Stop Fearing Spinal Flexion

by Dr. Michael MashUpdated

The hip hinge is one of the most beneficial movement patterns any lifter should master. It enables one to safely and efficiently lift heavy loads off of the ground. However, even this can be taken too far!

You Don't Need to Hip Hinge EVERYTHING
I made this mistake very early on in my lifting career. As soon as I learned the hip hinge pattern, I fell in love. Suddenly anytime I bent over for ANYTHING...I performed a hip hinge. Because why not? It's how you're SUPPOSED to bend over to pick up anything right?

Here's the truth. The hip hinge is a fantastic movement, and everyone should learn it. It is the most mechanically efficient AND safest way to lift a HEAVY load off of the ground. However, it should NOT come at the expense of completely avoiding spinal FLEXION. If you need to bend over to wash your hands...bend your damn back please.  Our lumbar spine is supposed to flex...why are you avoiding it?

If You Don't Use It, You'll Lose It
Somewhere along the way when the hip hinge entered the mainstream physical therapy realm, some associated this with complete avoidance of spinal flexion. Will there be times that you TEMPORARILY need to avoid lumbar flexion? Of course. With acute low-pack pain, your brain may perceive lumbar flexion as a "threatening" motion. In this case, you may need to avoid it for a little and train other movement patterns. However, it's IMPERATIVE that you re-integrate it, slowly, once this threat decreases. Again, the spine is supposed to flex.

For those who don't have pain with lumbar flexion, why are you avoiding it? There's no better way to lose lumbar flexion range of motion than constantly hip hinging day-in and day-out anytime you bend forward. Combine that with the fear that spinal flexion will hurt you and suddenly your brain begins to actually believe these thoughts!

The next time you "accidentally" go into lumbar flexion, suddenly it hurts. Funny how that works. Consistently avoiding lumbar flexion is the quickest way to actually lose that range of motion while simultaneously making it a perceived threat. Our brain is more powerful than you think!

Healthy Lumbar Flexion 
Interesting enough, I've found that people who tend to hip hinge everything, also complain of perceived tightness in the lumbar spine area. Did you ever think that just might be your brain telling you it's time to move it? The question do you do it safely?

The key to slowly re-integrating lumbar flexion is to do it for a short duration and low load. If your body isn't used to it, haphazardly adding long-duration static stretching may not be the way to go. Instead, try dynamically including it as part of your warm-up.

The squat-to-stand with overhead reach is one of my favorite ways to promote lumbar spine mobility. It also provides the benefit of grooving thoracic extension and shoulder flexion in the deep squat position, making it a perfect pre-cursor to the Olympic lifts.

Stop Fearing Spinal Flexion
The bottom line is this. Spinal flexion is a natural human movement. Instead of walking around, stiff as a board all day with your lumbar spine locked in "neutral" don't be afraid to bend your damn back.

On the other hand, don't misinterpret this message. The hip hinge will ALWAYS reign superior when the goal is to safely and efficiently lift something heavy off of the ground. I would never recommend anyone perform a heavy barbell deadlift in lumbar spinal flexion. This is obviously a quick route right to your physical therapist for help. But, please, when you're just moving throughout your daily life, bend your back, and stop fearing spinal flexion!