Regenerative Medicine

4 Steps to A Stronger Back Over 40

You never think about the strength and flexibility of your back until it demands attention. Maybe you get out of your car too fast or perhaps you pick up the laundry basket at a goofy angle or maybe you simply bend down to tie your shoes like you normally do and then: WHAM!

You feel that tightness. That zing. That unmistakable twinge in your lower back that lets you know you’re not a kid anymore. According to The Lancet, 619 million people worldwide suffer from lower back pain. Most likely, whether it’s chronically or intermittently, you’ve experienced it as well.

But did you know that there are proven, reliable exercises and basic body corrections that you can perform to prevent this kind of pain? Even better, you can improve your flexibility, mobility and strength, which is critical for athletes reading this who are tired of losing time on the golf course or tennis courts because of nagging back issues.

Whether you’re stepping up to a tee with your driver or trying to ace your first serve, having a powerful back will not only keep you competing, it will improve your overall quality of life. 

Here is an easy 4-step game plan to help you get and keep a powerful back.

ONE: Posture is King

Not only does poor posture shave inches off of your height and give you an unwanted, slouched look, it is also terrible for your health overall. Slouching or hunching causes unnecessary strain on both your upper and lower back muscles and is a catalyst for long-term issues like chronic pain and decreased mobility over time. 

FAST FIX: Practice standing tall with your shoulders back and down, engaging your core muscles to support your spine. One great memory device here is to walk as if you’re trying to touch the top of your head on an imaginary ceiling. 

TWO: Strength Matters

Strength training is going to be your most powerful tool when it comes to fortifying your back. While this is often overlooked by people (especially as they age), you’ll get more bang for your buck when you regularly lift weights that target the muscles of the back than nearly anything else. Moves like pull-ups (even assisted pull-ups) can improve both posture and back strength, while power lifts like rows and deadlifts build stability, muscle mass and core/back strength over time. Even working your abdominals regularly helps improve back strength.

FAST FIX: If you want a move that strengthens your back and reverses poor posture from sitting at a desk all day, the standard pull-up is for you. While most adults have a hard time doing even 1-pull-up, the first step to building up to this powerful move is to strengthen your hands, wrists and forearms. For that, all you need to do is hang. If you’re a pull-up beginner and have access to a pull-up bar at your gym, simply try hanging for 3-5 sets of 30 or 60 seconds. You’ll feel your spine lengthen and your back strengthen.

THREE: Be Flexible

After strength training, flexibility and mobility are the twin pillars of maintaining a healthy back. Yes, signing up for yoga classes or pilates classes will increase your mobility and flexibility overall, but even if that’s not your thing, finding a stretching routine that works for you is imperative to warding off back pain. Tight muscles, stiffness and limited range of motion are the recipe for a back disaster. 

FAST FIX: The only way to increase flexibility and mobility is to practice it every day. The best way to do this is to build a habit that you can incorporate into your regular routine. For instance, going through a 5-minute stretching routine as soon as you wake up or right before/after your shower can work wonders. Don’t forget movements that open up your hips and lengthen your hamstrings.

FOUR: Don’t Push It

There was a time when we all felt we could push through anything. Pain? So what? A tweak? Who cares? If you’re past 40 one of the smartest ways to avoid back pain is to pay attention to your body. What movements typically cause you the most discomfort? What were you doing before/after the last time you got injured? Where are you most commonly stiff in addition to your back?

FAST FIX: Oftentimes chronic back pain starts in the hips or even the legs. If you’ve got a low grade sore back or you feel like you just aggravated it, find a foam roller and roll out your calves, quads and glutes. When one, two, or all three of those leg muscle groups are tight, then can pull your hips down and cause back pain.

The fact is that it’s nearly impossible to avoid ALL back pain, but by following this game plan, you can pack on muscle, improve flexibility and injury-proof your back as much as is in your control. If you can avoid 90% of the smaller twinges and pulls, that’ll keep you active and competing 90% more in your 40s and beyond!

For recovery from aches and pains, you may also want to try contrast therapy. You can read this 1st person piece about what it is and why it helps here.


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