Why Stretching your Lower Back is a Bad Idea

Why Stretching Your Lower Back is a Bad Idea

Many people assume that stretching and adding flexibility to their lower back is beneficial, and that it will resolve their pain or tightness. I frequently see people bent over with a rounded back, straining to touch their toes in an attempt to alleviate a perceived back issue. When asked “why?”, most people tell me, a. their back is tight and needs to get loosened up, b. their back hurts and it feels good, or c. they really don’t know.

This might not be the greatest idea.

This might not be the greatest idea.

Here’s a short explanation of why that and related stretches are a bad idea.

Your lumbar spine is a series of stable vertebrae designed to bear load and transmit force. These vertebrae are slightly mobile to allow for a margin of safety and avoid destruction, but are at their strongest when they are held together in alignment. Think for a second about an extremely tall building that is designed with a bit of “give” to allow for wind, earthquakes and other natural occurrences. If it were made of cement and it cracked in the middle, the results would be catastrophic. Instead, they can sway slightly from side to side. The spine is similar, in that can be subjected to a fair amount of force before is completely destroyed. However, just as with a building, it is strongest and most resilient when it is locked into position.

Continuing the metaphor, if your spine is intended to be a structural pillar of support with a small amount of give, then the intricate array of muscles around your core act like a series of guy-wires, assisting the spine to stay strong and tall. When one side of the pillar is impacted or deformed, the guy wires act to get i

Maxing Out

I’d like to take some time to address “maxing-out”, which it probably seems like we seem to do a lot of. At least two to three times a week, we are setting a RM of a lift and then doing drop sets at lower percentages. Currently, it’s 1RM Front Squats, 1RM Back Squats, 2RM Snatch and 2RM Clean and Jerk.

Setting a “RM” for the day is an incredibly convenient way to accomplish a lot of goals without having to deal with percentages.

  1. It allows your body to auto-regulate to it’s current capabilities. If you are particularly tired or beat up, you haven’t been eating or sleeping well, or you’ve been spending most of your time out on the lake with a drink in hand, your body isn’t in a place to perform at its optimal state. If I write a program prescribing certain weights and percentages based on a 1RM that you set several months ago, the prescription is going to be too much on that particular day. Setting a Rep Max and then doing back off sets allows you to work optimally for the day. Side note: The drop sets and specified reps are incredibly important. When the whiteboard says: “Find a 2RM Hang Snatch, then complete 1×2 at 95% and 1×2 at 90%” it doesn’t mean find a 1RM and go home. I promise that we’ll find your 1RM at the end of the training cycle.

  2. The flip side to the above is that it allows you to go for it when you’re feeling it. These are the days you can set a new PR and prove all the hard work that you’ve been doing.

  3. The RM gives you something to shoot for every week. If you are feeling good and know that last week you snatched 155 for 2 reps, you can set a goal for the day of 160 or 165.

  4. The Snatch and Clean & Jerk are the lifts that we do our most “Maxing” on. They are very technically demanding. If your technique falters for a day/week/month and I ask you to do a set of 2 at 90% of your 1RM, you might end up bashing your head against the wall for 20 minutes trying to eek out one rep. A Rep max allows you to set a benchmark for the day with perfect technique, ignoring previous results.

  5. It allows me to have a daily report of how we are doing as a coach and how the well the program is working. If everyone takes a dive on the 3rd week of the rep scheme, we’ll probably back of the next week. If everyone is continuing to climb, we’ll probably push for one more week.

This should help you read the whiteboard, analyze your progress and make a better plan of attack for the day. It should also reassure you that you don’t need to quit CrossFit because you regress for a week or two. It just means that you need to take a look at your training and life outside of the gym. If you still can’t figure it out, ask me or another coach.

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Conditioning:

4 rounds for time of:
3 Power Cleans, 185/135 lbs
6 Ring Dips
9 Box Jumps, 24/20 in
12 Push-up (hand release)
Rest 2 mins

Strength:

1) Back Squat: 1X8@65%, 1X6@70%, 1X6@75%, 1X6@80%

2) Front Squat: 1X5@70%, 2X5@75%