Last month I introduced my monthly fitness challenge, explaining my "inspiration" and why I think it's so important to do strength work ESPECIALLY as we age. (You can read all about that here.)
How did you do?
I hope you've made a habit of doing simple body weight squats all day long, and that by now you're sitting and standing - hands free - with ease! (And if your answer is Not Yet . . . well. I encourage you to start today!)
Keep doing it!
And add this . . .
Challenge #2: Stretch your hamstrings, activate those glutes . . . and spare your back just by changing the way you bend over.
Okay. It turns out that most people in the US bend over in a way that is not "friendly" to our backs. (It's apparently a cultural thing.) Try this: Drop something on the floor. Now bend over to pick it up.
Did you look down at the object . . . and then bend over at your waist to pick it up? That's how most people in the US move when they need to bend over and do . . . whatever. Pick something up off the floor. Pull a weed in the garden. Tie their shoe. Etc. But. . . bending over at the waist like that is not good for our lower backs! Bending at the waist puts our bodies into a "C" position (curving like the letter C), which puts stress on our spines.
There's a better - and more back-friendly - way to bend over. It's called a "table bend" - or a hip hinge. When we hinge at the hips (instead of at our waist), our backs can stay straight in a neutral position, which takes the pressue off our spines. The "work" in a table bend comes from our hip joints (which are designed for this kind of motion), and it gives our hamstrings and glutes a nice little workout besides.
Here is an interesting article from NPR explaining the "C" bend vs. the "table" bend -- with a great little video demo-ing the correct way to hinge at the hip when you pick something up off the floor.
As a regular practicer of yoga for many years, I have develped a very flexible spine. I'm able to bend forward at the waist comfortably, and my back is strong and supple. But when I started working with a personal trainer a few years ago, he had me switch to the hip hinge right away - for just everyday bending over and as a strong base for weight training. I've been doing it ever since. There's nothing wrong with the spinal flexion moves in yoga (in fact, they provide excellent benefits), but when it comes to everyday bending over, the hip hinge is the best option.
A strong, healthy back is key to easy (easier?) movement as we age. Besides sparing our backs, hip hinges help strengthen our core -- which helps reduce back pain, improves our balance, and allows us better flexion, extension, and rotation of our bodies. And . . . it just feels better.
So my challenge to you this month is . . . to watch the very quick video demo of the hip hinge (or "table" bend) that I linked above. And then . . . practice it every time you need to bend over. Like last month, you don't need to set aside a special workout time for this. You just need to . . . pick something up off the floor!
It won't take long for you to develop this new, bending over habit.
It feels good -- and it's easy.
Just think how much stronger your core and leg muscles are getting -- now that you're doing body weight squats every day (because you are, aren't you?) AND stretching your hamstrings and working your glutes . . . all while saving your back!
(Future You is feeling better every day.)