Exercise Strategies for Saving Your Spine (June 8th, 2011)

On Wednesday, June 8th 2011, ‘Exercise Strategies for Saving your Spine’ was presented at the UBC Hospital for staff of the Operating Room and Post Anesthetic Care Units.  During this 1 hour practical seminar (presented by StayFitAnywhere’s Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist, Andrew Burchell), causes of  back injury and some ideas on the root causes of back pain were discussed in the first section of the workshop.  During the second section of the workshop, practical ‘spine saving’ exercises were demonstrated by Andrew and practiced by the participants.  Here is a quick review of what was covered during the info session:

Low Back Injuries:

• 80% of people will experience low back pain sometime in their lives

• The most common cause of low-back pain is muscle strain

• Spine disorders are the most prevalent cause of chronic disability in persons less than 45 years old.

• Second only to childbirth in accounting for hospital stays for patients under 65 years old.

• Annual prevalence of low-back disorders in US is 15% at any given time

• In 1992, costs associated with low back estimate from $20 to $50 Billion

• Association between strenuous work/lifting and the severity of spine disorders

• Example:  workers performing heavy lifts from twisted position have 6 times the risk of acute lumbar disc problems compared to workers that perform lighter work

StayFitAnywhere’s thoughts on the root causes of low back pain:

• We are primates designed to protect ourselves to survive

• We are becoming more and more sedentary, causing diminished physical capabilities

• Lack of use, training, and education of our own bodies will inevitably lead to some form of physical condition or dysfunction

• Poor posture, body mechanics, and movement skills can increase the risk for injury

• Every body is different, and therefore, has different musculoskeletal imbalances

• A strong, well-balanced body is more resistant to injury (eg. balance of strength & flexibility in your muscles)

• There are 12 components to physical fitness… how many of them do you train?

• The body is inter-connected!  You are only as strong as your weakest link.  Generally, strong & coordinated muscles in all areas, not just the core, will help lessen the risk for back injury

Foundational ‘Spine Saving’ Exercises:


• Setting your ‘Perfect Posture’


• Contracting all areas of the abdominal wall to create a rigidity that is stronger than the sum of its parts.  If you are lifting a maximum load, it is critical that you have a lot of rigidity!

Proprioceptive ‘Wake-Ups’:

• Getting the muscle-system fired up before you perform a heavy lift

Anterior Exercises:

• Isometric crunch + Deep Breathing (keep one leg straight and the other leg bent.  Slide your hands under your lumbar spine to preserve natural ‘S’ curve of the spine)

Posterior Exercises:

• Hip Hinging (hinge point= greater trochanter of the femur.  Remember to ‘spread the floor’ as you lift)

• 4-Point Superman (perfect posture, deep breathing + pull your ground hand towards your ground knee for further core activation)

Side Exercises:

• Side Bridging (perfect posture + slow deep breathing)

Caveats for Exercise as suggested by Dr.  Stuart M. McGill, Professor (Spine Mechanics), University of Waterloo:

  1. Low back exercises have the most beneficial effect when performed daily
  2. The ‘no pain-no gain’ axiom does not apply when exercising the low back (in pained individuals particularly)
  3. General exercise programs that also combine cardiovascualar components (like walking) have been shown to be more effective in both rehabilitation and for injury prevention.
  4. It would be very unwise to perform full range spine motion while under load, shortly after rising from bed.
  5. Given that endurance has more protective value than strength, strength gains should not be overemphasized at the expense of endurance.
  6. Your training objectives must be identified, be they rehabilitation, reduce injury risk, optimize general health, or maximize athletic performance), and the most appropriate exercises chosen.
  7. Be patient and stick with the program.  Increased function and reduction of pain may not occur for 3 months.

Happy training!  And don’t forget to download your free copy of

“The 12 Keys to Fat Loss”

Andrew Burchell, Dipl.Ex.Sci

Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist


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