Back Attack

Lower Back Pain, Counting Calories, The Heart of the Matter

BY Toby Massenburg

March 04 2009 1:00 AM ET

While they're not vanity muscles, strong stabilizers are key to reducing back pain.

After the common cold, lower back pain is the most frequent reason people visit a doctor. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, approximately 80% of us will experience lower back pain at least once in our lives. And the best way to make sure you're among the pain-free 20% is to pay more attention to activities that strengthen your lower back, abs, and hips -- like these, two of my favorite endurance exercises:

In 'bows and toes (also called a "plank") you start by lying facedown on the floor. Place your hands beneath your chest, with your forearms parallel to each other and your elbows (those are the 'bows) in line with your shoulders. Prop yourself up to form a bridge, using your toes and forearms. Keep your back flat and parallel to the floor, and don't let your hips drop down. Hold for 30-45 seconds, rest, and repeat two more times.

For the Superman exercise you'll lie facedown as well. Extend your arms in front of you, hands flat on the floor. Keeping your belly and hips on the floor, lift the upper body and lower legs off the floor simultaneously -- as if you were flying Superman-style. Hold for one to three seconds, keeping your neck even with your shoulders, then return to the beginning position and repeat. Do three sets of 15 reps. These exercises can be performed daily.

Counting Calories Losing weight is pretty straight-forward: You simply expend more calories than you take in. Since 3,500 calories approximates one pound of body weight, burning 3,500 calories more than you consume will help you lose one pound of body fat. To lose weight safely, plan for a daily deficit of 250 to 500 calories via diet, exercise, or both. And by using a formula by Leslie Bonci, a sports nutritionist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, you can find what your daily caloric intake should be to lose a pound a week.

Women: Weight in pounds x 15 - 500 = daily caloric intake

Men: Weight in pounds x 18 - 500 = daily caloric intake

Don't go overboard. Cutting back more than 500 calories a day can slow down the metabolism, triggering cravings intense enough to sabotage even the boldest weight-loss efforts.

Heart of the Matter Runners know that using a heart-rate monitor can help them improve cardiovascular conditioning, but HRMs can benefit strength trainers as well. To develop optimal muscular strength and endurance, the intensity level of every workout must progressively increase over time. Because every body is unique, one-size-fits-all recommended rest times between weight-training sets are only an approximation of what your body needs. However, the FT80 HRM by Polar has a strength-training application, which alerts you to the time your body is optimally ready for the next set. The FT80 also creates a customized strength-lifting program for you. Just think of the FT80 as your very own digital personal trainer. $349.95 ( PolarUSA.com )

Tags: Fitness

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