A Healthy Back for the Summer
by Mark Mayes Certified Health Fitness Specialist
Every spring, many of us seem to develop cabin fever and eagerly head outside on Saturday to engage in activities that we haven’t performed for months. By Monday, we’re walking around with our hands on the smalls of our backs and creaking like and old mattresses when we stand up straight. Spring is like a holiday for pharmaceutical companies that make rubs and ointments for sore muscles. Here is some general information about our backs and some tips that you can use to keep your spring, well, springy.
As you gardeners, Frisbee-golfers, softballers and other outdoor enthusiasts rediscover every spring, your back is probably the area of your body that you neglect most. Your back is composed of a very complex group of muscles that allows you to stand up straight, turn your shoulders and bend over. Almost every move you make depends on the muscles of your back, so you need to take care of it if you want to stay in the garden or the game.
The health of your back depends on a couple things.
- Muscular strength. The muscles of your lower and upper back need to be strong in order to perform daily activities without pain. And because every muscle group has a counterbalancing group of muscles, you must also work to strengthen those muscles that complement the ones in your back—your abdominal muscles. Your back and abdominal muscles work together to support your posture; if one or both groups are weak, you’ll probably feel discomfort in your back.
- Flexibility. As we get older, our range of motion—our flexibility—decreases. To fight this loss in flexibility in our backs, we can perform several stretches, but we have to keep in mind that our bodies are systems. We cannot simply stretch our backs and expect them to be ready to spend two hours bent over the pea patch. Our hamstrings (the backs of our thighs) and the muscles, tendons and ligaments of our shoulders pull on the muscles in our backs, and if these areas are not kept supple as well, they can tighten and cause discomfort when doing daily tasks.
Here are some exercises and stretches that you can do regularly to keep your back and the muscles that affect it ready to get off the couch and get out there.
Do 1–3 sets of 15–25 reps every other day 2–3 days per week.
Hold stretches for 60–90 seconds, and do them every day.