attics, crawling underneath mobile homes, walking entire lengths of a Walmart with two eight-foot ladders, digging ditches to lay down pipe or find damaged power lines, etc. The amount of pressure and hell I put on my body was pretty intense. I did this for seven years, five of those years I steadily gained weight, wrecking my body in the process. I had a great fear about becoming addicted to painkillers and other over the counter drugs, so I never took ibuprofen or aspirin or any of that stuff. I often times suffered through the travails of carrying a massive body by myself. I guess it was pretty easy to see why I became addicted to cheese, among other reasons. But what also helped quite a bit was my easy chair, which was really the best form of relief I had for my body. This is why I became such an aficionado of King of the Hill (hadn’t made one of those references in a while!) and Family Guy and American Dad. I had a bunch of the videos and Adult Swim showed them frequently, so sitting in my chair was quite the relief. The way I was able to flatten my back and lift up my feet was a relief at the end of a long day. It’s kind of ironic that my chair lasted as long as it did considering all of the sitting I did in it. It rest in my back yard right, damaged beyond repair due to all of the pressure and abuse it took. There are also a couple other chairs in the back as well, both finally giving way due to bad design and weakened joints. If I hadn’t started my journey three years ago to fix my body, I might be as broken as those seats that are waiting for the next “Brush and Bulky” pick-up that the city of Tucson has twice a year (or is routinely regarded as Christmas by the scrappers of the world).
For the longest time, something was always hurting me, and the biggest culprit was always my back. While my weight was pretty evenly distributed all over my body (which I later learned), my stomach was still the center of the problem. I think my father could tell what days when the back pain was hitting me the hardest, for I was either at my orneriest or I had no problem with calling an early day (90% of the time that I said yes, it was because some body part was hurting). In the early days with Parsons Training, Jon seemed to make a pretty big point about working my back muscles before shifting focus on the core. I’m sure my posture was rather poor in those days, and it was pretty obvious why I would have such lower back pain. It didn’t help that I had some poor sleeping habits and even poorer eating habits (which caused me to wake up in the middle of the night with acid reflux) that disrupted me even more. And then my early days of running also caused some problems, because I was still pretty big and I was gunning for good times right out of the gate (even when I first started, I strived to be a sub 11-minute a mile runner, even at the hefty weight of 300 pounds!). Needless to say, my back problems were prevalent in my life.
If anything, American culture seems to be rife with bad backs. Chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists and of course drug producers are all in high demand in our society. When I go to work, I see people chugging ibuprofen in the morning and sometimes at lunch, hoping for that little relief as they continue their day. But here is the ultimate question….Why is back pain such a prevailing force in American culture? There is plenty of reasons so to speak, ranging from sleeping on old uncomfortable beds to sitting in a chair all day as the American workforce continues to turn into a desk bound culture as the manufacturing and production side continues to disappear. When fully examined, poor back culture seems to exist heavily in western culture. A recent article in NPR kind of illustrated the stark difference, comparing westernized culture to its supposedly lesser third world counterparts. http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/06/08/412314701/lost-posture-why-indigenous-cultures-dont-have-back-pain?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150608
Now according to the article, millions of people each year have back problems that conventional medicine and treatment will never fix. It’s rather scary to see this manifest itself on paper or even in the mind, for all I envision is people walking slowly with pained expressions in their faces. But according to researcher Esther Gokkale, we could certainly learn a few things or two from indigenous cultures from around the world. Having had back problems herself, she decided to find the key to good back health rather than make a habit out having surgery. During her travels, she picked up on one simple difference between the common American back and the backs of the indigenous peoples. Americans, due to a variety of reasons, have turned their backs into an “S” shape. As she observed people in the mountains of South America and the plains of Africa, many of these people had far superior posture, exhibiting a more “J” shaped formation to their bodies. Now why would this make a big difference? Think about a support beam with a foundation. If the foundation is the bottom of the spine and the rest of the body is erect, said structure should maintain its strength and integrity. But if the top of the beam is leaning inward and even slightly curved, the integrity of the structure will be in question. Now we have seen some pretty interesting buildings in our time that illustrate some unusual support systems, but these structures always have opposing support systems. The human is alone in this regards, with just one support beam to stay erect.
Gokkale observed the astute differences between the two opposing cultures, noticing the indigenous people were far more active in their daily lives. Like I illustrated a couple weeks back, thanks to research on fitness apps, the average person in America barely devotes 73 minutes to physical activity. While one might conclude this does not include all fitness ideals, the average person needs at least 150 minutes a week to stay physically healthy. Whether it be walking or going to Zumba three or four times a week, Americans seem to be quite susceptible to back issues due to this lack of movement. I was no different when I started, which is probably why Jon focused so much on my back. Since then, I have been slowly but surely rebuilding my back, allowing me to withstand workouts that would put an average person through the ringer. desk culture has certainly been a large contributor to the collective back problems of America, but even Gokkale had a rather direct reason why so many suffer from back problems. WEIGHT!!!
Even with all of the new technology and techniques, back issues are still quite prevalent. But what is the thing that has changed the most in the last 25 years in America? Now the issue is not just purely from a weight perspective. It is true hen you have more weight on your body, it’s going to put a lot of pressure on your joints and your circulatory system. But how does weight affect the back? http://www.southeasternspine.com/how-extra-weight-affects-your-back/ Well, first of all, much of the weight we gain obviously accumulates in the midsection. Simple physics will cause the body to start leaning forward, not only affecting posture but also inadvertently straining the lower lumbar muscles. Now if you always seem to wonder why Jon puts me threw the ringer in regards to my core, here is your answer. While I still have minor back issues from time to time (primarily from running long tough runs), building up the core is extremely important in regards to maintaining good back health. Getting rid of the weight is also extremely important, but having one without the other can still lead to the same issues. Gokkale noticed in her research the functional strength many of the people had that she was studying, indicating this principal to the fullest. It is one thing to be lean, but another to be strong. Now I often complain about some of the things Jon makes me do, but in the end it is for the better. On Monday, he was having me do push-squat presses with 95 pounds, forcing me to do 121 total reps with 121 burpies/bar jumps in the process. Think about all of the work I was putting on my core. First of all, I was strengthening my quads with the front press I had to do while also working my back in order to keep it straight. And then comes the burpies, which forces me to hold myself up in a push-up like position and then jump back into a near standing position,. Granted, this may look like almost a cardio only sort of exercise, but it was working my entire body in the process. It’s not like these things aren’t helping me, for I still had enough gusto to do a six-mile run the next night, even though the humidity stood a disgusting 60%, ushering in our monsoon season way too soon or indicating our season will be extremely long (yuck!).
Now let’s face it, a lot of us are going to be exposed to back problems whether it be through our work or how intense we are about our workouts. But the key is to keep your entire body strong and healthy, and that means going through the laborious hell that is core and leg day. Truthfully, you are not just losing weight and changing your life, you are making your body more capable of great things, and that is an inherent trait in all of us whether it be to make a personal best in your bench press or simply be better in your job. But I can say this though…my back is feeling better than ever!
About Parsons Training
Parsons Training is a Tucson leader in fitness and personal wellness training. Every personal trainer with this company designs and implements effective fitness programs for their clients; these programs serve as the foundation for good health, fitness, and wellness. Additional information about Parsons Training is available at http://www.parsonspersonaltraining.com
Any views or opinions presented in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the company.
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Steve, a Parsons Training Client, went from 400 pounds to Running half-marathons, from lifting pizzas to lifting hundreds of pounds through training with us.