Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Thoughts on Back Health

I cringe when I see this. Those who advocate development of paraspinal and erector muscle mass promote doing so with exercises like this. If you understand anything about the spine--if you've read any Stuart McGill--you'll realize that repeated spinal flexion and extension, over time, is risky. The spine is not a hip, knee or even a shoulder. The musculature around the spine is designed for postural control, not ballistic, concentric force production. Hip and leg musculature is.

For performance and health, we want to develop the ability to stabilize the spine and transfer force through the torso, from the ground up. The force is produced and absorbed primarily by the lower extremities. Best movement practices in training, then, teach the athlete to distinguish hip flexion/extension from spine flexion/extension and incorporate the principles of using the hip vs the back during training, life and sport. Now I understand that many tasks don't allow us to use perfect body mechanics and that there will be lumbar flexion and extension with many sport and life movements. However, it is unnecessary and unwise to train loaded and repeated lumbar flexion and extension in order to prepare for those situations.

It's kinda like smoking. Yes, there will be some who survive--maybe even thrive--doing rounded back DLs, wacky ballistic glute-ham stuff, thousands of back (not hip) extensions, etc. But my bet is they are the exception and not the rule. Each body handles stress a little differently. And it is the cumulative stress--the insidious degeneration over time--that gets most of us. Most people don't appreciate good back health, or joint health in general, until it is gone. You don't have to be one of those people.

A better bet is to optimize lower extremity mobility, strength and power while developing sound, efficient movement skills specific to your sport and life tasks. Optimize and apply quality stress to the spine, not maximal stress. This requires understanding and appreciating the difference between spine and hip mobility with sagittal plane movements.

12 comments:

Greg Everett said...

What are your thoughts on preparing athletes for instances in which neutral spine position is not possible? There will always be cases in which lifting certain objects because of their shape or size will be impossible with the ideal spine position, or movements that include some degree of spine rotation and flexion during hip extension. Is it not wise to perform movements including these positions in training to prepare the athlete to cope with less than optimal positions and mechanics in real life?

The Iron Maven said...

I think it depends on the situation and task the athletes face. Lifting odd objects will usually present that situation; and I do think there can be a place for that. There are some bodyweight and light medball/plate movements I like that have some spine movement. But with daily training, and particularly with a barbell, or with secondary LE work, i.e posterior chain, my druthers are to utilize best practices that focus on intentionally stabilizing the torso while the hips work, and as much as possible.

Can you give me some examples of what you might use, with whom and why?

Greg Everett said...

Off the top of my head, grapplers or MMA fighters, strongmen, and the like. Things like sandbag, stone, people lifting to simulate events or potential fight situations. That kind of work of course wouldn't comprise a remarkably large portion of training, but I wouldn't feel comfortable sending any of those athletes into competition without at least some preparation of that nature. Does it offer potential risk? Sure, but their chosen sports offer more.

The Iron Maven said...

Yep, I see your point with that. Would you choose to modify some of the more conventional barbell movements to simulate the activity, or use other methods?

I forget about that end of the spectrum, as I tend to work mostly with the usual team sport suspects.

Jerimiah said...

I personally see a difference between learning to lift in a flexed position, after a solid base is laid, and actively extending the back. I have always been very leary to teaching active movements to postural muscles. Isn't that the difference you were talking about Tracy?

Joe P. said...

Right on Greg. Tracey- "we want to develop the ability to stabilize the spine and transfer force through the torso, from the ground up" OK, then why does McGill choose to go to the floor/ horizontal with his rehab? Why uni-planar? And why not top down? UE position does not influence the spine? I'm not being critical, I've only read his books, and never taken a course of his. Does anyone know if he's addressed these issues?

Greg Everett said...

I may modify some conventional lifts, like odd-object deadlifts, carries, cleans, etc., but also use less conventional ones like Turkish get-up variants and such. Nothing extreme - I want it to serve a protective function, but I also want to encourage athletes to attempt to place themselves in the most structurally sound and mechanically advantageous positions whenever possible - it's just not always possible.

Katie said...

What is your thoughts on training the hip with a good morning? I'm not really a fan of these (prefer stiff leg deadlift variations), but I want to hear your thoughts.

Katie

The Iron Maven said...

Joe P,

I agree; I think he could go further in his books--not sure what the second ed of his latest book says. I don't know if he has in his talks. This is something I will address in my talk at the NSCA--most specifically with LE based CK movement. The UEs do come into play with certain sports. It is all about context of the movement.

-tcf

The Iron Maven said...

Katie,

I like the GM and SLDL. Everyone should learn the movement; not everyone is ready for barbell loading. Some respond to the SLDL better than the GM. If I had to pick, I would say the SLDL is preferential to use with more people than GMs. It really depends on how advanced the person is.

-tcf

The Iron Maven said...

Jeremiah,

Yes, I'm mostly talking about young athletes; and certainly not experienced fighters or strong men. My goal is to build a good foundation of mobility/stability/strength and body awareness with good torso positioning for the novice and basic hs/college/masters athlete.

If an advanced athlete with sport-specific training demands--grappling--then you can be very creative like Greg is and do some specific advanced torso work. Obviously, the goal is make the athlete as adept and capable as possible, while limiting the amount of direct stress in training. Optimal stress, not maximal.

-TCF

The Iron Maven said...

Katie,

I teach the Waiter's Bow and 45 deg hip extension as a beginning GM/SLDL movement. Whether or not we move on from there, depends on the athlete's needs and abilities.

-TCF