Today I want to talk about the rules of lifting weights. There are only 2 but they are 2 very important rules to follow or you can easily end up with permanent damage to your body. I feel the need to talk about them because most of the people in the gym don’t know how to lift properly and it’s hard to watch people that are putting in so much effort to do something good for themselves just to be doing something damaging. I want people to reap the rewards of this lifestyle in the same way that I have.
Rule Number 1
The first rule of weightlifting is, maintain a neutral spine. What that means, if you are ever reading a bodybuilding magazine or fitness magazine, all it means is keep a straight spine. Of course, we all have natural curves but we want to be as straight as possible.
There is a disk between each vertebra and it is made out of cartilage. Those disks are meant for a compression load and if they are compressed between each vertebra nice and flat they can hold a lot of pressure. If they get hit off to one side, they can’t hold much pressure. If the weight is too much the disk will crack. There is a gel inside the disk that will leak out and harden to form the cartilage of the disk and that’s how the body repairs itself. However, you will always feel the pain from the cracked disk.
You can do this once really hard for an acute injury or you can do it slowly over time. If you constantly hit one side of your disks repeatedly like in a crunch or side crunch, thousands and thousands of times, eventually you will get a bulged disk. It will push against your nerve and that’s where the pain comes from. The bottom line is to keep your spine straight.
Clients often ask me why do people do those exercises then? The answer is because they don’t know better. For more information on this topic you can google Dr. Stuart McGill. They call him “The Spine Doctor” and he is world renown. He puts on seminars all over the world and he happens to be Canadian. If you’re the YouTube type, you are in luck; he’s on YouTube as well. If you don't mind reading he has a great book called "Low Back Disorders".
How To Maintain A Neutral Spine
There is 3 parts to maintaining a neutral spine. I will talk about the cervical spine or C-spine, the thoracic spine or T-spine, and the lumbar spine or L-spine. For the C-spine all we do is keep the head in line with the rest of the torso. If you are doing a bent over row for example you want to have your head in line with the rest of the torso, looking down instead of looking up at yourself in the mirror. No staring at the biceps while pumping iron.
For the T-spine we do what we call the set position which is shrug your shoulders, retract them back, then drop them down. You will end up with your shoulder blades down and together. In this position, the rhomboids (muscles of the upper back between the shoulder blades) can do the work they are required to do. Also, the shoulders are a very unstable joint and this helps to stabilize the shoulder.
If the rhomboids give out the shoulders will fall forward and you may get shoulder pain or even an injury with that. The T-spine will round and the pressure will be on the anterior aspect of your disks. They will have to carry the load and we don’t want to see that so you’ll have to stop the exercise, reset the shoulders or just stop completely.
The lumbar spine is a bit different. If you are doing a bent over exercise you have to stick your butt out to engage the back muscles and not round your lower back. We call this porn star or the stripper. It allows the back muscles to do their job. If you are doing something upright you will have to engage the abs. Pretend someone is about to punch you in the stomach and brace accordingly. This is how most exercises should be done. You will also want to stagger your stance for better balance which is also easier on the lumbar spine.
Rule Number 2
Rule number 2 is never lock your joints. I am talking about your knees and elbows. I’ll start with the elbows. If you keep locking out with a pushing exercise like bench-press, you will get sore elbows very quickly and not want to do bench-press for about a month. If you are doing a pulling exercise, easy on the eccentric or on the way away from the body. Again, if you keep locking out you will get sore elbows.
The knees are slightly more complicated so pay attention here. How you tear an anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is you lock out your knee, rotate your foot inward or medially, and then hit it. This is common for a snowboarder when locking out to rest the legs while still riding through easy parts. Don’t lock your knee. There’s all kinds of tendons and ligaments in the knee area. We don’t want to tear any of that crap.
Another problem with locking out is there is cartilage in the knee. The femur articulates with the tibia/fibula and the cartilage on top of the tibia/fibula is called your meniscus. Picture jumping as high as you can and landing on locked knees. That’s going to hurt and you will likely crack some of the cartilage in the knee. We have all heard of a meniscus tear. You don’t have to jump high to tear your cartilage, you can load up heavy weights and lock your knee; it can have the same impact.
The last thing I will mention is hyper extension of the knee. You can YouTube this and see people hyper extending on the leg press. It’s gross. Looks like it hurts. Don’t lock out your knee please.
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