Whether you’re squatting, deadlifting, tossing a med ball against a wall, running or swimming, your spine is moving. If your spine isn’t functioning properly, your movement in these activities could suffer, impairing your performance, limiting your power and causing other areas of your body to compensate, and increasing your risk for injury, especially to your lower back.
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OK, athletes. I know preventing lower-back injuries doesn’t sound all that important, especially if you have never experienced lower-back pain. But it may come back to haunt you later. And having a properly functioning spine will make you a better athlete. For example, if you’re a swimmer working on your front crawl, the ability to get your arm out of the water, take a breath, and continue with your swimming stroke requires extension, rotation and then flexion of the upper spine. A loss of motion will trigger a compensation, which will result in aggravating your back or shoulders.
You might say, “But Georges, I’m not a swimmer!” That’s OK. The same concept applies whether you’re throwing a baseball, shooting a puck, boxing, deadlifting or picking up your child. The spine is required to move while also being asked to create stiffness—especially in the lower back—to support the movement.
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That’s why I recommend doing a spine self-test to make sure everything is working properly. You don’t need an advanced degree to test your spine. Two simple exercises can allow you to check your spine’s function—the Cat-Camel Stretch and the Quadruped Spine Rotation.
The Cat-Camel Stretch is a move made popular in yoga. Get on all fours and slowly arch and round your back. This tests your spine’s ability to extend and flex. Focus particularly on your thoracic spine, the area from your mid- to upper back. The thoracic spine is designed to flex and extend, whereas your lumbar spine is meant to be stable to handle heavy loads. This is important for setting a proper spine position (extended or slightly arched) for heavy lifts like Squats and Deadlifts. If you lack mobility in this region, your lower back will compensate, which is likely to cause long-term injury if it goes unchecked.
RELATED: 6 Stretches to Alleviate Lower-Back Pain
Quadruped Spine Rotation
In addition to extension and flexion, the t-spine must be able to rotate. The Quadruped Spine Rotation tests just that. It has huge implications for rotational sports skills such as throwing a ball and swinging a racquet. Again, if this region of your spine can’t rotate, your lower back will pick up the slack,, which could lead to an injury over time. Plus, you won’t be as powerful.
I could go into more detail, but as I’ve said before, I’ll let the movement do the talking and let you test, train, control and then free your spine’s movement. Watch the video above to see me test the spine of Matt Ibrahim, creator of Movement Resilience, who has also contributed to STACK.