Spinal compression from barbell training

PeterLuffman

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Can discs over time get compressed together to a significant enough degree to cause pain?

Is this a thing?

I know Donnie Thompson talks about it a lot and hangs upside down to counteract it.

Anyone here know someone or has experienced back pain problems due to this?
 

H. Mac

Level 5 Valued Member
I don’t know the answers to the questions posed, but they’re good questions.

However, in the past 10 or so years, three orthopedists have suggested that bar hangs can help prevent or possibly help correct some of the problems associated with prolonged sitting and weightlifting. I do a few at the end of each session, and at age 66, have no back problems.
 

Adam R Mundorf

Level 5 Valued Member
Can discs over time get compressed together to a significant enough degree to cause pain?

Is this a thing?

I know Donnie Thompson talks about it a lot and hangs upside down to counteract it.

Anyone here know someone or has experienced back pain problems due to this?
On my consultations with Steve Maxwell, he told me he didn't like the back squat because of spinal compression.

I'm sure you've already read it but it seems like Pavel considers the back squat to be for intermediate to advanced lifters and even then to be used intermittently : StrongFirst Best Squat Exercise
 

PeterLuffman

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Thank you for your comments. If both Pavel and Steve Maxwell are hinting at the compression effects, you can pretty much bet they are right.

I ask because I think I am a victim of this. I have lumber pain that just won't go away. The back squat has been a mainstay in my training for 22 years now. I definitely didn't take enough breaks from it. I would bet that some years I only stopped for 2-3 weeks out of the entire year. Looking back I can see how dumb that is, but I never thought it would be a problem.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
I certainly don't have the credentials of Pavel and Steve Maxwell, but from my view, two things to point out...

One is that the narrative that heavy squats compress the spine may sound logical, but I don't know of any evidence to show that this actually occurs.

The other is that "The back squat has been a mainstay in my training for 22 years now. I definitely didn't take enough breaks from it." is likely more of a programming issue than an issue with the movement/exercise of back squat itself.

I just don't want people new to the back squat to be picturing their spines being crushed and damaged by the healthy activity of strength training... it doesn't happen that way.

In any case, I hope that you find some relief, @PeterLuffman!
 

PeterLuffman

Level 6 Valued Member
Certified Instructor
Anna, you are 100% correct that it is a programming issue, and not that the exercise itself that causes the problem.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
@PeterLuffman, I think some perspective is important here. Non-lifters see disc compression, too. L5-S1 show compression in most 21-year-olds, and it doesn't get better after that. Some hanging is a good idea for everyone. If you're strong enough, hang with some weight on a belt and position the belt so that it helps you decompress your lower back.

-S-
 

Chrisdavisjr

Level 6 Valued Member
+1 for hanging. It feels really good and can provide an excellent stretch for the lats. Use some lifting straps or similar and you'll save your grip the extra work (unless that's something you're into).
 

kurt perham

Level 4 Valued Member
Mike Boyle has made this argument for years, too. While Rip has argued a proper low bar squat does NOT. Im 50, i still low bar back squat on occasion. my spine seems fine.
 

Steve A

Level 6 Valued Member
Your spinal discs will lose fluid over time whether you lift or not. Also the body of the vertebrae grow, which will show up in an x-ray as reduced spacing. These are both part of normal aging. Squats, front squats, zercher squats, KB squats, deadlifts of all kinds, and carries all put compressive loading on the spine (overhead lifting as well). This is the stimulus for increasing bone mineral density. Better to do the compressive training and some decompression training (chins, dips, hanging leg raises, and so on) than to avoid compressive training.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
I'm curious about lifting and an end point? Do you think you'll just keep on adding weight or is there a point where you'll be like, ah I really shouldn't?

I don't know much about beyond "really strong" so I'd just be speculating.

But I think there's always a point where you are like, "Ah I really shouldn't" -- if your form deteriorates, if you can't stay tight, if your body gives you warning signals, etc.... But that can happen at any weight that you're not prepared for. I don't think it's any particular weight.
 

kurt perham

Level 4 Valued Member
I think that's key.

@Anna C

I'm curious about lifting and an end point? Do you think you'll just keep on adding weight or is there a point where you'll be like, ah I really shouldn't?

i find with most/all things, moderation is key.

The beauty of the low bar is the hip component which helps across many other aspects of strength and injury prevention.
 

Anna C

Level 9 Valued Member
Elite Certified Instructor
i find with most/all things, moderation is key.

The beauty of the low bar is the hip component which helps across many other aspects of strength and injury prevention.

Yes, it's amazing how different the hip component is between high bar and low bar. I squatted almost exclusively low bar from late 2017 to early 2019, with training more along the lines of powerlifting. Now from late 2019 to present, it's been almost exclusively high bar (for my back squats), with training more along the lines of weightlifting. Both will make the legs strong, and both require the back to be strong, but the hip muscles are used much more in low bar.

Since this thread is about back pain, I'll say that my back has never been stronger or healthier! Currently 52 yrs old, and have squatted up to a max of 260 lbs low bar at 50 yrs old. Currently working with less weight, high bar 140 lbs for 5 sets of 3 in my training session yesterday (4th video is squats) -- not trying to max the squat directly, but use it for general strengthening for weightlifting.
 

kurt perham

Level 4 Valued Member
Yes, it's amazing how different the hip component is between high bar and low bar. I squatted almost exclusively low bar from late 2017 to early 2019, with training more along the lines of powerlifting. Now from late 2019 to present, it's been almost exclusively high bar (for my back squats), with training more along the lines of weightlifting. Both will make the legs strong, and both require the back to be strong, but the hip muscles are used much more in low bar.

Since this thread is about back pain, I'll say that my back has never been stronger or healthier! Currently 52 yrs old, and have squatted up to a max of 260 lbs low bar at 50 yrs old. Currently working with less weight, high bar 140 lbs for 5 sets of 3 in my training session yesterday (4th video is squats) -- not trying to max the squat directly, but use it for general strengthening for weightlifting.

yea you are killing it Anna! its odd folks worry about "lifting injuries" yet sit at the keyboard, car seat, couch all day. the old "i have a bad back" excuse. Id guess 80% of the time they have a "glass back"

lifting is dangerous, but not half as dangerous as being weak, IMHO
 

Adam R Mundorf

Level 5 Valued Member
lifting is dangerous, but not half as dangerous as being weak, IMHO
Well, yeah but there is a point of diminishing returns and I think it's a great deal lower than most people realize. How many people have needlessly risked their health in the pursuit of absolute strength? You don't need to be all that strong to live a long and healthy life. What you do need is great mobility and active flexibility, once strength interferes with that, it's time to call it a day.
 

Antti

Level 8 Valued Member
Well, yeah but there is a point of diminishing returns and I think it's a great deal lower than most people realize. How many people have needlessly risked their health in the pursuit of absolute strength? You don't need to be all that strong to live a long and healthy life. What you do need is great mobility and active flexibility, once strength interferes with that, it's time to call it a day.

Why do you need great mobility? I don't really know anyone with great mobility and most live happy, fulfilling lives with average or so mobility.

What do you mean by active flexibility?

I don't think that most that seek maximal absolute strength do it to develop it as a mean. It is an end in itself. As a whole lot of fun, that is. Not needless at all.
 

offwidth

Level 9 Valued Member
True... but then there are people out there, for whom living long (and healthy for that matter) is not as important as to how they live.
I suppose I would count myself in this group.
 

Adam R Mundorf

Level 5 Valued Member
Why do you need great mobility? I don't really know anyone with great mobility and most live happy, fulfilling lives with average or so mobility.

What do you mean by active flexibility?

I don't think that most that seek maximal absolute strength do it to develop it as a mean. It is an end in itself. As a whole lot of fun, that is. Not needless at all.
True... but then there are people out there, for whom living long (and healthy for that matter) is not as important as to how they live.
I suppose I would count myself in this group.
@Antti Just being able to do the basic human movements fluidly and without pain. Maybe great wasn't the right word. Active flexibility for me means being able to control yourself in all ranges of motion. Which I understand requires strength but not 500lb deadlift type strength. I get what you're saying about it being enjoyable but not at the expense of current or future health.

@offwidth I understand what you're saying but will pushing ponderous poundages really enhance your life or sport if it's not powerlifting? Being a climber I'm sure mobility, flexibility and relative strength are paramount?

I think another important topic here is separating proper exercise from recreation or feats of strength. Only the individual can answer that.
 
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