There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just spit it out.
What you believe about your abs and your back pain is probably wrong.
It’s not your fault—all kinds of experts have drilled it into us that strong abs are the key to keeping our backs healthy and pain-free.
And anyone who has faithfully done the exercises knows that they help—as long as you continue to do them. But keeping it up is boring and the relief is unlikely to last once you stop because it never was solving the problem in the first place.
I know, this sounds like heresy—but the reason it works at all is that building strong abs means you’re using force to counter force.
To understand that, we need to think about how muscles cause back pain.
Muscles lead a boring life.
They only do two things: they contract, and they relax.
That’s it. And it’s enough because that’s how you get from the couch to the fridge so you don’t have to watch the pain-relief ads I’m going to mention in a minute.
When muscles contract, they get shorter and a short muscle is a working muscle.
When they relax, they’re stop working. When muscles stop working completely, they rest at their full length.
Relaxed muscles—in other words, muscles that are not working—typically don’t hurt, unless they’re injured.
But when muscles are tight… well everybody has seen those ads for pain relievers that feature jagged red lines radiating from a pulsating red ball of pain, so we all know that it’s the tight muscles that hurt.
And when muscles stay tight for a long time, they hurt a LOT. All the time.
“Strengthen your abs” is the answer to the wrong question
The question that answers is “How can I keep on doing exactly what I’m doing to create my back pain and counteract the effect to some degree?”
Strengthening your abs is about making your front strong because your back is too strong.
The fact that you get some relief from doing it doesn’t mean your back isn’t working. It doesn’t mean you’ve solved the problem.
What it does mean is that you now have two sets of strong muscles that don’t know when to quit working.
And unfortunately, your back muscles started first, so it’s going to be virtually impossible for your abs to ever completely win the battle… because the harder you work your abs, the harder your back works to get what it seems to “want.”
I know, maybe that sounds wierd but see if you can run with it for a minute.
You can prove it to yourself…
Close one hand into a fist—not hard, just a loose fist.
Now with your other hand, use your thumb to open your little finger away from your palm. Easy, right? That’s because your intention lined up with what you allowed to happen.
Now don’t allow it and see what happens. In other words, decide that no matter what, you’re not going to let that thumb move that finger.
See? Seems like that finger has a mind of its own.
Now just do the same thing without using your other hand. So instead of trying to pull your finger away from your palm with your other thumb, just decide to open that finger at the same time you are determined not to let it happen.
In fact, you can probably feel that the more you insist on opening it, the harder you work to keep it closed. (If this sounds a lot like trying to get a teenager to do chores, or getting your dog to move when it wants to stay put, you’ve definitely got the idea!)
Feel how much work you’re doing now on BOTH sides of that finger? That’s because the muscles that open your hand are fighting with the ones that are keeping it closed.
Now you didn’t do this for very long, or with much strength, but if you kept your fist in a tight ball for a long time, and never gave it permission to open, your hand would hurt.
That’s where most back pain comes from
It seems ridiculous to say it, but your back hurts… in the back, right?
So obviously those muscles are working too hard and don’t know how to stop.
Instead of fighting with them by making your abs stronger, you can learn how to give those muscles permission to stop. Then they do it on their own.
Otherwise, nothing really changes except that you get two sets of strong muscles.
The right question is “How can I get my back muscles to stop working?”
It’s easy when you learn to allow it to happen.
I told you it would sound crazy. But it’s true—sometimes muscles need permission to stop working.
That’s why learning to Move Like You Used To is so important—you probably don’t remember having back pain when you were a young child.
It’s not only because you were young… little kids don’t usually have back pain because they haven’t learned how to work nonstop.
They live full out… and when they stop, it’s a full stop.
Regaining that ability at any age means you enjoy life more and stay independent longer.