Sunday, June 29, 2008

Deep squatting and lumbar flexion; a good thing?

There's always been lots of discussion about the lumbar flexion that may occur at the bottom of a deep squat. Most of the discussion/arguments are against allowing any lumbar flexion in this position.

For example, if an athlete back squats (loaded with a barbell) to top of the thigh parallel and can maintain a "neutral" spine, but going any deeper creates lumbar flexion (posterior rotation of the pelvis), then the athlete should squat no deeper than the position in which they can maintain the neutral spine position. The thought is that any lumbar flexion under load may be bad.

In my situation, I have always had athletes squat as deep as possible (maintaining proper foot pressure, and in neutral spine). Many times, as the athlete drops the top of the thighs past parallel, the pelvis basically 'tucks' under, creating some lumbar flexion. I've always coached the athletes to maintain a tall spine, but have never really worried too much about this little bit of lumbar flexion at towards the end range-of-motion... maybe I should, but I have yet to see it cause any issues.

And most of the time, this little bit of lumbar flexion, actually brings the lumbar spine closer to a more true "neutral" position or just slight flexion, as back squatting with load tends put the athlete in more of a lumbar extension position to start with.

Anyway... just the other day, I came across this interesting paragraph in Functional Anatomy of the Spine by Middleditch and Oliver:

"Tension in the thoracolumbar fascia can also be increased by motion of the arms, legs and trunk. Posterior rotation of the pelvis causes an increase in flexion at he lumbosacral junction and hence increases tension in the thoracolumbar fascia. Lumbar spine flexion also passively increases tension in the thoracolumbar fascia. Competitive weightlifters may flex or 'round out' the lumbosacral area and it is suggested that this affords some protection by increasing tension in the thoracolumbar fascia and posterior ligamentous structures, thereby contributing to stability in the low lumbar area (Dolan et al, 1994)."

Maybe that little bit of lumbar flexion under load is ok.



Mike T Nelson said...

I've often wondered about this also.

If you can do it with a full range of motion, no pain, and your movement is still good--I say go for it!

I have only tested a few people, but as long as they did not have pain and their movement during the exercise looked good, their gait was fine. I would be interested in more data though and what you and others have found.

Keep thinking and writing!
Rock on
Mike N

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

I agree.

Another thought...

(Again I am speaking on healthy spines, not pathological ones.)

I know moving the spine under load is not usually a good thing, but maybe that little movement seen at the bottom could be good for another reason (along with the fascial pull); that the pressure/load/torque gets distributed throughout the "healthy" range of motion of the lumbar spine (disc, bony structures, cartilage, connective tissue, etc.)

Maybe by not full squatting and getting a little counternutation of the sacrum, creating some lumbar flexion, does the same to those structures as does the half squat does to the knees.

Just a thought...

Trust me, however, I am not going to go out and coach an athlete to flex at the bottom... but I am not going to sweat it, if I see a little bit of it and it doesn't cause any issues.


What are your thought about a pre-flexion of the lower lumbar under there is no change in dynamic alignment?


This came from Pavel and possibly from McGill...

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Not sure, would have to learn more about it.

What are they claiming the purpose is?

My question/concern would be, at what part of the movement would the intitial pre-flexion take place?



I think the pre-flexion occurs before the descent of the squat.

I think the purpose was to maintain the distribution of load throughout the ROM instead of changing it through intermittent flexion.

I don't use this anymore...don't like the transfer.

Personally, I don't think the flexion it is too big a deal (although I coach doing it at the last possible moement).

With what I would consider normal flexibility, lower spinal flexion should only occur after the abdomen comes into contact with the hips further dispersing the load.


Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

"With what I would consider normal flexibility, lower spinal flexion should only occur after the abdomen comes into contact with the hips further dispersing the load."

I absolutely agree, and this is why I had the question of what part of the movement is this pre-flexion supposed to occur.

When looking at different types of squats, a pre-flexion I think could be ok in an anterior or overhead loaded squat (front squat, or as the RKC is based upon: squatting with the kettlebell(s) either anterior to the spine or directly overhead). In the back squat however, the pre-flexion would be something I for sure would not advocate...

In a back squat there is more of a "reserve" for this flexion at the bottom of a squat, because the placement of the bar puts the lumbar spine in an increased lordosis to begin with.

In your experience, has squatting exercises transfered favorably?



In general,

I don't have my athletes perform resistance training unless they want more size or lifting weight will build their confidence.

I test all exercise Rx so that I know what the transfer will be. With all my athletes, as soon as their exercise movement quality is high, speed is accentuated.

All my athletes performances go up. Because they do so much, it hard to measure the transfer of squats. One would have to think it teaches proper spinal alignment with hip, knee and ankle flexion/extension.