If you’ve gained a certain level of experience with weight training so far, you’re most likely aware of the vulnerability of your back, or more particularly the spine. This area is the most prone to injury in terms of heavy weight exercises, which is why proper posture and technique can literally make you or break you – poor posture will both slow down your progress and expose you to greater risk of acute and chronic injury.
But even if you’re trying your best to protect your back from too much stress, there are a few common mistakes that might slip through the cracks and affect the health of your spine over a longer period of time, especially if you’re working with very heavy weights. Read the following text to find out more about how to avoid doing the two worst mistakes and keep your back safe and strong.
Mistake #1: Cervical Flexion During Exercises
Unfortunately, the cervical spine – upper back and neck – rarely gets into the spotlight of discussions about training injuries. The potential for injuries in this area, including both the soft tissue and joint structures, increases when you repeatedly flex or extend the lower back under heavy loads. In other words, your cervical spine is extremely vulnerable to poor spinal posture and lousy technique and you should put an effort into correcting them. Research has shown that the average American has a forward head posture which easily leads to hyperextension of the upper segments of the cervical spine and flexion in the lower segments – if you’re not careful, you could easily bring your posture issues with you in the gym and suffer some unpleasant consequences like acute neck injury.
Injuries of the discs or cervical spine muscles are most likely to occur during flexion, but you can score some serious neck pain from forcing your neck into extension or tilting it back during certain exercises, such as the preacher curls. In addition, similar problems can arise from causing instability in the neck by turning the head while pushing or pulling. A lot of guys are accustomed to turn around to talk to others while they’re lifting, lifting their head up while bench pressing or looking down while curling, and these habits can lead to chronic neck and back pain over time, decreasing your back strength and increasing the risk of a serious injury.
To prevent all of this from happening, learn to keep your head and neck symmetrical in a straight position and avoid twisting the neck to left or right and forcing your head up or down. Every muscle of your upper back and neck should pull evenly on the neck during a strenuous exercise, and this balance is accomplished by keeping a braced and neutral neck position. Keeping the cervical spine neutral matters just as much as it does for the rest of the spine. Don’t forget that here lies the spinal cord, which communicates with the brain and your muscles, controlling their work through electrical stimuli. When the cervical spine is held in a compromised position such as flexion, it decreases the efficiency of your lifts and places you at greater risk of injury.
Mistake #2: Back Hyperextension During the Standing Press
A combination of tight muscles and an overarched back can lead to plenty of pain and damage to the lower back and lumbar spine, like facet joint damage, spondylolysis, spondylosis, herniated discs and posterior chain dysfunctions, just to name a few. A decent back arch is way different from the overarch – the first contributes to the exercise while the latter causes compression of the lumbar spine. And the easiest way to get overextension in the lumbar spine is by performing exercises like the overhead press and handstand push-ups with improper posture and poor core stability, as well as poor shoulder mobility. When the shoulders don’t have the proper range of circumduction, the lower back has to compensate by arching far beyond the norm.
You can fix this issue by starting your workouts with shoulder dislocations and similar shoulder exercises in order to develop more mobility and range. Improve the strength and flexibility of your deltoids and rotator cuff because these muscles provide crucial support to all upper body movements. Another thing you can do is contract your glutes while pressing. Tight glutes are more powerful at preventing an overarched back than tight abs.
And then we have the problem of tight muscles. You should be aware that these are pretty much as potent at creating injury as the immobile shoulders. For example, tight lats promote poor mid back posture and prevent you from reaching optimal overhead positions. Tight pecs will make it difficult for you to open your arms wide enough, while tight hip flexors can directly lead to an overarched back. To help loosen your tight muscles, make sure you warm up and stretch well before going heavy. Also, foam rolling and lacrosse ball rolling can be great tools to improve the quality of the soft tissue.
You will need some time to build an ideal posture, but that will be the best investment in your bodybuilding carrier you could ever make. Maintaining a proper form can sometimes limit your range of movement or the amount of weight you can lift, but this shouldn’t bother you too much. It only means that your advancements will be gradual and sustainable, which is the right way to go if you’re serious about bodybuilding and not just trying to impress the ladies. Don’t forget: you won’t benefit much from a faster progress at the cost of risking your health and potentially impairing your abilities in the long term. Therefore, don’t butcher your technique in order to satisfy your ego and take good care of your body if you want it to last.