When you Stop Moving, You Stop Living

Several people have told me recently that they have back pain that prevents them from doing certain things. I asked each of them if they strength train, stretch, or do core work, and each said no.

My question is: Do you want to live with your pain or do you want to do what you used to love?

I believe people want that quality of life back but they don’t know how to get it. Or they don’t think anything will help. Or maybe they’re afraid exercise will make it worse – I used to believe this myself about my years-old neck injury.

Coming Back from the Injury Abyss

After being double-rear ended on a California highway, I was so afraid of “reactivating” my neck injury and inflicting suffering on myself that I quit weight lifting for five years. It was only when I warily ventured into a gym class – using two-pound weights – that I finally got back in touch with my body. In those first classes I cautiously stretched my arms out in front of me for the first time in years. Instead of feeling hunched up and tense, I suddenly felt muscles I forgot I had.

To be sure, I went very slowly in that class and worked up to three-pound weights, then five, then eight. And if I felt the slightest tweak I’d go back down. I was nervous for a long time. But my neck was feeling better – it was stronger and had more range of motion than it had in years.

After my little gym closed, I knew I wanted to return to strength training on my own. I’ve been weight lifting four times a week for over a year now, and I have never felt better in my entire life. My neck still hurts if I sit at the computer too long, but exercising and stretching are not things that make it hurt. I’m no longer afraid. I feel almost… athletic!

Ready for Core Play?

It’s so common to have chronic back pain, and it’s a common myth that you just have to live with it. Even if you’re not a doctor or a chiropractor, it’s pretty obvious that having a strong core supports your back (and entire body). Shouldn’t the place where motion originates – your core – be a strong foundation for the rest of your body?

Your core consists of the muscles in your hips, abs, lower back, and pelvis – your torso, aka, “trunk.” The core muscles, which attach to your spine and pelvis, support and stabilize your body whenever you move. If you have a weak core, you may rely on one muscle group too much (such as your lower back). If you’re disproportionately using your low back muscles to bend over or walk because your hips and abs aren’t strong, your body will be unbalanced and out of alignment.

There are many ways to build core strength. Strength training for your lats, transverses abdominis, obliques, glutes, and hip adductors (to name a few) is obviously very beneficial. Even if you don’t want to weight train, activities that require balance, such as yoga and Pilates, or equipment such as stability balls, wobbly boards, and BOSU all activate your core muscles.

If you’re a beginner, how do you get started strengthening your core? First, be sure to check with your doctor if you have back or neck issues. I know this is cliché, but you definitely want to have a doctor’s clearance. You may find that just a few sessions with a physical therapist can help you get started and on your way. Or perhaps you’re ok from a medical standpoint and could benefit from a little personal training or a class. There are countless core articles on the web. If you need ideas or inspiration, let me know!

Get the help you need to learn how stretch, build strength, and use proper posture. It might be a small step, such as a few stretches at first. Start slowly and be patient. Just get started.

Taking those First Steps

I know those of you with back problems (or neck injuries, or whatever ails you) want to get back into life. I know it’s scary. But giving up things you love forever – hiking, horseback riding, running – is a lot more frightening when you think about it. Take a risk. Get back into life. You can do it.

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Comments

  1. Good stuff. Although I don’t wholly buy into the term “core” these days, I too was injured in an accident; skydiving and it kept me out of the gym for nearly 3 years.

    I don’t normally poach a link in my comments, and I hope you will forgive me, but the exercise I write about in this link is among the most important exercises that can be done for the “core”.

    http://contemplativefitness.wordpress.com/2009/05/07/hypers-nickname-of-the-greatest/

    “But giving up things you love forever – hiking, horseback riding, running – is a lot more frightening when you think about it” Epic sentence.

    • Roy, I appreciate your comment. Kudos to you for coming back from an accident and getting in such great shape. It’s perfectly ok to contribute your own link or whatever thoughts you have on what I write about. I like all conversations around fitness and frankly, there are so many theories and different ways of doing things that it’s no wonder people get confused.

      I agree “core” is a buzzword and probably misunderstood. For a long time I thought it meant only abs. Thankfully, weight training is a great way to strengthen your core so many things I already do qualify as “core training.” As you can see from my post, I include the same muscles you mention in your post as core muscles. So while “core” is a concept that’s been pushed fairly recently, I think it’s a sound one that puts a healthy emphasis on the torso (including hips, lats, and glutes).

      Your post is informative! I tried the low-back extension on the Roman chair a few times and it seemed to actually strain my lower back. Maybe I was doing it wrong! Thanks again and I look forward to more discussions with you!

  2. Thanks so much for this. When I’d realized I’d given up exercise, I blamed my laziness. Then when I tried to start up again, I realized how painful it was and that’s why I had gradually stopped. Great explanation of how to ramp back up again.

    • Carbzilla (love your site!),
      Absolutely, it’s easy to get stuck and start believing that’s the way it has to be. That’s a good way to put it – ramping back up!

  3. Awesome post. I can certainly say that I didn’t have an injury but with medical conditions, I gave in to fearing what would happen if I worked out. I would lay down on my couch with my medicine and feel sorry for myself. As a result, a whole year was spent up and down with my training and my diet, only adding to the weight gain that started with the medical issue in the first place. Now, I realize that to some degree, there will always be some issue to deal with and it takes getting out of that comfort zone to really make progress.

    • Hey Kelly,
      Thank you for articulating the issue so well. It’s true that really anything can stand in the way if we let it. People need to know that there’s a way out, otherwise we just suffer needlessly. I’m glad you found the way!

  4. Great post! Gosh – I can’t imagine coming back from that sort of injury – you are really amazing :D Core? Geesh…. I used to hate “core” stuff – after all, who wants to do crunches, eh? Enter Sonjia… my trainer…. who utilizes trickery to strengthen my core. Medicine balls, swiss balls, compound exercises, functional exercises, twists, rotations, ad infinitum. And guess what? I actually love my core today and my core loves me (2 minute plank baby!).

    An example of how important? i tripped… top of the stairs… both hands full with EXPENSIVE equipment… And me? I landed on my knees, 2 stairs down, with my body UPRIGHT and STRONG. **All the judges raised their “10′s” in unison** Strength, flexibility, coordination, and CORE saved me from really hurting myself.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Enter The Spaghetti SquashMy Profile

    • Kris you are awesome. I am picturing that fall and I wish I’d been there frankly!! Isn’t it nice to have a strong “core?” And it’s not even that tough to train, really – you just have to do it :). Thanks for writing and I hope you enjoy your “subscription!”

  5. I discovered your blog on yahoo and read a few of your early posts. I hope you will continue the very good work. I just added your RSS feed to Feedburner. I’m seeing forward to reading more from you later on!

    • It’s a pleasure having the opportunity to meet a fellow fitness enthusiast. I really appreciate your kind words – and for sharing them. Your blog is also very interesting – belly fat is a subject we’re all interested in. I always forget that fiber plays a role and will up mine today. Thank you!

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