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Lumbopelvic Rhythm: The Powerlifts, Spine Health and Performance Longevity

Movement

Lumbopelvic Rhythm: The Powerlifts, Spine Health and Performance Longevity

Spinal stability, diaphragmatic breathing and neutral posture, among others, are all “buzz words” that, as of late, have entered the conversation in a multitude of training facilities, across a wide array of practices. This is due to the fact that the underlying concept is extremely important. It is no secret the sport of strength requires years of hard training and adaptation to achieve its highest levels. Due to the demands and potential risks associated with loading the spine, its health and maintenance are among the key contributors to performance across a long and successful career.

Before one can understand what spine health is or what training with it in mind translates to, it is important to grasp the biomechanical function of the spine. Under ideal conditions, the role of the spine is to evenly (key consideration) carry load and transmit force while maintaining length-tension relationships and permitting distal mobility through proximal stability. In order to derive this functionality, the physiology relies on three subsystems the passive and active musculoskeletal systems, which include muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joint capsules, etc. and the neural-feedback loop. The combination of these three subsystems produces system-wide stability capable of managing the instantaneous demand of posture and load. In this case, it’s relative to the successful performance of the powerlifts. The actions responsible for managing forces at the spine can be defined as anticipatory postural adjustments (APAs). APAs are minute changes in length and tension about involved musculature, with the goal of placing the spine and relevant structures in a position where they can express their role to the greatest capacity (4,9,10,12). With that in mind, Lumbopelvic rhythm (LPR) can be classified as an APA assigned with the management of spinal load in the sagittal plane. LPR is classified as functional or dysfunctional, based on individual neutral zone parameters, and expressed as total lumbar rotation over pelvic rotation (11,12,13).

Most if not all readers will have seen exactly what is being described. The “butt wink” or “hips tucked deadlift” are real world illustrations of these principals in a dysfunctional system; the difference is now you understand what is taking place. Poor movement quality specific to LPR is often overlooked and misunderstood. For this reason, it can be identified as a contributor to global instability and associated with an increased risk of injury (9,10,11,12,13)

In a dysfunctional system neutral spine cannot be maintained and appropriate APAs are replaced by suboptimal compensation patterns. The spine and its related structures are placed in a compromised state of elastic equilibrium and the system is subject to unnecessary and unbalanced loading. In this state, degenerative processes may occur and have the potential to detract from both performance and overall spine health. These degenerative processes include, but are not limited to, tissue dehydration, contracture, a decreased ability to tolerate load and passively restrict motion (6,8,9,10,12). “Simply put, if any one part of the biomechanical chain is utilized in favor of sharing the load, it will undergo greater cumulative micro-trauma and is most liable to undergo changes in tensile strength and eventual degenerative change” (12).

If that is not enough to change the thinking surrounding spine health, an addition to these principals outlines the suboptimal compensation patterns themselves. Allowing for compensation to persist, “to get the lift done,” reduces the potential for maximizing force production qualities over time. In the short-term dysfunction may add momentary increases in poundage, but serves poorly as a long-term strategy for development. An example can be drawn considering the “hips tucked deadlift.” In this example, often, the influence of a prime mover in hip extension, the gluteus maximus, is substituted for the influence of the much smaller and less capable spinal erectors. The lift may start fast, but often the lockout comes to a grinding halt. At the top of the lift leverages drastically change and poor movement quality (LPR dysfunction) can force the lifter to place an emphasis on spinal extension over hip extension. This has the potential to detract from mechanical advantage and creates a position likely to promote degenerative change (3,12). Left unchecked movement patterns such as these continue to strengthen dysfunction and place a ceiling on developmental capacity. Unfortunately, in this example, the spinal erectors become the limiting factor, as they can only contribute so much when compared to the gluteals.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a squat or deadlift executed with balance, stability and functional LPR. This encourages a state of elastic equilibrium and a system under minimal load (6). Placing the spine in a neutral positon can maximize the potential for mechanical advantage through the maintenance of length-tension relationships and body-segment positions. Doing so places the lifter in a position to take full advantage of their own developmental capacity. If remaining injury free and performing optimally is among your goals, this is not something to just hope for… it’s a goal to actively pursue and constantly assess.

In order to train with spine health in mind it is important to take a step back and evaluate your movement quality. This can be completed either through video analysis or through seeking qualified coaching. During the analyses it is crucial to be subjective, especially when evaluating yourself, to note deviations from neutral, flexion or extension while under load, and assess what may be the contributing factor (i.e. muscular weakness, lack of mobility, motor planning, etc.). The core musculature (abdominal complex, spinal erectors, psoas, diaphragm and pelvic floor musculature) is generally noted as a good place to begin evaluation. This is due to its associated role with systemic functionality (4). While it is a good place to start it will be up to the lifter to complete their own due diligence as compensation patterns are numerous and individualized.

Once the potential limiting factor(s) has been identified a plan can be implemented. This plan may heavily influence choices in training and programming. Factors to consider while planning may include competition form (sumo vs conventional, high bar vs low bar, stance width, etc.), assistance exercises and warm-up protocols. Each component should be rationalized and grounded in the effort to improve movement quality and related force production. Exercises that may be useful given the prerequisite evaluation, include the Lewit, McGill curl-up, cat-camel, birddog and side bridge exercises (1, 7). To augment, one may also consider planning general physical preparedness or “pre-activation” exercises around muscle groups or movement patterns assessed as potential contributors. For example, the classic illustration of upper back inactivity contributing to improper execution of the squat or deadlift. In this case, an exercise such as the face-pull could be utilized in a post-activation potentiation capacity to “fire up” the upper back. The effort is designated to further recruit and ensure a strong neural connection while executing the lift (5). On the other end, the same exercise could be emphasized in the program with rationale regarding long-term carry over to increased postural awareness and stability. Along these lines one can start to build programming that is targeted, instead of just throwing proverbial “darts in the dark.”

Lastly, a cue, which can be successful concerning correction of dysfunctional LPR, is “rib cage down.” To cue this the coach or lifter could visualize several things with the goal of keeping the rib cage closed, but not collapsed during expiration, inspiration, bracing and throughout the lift. Cueing “rib cage down” aligns the diaphragm with the pelvic floor creating the zone of apposition. The zone then becomes a platform for establishing proper intra-abdominal pressure and length-tension relationships between the anterior and posterior core musculature. Doing so may help to yield all the benefits associated with maintaining a neutral spine under load (2).

Taking these few points into consideration has the potential to help guide your training for continued improvement, while maintaining spine health and ensuring the longevity essential to a successful career in strength.

Reference:

  1. Badiuk, B.W., Andersen, J.T., & McGill, S.M. (2014). Exercises to activate the deeper abdominal wall muscles: the lewit: a preliminary study. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(3), 856-860.
  1. Boyle, L.K., Olinick, J., & Lewis, C. (2010). Clinical Suggestion: The value of blowing up a balloon. North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 5(3), 179-188.
  1. Janda, V., Frank, C. & Liebenson, C. (1996). Evaluation of muscular imbalance. Rehabilitation of the spine: A practitioner’s manual. Philedelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  1. Kibler, B.W., Press, J., Sciascia, A. (2006). The role of core stability in athletic function. Sports Medicine, 36(3), 189-198.
  1. Lorenz, D. (2011). Postactivation potentiation: An introduction. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 6(3), 234-240.
  1. McGill, S.M. (2007). Lumbar spine stability: Mechanism of injury and restabilization. C. Liebenson (Ed.). Philedelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  1. McGill, S.M. (2003). Enhancing low-back health through stabilization exercise. ACE Certified News. 
  1. McGill, S.M. (2002). Low back disorders. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  1. Panjabi, M.M. (1992). The stabilizing system of the spine. Part I. Function, dysfunction, adaptation and enhancement. Journal of Spinal Disorders and Techniques, 5(4), 383-389.
  1. Panjabi, M.M. (1992). The stabilizing system of the spine. Part II. Neutral zone and instability hypothesis. Journal of Spinal Disorders and Techniques, 5(4), 390-396.
  1. Tafazzol, A., Arjmand, N., Shirazi, A.A. & Parnianpour, M. (2014). Lumbopelvic rhythm during forward and backward sagittal trunk rotations: combined in vivo measurement with inertial tracking device and biomechanical modeling. Clinical Biomechanics, 29(1), 7-13.
  1. Wallden, M. (2009). The neutral spine principle. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 13(4), 350-361.
  1. Wu, M., Wang, S., Driscoll, S.J., Cha, T.D., Wood, K.B. & Li, G. (2014). Dynamic motion characteristics of the lower lumber spine: Implication to lumbar pathology and surgical treatment. European Spine Journal, 23(11).

Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly, MS, CSCS, NKT is a Master of Science in Sports Science from Hofstra University, a private sector strength and conditioning coach and is pursuing his Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Chris focuses on movement quality, long-term development and rehabilitative strategies for a range of clientele. He is a nationally competitive powerlifter with a notable bench of 415 and deadlift of 600 at 198 pounds.

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  • M. Miller

    The science here is sound, but you have to learn how to make your articles more accessible for laypersons and the lifting public. You aren’t writing for a journal here. It’s fine to use some technical jargon, but it has to be “translated” into common language to facilitate a gym-level understanding of these concepts. It may sound perfectly clear to you (a movement specialist) or those with an academic background, but the average lifter looks at an article like this and sees a textbook excerpt with no “take-home” messages. Put in some lists, bullet points, or conceptual illustrations that people can actually use.

  • Chris Kelly

    Thank you for your suggestion. Bullet points definitely would have been a good way to summarize the examples and illustrations of the science included in the second half of the article.

    • stvk

      I think for an article written for the general public, what’s even more important than summarising concepts via bullet point, is Mr Miller’s other suggestion about not overloading the layperson with technical jargon.

      You’re obviously very intelligent and knowledgeable about movement and the human body, but using common, everyday analogies would help better explain concepts like “the role of the spine is to evenly … carry load and transmit force while maintaining length-tension relationships and permitting distal mobility through proximal stability”. When I, as a layperson read that sentence, what do I have to compare it to in my every day life? Say, what happens to my spine when I pick up a box away from my body instead of close to it? I honestly read that sentence and thought the next line was going to say “that’s an overly complicated way of saying …” but that didn’t happen. I did some googling and was still unsure that I knew what you were saying, even if I know what all the words meant.

      Sorry if I sound overly-critical, I was just a little disappointed to be unable to decipher a subject that I find interesting, especially from someone with your depth of knowledge.

      • Chris Kelly

        Stvk,

        Thank you for your kind words. I agree with what you are saying.

        Although, I will counter and challenge,you as a reader, with the notion that the purpose of seeking out and reading informative articles, on a strength sport site with a dedicated movement section, is to expand one’s knowledge beyond that of a typical layman. Just by being here taking the time to comment and read my article, thank you by the way, in my opinion you have removed yourself from the class of general public. Yes, this article has a strong scientific basis and unfortunately this may cause a lot of people to shut it out but it is well within the capacities of an inquisitive, like yourself, looking to learn more about the mechanisms of lumbopelvic rhythm. Take a few minutes digest what is written, (crazy thought) maybe read it twice identify what you don’t fully understand and do some additional research on the topic, if it interests you. I promise your training will benefit.

        For the relatable illustration of this concept refer to the paragraph which includes the example of the hips tucked deadlift. It gives a specific case where dysfunction can cause a potentially dangerous and poorly leveraged situation.

  • Pete

    All of the actual useful information in this article could have been relayed in 2 or 3 sentences. The rest was just techno babble and filler. Sounds like the author is an expert in his field but unfortunately a very poor writer

    • Chris Kelly

      Pete,

      Generally informative articles have key points that could be summed up in a few sentences. However, context is necessary to fully understand those points and their importance.

      I’m sorry you feel the context is irrelevant, to you, but I am glad you were able to grasp the take-home message. It’s all about perspective. The technical jargon behind the message, understanding “the why,” may be just as interesting to someone as the overall message is to you.

  • Scott Beall

    Mostly confused. -Personal Trainer with a B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering

  • yalesdy

    This was a self ingratiating article which gave little practical information. Who exactly were you writing this article for?