Is Spinal Flexion Bad? – Movement Debrief Episode 110

Movement Debrief Episode 110 is in the books. Below is a copy of the video for your viewing pleasure, and audio if you can’t stand looking at me.

Here is the setlist:

  • Is spinal hyperextension useful for weightlifting? 
  • How do I balance the need for extension during these moves?
  • Is there a risk of disc injuries with spinal flexion?
  • Are spine sparing exercises necessary to reduce trauma throughout the day?
  • Do we want to minimize spinal movement?
  • How should we move to encourage healthy spines?
  • Are crunches safe?
  • Do they help with abdominal development?
  • Is it safe for someone with back surgery to perform spinal flexion?

If you want to watch these live, add me on Instagram.  Enjoy!

and the audio version:  

Zac Cupples iTunes

Below are the links mentioned in the show notes

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What This Biomechanics Professor Wishes People Knew About the Real Causes of Low Back Pain

A biomechanical analysis of straight and hexagonal barbell deadlifts using submaximal loads

Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load

Biomechanics of changes in lumbar posture in static lifting 

To flex or not to flex? Is there a relationship between lumbar spine flexion during lifting and lower back pain? A systematic review and meta-analysis. 

Effects of Traditional Sit-up Training Versus Core Stabilization Exercises on Short-Term Musculoskeletal Injuries in US Army Soldiers: A Cluster Randomized Trial

Divided by a lack of common language? – a qualitative study exploring the use of language by health professionals treating back pain

The enduring impact of what clinicians say to people with low back pain

Motion of the shoulder complex during multiplanar humeral elevation.

Here are several moves that encourage mid-lower posterior thorax expansion

If you want more upper thorax expansion, I really like decline quadruped on elbows

If you want to learn to squat, I’d start with the high depth move here

Then progress to lower depths here

Then of course, add some weight to it here

Stacking is uber important for being able to create pressure to move and lift heavy things. Can you do it? Find out in this video here

Spinal Hyperextension During Lifting

Hi Zac! What are your comments on T and lumbar spine hyperextensions in weightlifting. I was thinking about that for a while and I think there is a two-edged sword. Giving the fact that the spine is forcing in extension (especially with the beginner) the position of the pelvis and rib cage is not really advantageous for abdominal recruitment.

Also, there is a potential for lack of glute and hamstring activation due to higher amount of cervical extension. But on the other end, you want to concentrically contract the whole erector and lats. The forces during the lift are high particularly at the movement when the weight is being loaded on the body. If the muscles of the upper posterior chain eccentrically contract the chances for successful lift are very low. What are some of your thoughts? Love your work and sending kind regards from Slovenia 🙂

Is Spinal Flexion Bad?

Hi Zac!  I read an article from Stu McGill and there were many claims on there that were pretty extreme 

“The truth is that someone hitting the gym every day without spine sparing techniques during their workout, will develop cumulative trauma in their discs. Repeatedly bending your back at the gym, followed by long periods of sitting at work, chased down with poorly executed daily tasks such as getting dressed or gardening conspire together to cause the slow delamination of some of your disc fibers.”

“One of my major issues with Pilates is that one of its key principles is to flatten the spine and “imprint” the lower back to the floor when lying down. This deliberate effort to disrupt the spine from its neutral position and “straighten” one of its natural curves is not healthy and can trigger pain sensitivity in a person who is already sensitized. Some people experience a false sense of relief while going through this motion because it stimulates the back’s stretch receptors. In reality, this relief is fleeting and pain symptoms typically return with a vengeance due to the stresses placed on your discs.” “Thus the exaggerated fashion of the Pilates’ rollup puts an emphasis on moving through the spine, putting unnecessary load and strain on the discs. The real goal should be to minimize spinal movement and instead use our hips as primary centers for motion. This philosophy will allow the back pain to settle.” Is someone really able to make those claims?


Could you do a movement debrief on crunches and whether they are safe or not. I have a lot of clients who want more defined abs. Is it okay to program crunch variations?  

Flexion after Spinal Fusion

Would you recommend this for someone that has had a fusion at L4/L5? I desperately need to strengthen my core, but how is it possible when told no BLT’s?!?!

Sum Up

  • Spinal hyperextension during weightlifting would limit the depth necessary to complete the lift
  • Achieving weightlifting depth requires posterior pelvic tilting
  • The research does not support spinal flexion causing disc injuries, and in some cases may actually help with protrusion
  • There is no difference in injury risk with situps or core stability exercises
  • Caution must be taken in telling clients to not exercise, spare the spine, or other verbage that may perpetuate maladaptive beliefs
  • Crunches are safe to perform and produce a fair amount of EMG activity in the rectus abdominis and internal obliques
  • There is no research for or against spinal precautions after surgery
  • Thought physician clearance to exercise is warranted, most precautions ought to be lifted within 6-12 months.
  • Graded activity must be performed after any type of injury or surgery

Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst