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Gain, but without the pain…

SPRING 2018

Take care of your back, and your back will take care of you.  
 
It’s true – since, if you remember that old spiritual song “’Dem (Dry) Bones,” everything’s connected:
 
“…Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone…”
 
It may seem counterintuitive, but perhaps the best way to avoid and/or relieve back pain is to use weights to strengthen your back through a number of exercise techniques. Strengthening exercises, including lifting weights and using Kettlebells, can tone your muscles, improve your balance, relieve pain in your back and other areas, and increase your bone density, which will lower your risk for osteoporosis and broken bones. As well, training can help you be aware and make a habit of moving correctly in a manner that can help you avoid hurting your back in day-to-day activities.
 
A Kettle of Bells
Kettlebells are among the most effective for strengthening the back, and since that’s our core (Ha!) at Punch, let’s first look at how to strengthen the back through the Kettlebell lens.
 
For starters, Kettlebell exercises can fundamentally alter the fabric of the back – the intersection of muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones. When strengthened, these components can work together to help alleviate back pain in many cases. While back pain may be the result of a herniated disc (or other medical situations), back pain can also be the result of postural changes, muscle imbalance, disused muscles, muscle spasms, or scar tissue in the muscles of the back.
 
At its most basic, the foundational kettlebell exercise is the swing, a repetitious, ballistic movement. As the weight of the kettlebellswings between your legs, you are folding at the hips (hinged -- NOT squatting) and letting the weight of the Kettlebell load your hip muscles to a stop. From there, you explode your hips forward again, and the kettlebell swings up again with your loose arms.


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While a simple movement, when done properly, it is remarkably good to improve your posture and shoulders, since it all improves based upon the strength of the back (remember they’re all connected…). But it’s not just about swinging the Kettlebell – it’s about swinging the Kettlebell correctly. At Punch, we watch closely to make sure you’re doing it right, since doing it incorrectly can actually cause back pain.  
 
What about weightlifting?
At Punch, we use free weights, which enable you to use many more muscle groups than the machine weights you may use elsewhere. It is critically important to be trained properly to avoid injury and ensure proper benefit.


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Weightlifting requires a special focus on practicing proper posture – keep the back straight, tighten the abdominal muscles so they act like a muscular corset to keep your spine straight, spread your feet apart to give you the needed strong base. Breathing properly is also a key part of weight lifting. 
 
Stop if you experience pain. “No pain, no gain” is outdated thinking.  We want to get stronger, not get hurt. Your body needs at least a day of rest between weightlifting workouts.
 
But my back already hurts
While we hope you never experience back pain, and we know building strength through proper Kettlebell training can help you avoid it, there are plenty of people who experience back pain regularly (if not chronically) and so may not want to take on training as a solution. When we experience pain – back pain in particular – it is instinctive to keep the point of pain immobile so as not to trigger further pain.
 
But more and more, doctors encourage lower back pain sufferers to get active and move back and related muscles as a better pain relief treatment than other options. To be clear, if you experience back pain we recommend you speak with your doctor before deciding to engage in a training program of any kind.
 
That said, studies have shown that most types of weight training are not only safe for those with chronic back pain but can actually relieve pain and improve function. But not for all – those with spinal fractures or tumors may not benefit, and those who have had surgery must proceed with care – again, speak with your doctor before starting any training.
 
As a rule of thumb, to reap the most benefit a person should work out for a half hour or so 2-3 times per week, focusing especially on exercises that build strength in core muscles of the back, abdominals, buttocks and hamstrings. Depending upon the source of the existing pain, it may be best to focus on slow, steady resistance training that focuses on flexion and extension action in muscles (versus more abrupt movements such as “clean-and-jerk”). Smaller weights with more repetition provide benefit; warm up beforehand and stretch afterwards. If pain does flair up, then it may make sense to take time off until it subsides. It is key to listen to your body – some soreness is okay, but sharp pain is not.
 
“We’re not a bunch of meatheads”
A favorite saying here at Punch – we’re about strength and all it can do for you; we’re not about bulking up and moving weight for the sake of it. We’re about getting smarter so we can get stronger and feel better every day – but we must be smart in moving our bodies outside of the gym too. We must be mindful not to pick up a heavy box when off balance. We don’t want to twist awkwardly to pick up a towel. NPR recently ran a very insightful story on this – definitely worth checking out. Getting stronger at Punch can help you avoid injury, but it is not foolproof prevention. The movements we use at Punch to lift and exercise should be applied just as mindfully in everyday life.
 
Exercise can change our bodies, as well as our minds. We believe in harnessing the strength synergy between the brain and the body. Our bodies have the ability to adapt and change when properly stressed by weights. Proper exercise, such as Kettlebells, are excellent for the body’s self-healing and self-changing capabilities. 
 
But we certainly hope to be able to help where we can, since strength is more than muscle deep – our bodies and minds are holistically connected, just like them foot bones are connected to them shin bones...
 


SOURCES:
The above article is a combination from a lot of sources.  To learn more, check them out:

Kettlebells Have Your Back: A Neurosurgeon’s Personal and Professional Perspective, Dr. Patrick Roth, M.D.

Weight Training Effectively Relieves Back Pain, Kerrie DeVries

3 Reasons for Kettlebell Back Pain, Joyce Luke 

11 Exercises for Lower Back Pain Relief, Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

How I Cured My Bad Back with Kettlebells 

Weight Training Reduces Back Pain, Beth W. Orenstein