well as our members at First Capital Gym, do lots of posterior chain work. Hip hinging, squatting with an emphasis on using the hips to drive the movement, a ton of rows, and other direct hip work are everyday things here at First Capital Gym. Here are some examples below:

5) No Sit Ups and Crunches: In the Marine Corps and during my first 6 years as a personal trainer & coach, I did thousands of crunches. Thousands. Despite being lean, I never had a ripped 6 pack because I like pizza and tacos too much on the weekends. If you want ripped abs, watch what you eat. My back pain was at an all time high during this time too. It wasn’t until I started studying Dr. Stu McGill’s work and other distinguished physical therapists and strength & conditioning coaches that I realized I was training myself and our clients’ core all wrong. At first, I was a renegade in the area for suggesting to stop doing crunches and sit ups, but now I think it’s common practice. I remember John Tesh saying something on a show one time so I’m assuming everybody knows this now.

Instead, I do lots of planking variations, carries, and other things where the goal is to prevent movement. Here are some examples below:

6) I TRY Not To Do Foolish Things: You won’t see me jumping on a 30 inch box for two minutes at a time or getting as many clean & jerks in 60 seconds. I did do something pretty foolish about two months ago when I did the 225 trap bar challenge (100 reps in 5 minutes). Did I get it? Yeah. Did I get hurt? No. But if I did, I deserved it. I always manage my load properly and follow programs that people smarter than me write.

7) I Listen To My Body: I never ever want to experience that back problem again. Some days, I’m off. I do a lot of driving so sometimes my back and hips get stiff. If I training on a particular day, I go off the way I feel in my warm up and my practice sets. If I feel I’m having an off day, I do something different or not anything at all. I’d rather have a bad day than a bad month or months.

Things I Should Do More Of

1) See the chiropractor for adjustments: I have really been slacking on this. I hate saying this because it’s just an excuse but I’ll say it anyways…I’m too busy. Definitely an excuse and I need to start back.

2) Deep Tissue Massages: Massages with a purpose. Not the ones you would get on a cruise. I’ve tried Rolfing and loved it. I need to get back to it.

Again, I hope this helps out. Yes, I still have some bad days but enough to really worry me. If I start having problems, I’m usually doing something really stupid, sitting a lot, or not taking care of the “boring” things like mobility and recovery.