The connection between muscle tissue and back health is something that we’ve discussed at great length in other podcast episodes. However an area not discussed by us as much is the interplay between building this muscle tissue and the benefit it can have on your metabolic health. Why is metabolic health important and what is it? We’ll be delving into this and more today to help you better understand why improving your muscular health is going to not only benefit your back pain, back health and recovery from injury, but also have huge wide reaching benefits that improvements in your metabolic health brings too.
The foundation: understanding muscle’s role
For many, muscles symbolize physical prowess, power and perhaps a desirable physique. For others not as interested in such physical pursuits, it is seen as unnecessary. Unfortunately many see it as of little use if there is no desire to partake in such physical endeavors, however, those with such a viewpoint miss a huge number of benefits having good muscle health can bring.
Beneath the surface of the skin, these healthy muscles play an unseen role in maintaining and boosting our health and wellbeing in many ways: from immunity, to our metabolic health too, something we’ll cover more shortly.
Building strength to guard the spine
Lack of adequate muscle health is often the outcome of sedentary lifestyles and poor habits, posture, exercise, diet, etc. Weak trunk and leg muscles are often the culprits, leading to undue strain on the spine, particularly the lower level of the lower back. Building strength in these areas can help us tremendously reduce the risk of injury and even if you are unlucky enough to injure your lower back, your recovery times will be much more favorable. For example, as we discussed in a recent episode, the hips and lower back health are inextricably linked. Having strong muscles and hips that function well will take a significant amount of strain off the lower back when it’s working to heal.
As your muscles develop and grow, they provide an ever strengthening shield of adaptive protection for the lower back. Steadily increasing your resilience guarding you against the challenges of aging.
Metabolic health explained
Metabolic health refers to the functioning of our body’s biochemical processes, converting what we eat into energy, or building blocks for repair, something we should be acutely aware of if we’re trying to recover from an injury. Functions such as breaking down the carbohydrate, fat and protein in our diet into their building blocks, regulating our blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This is at the root of many issues of modernity, such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.
A hallmark of good metabolic health is the body’s ability to maintain balance – homeostasis. For instance, after eating, our blood sugar levels rise, a healthy metabolic system would efficiently respond by releasing insulin from the pancreas. This triggers the cells of the body to absorb and use the sugar so it is pulled from the circulatory system. Conversely when this metabolic process is dysfunctional, the body will not respond normally in a process called insulin resistance, leading to the unhealthy elevation of blood sugar levels.
A good test for this specific measure is a HbA1C test which is a blood measure of your last 3 months or so of average blood sugar levels, amongst others this is a simple tool for us to monitor an aspect of our health and wellbeing.
Metabolic health is not just about blood sugar though, cholesterol levels processed and maintained in the liver is another such example of metabolic health in action. In essence your metabolic health is a picture of how well your body can utilise and manage the energy we derive from food, and plays a pivotal role in our overall health and wellbeing.
If we’re struggling to heal from a lower back injury for example, the ability of our body to function metabolically is something that is often ignored completely. This would be akin to expecting a house renovation to take place on time delivering the materials but the builders on site being half asleep or hung over, mistakes will happen and things will not be completed well at all!
Metabolism and muscle: a symbiotic relationship
Now we understand a little more about what metabolic health actually is, how do the muscles play a role. Firstly the muscles are a huge reservoir for excess sugar. Muscles have stores of energy known as glycogen stores, these are reserves of energy the muscle maintains for activity. As you’re building the muscle tissue to protect your lower back, the physical strength and size of these metabolically active tissues is increasing too. These metabolically active tissues burn calories even when we’re at rest, therefore having the effect of increasing your resting metabolic rate.
If we explore this one facet in more detail, if there is more muscle tissue, desiring more glucose to fill the larger glycogen stores, when you consume carbohydrates or sugars it acts like a sponge. The muscle mass bolsters this process of removing excess sugar from the bloodstream by giving it a place to go!
This is but one simple explanation for why we find that as members progress through the Phase 4 of the Back In Shape program, their general health and body composition often improves too. The improvement in muscle tissue health and volume enhances insulin sensitivity bolstering metabolic defenses.
Taking action: embarking on the muscle & metabolism boosting journey
Make the time now to begin building your muscle health if you’ve not already, you might well be wondering where to benign, especially if you’re injured or haven’t done much working out in the past. This is why we’ve put together some simple steps to help you get started and reap the benefits of improved metabolic health!
Whether you have a back injury or not, before you get into these steps it is helpful to know that correct technique is the most important thing when you begin. If you spend a little time getting technical aspects right, it will pay off in a big way!
Step One: Exercise selection
Choosing the right exercises is going to be vital if you’re to have the biggest impact in the least amount of time. Let’s face it, most do not have hours every day to workout so efficiency is important. Working your arm muscles with bicep curls or calf muscles with calf raises might sound focussed but it is far inferior when it comes to efficiency.
Instead choosing exercises such as the squat, hip hinge are going to be the most effective by far. If you’re wanting to workout with upper body exercises then larger “compound movements” a row movement or press will result in significantly greater effectiveness. Unlike the previously mentioned bicep curl and calf raises, these compound movements work across many joints and recruit many more muscles. Additionally they are helpful movements to work on if we’re thinking about back health and longevity in general, plus the more muscles we can work the more we can positively affect those metabolic health changes.
Something simple like 5 sets of 10 squats and hip hinges, plus 5 sets of 10 chest presses and rows would give you a workout that will be incredibly wide reaching and for most this would be a great place to start if you have no injuries or back pain. It’s VERY time efficient and done 3 or 4 times per week would be enough to make some real changes in a short amount of time.
Step Two: Intensity selection
Now you’re happy with the exercises in the workout, it is time to workout at the desired intensity to challenge yourself, this means adding resistance, in many cases by way of bands if you’re limited in space, or weights if you have access to them. Finding a weight whereby you can complete the 10 reps but only have 1 or 2 reps left before you might hypothetically fail to complete the rep with good technique.
In the early days training to failure is often counterproductive as without proper support from a professional the risk of injury in doing such activities is prohibitively high.
Step three: Get nutrition, hydration & sleep right
Muscles are active tissues and they are being damaged in small ways with the right intensity of training, discovered in step two. It is vital that your body is afforded sufficient nutritional support allowing for the recovery from your workouts, as well as the adaptation and strengthening to occur.
Outside of the sessions is when this takes place, particularly at night. Working to make sure you have a consistent sleeping schedule is as important that your sleep is sufficient in duration each night.
Step four: consistency is your superpower
It is quite remarkable how much can change over the course of 6 months or a year, yet so many give up within a month. If you can follow the above, working out 3 to 5 times per week at an intensity that challenges you, fuel your body and recover well for an extended period of time results are practically guaranteed. The timeframe will vary from one person to the next but one thing is certain.
If you do not give up, you cannot fail!
Fixing your back pain & improving your metabolic health
Improving your muscle health is essential if you’re to resolve lower back pain. All too often people fall into pointless exercises that simply do not do this. If you follow the plan above, with the right exercise selection, done at the right intensity, providing your body with all the tools required for recovery, over the long term you will have success. In the process of doing so you’ll create positive changes to your metabolic health in the process.
Gone are the days were common delusions of “having muscles” was a thing only for a niche group of people. We all know now that embracing a comprehensive perspective and improving our muscle health build not only a protective shield for our lower back, but a robust metabolic suit of armor to help guard against conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cholesterol issues and other such problems associated with poor metabolic health.
Be consistent & you’ll get there!
The good news is for those of you who’re already members of the program working through the Phases, as you approach Phase 4 and work through it, you’ll make ever more progress to improving your metabolic health too. Just follow the plan, follow the program and the results will speak for themselves. If you’re not already a member, learn more about how you can start with Back In Shape today by clicking here.