Minimize Spinal Movement Under Load

Hey Coach,
The other day when we were working on jerks, I tweaked my back, specifically my middle back down to my lower back. What can I do to minimize the soreness?
-Distraught Derby City-er
[Quote entirely made up for this article.]

Has this ever happened to you? More than likely, you ended up in an overextended thoracic position while under load. Maybe you went to a push press, instead of a jerk, and leaned back a little to make the movement more like an incline-style bench press. That overextended position can make your spinal joints a little sensitive.

First thing to keep in mind is that as the bar slows on such lifts, you need to keep your spinal position the same. 101+% loads can be safely handled in any position if there’s no deviation from an ideal setup. So, if you’re lifting 100lbs or 400lbs, you only get into problems when your spine moves AFTER picking up / moving the weight (aka: spine under load)… like this poor bastard:

Bracing the spine starts with breathing effectively to create equal pressure in the front, sides and back; not just squeezing your abs or lower back. If you are just squeezing without first forcing air into your lungs, then you’re only using half of your body to brace yourself. Sure, you can try to squeeze your abs, but you’re forcing them out of position. And doing more situps to make your abs stronger isn’t going to work… that’s like leg pressing and expecting your squat to increase. Ain’t gon’ happen, homie.

Getting back to the spinal movement error, movements like kipping pullups have a lot of thoracic extension, but the spine isn’t loaded as significantly in that condition. The only reason you’d experience pain here is if you had some seriously wild kipping. The best pullup-ers have very little spinal movement.

This leads us to our main point… the midline stabilization concept that we’re alluding to here is a fancy way to say that you need to keep a neutral spine under load, task, or intensity. The reason to avoid spinal movement under load is because it decreases your force production and power output. It’s difficult enough to lift a heavy weight, so do yourself a favor and pretend your spine is made of unbendable titanium. Overextending your upper-back in an overhead movement is as bad as changing your lumbar curve in the bottom of a squat. Get your spine set and keep it that way. The best lifters in the world can take enormous loads (hahaha) and still not experience any spinal movement.

So, if you do suffer from one of these overextension injuries, try ice, rest, gentle mobilization, and let your joints cool off. Most importantly, understand what went wrong and don’t be that guy/gal ever again.