A Strong Back is Key for EMS Providers

Follow these exercise tips to increase strength & prevent on-the-job injuries



John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-B | Lacey Phelan | Nathan Kobold | | Monday, July 30, 2012

As part of a balanced strength-training program, back-extension exercises help maintain overall structural stability, which reduces the likelihood of such injuries as back sprains and strains. This exercise can help improve musculoskeletal efficiency in situations for which lifting is required, or in any type of situation where you’re required to stand or work in unfavorable ergonomic positions for long periods of time. For step-by-step demonstrations, watch the video.

The exercise can be performed using a back-extension bench, with a stability ball or with no equipment whatsoever. The variations shown on the video use a bench and the stability ball. Failing to include the back musculature in your training program may lead to muscular imbalance and injury; however, if you have a preexisting condition that prevents you from being able to execute this exercise without pain, you should see your doctor or a physical therapist to develop safe alternatives.

Getting Started
Adjust the back-extension bench so your thighs are contacting the pad and your ankles/calves stabilize your body with pressure on the pads behind the calves. The bench should be adjusted so your pelvic girdle can rotate during the exercise. With your thighs and hips against the pad and your feet properly positioned inside the lower pads, start with your body in a straight line with your hands crossed on your chest. Bend at the waist and slowly lower the upper body until it’s parallel with the floor. Raise your body back up to the starting position and pause for a second. Repeat.
The following muscles are targeted: erector spinae, gluteus maximus and hamstrings.

The pause between the lifting and lowering of the body is important. It eliminates momentum, making the exercise more effective because the muscles have to control the lifting and lowering of the body weight. Additionally, momentum and ballistic movements place excessive stress on the connective tissue and increase the possibility of injury. Keep tension on your back throughout the entire movement; do not round or arch your back. Poor posture may cause vertebral discs to become compressed.

Modifications: Back extensions can be done on a stability ball instead of a hyperextension bench by placing your feet against a stationary edge and placing the ball under your stomach. Weight can also be held against your chest on either stand to increase the resistance. It’s important to be sure to avoid poor posture, excess movement speed, excessive back rounding and excessive back arch, as these can cause injuries.

It’s important to maintain back strength as EMS providers because we never know when we might encounter a situation that requires some extra strength. Making time for simple exercises like this one can not only increase your overall physical fitness, but it can also keep you safer on the job.

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Related Topics: Health And Safety, Provider Wellness and Safety, John Amtmann, health & safety


John Amtmann, EdD, NREMT-Bis a professor of Applied Health Science at Montana Tech of the University of Montana in Butte. He’s an EMT with A-1 Ambulance in Butte, an ACSM certified preventive and rehabilitative exercise specialist and an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. Contact him at JAmtmann@mtech.edu.


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