Back injuries are serious news and can impact on every aspect of your life by making every movement painful and potentially dangerous. Obviously this makes working out rather difficult, and if you find yourself unable to run or lift weights, then it’s no surprise to see your weight gradually increase.
This will only serve to further damage your health, so it’s important to make sure you stay as fit and healthy as possible even when moving becomes difficult. The good news is that if you know how to eat right, and if you’re familiar with the range of low impact exercises out there, then there are many ways you can still train. Read on to see how you can start getting active again…
Low Impact CV
In terms of low impact CV there are a few different options available to you, which include swimming of course, cycling, the elliptical machine (also sometimes called the cross trainer) and the stationary bike. None of these cause any impact so there’s no shockwave through the spine.
Those examples are still weight bearing, meaning that they may still place strain on your back and cause discomfort for that reason. If you struggle to use any of these suggestions then, I suggest seeking out a ‘recumbent bike’ which is a bike that has you leaning back with the pedals out in front of you. This is not at all weight bearing so you should be able to give it some welly without hurting yourself – and that’s really what you need if you’re going to burn calories fast. If you don’t have access to a gym then I recommend purchasing a recumbent bike – but try it first to make sure it’s suitable. This should also tone muscle in your legs.
Another form of CV that you could do is ‘sped up Tai Chi’. Tai Chi is fantastic for those with bad backs as the movements are designed to flow and there is no impact involved at all. That said, it’s a little too slow to burn major calories. If you maintain the gentle posture and flowing nature of the movements but carry out the sets more quickly then this should be a good way to burn some more calories – shadow boxing but without locking out the joints or jerking suddenly. Taking up a class in anything such as Tai Chi is a great strategy because it will keep you committed to going back and give your training structure – but failing that you can find exercises to do online.
Interval training is a great way to burn more calories more quickly as it raises the heart rate more quickly. Unfortunately most people who have to take it easy with the CV end up doing it too gently to really have much effect.
Interval training means switching between periods of low and high intensity, so for instance you might do three minutes of cycling at around 75% of your potential, and then five minutes of gentle cycling – then rinse and repeat. As long as you don’t feel any pressure on your back, really push yourself during the high intensity so that you get your heart rate going and you start to sweat. This will encourage the production of hormones like growth hormone which lead to more fat burning and muscle building, while at the same time pushing your body into short periods of anaerobic exercise which has heightened fat burning benefits.
If you opted not to buy the recumbent bike, then you can use the same principle with swimming, sped up/slowed down Tai Chi or the regular bike/other CV machines.
When it comes to toning, one option is to use ‘static contraction’ and ‘dynamic tension’ which means simply holding a position in which you are tensing (static contraction) or moving through a motion while tensing (dynamic tension). In Tai Chi you will have learned stances such as the horse stance (feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent into an invisible chair) – and holding that position is a great form of static contraction. Likewise tensing your muscles, particularly your core muscles, throughout the set is a great way to build more definition. You can also squeeze your abs throughout the interval training if you want to engage them more – try just tensing your stomach at the same time as using the bike.
Another option is to try holding positions on the mats – if you can then have a go at using the plank. If that doesn’t hurt your back then it will be a great way to improve definition in your upper body. Very gentle calisthenics might also be useful – for instance you could lie flat on your back and raise/hold your feet in the air to train the abs without doing sit-ups (which are killers for a bad back). You may even be able to do light press ups (perhaps on the knees?) but definitely consult with your doctor before trying this.
You could also look into joining a Pilates class – it should be complementary to your Tai Chi and it’s very good at stabilizing the core in some back friendly ways. Note however that you can’t ‘target fat loss’ and doing plank/leg raises/Pilates really won’t flatten your stomach all that much. This is all about toning and improving definition and is secondary to the CV. Swimming is a great choice for your CV if you want to tone the upper body, particularly the breast stroke.
Traditional resistance training is more difficult, but if you can find resistance machines that completely isolate a muscle group (such as bicep curls or tricep push downs where you rest your upper arm on a pad) then you can use these on a light setting. Practice a slow and deliberate technique when curling/pushing and you will build some muscle in the process.
Finally, most of us know how to heat a good diet so I’m not going to go into too much detail here. All I’ll say then is to steer well clear of fad diets and to instead stick to the basics – eating all the normal food groups just in lesser quantities (and a lower proportion of simple carbs such as cake and fats).
I find a number of ways to reduce the amount of calories I take in without really feeling it. For instance, I threw out all my butter and margarine and instead just eat spread directly on the bread. I also trained myself to like tea without sugar in it (also good for getting rid of your sweet tooth). I have yogurt or coffee as my desert after a meal (coffee is great in a restaurant when everyone is ordering a big slab of cake – I focus on how ill I usually feel afterward and have a latte instead) and I always avoid soda drinks (Coca-Cola is the sugar-equivalent of two cream eggs!).
So that’s the reasoning behind the program, now here’s what you should aim to do every other day:
• Stretching/Warming Up – 5 mins
• Calisthenics/Dynamic Tension/Static Contraction – 10 mins
Press Ups (maybe)
Leg Raises (and sideways)
Lunge Walking (this one’s great)
Tai Chi on Wobble Board (maybe)
Very Light Resistance Machines
• Interval Training – 30-40 mins
Fast Tai Chi (‘shadow pushing hands’)
• Cool Down – 5 mins (stretching)
Do this on top of your Tai Chi class and an optional extra Pilates and maybe spin class if you can handle it. As I said earlier, classes are great because they force you to push yourself and pressure you to keep going.
If you can vary the CV by using different machines each time, then that will be ideal as it will tone different parts of the body and make things more interesting. Furthermore, if you can vary the mat work/whether or not you tense throughout the CV that will help mix things up too. To avoid things going stale you could also try using the mat work in between your CV so that you do some cycling, get off and do some plank, get back on to continue cycling etc. Keep the rest time in between to an absolute minimum though.
Finally, if you can’t manage to make it to the gym/don’t have the energy to use your bike then do some of the Tai Chi at home for at least 10 minutes. The rule is that something is always better than nothing, so don’t let yourself make any excuses – you’ll always have ten minutes and space to practice a set/do some quick cycling.