The tale of Joe and Jo. How to get (back) into Training (Part 1)
This series of articles will follow Jo and Joe through their fitness journey. I hope that the various issues and problems my hypothetical couple have will answer questions you may have about your own training and any issues you may have.
Just as a little waiver any true injury or genuine medical issue should always be checked and cleared by a doctor or physio before you attempt to begin or return to training. That said there are lots of minor little niggles and irritations that do not require much more than a few stretches or exercises to fix. It is a shame if people let these things delay or prevent them from getting healthy.
Firstly I would like you to meet Joe and Jo. They are both between 18 and 65, are of average height, average build and are extremely average in every way. As is about average in this country they are both a little overweight and both extremely inflexible and unfit. They both want to improve this situation.
Joe works 100hrs a week in an office and Jo has 2.4 children (Joey, Jojo and Jo Jr) aged between 1 and 5. Between them they have a host of problems. They got in touch with me and we agreed on a plan to start training and eating better and to improve their body composition and posture.
After doing a movement assessment and trying out a few exercises it was clear that everything made Jo/Joe's lower back hurt. Between the assessment and a quick postural analysis we decided that Joe has an extremely tight right hip and shoulder from hours of sitting leaning into his computer with a slouched posture and Jo has the same issue but on the left from holding a baby on her hip all day.
This is a really depressingly common problem. As it feels like a 'lower back' issue everyone is terrified of serious spinal injury. Luckily they are just being hypochondriacs.
Without me either misspelling Latin from memory or actually opening a book the muscles in question are called hip flexers. They start in the lower back and loop through the pelvis and attach in at the top of the thigh. They SHOULD be in charge of driving the hips backwards. Imagine getting ready to perform a long jump or pulling your knees into your stomach laying on your back.
Unfortunately when someone spends too long sitting in a slouched position with the hip flexers flexed they become very tight and unlike a 'trained' muscle forget how to relax. The slouched posture also causes the abdominal and glute (bottom) muscles to become relaxed and lazy. The hip flexers are then required to work overtime in order to provide postural support to the upper body.
This causes the pevic bone to become tilted forward as the muscles pull tight. When they are forced to do a little extra they tug on the lower back and cause the "back pain" that the Jo(e)s are experiencing. This is especially true for Jo as pregnancy will always cause abdominal weakness as the muscles become stretched by the bump.
Another awful side effect of this is an inability to really tense the glutes or abs. This makes someone a lot weaker than they should be and that makes me sad, in addition to causing round tummies and saggy bottoms.
Before the couple begin training I get them to perform the following movements.
The short bridge above should be pushed up into slowly as you breath out deeply. Keep the heels planted and really squeeze your bum. Pull the shoulder blades back and down. Your whole back should be involved in this. When this becomes easy and the low back doesn't complain you can make life harder again by squeezing something between your knees.
After this becomes manageable in a minute, an hour or a week you can move on.
The above stretch should be done after the bridge. In order to keep things perfect start by standing against a wall. You should feel your bottom, low back and shoulder blades pressed against it. Try to keep the exact same spinal and pelvic alignment as you lunge forward. Depending on how tight your hips are it may be impossible to stay bolt upright with the knee on the ground and no arch in your low back. To take this stretch a little further press down hard with the back foot without changing position. This will make the hip flexer work harder and stretch a little more.
After that becomes manageable we can move on again. As before this may take minutes or weeks. Never rush and always enjoy the journey.
Once these movements are feeling a little looser and easier I recommend another movement to build some strength. Holding the above position without raising the hips or sagging in the stomach will increase the strength in the back and abs. Start slow and attempt to build up to a minute in this position. Stay flat, keep breathing and squeeze that bum.
Building strength is important as while stretching may allow you to reduce and manage the feeling in the back it will not 'fix' the problem. The habit of slouching needs to be replaced with the habit of training.
In the next article I will go over helping the Jo(e)s with changing their diets and overcoming cravings as well as getting them started with a basic workout routine.
If you think this may be useful to anyone direct them to my page or get them to sign up here for future updates.
For a consultation and to inquire about your own training and health please follow this final link.
Richard at Force of Nature PT
Move Well, Get Strong, Eat Naturally, Become a Force of Nature