The Jefferson Curl: One Exercise for Full Body Mobility
One distinguishing feature of our style of fitness – Gymnastic Strength Training – is the use of weighted mobility such as the Jefferson Curl. Whereas many strength training textbooks will recommend that you lift weights in order to get stronger, in GST you will also use a small amount of gradually increasing external resistance – produced by your own body weight – in order to get more flexible.
One of the most popular and beneficial weighted mobility exercises is the Jefferson Curl. In this post, we will cover the Jefferson Curl in detail, including cautionary notes, exercise technique, and progression in your program.
Before you begin attempting Jefferson Curls, it is imperative to note that this exercise is to be done with light weights (start with no weight at all) and absolutely pain-free. When Coach Christopher Sommer first learned of this movement, it was being performed by weightlifters and powerlifters who used it to loosen up their backs after training. With their lower backs stuck in hyperextension from all the squatting and deadlifting, they used the Jefferson Curl at light weights in order to balance out their spines.
For the average adult coming to Gymnastic Strength Training™ for the first time, however, we need to exercise caution first when training this movement. The weight used should be minimal to start, and often as light as 5 lbs is enough for adults to feel a stretch throughout their backs. There should be no pain whatsoever when performing Jefferson Curls, and if there is then you should back off and address the pain issue before training this movement. Remember, a conservative approach to injury prevention will enable you to progress further in the long run. And you’re training to be unstoppable, every day.
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Jefferson Curl Technique
Start by standing on a stable, elevated surface such as a box, bench, or thick set of mats. With a barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, or other weight in your hands, stand up tall with your legs straight and perfectly together. Begin the movement by tucking your chin into your chest, then slowly flexing your spine (rounding your back) one vertebrae at a time as you feel the weight "pull" you lower towards the floor. Continue lowering, being sure to keep the weight balanced on the ball of your foot so that you do not lean back. Leaning back with your hips actually decreases the stretch, as it counterbalances the weight so that your body does not have to work as hard.
Towards the bottom of the movement, your entire spine should have one uniform curve to it. Take a video or use a training partner so that you can pinpoint the spot in your lower back that is most flat, then focus on "drawing your belly button into your spine." You can also think about trying to lay your stomach on your thighs, or your nose onto your knees. Be sure to breathe consistently throughout the movement, and sink as low as you can while keeping your legs locked out and perfectly straight.
To come up, simply reverse the movement, articulating the spine one vertebrae at a time beginning with the low back, mid back, and then upper back. Keep your chin tucked into your chest throughout, waiting until you are standing up all the way before finally extending your neck straight. Repeat this Jefferson Curl for reps in order to stretch through your hamstrings, glutes, lumbar fascia, and even low traps.
Progression in Your Program
Once you have spent the requisite amount of time building up proficiency in the technical performance of the Jefferson Curl, then it is time to slowly and gradually add weight. Keep in mind that you cannot train your mobility with the same intensity that you do your conditioning, as that is simply asking for an overuse injury due to the ranges of motion and rate of adaptations involved. Rather, exercise some patience with progressing your Jefferson Curls, and aim to add anywhere from 5-10 lbs every 2-3 months on this movement.
Allow your body to move through the stages of overload, load, and underload while you gain flexibility in your hamstrings, strength in your posterior chain, and more movement options in your spine. "Make haste slowly," Coach Christopher Sommer would say, and you will reap the benefits of having a strong, supple, and mobile body.
Active mobility is the game-changer in your fitness routine, and the Jefferson Curl is proven to give you added strength and mobility, making it a go-to GymnasticBodies exercise for the everyday adult or athlete.