Tag Archives: Mark Verstegen

Exercises For Low Back Pain

Flexibility and strengthening exercises help to reduce the pain and disability of chronic nonspecific low back pain.  Hoping to find a simple straightforward program to suggest to you, I reviewed “Exercise-based therapy for low back pain” at UpToDate.com.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find much.

By the way, exercises don’t help with acute low back pain (under 4 weeks duration).

You need to work with your personal physician for a diagnosis and treatment plan.  I’m not your doctor.  He may well refer you to a physical therapist, which is a good idea.

Some factoids from UpToDate:

  • low back pain is the most common musculoskeletal disorder worldwide
  • 85% of us experience low back pain at some point
  • in the U.S., yearly total cost of low back pain exceeds $100 billion

Here’s a quote that may shock you:

For most patients with low back pain, a specific etiology [cause] cannot be established with certainty.

I bet your doctor, chiropractor, or massage therapist never told you that.

The UpToDate folks suggest a combination of core strengthening (especially abdominal and trunk extension), directional preference (e.g., McKenzie method), general physical fitness, flexion and extension movements, aerobics, and functional restoration programs.  Some studies found benefit with Alexander technique, yoga, Pilates, and tai chi.

They didn’t mention Dr. John Sarno (“Your pain is from repressed anger”) or the Five Tibetan Rituals.

I hate to leave you empty-handed, so take this:

Again, if low back pain is a significant issue for you, it’s a good idea to work with a physical therapist.

What’s worked for you?

Steve Parker, M.D.

My Fitness Experiment No. 3

OK, here’s the new plan.

For aerobic and cardiovascular endurance:

  • twice weekly 15-minute treadmill high intensity interval training

For strength:

Twice weekly…

Why dumbbell weights?  ‘Cuz that’s what I’ve got.

I chose push-ups over bench presses because the former probably uses more muscles.

My hesitation about the pull-ups/chin-ups is that they may be redundant, i.e., working muscles already used in the other exercises.

Rather than counting sets and repetitions (e.g., three sets of 10 pushups), I’m going to continue using the exhaustion technique Chris Highcock taught me in Hillfit:

  • 90 seconds on each exercise
  • use enough weight that I’m exhausted after the 9o seconds
  • 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down for each repetition

If I skip the pull-ups, I could probably get the resistance training done in 20 minutes.  (I think I’m talking myself out of the pull-ups!)

My current fitness measurements are recorded elsewhere.  I’ll recheck after about six weeks.

None of this is etched in stone.

My goals are here.  Comments?

Steve Parker, M.D.

Notes

My fitness experiment No.1 was Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance.  No. 2 was Chris Highcock’s Hillfit.

Update May 22, 2012

The first workout went well.  I need to review the various types of dumbbell presses and decide which one I want to stick with.   Not doing the pull-ups/chin-ups.  I hope I’m a little sore tomorrow.  These are the dumbbell weights I used today:

Dumbbell squats: 25 lb (11.4 kg)

Push-ups: 25 lb (11.4 kg) in backpack

Dumbell presses: 15 lb (6.8 kg)

Romanian deadlift with dumbbells: 30 lb (13.6 kg)

Bent-over one-arm rows: 25 lb (11.4 kg)

Update May 25, 2012

I was sore in the back, quads (anterior thighs), and arms the next day.  I even postponed my second workout of the week for one day to allow lingering right arm soreness to resolve.  For my workout today, I reduced the overhead press weight from 15 to 10 lb.

Update May 27, 2012

Right arm/shoulder soreness is gone.  Now I’ve got soreness in my left hamstring, likely a strain related to the deadlifts.  Started 24 hours after my second workout in this experiment, and persisting 36 hours at this point.

Update May 28, 2012

Right hamstring soreness almost gone.  Instead of 30 lb dumbbells with the Romanian deadlift, I cut to 25 lb to avoid aggravating that hamstring.  Probably back to 30 lb next time.  With bent-over rows, I’m ready to progress to 30 lb.

Update June 9, 2012

It’s going well.  No injuries; no unusual aches.  Here are the dumbbell weights I carry in each hand: for squats – 30 lb; for push-ups – 25 lb in backpack; for dumbbell presses – 25 lb; for Romanian deadlifts – 40 lb; for bent-over row – 30 lb.  The set of dumbbells my wife got for me (used) in CraigsList was from 5 to 30 lb.  So I had to go buy a 40-lb pair, which set me back about $80 (USD).

Update June 26, 2012

Going well.  No injuries.  Haven’t missed any sessions.  Had to decrease backpack push-up weight from 25 to 20 lb  about 10 days ago—I just couldn’t keep up the exercise for 90 seconds at the higher weight.  A couple weeks ago I increased the bent-over row and squat weights to 40 lb.  I’m noticing much use of back and shoulder muscles when I’m doing exercises that superficially seem to target other muscles. E.g., the Romanian deadlifts and squats target the buttocks and thighs, but having to carry 40 lb in each hand works out my arms, shoulders, and back.

Update July 9, 2012

Having started my current fitness experiment six weeks ago, it’s time for a retest of my fitness to assess results.  But I’m not going to do it now.  I was at my son’s Boy Scout camp all last week and unable to do my regular routine.  (By the way,  jogging at 6,700 feet above sea level is definitely harder than at 2,000 feet.)  I’m going to do another two weeks of the program, then test.  Fair enough?  I’m a little concerned about some mysterious pain in my left forefoot that started roughly two months ago.  That may prevent my work on the treadmill.

Update July 21, 2012

I finished Fitness Experiment No.3 today and will retest my fitness after a couple days.  Originally planned as a six-week trial, I missed week six due to Boy Scout camp.  I made up for that by doing another two weeks.  I’m happy with my push-ups, dumbbell presses, and dumbbell squats.  By happy, I mean I get a good, exhausting workout in the allotted 90 seconds.  With push-ups, I wear a backpack holding 20 lb (9 kg).  Presses are with 30 lb (14 kg) in each hand.  Squats are with a pair of 40 lb (18 kg) dumbbells.  The bent-over one-arm rows have just now become too easy at 40 lb.  I’m not pleased with the Romanian deadlifts while holding 40 lb in each hand—they’re too easy.  I don’t have any heavier weights, so I’m looking at buying a pair of 50s for about $100 (USD) new, or $50 used.  Or I could 1) make the deadlifts more stressful in some way, 2) do them for longer than 90 seconds, or 3) find a substitute for the deadlifts.

Whither My Fitness?

I spent six hours yesterday considering a new fitness program for myself.  I’ve been happy with my Hillfit experience but want to try something new.

I surfed the ‘net, read some chapters in Jonathan Bailor’s The Smarter Science of Slim, and thought more about the Hillfit program.  I spent a lot of time at the Whole9 website reviewing their recent three-part series on “The Five Best Exercises for Overall Fitness, Health, and Longevity,” or some such.

Bailor’s exercise program focuses on eccentric exercise, a place I’m not ready to explore.  “Eccentric” probably doesn’t mean what you think.  Take pull-ups or chin-ups, for example.  You pull yourself up, which is concentric; letting yourself down is eccentric.  I’ll get to Bailor’s program some other day.

I was planning to put something together based on the Whole9 series, like Clifton Harski did.

My ideas started to crystallize after I remembered an old architectural aphorism: Form follows function.

So I asked myself, “Self, what are you’re goals?”:

  • improve my current fitness level
  • effective
  • efficient (e.g., not time-consuming, so under two hours a week)
  • scalable
  • teachable
  • relatively safe
  • simple
  • no machines or commercial gym needed (i.e., home-based)

A couple items from Whole9 caught my fancy: man-makers, Turkish get-ups, the primacy of squats, the High Knee Walk to Spiderman with Hip Lift and Overhead Reach.  Except for squats, these ideas were new to me.  The Spiderman thing brought some of Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance exercises to mind; particularly good for flexibility.

Do you know of a good existing pre-packaged program that meet’s my criteria, either in book or DVD form?  I’m sure there are hundreds available.

I’ll share more ideas with you in the next few days.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Random Notes on Fitness

About couple years ago, I was thinking about putting together a fitness program for myself.  My goals were endurance, strength, less low back aching, flexibility, longevity, and being able to get on my horse bareback without a mounting block or other cheat.

I spent quite a bit of time at Doug Robb’s HeathHabits site.  He has a post called The “I don’t have time to workout” Workout.  I ran across some paper notes I made during my time there.  Doug recommended some basic moves to incorporate: air squat, Hindu pushup, dragon flag, shuffle of scissor lung, Spiderman lung, hip thrust/bridge, swing snatch, dumbbell press, Siff lunge, jumping Bulgarian squat, band wood chops, leg stiff leg deadlift.  Click the link to see videos of most of these exercises.  The rest you can find on YouTube.

Another post is called “Do you wanna get big and strong? -Phase 1”.  The basic program is lifting weights thrice weekly.  Monday, work the chest and back.  Tuesday, legs and abs/core.  Friday, arms and shoulders.

  • Chest exercises: presses (barbell or dumbell, incline, decline, flat, even pushups with additional resistance  – your choice
  • Back: chins or rows
  • Legs: squats or deadlifts
  • Arms and shoulders: dips, presses, curls

Doug is a personal trainer with a huge amount of experience.  He’s a good writer, too, and gives away a wealth of information at his website.

Around this same time of searching a couple years ago, I ran across Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance, Mark Lauren’s book “You Are Your Own Gym,”  and Mark Sisson’s free fitness ebook that also  features bodyweight exercises.

Lauren is or was a Navy Seal trainer.  His plan involves 30 minutes of work on four days a week and uses minimal equipment.  Lots of good reviews at Amazon.com.

Newbies to vigorous exercise should seriously consider using a personal trainer.

Steve Parker, M.D.