Good Vertebrations At The Lumbar Yard

First off, if you caught the Seinfeld reference, well done. Anyways, a few weeks back I stumbled upon an article by renowned strength coach Mike Boyle. The premise revolved around certain warm-up routines that are aimed at improving rotation of the lumbar spine and why these kinds of exercises can actually do more harm than good. Read the article -- it's interesting and though-provoking.

One of the exercises mentioned was the scorpion. Since this is an exercise Jeff and I both use in our warm-ups for classes, I decided to forward the article along to him. Jeff's a great coach, very enthusiastic, takes dodgeball way too seriously, and used to kick people in the face. Naturally, a nice dialogue emerged. We'll start with Jeff's reply to the email...

Solid article, i think the gist of it is saying if you do not have the strength at your full capable domain in range of motion (in this case the lumbar) you will be susceptible to injuries(?)

Now, if you were to practice minor resistance training at extended(not extreme) range of motion around any joint (in this case rotational lumbar).. would this negate this theory(?)

In a sense, you must be realistic that your body may experience, through voluntary or involuntary measures, a more extreme range of motion than the 3-5 degrees prescribed. Having a trained and strong "core", that alone will not "protect" you from not experiencing the extended range of motion at all times, so wouldn't it seem logical to still practice a somewhat extended range of motion movement, but instead all some resistance, so instead of a strict mobilization exercise, it now becomes an extended ROM strengthening exercise?

Definitely not applicable for a class size of 20, but maybe as far as giving preventative strength and mobility measures to private clients... JUST my brain running loose on thought, would love feedback, i'm gonna shoot this to Issa also, i know he does many of these in his rehab PT.



Firstly, since I found these videos, I figured I'd start with them:

Tiger Woods
Roger Federer
Albert Pujols

Three athletes, each arguably the greatest from his respective sport. Three sports that involve a lot of trunk rotation. Amazingly though, if you watch each video and simply stare at their lumbar spine, it's always in neutral. They rotate from the hips and shoulders and keep the low back stays neutral. This is the optimal way to exert force.

Now, regarding injuries, you said, "In a sense, you must be realistic that your body may experience, through voluntary or involuntary measures, a more extreme range of motion." This is true, but I think the best approach is to develop the necessary means to prevent these ranges, not to get the joint accustomed to them, even if in a passive manner.

Having a strong/stable core may not necessarily protect you from the potential occurrence of excessive rotation, but since the goal of the core is to stabilize the spine, it's likely the best preventative measure. Pushing your lumbar spine into a range-of-motion it's not designed or intended to achieve won't do you many favors. From an injury prevention standpoint, I think it'd be more beneficial to develop and improve stability in a joint's neutral position.

Look at it this way: to prevent a neck injury, you don't load up a neck harness and put your neck into an extended ROM. Instead, you strengthen the neck itself (and the traps and upper back muscles) at its appropriate range-of-motion. Same goes for any joint that requires stability. Hell, look at the knee. For instance: Willis McGahee. To prevent that injury, he wouldn't have put his knee into hyper-extension while training for the Fiesta Bowl. The best he could do would be to strengthen the muscles around the knee accordingly to ensure it was a stable joint. That's a tough example because there's really nothing that could've prevented that injury. Shit was gnarly. See what I mean, though?

If going by the joint-by-joint approach to training (which people should pay more attention to), I look at it like this:

1) Develop range of motion in the joints that require mobility, then ensure the muscles are strong at those ranges (this is why gymnasts are so goddamn awesome, they're as flexible as yogis but strong at every range).

2) Develop stability and strength at joints that require stability.

Now, don't get me wrong, some people need a LITTLE added range to stable joints i.e. if someone is missing knee extension by a few degrees, but generally speaking, this isn't the case. How often do you see a K-Starr video where he's trying to improve mobility at the elbow?

I'm liking this back and forth we're having, brother. Good speak.

Beautiful email. Thank you kind educated sir ;)

Thus concluded our email exchange. Good stuff. Since this electronic conversation, Jeff and I have removed scorpions from our warm-ups. This isn't to say that mobility work throughout the body is awful. To quote brilliant physical therapist Charlie Weingroff: "Every joints needs mobility AND stability. Some need more mobility, while some need more stability."

This is even further exhibited/explained by Ido Portal, a master of human movement, below:

Obviously, what Charlie and Ido are saying makes a lot of sense and I think this is what Jeff had in mind. I certainly see the benefit of this concept, but in the population I see in typical CrossFit gyms most clientele exhibit classic movement dysfunction. This includes things like poor posture, tight hamstrings, short hip flexors, gross extension at the lumbar spine, and so on. I think for the general fitness enthusiast (CrossFit, especially) it's more important to fix these problems and strengthen the individual accordingly before worrying about things like improper alignment training. Ido commented on his philosphy expressed in that video and I will post that below.

Before this devolves into even more rambling, I will cut myself off. The purpose of this post was to give you some insight into the balance between mobility/stability and to let you know that your coaches are always focused on learning, adapting, researching, and adjusting to ensure your performance improves.


  1. Ido Portal's comments about the above video:

    My recent exposure of the 'Improper Alignment Speech' have created quite a turbulence among many 'experts' and experts.

    As always, while making a point - one creates in that same moment the 'But People' - people who instead of understanding the use of a B&W statement as a corrective means for education, are grasping the concept in a simplistic manner- as if it stands alone.

    In my view of the world of movement - rarely would a concept stand alone without being supported by a different concept or even an OPPOSITE concept.

    Some contradictory concepts that I use in my model:
    Efficiency / Inefficiency
    Perfect Alignment / Improper Alignment
    Tension / Relaxation
    Mobility / Stability
    Isolation / Integration
    Complexity / Simplicity
    and more...

    For optimal cultivation of movement development, both ends of the spectrum are needed.


    Can a fighter actually develop proper endurance without using INEFFICIENCY as a factor in his training? If endurance development is being done purely with efficient patterns - what happens in the time of a fight when... shit happens?

    Can a contemporary dancer who concentrates his/her efforts on relaxation and efficiency actually be capable of optimal self development as a mover without mastering Tension and its creation (the other side of the spectrum) at least to some level?

    Can a weightlifter reach the elite without mastering proper Relaxation and not only Tension inducing techniques? What about a boxer? What about a general fitness enthusiast?

    People! Are you training for strength or mobility or complexity but lack many other abilities necessary for proper movement mastery??

  2. Those that have taken a guided yoga class with me are often surprised by whats expected of them.

    We work on creating strength in those who are weak and flexibility in those who are strong.

    Everyone gets a chance to suffer through some shit. For though naturally balanced folk, we strengthen discipline-- you know, the thing that thing that folks who have never had to really work at something often lack.

    Yoga often gets dressed up in being too fucking fey because it compliments bendy folk, or gets snubbed because it requires a different kind of discipline (like sitting with your shitty flexibility and acknowledging it)... but a good practice'll make everyone find their edge. And correct what makes you shake, Ido'd be pleased.

    After all, when the body is in disease, so to is the mind-- you know ya gotta balance it all out. Self mastery through movement mastery and all that.

    Just wanted to throw out there how important this is from practice to practice.


  3. I hate the scorpion. The lumber spine needs stability, not mobility. I believe Boyle mentions that in another article. He also mentions how the joints pretty much alternate in their needs - ankle, mobility. knee, stability. hip, mobility. lumbar,stability. It's a simple, working way of looking at things.

    Compensations occur when something is lacking. People's back and knees kill them because they lack mobility in their ankles and hips. The body looks for that extra range of motion in the 'stable' joints.

    This brings us to the thoracic spine, which needs mobility. Lack of mobility in the thoracic spine causes compensation in the lumbar spine, scapular misplacement, and then shoulder problems.

    Mobility for the thoracic spine is gained through both extension and rotation. Thoracic extension over a foam roller is decent, I like over a lax ball peanut better.

    For rotation, I really like this drill and some variations -
    This guy explains it great. You'd be surprised how many people are terrible at this (and hence have terrible shoulders too). You should feel it in the mid-upper back a.k.a. the thoracic spine.

    For either extension or rotation, an additional cue is to squeeze the midsection strongly to further stabilize the lumber spine, otherwise the bad compensations occur and thoracic mobility does not improve.

    So yeah, just my quick thoughts...