Over the past few months I’ve been talking about back injuries in firefighters. First I cleared up a few myths about back injuries (see myths). Now I’m going over exercises that firefighters should AVOID. (See those I’ve discussed so far: sit-ups, back extension machine and prone hyperextension.)
Over these past few weeks I’ve explained that some exercises we do in our workouts, while they may not hurt at the time, place a great deal of stress on the vertebrae and actually cause more damage than good.
Using the calf-raise machine is an example of a problematic exercise because it puts a TON of compression force on the spine. That compression force presses down hard on your vertebrae and is just asking your jelly donut-like disc between your vertebrae (the intervertebral disc) to come squishing out. That’s what we call a herniated disc and typically herniated discs develop over long periods of time by repeatedly doing motions that place high compression forces on the spine (bending over while lifting also produces high compression forces.)
Now you may be thinking this: if I never subject my spine to stress, is it going to be prepared for the physically demanding work of firefighting? As long as you do some exercise, then yes.
See, muscular contraction of the core/back muscles, which occurs during most exercises, applies compression force on the spine so you would have to be sedentary to avoid any. During exercise your goal should be to exert an appropriate amount of force on the spine – enough to stress the joint without causing undue damage. Some exercises, like this one, exceed a healthy level of stress.
You’re better off working your calf muscles without placing weight directly onto your shoulders. For example: calf raises holding hand weights, box jumps (or any kind of jumping) or using the leg press machine to work the calves are all fine choices.
Have you ever experienced back pain or an injury and found that an exercise you were doing was actually causing the problem rather than helping it? Let me know in the comments below.
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