Lower back pain is a common phenomenon, both among new lifters and old pros. Weight-loaded machines and free weights can lead to back pain in a number of ways. Educating yourself about causes of back pain while lifting will help keep your gym visits pain-free.
One long-term cause of back pain is muscle imbalance. If your resistance training regimen doesn’t focus on balancing all of the body’s muscle groups, you likely have an imbalance. If you do leg presses, for example, you’re developing huge, tight quadriceps. If you don’t balance this with hamstring exercises, the tight quads will pull the pelvis down in front, change muscle tensions throughout the pelvis and lower back and affect the arch of the lumbar spine. Machines that emphasize one muscle group like the leg press are bound to leave you with muscle imbalances; it is best to stick with exercises that train multiple muscle groups.
This is a cause of back pain both for competitive lifters and new lifters who are pushing themselves too hard. Muscles rely on a contraction/relaxation cycle to draw in new oxygen and pump out waste. When a muscle is overused, as when too many repetitions are performed without adequate time for the muscle to rest in between, the muscle runs out of energy and goes into spasm. This forcible contraction can last anywhere from seconds to days, and if overuse continues, it can become chronic.
Too Much, Too Soon
New lifters may fall prey to the world of ego and machismo sometimes found in the gym. Attempting to start with heavy weights can lead to strained muscles and ligaments in the back, neck and shoulders. Add improper form to the mix and injury is almost certain. You can start small and, if energy level allows, perform more repetitions than you would with heavier weights.
Picking Up, Putting Down Weight
You’re eager to get into the workout, so you run to your weight of choice. Stop and remind yourself that the workout starts when you bend down to pick that weight up. Just as proper form is imperative during your workout, it is also needed to lift the weight from the ground or rack. If you begin your workout with a strain, it could turn into a more serious injury as you continue to use the muscle or ligament involved throughout your session. Use proper body mechanics when initially lifting the weight and when setting it down at the end of your workout, bending at the knees rather than the lower back.
Some fitness enthusiasts advocate the use of weight-loaded machines over free weights since machines carry less risk of improper form. When using free weights, you have to balance yourself and adjust posture with no physical surfaces to guide you. It is always best to begin weight training with an instructor who can help you fine-tune your form.
For those new to exercise, beginning with body weight exercises is likely the safest bet; though improper form is a concern for any exercise, using an external weight increases your risk of injury. Begin with exercises to build your core; this will ensure that your lower back and abdominal muscles are strong enough to handle weight training a little later on. See http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/core-strength/SM00047 for a slideshow of exercises that will give you a toned, balanced core.
Knowing these 5 common causes of weightlifting back pain will help you guard against them. The majority of injury prevention while lifting is self-awareness: Know your limits, concerning both fitness and energy levels. Being cautious will keep you in the gym and out of the doctor’s office.