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Fixing the right problems and doing your back in

Don't do this you muppet...

Don't do this you muppet...

I was chatting to someone about their strained back the other day.

***Disclaimer!  I’m not any kind of physiotherapist, so I am not any kind of expert in this.***

She had pulled her back picking up a bag from the floor, so she was asking me for some things to strengthen her back so it won’t happen again.

But because I have way too much free time on my hands and am a bit of a nerd, I tried to investigate and understand the problem and come up with a good solution.  So I started off with a very important lesson I have learned…

Often, a pulled muscle is not due to a weakness in that particular muscle, but because of a weakness in a totally different muscle.


Because the injured muscle is not only doing its own work, but having to do the work of the other, weaker, muscle also.  This added workload can be the straw that breaks the camels back…or pulls the muscle, in this case.

For example, picking a bag up off the floor.  The “ideal” way of doing this is in a deadlift fashion, where the back muscles lock the spine flat, while the legs and bum do the heavy work.  If we don’t move properly and bend at the hips and knees, then the back has to do all the work and the chances of pulling something are greatly increased.  This is because the back is doing the work of the back, bum and legs combined.

So if we pull or strain a muscle, the common thought is to strengthen that particular muscle.  But I would suggest that maybe its strong enough already and the weakness is somewhere else and your body is compensating for this by overloading another part of your body.  In this case, simply strengthening the injured muscle is fixing the wrong problem and we don’t improve this way.  It is just masking the symptoms of a deeper, underlying problem that doesn’t get fixed.  We are all guilty of it at some time or other. this instead. this instead.

The way to improve would be to properly assess your muscles actual strengths and weaknesses.  And importantly, assess your movement patterns to see if there are any glaring inefficiencies.  In the example above, it would be to:

  • Learn how to lift properly and improve your strength/mobility of your legs and hips.  Because if your legs and hips are strong, mobile and used to work, you are more likely to use them instead of your back.
  • Develop the consistent habit of lifting in this way in all aspects of your life…not just in the gym.

Another common example of fixing the wrong problem is when people try to “tone up” their belly by doing a million belly exercises like crunches.  9 times out of 10, you don’t need to do more crunches, you need to eat less.

And that is why I often get funny looks from people who come up and ask me for advice…and the answer I give may sound totally unrelated.

“…but I asked you about exercises for my back.  Why am I working my legs?”

It is because I am trying to fix the right problem and giving you what you need, not necessarily what you want.

As always, if you have found this interesting, please feel free to share it using the buttons below.  And if you want help with any of the above, just contact me by clicking here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 13/12/2011 2:17 pm


    Great muppet advice 😉

    Lotta memories from biomechanics whirled of Kinesiology studies reading this, thanks.

    Seems good to advocate for keeping the ‘load’ close as your great graphic demos. Or ‘golphers’ lift might work well with your recommendations too.

    Much wisdom in your article (including the reminder to in habit the move); much to learn from questions.

    Thanks, good work.


    • 13/12/2011 6:06 pm

      Thanks for the comment Don!
      I had never heard of the Golfers Lift before, so i had to look it up…turns out that is what i do everyday when i pick stuff up off the floor
      I feel a bit smug now 🙂
      And i just noticed where you are based. my girlfriend and i spent a week in Nelson when we travelled across canada 10 years ago…gorgeous place!
      But we still reminice about when we were told off for jaywalking by a fireman when we crossed an empty street…most weird!

  2. 13/12/2011 9:59 pm

    Hi Cerin–

    Sheesh, sounds like the dude ( n’ all his/her uniformed clan imo missed the muppet induct session ; )

    BTW, the jw rule still applies, be good to move this forward somehow, as in how to encourage more self propelled locomotion. Grass roots…Canadian example:

    Actually thinking o’ linking up with them in the coming year and seeing if Nelson crowd would be interested in old fashioned walking bees along w learning component.

    And yea “gorgeous” this place still bee, did you n’ gf trek the local hills (<3000m) as well?

    N' yeah, the golfer's lift is a cantilevered n' rather natural (intelligent ; ) 'lift' ; prolly the name and use in the game to do with the demographic n' likelihood o' tender backs.


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