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Strong Legs for a Strong Back

By Miguel J. Ortiz

When it comes to lifting heavy items, especially off the floor, we often hear “make sure to lift with your legs.” Lifting with your legs will absolutely help prevent back pain and provide a better lift. So, I need to keep lifting with my legs and keep my legs strong in order to have a strong core and back. But what if you’re already experiencing pain? How do you begin to strengthen your legs if our back is already hurting? Let’s take a look at three tips that will promote success when starting a more vigorous leg routine, including squats.

First, we want to make sure that we have started to loosen up the legs and back. I cannot emphasize how important it is to stretch and loosen up the back before a workout. If you are looking to do leg exercises and you do not stretch or move the body to get loose then you’re asking for pain. Existing back pain may require doing stretches while lying on the floor. This will make stretching easier on your back. Next, make sure you’re not exceeding ranges of motion that may cause compensation on the knee joint, the hip, etc. This can affect the back. After you have stretched out and relieved some general pain, make sure that you are able to perform the movements properly with just your body weight. Make sure you’re doing it correctly or using the proper range of motion for you.

Second, be mindful of machines. If your using a machine correctly you will naturally minimize your risk of injury. However incorrect use could just be aggravating preexisting pain. Let’s take a look at the leg press machine. A lot of people won’t do squats because they say it will hurt their back. Yet, they will jump right onto a leg press machine. It makes sense because when squatting your back is loaded and that means proper form is extremely vital. Add to the formula that the majority of people don’t have proper form. Instead they sit on a leg press machine and it completely takes the core out of the workout because the back is supported. People are only working their legs. You may ask, “Where is the problem?” When in life are you going to lift something with your legs where your back isn’t involved? The answer is simple, you won’t. If your leg strength is only good when your back is supported then are your legs really that strong?

Last, but not least, my third tip is to take your ego out of the equation. If you’re in pain and refuse to slow down your squats, take the weight down, correct any imbalances or stretch to improve your range of motion then problems will continue and can become worse. In order for your back to work properly during squats, it’s important to realize that it’s not about how much you lift. It’s about how you lift it. You are not going to lose as much strength as you think. When learning to do squats and other leg exercises (like lunges and deadlifts) properly, it will ensure a straight spine, solid core activation and keep the back strong. Enjoy your workouts and don’t ever be afraid to relearn a movement in order to move with better efficiency.

Miguel J. Ortiz is a personal trainer in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a member of the National Personal Trainer Institute and a Certified Nutritional Consultant with more than a decade of professional experience. He can be found on Instagram at @migueljortiz.

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