When you watch someone’s low back when they deadlift, what’s the number one thing you look for? If you answered: rounding, good. We don’t want rounding. To read more about why we don’t want rounding, check out the 4 exercises your low back is better without.

However, since people are hyper-vigilant at avoiding a rounded back in a deadlift, the pull of a clean, etc. the opposite end range of motion, over-arching or over-extension of the low back, is often missed. The thought may be that as long as it isn’t rounded, it’s ok, it’s good.

Well, that is not exactly the case.

What we are going to go over first is 3 reasons why being over-arched all the time isn’t optimal.

3 reasons to train it out:

1. It overloads your facet joints

There are two main areas of the low back that bear the weight of your body. The first is through the intervertebral disc between vertebrae in your spine. The second is a joint called your facet joint that is located behind the disc. You have 2 facet joints at each level. One on the right and one on the left.

In a normal functioning spine, around 70% of the weight that is transferred between the bones of your low back goes through the disc. The facet joint usually handles around 30% of the weight.

joints of spine
More weight is transferred through the facet joints when your low back is arched or in extension.

If you over-arch your back all the time, you are going to be putting more than 30% of the weight through those little facet joints. You may be able to get away with it for a while, but over time that can become achy and uncomfortable.

Don’t overload the facet joints! When you stand up at the top of a deadlift and lean backward, you are now loading the facet joints proportionately more than 30% AND with added load. This is a recipe to irritate some people’s low backs. Over-arching your low back, for this reason, can lead to low back pain.

2. Being over-arched all the time can lead to pinching in the front of the hips

When people think about squatting mobility, they think about the ankles, the knees, and the hips. Not as many people seem to care about low back and pelvic positioning, though.

The hip is a joint that is made between your thigh bone and your pelvis. It is considered a ball and socket joint.

Imagine the thigh part of your joint as a ball and the pelvis part as a cereal bowl (the socket).

ball and bowl

If the cereal bowl is pointed straight down to the ground, the ball has a certain range of motion that it can move in before it starts to hit the rim of the cereal bowl. When the low back is over-arched, the cereal bowl is pointed more downward.

Over time when the cereal bowl is pointed more downward, that ball can rub and bump into the front rim of the bowl. This can lead to a pinchy feeling and pain in the front of the thigh/groin region in the depth of a squat for certain people with certain shaped hip sockets.

pinching hip
If you took that same bowl and tilted it so the opening was facing more forward, you wouldn’t bump into the rim as much during a squat. This is more like the position of the hip socket when you squat with a neutral spine.

anterior facing
When the butt winks under, the bowl faces even more forward, allowing for a deeper squat without the ball bumping into the rim of the socket.

So, pinchy hips in a deep squat can often be improved by getting rid of over-arching/over-extension of the low back.

3. It can decrease power output

The lumbar spine is like the power transferrer from the lower body to the upper body in deadlifting, snatching, cleaning, etc.

Since there is a lot of force and power being transferred through it during those lifts, it shouldn’t bend. In order to not bend and therefore transfer power as efficiently as possible, the muscular activity of the lumbar spine should be such to prevent movement so the power can be transferred, rather than lost through aberrant movement in the low back.

If you have an over-extended lumbar spine, you are decreasing your body’s ability to create stiffness and stability through the low back. This can and will lead to decreased power.

One of the primary ways the low back is stabilized is through abdominal breathing using the diaphragm to create intra-abdominal pressure.

Imagine the low back like a pop can. The diaphragm is the top and the pelvic floor is the bottom. You have a few muscles that wrap around your abdomen that are like the walls or sides of the pop can.

If you have an over-extended lumbar spine, the top and bottom of the pop can aren’t parallel. You can’t generate as much intra-abdominal pressure between two surfaces that aren’t parallel. Imagine a pop can that had different angles on the top and the bottom. It doesn’t really work so well.

not parallel

By keeping the low back neutral instead of over-extended, you make the diaphragm and the pelvic floor more parallel, allowing for better intra-abdominal pressure, which can lead to better lifting.

parallel

Those are 3 big reasons you want to avoid low back over-extension. There are many more than 3, but those are the ones on my mind at the moment.

 

 

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