T Nation

Pistols = bad back?

Are unweighted (ie. bodyweight) pistols squats possibly the worst exercise for your back, ever?

I have been doing them off a high box (to limit spinal flexion) and have fucked up both sides of my back.

Maybe we, as humans should avoid spinal flexion completely, whether weighted or unweighted. Drop a pencil on the floor? Use a perfect form Romanian deadlift to pick it up. If you don’t have the necessary ROM, don’t pick it up - it’s not worth the risk.

www.ericcressey.com/lumbar-flexion-strength-training-programs-reverse-crunch

This article is interesting to you.

[quote]alternate wrote:

Maybe we, as humans should avoid spinal flexion completely, whether weighted or unweighted. Drop a pencil on the floor? Use a perfect form Romanian deadlift to pick it up. If you don’t have the necessary ROM, don’t pick it up - it’s not worth the risk.[/quote]

LOL

[quote]alternate wrote:
Are unweighted (ie. bodyweight) pistols squats possibly the worst exercise for your back, ever?

I have been doing them off a high box (to limit spinal flexion) and have fucked up both sides of my back.

Maybe we, as humans should avoid spinal flexion completely, whether weighted or unweighted. Drop a pencil on the floor? Use a perfect form Romanian deadlift to pick it up. If you don’t have the necessary ROM, don’t pick it up - it’s not worth the risk.[/quote]

That’s why I lunge to pick up my fallen pencils…

[quote]ishinator wrote:

[quote]alternate wrote:

Maybe we, as humans should avoid spinal flexion completely, whether weighted or unweighted. Drop a pencil on the floor? Use a perfect form Romanian deadlift to pick it up. If you don’t have the necessary ROM, don’t pick it up - it’s not worth the risk.[/quote]

LOL
[/quote]

I’m serious - I avoided all exercises that placed a weight on my spine - including upper body ones like military press - because I was so paranoid about getting disc issues.

I was building up good quads with just pistol squats. Then I somehow got disc issues without ever touching a weight, and being super paranoid about limiting all spinal flexion in everyday life - whether weighted or unweighted.

get super flexible and your body will automatically move around without excessive lumbar movement.

that being said, it’s not a huge deal with light stuff unless youre injured…

At times, I’ve done lots of pistol squats on the ground and never had a back issue.

Wow. It is like you are channeling on my thoughts on this last year…

I got it into my head that ALL spinal flexion was bad and that any pain in my lumbar spine (I had quite a lot of it) was due to my not being as good as I should at holding proper lumbar extension in my daily life…

But then I read something about how babies can roll around on their backs happily enough… And I thought to myself that probably humans should be able to flex their spines (UNLOADED!) pain free just as part of a normal range of motion.

And then I got to thinking about how wrestlers and MMA fighters would pick each other up with flexed spines and they seemed mostly okay… And how strongmen picked up atlas stoned with flexed spines and they also seemed mostly okay…

And then I read some stuff… And got to thinking…

I think in my own case I got anterior pelvic tilt confused with ‘neutral’. Some people do tend to allow themselves to fall into flexion, yes, and these people need to be cued to hold their lumbar arch. There are other people, however, who have a natural tendency towards anterior pelvic tilt. If these people think to themselves ‘neutral spine’ or ‘hold your lumbar arch’ they sometimes overextend their lumbar arch - which can lead to lumbar pain because of jamming the disks the other way.

IN MY OWN CASE (YMMV) I thought I was hurting my back because I was flexing… But it turns out I was hurting my back because I was overextending (thinking that overextending was holding it in neutral).

What fixed me up: LIterally… Rolling around on my back like a baby (curling up - gradually and gently over time - in as tight a fetal position as possible). Then (gentle!) cat-camel drills (4 pt stance, flexing and extending the spine) - ‘neural flossing’, mcgill calls it. It gave me a better sense of what neutral spine really was. The stick (balancing it). Learning what neutral really was again (Though apparently soft tissue alignment can mislead depending).

IF pistols are hurting your back:

  • Are you dropping your pelvis to one side when you do these (or are your hips staying level)?

(I’m worrying about the SI joint)

Or maybe it isn’t the pistols that are hurting your back…

sorry…

my point being that doing an unloaded pistol (or holding a light counterbalance weight) should be a movement that the human body can do painfree. and yes, people get the butt wink doing pistols, typically…

contreras had an article on why he thinks one is a bit stronger deadlifting with slight flexion… how slight flexion is actually okay… the main reason we tell people to hold extension / even to hyperextend is to give them a greater margin of error if their position should SLIP with the load… it is the SLIPPING into the EXTREME flexed position (cracking into the end of the ROM) that will blow your disks…

[quote]alternate wrote:

I’m serious - I avoided all exercises that placed a weight on my spine - including upper body ones like military press - because I was so paranoid about getting disc issues.
[/quote]

If you followed this to its logical conclusion, then you should also atrophy your upper body as much as possible so the weight of your arms doesn’t press down on your spine.

[quote]alternate wrote:

I was building up good quads with just pistol squats. Then I somehow got disc issues without ever touching a weight, and being super paranoid about limiting all spinal flexion in everyday life - whether weighted or unweighted.[/quote]

Here’s a thought: the human body works under a principle of “use it or lose it”, e.g. you don’t exercise, you lose muscle. Perhaps trying to never flex your spine has made you lose flexibility, and then when you flex a relatively small amount, you’ve gone past your (now reduced) allowable range of motion and gotten your disc issues. Like what Alexus has said about deadlifting with the spine in extension.

Do you have any sort of postural issues?

Do you have a history of back problems?

How is your form?

Spinal flexion is a necessary and must use tool in everyday life it is impossible to function without. I guarantee you it is not the movement that is the problem, it is something you are doing ‘or have’.

If you have “f’ed up both aides of your back from doing unweighted pistols” then something is wrong with you.

Definitely deserves a “maybe you’re just not cut out for this.”

[quote]alexus wrote:
Wow. It is like you are channeling on my thoughts on this last year…

I got it into my head that ALL spinal flexion was bad and that any pain in my lumbar spine (I had quite a lot of it) was due to my not being as good as I should at holding proper lumbar extension in my daily life…

But then I read something about how babies can roll around on their backs happily enough… And I thought to myself that probably humans should be able to flex their spines (UNLOADED!) pain free just as part of a normal range of motion.

And then I got to thinking about how wrestlers and MMA fighters would pick each other up with flexed spines and they seemed mostly okay… And how strongmen picked up atlas stoned with flexed spines and they also seemed mostly okay…

And then I read some stuff… And got to thinking…

I think in my own case I got anterior pelvic tilt confused with ‘neutral’. Some people do tend to allow themselves to fall into flexion, yes, and these people need to be cued to hold their lumbar arch. There are other people, however, who have a natural tendency towards anterior pelvic tilt. If these people think to themselves ‘neutral spine’ or ‘hold your lumbar arch’ they sometimes overextend their lumbar arch - which can lead to lumbar pain because of jamming the disks the other way.

IN MY OWN CASE (YMMV) I thought I was hurting my back because I was flexing… But it turns out I was hurting my back because I was overextending (thinking that overextending was holding it in neutral).

What fixed me up: LIterally… Rolling around on my back like a baby (curling up - gradually and gently over time - in as tight a fetal position as possible). Then (gentle!) cat-camel drills (4 pt stance, flexing and extending the spine) - ‘neural flossing’, mcgill calls it. It gave me a better sense of what neutral spine really was. The stick (balancing it). Learning what neutral really was again (Though apparently soft tissue alignment can mislead depending).

IF pistols are hurting your back:

  • Are you dropping your pelvis to one side when you do these (or are your hips staying level)?

(I’m worrying about the SI joint)

Or maybe it isn’t the pistols that are hurting your back…[/quote]

Sounds exactly like me. Pretty much everything terrible I’ve done to myself training has been from misapplying things of that sort. Overextending my SI joints on squats and deadlifts, tucking my elbows like crazy on the various presses, etc…

Your body is smart, let it do what it wants a little more…