Including weight lifting in your exercise routine is one of the best things you can do for your health. Weight lifting goes far beyond building muscle, losing weight, and looking leaner.
Adding weight training to your weekly workout routine can also keep your bones strong, manage chronic conditions and diseases, and even enhance your thinking and learning abilities as you get older.
But if you do not take the proper steps to protect your back and body during the process, you have a high chance of hurting your back. This can put you out from weight lifting for months and affect your general quality of life.
Back injuries tend to occur in your lower back and spine. When you lift, you generally put lots of strain on your lumbar region and this puts strain on your low spine.
Depending on how badly you hurt your back, pain can range from a mild tweak to severe and crippling pain. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can protect your back when weight lifting. Taking these simples steps will ensure you will be safe during your workout.
Symptoms of Back Pain
If you hurt your back during weight lifting, you will know it. The only variation is how bad the pain will feel post-injury. Pain may range from mild aching to chronic pain to sharp stabbing sensations.
Pain may also come and go with certain movements. You may twist to the right and feel a spasm in your lower back. Your back can also feel tender and sensitive to the touch. These sensations can alter the quality of your day-to-day life and making working out, weight lifting, bending over, and even walking painful and difficult.
What is the Main Cause of Back Pain?
The most common reason for back pain after weight lifting is improper form and poor posture. Many weight lifters, especially ones new to lifting, tend to round their backs. Rounding your back when lifting heavy weights causes unnecessary strain on your ligaments, spine, and muscles.
When you are lifting heavy, it is much easier to lose proper form and posture. You focus too heavily on actually lifting the weight and posture suffers, leading to you lifting with the wrong parts of your body.
How to Protect Your Back When Weight Lifting
One of the simplest things you can do to protect your back is to make sure you are breathing. When exercise and weight lifting is challenging, people tend to hold their breath.
When your body strains, a common reaction is to strain your breath as well. But holding your breath through the action of lifting deprives your muscles of necessary oxygen to help you lift the weight.
You may also hold your breath because your focus is fully on how heavy the weight is. You must transition your mindset to focus on your breath instead. The best rule of thumb to remember when weight lifting is to inhale when it is easy and to exhale when it is hard.
Correct breathing will also make it feel easier for your body to lift the weight. If it feels easier to lift the weight, the less likely you will stop breathing, round your back, or put the work into the wrong muscles, which often results in back injury and pain.
Another simple tweak you can make when lifting weights is to retain proper form. The saying that proper form during weight lifting is more important than how heavy your lift or how many reps you complete is all too true.
To ensure your form is correct you should focus on the following when weight lifting:
- Make sure your neck is aligned with your spine at all times.
- Your ears should fall over your shoulders and your chin rests comfortably with your neck.
- Make sure your back is straight and never rounded.
- Keep your shoulders away from your ears and back so you do not scrunch your shoulders and neck.
- Never lock out your knees and keep them relaxed and slightly bent.
- Brace your core by sucking your belly button into your spine and tucking your pelvis.
Although it may sound a little silly, squeeze those butt checks when you are lifting too. Squeezing your glutes is particularly important if you want to protect your lower back.
Your glutes are one of the strongest group of muscles in your body. When you tighten those muscles, you are protecting the area between your sacrum and lumbar area of your low back. This movement will ensure your lumbar area and your hips move in unison with each other.
It is most important to squeeze your glutes when you are performing exercises such as deadlifts, squats, planks, and even pushup. Essentially, any move that requires legs, butt, lower back, and even lower abs should be accompanied by a set of squeezing cheeks.
Furthermore, making sure your core is tight and you are bracing your abdominals is key as well. Your core supports your entire body, so if you are lifting weights and your abs are limp and loose, you will find it challenging for your body to support the entire load effectively.
Your core also extends to your lower back, so keeping everything in this region tight will ensure you are protecting your back and not straining your low back too hard. So, when you are squatting with weight, completing a deadlift, doing heavy curls, or anything else, keep your abs engaged the entire time.
Although this may be an unpopular opinion and ego-challenger, do not lift more weight than you can actually handle. Challenging yourself is great for building endurance and growing stronger, but not so much you put your body at risk for injury.
Go too heavy, too fast, when you are not ready, is one of the most common reasons lifters hurt their back. Keeping your weight right and your ego in check really does go a long way.
What tends to happen is one day you decide you want to lift more weight than usual. You add quite a bit more weight for a good challenge.
You are so confident and determined you can do it, focusing on proper form and breathing takes a back seat. When this happens, the improper form lets you lift the weight, so you think you can do it. But this is not the case and you are just waiting for an injury to happen.
If this happens to you, be self-aware and catch yourself when you are in this mindset. Listen to your body, be in tune with your form, and do not overextend yourself when you are not ready. Your ego is the enemy, not your friend in this case.
Last but not least, stretch. Stretching is an important part to anyone who exercises and weight lifts on a regular basis. Stretching allows your body and muscles to recover after tough workouts.
Focusing your stretches on the back, hamstrings, spine, and legs is great for making sure you are taking care of your back. If you can stretch out even just once a week you will feel a difference in your back and body.
A weight lifting routine is a great way to exercise and challenge your body. Building lean muscle not only helps you look lean and toned, but it also keeps you feeling strong and healthy.
Weight lifting is something that everyone can do as well. To lift, you do not need to lift heavy weights to reap the benefits. Even lighter weights will help build muscle and help your body lean out.
But in order to reap these amazing benefits, you need to ensure you are protecting your body and back. If you hurt your back when lifting, there are some serious consequences. Luckily, the ways of protecting your back we discussed above and simple and effective.
Remembering to breathe, retaining good posture, stretching, and not lifting too heavy for your level are the keys to remaining safe. Go a little slower at the gym and be a bit more in tune with your body because it will go a long way. Next time you are at the gym, give these tips a go to protect your back when weight lifting and feel the difference!
Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor and the #1 Wasilla Chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor, his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.