Should the lower back be stretched, the right rep ranges for isolation work & how to train the back lever properly……….
A favourite line of mine is: ‘Social media is like a chain saw, if you use it well you can carve out great things. But, if you use it badly, you can f*ck shit up with it’.
A real world example of those extremities in my eyes would be networking with like minded people, seeking help/advice from experts, sharing your findings/knowledge and discovering new ways to do things (these would be carving out great things)……..
Obsessing over numbers, follow ratios, like fishing, comparing yourself to those ‘better’ than you, trying to get every affiliation under the sun and exposing your brain to so much that doesn’t serve you would be examples of f*cking shit up with social media.
The only social media I have is Instagram as I believe it’s a nice sharing platform for my training, profession and achievements. Facebook and the likes just wouldn’t serve me; they’re way too personal and I just don’t see the benefit of posting everything I do in life on a platform for ‘friends’ to see it. 99 times out of 100 Facebook is used as either a bragging platform or a validation funnel.
Don’t get me wrong, Instagram is often used just the same. It’s a world where you can have very little substance to offer the world, yet all it takes is some clever editing and an understanding of marketing and BANG, your photo-shopped ass photos net you tons of likes, thousands of followers and a swarm of ‘unwanted’ dick pics.
This is why so many people have unjust egos and celebrity status in their own heads – because they can’t get enough of a good thing. At the end of the day, the stats don’t mean anything and 10k followers is great but how much interaction do your posts get? Your stories? Are people engaging with your content? They’re far better markers to how significant you are in my opinion.
With that said, my Instagram journey has led me to meeting and becoming friends with some really great people who have enriched my life and knowledge no end. I’d like to think I’ve had a similar impact on them too, if even to a slight extent.
While I’m nobody special and don’t have a massive online presence at all, I get a remarkable amount of questions and responses to my stories etc – especially in 2020! And many of these questions are interesting talking points, so I figured I’d share some I’ve had over the last month in regards to all things fitness, movement, health and improvement.
‘I’ve been hearing you shouldn’t stretch the lower back according to some sources, on the premise that the lumbar region of the spine isn’t designed for lots of movement? What’s the deal here as I didn’t think it was that an idea!
Like anything, it’s dangerous to look at situations as black or white or make blanket statements. So often with fitness it’s situation specific. I’m in agreement that movement at the lumbar spine is generally limited but to say never put it in a stretched position is a very extreme statement.
I’ve personally done Jefferson curls (loaded spinal rolls) with more than 50kg for reps and have absolutely zero lower back pain. Now granted I built up to this sensibly and progressively but there’s no reason a normal spine cannot be stretched into flexion under some load and live to tell the tale.
Obviously there are some who best steer clear of low back stretching – those with slipped disks and other actual injuries but those are cases outside the norm of what’s considered ‘a healthy spine’. Furthermore, many people have lower back pain because their lumbar region is perpetually jammed into hyper extension, which will give you that pissed off sensation day to day, where you need a sit down every time you walk further than normal because your back is playing up again.
For these folk, lower back releases – think child’s pose, supine knees to chest rocks, bent legged forward fold etc can be a god send as they can just relieve the excessive chronic tension in the lower back for a bit and almost mildly reset that region of the spine.
Bottom line: Healthy spine? Lumbar flexion is ok. Spine not healthy? Be cautious with it and realise it’s situation specific.
‘What’s your opinion on using low rep ranges for isolation movements?’
Generally I wouldn’t advocate going lower than sets of 6 on any isolation movement, purely because the joint will most likely take a trashing. Another thing to think about is the muscle fiber composition of the muscle you’re trying to target. Things like forearms and rear delts are more slow twitch, whereas triceps and hamstrings tend to be more fast twitch. To generalise, 6-15 reps is a good ball park depending on the muscle in question.
‘Any advice for improving my back lever? I can’t get flat and don’t know what I’m doing wrong!’
Well, you don’t get the back lever (or any calisthenics skill) by just trying the move over and over and hoping one day it’ll stick! Some of these moves require immense strength and body activation. Nearly everyone has to go back at least a level or two at some point in their journey and pay their dues. We’ve all been there.
This is where a video would be very helpful as I could troubleshoot your specific issue, however, most people think they can back lever but when you watch them, you see that ugly arched back banana shape which is closer to a semi circle than it is a straight line. In the calisthenics circles we call it a skeleton hang rather than a back lever as that’s what your essentially doing; hanging from your joints with no muscle activation.
Here are a few training ideas for back lever success as I have had tons of experience with this move – and it’s been good to me. I genuinely believe the back lever is a great muscle builder and strength builder when trained correctly!
1) Always train it supinated where possible.
This not only conditions the elbows far better but it allows you to naturally transition to more advanced ring elements in the future, should you want to. Think about it, ring gymnasts press from back lever and you can’t press when the ring is above your palm! If that hasn’t convinced you, the bicep gains you’ll get should!
2) As I’ve written many times over the years, I’m a big fan of dynamic work for levers as opposed to just building up hold times. This way you work all the muscles through their full range instead of only a very small portion of the range. I know of so many poor souls grinding away at their 3 x 15 secs weekly statics to still only be at the advanced tuck stage. Think about back lever raises at your appropriate level. Think about raising all the way up from a German hang with a possible pause at the lever position. These are the bang for your buck moves here.
3) I really like ‘mechanical advantage sets’ for levers too. This is a new discovery of mine since my old articles so I may well have to go and update my old material……..
This is like the name suggests, taking advantage of physics and using them to your favour. We all know you’re stronger eccentrically than concentrically, which means you can handle more load eccentrically (lowering) than concentrically (raising). And this applies to lever training really well as you can use a slightly higher level than you can lift up with on the lowering phase, then shift to your working level, lift back up, and repeat.
This approach has the added benefit of allowing you controlled exposure to a level just past your current capacity. This is a great plateau buster and a great strength builder all in one!
If you found this little assortment of questions interesting, stay tuned as I intend to do more each month. Who knows what will come up in next month’s segment?
If you’d like to ask a question or chat about anything in particular you can leave a comment here, DM me on Instagram (@straight_talking_fitness) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.