Reduce back injuries for servers with 2 gym exercises.

Servers/ Waiters/ Bartenders exist in a special place in the occupational health field. While being on their feet all day, they are tasked with creating exceptional guest experiences by taking care of their every need. This ultimate goal can cause quite a few servers to use less than ideal movement patterns to get the job done.

When you start your career in the front of the house you may not notice these patterns since they don’t cause pain.However, over time improper movement patters can lay the groundwork for pain and discomfort via muscle imbalances and weakened joints.

Fortunately, you have a kinesiologist like me to help you out. I am going to go over a major movement dysfunction that causes pain for servers. Why this pain may be felt from this movement. And finally I will give examples of gym exercises that will harden your body and reduce the chances of these problems.

*Now before we get into anything, I want to make it clear that you should not start a new exercise program without consulting your doctor. These exercises I recommend are based with the assumption that you have no pain and have no medical reasons to prevent strength training. This will not fix or remedy pain felt due to work practices. If you are feeling pain regularly you need to talk to your doctor and get set up with a regulated health professional who can assess and diagnose you before prescribing treatment and exercise interventions that will not aggravate your pain. * 

The Movement Problem #1: Loading through the lower back.

The lower back houses a lot of important anatomical structures. Not only does it contains the end of the spinal cord, it also connects the pelvis to the spine, and is the insertion point for many muscles. And while the low back is quite the marvel for its ability to support and move us, it can commonly become weakened when we rely on it to do the job of some of our larger muscles

It is common for our leg muscles become tight and weakened from work. The hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and quads to name a few. When this happens the muscles may start to contract or relax incorrectly for the tasks we require of them. Out of necessity, other muscles will take up the task of moving in the way we want. When we have a dysfunction in our hips, quite often the load is transferred to our lower back.

The most common task that causes this is lifting an object by bending at the hips without bending our knees. Two examples of this is when you clear a filled tray from a table and when you lower a plate down to place it in front of the guest.

When lifting improperly, it is common to see the shoulders hunch forward and a hump to become pronounced in the spine. In this scenario, the spine has been forced into a flexed position and will cause the muscles and tendons to elongate due to this load.  Some of these muscles are quite small, only spanning between one vertebra and are not designed to hold heavy loads of an over-flexed spine.

This position can be the cause to varying different problems but some of the most common ones are pulled tendons and muscles, herniated discs, and pinched nerves.

Luckily the lower back and lower extremities are designed to lift heavy loads. We just have to set them up for success.

Firstly, the lower back needs to be trained to create stability, not mobility. Think of the core musculature around the lower back like those lifting belts you see power lifters use. You want the core muscles to tighten to create a strong pillar that the lower extremities can use to create force. A good comparison is walking on stable ground or walking across a floor made of foam. You can’t get as good of a push off the foam floor because it is not a stable surface. Same thing happens when you don’t have core stability.

To create stability, we are going to need to train and strengthen the core musculature. Canada has one of the top spine experts in the world named Dr. Stuart McGill. He recommends 3 big core exercises to create a strong and long-lasting lower back. They are:

  • The Bird Dog

  • The Side Plank

  • The Modified Curl Up.

Bird Dog:

How to Set it up:  Start with your knees and hands on the ground with a flat back parallel to the floor.  Pull your shoulder blades down and back and tighten your core so that there is no arch in your back.

How to Set it up:

Start with your knees and hands on the ground with a flat back parallel to the floor.

Pull your shoulder blades down and back and tighten your core so that there is no arch in your back.

To Complete the movement:  Raise an opposite hand and foot off the ground and full extended them.  The focus is not having any movement through your lower back and core.  Hold this position for about 2 seconds and then return to the starting position.  Complete 8 - 10 times on both sides.

To Complete the movement:

Raise an opposite hand and foot off the ground and full extended them.

The focus is not having any movement through your lower back and core.

Hold this position for about 2 seconds and then return to the starting position.

Complete 8 - 10 times on both sides.

The Side Plank:

Set up:  On your side contract your core pull your shoulder blades down and back. From there raise yourself up onto your elbow and keep your knees in contact with the ground.  Hold this position for 15 - 30 seconds. The goal is to have no buckling at the hips or curves in the spine.  Repeat on both sides 3 times.

Set up:

On your side contract your core pull your shoulder blades down and back. From there raise yourself up onto your elbow and keep your knees in contact with the ground.

Hold this position for 15 - 30 seconds. The goal is to have no buckling at the hips or curves in the spine.

Repeat on both sides 3 times.

The Modified Curl Up:

The Set up:  Lying on the ground. place your hands underneath your low back. At all time your back will be in contact with your hands.  Bring one leg up to create more support on the floor.  Tighten your core and bring your shoulder blades down and back.

The Set up:

Lying on the ground. place your hands underneath your low back. At all time your back will be in contact with your hands.

Bring one leg up to create more support on the floor.

Tighten your core and bring your shoulder blades down and back.

To complete the movement:  Raise your whole torso off the ground about 3-5 inches.  Keep yourself from curling up and humping the lower back.  Hold for about 3 seconds.  Complete 8-10 reps.

To complete the movement:

Raise your whole torso off the ground about 3-5 inches.

Keep yourself from curling up and humping the lower back.

Hold for about 3 seconds.

Complete 8-10 reps.

These three exercises create stability through the spine by prepping the musculature for different forces and ranges of motion. These exercises can also be progressed from the basics as you become stronger in the gym. Add these to the end of your gym routine and you will have a stronger core than just doing thousands of sit-ups.

Once the core musculature has been strengthened, now it’s time to get the lower body extremities on board. Our legs and hips are designed to do the heavy lifting for us. The glutes, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors, are all large muscles with functional levers to make heavy lifting easy.  The action we want to focus on is called a hip hinge.

Simply, the hip hinge is similar to the hinge on a door. The pivot for the upper and lower body will be the pelvis and the upper body and lower extremities will essentially stay straight creating a strong position to move the object and complete the movement.

The hip hinge movement pattern can be trained easily with a wonderful tool called a wall. Take 10 minutes to work through 8 – 10 reps of this pattern.  

Take a look at the training pattern below:

 Hip Hinge:

Set up:  stand near a wall. About a foot away from it.  Contract your core and pull your shoulder blades down and back.

Set up:

stand near a wall. About a foot away from it.

Contract your core and pull your shoulder blades down and back.

To Complete the movement:  Drive your hip backwards with minimal movement in your knees.  Keep going until your butt just touches the wall.  Drive back to the starting position by contracting the glutes.  Your upper body should have little or no movement.  Complete 8 - 10 reps.

To Complete the movement:

Drive your hip backwards with minimal movement in your knees.

Keep going until your butt just touches the wall.

Drive back to the starting position by contracting the glutes.

Your upper body should have little or no movement.

Complete 8 - 10 reps.

Hip Hinge with Weight:

When you feel like you have mastered the weight free version.  Find to light weights (5-10 lbs)  Keep the weight in contact with your thighs and set your upper body up the same way as before.

When you feel like you have mastered the weight free version.

Find to light weights (5-10 lbs)

Keep the weight in contact with your thighs and set your upper body up the same way as before.

To complete the movement:  Keep the weight in contact with your legs at all times.  Complete 8-10 reps.

To complete the movement:

Keep the weight in contact with your legs at all times.

Complete 8-10 reps.

Once you have the pattern down and you don’t have any unexpected humps in your back or shoulders, you can begin to add weight for even more strength and stability. Start small with a couple dumbbells and work your way up from there. Aim for high reps (8-10 per set) and low weight (5 or 10lbs in each hand) at first and remember that form is paramount when doing this pattern. These are all essentially deadlift patterns without necessarily having to do the full deadlift from the floor.  You may see this pattern in exercise guides called a ‘reverse deadlift’ and it is one of the easiest ways to train your glutes and hamstrings to do the heavy lifting they are designed for.

Add these exercises into your workout routine and you will have a strong core that reduces the chance of lower back injuries. Enjoy!