T Nation

Spinal Flexion

i’ve avoided spinal flexion for quite a while now…

fold forward from the hips, pick stuff up / put stuff down with squat / deadlift / lunge…

have the dreaded anterior pelvic tilt. have been working very hard on mobilizing the hips / stretching the hip flexors and activating the glutes. making good progress with that.

the latest piece of the puzzle:

i’ve recently discovered that my abs are useless piles of shit. my spinal erectors basically do all the work on my squats / deads / weighted planks.

sucked it up and got a beginner pilates book.

oh. for people who live their lives in anterior pelvic tilt you actually need to (feel like) posterior pelvic tilt in order to properly experience neutral… so posterior pelvic tilt and stupid crunchy things might be a little helpful (kyphosis isn’t an issue for me).

i’m having significant difficulty with pilates rolling, though. the idea of moving the spine through flexion one joint at a time. basically. it hurts. it really fucking hurts. i did fracture my spine a while back… 30% loss in height in the anterior part of the L/T junction… would that explain the hurts? i’m being gentle… will it get better in time? should it get better in time? any thoughts on whether it is good / bad to have this pilates rolling the spine through flexion (unweighted) mobility or whether i should stick to planks etc??

part of the issue is that i reasonably frequently get overuse injury of the spinal erectors in the lumbar region of the left part of my back (my left leg is stronger and likes to do most work). flexing my spine seems to put this region on stretch and it feels super tight. i’m not sure if it is a good stretch or a bad stretch. i thought one wasn’t supposed to stretch the lumbar region… but perhaps i’ve gone too far in the other extreme of ‘leave it the hell alone’??

she actually isn’t getting much curvature of the lumbar region…

Alexus, although APT sufferers (I am one, though I have made significant progress) are overly extended in the lumbar spine, Im sure you realise hyper mobility in the lumbar region is not desirable. What we need here is stability. Mobility (ideally) comes from the hips and thoracic spine. So continue to work on hip flexor mobility and thoracic mobility if you have been. I think whats more important than pulling yourself into lumbar flexion, is to learn how to keep a posterior pelvic tilt with a straight leg (at the hip joint). So both glut and ab strength come into play here. Are you familiar with force couples? Its basically when to equal opposing forces act at the same axis, and this is why hip flexor tightness comes with spinal erector tightness and glute weakness is accompanied with ab weakness in people with APT. What you really need to work on is contracting both the abs and gluteus synergistically. A good way over initially learning is while doing a hip flexor stretch, tense both your gluteus and your abs to pull the front of you pelvis up toward your rib cage, and you will notice a far greater stretch in the hip flexors. This technique might help to train the correct motor pattern. It might not be as effective since the lack of movement can somewhat limit your ability to get better (neurally, though muscular adaptations should not be as limited), but I think it can be a good starting point. As you get better at it, move on to a dead bug (google or even a site search should bring it up). Form is everything. At NO point are you to lose a posterior pelvic tilt. As you lower the leg, you will have to drastically increase ab and glute activation to prevent anterior tilt from occurring. If you can’t, then don’t lower the leg any further. Once your ab and glut strength come up, you will be able to lower your legs further. Once strong enough, hanging leg raises are a good progression (again, maintaining the posterior tilt of the pelvis while lower the legs all the way is the goal).

I personally think holding a posterior tilt whilst extending the femur at the hip joint will be far more beneficial than working on lumbar flexion directly, as it teaches you to actively lengthen the hip flexors whilst contracting the gluteus and abs. This approach seems to have helped me, though I must admit, I have absolutely NO experience with pilates, so I can’t say definitively whether it is a waste of time or a good option, but maybe have a think about the concepts I wrote about. You may choose to go with the pilates route, or a combination of what I have recommended and pilates, either way, let me know how it goes. Good luck.


what you say sounds good to me. makes a lot of sense.
i have recently lamented my apparent lack of ability to activate both abs and glutes at the same time… sounds like that was more of a problem than i thought…

found something that suggested:

  1. posterior pelvic tilt to activate the abs
  2. push the arms up against a wall behind you to activate the lats
    before doing the dead bug thing. not sure why… but pushing back against a wall seems to help keep the abs activated!!

i will do as you say. thanks so much for taking the time.

(strangely enough my lumbar spine feels a bit better today. my pilates rolls felt more comfortable… i’m working up to a backwards roll… not aiming for lumbar mobility / hypermobility but i think one ought to be able to roll like a baby pain free??)

Stuart McGill (spine biomechanics legend, you may hear Cressey and Waterbury rave about this guy) thinks the lats are very important to ‘core’ stability. So if its helping you, go for it. It may be a good motor pattern to develop, I know Waterbury was recently talking about some work he did with McGill and one of the exercises he suggested was a version of the dead bug (not sure the one you chose) that activated the lats.

You lay on the ground on your back and reach back to grab some sort of handle (use put my hands under the couch) and pull down to engage the lats (well not exactly down, I can’t describe unless I speak anatomically so just think of it like a pullover). In fact, if I remember correctly, Chad has a video up where he explains the form cues quite well. Check out his website www.chadwaterbury.com though it may be on this site too.

As for pilates, if you think its helping, keep going. You clearly understand hyper mobility is bad so your instincts might be the best thing to trust, I wish I could advise more but I know nothing of pilates. It sounds like its providing a gentle stretch of the erectors so it may be a good thing as long as you don’t go too hard.

Being able to roll pain free sounds like a decent marker of physical health in that area, I have never analysed the movement but it certainly seems like it requires good pelvic control as it needs a posterior tilt. Just be careful, if you have disc issues then spine flexion is a no no (but hyperlordosis would normally damage the facet joint, where as hyperkyphosis tends to get the discs so your not necessarily at higher risk, I was just making sure). Keep up the good work, you have the right attitude.

[quote]alexus wrote:

she actually isn’t getting much curvature of the lumbar region…[/quote]

thanks. this is the ‘pilates roll’.
it seems to me (though i guess i’ll need a vid to check’ that even though one is supposed to think ‘separate each spinal segment’ one is actually meant to achieve not much mobility of the lumbar region at all (the chick in the vid doesn’t achieve much anyhoo’.

she doesn’t really look curved except for the part where the lady cues it…

LOL are they twins?? I quite like those tips. I was worried you would over flex but the chick in the video does just enough to allow a smooth roll without over flexing. Her form cues about common mistakes sound quite logical to me. Seems like a good find, Im not surprised its helping you now that I have seen it!

My abs are shit too. Just today I tried a simple ab superset with three exercises, and my abs went into spasm right after because they are so under-utilized… couldn’t even get another set off. Try these movements out for core work… I understand how planks (front/side) are good, but I recently read a livespill comment by Thibaudeau on ab work and what he does, and my abs are already way stronger.

  1. Do straight sets of more demanding or technically complex movements: L-holds, dragonflags, back extension ab holds, hollow rock.

  2. Do supersets of the simpler movements (pick 3-4): cable crunch, swiss ball crunch, hanging leg raise, knee-to-elbows, lying garhammer raise, etc).

  3. Ring work! If you have access to rings, you can start doing progressions (search on youtube) for back/front lever, maltese hold, skin the cat, and iron cross. I started doing full reps of skin the cat, and I’ve never felt my abs/lats work so much in unison. The way I felt, I was like, “this shit’s got to be healthy as f*ck!”.

i’m having trouble activating my abs andy. all the ab work i thought i was doing (weighted planks) turned out to be more spinal erector work. dead bugs for me, i’m afraid :frowning:

[quote]alexus wrote:
i’m having trouble activating my abs andy. all the ab work i thought i was doing (weighted planks) turned out to be more spinal erector work. dead bugs for me, i’m afraid :-([/quote]

As an APT sufferer who has made really good progress (and it is sloooooow going), I suggest tall kneeling woodchoppers where nothing but your arms move with your hips locked in PPT and stability ball rollouts. To do one of those, get up on a SB with your elbows in plank position, neutral spine, in PPT. Extends your arms and let nothing else move.

Lumbar mobility is not a goal. It just isn’t designed to move that much so unless you used to be able to move it a lot, now is not the time to start. You might need thoracic mobility too. In my case, a lack of thoracic mobility was causing a lot of issues too. You might have correctly observed your back needs to move more, but hit on the wrong end of it. I was really surprised at how immobile my thorax was when I started. This can be especially acute in APT sufferers since the tendency is to thrust the chest forward to counter balance the hips.

– jj

I know you have flexibility issues to work around, but honestly I think you’re overthinking your own body. Get your abs stronger, your back stronger, and your glutes/ hamstrings/ lower back stronger while maintaining your flexibility regimin and I think you will be pleased with the results.

Besides…from all the posts I’ve seen of yours it seems like you’re way ahead of most people.

Screw dead bugs… try hollow rock or ab wheel. Start to feel your abs again. Dragonflags, too. You will be humbled, just don’t over exert yourself to the point where you overly stretch something (bad technique) or strain something (too much too soon).

Alexus, at least your smart enough to realise those exercises just wouldn’t work for you, a lot of people just think they can do the same exercises that others do. The fact is for severe APT sufferers, ab wheel rollouts WILL NOT work, because their abs are so weak they cannot do ONE SINGLE good rep. An ab rollout without proper pelvic control will only make things worse (you will feel your erectors firing more than your abs).

For the same reason, planks didn’t work for Alexus. They will eventually, just not yet. I have not actually seen you attempt certain movements but Im guessing no matter what movement you attempt, as soon as you started exerting yourself, your lumbar spine would uncontrollably and extremely arch? So using a rollout to feel the abs, just wouldn’t work IMO.

I highly doubt Alexus can handle a rollout with proper technique. If it was attempted with correct form it would be more like 1RM than a ‘feel’ exercise. If you can barely get into the proper position when unloaded, then you don’t have a chance in hell doing it loaded until you learn pelvic control. Forget about dragon flags, if you can’t lay on the ground and lower both straight legs to the ground without going into APT you have no business attempting a dragon flag (Mike Robertson’s words, and he is dead right). Those exercises JJ-dude recommended will be effective once you can handle them, which may actually be sooner than you think.

With dead bugs etc, you should progress quite fast and within weeks you will have huge form improvements. This new found pelvic control allows stability ball rollouts etc. to be much more effective as you will be able to maintain a posterior pelvic tilt.

If you can’t do a proper ab wheel rollout, try blast-strap fallouts. You can adjust the height so you can do proper reps at whatever ability you have, and can progress by going lower and lower. The key on this exercise, and the ab wheel for that matter, is to not let your abs stretch out. Squeeze your glutes, and then flex your shoulders forward while keeping a locked core, and then extend your shoulders back towards your body. Works the lats/abs in unison quite nicely.

ffs andy if i can’t do an ab wheel rollout properly then why on earth would you think i can do a blast strap fall out?

i can barely contract my abs in the first place. certainly not keep the contraction for lowering both legs or whatever. after loads of dead bugs with my arms back against a wall i might have good enough activation for a single ab wheel rollout with good form. of course i can do them hanging off my spinal erectors (making things worse) till the cows come home. from the feet even. 3x60second 25kg weighted planks right into lumbar injury. brilliant.

[quote]alexus wrote:
ffs andy if i can’t do an ab wheel rollout properly then why on earth would you think i can do a blast strap fall out?

i can barely contract my abs in the first place. certainly not keep the contraction for lowering both legs or whatever. after loads of dead bugs with my arms back against a wall i might have good enough activation for a single ab wheel rollout with good form. of course i can do them hanging off my spinal erectors (making things worse) till the cows come home. from the feet even. 3x60second 25kg weighted planks right into lumbar injury. brilliant.
An ab wheel rollout is done on the floor, with your torso nearly reaching the ground at the bottom. With blast-strap/ring fallouts, you can alter the height so that you can make it easy on core… your body can be at a 45 degree angle at the bottom part of the movement, if you’d like (or higher, whatever lets you progress safely).

hmm. i don’t have blast straps…

but i have powerbands. slung those around the powerrack and what do ya know, that does indeed work pretty good for core activation. think the key is to start with it high and then move progressively lower. then i seem able to do a couple (properly!!) ab wheel rollouts etc. thanks.