Focus on Health:
Getting Reacquainted with the Gym after a Back Injury: Cardio and Strength Training
Written by: Dr. Trina Ting
It’s a question I often get as a chiropractor: what exercise is best for my back? As many of you know, I always advocate for exercise and my goal is to get you back to the gym as safely and quickly as possible. Exercise is a great remedy for many conditions, and the natural release of endorphins can help us get over the winter blues. In this article, we’ll discuss your cardio and strength training options. The next articles in this series will then cover floor and mat exercises, and the various fitness accessories that can help to optimize our workouts.
Cardio Machines and Your Back
Treadmill: One of my top two choices for indoor machinery, primarily for its versatility. The advanced exerciser can run or do interval sprints, and the beginner can use it to walk. The bounce of the treadmill is a lot softer on the joints, making even a gentle walk possible for those who have arthritis. Weight-bearing exercise encourages bone strength, and almost everyone can walk. If you are experiencing a recurrent issue with your low back, avoid walking or running on an incline.
Upright stationary bike: My second favourite choice. Good for those who have knee pain. If you are fit and looking to increase the challenge of your workouts, try interval training: pedaling as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then slowly for two minutes after. Repeat. Make sure all basic tenets of good posture hold: shoulders down and relaxed, maintain an upright position and avoid even a slight bend in the waist, as it may aggravate the low back.
Recumbent stationary bike: The bike where you sit and your feet pedal while stretched out in front of you. Make sure your lower back is supported; try rolling up a towel and place behind your low back. Make sure the seat is properly adjusted according to your leg length. For those of us with shorter legs, this may not be enough and if you feel like you are straining or pushing your back forward. If that is the case, the upright stationary bike may be better for you.
Elliptical machine: A favourite among many who are concerned about their joints. Be careful, as it is very easy to twist the spine as you work both the upper and lower body.
Rowing machine: If done correctly, great for the upper and lower body. Always make sure that your shoulder blades are relaxed and not pulled too far forward. Your muscles between the shoulder blades and your hips and thighs are the stabilizing muscles here. Do not pull your arms too far forward and always maintain that curve in your low back.
Strength Training Options
Weight machines: I recommend having one of the gym staff show you how to use these properly. That’s what they are there for. You may also want to get one or two personal training sessions to have someone design a program for you and to walk you through it, so that you know that you are doing the exercises properly and safely. Weight machines allow you to isolate particular muscle groups while allowing the stability of the rest of your joints and muscles. The stability of the machines allows you to lift a heavier weight.
Free weights and dumbbells: Commonly used in combination exercises or to also isolate one muscle. The free weights allow for more mobility of the joints, but can also predispose one to injury if too much motion is allowed. As always, proper technique is the key here.
Medicine balls: These come typically in 5, 8 and 10 lb weights. If you have recurrent back problems, I’d especially advise against combining the medicine ball with the traditional sit-up.
I recommend listening to your body and learning to know the difference between pain from a hard workout versus the pain from an injury. Those are two completely different aches, and often, we have to retrain our brain to understand the difference. However, if you start to feel the same pain of your injury while working out, stop immediately. Getting back to the gym after a severe injury can seem daunting, but with the proper technique and some slight adjustments to the machines, it is well worth it to get back on the road to recovery.
Health Risks from Sitting Still
Source: About.com Guide
Research is mounting that hours of sitting is its own health-risk factor. A new study says that you can’t make up for 13 hours of sitting with 1 hour of vigorous exercise per day. Instead, what works best is to substitute a few of those sitting hours with standing and walking throughout the day. In this study, the standing/walking subjects had significantly better results in insulin and plasma lipids levels, which are indicators for risk of diabetes and obesity. The subjects who burned off the same number of calories in a 1-hour exercise session, showed only slight improvements compared to the subjects who just sat for 14 hours a day and did no exercise. For those of us who spend most of our day seated, we really need to find ways to stand and walk throughout the day!
Helpful hints to decrease sitting time:
- Wear a pedometer: Gradually add a few hundred more steps every day until you reach about 10,000 steps per day. Also, aim to log a minimum of 500 steps per hour, to ensure you are not sitting still for long periods of time.
- Screen Alerts: Set an alarm on your phone or your computer to go off every 30 – 60 minutes to remind you to get up and walk around. If you’re in a confined space, this might mean standing and walking in place and doing some desk stretches.
- Walk on Your Breaks: Use your break and lunch times to squeeze in a brisk walk. 10-15 minutes is all it takes! If you’re at home, this might mean some clean-up around the house or in the backyard.
- Walk While You Talk: When the phone rings, stand up to talk.
- Park and Walk: Don’t stress about parking closest to the door, park far away and enjoy the walk.
- Take the stairs: Always!
- Remember, it all adds up: Don’t lie when you can sit; don’t sit when you can stand; don’t stand when you can walk.
Risks of Sitting Still for Too Long
- Prolonged Sitting Raises Risk of Type II Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease: A compendium of studies published in 2012 found that sitting for long periods raised the risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This was true whether or not the sitter got vigorous intensity exercise later in the day.
- Sitting Slows Metabolism: Dr. Marc T. Hamilton says research shows that fat-burning is slowed by prolonged sitting, so when you do finally get up and exercise, you burn less fat.
- Two-Minute Walk Breaks Improve Glucose Control and Insulin Response: Breaking up sitting time with two-minute walk breaks every 20 minutes improved the body’s response to a meal by 30% in a 2012 study. The study simulated an office environment with middle-aged, overweight people. Walking at light or moderate intensity for two minutes after each 20 minutes of sitting helped maintain glucose control and insulin response. There seems to be good benefits in developing habits of getting up more frequently during the workday and at home. While watching television, go do the dishes or the laundry during commercials. While video gaming, get up and stretch between each level.
- Screen Time Is a Health Risk: Two hours a day of sitting in front of the TV or computer may double your risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event. Four hours a day of screen time increases your risk of death by any cause by 50%, according to findings of a study of more than 4,500 middle-aged men in Scotland.
- Sounding the Alarm About Sitting: An editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that “recent observational studies have suggested that prolonged bouts of sitting time and lack of whole-body muscular movement are strongly associated with obesity, abnormal glucose metabolism, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease risk and cancer, as well as total mortality independent of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity,” say the authors.
Recipe: Roast Chicken with Spring Vegetables
Recipe from: foodnetwork.com
- 3 1/2 pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Poultry and Italian Seasonings
- 1 lemon, halved
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound fingerling or other small potatoes
- 1 bunches radishes
- 1 bunch pearl onions
- 2 parsnips, cut up
- 1 bunch baby carrots
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh herb(dill, parsley, oregano, basil)
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Peel back the skin and season with salt & pepper, poultry and Italian seasonings, 1/8 cup fresh herb, squeeze 1/2 lemon and drizzle with 1 tbs olive oil, then recover with skin, and place skin-side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the potatoes and radishes in half, and cut the parsnip the size of baby carrots. Toss the vegetables and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl; add the remaining herbs, salt & pepper and Italian seasoning. (Green beans and asparagus also go well in this recipe, you can substitute to your liking, but don’t be afraid of the radishes, they get sweeter when roasted!)
- Remove the chicken from the oven and scatter the vegetables around it. Continue to roast until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is golden and cooked through, about 20-30 more minutes. Squeeze the remaining 1/2 lemon over the chicken and vegetables.
Did You Know?
With the advent of TV and computers, we’re sitting down more than ever in history: on average 9.3 hours per day. Our bodies are not meant for that!