You put in the hours, pumping iron, logging miles, sweating buckets, overhauling your diet, and (most important) staying consistent.
And the results speak for themselves — every time you look in the mirror, a leaner, more athletic person stares back at you. You’ve even bought yourself a new wardrobe. So now what?
Some people will keep going, perhaps taking up triathlons, joining a hoops league, or training for the CrossFit Games.
But others will want to take their foot off the gas and appreciate what they’ve accomplished.
The key is not to leave it off for too long — two weeks of inactivity are all it takes to notice significant declines in strength and cardiovascular fitness, according to a study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine.
Indeed, the body is incredibly efficient at adapting to whatever demands (or lack thereof) are placed on it.
So now that you’ve crossed the finish line, how can you keep from backpedaling and losing what you’ve built? Just follow these simple steps.
1. Cut Back Gradually
Smart training plans (like those available on Beachbody On Demand) can allow you to work out 5 or 6 days a week with no ill effects (read: overtraining).
But once you reach your strength and endurance goals, you can reduce your workout frequency without losing your hard-earned gains, according to a study at the University of Alabama.
The researchers found that adults aged 20 to 35 who worked out just one day a week not only saw no loss of muscle but actually continued to gain it (albeit at a greatly reduced rate).
Our recommendation: Start by reducing your workout frequency by a third, then a half, and so on until you find the minimal effective dose that’s right for you.
2. Keep It Intense
Even a single set of a strength-training exercise can produce hypertrophy (i.e., muscle growth), according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
So if your goal is to hold on to what you have, one or two sets per move per workout should do the trick.
The key is to keep them challenging; you should always feel like you stopped two reps short of failure.
Take a similar approach with cardio: In a study in the journal Physiological Reports, a team of British researchers found that a single, intense, 20-minute interval workout every five days allowed participants to maintain levels of cardiovascular fitness built through much higher frequency training programs.
3. Dial In Your Diet
Here’s the one category where you might have to be more diligent than you were before you reached your goal.
As you cut back on your workouts, you’re going to start burning fewer calories. To avoid the fate of the ex-athlete who balloons 50 pounds when he hangs up his cleats, tighten up your diet as you reduce your training time.
“On the days you don’t work out, cut 300 to 500 calories from your diet,” says Dr. Jade Teta, founder of The Metabolic Effect, a fitness and nutrition coaching service focused on maximizing results with minimal effort. “Ideally, those calories should come from starchy carbs and sources of empty calories [i.e., junk food] rather than from protein or veggies,” says Teta.
4. Stay Flexible
These general guidelines are just that: general guidelines. Though lower frequency, more intense workouts seem to work for most people looking to maintain their fitness gains, there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution.
“It’s going to be different for everyone,” says Teta.
So be a detective: Monitor your strength, weight, definition, and overall sense of well-being as you tweak your exercise and eating habits, and be ready to adjust everything up or down accordingly.
The rising rates of Type 2 diabetes also mean increased potential for developing serious health complications ranging from heart disease and stroke to vision loss and premature death. Exercise could be the antidote.
Several studies have found exercise can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes; some research has shown a 58% risk reduction among high-risk populations. While much of the research has looked at the impact of moderate-to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise, a new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings examined the potential impact of strength training on Type 2 diabetes risk. The data showed building muscle strength was associated with a 32% lowered risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
“Our study showed that very high levels of resistance training may not be necessary to obtain considerable health benefits on preventing Type 2 diabetes,” Wang says. “Small and simple resistance exercises like squats and planks can benefit your health even if you don’t lose any weight.”
Think twice before abandoning the treadmill or elliptical trainer for the weight room, advises Eric Shiroma, ScD, staff scientist at the National Institute on Aging.
As part of a 2018 study, Shiroma and his colleagues followed more than 35,000 healthy women for 14 years and found women who incorporated strength training into their workouts experienced a 30% lowered risk of Type 2 diabetes but women who also participated in cardiovascular activities experienced additional risk reduction.
“When comparing the same amount of time in all cardio, strength [training] or a combination, the combination had the most Type 2 diabetes risk reduction,” Shiroma explains.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Researchers are still unclear about which type of exercise could have the biggest impact on reducing your risk. Wang suggests erring on the side of caution and following a workout regimen that blends both pumping iron and heart-pumping cardio, explaining, “Both strength training and cardiovascular aerobic training are important for the prevention of Type 2 diabetes.”
The biggest takeaway, according to Shiroma, is any amount of exercise is beneficial for reducing Type 2 diabetes risk so do pushups or take a walk around the block as long as you get moving.
Before you crawl into bed tonight, turn out the lights and power down your devices. Exposure to artificial light — from sources such as overhead lights, smartphones and televisions — was associated with higher rates of obesity, according to new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The study included almost 44,000 women between the ages of 35–74 over a six-year period and found women who were exposed to artificial light while sleeping had a 17% higher risk of gaining approximately 11 pounds compared to those who slept in the dark; their rates of obesity were 33% higher. Women who fell asleep with a television or light on were also more apt to gain weight and become overweight or obese over time.
LIGHT AND CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
“Humans are genetically adapted to be active during daylight and sleep in darkness at night,” explains lead author Dr. Yong-Moon (“Mark”) Park, MD, postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health. “Exposure to light at night while sleeping could alter the body’s 24-hour body clock leading to changes in hormones and other biological processes that regulate sleep, appetite and weight gain.”
While the study focused on exposure to artificial light in the bedroom but Park notes that light coming from outside the room — from other rooms or street lights, for example — was also associated with a slightly increased risk of weight gain. The study did not explore whether overall exposure to artificial light, including daytime exposures, had an impact on weight.
Several studies have linked sleep issues, including insomnia, sleep duration and sleep disruptions, to higher rates of obesity. Research published in the journal Sleep Medicine found the incidence of obesity was higher among those who slept fewer than six hours or more than nine hours per night; chronic insomnia was also associated with higher BMI, according to one study.
The link between sleep and obesity is one reason to make improving sleep a priority, says Lu Qi, MD, PhD, director of the Tulane University Obesity Research Center. But sleep is just one of the known risk factors for obesity. Lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress and smoking are also linked to an increased likelihood of being overweight or obese.
“Even if you improve your sleep habits, you still need to pay attention to other risk factors,” says Qi. “We also need to be cautious in interpreting these results; artificial light might be a factor but it could be correlated to other habits that were not part of this study.”
Park agrees, adding, “While our study provides stronger evidence than other previous studies it is still not conclusive. Even so, it seems reasonable to advise people not to sleep with lights on. Turning off the lights at bedtime may be a simple thing we can do to reduce the chances of gaining weight.”
Whether you’ve gone for a long endurance walk or thrown in some intervals, it’s important to take time to let your body cool down before you head back inside. This allows you to slowly lower your heart rate and get rid of any lactic acid that could potentially cause soreness and a heavy feeling in your legs. A 10-minute walking cool down or completing a few yoga poses are great options post-workout.
One of the most important but often overlooked aspects of recovery is hydration. Even during low-to-moderate intensity workouts, the body loses fluid through sweat that needs to be replaced. If you don’t, recovery takes longer and your performance for your next workout will be negatively affected. In the hour that follows your walking workout, drink plenty of water. If you’re doing long distance training for a walking marathon or have completed a particularly intense workout in hot weather, an electrolyte replacement drink might also be needed. If you’re unsure exactly how much fluid you’ve lost during exercise, weighing yourself before and after workouts is one way you can gauge how much fluid you need to drink to rehydrate properly. You can also track your hydration with an app like MyFitnessPal.
Stretching as soon as your workout is finished and while your muscles are still warm can help reduce muscle soreness and improve your flexibility — both of which can help you improve your overall fitness and decrease your chances of injury. If you don’t have a ton of time to go through a series of stretches, concentrate on your weak spots. For example, if hamstring tightness is normally an issue, put most of your attention there. When you have the time, try this seated routine that targets many of the common sore spots for walkers.
REDUCE MUSCLE SORENESS
While nutrition and stretching are big pieces to this puzzle, there are other things you can do to help prevent soreness so you can feel better and work out more frequently:
Massage: This helps improve circulation and relax aching muscles.
Since the body is 60% water, drinking H20 is “crucial for so many of the most basic biologic functions. Cells need to be hydrated with water or they literally shrivel up and can’t do their job as efficiently,” says Robin Foroutan, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That includes an impaired ability to expel environmental waste and detox; if you’re dehydrated you may feel cloudy-headed, have headaches or feel constipated, among other ills.
Plain water should always reign as your drink of choice. “It has a better capacity to usher out metabolic toxins from the body compared to liquid that already has something dissolved in it, like coffee or tea,” says Foroutan. However, there are certain additions that can make the once-plain sip seem more interesting and deliver health benefits, too.
Here, alternative hydration boosters to try (and which ones to skip):
Not only does a slice of lemon provide a refreshing taste, but “it’s alkaline-forming, meaning it helps balance out things that are naturally acidic in the body,” says Foroutan. This can have an added post-workout benefit “it can reduce lactic acid, an end product of exercising muscles,” she says.
This amino acid supplement is in a powder form, so it dissolves nicely in water and has a lemon-like taste, says Foroutan. “Acetyl L-Carnitine is a mitochondrial booster. Your mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cells that make cellular energy, help the body use fat for fuel more efficiently,” she says.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for overall health and plays a key role in keeping the brain and nervous system working. “It’s mainly found in animal products, meaning many vegetarians and vegans need to supplement with it, but even some meat eaters have trouble absorbing it,” says Foroutan. “You can have the best kind of diet and even feel OK but have a B12 level that’s less than optimal. When we bring those levels up, people tend to feel more energetic and their mood is better,” she says. Try adding a dropper-full of B12 to your glass of water once a day, suggests Foroutan.
Many grocery stores now stock bottled hydrogen water, but a less expensive solution is purchasing molecular hydrogen tablets to add to your drink. “These can be used to help balance inflammation in the body,” says Foroutan. While inflammation is a normal body process — it happens during exercise, too — low-grade chronic inflammation is damaging. One review in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded hydrogen may also boost exercise performance, though researchers are still examining potential mechanisms.
If you’re active, you lose electrolytes in sweat and it’s important to replace them, but in a smart way, says Foroutan. Many bottled electrolyte waters contain just a trace amount and are often loaded with added sugars, notes Foroutan, so it’s important to read the labels carefully. You can also skip the sugary drinks altogether by buying electrolyte tablets and dissolving them in water. What’s more, “you can get electrolytes from leafy greens (Think: a handful of spinach in your smoothie or a chicken-topped salad),” says Foroutan.
Alkaline water has a higher pH than regular water, but alkalized bottled water is expensive, and there just isn’t enough research to support making the investment, according to the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. Foroutan agrees there’s no reason to buy it bottled, but if you really want to try it “you can add a pinch of baking soda to water to create alkaline water.”
You’re lying in bed, trying to decide what time to set your alarm for tomorrow. You could get a full seven hours of sleep if you wake up at your normal time, or you could wake up an hour and a half earlier to make that morning spin class. Which should you choose?
“Sleep and exercise are both incredibly important for your body, but if you have to choose one it has to be sleep,” says Amy Leigh Mercree, a wellness coach. “Adequate amounts of sleep gets your body the time it needs to replenish and refresh your cellular functioning. If you do not get to do that, your health will suffer greatly.”
But just because sleep is usually the answer doesn’t mean you should discount the need for exercise for your overall health if you’re always crunched for time. “Exercise changes the brain and is critical for brain health. What’s good for your body is good for your brain, too,” said John Assaraf, brain researcher and CEO of NeuroGym. “Through exercise, you are feeding your brain by increasing blood and oxygen flow.”
When you have to choose, remember a short workout is better than no workout at all. If you have only 10 minutes, do a quick workout at home with simple exercises like squats, jumping jacks and planks. There are also lots of apps that can give you a quick workout for a specific time frame using only your bodyweight.
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
If you find yourself constantly short on time, it might also be good to see where that time is actually going. Try tracking your days meticulously for a week to see where you might be wasting time. Almost everyone is guilty of too much time on social media or watching TV, so see if you could substitute that time for working out. This will help you get a proper night’s sleep and a workout.
When it comes to exercise, walking doesn’t always get the respect it deserves — and it’s time that changed. Before buying into the idea that walking isn’t a worthwhile workout, learn the truth behind these three common walking myths.
There is a great feeling of accomplishment when your fitness tracker buzzes to signal you hit 10,000 steps. But Carol Ewing Garber, PhD, professor of movement sciences at Columbia University, believes it might be an arbitrary target.
Yes, there are studies that show walking 10,000 steps per day is associated with lower blood pressure and improved glucose tolerance but the idea of walking the equivalent of five miles per day could feel overwhelming to new exercisers.
“[Walking 10,000 steps] will result in health benefits,” Garber says. “But it should be noted that … there is benefit even with small amounts of walking and the benefits increase with the more steps you walk each day.”
Garber suggests aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week instead of setting a step count goal.
If you want to count steps, consider this: Walking an additional 2,000 steps per day — even if your current step count is minimal — helps lower body mass index and boost insulin sensitivity, according to research published in the journal BMJ.
Leslie Sansone, fitness expert and creator of Walk at Home Workouts is adamant: “Walking works for weight loss!”
A slow stroll around the block isn’t going to move the needle on the scale (although it does burn more calories than binge watching legal dramas). To lose weight with a walking workout, Sansone suggests high-intensity interval training or HIIT.
Picking up the pace — without breaking into a run — at regular intervals during your walk has a major impact on weight loss.
In one small study, researchers at the University of Virginia found that overweight women who logged three 30-minute, high-intensity walks and two moderately-paced walks per week for 12 weeks lost six times more belly fat than women who went for a slow stroll five days per week. A second study found that varying speed burned up to 20 percent more calories than maintaining the same pace.
Incorporating HIIT into your walking workout is simple, according to Sansone. After a 5-minute warmup walk at a slow pace, walk at a brisk pace for 30 seconds and then a regular pace for 4 minutes. Repeat the interval four times. End with a 5-minute cooldown walk.
“Walkers have so many choices to get fit and stay fit for life,” Sansone says.
Walking can be a “gateway exercise” that helps new exercisers improve their cardiovascular fitness and stamina to transition to running but not all walkers want to run — and that’s OK.
“Walking is a good exercise for everyone,” Garber says.
A study published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology found rates of hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes were lower for regular walkers than runners.
While a walk around the block is a good start, maximizing the benefits of a walking workout requires logging sufficient time in your sneakers. Garber suggests focusing on distance, duration or calorie expenditure (all viewable on your fitness tracker) noting that it’s the amount of exercise that counts — for both walkers and runners.
“If you start fitness walking today, you will instantly feel better and know you’re doing something good for your body, mind and soul,” Sansone says.
Screen time is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics for parents, healthcare practitioners, and educators. How much screen time should children and adolescents be allowed per day? Does screen time include the time spent on laptops to complete homework and reading assignments for classes? At what age should children begin to use screens? When is an appropriate developmental timeframe to buy your child a phone? Does the use of screens increase the risks of behavioral disorders and sleep problems in children and adolescents? The list of questions goes on and on.
Unfortunately, many of the answers to these questions are simply unknown at this time and some, honestly, are personal choices that each family has to make for themselves. Truly, there is no denying that the digital age is here to stay; screens are all around us, from televisions to smart watches, from iPods to smart phones, from tablets to laptops, there is literally a screen for everything. In 2017, 98% of homes in the US with young children had a mobile touch-screen device compared to 2011 when only 52% of households had such technology.1
Globally, the availability and usage of mobile touch-screen devices by children are at astonishingly high rates:1
In Australia, children under 2 years are reported to have an average weekly screen time of 14.2 hours, while those between 2-5 years old average 25.9 hours
In France, 78% of children were using a mobile touch-screen device by 14 months of age and 90% of children by 2 years of age
Across five countries in Southeast Asia, 66% of children between 3-8 years of age are reportedly using their parents’ mobile touch-screen device, while 14% of children already owned their own devices
In Britain, 21% of children aged 3-4 years of age are reported to own their own device
Interestingly enough, part of the dilemma of creating set guidelines on screen time in children is that there are various groups with sometimes competing and conflicting interests in this subject. Educational and tech focused organizations encourage the use of screen time for educational advantages and for enhanced benefits to long-term career and financial goals as children grow into adults. On the other hand, public health officials warn of the potential detriment to young minds and their still developing behaviors.
What is screen time displacing?
There are a variety of reasons cited by experts for keeping screen time to a minimum, particularly in young children.
Take for example the CDC, which states that children between the ages of 8-10 spend, on average, 6 hours per day in front of screens, including 4 hours of TV viewing.2 In children ages 11-14 this number skyrockets to 9 hours per day with approximately 5 of those being TV watching.2 Finally, in teenagers aged 15-18 the number of hours per day in front of a screen averages 7.5 with 4.5 being in front of a TV.2 These numbers are startling high when one realizes the activities which are NOT taking place when this much screen time is involved.
For instance –
Mentally and physically supportive health benefits which come from engaging in physical activity such as organized sports, neighborhood pick-up games, the unorganized activities of exploring and using imaginative play alone and in groups, and the quiet, downtime children and adolescents need to regroup and restore their bodies and minds
Social aspects of cultivating relationships with physically present individuals, learning how to read and empathize with emotional cues and needs, developing problem solving skills alone and in groups
Interconnectedness and responsibilities that come from supporting the family and local community networks through chores, volunteering, and taking part in events
Restful sleep and downtime to restore brain and body
Reading and engaging in learning opportunities not involving screens or directed education/learning
Mindful, present, and nutritious eating time with family, so as to avoid passive overconsumption of nutrient void foods
All of the above suffer when screen time overtakes the activities of unplugged healthful daily life.
Screen time duration impacts wellbeing
A study looked at the effects of screen time in 40,337 children and adolescents in the US between 12-17 years of age.3 For the purpose of this study, screen time included cell phones, computers, electronic devices, electronic games, and TV. The amounts of time spent on screens was compared to an array of psychological wellbeing measures.3
Results from this study found that the wellbeing of children and adolescents did not differ significantly (except in curiosity) between those spending no time on screens and those spending 1 hour or less per day on screens.3 However, after exceeding 1 hour of screen time, the risks to wellbeing increased– the researchers explained that increased screen time (> 1 hour/day), “was generally linked to progressively lower psychological well-being. In terms of relative risk (RR), high users of screens (≥ 7 hours/day) carried twice the risk of low well-being as low users (1 hour/day).”3 The low wellbeing measures included not staying calm (especially among 14- to 17-year-olds, RR 2.08), not finishing tasks (RR 2.53), not being curious (RR 2.72), and having less self-control and emotional stability.3 High users of screens compared to low users were described as more difficult to care for, while twice as many high (vs. low) users of screens had an anxiety or depression diagnosis.3 It was found that the effects of high screen time use on wellbeing was generally greater in adolescents than in children.3
Beyond psychological wellbeing, increased time spent on screens is also associated with increased risk of cardio-metabolic diseases and being overweight.4 It comes as no surprise that longer duration of reading and doing homework is associated with higher academic achievement.5 High use of screen time has also been linked to worsening sleep patterns in children and adolescents.6 In a review of 67 studies published from 1999 to early 2014, it was found that screen time was adversely associated with sleep outcomes (shortened duration and delayed timing) in children and adolescents in 90% of the studies.6 Knowing that restful and adequate sleep, particularly in children and adolescents, is associated with lower obesity risk, better psychological wellbeing, improved cognitive functioning, and lower risk-taking behaviors, it is important that the detrimental effects that screens have on sleep be minimized in this developing population.7
Managing & modeling healthy screen behaviors
A quick peak at the leading organizations’ recommendations on supporting healthy screen time in children and adolescents reveals similar guidelines across the groups which can be broken into 3 key areas:.
1. Model appropriate screen behavior. Modeling appropriate screen behavior begins with parents, guardians, caretakers, and educators. The authors in a BMC Obesity publication concluded that, “Mothers’ and fathers’ media parenting practices were associated with children’s screen time. Interventions aimed at reducing children’s screen time should address both mothers’ and fathers’ media parenting practices.”8 Screen time habits discussed in this article included, among other factors, screen use by parents during meal times.8
2. Limit screen time and limit to age-appropriate content. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidelines:9
For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video chatting. Parents of children 18-24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they are seeing.
For children ages 2-5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour/day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
For children 6 years and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.
Some researchers and practitioners recommend limiting screen time to 2 hours/day after age 5, not including educational screen time such as what is used for school, studying, and work-related screen interactions.10
3. Encourage face-to-face interactions and physical activity on a regular basis. Be intentional about daily “screen-free” time, particularly during mealtime, conversations, play time, family time, and bedtime. Support daily exercise for all children and adolescents being especially cognizant that sedentary screen time does not become a part of a child’s habits before the age of 5.11
Straker L et al. Conflicting guidelines on young children’s screen time and use of digital technology create policy and practice dilemmas. J Pediatr. 2018;202:300–303.
The chiropractor. A lot of people swear by chiropractic treatments as the only way they get relief from back pain, neck pain, headaches, and a host of joint problems. Others aren’t so sure about this holistic wellness discipline. Regardless of what camp you’re in, allow us to demystify this type of care for you.
Chiropractors Train as Long as MDs Do
That’s right, a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) studies for four years of undergraduate and four years of chiropractic school, using similar books that MDs use for study, says Scott Bautch, DC, president of the council on occupational health for the American Chiropractic Association. Chiropractors must also pass a licensure test and take continuing education courses to stay abreast of the latest trends in their field and maintain their credentials.
Chiropractors Can Help with Overall Wellness
People mostly see chiropractors for pain relief, but it’s becoming more popular to see a chiropractor for general wellness. “Chiropractors are increasingly becoming overall wellness advisors — advising patients about their eating , exercise, and sleeping habits,” Bautch says. Since chiropractors focus on the health of the nervous system, particularly the spinal cord, they are treating the entire body. Therefore, they are addressing both acute injuries (such as low back pain), as well as general, chronic issues (such as fatigue).
The First Appointment Will be Really Thorough
Chiropractors use comprehensive intake screenings to learn not just about what ails you, but also to get a complete picture of your overall health (hence the “holistic” descriptor). This will include health history questionnaires as well as functional and neurological assessments to see how your body moves, how well you can balance, etc. The doctor may also take x-rays. Finally, there will be a discussion about cost and course of treatment.
This thorough first appointment was experienced by New York City resident Karl Burns. In a tennis game, Burns swung his racket too forcefully and injured his low back. He was referred to chiropractor Cory Gold, DC. “At first, I thought, ‘I’ve never been injured before, I don’t need a voodoo doctor,’” says Burns. “But Dr. Gold and I immediately gelled. After many tests and questions, he told me, ‘Your treatment plan will be three times a week for a couple weeks, then two times a week for a couple weeks, then once a week — this is not a lifetime injury.’”
You’ll Likely Be a Regular, Initially
In most cases, people see chiropractors for acute injuries (like throwing your back out) or chronic conditions (like headaches), so it may take a few of weeks of multiple visits to stabilize the problem. After a few weeks of multiple treatments per week, treatment tapers gradually to once per week, then once per month for maintenance, until the spine is able to stay in alignment without the chiropractor’s adjustments. The course of treatment and length of time until stabilization vary from person to person.
That said, visits are often quite short — an average of 15 to 20 minutes — of hands-on manipulation. “Chiropractors aren’t trying to fight an internal battle against infection the way medical doctors are,” says Burns. “The treatment consists of much smaller movements and adjustments to your body and alignment of the spine.” Burns points out that he experienced pretty significant pain relief from the get-go. “Every time I walked out of there, I felt amazing,” he says. “The benefits are instant and can be perceived better [than with conventional doctors].”
You Won’t Be a Patient Forever
There’s a general belief that chiropractors want to make you reliant on them, but Bautch and Burns believe otherwise. “There are three phase of care,” Bautch says. “Acute — let’s get you functional; corrective — let’s adjust you so that it doesn’t happen again or as frequently; and then maintenance — maybe down to once a month.” Indeed, this is what Burns experienced — but he also learned the hard way the importance of self-maintenance. “Chiropractors take the approach of ‘let me teach you how to fish,’ not ‘let me just give you the fish,’” says Burns. He, like most patients, was given exercises to compliment and maintain his recovery — and he only ran into trouble again once he stopped doing them. “If I skip my exercises, sure enough, my lower back gets tight,” Burns says.
If you’ve ever hurt your lower back, you know how much it can affect your life. Whether you’re getting up from a chair, carrying groceries or hoisting a barbell overhead, your lower back is involved in nearly every movement.
While lower back injuries should be treated with the help of a doctor or physical therapist, many cases of lower back pain can be avoided with simple exercises that strengthen the core muscles and teach proper movement of the spine. Stuart McGill, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Waterloo and the world’s premier authority on spinal health, designed exercises to build a healthy spine.
McGill’s research has been pivotal in helping people understand core training for a healthy spine should focus on stability exercises like planks. Movements that bend the spine like crunches and situps, could even contribute to lower back injuries if performed incorrectly or too often. McGill’s “big three” exercises can be combined into a daily routine that requires no equipment and can be done at home or in the gym.
If you’ve been injured and your doctor has cleared you to work out again, or if you’re perfectly healthy and want to give yourself the best chance to keep your spine pain-free, try these three simple exercises to start building a more resilient spine for all of life’s activities.
Back pain can often be traced to two simple culprits:
1. The lower back itself moves too much.
2. The joints around the lower back (e.g., hips and upper back) don’t move enough.
The McGill curlup teaches you to stabilize your lumbar spine (lower back) using your abs, while moving through the thoracic spine (upper back). The act of pushing the lower back into the floor is how you properly “brace” your abs, so remember how that feels because you should be using it for just about every other exercise you do.
The move: Lie on the floor, face up to the ceiling. Bend one knee until your heel is flat to the floor, a few inches away from your butt. Keep the other leg straight and dig the heel of that foot into the floor, pointing your toes to the ceiling. Place your hands under your lower back and actively push your lower back into your hands to engage your abdominal muscles. Bring your chin toward your chest but keep your head on the ground. Continue to push your lower back into the floor to gently lift your shoulders off the ground. Make sure not to curl your chin toward your chest or let your lower back leave the floor. Perform all your reps on one side, then repeat on the other side.
Sets and Reps: 2 sets of 5–10 reps per side, holding each rep for 3–10 seconds (hold each rep longer to make these more challenging)
The McGill curlup teaches you how to brace your abs, now it’s time to put that stability to the test with bird dogs. This teaches you how to move your arms and legs around a solid core position without moving from your lower back.
The move: Start on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips. Flatten your back by bracing your abs much like you did with the curlup, but instead of pushing your lower back into the floor, tighten your abs as if someone is about to punch you in the stomach. Reach out with your opposite arm and leg until both limbs are parallel to the floor. Be careful not to arch your lower back — imagine keeping your leg long and low. Repeat with the other arm and leg, making sure to brace your abs on every rep.
If you feel like a fish out of water when doing bird dogs because you’re not quite coordinated enough yet, try them with just your legs first. Once you’re able to lift your leg parallel to the floor without arching your lower back, add in your arms, too.
Sets and Reps: 2 sets of 5–10 reps per side, holding each rep for 1–5 seconds (hold each rep longer to make these more challenging)
SHORT SIDE PLANK
Curlups and bird dogs mostly work your ab muscles on the front of your body: the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis. But we can’t forget the important oblique muscles, your “side abs.” The short side plank builds strength in your obliques to prevent unwanted twisting and side bending of the spine.
The short side plank resembles a traditional side plank but leaves your bottom knee on the floor for added stability. Think of it as a more user-friendly side plank so you can learn how to properly use your obliques to support your spine.
The move: Lay on your side with your bottom elbow and leg on the floor. Bend your knees until your upper and lower leg form a 90-degree angle. Tuck your bottom elbow tight to your side, squeezing your bottom fist. Lift your bottom hip off the ground while leaving your bottom knee and elbow on the floor. Pull your shoulders back and squeeze your glutes to keep a straight line from your head to your knees. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth for the duration of the exercise. Repeat on the opposite side.
Sets and Reps: 2 sets of 5–10 seconds per side. Even though 10 seconds may seem quick, exhaling forcefully (like you’re blowing up a balloon) can make even just 10 seconds seem challenging.