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). Next we need to talk about exercises that firefighters should AVOID.
As I discussed last week, although firefighters clearly need to have a strong core, you should avoid exercises that involve extreme flexion of the spine (think of your low back bending into a “C” in the forward direction). Scientific research has shown us that this motion, while it may not hurt at the time, places a great deal of stress on the vertebrae. Over time, that stress builds up and the spine is no longer tolerant of high forces, which results in chronic pain and/or injury. So while exercises like sit-ups improve abdominal strength, they tend to decrease spine strength at the same time (because sit-ups promote spinal flexion).
Other exercises are harmful because they can result in such strong muscle contractions in the back, it actually damages the vertebrae that those muscles attach to. One example is the back extension machine pictured above. This exercise is often promoted as a good exercise to improve back strength/treat back pain when in fact it can weaken the spine and exacerbate back pain, especially over time.
The good news is that there’s almost always more than one way to work each muscle group in the body and there are plenty of exercises to strengthen the back that don’t simultaneously put unnecessary, damaging forces on the spine (and you have to deal with enough high forces on your spine in your work as a firefighter!) I’ll discuss those good exercises later. For now, I suggest you stop doing this exercise and, even better, share this information since so many firefighters are unknowingly increasing their risk of back injury by doing this.
Ps. Don’t believe me? Check out the comment from a firefighter below (4th one down).
Other exercises in this series:
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