I must admit, that this site is one of
the most complete one I've ever seen. But some of the exercises
depicted have serious flaws to them. Take for example the stiff-legged
deadlift. In the clip, the individual loses his lordosis during
the lowering of the bar. This will only ensure ligaments being
stretched and create greater instability in the lumbar region.
Same applies for the Seated Row. Leaning over while returning
puts the stress solely on the ligaments of the spine since the
musculature is relaxed. Also, the incline sit-up can also create
some pressure unto the lumbars from the Psoas muscle. Having
your feet anchored active the movement from the origin rather
than the insertion. One last suggestion, would be the exercises
for low back and recuperation. Most low back problem are caused
from lack of flexibility/muscular lateral imbalance. Working
the core stability and flexibility rather than weight training
would be most beneficial for those people. I'm sure you can relate
to these issues and hopefully make corrections. After all, its
for everyone's good.
Concerned visitor (Bsc. Kin., PFLC)
Muscular imbalance and inflexibilities may be attributed to
injury, but the causes of lower back injury are poorly understood
(Nelson 1993). Although the views you express are popular, I
used to hold similar beliefs, other authorities and I disagree
with this oversimplified theory. These generalizations
are, in contrast, certain peer refereed journals, academic texts,
empirical evidence, and my professional experiences.
Commonly held beliefs on the causes of injury are often not
supported by scientific studies. For example, a past colleague
performed an exhaustive review of the scientific literature on
the problems associated with hyperextension
of the lumbar spine during the Powerlifting-style
bench press. He found no studies remotely demonstrating problems
with this posture despite commonly held beliefs in the exercise
Even the idea that flexibility exercise decreases injury has
been questioned by recent studies and meta-analyses. See Stretching and Flexibility.
Certainly, certain individuals may need to improve their flexibility
in particular joints, yet, others may be found to have too great
of flexibility through certain joint articulations. To suggest
flexibility, training should be prescribed over strength training
is a gross overgeneralization. Strength training has been shown
to be very beneficial in physical therapy and injury reduction.
Just look up the studies listed below (see references) and the
many others listed on PubMed.
It is interesting that many orthopedic surgeons denounce certain
commonly performed exercises. For example, some physicians condemn
citing how destructive they are to the knees, despite scientific
studies and millions of personal experiences to the contrary.
It is undeniable that people can hurt themselves on any exercise,
more some than others, but the issue is much more complex than
the exercise itself.
Poor form, faulty technique (including altered form due to
fatigue), bad program design, insufficient warmup, overtraining,
lack of progression (eg: exercise selection, resistance, training
volume), and certainly, particular biomechanical deficiencies
predisposing individuals to injury are all factors that lead
to injury. Also see Causes
the first portion of the sit up, the abdominal muscles flex the
spine. The hip flexor muscles flex the hip to complete the movement.
If the abdominal muscles are not strong enough to counter the
Psoas' pull on the spine,
the lumbar vertebrae can be forced into hyperextension. This
can occur during other hip
flexor movements as well.
In the book "Strength
Training for Young Athletes" by Kraemer and Fleck, the
cover states "Includes over 100 safe exercises for 18 muscle
groups and 16 sports. They include two sit up exercises with
the feet anchored
- Page 105: Bent-Leg Sit-up
- Page 106: Bent-Leg Sit-up with a Twist (on incline)
J. Fleck, PhD and William
J. Kraemer, PhD are probably the most well respected scientists
studying resistive training. Fleck and Kreamer have dedicated
their careers in investigating, researching, and writing both
scientific and mainstream publications on weight training.
Kreighbaum (1996) states: "The physical condition of
the performer dictates how safe and effective these exercises
will be in strengthening the abdominal"
For those with no history of lower back pain during hip flexion,
raises can be considered, so the abdominal
and hip flexors
can be exercised in a single exercise. A determination should
be made if the client has adequate abdominal strength to counter
the psoas' pull. Like the lower back integrity previously discussed,
this biomechanical deficiency can be easily corrected (see links
immediately below). Crunches, or half sit ups can be prescribed
for the first months before the introduction of hip flexor movements.
Incidentally, the bend of the hip severely diminishes Psoas'
mechanical efficiency and consequently, its pull on the lumbar
spine. See tension
potential. Kreighbaum (1996) adds: "For a performer
with weak abdominal, the hip-flexed position is the best".
Flexible hip flexors and strong abdominal muscles are particularly
important before performing the Decline
Chair Situp, Leg
Raises and Hip
Raises since the hip becomes fully extended.
As for having your feet anchored affecting movement from the
origin rather than the insertion, this essentially does not affect
its activation. The muscle contracts through out itself, despite
the end that moves (origin or insertion). Are the forces through
the Latissimus Dorsi
somehow different in pullup
as compared to the pulldown?
Your old physics or biomechanics book will clarify the forces
are indistinguishable. Incidentally, the crest of the pubis is
often referred to as the origin of the Rectus Abdominis, anyway.
Obviously, man made classification systems do not perfectly fit
all constructs; these semantics merely propitiate rhetorical
In a horizontal position, the anchoring of the feet will allow
you to stabilize the lower body without extending the legs to
counter the leverage and momentive forces of the upper body during
its extended leverage in the lower position. Remember when the
hips are extended the Psoas is activated more. In an incline
motion, the anchoring of the feet prevents you from sliding back,
or falling on your head.
If a client has such weak abdominal that their psoas is pulling
on the back, corrective exercise should be performed months before
they start on intense hip flexor exercises. To say sit ups are
bad, or any other exercise is bad is a gross over-generalization.
Cable Seated Row is an excellent movement to condition both the
upper and lower back. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as countless
other weight trainers perform their cable rows with an articulating
The body adapts to specific stresses placed on the body as
long as certain principles are followed. Both the muscles and
joint structures can adapt to progressive stresses. Even the
elastic limit of a tendon or ligament can be enhanced by exercise
and training and can be reduced by aging and inactivity (Tendon and ligament
adaptation). Ligaments are not inert.
During the seated row with spinal articulation you say, "Leaning
over while returning, puts the stress solely on the ligaments
of the spine since the musculature is relaxed." In order
to relax, the muscles of the low back, the exerciser would have
to set down the resistance weight and pause. Even if the exerciser
deliberately relaxed the musculature with the spine completely
flexed, the stretch in the lower back muscles would activate
the muscle spindles, or stretch receptors, maintaining an involuntary
contraction for several seconds. As with any exercise, moving
through the full
range of a joint's motion is recommended, yet not beyond.
Ironically, splinting the lower back during all movements
can lead to the degeneration of the joint structures of the spine
(Nelson 1993, 1995). Including an exercise such as the Cable
Seated Row that involves actual (dynamic) movement of joint structures
and accompanying muscles are important for lower back integrity.
As the saying goes, "Use it or lose it". The Cable
Seated Row with articulating spine, the Cable
One Arm Twisting Row, as well as the Straight Leg Deadlift
(below) offer more natural forces
to entire kinetic chain as compared to Lever
Back Extension and can be implemented progressively for those
requiring high degrees of functionality such as certain athletes
and manual laborers. It is interesting to note that competitive
rowers, including athletes at the Olympic level flex their spine
throughout the rowing movement. Also see Low
Straight Back Seated Row has been included for those who
desire less lower back involvement during this movement.
Straight Leg Deadlift
and Falkel (1986) cite 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.
These techniques are used in the execution of straight
leg deadlift. Notice the weight is lowered to the top of
the feet and not just beyond the feet. Illustrations in articles
suggesting destructive forces on the spine are quite different
than the straight leg deadlift. According to the ExRx description
and animation, the weight is kept very close to the body. Positioning
the resistance away from the body subjects forces on spine structures
much greater than the straight leg deadlift described.
Performing a movement with a weight or range of motion that
is significantly beyond what they are accustomed greatly increases
risk of injury, particularly with this movement, but that does
not make it a dangerous exercise when performed with common sense
Keep bar over top of feet, close to legs. Do not pause
or bounce at bottom of lift. Do not lower weight beyond mild
stretch throughout hamstrings and low back. Full range of motion
will vary from person to person. Choose platform height that
allows contact with floor with slight stretch or set to height
that allows bar to be lowered only millimeters from floor during
warm up. This small reserve allows additional room to accommodate
the hips loosen up and the grip to give slightly, but not so
much that would increase risk of descending too far down, beyond
a slight stretch. Those with less flexibility may not even need
to stand on platform. When finished with set, dismount by lowering
weight with knees bent and low back straight.
Lack of recuperation
is only one of four reasons of injury as outlined in the ExRx
site. Like you, I once believed lower back pain was mainly caused
by a weak
etc. until I met 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. The
artificial splinting of the lower back that so many professionals
advocate is a short term solution. The avoidance of full range
of motion promotes deconditioning and consequently, deterioration
of the joint structures. (Nelson 1993, 1995) This shortsightedness
is in total contradiction of the most basic principles
of exercise: specific adaptation to imposed demands (SAID).
I personally have not seen a higher incidence of injury to
my clients on the straight leg deadlift as compared to other
exercises. I certainly agree it would be a risk to perform the
straight leg deadlift for individuals with certain low back disorders,
or those who do not conform to the 4 adaptation
criteria outlined on this site. Although many individuals
from industrialized countries suffer from lower back pain, if
I were to remove the straight leg deadlift and other
exercises based upon certain people's idiosyncrasies, there
would be few exercises to left to demonstrate.
For those who cannot or do not care to perform this exercise
with flexion of the spine see:
supervised hundreds of individuals who have performed the straight
leg deadlift and similar exercises with excellent results. Individuals
with occasional lower back pain have reported dramatically less,
low back discomfort. One of my clients was 73 years old! For
my clients with occasional lower back pain, I most often start
them on the Lever
Back Extension or Cable
Seated Row with spinal articulation and perhaps, later move
them into Hyperextensions.
After a few months or so on these preliminary exercises, I
introduce my clients to the straight
leg deadlift with a 10-20 lb bar and progress them systematically
(See Shorthand Log).
When people stopped this exercise for a few weeks, they reported
their old sporadic lower back pain comes back. This went away
after resuming their program. I often find it difficult to persuade
some clients to try other exercises after a month on the straight
leg deadlift due to their excellent results.
I perform the straight leg deadlifts working up to 495 lbs
with complete spinal flexion with the bar touching the top of
my feet. I can personally assure you, I have little instability
in the lumbar region after years and years of regularly performing
The straight leg deadlift with a rounded back is suggested
by other experts, including Greg Shepard, the Author of Bigger
Faster Stronger, pg 90-91. His program has been used by more
than 9000 high schools over the past 30 years.
Both Dave Tate, world famous champion powerlifter, and Louie
Simmons of Westside Barbell recommends both arched back and rounded-back
good morning in addition to Reverse
Hyper-extensions for low back conditioning.
In first edition of "Strength Training for Young Athletes"
by Kraemer and Fleck, the cover states "Includes over 100
safe exercises for 18 muscle groups and 16 sports. They include
two exercises similar to the straight leg deadlift:
- Page 96: Rounded-back Good Morning Exercise
- Page 97: Rounded-back Stiff-Legged Deadlift
In their book, the illustration of the Rounded-back Stiff-Legged
Deadlift appears as though the boy was using 135 lbs. Dr. Fleck
and Dr. Kraemer's credentials
Experts such as Fleck
as well as the ACSM
weight training guidelines all recommend implementing full
range of motion resistive exercises. Also see Dr.
Brian Nelson's interview regarding the use of spinal articulation
in rehabilitation for chronic disorders of the spine.
The limitations of an exercise program should be customized
for each individual, not the general population, as some exercise
professionals have proposed. The individual's goals, medical
history, orthopedic health, etc. as well as the limitations of
the exercise professionals' knowledge need to be considered.
Obviously, certain exercises may be considered contraindicative
for some people, at least until particular injuries and biomechanical
deficiencies are corrected and the principles of specific adaptation
can be observed.
- If you can't use chopsticks, don't blame it on the sticks.
- The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping
stones is the way you use them.
- Carpenter DM, Nelson BW (1999). Low back strengthening for
the prevention and treatment of low back pain. Med Sci Sports
- Fleck SJ and Falkel JE (1986).Value of Resistance Training
for the Reduction of Sports Injuries. Sports Medicine,
- Kraemer WJ, Fleck SJ (1993). Strength Training for Young
Athletes, 96-97, 105-106.
- Kreighbaum E., Katharine, BM (1996). Biomechanics: A Qualitative
Approach for Studying Human Movement, Allyn & Bacon, 4, Pgs
- Nelson BW. (1993). A rational approach to the treatment of
low back pain. J Musculoskel Med, 10(5), 67-82.
- Nelson BW, O'Reilly E, Miller M, Hogan M, Wegner J.A, Kelly
C (1995). The clinical effects of intensive, specific exercise
on chronic low back pain: a controlled study of 895 consecutive
patients with 1-year follow up. Orthopedics, 18(10), 971-981.
- Risch SV, Norvell NK, Pollock ML, Risch ED, Langer H, Fulton
M, Graves JE, Leggett SH. (1993). Lumbar strengthening in chronic
low back pain patients. Physiologic and psychological benefits.
- Shepard G (2004). Bigger Faster Stronger, 90-91.
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