Bend Right

Let's assume for a moment that after reading the various skeletal maladies you haven't quit your job, sold your furniture, and moved to a yoga ashram to find postural enlightenment. Instead, let's hope you at least recognize the importance of sitting up correctly and the subsequent importance of stretching. Unfortunately for the poor unsuspecting weight lifter, there's another danger lurking in the shadowy recesses of your neighborhood gym: improper bending—probably the number-one cause of lower back pain. Luckily it's also the most preventable.

Our backs are built to withstand a tremendous amount of pressure. Our spines, flexible pieces of architectural genius, act as shock absorbers to counteract forces that occur from walking, running, skipping, hopping, driving, sky diving, weight lifting— well, you get the point. However, our backs are not built to withstand the rigors of bending all day long, especially when picking up heavy objects.

If you continually bend the spine of a book in the opposite direction it was meant to go, it eventually weakens and breaks. This is more or less what happens with your spine when you continually use your back incorrectly, day after day, year after year. In her private practice, Deidre heard countless times, "I just bent over to pick up my shoe, and my back gave out." Well that may be the way it seemed, but that's not the way it happened.

"How," you may ask, "should I bend if not from my back?" Ironically, most of us know how to bend correctly because we have ample practice doing so when we have a stiff and sore back. When your back is ailing, you make sure you use your hips and your knees to lower your body to the ground and to raise yourself back up again. Your legs have the largest muscle groups in the body for a reason.

All of this has considerable practical application to the time you spend in the gym, because you have to bend to pick up weights and you have to bend to put them back. To state the obvious: It is very important that you do this correctly.

Try this exercise:

1. Stand against a wall with your feet shoulder width apart, roughly six inches from the wall.

2. Begin to slowly slide down the wall while bending your knees.

3. Now step away from the wall and lower yourself into a deep knee bend while keeping your back straight.

This is how you should use your back at all times, whether picking up a gum wrapper or a 45-pound barbell.

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