The word fitness can mean different things in different contexts. For example, cardiovascular fitness refers to the ability to deliver oxygenated blood to muscles and organs. A person who does more cardio training may be more fit in this sense and experience better stamina and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on muscle fitness. People with high, well-rounded muscle fitness can lift heavier objects and work their muscles longer before they feel tired. Muscle fitness isn’t all about looking ripped; it also significantly impacts your musculoskeletal health, influencing your bone density and risk for back pain.
Here’s why muscle fitness matters to your health and how you can improve yours.
Strong Muscles Support Your Spine
We tend not to think about our muscles unless one of them hurts, but they make everything we do throughout the day possible. Every movement uses muscles working with ligaments, tendons, and joints. Muscles are critical to joint stability- the ability of a joint to move smoothly through its range of motion. Unstable joints can over-extend or dislocate. They are also more prone to twisting movements that can cause tissue damage within the joint.
So, where does the spine come into this? Your spine is a long string of short bones (vertebrae) connected with joints. There are twenty-four moveable vertebrae, all prone to instability and injury if not properly stabilized. The joints in your spine are called facet joints, and they work the same way your other joints work– using cartilage and synovial fluid to absorb shock and decrease friction. The spine also does something different from your other joints. Between each vertebra is a fluid-filled cushion called a disk. The discs provide more shock absorption and keep your vertebrae spaced properly. Injuries that affect the disc or disc space are common and can be extremely painful.
Strong back and core muscles help hold your spine in alignment and stabilize it through your daily movements. This prevents discs from slipping out of place, reduces strain on facet joints, and acts as an armor of sorts to protect your spine from injury. People with strong core and back muscles are less prone to back pain and typically heal faster when injury does occur.
To strengthen your back and core, try exercises like lat pulldowns, planks, reverse sit-ups, and donkey kicks. Be sure to talk to a personal trainer so you can design a workout that will train your muscles evenly. Overtraining some groups and undertraining others can also cause joint instability.
Strength Training Improves Bone Density
Doctors recommend weight-bearing exercise for people at risk of bone thinning or osteoporosis. Weight-bearing doesn’t necessarily refer to lifting weights. It means any exercise that makes your muscles bear your weight (so swimming wouldn’t be considered weight-bearing but walking is).
Weight-bearing exercise improves bone density because it causes muscles and tendons to apply pressure to bones, stimulating bones to build more bone tissue. People not yet experiencing bone loss can reduce their chances of future risk by improving their muscle fitness.
Incorporating strength training (weight lifting) into a well-rounded fitness routine (along with a healthy diet) is a great way to protect your muscles and bones. In addition to building bone, having strong muscles and good flexibility as we age also improves balance. Since falls are the most common cause of fractures in people over 65, good balance can mean the difference between healthy aging or increasing disability.
Fit Muscles Are Less Prone to Injury
In addition to protecting bones and joints, strong muscles can better defend themselves. Again, balanced strength training is vital to achieving this. Balanced training means achieving an even level of fitness throughout muscle groups. It also means incorporating flexibility training and cardio into your workout routine. Stiff, inflexible soft tissues are more prone to injury, and overbulking your muscles can hurt flexibility. A lean, flexible muscle is your best bet to protect from muscle injuries and keep your bones and joints stable and pain-free.
Cardiovascular fitness also directly affects muscle health since it influences how effectively your body can send oxygen and nutrients to muscles. Good cardiovascular health will improve muscle healing and resilience.
If you struggle with frequent back pain, joint pain, or injuries, improving your fitness routine could help. Keep reading for tips on how to get started.
Where to Begin with Muscle Fitness
If you tend to be sedentary or haven’t focused much on muscle fitness in the past, you’ll need to start slowly and work your way up. Body-weight exercises like squats, planks, and pushups work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, and you don’t have to worry about which weight to pick up. Aim for 12 to 15 reps of each exercise or 30 to 60 seconds for a plank. You may not be able to achieve this right away, and that’s fine. Do each exercise until you feel fatigued but not exhausted. Count how many reps (or seconds for the plank) you achieved and repeat that same workout 2-3 times a week for a few weeks, then try adding more reps or time.
When you find yourself breezing through a 60-second plank or 15 squats, you can add different exercises and try incorporating weights into your routine. At this point, your major muscle groups should be strong enough to hold the correct form for other weight-lifting exercises safely. Be sure to check in with a trainer if you need clarification on the correct form, and err on the side of less weight and more reps to avoid injury. It’s also a good idea to talk to a chiropractor or someone familiar with your overall and musculoskeletal health before you ramp up your workout.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent injury is incorporate a 5-minute warmup and 3-minute cool down into your routine. Dynamic warmup exercises like marching in place, knee to chest, and jumping jacks are more effective than static stretches. Save those for your cooldown.
Incorporating flexibility training once or twice a week will prevent your new, stronger muscles from becoming overly stiff. Try yoga or tai chi, or look for flexibility routine videos online. Add a thirty-minute jog a few times per week or a daily walk to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Care for Your Spine in Kentucky
At All Star Chiropractic, we offer comprehensive chiropractic care and lifestyle advice to help you heal back pain and improve your overall health and fitness. Schedule a consultation today and get on your way to back pain relief.