Archive for the ‘spine’ Category

While I was training two friends that worked out together with me and were doing Romanian Deadlifts with dumbbells; a very overweight gym goer approached us and then told one of my clients, that they would hurt the student’s back. As a result of this well-meaning ladies exhortation, I had to virtually talk this lady off a proverbial ledge and re-assure her of this particular exercise’s safety for her lumbar.

That was over ten years ago and these fear still plagues gym goers everywhere and that is what this post is about. So read on friends.

Before I begin my rant on low-back safety and health, I want to talk about the lumbar spine and  its function . First of all, in movement our body works in a concept called the joint by joint approach or regional interdependence. This concept is a pretty simple one; when it comes to movement, some parts of our system should be more mobile and others more stable. In this science, we find that the lumbar are is one that requires more stability than mobility although it is made to move as well. (More on that in a bit)

So many times we end up injured in my opinion due to the fact that we don’t understand and apply this concept to our fitness and lives.

Just before I completely begin this rant and its application to our training, let’s discuss the low back and how it should be treated during our training and life. The lumbar spine consists of 5 vertebrae and at connects to sacrum an area that has five fused vertebrae and finally ends at the coccyx which is often referred to as the tail-bone.

Spine-anatomy-12[1]

The muscles of this area are a force couple known as the lumbar erectors and are multifidi, longissimus thoracis, Iliocostalis lumborum and others these muscles are very small in comparison to the neighboring glutes and lats above and in our lifting should be treated as such.

The movements that the low back can do are as follows:

Extension, flexion, rotation, and lateral flexion or bending; these movements are and can be relatively safe within reason. However, too much of these and or with loading can lead to injury and pain. Yet, on the other side of this coin, one should be able to do these moves in order to have a healthy spine and to keep their movement vitality.

There is also another issue that needs to be dealt with as well; most of us have not so good to terrible posture due to excessive sitting or standing. This places us in either a forward head or an excessively extended posture and can cause things to get shortened and tight that shouldn’t as well as cause muscles that should be active to be under active.

Now that you understand the anatomy and function of the low back, we can begin to understand how to train in a way that will make your chances of injury lessen even if you have been injured in the past.

Let’s go back to few a paragraphs ago and review a concept that we already stated. That being that the lumbar area is built to be mostly stable. This does not mean that there is never motion in it as we move, in fact the opposite is true, as you move, so does your spine. The problem comes into play though when it moves too much and we go too often into the end ranges of the spine as we move.

This includes too much rotation through the low back and way too much extension and flexion. So you see when it comes to low back pain, in most cases it is not necessarily the movement and how it may look to the outsider without the training needed to identify what is potentially dangerous and what is not. It is more a matter of not being able to control the lumbo-pelvic complex as we move and as a result going into hyper-extension and so-on.

Does this mean that everything is safe for everyone all of the time and people should just go crazy and do whatever? The answer of course is no, because of the simple fact that what doesn’t hurt one person, could injure another. This is why some sort of assessment should be administered before a person begins to embark on their fitness journey. This should find any limitations in movement, any potential pain provoking movements and a referral should be given to a qualified medical professional if there is pain present during the performance of a movement pattern.

Then as we go along any issues with mobility and stability can and should be dealt with as well as the avoidance of any pain provoking moves until the issue is dealt with if at all possible. Also as we train, in order to maintain a healthy lumbar spine, we must pay attention to our hip position and spinal position in our movements.

If one can do that and stabilize as their spinal column they can most likely do movements that may be potentially dangerous, if they have not developed the mobility and control that is needed. An advanced trainee not only has arrived to higher than their peers levels of strength and work capacity, but  have also learned how to control themselves in movement and as a result can do the movements that require higher levels of awareness.

Another important aspect to this whole concept is the need for the muscles involved in a pattern to be firing both unconsciously and consciously  in a movement in order to keep the neighboring muscles form being overworked and creating pain and undue stresses to the joints in that exercise. In the case of the low-back it is often the glutes and some of the ab muscles.

This is why any good program will have built-in it proper progressions and regressions in order to make sure that the requisite muscles are firing quick enough to do an exercise safely. Another example of this is just yesterday a man was doing a high bridge and the gym and someone commented on how he was hurting his back as he did it. My response was the opposite of what he expected, “not as long as he is using his glutes!”

These also goes for every move that requires hip extension from the rest/ rack position in KB sport, to a bench pressing power lifter and the hip extension moment on a good Olympic lifter’s snatch and clean.

If you take away anything form this post and all its science sounding jargon and voodoo. Let it be that exercise tolerance and ability is an individual thing and should be treated as such. As well as the fact that just because something may cause one person pain, doesn’t mean that it will do the same in another. Just make sure to be assessed before you begin to train and follow a progressive strength and conditioning program that will meet your needs and weaknesses as a person. Lastly if something hurts you don’t do it. However, don’t try to make others do the same as you and write off a sport or exercise as dangerous to all!