As trainers, it’s common to have clients complaining of chronic back pain. We can’t treat pain, but we can help improve posture, which is a likely culprit. Clients with back pain may have been prescribed medications, had a trip to the chiropractor, or a day in bed. For many of them, the pain won’t stop until the root of the problem is addressed. Lucky for them, we can help.
Trainers can help by preventing bad posture. Keeping your mental tool-belt full of cues to use, and educational comments for early prevention is essential. Those cues and comments can only stretch so far though. As soon as clients leave your supervision, their posture is their responsibility. So what kind of tools belong in your tool-belt, and what tools belong in the hands of your clients?
Prevention in the Gym
You can prevent bad posture by teaching good posture.
The neutral spine is one of the first things you can cue. The neutral spine is the position that provides the least physical stress for the spine when sitting, standing, lifting and moving through daily life. Maintaining this position during exercise will not compromise the natural curve of the spine and should feel comfortable.
Cue neutral spine like this:
- feet shoulder width apart
- knees slightly bent over the ankles
- hips over the knees
- shoulder back
- head forward
Hinge at the Hip
The hip joint is used to do everything from lifting to squatting to jumping during exercise. When neutral spine is combined with bent knees, the hip will act as a hinge. If you imagine the hinge on a door, there is only one joint that moves. That is what a good hip hinge motion should look like – a single joint movement.
In dead-lifts for example, you don’t want a flexed trunk. Flexing the trunk puts more stress on the erector muscles in the back rather than engaging the glutes and hamstrings which are significantly stronger. Instead of flexing the trunk, use the hip hinge. The hip hinge not only protects the back from injury, but it also strengthens the glutes and hamstrings to further improve this movement and other lifts.
Improper lifting is one of the most dangerous movements for the back. When your clients are lifting weights or heavy objects in their daily life, they can go through this mental checklist of movements during the lift.
- Stand close to the object being lifted.
- Spread your feet apart or stagger them as is appropriate.
- Squat down keep feet flat on the floor using knees and hips maintaining neutral spine.
- Engage your abdominal muscles.
- Lift using the work of your leg muscles and not your back.
Prevention in Activities of Daily Living
Since our clients spend the majority of their time away from us at their jobs and homes, that’s crucial time for them to spend practicing good posture. Along with applying the use of the neutral spine position, hip hinging, and proper lifting, there are some other things they can be doing.
Good posture while sitting is especially important for individuals who are sitting at a desk job for 8-10 hours per day and those who sit during a long commute. While seated at any point of the day your client can use this mental checklist for their positioning.
- Feet flat on the floor
- Knees at a 90 degree angle
- Hips slightly above the knees
- Sit all the way back into the chair
- The back should be the neutral position from the ears down to the hips
If the seat of the car or chair is not designed in a way that supports this kind of sitting posture a few adjustments can be made. A wedge could be placed on the seat to tilt the pelvis into its correct positioning, a rolled up towel could be placed behind for lumbar support, a book or small stool could act as a footrest. Remind your clients not to sit for too long and to always get up and move around whenever possible.
Activities of Daily Living:
Good lifting and movement posture isn’t only needed in the gym but around the house and outside as well. Here are some tips to teach.
- When pushing objects like lawn mowers: have arms flexed, staggered stance, and legs underneath the body.
- When pulling objects like strollers or wagons: grasp the object with palms upward, lean bodyweight backward maintaining neutral spine.
- When lifting objects like laundry baskets: follow the 5 step procedure.
- When performing standing activities like dish washing: maintain neutral spine throughout and periodically shift weight back and forth between feet.
Stretches to Incorporate
You only have one spine, and stress is going to happen as there are many joints moving. When stress occurs or there is poor flexibility in certain muscles, it can make it harder for our clients to achieve good posture. Important muscles to have clients stretch are: Pectorals, Hamstrings, Glutes, Spine.
Some easy stretches to incorporate are doorway stretches for the pectorals, toe touch for the hamstrings, pigeon’s pose for the glutes, and cobra pose for the spine. There are many more stretches, but those are just a few to get you started.
Don’t let your clients suffer back pain caused by poor posture. Prevent it now and save them from having to correct it later. We only have one back, so let’s give it the love it deserves.
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