Vinh Pham is a licensed physical therapist and the co-founder of Myodetox, a movement health clinic with over a dozen locations across Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver. He’s also the author of Sit Up Straight: Futureproof Your Body Against Chronic Pain with 12 Simple Movementswhich provides stretching and movement routines to help relieve pain and discomfort that comes from sitting and slouching.
Pham’s client list includes some of the world’s top athletes and entertainers. During the early parts of his career, he was shocked at how many of his patients came to him while they were already in pain due to tightened muscles and misaligned joints. He began rethinking the approach to a healthier body by being preactive than reactive.
His approach to the spine is dedicated to movement and being hyper-aware of the body. There are various exercises to maintaining a healthy spine. Everything from diet to deadlifts can play apart. Pham believes that what’s often missing in people’s lives is dedicated mobility of the spine in combination with strength. No slouch in the gym, he shared his gym essentials with Muscle and Fitness as well as provided some tips on how to futureproof your spine.
- Get up and move, as often as possible: During COVID, people sat up to 15 hours a day. When you really think about it, the real question you should be asking yourself is “how often was I truly getting up, going for a walk, exercising, and doing anything else but sit?” The spine may be sturdy, but it craves movement. It’s recommended you get up every 30 minutes. Whether it’s time dedicated to a short walk, a stretch, or mobility movements, make sure you make it known that you should be getting up as often as possible. At the end of the day, movement is what your spine needs most.
- Try to eliminate anything that impedes your spine’s ability to move well: For some, this may mean ensuring you’re managing your weight. After all, our spinal health will be affected by our weight. Naturally, you should be paying attention to what you eat and how much you sleep. Truthfully, this should be discussed with your physician and dietician, but our food intake and sleep will affect our weight, ultimately affecting our spine.
- Embrace the unknown with your spinal mobility: Don’t be afraid to expose your spine to novel movements, especially if you sit a lot for work and leisure. Here’s a couple of exercises I get a lot of my patients to do regularly, in addition to their exercise routines: GEARs: Think of this exercise as “flossing” and “brushing” your spine. A lot of us will do a variation of these movements naturally, especially if we’ve been sitting all day.3D T-spine Rotation: This exercise focuses on multiple planes of movement of your thoracic and lumbar spine.
At the end of the day, life is full of twists, bends, and infinite combinations of movement – you should be doing all the movement variation you can for your spine if you want to keep it healthy.
- Strengthen your spine in multiplanes of movement: This one may seem counterintuitive to the traditional compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. Though these movements are awesome, a lot of our life is spent in one plane of movement. We twist our spine to tie our shoes, pick up our kids, or maintain our garden outside. To get a sense of what I mean, check out this post dedicated to deadlift variations. Of course, you want to be respectful of spinal load. I’m not saying add a twist to your heaviest deadlift. I’m saying that your spine is robust and can handle some variation of load that you’ll encounter in life. Try a weight that allows you to be mobile, with some resistance. If it means 10 lbs., so be it.
- Recovery, recovery, recovery: Every professional athlete, including the ones I work with, focuses on recovery to optimize their body. It’s one thing to train your mobility and strength, but it’s another to address areas of the body that can contribute to movement dysfunction and possible injury. You want to Futureproof Your Body against injury. This may be as simple as a foam rolling routine that you perform before and after exercises or hot/cold baths. But my number one choice is manual therapy. Be it myofascial techniques, joint mobilizations, or a combination of both. Adding manual therapy to your recovery, especially in areas associated with your spine, will protect you from future injuries. My team at Myodetox are truly experts with this conceptual framework of combining movement and manual therapy to optimize the body.
You can follow Vinh for more tips and movements at @vinnierehab.