2017-09-18

The Importance Of Staying Fit To Stay Pain Free

I have never been one to suggest that a person can be both overweight and healthy at the same time. While I don’t think obesity is necessarily and automatic death sentence, it’s a big, and usually unnecessary, strain on the body that ought to be corrected if you know what’s good for you.

Having said all that, there’s another problem that I see all the time that seldom gets as much airtime: Skinny doesn’t mean healthy, either. I see people all the time who aren’t overweight, but whose muscles can barely support their frames. Some of these people, because they are skinny, enjoy lots of positive attention for being physically attractive. But an eye accustomed to seeing physical fitness can spot things that the average person either overlooks or mistakes for something good.

For example, I often see young women who dress and act as though they have an attractive backside, but upon closer examination, what we’re really seeing is bad posture associated with atrophy of the abdominal muscles combined with shortening of the piriformis muscle. This combination of problems has a tendency to tilt the pelvis muscle down and back while pushing the spine forward. The “pushed back” backside isn’t the feature of a genetic gift, it’s a potentially debilitating posture abnormality that probably causes these young ladies serious pain along the sciatic nerve.

Here's what it looks like:


I’m not trying to single people out. I work out almost every day of the week, sometimes twice a day, and even I am not doing everything I need to do to keep myself healthy and pain-free. This year, I’ve been suffering from some pain and injury related to my known weaknesses. But I’ve been working on these weaknesses diligently, and slowly but surely, my pain is dissipating and I’m working my way back to normal again. It’s a new normal, though. It’s a normal that includes more specific exercises designed to keep myself healthy and happy. 

And what’s good for the gander (me) is good for the goose (you). I’m here to help. If your posture looks anything like the “Incorrect” side of the picture up above, you desperately need to start performing some very specific exercises. Let’s take a look at what those exercises might be.

The first thing you need to do is increase flexibility in your legs and core. Specifically, you must increase flexibility in your piriformis and gluteus muscles, your hip flexors, and your quadriceps. Everyone knows how to do a quad stretch: Stand on one leg, grab your other leg’s ankle, press your foot against your glute and pull. Piriformis and gluteus muscles can be stretched by lying on your back crossing your leg so that your ankle is resting on the other leg’s knee, and pulling the not-crossed knee toward your chest:

Image courtesy Natasha.com
Stretching like this daily, even twice a day, will help maintain adequate flexibility in the offending areas. But that’s not good enough to ward off pain, stiffness, and sciatica. To do that, you need to exercise. If you’re not currently doing any strength training – and if your posture looks like that picture, you can assume that you have not been doing any strength training – then you need to start with some very simple abdominal exercises. Start with planks, three sets of however long you can hold a plank without letting your back dip. In a week or two, your muscles will be ready for some bigger and more important challenges, like leg raises. Finally, you must counter-balance this abdominal development with the development of your gluteus and piriformis muscles. You can achieve this by doing rear leg extensions, quadruped hip extensions, and unweighted squats.

Remember, if you’re in pain or your back isn’t capable of diving into a comprehensive strength training workout, you need to start small and slowly build up to something more ambitious. There’s no harm in starting small and building. It’s much safer and will ensure that you don’t accidentally make your condition worse.