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Other/Mixed Should You Fear Lumbar Flexion?

Other strength modalities (e.g., Clubs), mixed strength modalities (e.g., combined kettlebell and barbell), other goals (flexibility)

watchnerd

Level 8 Valued Member
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Article:

 

bluejeff

Level 6 Valued Member
Short answer: no.

Long answer: only if you load lumbar flexion like an idiot.

Nuanced answer:
Why would the “optimal” position for one of the structures with the most joints in the body be “immobile/straight?” When you add heavy load, keeping it stiff is probably better. When you add a little load, a bit at time over a long period of time …. I’ve seen folks do double body weight Jefferson curls…. That they took years to build up up to with consistent training.

I’m glad those infographics touched on the cadaver study thing. Living tissue does not respond like dead tissue, and some of the “anti-flexion” studies (as I understand it) used dead pig spines.

I saw Layne Norton say something once about the problem with disease studies being that you can’t do a 50-year randomized control trial. It’s the same with back pain/injury studies. There’s so much conflicting evidence surrounding back injury and back pain…. I just came to the conclusion with this sort of stuff that if there’s a structure with 33 bones….It’s probably meant to move, and as such, It’s probably good to be able to control its movement under load.

Stability does not (should not?) equal “immobility.” Stability should equal “control throughout range of motion,” and more stability should equal “ Control throughout range of motion under added load.“ thus, stabilizing the spine underload would mean being able to control it under load, whether you want the joints to move or not.
 

Sam Goldner

Level 5 Valued Member
Short answer: no.

Long answer: only if you load lumbar flexion like an idiot.

Nuanced answer:
Why would the “optimal” position for one of the structures with the most joints in the body be “immobile/straight?” When you add heavy load, keeping it stiff is probably better. When you add a little load, a bit at time over a long period of time …. I’ve seen folks do double body weight Jefferson curls…. That they took years to build up up to with consistent training.

I’m glad those infographics touched on the cadaver study thing. Living tissue does not respond like dead tissue, and some of the “anti-flexion” studies (as I understand it) used dead pig spines.

I saw Layne Norton say something once about the problem with disease studies being that you can’t do a 50-year randomized control trial. It’s the same with back pain/injury studies. There’s so much conflicting evidence surrounding back injury and back pain…. I just came to the conclusion with this sort of stuff that if there’s a structure with 33 bones….It’s probably meant to move, and as such, It’s probably good to be able to control its movement under load.

Stability does not (should not?) equal “immobility.” Stability should equal “control throughout range of motion,” and more stability should equal “ Control throughout range of motion under added load.“ thus, stabilizing the spine underload would mean being able to control it under load, whether you want the joints to move or not.
I like this response.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Elite Certified Instructor
I used to follow Stefi Cohen a lot, back like 10 years ago maybe. She said something that stuck with me - "there are no bad exercises, only exercises you're unprepared for." Kinda seems relevant.
I agree. It's kind of like asking, "Should you fear squatting 300 lbs?" It's not exactly that, of course, but everyone should read "Treat Your Own Back" by Robin McKenzie. The thing we should all fear is spending lots of time in mindless lumbar flexion while seated - that, not lifting per se, if the root of the problem.

-S-
 

watchnerd

Level 8 Valued Member
I used to follow Stefi Cohen a lot, back like 10 years ago maybe. She said something that stuck with me - "there are no bad exercises, only exercises you're unprepared for." Kinda seems relevant.

And yet....

The fitness space regularly deems certain exercises to be "not good" and moves them into the unfashionable category, with NASM or ACE changing guidance.

Sit ups seem to have moved into that category a few decades ago.
 

John K

Level 7 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
And yet....

The fitness space regularly deems certain exercises to be "not good" and moves them into the unfashionable category, with NASM or ACE changing guidance.

Sit ups seem to have moved into that category a few decades ago.
Same with fats, carbs, cholesterol, jogging/zone 2 cardio, HIIT, HIT, volume ... etc. ... etc. ... etc ...
 

North Coast Miller

Level 8 Valued Member
Personally I avoid it when loaded vertically through the spine and when hips-back doing a DL type lift. If I have to round back under load, I unload as best I can before transitioning to neutral or extension, eg atlas ball type lifting - haul the load on my lap and then straighten the back before standing.

The risk may be overblown, but the massive shift in internal pressure on the disk walls from offset compressive loading is a real, measurable thing that is not liable to trigger protective adaptive remodelling. Herniation is a real thing.

Risk from bodyweight or lightly loaded activities is probably non-existant, esp things like crunches, true skater squats etc.
 

bluejeff

Level 6 Valued Member
And yet....

The fitness space regularly deems certain exercises to be "not good" and moves them into the unfashionable category, with NASM or ACE changing guidance.

Sit ups seem to have moved into that category a few decades ago.
It's my belief that this happens because sources giving exercise advice to the general public want it to be as safe as possible because they don't know if a robust 20 year old who plays football is reading it or a middle-age desk jockey who has never done a pushup in their life, etc....

That's why I think they should just educate more and refer to in-person coaches more often. Also, imo it's not that difficult to just say things along the lines of "if you've never done this before, you should always start lighter/less-intense than you think, and very gradually increase load/difficulty."

I wrote about it in another thread, but given that there is evidence that people can have "damage" and no pain, OR pain and no damage, I think it's best not to nocebo folks out of training. If you feel fine doing it, carry on. Just don't go nuts. If uneducated people read/hear "don't do X or else you will break your back," they might expect pain if they ever move away from "neutral." That creates avoidant behavior, which is the opposite of increasing capability.

I think as long as people feel okay, whatever gets them training more is good. I read some trainers on social media saying as much; a movement doesn't have to look perfect before you can load it. In fact, just getting people working towards getting stronger, faster, etc increases their confidence and motivation to train more, and better.
 

watchnerd

Level 8 Valued Member
It's my belief that this happens because sources giving exercise advice to the general public want it to be as safe as possible because they don't know if a robust 20 year old who plays football is reading it or a middle-age desk jockey who has never done a pushup in their life, etc....

That's why I think they should just educate more and refer to in-person coaches more often. Also, imo it's not that difficult to just say things along the lines of "if you've never done this before, you should always start lighter/less-intense than you think, and very gradually increase load/difficulty."

I wrote about it in another thread, but given that there is evidence that people can have "damage" and no pain, OR pain and no damage, I think it's best not to nocebo folks out of training. If you feel fine doing it, carry on. Just don't go nuts. If uneducated people read/hear "don't do X or else you will break your back," they might expect pain if they ever move away from "neutral." That creates avoidant behavior, which is the opposite of increasing capability.

I think as long as people feel okay, whatever gets them training more is good. I read some trainers on social media saying as much; a movement doesn't have to look perfect before you can load it. In fact, just getting people working towards getting stronger, faster, etc increases their confidence and motivation to train more, and better.

So is this because our populace is getting less fit / less capable?

When we did sit ups in elementary school PE class, nobody thought they were dangerous.

Adults trying to get in shape would do them, too -- including on decline benches.
 

bluejeff

Level 6 Valued Member
So is this because our populace is getting less fit / less capable?

When we did sit ups in elementary school PE class, nobody thought they were dangerous.

Adults trying to get in shape would do them, too -- including on decline benches.
If I had to guess, I'd say yes, in part. I think it might also be because there's a "culture of irresponsibility" in America. If Americans hurt them selves doing something they saw online, they are probably going to blame the source before their own lack of competency or caution. So sources are likely taking the "safest" route in that regard. Plus, I doubt the average person is taking the time to read a book before training. They might be more likely to watch a couple youtube videos and just go for it. If it were up to me, there would be less of this liability stuff, and a little more "you decided to load your bodyweight onto a barbell to bench press after just a week of training and you got injured? That's your fault." Same with atrocious form on things like deadlifts at at commercial gym.

I think it would be interesting to see if it's the same in other areas of the world.

As to situps, crunches, etc.... I wish I knew where the idea that they are "bad" came from. If someone says it's from "repeated spinal flexion" they are likely getting that info down the chain from the above-mentioned dead pig spine studies where the dead spine was flexed like 1000 times or whatever and they said "see, flexion causes damage!" If they are saying situps are bad because of the potential tightening of hip flexors, that's their own programming incomptency for not addressing antagonist movements and/or loading and rep schemes.

At least, that's my two cents...
 

Denys Carthusian

Level 1 Valued Member
I agree. It's kind of like asking, "Should you fear squatting 300 lbs?" It's not exactly that, of course, but everyone should read "Treat Your Own Back" by Robin McKenzie. The thing we should all fear is spending lots of time in mindless lumbar flexion while seated - that, not lifting per se, if the root of the problem.

-S-
Should you fear squatting 300 lbs? Answer: On one leg? Yes.
 

watchnerd

Level 8 Valued Member
As to situps, crunches, etc.... I wish I knew where the idea that they are "bad" came from. If someone says it's from "repeated spinal flexion" they are likely getting that info down the chain from the above-mentioned dead pig spine studies where the dead spine was flexed like 1000 times or whatever and they said "see, flexion causes damage!" If they are saying situps are bad because of the potential tightening of hip flexors, that's their own programming incomptency for not addressing antagonist movements and/or loading and rep schemes.

I've actually heard the dead pig spine bending cited as a reason not to do sit ups.
 

Boris Bachmann

Level 7 Valued Member
I don't fear flexion, but I don't do exercises like Jefferson curls or seated good mornings or windmills w. locked legs. I don't put those lifts in the same category as, for example, lifting a stone where the spine is in flexion but contracting isometrically. Ab exercises like crunches, leg/knee lifts, ab pulldowns, sit-ups, etc. I just don't see them in the same light either.
 

TimothyGander

Level 5 Valued Member
I don't fear flexion, but I don't do exercises like Jefferson curls or seated good mornings or windmills w. locked legs. I don't put those lifts in the same category as, for example, lifting a stone where the spine is in flexion but contracting isometrically. Ab exercises like crunches, leg/knee lifts, ab pulldowns, sit-ups, etc. I just don't see them in the same light either.
Isn't the difference the direction of the resistance? For example, in a typical ab exercise the resistance pulls you in the safer direction of less flexion, while in something like a Jefferson curl it's the opposite. Like, if I fail or otherwise lose control while doing sit-ups, my spine will just extend and I will safely go to the floor. If the same happens during a set of J-curls, it's the bar that is going to the floor, while I'm on my way to the snap city. So I believe it's extremely important to distinguish between these.

Generally I think there's a world of difference between advice meant for athletes or otherwise fit people and the general untrained population that @watchnerd has referred in another thread as "banana people". The latter almost exclusively use spinal flexion to the exclusion of hip and leg movements and need to be actively coached to avoid it both while lifting and in daily life.

I think it might also be because there's a "culture of irresponsibility" in America. If Americans hurt them selves doing something they saw online, they are probably going to blame the source before their own lack of competency or caution
Well, is it that irresponsible to blame a supposed "expert" if something they advise ends up injuring you? An average person has little basic understanding of complex topics related to fitness. If a purported coach tells them to deadlift with crooked back, or shrug their shoulders while locking out their overhead presses, shouldn't they blame that coach if something goes wrong? What is more irresponsible: falling for stupid or misaimed advice or spreading it in the first place?

In the US financial system there is a notion of "qualified investors". Meaning, if you want to buy unregistered securities, you must first prove you have high enough income or net worth. If you don't, stick to the exchange-traded stocks and bonds. (I'm sure it's a gross oversimplification, but it captures the idea behind these regulations well enough, I think). It's not that more complex or risky financial products are necessarily "bad" or no one has ever earned money from them, but vast majority of small investors don't understand them well enough and hence have little to gain and much to lose. I think the same way about spinal flexion in training: it's not necessarily "bad", but anyone inexperienced, and certainly anyone looking for random advice online, should stick to neutral spine and treat flexion like the devil.
 

wespom9

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
I think focusing on "anti-extension" exercises are better anyway, regardless of your concern about which animal's spine was flexed repeatedly in a study.

IMO in general
- learn to be stable through the middle
- learn to keep the middle "neutral enough" through some basic lifts
- after learning basic competency, begin to add some light load through movement

From my read of the research (which admittedly should not be assumed I've read everything) it seems that load is important; more importantly, proper progression key for prevention/safety. Need to slowly let tissues adapt.

Stable spine seems more conducive to truly 'heavy' lifting IMO but we can't get stuck in "this area can't move".

What's most important here is how we coach. "Strong" and "Stronger" positions, not "this will hurt you". Lots of evidence fear based coaching promotes fragility, anxiety, pain focused behaviour, etc.
 
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