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Chris Hobbs

Returning From Back Strain

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Chris Hobbs

While doing Kettlebell swings this last Sunday I managed to strain my lower back. A stupid combination of it being 0630, me being completely fatigued, having really tight hip-flexors, just finished getting onto the kids since mom was still sleeping, and deciding I could handle one more set. First rep of that set went wonky and I strained my back.

I could hardly move the rest of that day w/o major spasms - no nerve damage as I didn't feel any pain elsewhere in my body, and it didn't hurt to the touch anywhere - simply couldn't move my back without the spasms locking me up. At this point I am back to almost full ROM, spasms went away after that first day (although I didn't push ROM to find out if they would come back) ... I expect tomorrow will have me 100% in that regard. I plan to take another two weeks off from working out however for full recovery of the area to happen.

Is there anything specific I should be careful of while heading back into the WODs in a few weeks?

Is there any good (p)re-hab I should do to make sure that A) this doesn't happen again and B) my body can handle the gymnastic exercises that stress that area? I am specifically concerned about my tight hip-flexors and am interested in what I can do to help that area.

Thanks for any insight.

- Chris

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Blairbob

Are you new to KB swings? Those will toast your lower back if you are.

Rest, stretch, light exercise ( good mornings or standing pikes, stick stiff leg deadlifts ).

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griffdrc

i would say rest and then stretch... don't rush it... after range of motion comes back start exercise... work lower back and abs... for lower back i'ld start with supermans and planks then maybe hyper extensions... after it feels strong then go back to what you were doing but work back to the same weight slowly... as a side note i would increase the stability before adding weight... increasing the stability can double the neural stimulus without increasing weight...

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Chris Hobbs
Are you new to KB swings? Those will toast your lower back if you are.

Rest, stretch, light exercise ( good mornings or standing pikes, stick stiff leg deadlifts ).

Nope ... been using KBs for a half dozen years or so (including doing swings), but just recently returned to doing the KB swings. I have not had any luck improving anything at all with the swings though and keep coming back trying various approaches.

Previously, my lower back would start to tighten up if I did sets of 25, so this time around I was doing 5 sets of 15. I managed two days, took a day off because I was too sore in various leg muscles to do them with good form on the third day, and on the fourth day got through 3 sets before the injury on the start of the fourth set.

I didn't feel like the volume of the swings was too much this time around, it seems more like I was simply too fatigued from everything (swings, ring work, handstands, etc.). Previously I would definitely notice the tension in my lower back when doing the swings in sets of 25 - usually around the fourth set. This time I didn't have any noticable changes in my lower back area.

With swings I can't seem to get high repititions in because of the lower back tightness, but lower numbers don't seem to help improve anything at all for me. KB snatches doing sets of 100-150 reps is easy and no problems whatsoever with my back for those - probably since I can remain upright whilst doing them.

Oh yeah, the workouts were done with the 1 pood, I do have 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1.5, and 2 pood KBs as well. Would lighter weight and higher reps be better when I am ready to tackle the swings again, or would I be better off increasing weight and dropping reps, or just foregoing them entirely until some point?

BTW, I mentioned my hip flexors in my previous post because it doesn't seem like my issue is one of a lack of strength in my lower back. I have no doubt it is somewhat weaker than much of my body and needs work, but it mostly just seems to tighten up when doing swings, and never really feels fatigued (during workouts or even next day).

- Chris

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Chris Hobbs
i would say rest and then stretch... don't rush it... after range of motion comes back start exercise... work lower back and abs... for lower back i'ld start with supermans and planks then maybe hyper extensions... after it feels strong then go back to what you were doing but work back to the same weight slowly... as a side note i would increase the stability before adding weight... increasing the stability can double the neural stimulus without increasing weight...

I am not quite following what you mean by increasing the stability first - do you have some sample exercises or description that would give me a better idea?

- Chris

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Blairbob

KB snatches and cleans don't really kill my back at all. It's the swings that due to it because the bell is so far our from the body and the lower back is opposite of the bell.

Just recently returned to KB swings is why. I infrequently do KB swings and they tend to fry me whenever I do. DB swings are not the same evil and are very different in load and movement even when using similar KB/DB weights.

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Chris Hobbs
KB snatches and cleans don't really kill my back at all. It's the swings that due to it because the bell is so far our from the body and the lower back is opposite of the bell.

Just recently returned to KB swings is why. I infrequently do KB swings and they tend to fry me whenever I do. DB swings are not the same evil and are very different in load and movement even when using similar KB/DB weights.

So in your opinion should I back off even more on the volume when I get back to them? If so, how do I know when to increase it or the best way to progress when taking that approach?

- Chris

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Blairbob

I'm still figuring it out myself. Because I don't think well of my form nor am I used to developing horizontal amplitude, I make myself wait on using heavier bells. I kill myself when I do and end up having to step down.

Honestly, I hate KB swings.

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Chris Hobbs

Thanks for the thoughts. I just wish some type of development/progress was detectable with them - using lighter weight or lower volume seems to do nothing for me, yet I get the tightness when I increase the volume (haven't tried just increasing weight).

- Chris

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Chris Hobbs

Well, my back is at 100% and has been for several days now, but I think I am just going to nix swings for awhile again. Either I have some small muscle(s) which is/are not up to snuff (not sure if that explains the tightness at super-high reps in that scenario though), or my lack of flexibility is causing problems. I hate to just ignore a weak point, but hopefully the other work will address these two potential deficits in a more eficient way. Looks like I will have to stick with snatches for my cardio-replacement KB workouts.

- Chris

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Coach Sommer

I would recommend adding Jefferson Curls into your regime.

To perform a Jefferson Curl, stand upright and grab a light barbell (very light to start with!), drop your chin to your chest and, while keeping your hips tucked under you, lower the bar as close to the floor as you can while curving your spine down, from top to bottom, pause, then recover by curling your spine back up; again while keeping your hips rolled under and the chin tucked. This movement is most effective when you picture the spine as being a string of pearls and attempt to move through the ROM vertebrae by vertebrae.

Prior to the mid to late 70s, this was a relatively common weight lifting and power lifting pre-hab exercise. Amongst many others, Tommy Kono and Fred Hatfield (aka Dr. Squat) also thought highly of Jefferson Curls.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Chris Hobbs

Thanks for the tip Coach. Should I worry if at first my spine doesn't curve during the movement much? I have never had much luck with the whole one vertebrae at a time movements. At times it seems like my back is fused almost straight - I have always had perfect posture though. :) Is it just a matter of doing the movements until I have such mobility?

- Chris

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Coach Sommer

This spinal mobility is very important. A failure to develop it in combination with an over-reliance of "straight" back work, will eventually lead to muscle imbalances where certain vertebrae will lose their mobility, their associated support ligaments will somewhat atrophy and the vertebrae above and below the affected area(s) will strain themselves attempting to compensate. This will result in some rather severe back pain that will not be alleviated until the root problem (a lack of vertebral mobility) causing the issue is resolved.

This issue seems to be far more common in strength athletes who discipline requires an over-emphasis on a straight back; i.e. power lifters, Olympic Lifters, Kettlebell men and ring strength specialists amongst others. Jefferson curls, weighted pike stretches, curling vertical situps and curling reverse situps are all fairly straight forward methods to deal with this situation. Neither the intensity, training loads or volume not need to be high; correctly performing the movements themselves with moderate intensity and volume (1-2 sets of 10 repetitions or so) a few times a week seems to be sufficient. It is primarily simply taking the time to properly articulate the vertebrae throughout their full ROM that results in increased spinal health.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Chris Hobbs

Thanks again Coach. I have had this problem for as long as I can remember, certainly throughout my HS wrestling years. I will start integrating the Jefferson Curls today with a hold in the bottom pike stretch position and aim to get them in 2-3 times per week along with my wall walks. I look forward to gaining some mobility finally. :)

Interestingly, many years ago when I was just out of school and got a job at a factory one of the pre-reqs was a chiro visit. The chiro was quite concerned about my back, which appeared to have very little curvature to it at all. But since I had never had any pain, and still haven't aside from my injury mentioned here, he gave me the OK. Always just thought I was weird but not overly concerned. Thanks for giving me more insight.

- Chris

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Neal Winkler

Coach Sommer,

I was wondering if you are familiar with the work of Dr. Stuart McGill and if so, how you feel about it. He seems eschew all core work that doesn't emphasize a neutral spine, and he is not particularly fond of gymnastics, going as far as saying that he would never allow his own children to participate.

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Coach Sommer

No, I am not familiar with his work and frankly given your overview of his purported views, I have no inclination to become so. The world is a physical environment and as physical animals we need to adapt and move accordingly. Is it possible to run, change directions or jump with a neutral spine? Swim? Play at the playground with your children? Play basketball, golf or even play catch? Please excuse me for being blunt, but artificially attempting to restrict the bodies' natural ROM is only possible for people who do not participate in athletics and live their lives from the seat of a couch.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Spanyard

I got a question: Are jefferson curls similars to weighted pike streches, or in jefferson curls you dont pike, just descend trying to arch the back but avoidin streching hamstrings? thanks

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Chris Hobbs

Not sure if it is correct or not, but I have been combining the two. I hold an 18lb KB behind my head on my neck and focus on trying to curl downward, as much as possible. Because of limited hamstring flexibility I end up having a good deal of tension in the hamstrings and thus get a similar feeling to the weighted pike stretch. Not sure if somebody with better flexibility could combine the two though.

- Chris

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Coach Sommer

I would not recommend placing a KB behind the neck while attempting Jefferson Curls. Placing the weight this way will force the movement to become a good morning variation and will not allow the spine to articulate properly during the curl.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Chris Hobbs
I would not recommend placing a KB behind the neck while attempting Jefferson Curls. Placing the weight this way will force the movement to become a good morning variation and will not allow the spine to articulate properly during the curl.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

How would you recommend holding it? I don't have access to a barbell for the movement.

I am trying to bring my chin towards my navel throughout the movement, but at this point in time doing it with no weight has the same movement pattern as with the KB.

- Chris

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Coach Sommer
but at this point in time doing it with no weight has the same movement pattern as with the KB.

At this time, I am not convinced that this is correct. In my opinion, either performing Jefferson Curls without weight or holding the weight with straight arms at your side will allow you to curl the spine through a more complete ROM.

Yours in Fitne

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Chris Hobbs
but at this point in time doing it with no weight has the same movement pattern as with the KB.

At this time, I am not convinced that this is correct. In my opinion, either performing Jefferson Curls without weight or holding the weight with straight arms at your side will allow you to curl the spine through a more complete ROM.

Yours in Fitne

Thanks for the input Coach. I will do it with the weight at my sides moving forward and if that doesn't feel right just go weightless.

Unfortunately my movement pattern is the same, I realize it seems odd but my back 'curls up' very little - in fact, currently, there is not much difference between a pike stretch and the jefferson curl for me. If there is anything else you can recommend to add to my prehab I am all ears.

- Chris

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Coach Sommer

Without a video it is difficult to be accurate, but it sounds as though you are lacking mobility in the spine. An easy exercise to help begin to rehab this area is cat/cows. They look extremely silly when performing them, but they are effective nonetheless.

To perform cat/cows begin from the hands and knees on the floor. The hands should be directly under your shoulders and the knees directly under the hips. From here, bow the middle of the back up as much as possible while simultaneously curling your hips under and tucking your chin to your chest. Hold this position for 1-3 breaths. Now strongly arch the back; dropping the abdomen as low as possible while arching the lower back and neck. Hold for 1-3 breaths. This constitues one repetition.

Perform cat/cows for a minimum of 10 repetitions (up to 50 ocassionally) at least once to twice a week.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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Chris Hobbs

Thanks Coach ... I know these as cat arches and cat lifts from yoga. I haven't had much luck with them in the past done within the yoga routines, but hopefully integrated with the rest of the prehab I will get some progress out of them. I am going to add them to my steady state routine that I posted the other day in my morning prehab, 2 sets of 10.

My flexibility is the least responsive aspect of my routines. Over the last few years I have tried methods from Pavel's "Relax Into Stretch", Yoga, Bob Cooley's Meridian Stretching (aka Resistance stretching), foam rolling, Yamuna body rolling, and even rolfing. The only thing that gave even marginal progress was the resistance stretching ... but even that came to a standstill after the first few weeks (although the flexibility gained in that time period I still have - I just got no better or worse going forward).

- Chris

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Coach Sommer

A curling vertical situp is a situp performed while inverted (usually hanging from the knees) that curls up vertebrae by vertebrae until the chest touches the knees. To descend, simply reverse the movement.

The curl-ups are in BtGB, pg 133.

Yours in Fitness,

Coach Sommer

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