Why back pain sufferers should lift weights

For back pain sufferers, it may sound counterintuitive to weight train, but the truth is frequent weight training can actually improve your symptoms and decrease your pain. In fact, a University of Alberta study found that total body strength training and conditioning offered a 28 percent increase in quality of life for back pain sufferers. In addition, physical and mental well-being also improved.

Most back pain is a result of weak and underused muscles or postural alignment problems from a weak core, including the abdominal muscles. Stronger abdominal muscles mean better spinal alignment. The core is at the body's center so it acts as the anchor supporting the weight of the entire body. Strength training encourages a stronger core for better balance and support. It also creates looser joints. Likewise, strengthening the muscles of the chest, back and legs along with loosening the joints can help counter back pain and prevent it from worsening.  

For the most benefit, make sure your strength-training program targets the core muscles, including the internal and external obliques and transverse abdominal muscles, in addition to the other major muscles of the body - the legs, back and chest. 

There are a variety of exercises that can help strengthen the correct muscles and ease back pain. A combination of weight machines, free weights and body weight exercises may be used. Weight machines ease strain on the back while free weights and body weight exercises can help with posture and stability in a way weight machines can't. 

Consult with a personal trainer who can help you navigate the movements and choose the right ones for you. Some exercises are not recommended for back pain, such as the power clean, dead lifts, snatches, and squats. 

Anytime you're weight lifting, it's important to take the proper precautions. If you do have back pain, it’s especially important to ensure you don't do more damage. Make sure to warm up before lifting weight and consult a personal trainer to guarantee you're practicing proper form and posture and of course, stop if there is any pain. 

Start slowly with lighter weights and few repetitions. As strength builds, increase the weight and repetitions. The University of Alberta study increased weight to 75 to 83 percent of the maximum as strength improved. 

Always consult with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. There is a very fine line between improving your back pain and making it worse, so make sure you are confident in the exercise program you’re following. 

Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a Philadelphia-based studio offering 1-on-1 personal training, physical therapy, and nutrition counseling. Philly Personal Training is the only personal training studio or gym in Philadelphia that requires its personal trainers to possess a college degree in an exercise-related field, as opposed to a basic certification.


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