T Nation

The Low Back Debate...


#1

Not sure if this article has been discussed before but i wanted to get the opinions of some who particpate in sport.

There is so much talk of not letting the lower back round most of it i think from a lot of McGills work. I came across this article advocating the FULL ROM for the lumbar erectors/spine. The article seems to make some sense to me as we are always told to exercise throughout a full range; why should the lower lumbar region be any different?

As a mountain biker i got into a habit of trying to keep "neutral" spine all the time while jumping my bike. After a while i felt like i was actually getting worse in my movements. I started re-analyzing footage of riders i admire and all of them have a less than "neutral" spine; you can see there "back of their back" from the top of the shirt to the bottom. I looked at a photo of me riding and sure enough the upper back was against the shirt and the lower was not visable.

Also, i took a pilates class the other day (i know, i know but i kind of liked it) and they do alot of full ROM movemnt of the spine and crunch type movemnts; things like lowering one vertabrae at a time etc.

Afterwards my lower back/trunk area felt better than it has in long time. What gives?
I have become so fearful of rounding my lower back i may have been avaoiding things that would actually help me.
Any thoughts on this topic.

Heres the article
exrx.net/ExInfo/DangerousExercises.html#anchor416052


#2

Interesting, will look further into this I will.

(yoda I am, yoda, I be)


#3

"as always, your goals will dictate your training"

Absolutely, learning to round out the back will help your cycling performance, just like it will probably hurt your max squat and deadlift. You just have to decide which is more important.


#4

Hmmm... so your sugggesting it that how you jump your bike should mimic how you dealift?

Sounds like a recipe for disaster tbh. There's a reason every single top powerlifting in the world tries to squat and deadlift with an arch lumbar spine.


#5

No, no, not at all. I guess what i am saying is i read so much about keeping the arch when under load that is started to apply it EVERYWHERE when, it actuality, the lower back has the ability to round so maybe it should. In essence, I was mimicking how i DL with how to ride my bike which i am staring to see has been the wrong move.

A similar thing happened with my shoulder; read about keeping your shoulder blades pulled back helps prevent injury, good for posture so i started riding with my blades retracted all the time thinking this was going to save me some from a chance of injury.

Well i hit my handlebar on a rear view mirror riding to work and, since my blades were fully retracted, my humerus had no where left to go resulting in a posteriorly torn labrum (which is still bugging me).
I just think it is ironic that i have been doing things to prevent injury and getting hurt because of it!


#6

Tis ironic alright.

Don't forget the whole "on the field you live on your toes, in the gym you live on your heals".


#7

I think it is a mix of both. You should do the majority of your training with a an arched back, but you should also add in some rounded back stuff too. Though you should always put air in your belly and stay tight no matter what kind of back work you are doing.


#8

Well I have no real science to back this up, just personal experience, but when I was younger, from about 16-22, I used to do the stretch where you stand up, lock your knees, and bend at the hips and spine to touch your head to your knees, except I would take it farther and put my head between my knees. I used to take the stretch down 1 vertebrae at a time. Used to do the exact same opposite as well, doing back bridges all the time, even balancing on my forehead (wrestler's bridge).

Some people say these are bad for you, but I never had any back problems, and in fact, my back felt really awesome. I was also training martial arts since 16 (muay thai and jiu jitsu) and weight training (VERY improperly!!... think deadlifting with the above stretch method and smith machine bench press like everyday) since that time as well... thank goodness I found T-Nation! The potential for me to have a serious back injury was really high, but it never happened.

So maybe it's because I was young, or it could be some other reason.

But our bodies were made to MOVE, and I think we should move them in as many ways as possible... I just wouldnt load the spine with any weight that causes discomfort, or any weight that would actually require effort to lift unless it was in a neutral and braced position.

As for constantly applying "good posture" to every technique/position/skill/sport... I think that's a very bad idea. In boxing for example, if you fight in a perfect posture, you're gonna move slow, punch slow, and get knocked out. You need to stay on your toes, shrug your shoulders, and round your upper back. Doing that protects your chin, helps you move faster, and punch faster and harder.

Good luck!


#9

just whatever you do be careful

make sure you do lots of stretching (hips, not rotation or lower back)

stunt biking was my thing for years (at over 6 feet) and i'm not sure if my back will ever be the same, but i did some pretty stupid things and had countless bad crashes

just be careful...but i still miss it more than anything


#10

I think this is a tough one in a way. If you play the major american sports the only time I can think of an athlete needing to be in a rounded lower back position is some goalies and catchers. Besides that your body transmits and absorbs force much better through an arch. Because this allows the muscles of the hips and legs to generate or absorb the force. In biking or mountain biking I think you said, I believe the bike absorbs the force for you, and Im sure there still is significant impact but the bike does buffer that quite a bit.

I am not suprised pilates feels good, because if you think about it we should be moving over the course of the day in many more ways than we do now. We were designed to walk around all day and look for food, build shit, gather stuff etc., put our body in a tremendous variety of postitions, (form follows function)...


#11

From the article you linked: "Fleck and Falkel (1986) site a study that demonstrates compression forces are not excessive when the lumbar spine is flexed and the weight is held close to the body. In addition, intra-abdominal pressures generated during heavy lifts reduce extensor movements, thus further reducing stresses on the lumbar spine."

Compression forces aren't generally the problem, shearing forces are. Shearing forces may be reduced by holding the weight close to the body, but this does not show that lifting with a flexed lumbar spine is good for your back. When you flex your lumbar spine, your spinal erectors in the lumbar region (mainly iliocostalis and longissimus) are placed in a position where they cannot counteract anterior shearing force.

"Like you, I once believed lower back pain was mainly caused by a weak abdominal, flexibility, etc. until I meet a researcher whose team published their findings referenced below. The studies and accompanying papers strongly suggest other biomechanical factors contributed to the health of the lower back, specifically lower back strength throughout a complete range of motion."

In his book Low Back Disorders, Stuart McGill showed that neither great lower back strength nor increased range of motion were correlated with decreased incidence of low back pain. He actually thinks ROM is a silly way to assess back health. The factor that is correlated with decreased incidence of low back pain is muscular endurance.

"The avoidance of full range of motion promotes deconditioning and consequently deterioration of the joint structures. (Nelson 1993, 1995) This short sightedness is in total contradiction of the most basic principles of exercise: specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID)."

Is the study referring to the zygopophysial joints of the spine, or joints in general? One of the main causes of a pars interarticularis fracture is repeated extension/flexion of the lumbar spine through its full range of motion. In fact, most spine injuries are due to repetitive actions of the spine and occur at the end range of motion.

Comparing this article to McGill's book, I'd have to side with McGill. His arguments make more sense and he uses relevant studies and anatomical evidence to support his claims.

I don't know much (anything) about mountain biking, so I can't answer your question, but it seems that your spine will be at least slightly flexed when seated on a bike because of the position of the handlebars out in front. In addition, there wouldn't be a lot of compression forces (unless your helmet is extra heavy) or anterior shearing forces while riding, so I wouldn't be paranoid about maintaining a tight neutral spine.


#12

well, everything in positioning and stresses change when jumping/spinning, crashing etc (i dont know how much of that he's doing, but he did mention jumping)


#13

Yea that whole full range of motion thing does not apply to the back IMO. The back is different in my opinion in that people that are deconditioned, at least for awhile may even have more ROM in their back than conditioned people, because this is not a desirable trait in most cases.

The few examples I can think of would involve gymnasts that have extremely strong core muscles, but excellent flexibility as well. And as far as pilates goes, it is ok I suppose, but in a body that is meant to work and move in an erect position I dont see how it could help that much if you have a well designed program.

As Mike Boyle said to our class once "If you lay on the floor and move around and do all different things, you are going to get good at laying on the floor and moving around doing different things" But if it makes your back feel better go for it, I have never had much back pain and Im pretty sure I would do almost anything to rid myself of it.


#14

Thanks for the input guys. As far as the bike thing goes, when you jump a bike you have force coming from two drection; pushing your bars forward and pushing your feet on the pedals. it is much like say, a military press where you have the force coming down from the barbell thorugh to the floor along the kinetci chain.

Going over my technique and then reanalyzing video of riders i admire it seems that it much easier to transmit force from your hands to your feet with a slightly rounded back in order to stay "centered" in the bike; it seems oeveremphazing nuetral just does not allow you to do it so well as i have come to find.

I remeber a skier posted this same type of question awhile back saying he could never ski neutral because he cannot transmit forces through his legs to upper body and ski at the same time if he did.

So i will keep nuetral when lifting for strength and then do what works on the bike. I also may contiue with pilates because , well, i am surounded by gorgeous dancers. and i like that.
Thanks for the replies!


#15

Well I have no real science to back this up, just personal experience, but when I was younger, from about 16-22, I used to do the stretch where you stand up, lock your knees, and bend at the hips and spine to touch your head to your knees, except I would take it farther and put my head between my knees. I used to take the stretch down 1 vertebrae at a time. Used to do the exact same opposite as well, doing back bridges all the time, even balancing on my forehead (wrestler's bridge).

Some people say these are bad for you, but I never had any back problems, and in fact, my back felt really awesome. I was also training martial arts since 16 (muay thai and jiu jitsu) and weight training (VERY improperly!!... think deadlifting with the above stretch method and smith machine bench press like everyday) since that time as well... thank goodness I found T-Nation! The potential for me to have a serious back injury was really high, but it never happened.

So maybe it's because I was young, or it could be some other reason.

But our bodies were made to MOVE, and I think we should move them in as many ways as possible... I just wouldnt load the spine with any weight that causes discomfort, or any weight that would actually require effort to lift unless it was in a neutral and braced position.

As for constantly applying "good posture" to every technique/position/skill/sport... I think that's a very bad idea. In boxing for example, if you fight in a perfect posture, you're gonna move slow, punch slow, and get knocked out. You need to stay on your toes, shrug your shoulders, and round your upper back. Doing that protects your chin, helps you move faster, and punch faster and harder.

Good luck!


#16

Having a neutral spine means that you are somewhere between the two extreme positions of flexion and extension. During any lift you want to be in between these two extremes. Some exercises call for a little more flexion (like a crunch) and some call for a little more extension (like a squat). But I don't tnink it is a good idea to be in an extreme position of flexion or extension under load. You could get away with some flexion while doing stiffies, but it is really of no benefit, as all this does is decrease the distance between the origin and insertion of your hamstrings, letting you go lower, but not really increase the ROM for your hamstrings. It just moves the two endpoints of the muscle closer together, giving the illusion of increase ROM.

By the way, I wouldn't consider having your shoulder blades pulled all the way back together to be good posture(think about it, you would look like the jackass at your local gym who struts around trying to look extra huge). That would probably fall under the category of an extreme position. You want to be somewhere in between the two extremes of protraction and retraction.

If you are riding your bike with fully retracted shoulder blades this will tend to pull to thoracic spine into extension, which will in turn tend to pull your lumbar spine into extension, probably causing you to arch your low back more than you realized.

If you really want to work your lumbar spine through a full ROM you can do extension exercises like supermans and flexion exercises like crunches(w/ a posterior pelvic tilt). I would avoid any rotational exercises or rotational stretches designed to target your low back though.