BACK IN FOCUS

In part two of her new series on fitness for photographers. Sarah asks us to concentrate on our support system and give our backs a little love We spend a lot of time focusing on what we can see in the mirror —chest, abs, arms. However, we may rarely get a good view of it, but our backs are our fundamental support system for carrying, lifting, manoeuvring and posture. How are you sitting right now? How many hours do you spend sitting behind a computer, editing images, versus hours spent retracting those shoulder blades, strengthening the lumbar spine and giving a little love back where itneeded? Back pain affects four in five adults so focusing on building a strong support system here will reduce your risk of injury as well as suffering debilitating back pain. Risk factors for back pain are excess weight, poor posture, incorrect lifting technique and weak core muscles. Core stability is one of the fundamentals of physical fitness and injury prevention, and involves having a strong set of abdominal and back muscles, working in unison to produce functional movement patterns. In this article we will consider exercises to strengthen the back, before moving on next month to look at the abdominals. I have selected five key exercises that I consider essential in your back care armoury. These simple body weight exercises will help to strengthen the back muscles, increase flexibility of the spine, correctly recruit core muscles when working the back, and alleviate or prevent back pain. As body weight exercises no kit is needed, so they can be performed daily, whether youtravelling or at home. The full programme only takes around five minutes, so I would recommend incorporating these exercises 2-3 times a week, or five times a week if you are currently suffering from back pain or are especially concerned about the long-term health of your back. THE PROGRAMME Always warm up before exercising. These conditioning exercises are the perfect addition to any established cardiovascular routine you may have, e.g. post jog, walk, bike ride or game of footy when the body is warm and the muscles are loosened up. However if you are performing these exercises as a stand-alone set, then some trunk twists, shoulder rolls and the cat/camel (far right) are a good way to prepare the body. PRONE COBRA The prone cobra is a great postural exercise which strengthens lower back, rear deltoids (back of shoulders) and middle trapezius (top of the back), whilst engaging the abdominals strongly to support this static contraction, encouraging the functional use of front and back core muscles. KEY TECHNIQUE POINTS: Lie flat on your front with feet hip width and arms by sides, palms down Slowly peel your chest and shoulders off the floor, bringing your arms out by your sides in a low V Retract your shoulder blades and whilst keeping your palms down squeeze your thumbs up towards the ceiling, activating upper back muscles Keep your eyes slightly downwards and chin tucked under to ensure your neck follows the line of the spine. Do not move the head around MODIFICATION: If your arms fatigue in this position you can place your hands on small of back but remain lifted. PROGRESSION: Lift your legs as well as your upper body so that just your hips are pressing into the mat. Squeeze buttocks Build up gradually until you are able to hold the prone cobra for 60-90 seconds exercise, repeat the cat/camel 8-10 times, holding at the top or bottom of the move for 3-5 seconds If you are using this as a stretch, hold the cat/ camel for 15-30 seconds, and repeat 2-4 times towards your hips Upward phase (cat): Squeeze belly button into spine, tuck your tail under, and use your abdominal muscles to arch your spine upwards towards the ceiling, dropping chin to chest Downward phase (camel): Then arch under, pressing your chest through your hands, shouLders back, head forwards, stomach towards floor and buttocks up in the air, so that the spine curves Ensure arms remain straight and knees/hips in the same position, so it s just the back that is curving up/down in the cat/camel If using this as a warm up/mobility BACK IN FOCUSCAT/CAMEL This basic exercise can be used as a mobility warm up or as a stretch, promoting flexibility and proper recruitment of the core muscles to flex and extend the spine. TECHNIQUE POINTS: Begin on all fours with hands directly under shouLders, fingers pointing forwards and knees under hips Engage your core and abdominal muscles, by imagining you re tightening a corset around your waist. Keep your spine in neutral, avoid sagging or arching and pull your shoulder blades CHILDPOSE If you currently suffer back pain or feel tightness in your back muscles following a long day of shooting or computer work, this stretch can offer some much-needed relief. TECHNIQUE POINTS With knees hip width apart, sit back on your heels with feet together (according to comfort) Bring your chest towards the ground, press your buttocks back to your heels and extend your arms above your head, making pads with your palms Exhale and sink further into your heels, relax your shoulders away from your ears and press through hands for an additional stretch Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds SEE SAW This exercise is particularly good for those prone to slouching, and is highly recommended by physiotherapists for people who spend a lot of time at a computer. If you carry tension in your shoulders you may find this move particularly challenging. Begin with just four repetitions (two each side) and build from there. TECHNIQUE POINTS: Lie flat on your front with arms out wide from shoulders, palms facing down and shoulders relaxed. Legs remain down and feet hip width apart Lift chest and shoulders off the floor with arms wide, then slowly saw the arms very gently turning the head to look at the hand, rotate to the other side, then turning eyes downwards lift the arms again, squeezing shoulders back and return to the floor Think: lift middle —slowly rotate —slowly rotate —lift middle —down Be conscious of drawing the shoulders down the spine and avoid hunching Change the lead arm every two repetitions, and build up to 12 repetitions, resting between reps if needed LIFT AND SQUEEZE This move increases the work of dorsal raises (right) by incorporating both upper and lower back muscles. The ’encourages you to draw your shoulders down your back, correcting posture and any rounding of the shoulders. TECHNIQUE POINTS: Lie flat on your front with feet hip width apart, arms bent to 90 degrees, palms facing down Slowly lift your chest and shoulders up from mat, as with dorsal raises; squeeze elbows in towards spine, return to 90 degrees and then lower towards the mat Keep your eyes down and chin tucked in so your neck remains in line with spine MODIFICATION: If your lower back is quick to fatigue you can still work the upper back by keeping your chest flat on the floor, and just working the elbows into the spine without the upper body lift. PROGRESSION: Lift legs, keeping feet hip width, in one smooth movement as you squeeze elbows into spine. Complete with 12-20 repetitions in 1-3 sets DORSAL RAISES A key exercise for strengthening the back, this move works the extensor muscles either side of the spine, and is an easily accessible exercise that will reduce the risk of lower back pain from heavy lifting, incorrect posture or poor core strength. Modifiable to suit all levels and abilities. TECHNIQUE POINTS: Lie flat on your front with feet hip width apart, hands on lower back and palms facing upwards Slowly lift chest and shoulders up from the mat, whilst focusing on drawing the shoulders down the spine Keep your eyes down and chin tucked in so your neck remains in line with spine Lower with control Think two, down two and ensure movement is coming from the lower back —do not squeeze or force glutes MODIFICATION: If you have any lower back problems you may prefer to place your hands flat on the fLoor just wider than and in front of shoulders, pressing gently through hands to assist the lift. ADVANCED: Superman —arms extended straight out from shouLders. Option to lift legs at the same time and look up, so neck follows curve of spine. Only take this option if your back is strong. Complete with 12-20 repetitions in 1-3 sets. PROGRESSION: Intermediate: elbows wide and finger tips to temples

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