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Should Our Spine Bend When Moving?

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Right up front I want to say I’ve made A LOT of mistakes in my training career! Things I thought were right at the time I would later learn weren’t correct. Whether that was from the misunderstanding of science, the misuse of what was actually said, or just getting something flat out wrong because we didn’t have enough evidence at the time yet to really know one way or the other. I want to put this out in front of what I am going to be discussing because when you challenge an idea people often think you are “attacking” people. I’m not trying to attack anyone, I am wanting to discuss if an idea I hear people discuss has the accuracy behind it that many people think it does.

There are people that claim that our spine moves when we perform powerful movements and we are hurting our efforts when we brace our core. Is that true? Does our spine move a lot especially in lateral bending and rotation? What you will typically see from people that claim such things are pictures of athletes in a variety of positions, whether they are side bending, in extension, rotation, etc. This can be VERY misleading to what is happening to the spine in many of these instances, but let’s look at where this idea of the spine bending is born.

When We Walk The Spine Bending Is Essential

People that believe the spine bending often will first cite what our spine does when wee walk. Is there spinal movement when we walk? Sure, but it isn’t what you think!

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The above shows how much spine bending occurs during walking from a paper on gait analysis. These numbers are in degrees and as you see they are VERY small (almost unnoticeable to the human eye) except hip flexion and extension. So, yes, technically the spine bends, but it does so in such a very small way that allowing increasing movement would actually cause us to be more inefficient and even set us up for injury. So, the real question becomes what helps us control how much our spine bends?

Above is what people often get wrong about the spine bending and I explain what is really occurring during such movements. 

Core Control Vs. Core Strength

It is SO much easier to wrap one’s head around if we train this muscle or that muscle then we are building up the body to do what we want. Sadly, that isn’t the case, what we know is that our nervous system needs to be taught on how to coordinate muscles to work at the right time and to function in the correct chains at an optimal level. That is why functional training is based around movement patterns and not muscles. Of course we train muscles when we train movement patterns, but the reverse is not true!

functional strength

During these movements our first key is to learn to move and lift without any spinal movement in more complex ways. We can’t say there should be spinal bending if we can’t control what our spine does in more foundational and higher level movement skills like those below.

How could we talk about the spine bending when most can’t control the movements that DVRT UK master, Greg Perlaki, shows above without compensating?

This means using many of our DVRT strategies like body position, load position, and planes of motion to build up progressions that we outline so specifically in our DVRT educational programs (you can check them out HERE). Progression is key because we can have our spinal move, but that tends to be the thoracic spine in many more advanced drills.

You see the spinal bending supporters miss a few keys…

-Which area of the spine are you referring to the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar? They all have different movement capabilities.

-How much movement do you want to allow for? We discussed there can be movement but is it a lot, a little, somewhere in between? Something most people don’t realize to even ask.

-When you see a picture of athlete moving is the end posture the point where most force is being created or is it the deceleration point? Is the spine actually bending or are the hips moving and we see some thoracic movement?

That is a HUGE point, typically what people are seeing with athletes is the thoracic spine moving a bit, the hips moving A LOT, and the lumbar spine moving very little. So, how can we teach to exercises to train such qualities? Well, these deadlifts by some great DVRT coaches are some ideas in the right direction!

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What I hope you get from this post is a deeper understanding of what is actually occurring with your body as you move. People can make things look and sound like they are correct if you don’t know how something functions. Heck, you can convince me about how I should REALLY be making my car work better, but my knowledge of cars is quite limited so I wouldn’t be able to tell you otherwise. That is why knowing how our bodies create functional movement are so key and here are some ways we integrate these higher level methods into better training.