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Photos by Luis Mora

Something odd started happening late last year. My lower back hurt. I used to spend most of my workouts focusing on cardio, specifically running. So when it came to perpetual soreness, I was usually feeling it around my knees and joints. This was a new development…and I was not into it for obvious reasons.

So I slowed down. I focused a lot more on yoga and as I began feeling better, I introduced CrossFit workouts more heavily to help strengthen the muscles across my entire body. I knew I wanted to run more again, so I needed to address not only this new back health issue, but also my hamstrings, IT band and hips.

I won’t lie, at first my back wasn’t getting better. The Ontario Chiropractic Association (OCA) warns that improper form contributes to injuries to the spine, shoulders and knees. I knew I must have been compromising my form in some instances to elicit a sustained discomfort in my lower back. Considering how trendy fitness is these days, I can only imagine how many men and women are training improperly. Not everyone can afford personal training.

Together with the OCA, I’ve created a list of important measures you can take to ensure you’re looking after your back health when working out:

NEUTRAL SPINE POSITION

To determine your neutral spine position (considering the three natural curves in your neck, upper back and lower back) stand with your back against a wall, making sure that your head, upper back and tailbone are touching the surface. In this position, you should be able to place your fingers between the wall and your lower back while the three contact points are still in contact with the wall. This is your neutral spine position.

Having a neutral spine doesn’t mean that your workout can’t have range. As long as you maintain good form throughout all of your exercises, your risk of back injury is considerably lessened.

SQUATS, DEADLIFTS & KETTLEBELL SWINGS

Three exercises that tend to lead to back injuries if performed with poor form are squats, deadlifts and kettlebell swings. Try and maintain a neutral spine when doing these exercises to ensure that you’re reaping the maximum benefit while lowering your risk of back injury.

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SQUATS: Squats target the muscles in your lower back, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Fully engaged squats involve your calves, shoulders and core. When performing squats, avoid rounding your lower back by keeping your chest up, bending your knees and reaching back with your glutes as if you were taking a seat. Doing so will preserve your spine’s natural curve.

DEADLIFTS: Deadlifts target your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back and upper neck muscles. It’s one of the best exercises to build a strong back and must be performed with the lower back neutral and the bar held close to you. Deadlifts can’t be performed without hip hinging, or the act of keeping a neutral spine while your knees are slightly flexed. To know if you’re hip hinging correctly, imagine a wall that is two feet behind you and try to touch your glutes to it. Doing so makes it so that you hinge at your hips instead of your knees (a potential source of knee pain if done incorrectly).

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KETTLEBELL SWINGS: Kettlebell swings target your calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Not only that, they’re awesome for learning the proper technique for hip hinging! To minimize injury to your back when performing kettlebell swings, maintain a neutral spine and only swing the kettlebell as far up as shoulder level. Bringing it any higher would mean losing that neutral spine.

CROSSFIT

I love CrossFit. It’s essentially what I did to complement my running program and what made me stronger all around. Especially when done properly so it doesn’t take a toll in unexpected ways such as on your back.

Yet here are some important points the OCA has in regards to CrossFit:

Even if you’re a regular at the gym, it’s best to start light when doing CrossFit. Working out alongside trained professionals will go a long way in learning proper form and performing exercises safely.

CrossFit classes mainly take place in group sessions, so if you’re a beginner, you may not get the individual attention you need. If it seems like poor form is contributing to any back aches or pains, be sure to visit a chiropractor who can assess, diagnose and develop a treatment plan just for you.

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At the end of the day, we’re all getting older. We need to make sure we’re setting in place not only a healthy routine, but a proper healthy routine so we don’t do more damage to our body that the aging process is doing on its own. It’s not enough to eat nutritiously and be more active — we have to consciously understand what it means from a practical and proper standpoint. Hopefully this article helps!

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