By TED SANTANIELLO, Fit Bits
---- — Our spine takes part in just about everything we do.
It is literally the back of our core and is partly responsible for keeping us upright for our entire lives.
Our core muscles surrounding the spine play a role in keeping this structure soundly in place with minimal damage. When we pick something up, it is nearly impossible to avoid loading the spin in some way.
This is why spinal awareness is one of the most important things to practice when lifting any kind of weight.
You can think of your spine as a roll of pennies. As we all know, a roll of pennies is very strong when a force is applied downward on it compacting the pennies together.
This is similar to loading your back when you squat and keeping your disks flat against one another when completing the lift. Now, if I were to bend this roll of pennies, the force that can be applied downward to it is much less. Doing so could possibly rip the paper covering, breaking the roll.
This is the kind of action that is happening if you bend your back when lifting any sort of weight. Your spine needs to transfer the weight lifted into the hips.
If bent, the spine itself will take the bulk of the stress. This can easily result in a bulging or ruptured disk.
Whether you are a newbie in the gym or you are an experienced athlete, strength training is an excellent way to keep your spine healthy.
Strength-training exercises called structural exercises are those that load the spine directly. What this means is, by either holding a weight in your hands or placing the weight near your shoulders, the forces from the weight are supported by the spine and transferred to the hips and legs.
This is not a bad thing by any means, in fact it helps reduce bone degeneration and strengthens the muscles that support and stabilize the spine. Squats, deadlifts, and lunges are all Structural exercises.
It is extremely important that the spine stay in neutral alignment when performing a structural lift. For example, when squatting to a chair, the back must not round or extend excessively. This is a very common mistake that many make when first performing structural exercises.
To practice this neutral posture while squatting, place a broomstick along your spine so it touches the back of your head, your upper back and your tailbone.
There should be a small space between the stick and your lower back. There should also be a space between the stick and the back of your neck. This is the natural “S” curve of your spine.
With the broomstick pressed against all three points, try to bend forward from the hip, just as if you were picking up a small dog on the other side of a fence.
If any of contacts break, start over. You should be able to bend forward at least 45 degrees without breaking the contact points. This will teach you to keep spinal alignment, while bending the lower body joints, just as in a squat or dead lift.
Other pieces of advice I can give those attempting to learn how to perform structural exercise is to start light and increase the weight slowly.
Even if you can lift the weight, it does not mean you are doing it correctly to avoid injury. The best idea is to have a trained eye watching you perform the lift.
I recommend someone who has the proper education in exercise kinesiology. Another reason to increase weight slowly is that when performing a structural exercise, many muscles are working together.
If most of the muscles are ready for the higher weight, but a few are not, you will still get injured. You are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain.
By increasing slowly, you increase the chances that the weaker link will have time to adapt effectively.
Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.