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I’ve decided to call it a lesson in empathy (my wife may have called it a pain in the rear end).
Two weeks ago my back decided that it hated me and wanted to make my life a misery. It felt tight, sometimes started to spasm and was generally not a happy bunny.
I’ve worked with plenty of people with back pain, most of whom have had to live with a lot worse discomfort than I was in. But it’s so easy to forget to disassociate with other peoples personal pains.
So it was a (weirdly) good experience for me to get a better idea of what some folks live with.
The frustration of not being able to properly play with my daughter and give her a daddy carry.
Not being able to exercise, or lie in my favourite position to sleep, being overtaken by the entire world when trying to get a train at rush hour.
All minors in the grand scheme of things – but enough to take the jam out of your doughnut.
I’m no way smart enough to be able to write a blog that will specifically help every individual with back pain.
But there is a ridiculously smart chap who set out some very simple steps and exercises to help you avoid dealing with back pain yourself.
Dr Stuart McGill is generally regarded as the international Mr Myagi of spinal and back care. He’s a Professor of Biomechanics and author of numerous books on low back pain – I could carry on playing the hype man but would rather leave it at “he’s worth paying attention to” and crack on with the rest.
So what is “the rest”?
Well Dr McGill has a small group of exercises that he calls (or at least have become known as) the Big 3 for preventing back pain.
Each exercise focuses on developing the endurance of the muscle groups responsible for looking after the back.
After all, these muscles are required from the moment you bounce out of bed in the morning until you hit the sack in the evening. So endurance is a pretty important quality.
By now you probably just want me to tell you what they are….well here you goes.
Why is it called that? I dunno and have never been sufficiently curious to ask Google, if you have an idea why feel free to comment below and improve my education.
What do you do?
Start on all fours, hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
From there extend the opposite arm and leg (so right arm would reach forward whilst left leg extends back).
When the limbs move you need your torso to stay dead still. Imagine that you have a glass of your favourite, most expensive tipple balanced on your back and you don’t want to lose a drop.
There will be a temptation for the torso to either shift over the supporting leg and/or for the lower back to arch. You need to develop enough strength and control to prevent these movements from happening.
As the points of support are reduced from four limbs to two it is the role of the core muscles to provide the extra support.
If this is really tough at first you can start by only extending the leg and keeping the hand on the floor for more support.
Aim – start with holding each rep for 10 seconds on each side (remember to breath – breathing is a great habit I highly recommend).
Try 3 reps per side. As you improve work towards holding the rep for 30 secs. Eventually aim to be able to hold 1 rep each side for 60 seconds.
A common staple of many exercise classes but one that is easily butchered.
Key points – try to hold your ear, shoulder, hips and ankles in alignment with each other.
Do that breathing again and squeeze your booty (as in clench it….not grab it with your hands).
Start at 10 secs per side, if that’s tickety-boo ramp it up to 30 secs per side for 3 reps each.
Modified Curl Up (McGill Crunch)
Lie on your back (no closing your eyes for a cheeky snooze).
Bend one leg at the knee (keeping foot on the floor), keep the other leg flat on the floor.
Place both hands under the small of your back, this is to maintain a slight curve at the spine.
Raise head and shoulders of the floor so that shoulder blades just come of the floor but lower back remains in contact with your hands.
Hold the position for three seconds, then return the floor.
Perform 4-5 reps then swap sides.
And that’s it.
Three low intensity exercises that require no equipment other than a small space of floor and 5 minutes to yourself.