How An Elliptical Trainer Helped Save My Back

Today, I would like to take you through my back pain journey and explain how an elliptical helped save my back.  I hope that someone out there may be able to benefit from my story using one piece of exercise equipment that I can’t say enough good things about.

My back problems started when I was just 26 years old.  I never even thought about back problems when I was younger, and here 20 years later it has been a big part of my life.  If you don’t suffer from back pain, it’s hard to describe how debilitating it can be.  I realize people have a lot of different ailments, but back pain is the one I have experienced all too often in my life.

Yikes, that hurts

In the spring of 1999, I started to notice some pain in my right leg, into my calf.  At the time I didn’t think much of it.  Gradually the pain got worse.  I went to see a doctor, and he kind of wrote the pain off as me getting older, and said I should just be mindful of my activities going forward.  Mind you I was only 26 years old, so I didn’t really consider myself “older” then.

A month or so passed, and the pain continued to get worse. I went back to the same doctor (maybe that was a mistake), and he decided physical therapy was the next step. So, off to physical therapy, I went.  I am not sure what happened, but PT caused me to get MUCH worse, to the point that I was really hobbling around.

Even with all the sports, I played as a kid, I had never dealt with any kind of serious physical injuries, and this was all new to me.

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

The physical therapist told me to stop the stretching exercises he had prescribed, it was time to see the doctor again.  The details are fuzzy; because it was 20 years ago, but it was finally determined I had a herniated disc.  We tried different treatment options, but nothing worked, including injections.

I was left with surgery as my last option.  So in the fall of 1999, I had surgery.  Everything seemed to go great.  Immediately I felt relief, and within a few months, I was back to doing my thing.  I had always been very active, played a lot of sports, pretty much did whatever I wanted.  So, I was back at it.

Setbacks over the years

I have definitely had some setbacks over the years, notably in 2011 and 2015.  In early 2011 I picked up my daughter, and that was the first time I have ever heard a “pop” in my back.  I went to a back pain clinic where they filled me up with painkillers, and again we tried about every treatment option out there, but nothing worked.  I was advised by the pain clinic doctor not to see a chiropractor, which I will get into a little bit later. I hobbled around in pain for 16 months and just woke up one day, and the pain was gone.

2015 was my wakeup call

I had been good for about four years, and I then I decided lifting heavier weight at the gym would be a great idea.  I let my ego get the best of me, and I was working out as if I had no history of back problems.  Long story short, I was lifting too heavy, for me, and doing things I should not have been doing.  I ended up blowing out my disc and spraining my SI joint. The injury lead to spinal stenosis, and I was hunched over at a 30-degree angle at my waist.

Okay, now to the good stuff

I decided it was time to try a different approach for my back and I went to see a highly recommended chiropractor.  After 6 months of chiropractor visits, I was finally upright and able to start working out again.  The first exercise I was ready to start doing, was using an elliptical machine.

I wanted to give you some background just to set the scene and let you know that unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with back problems.  And, I want to talk about why I love to work out using an elliptical trainer so much. 

My chiropractor is a HUGE advocate for not only getting your body right but also building and maintaining muscle as the best way to protect your body from back pain.  Of course, there is no single remedy for fixing back pain, but building a strong core is a great way to go about fending off back problems.  So, I started back on the elliptical at the advice of my chiropractor.

When I was finally upright, from being bent over for months, my chiro recommended an elliptical as the best place to start.  Being able to move my arms back and forth, along with the low impact leg movement would be a great test to see if I was ready. This was a pretty conservative and mild way to get back to exercise and my pathway to a building a stronger body, (hey what a great name for a website!).

I had always been super bored working out on an elliptical in the past, but having that taken away from me for 6 months, made things different this time.  Due to the low impact, I soon realized that the elliptical trainer was a fantastic option for people dealing with not only back problems, but also knees, and hips too.

Full body workout

The elliptical allows you to get a full body workout since you can use the handgrips to work your upper body.  Now I see a LOT of people who lollygag on these machines, bouncing and bobbing up and down, moving the handgrips back and forth.  I don’t mean any disrespect, but they are moving in slow motion and not really doing anything to build up their body.  It’s really easy to be super lazy on an elliptical.  I guess you can say that about any training equipment really.

Different ways to use an elliptical

Anyway, back to my story. I didn’t really realize a lot of things about an elliptical trainer until I really started using one consistently.  First of all, there are a lot of different elliptical trainers out there.  If you belong to a gym, different gyms have different models too.  So I tried out all the different models and found one that worked for me.

Once I got the hang of just really getting back into working out after so long on the sidelines, the elliptical was such a great place to start. Not only is the low impact nature of an elliptical trainer awesome, but you can work your upper and lower body.

Typically an elliptical will have moving handgrips, which allow you to engage the upper body.  Then you also have the stationary handgrips.  The stationary handgrips will enable you to balance and focus on your lower body.  These stationary handgrips soon became a terrific friend of mine as this allows me to lean back, into my butt and really work my glutes and lower back.

Then a couple of tricks I learned really helped me out.  Using the elliptical with no hands was an eye-opener for me. This hands-free option kind of took riding an elliptical to the next level for me.  This really focuses on the lower back, butt, and quads which are prime areas for helping out with my back pain. 

The other thing that really adds another element to the elliptical routine is keeping your head still, not bouncing up and down.  If you use an elliptical trainer and don’t bounce, I believe that in and of itself is more difficult than allowing yourself to bounce, it works your lower body harder.

So, the combination of no bouncing and going hands-free has really kicked it up for me.  I really think this works on balance as well as working critical core muscles.

I typically do the no hands thing for at least 10 minutes, and then I turn up the resistance and finish up the next 10 minutes using the moving handgrips.  I typically do about 20 minutes on the elliptical as a warm up.

Conclusion

To recap, I do believe that working out on an elliptical trainer has been one of the key factors not only in my recovery but in building a stronger core which helps with my back problems.  The elliptical allows me to focus on crucial core muscle areas like the lower back, glutes, quadriceps, and abdominals.  Using an elliptical provides for diversity in my workout, which is very important.

If you deal with back problems, I encourage you to check with your doctor and see if an elliptical trainer is right for you.

Check out some of my other posts, here and here if you are in the market for a machine at home.

Thank you for taking some time out of your day to stop by.  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Steve@BuildingStrongerBodies.com

12 thoughts on “How An Elliptical Trainer Helped Save My Back”

  1. I think this great. I have done all kinds of training.
    Many time there is training for different areas of the body. Also, there is training designed because of a weak part of the body.

    Different kinds of training for different reasons.

    I have used the elliptical before. I believe that it really does strengthen the core.

  2. Never had back problems, but I know how great the elliptical can be. I used it before and highly recommend it to those who are not able to do high intensity cardio, or prefer looking for a low impact option

  3. This is some great advice because I have several family members who have back problems. The elliptical seems like a great way to help, but I wasn’t aware that no hands would help? I know it’s more than just one solution for back problems. It takes work and then the results will follow. Thanks for sharing!

  4. We have a ‘two in one’ of these at our house; an elliptical trainer that doubles as a bike machine. Do you think you get similar benefits from the bike machines or are the advantages more limited since you are sat down?
    Might be time to hop back on it! Thanks.

    • Hi Benji, thanks for your comment. I prefer the upright elliptical, for the reason you mentioned. I typically don’t use a stationary bike it puts a lot of pressure on my tailbone, so I stick to the standalone elliptical. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

  5. As a runner – I’m a huge fan of elliptical trainers to take a little wear and tear off my joints. Glad to see it can benefit my back as well!

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