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Spine health and heavy lifting

Old 03-21-18, 03:29 PM
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Spine health and heavy lifting

There are a lot of mistakes you’ll see other people making in the weight room. A lot of people round their backs excessively when they squat. Or go too deep on the leg press, and then round their backs at the bottom to get the weight up, which is basically the same thing. Or dead lift with the weight too far forward.

I’d like to understand how much “wiggle room” you have before doing permanent damage. I’ve tried asking Google, but I’m mostly finding poor quality results.
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Old 03-21-18, 04:08 PM
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It's probably too hard to quantify to say. Rounded-back exercises can be safe as long as you work up to a particular weight gradually and carefully. The lower back is expected to round a little in exercises like the straight-leg deadlift: https://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises...ghtLegDeadlift
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Old 03-21-18, 04:13 PM
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Plenty of wiggle room, but the devil is in the details. Prior condition, supportive muscle condition, weight involved, frequency, smoothness of the lift, etc.

If they don't have pain, and don't do it all day every day, odds are they're OK for now.
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Old 03-21-18, 05:13 PM
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When it comes to squats, deadlifts, standing overhead pressing or any exercise which involves picking the weight from off the ground , you don't have a lot of wiggle room and you need to make sure that your technique is correct. It's better to use less weight with perfect technique than it is to use more weight with bad technique. low back injuries are not fun.
Shoulder injuries, elbow injuries, knee injuries and other injuries usually heal fast and you can go back to lifting, but when your lower back gets injured your lifting days and training days can be all over...One very famous martial artist Bruce Less sustained a very serious back injury from doing barbell good mornings. His back never healed, he had to take pain killers and it had a negative effect on him for the rest of his life.
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Old 03-21-18, 05:15 PM
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I guess I don't give myself a lot of wiggle room. If I feel I'm losing form, I'll stop and take notes the next time to use lower weights but for the same volume (weight x number of reps). Yes, I take a calculator to the gym.

As for the leg press, I try to mimic the squat so I go low, legs spread out, toes pointed out. There's a back rest to push against but I don't feel any pressure against my lower back. Maybe I should put something to support my lower lumbar curve.
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Old 03-21-18, 06:08 PM
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I've got perfect squat form, I video myself doing them regularly and check. Maybe that lulled me into a false sense of security.

I do one-leg leg presses. A set with the right leg, then a set with the left. Here's what the Stronglifts guy has to say about leg presses:

The Leg Press is a machine where you push weight away with your feet. Some Leg Press machines are 45° incline, others are horizontal. But they’re never substitutes for Squats. The weight moves, you don’t. You don’t balance the weight, the machine does. Go too deep and your lower back will round at the bottom and squeeze your spinal discs. Unless you have no arms to hold the bar on your back, stick with free weight Squats.
And of course that's exactly what I've been doing, trying to get the full range of motion.

My lower back has been sore, which is new to me. I know lots of people have back pain from cycling, I've never experienced it before, until now.
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Old 03-21-18, 06:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
I've got perfect squat form, I video myself doing them regularly and check. Maybe that lulled me into a false sense of security.

I do one-leg leg presses. A set with the right leg, then a set with the left. Here's what the Stronglifts guy has to say about leg presses:


And of course that's exactly what I've been doing, trying to get the full range of motion.

My lower back has been sore, which is new to me. I know lots of people have back pain from cycling, I've never experienced it before, until now.
Maybe I'm not using the leg press. The machine I'm using moves the person on a carriage while the legs are pressing. You don't hang 45lb plates on them. Instead there are stacks of 15lb plates you insert a pin into.

This is the closest thing I could find in Google.

http://www.poweringathletics.com/productpress/

And just to clarify, I do squats and deadlifts. This machine is supplemental to go beyond my target I want to squat.

Last edited by Daniel4; 03-21-18 at 06:28 PM.
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Old 03-21-18, 10:09 PM
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I think it's always possible to screw it up. We have a ~65 y.o. ex-gym owner we see at the gym. He's big and has been working out all his life, has good form, etc. He popped a disc doing heavy deadlifts many years ago. His advice: don't do heavy lifts. Just don't. Sooner or later, you'll make a mistake and regret it the rest of your life. It's not worth it.

My research says that the exact weight doesn't matter, only the exhaustion. You can get about the same result from sets of 20 as sets of 5, as long as you take both to failure. But 20 is safer. That is unless you're competing, in which case you have to do what you have to do regardless of risk.

It's notable that studies of progress using 1 minute rests vs. 5 minute rests between sets found that the 5 minute people were able to use more weight, but also had more injuries. I use 1 minute rests.
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Old 03-21-18, 10:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
I've got perfect squat form, I video myself doing them regularly and check. Maybe that lulled me into a false sense of security.

I do one-leg leg presses. A set with the right leg, then a set with the left. Here's what the Stronglifts guy has to say about leg presses:


And of course that's exactly what I've been doing, trying to get the full range of motion.

My lower back has been sore, which is new to me. I know lots of people have back pain from cycling, I've never experienced it before, until now.
Same thing with barbell squats, known as butt wink. Don't go that low.

I've started doing high rep kettlebell swings for hams and lower back. Never did them before, but they're a great way to increase strength and conditioning at, AFAIK, no injury risk. I'm doing sets of 25 and hope to go up in reps from there. Glutes, back, and hams say OW, so I guess they work.

I had to quit doing one-legged presses because I damaged something in one of my feet, maybe because it's not a natural stance, like squatting. Plus I was only going down to 90° (not rounding my back), plus only doing 6 reps. It's OK now but I still feel it a little sometimes. We hope we're always learning before it's too late.
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Old 03-22-18, 08:29 AM
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A slight bend is fine. The problems really happen when your back gets rounded to the extremes of its range of motion.

Having said that, there is no reason not to aim for perfection and keeping a good arch in your back. You're training health and cycling performance right? Not to set records in the gym. So form and safety should take priority over lifting numbers.
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Old 03-22-18, 08:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
Same thing with barbell squats, known as butt wink. Don't go that low.

I've started doing high rep kettlebell swings for hams and lower back. Never did them before, but they're a great way to increase strength and conditioning at, AFAIK, no injury risk. I'm doing sets of 25 and hope to go up in reps from there. Glutes, back, and hams say OW, so I guess they work.

I had to quit doing one-legged presses because I damaged something in one of my feet, maybe because it's not a natural stance, like squatting. Plus I was only going down to 90° (not rounding my back), plus only doing 6 reps. It's OK now but I still feel it a little sometimes. We hope we're always learning before it's too late.
I would be careful with KB swings. You're generating a lot of force when you decelerate these which, coupled with fatigue from doing high reps, could make it easy for your form to break down. Not saying don't do them, or that they are a bad idea, but don't think there is no injury risk either.

In general, high reps can be fairly risky due to the large amounts of fatigue involved near the end of the set. Also, it's far easier for one's concentration to lapse over a 20 rep set than over a 5 rep set.

One other thing to consider: while a 20 rep set may have the same potential for hypertrophy as a heavy 5 rep set, it's far easier to do multiple heavy sets of 5 than multiple sets of 20 with a lighter weight. There's a reason sets of 20 squats are called "widow maker". If you're doing them heavy enough, your day is pretty much done after one of these. The cost/benefit just isn't there in most cases.
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Old 03-22-18, 09:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
I think it's always possible to screw it up. We have a ~65 y.o. ex-gym owner we see at the gym. He's big and has been working out all his life, has good form, etc. He popped a disc doing heavy deadlifts many years ago. His advice: don't do heavy lifts. Just don't. Sooner or later, you'll make a mistake and regret it the rest of your life. It's not worth it.
That's what I'm afraid of.

I inherited good genes for not having diabetes, and for wanting to exercise, but also more than my share of anxiety.

So, when my lower back started bothering me on the bike, and it seems to be coming from the spine, my instinct is to get worried. Have I already ****ed myself up?

I should probably go see the doctor, but most of them aren't much help if you're not looking for pills.
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Old 03-22-18, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
That's what I'm afraid of.

I inherited good genes for not having diabetes, and for wanting to exercise, but also more than my share of anxiety.

So, when my lower back started bothering me on the bike, and it seems to be coming from the spine, my instinct is to get worried. Have I already ****ed myself up?

I should probably go see the doctor, but most of them aren't much help if you're not looking for pills.
My experience is about like that last sentence, also. I did get lucky once and got a doc to MRI my back. Unfortunately the radiologist read for the wrong info. Still, it was informative.

When my back hurts from working out, I rest it until it doesn't. OTOH I don't have any "damage", just wear. I think if the pain doesn't shoot down your butt or hams, you're good, just rest. Skiing shouldn't bother it, counts as rest. Check this out:
https://trainright.com/fix-lower-bac...-ultrarunners/
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Old 03-22-18, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by OBoile View Post
I would be careful with KB swings. You're generating a lot of force when you decelerate these which, coupled with fatigue from doing high reps, could make it easy for your form to break down. Not saying don't do them, or that they are a bad idea, but don't think there is no injury risk either.

In general, high reps can be fairly risky due to the large amounts of fatigue involved near the end of the set. Also, it's far easier for one's concentration to lapse over a 20 rep set than over a 5 rep set.

One other thing to consider: while a 20 rep set may have the same potential for hypertrophy as a heavy 5 rep set, it's far easier to do multiple heavy sets of 5 than multiple sets of 20 with a lighter weight. There's a reason sets of 20 squats are called "widow maker". If you're doing them heavy enough, your day is pretty much done after one of these. The cost/benefit just isn't there in most cases.
Back when I used to do sets of 30, I did about 7 exercises, circuit style. That worked well. Downside of high reps is that they're time-consuming, why I stopped doing them. You're right on about the exhaustion thing. OTOH, getting really tired and then resting makes you really strong, not just hypertrophy but resilient. When I did high rep sets, I did them all with the same weight, calibrated not to fail until late in the 3rd set. Felt light in that first set.
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Old 03-22-18, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
That's what I'm afraid of.

I inherited good genes for not having diabetes, and for wanting to exercise, but also more than my share of anxiety.

So, when my lower back started bothering me on the bike, and it seems to be coming from the spine, my instinct is to get worried. Have I already ****ed myself up?

I should probably go see the doctor, but most of them aren't much help if you're not looking for pills.
A key question when considering the back, and most other medical problems is whether it's sudden and acute, or slow to develop and cumulative.

If your back is normally OK, and the problem creeps up slowly as you ride, it's likely not a serious problem, but more like the result of strain. If it ONLY bothers you after a longish time riding, it's likely bike related, and IME the most likely cause is a saddle slightly high, causing your hips to rock with each pedal stroke. Or it may be muscle strain from the reaction force needed to stabilize the back as you pedal.

There are other possibilities, but as long as it's otherwise OK, I'd tinker with riding position and pedaling style and see if you can solve this yourself.

BTW- if you're past middle age, consider the possibility of sciatica which can have multiple underlying causes. A common sciatica related issue for cyclists is piriformis syndrome, which can manifest in all sorts of ways, leading folks to suspect problems in other places. Piriformis syndrome is fairly easy to confirm with a simple stretch, and can usually be managed by regular stretching of the muscle.
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Old 03-22-18, 11:15 AM
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Last Saturday, skiing (cross country) hurt after about an hour and a half. After a little more than two hours I wanted to do another lap but my back hurt too much. Standing on it hurt, and double poling hurt. A month ago, I skied from Mazama to Winthrop in four hours and felt good at the end.

But it seems to be improving.

When it bothers me, it's an achy kind of hurt that comes on slowly.

I turned 40 in December.
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Old 03-22-18, 12:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
I think it's always possible to screw it up. We have a ~65 y.o. ex-gym owner we see at the gym. He's big and has been working out all his life, has good form, etc. He popped a disc doing heavy deadlifts many years ago. His advice: don't do heavy lifts. Just don't. Sooner or later, you'll make a mistake and regret it the rest of your life. It's not worth it.
Excellent advice!
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Old 03-22-18, 05:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
That's what I'm afraid of.

I inherited good genes for not having diabetes, and for wanting to exercise, but also more than my share of anxiety.

So, when my lower back started bothering me on the bike, and it seems to be coming from the spine, my instinct is to get worried. Have I already ****ed myself up?

I should probably go see the doctor, but most of them aren't much help if you're not looking for pills.

Don't worry about it. Just use lighter weight for the next few workouts and take it easy, maybe it's time to deload.
Do you remember which exercise it was that aggravated your back ??...If you know which exercise it was, than stop doing it for a while and find an alternative. The beauty of weightlifting is that there are so many different exercises to choose from, if one causes pain, you have an option to choose another.
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Old 03-22-18, 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by OBoile View Post
I would be careful with KB swings. You're generating a lot of force when you decelerate these which, coupled with fatigue from doing high reps, could make it easy for your form to break down. Not saying don't do them, or that they are a bad idea, but don't think there is no injury risk either.

KB swings are fine for high reps, as long your technique is spot on, every rep from the first to the last should be the same. It takes practice to be able to hip-hinge the bell for high reps. I usually use 53-60 pound bell and do 100 reps total for KB swings. I use few different set/rep ranges to achieve those 100 reps total...10 sets of 10 reps... or 5 sets of 20 reps... or 4 sets of 25 reps and I make absolutely sure that the last rep is the same as the first.
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Old 03-22-18, 05:47 PM
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I get such great advice here from you folks, especially @Carbonfiberboy. Thank you all.

And I get affirmation on the techniques I have developed recently from my intuition. I had neglected my upper body and never lifted with my back, even light weights. I always used my legs. So I had terrific legs and was a weakling from the waist up. I needed physical therapy to get some mobility after an injury, and now I do deadlifts and similar things. I usually use a 60-lb barbell. I'll look into getting a kettlebell now.
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Old 03-22-18, 09:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
I've got perfect squat form, I video myself doing them regularly and check. Maybe that lulled me into a false sense of security.

I do one-leg leg presses. A set with the right leg, then a set with the left. Here's what the Stronglifts guy has to say about leg presses:


And of course that's exactly what I've been doing, trying to get the full range of motion.

My lower back has been sore, which is new to me. I know lots of people have back pain from cycling, I've never experienced it before, until now.
I missed that you were talking about leg presses specifically when I first read your OP. When doing leg presses, I pay a lot of attention to the contact/pressure my butt is making with the seat, and figure that I'm going outside MY safe range of motion if my butt starts to raise off the seat.

Leg presses are for legs. If you want to exercise your spinal erectors, do weighted hypers.
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Old 03-23-18, 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
KB swings are fine for high reps, as long your technique is spot on, every rep from the first to the last should be the same. It takes practice to be able to hip-hinge the bell for high reps. I usually use 53-60 pound bell and do 100 reps total for KB swings. I use few different set/rep ranges to achieve those 100 reps total...10 sets of 10 reps... or 5 sets of 20 reps... or 4 sets of 25 reps and I make absolutely sure that the last rep is the same as the first.
Agree completely. My issue was with the idea that there is no injury risk. There is a risk, which is why it is important to not compromise form.
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Old 03-23-18, 12:24 PM
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I just looked up weighted hypers on youtube. Wow.
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Old 03-26-18, 09:35 AM
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Still hurts. Haven't been to the gym in 2 or 3 weeks. It's probably time to see the doctor.
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Old 03-29-18, 09:30 AM
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Doctor says muscle strain, no skeletal damage. Predicts complete recovery. Based on symptoms and mobility, we didn't do an MRI.
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