T Nation

Broken from the Waist Down


After reading some Mike Robertson articles, I've been able to come to the realization that I suffer from a LOT of different lower body problems. I have an anterior pelvic tilt, poor hip mobility, zero lumbar stability, glutes and abs weaker than your grandmother Phyllis, and a hip flexor issue that seems to be femoral anterior glide syndrome. The hip flexor issue was caused by an attempt at the Smolov squat program that was voted by a panel of experts to have been SADDER than a crippled orphan with a terminal disease. I also might have some limited mobility in my thoracic spine and calves, although I don't know of a good way to test these.

I used to think I had good postural allignment, because I could squat ass to calves. If I were able to see myself from the side, however, I would have realized that my lumbar spine was in a lot of flexion. My deadlift is far worse - I can set up with a big arch, and as soon as I start pulling, my hips shoot up before the bar even leaves the ground. Once I hitch the bar up my thighs, I proceed to lock out by extending my entire spine in a manner one really has to laugh at (in order to keep from crying). In fact, I didn't post a video because I would be liable for anyone having a fatal aneurysm just from seeing it (actually, I just don't have a camera). Needless to say, my lifts have been going nowhere for an embarassingly long time. I guess this is a good thing retrospectively, because twenty more pounds on the bar might have made me herniate a disc.

I think the problem stems from too much sitting, horrendous posture, and a lack of understanding that the hip extensors are actually important and the abs serve a function beyond "looking hawt". As a result, I probably lost a lot of mobility in my hips, and my glutes and abs went into a deep coma (my family was deliberating on whether or not to pull the plug). I compensated for this lack of mobility by developing tremendous flexibility in my lumbar spine.

After putting all of this stuff together in my head, I created a training program based around strengthening my glutes and abs, as well as increasing hip mobility. I threw in lots of remedial lifts and single leg work and took out squats, deadlifts, and upper body work, which is what I should have done a while ago. However, there are still a few issues that I have, which I'll just list as bullets.

-Aside from foam rolling and partial range of motion sit ups with tennis balls under the thoracic vertebrae, are there any other good ways of increasing thoracic spine mobility?

-I used to like to foam roll my lumbar spine because it would hurt like a bitch, since most of my strength came from my quads and spinal erectors. However, is this a bad idea for someone who is trying to lose mobility and gain stability of the lumbar spine?

-Is it acceptable to train the core 7 days a week, with three sets each day, if I vary the movement patterns each day (eg. Flexion/antiflexion, lateral flexion/antiflexion, rotation/antirotation)? Or is this just a bad idea?

-Is it feasable to somehow "connect" some long, dowel-like object to myself such that it's tangent to my body at the glutes, thoracic spine, and maybe the head (in order to keep me in neutral spinal position - I got the idea from a picture in a Robertson article were a guy is doing bird-dogs with a dowel in the manner described above)? I would like to use something like that for lifts like squatting and deadlifting, to be able to feel whether or not I'm flexing at the lumbar spine. I don't have a camera and I train by myself, so it's really impossible for me to know, because it's not something I can feel.

-Are there any good ways for me to improve lumbar stability? I have entirely too much motion in those joint segments, and I'd like to reduce it. I think core training might be key here, but I'm not sure if anything else would be helpful as well.

-Any other advice, suggestions, or personal experience would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and help out a kid whose ass doesn't work.


Seemslike you're doing a lot of good stuff, except eating.


My nutrition is pretty good right now. I used to literally make Microsoft Excel spreadsheets with exact quantities of food, grams of each macronutrient per quantity of food, calories, fiber, etc... I would weigh out quantities of food and everything. It made me crazy.

However, I realize that all of that is pointless when I have a major roadblock in the form of dysfunctional hips and spine.

You are correct that nutrition probably plays some role in the process, but I think it's a minor factor. Either way, thanks for your imput.


Thats a whole lot of analysis, can you post a video, some stats or something?


I would suggest not training abs every day, even if you isolate each section you'll still be working them all to a degree. Core muscles are still the same as a bicep or glute they need rest, maybe start out 3 days a week, see how you recover and go from there.
Your other questions are above my pay grade, however I'm interested in hearing what others have to say.


I think you have all the basics covered!

IMO....three to four days a week of core work is adequate. You will not increase the rate of improvment by increasing the frequency of the sessions. You can however; increase the volume of each session as you progress.

Progress is slow to come with these type of issues; but can be made. Paitence & consistancy!!
Think evaluation every three months or so....not three weeks.


You're probably right about the frequency. In fact, yesterday I decided to drop the frequency to three times a week with a bit more volume. Progressing the volume of the lifts is a good idea, and I will probably also increase the difficulty of the lifts as well (eg. progress from planks to rollouts on a basketball (for lack of a stability ball) to a skateboard to actual rollouts with a barbell.

About the evaluation, I plan on going with remedial training for 8 weeks before I even assess my squat and deadlift form. Any advice on what I should do if I find my squat and deadlift have not improved to the extent that I want to integrate them into my training? Do you think it would be wise to continue with remedial training, but maybe switch the training movements and other aspects of the program?


You're definitely right about the fact that in most core movements, all of the different muscles of the core are working to some extent. After reading some Stuart McGill stuff yesterday, I realized that was true. Training core daily is just excessive and might lead to injury.

Thanks for your imput.


To me it's not a matter of too much flexibility of the lumbar spine as people have problems with not enough stability. Unless it is a segmental instability such as a pars defect. It is a fact as we age we gradually lose lumbar extension, which is a very important motion to unload the discs. I've never heard of femoral glide. Pelvic tilt is a result of lack of hip flexibility and inability of the abs to stabilize. The hip flexors are typically tight and the glute max and rectus abs are lengthened. Lumbar spine stability is achieved by increasing abdominal strength through a good lumbar/pelvic stability and force transfer program. Foam rolling, although a fantastic treatment, is often overrated in treating lumbar spine spasms. It provides symptomatic relief without addressing the cause of the spasm.

Even though there is not a lot of rotation in the thoracic spine, maintaining its mobility can't be overlooked.

Improving squat and deadlift form takes a lot of feedback from self or someone else watching you. Mike Boyle and a few others have videos all over the internet on drills to increase hip mobility.


Not sure why you would want to actually decrease the mobility of your lumbar spine. It's a multi-segmented joint, it's meant to move. If it was not, there would be a bone there instead. If you lock up a joint, nociceptor activity increases and mechanoreceptor activity decreases, which is a bad thing.

Don't get me wrong, you certainly don't want to load a flexed lumbar spine, and as you increase the mobility in your t-spine and hips, in addition to groove the neutral spine motor pattern, this will become less and less of an issue. But don't throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

Just remember that the day is going to come when your keys fall behind your desk *just an example) and you have to contort your spine in some odd fashion to pick them up. When this time comes, you will want your entire spine to be comfortable in moving in all ranges of motions, because a lot of serious back injuries occur outside of the weight room rather than inside it!


To both of the posts above - you're right in that there is a divide between stability and lack of flexibility. I guess there are two separate issues at the same time:
1. lack of hip mobility - lumbar spine compensates for this lack of mobility
2. lack of glute and abdominal strength - quadriceps and spinal erectors (especially) move most of the load

It will take improving both hip mobility and glute/abdominal strength to correct the issue of my overcompensating spinal erectors and flexed lumbar spine. It's nice to hear that I shouldn't decrease the mobility of my lumbar spine - I had a powerlifting coach tell me that his lower back was "locked" in an arch all the time.


Also as an addition, in general, glutes don't need to be strengthened. They're the largest muscle in the body, and barring extreme cases of pancake butt, odds are they are plenty strong as it is. Just practice great, clean movements and they'll hypertrophy in no time.

Additionally, when mobilizing a joint, you need to practice motor control too. You can't just jam a lacrosse ball into your t-spine which hasn't come out of flexion in 10 years and hope by some miracle you'll actually have active control over your new passive ROM. As your t spine loosens up, practice active flexion and extensions of the spine to regain lost control.


About the glutes: it may be that I simply have poor glute activation. However, it would surprise me if they were sufficiently strong considering the fact that I have so little neuromuscular control over my hip extensors. I think strength would be determined almost entirely by the ability to recruit motor units, and I feel like I'm terribly inefficient at recruiting the motor units in my hip extensors.


That is what I'm getting at, train for improved motor control and 'glute weakness' issues will usually disappear.