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Strength training and back pain

When injured or in pain, it is easy to dismiss strength training as something to be done in the future once recovered. The reality is that most non traumatic injuries require some strengthening in their recovery. That said, specific strength training does tend to come towards the end of rehab and is part of the future proofing of the body. Strength training differs from range of motion in that it exhausts the muscles quickly, thus providing the stimuli to adapt. This usually means that longer recovery time is also needed to allow the muscle to ‘recharge’.There are many benefits of this kind of training – one which interests many people is the amount of calories burned, evidence shows that strength training is as good or better for weight control than CV training. There are many reasons for this but the main one is the intensity of the exercise as well as the recovery mentioned above. The calorie burning continues for many hours afterwards as the body recovers from the session.

Another benefit is time management, being attached to a mobile device seems to be part of modern life but this can be turned into an advantage.  It is entirely possible to work while working out, the rest periods in between sets can be used to catch up on emails or other non time sensitive work.

I am actually doing sets of deadlifts whilst writing this post.

It is possible to do this kind of workout without getting sweaty as complete rest is allowed between sets.  Some might not find this palatable but the time needed for a workout can be much reduced by changing the intensity and rest periods, meaning a valuable 20 minute workout can be fitted into a 30 min break (if you can shower quickly).

Another benefit of strength training is the lack of speed at which gains are lost if training is not continued.  As long as the period of strengthening has been long enough (more than four months) there will then be semi-permanent changes in the muscle tissue. Once past the initial stage of enhanced neuromuscular recruitment then new muscle cells are synthesised. There is evidence that once these cells have developed that they persist even when training is dormant.  The nuclei of these cells remain whilst the cells themselves ‘ deflate’ ready to activate once training is resumed.  This helps to explain why people who excel in a sport in their youth seem to retain certain specific strengths through life even though they no longer train.

Coming back to deadlifts, they are an excellent example of an unexpected rehab exercise.  When suffering from back pain, it can seem quite terrifying to lift even a pint out milk out of the fridge so it would not seem a natural thing to lift weights.  There are many reasons that the deadlift is a healthy ‘back’ exercise.  Back is in inverted commas as it is actually a hip or whole body exercise and it has the effect of threat reduction in the lower back.  It also teaches you to use the appropriate structures to lift with. Many are afraid of bending what is perceived as their back but is actually their hips.  Contrary to expectation this exercise can sometimes provide an element of pain relief rather than the expected increase in pain.

This exercise is not one to learn alone though and some advice should be sought either in a gym or in clinic with us here.  There are many ways of teaching as well as variations suited to individuals.  Not everyone is destined to be an Olympian or a power lifter so they do not necessarily need to fit in with the rules of those disciplines. So here’s a quick video explanation of the deadlift;


A Few Useful Terms

Aerobic –  Lower-intensity exercise fuelled by oxygen-burning metabolism (lower intensity, e.g. jogging is aerobic).

​Anaerobic –  Exercise too intense to be fuelled by aerobic metabolism (e.g. sprinting).​

​Reps –  Repetitions of one exercise. “I did 12 deadlift reps.”​

​Sets –  A group of repetitions “I did three sets of deadlifts.”​

​Failure –  Exhausting a muscle to the point where it cannot do another rep with good form.

​Hypertrophy –  Increase in size of muscle in response to training.

Atrophy –  reduction in size due to not training or disease.

​1RM –  Abbreviation for “one rep max”: the maximum weight you can move in a single repetition. Often used as a baseline. Also can be known as PB personal best.

​Eccentric Contraction –  Controlled lengthening of a muscle, e.g. the biceps while lowering a dumbell from the shoulder.

​Balistic –   Movement due to gravity.


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