Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Conditioning the Spine Stabilizers Using Fatigue

Low Back Disorders, Second EditionWhat I found in reading the works of Dr. Stuart McGill in his book Low Back Disorders, Second Edition, is how the core reacts when physiological fatigue begins to set in. First, let's understand what the function of the core is. The main function of the core is to stabilize the spine (lumbar stability). That is what we know and what we can test under controlled environments (planks, hip bridges, etc). But how does the core fare when the external load increases and the work rate elevates? McGill performed tests on taller individuals to illustrate that taller persons were at more risk of losing lumbar stability as their work rate increased. Breathing harder from intense bouts of exercise or work can compromise the spine stability and thus, increase the likelihood of injury. How does this happen? According to McGill, the individuals were having a hard time maintaining the co-contraction of the abdominal wall. These muscles involved in ventilation tend to relax during deep inhalation. Think about exercises that demand powerful breathing combined with strength: cleans, push-press, snatches, even burpees, and step-ups with a press! How many times have you seen people in the gym working out intensely and seeing their form deteriorate? I employ the Charles Poliquin philosophy that a set ends once form technically breaks down. But not everyone follows that belief.
With the current popularization of intense exercise for fat loss and conditioning, and the implementation of power exercises in general population settings (Crossfit), are we doing more harm than good in relation to back health? Can we train the core stabilizers to retain their function even when fatigue begins to set in? Think about...most injuries in the weight-room tend to occur when fatigue becomes a factor. The less conditioning the core musculature receives, the more likely it will lose its ability to stabilize the spine during heavy loads. Well, won't adding more reps simply strengthen the core stabilizers as doing this will elicit fatigue and elevated breathing? Yes, but that is not a controlled environment and is more likely to add risk of injury. There is a controlled method to condition the core stabilizers in the weight-room which I talked about it extensively in my DVD, Shatterproof Spine. Check out the video below:

McGill, Stuart. (2002). Low back disorders. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.


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