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Back in Action

Q: “I have two boys and a little girl, ages 7, 4, and 2. I’m constantly running around after them, picking the youngest one up, and cleaning up all their messes on the floor. All that bending down has just about wrecked my lower back. With you being a wrestler, I thought you might have some advice for this area! What do you suggest?”

— Karen A., via the web

ANSWER BY GAIL KIM-IRVINE: You’re right. I’ve put my body through the ringer in my career and my back has borne the brunt of the abuse. I’ve thrown myself off of turnbuckles into the center of the ring, onto opponents, and sometimes onto hard concrete. I’ve taken a few steel chairs to the back, too. Hey, just because you know it’s coming doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

In the last few years it’s all begun to catch up with me. It got so bad that I couldn’t even do the most basic lower back strengthening exercise, a Superman—where you lie face down and simultaneously lift your upper body and legs to contract your spinal erectors—without extreme pain.

It was alarming for me because I’ve always trained hard, maintained a healthy weight, and have thus far avoided other debilitating injuries that are typical to my profession; my knees, neck, and shoulders are all A-OK. 

But the fix for my back troubles was actually simple. The pain subsided when I started to strengthen my core muscles. It’s simple logic if you think about it; the stronger your abdominals and obliques, the more support they can offer your lumbar spine, and the less stress there is on the muscles of your lower back.   

In most cases, this concept holds true whether your pain is the result of activity or inactivity. Build up your abs and your lower back will get much-needed relief. Then, as you can tolerate it, you can add in lower back exercises. In addition to basic core exercises like planks, crunches, and cable rotations, I started attending Barre classes, which focus a lot on core work. Once I strengthened my abs I was able to do Supermans again. Now I’m able to do 50 on a stability ball at the end of every workout.

Other things I’ve done to help with back pain: I see a chiropractor at least once a month, I take 10-15 minutes to get a deep stretch at the end of every workout, and I’ve peppered in some yoga poses to my training sessions. Everyone, of course, is different. I would add one of these suggestions at a time so you can evaluate what has the most beneficial impact for your body.

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