Thursday, June 10, 2010

Be wary of absolutes

(After thinking over the previous title of this post, I realized that "There are NO absolutes" is a paradoxical statement, as "There are NO absolutes" is an absolute.)

Over the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with some trunk flexion exercises; floor sit-up movements (working on quality spinal flexion), some hanging curl-ups. These supposed death sentence movements have played out nicely for me personally. After a solid set of a specific trunk flexion exercise, I've taken a little shoulder pain and erased it from my senses. Along with improving overhead ROM and pressing technique, these trunk flexion exercises have also helped cleaned-up my overhead squat pattern and lunge movements... and I've felt better the last couple weeks than I have in a while. I know simple trunk movements won't directly improve certain athletic measures, but improving the coordination, flexibility, and neuromuscular and fiber strength of my trunk will impact, and has, the real work that does lead to better performance in these measures.

So, what does this mean to the anti-flexion ideology with regards to training the torso? It's not simply one or the other. With that being said, there are many athletes that I work with, that I would no way in hell have perform these movements; while there are some that I have and will.

Will repeated flexion cause some sort of disc/spine damage? Sure, as any REPEATED movement can. It doesn't mean some may not benefit.

The important thing as coaches is the ability to decipher what's necessary. Understanding movement, but be able to look, listen, and ultimately learn from each and every athlete. Each athlete is going to bring a unique difference outside of the usual 2 arms, 2 legs, a torso, head... you get the point. The idiosyncrasies of movement patterns, postures, and mindsets have to be considered. I agree with most coaches that an understanding of some sort of ideal is important, but not all shapes fit into perfectly round holes. Athletes have been adapting since birth and sometimes I think we have to accept there will be differences that we may not be able to change or may take years (structural and connective tissue adaptations). I've seen athletes with foot and ankle structures and motions, for example, that don't match for perfect ROM and scores on a squat or lunge test, yet are some of the best athletes I've seen with no injury. Not saying it won't happen, and maybe they can improve, but I am always questioning what's right. I've also seen athletes with exceptional "weightroom" movements who have chronic muscle pulls and joint issues.

Anyway, trunk flexion movements have been helping me lately. Some will say that scratching a scab feels good too, but doesn't make things better... but I feel pretty confident with what I am doing and I've gotten plenty of reasons/theories as to why this has been beneficial for me and I'd be more than happy to discuss.

Regardless, I just wanted to share these thoughts...



Mike T Nelson said...

Hi there Aaron.

I am sure you know my opinion on the whole "flexion of the lumbar spine will kill you" thoughts.

I agree with you--REPEATED motion of just about anything can be bad.

Funny you mentioned that as I am working on a follow up article that ironically I have helped my low back a ton by doing some flexion work, and it has helped a few clients too esp office workers where their lumbar is fixed all day.

Rock on
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
Extreme Human Performance

jleeger said...

Perhaps instead of thinking of "trunk flexion" or "lumbar flexion" we should think in terms of general use.

As you mention, any repeated movement causes deterioration...

But, to be wary of absolutes, that is not always true either.

I think any "unbalanced" repeated movement with no "release" from the compression (or expansion) caused by that movement results in deterioration.

So, for instance - a ton of spinal flexion, unbalanced with an equal amount of spinal extension, results in uneven strain and wear.

However, even a balanced amount of spinal flexion and extension, without decompression, will result in increased deterioration.

Hence the importance of "recovery" techniques like Egoscue's "multiposition tower," Stockton's foam roll sequence, or even something like CST (clubbells providing an anti-compressive effect on the joints of the arm)...


Mark Young said...


As has been said by many, there are no contraindicated movements, only contraindicated people.

Truthfully, I have a couple contraindicated movements such as anything on a bosu ball, but I digress.

I think the point about lumbar flexion is that flexion as a movement is fine. Loaded flexion imposes forces which have the potential to damage the spine. At the same time, driving a car has the potential to get you into an accident, but there may be benefits that are worth the potential cost.

In any case, I just wanted to let you know that I still regularly read and enjoy your blog. Just haven't had much time to comment lately.

Would you ever give some examples of your programming on here?

Aaron Schwenzfeier said...

Agreed Mike, it's never as straightforward as we'd all like.

Good points Josh, that's also why I use some of the hanging curl ups, or just hanging in general.

Thanks for the comments Mark,

I agree, but even in the case of loaded flexion, it still can be a possibility; everything is graded and following adaptation can be progressed. The question is, is it necessary? I don't know, it depends (easy answer right? But it's the only truthful answer in this discussion).

A back squat, front squat, split-squat, etc., also carry forces with the potential to damage the spine (although maybe not as great if the spine is held in great position).

Costs and benefits will always be a necessary universal, this is why it's so important to know the basic fundamentals and guiding principles and to be able to think over the pros and cons to everything. Variation within boundries.

Water is essential to life as we know it, but it too has it's boundries; water toxicity.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a crunch/spinal flexion maniac, I just wanted to post an example to keep people questioning and not fall into the 'absolute trap' (something I've leared in my past experiences).

I will put up some programming examples sometime.

Hope your family is doing well.