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  1. #1
    Registered User VTLifts's Avatar
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    Back extensions (more isometric, but also in general)- yay or nay?

    I've been strengthening my core / lower back after an injury (poor form DL a few years back, re-aggravated in the summer).

    I've become a Stuart McGill fanboy and doing his Big 3 + suitcase carriers in between days of Stronglifts. I also do an abbreviated Big 3 before days that I lift.

    My back is feeling notably better with the occasional minor twinge (usually turning in bed). Not sure how much is from the Big 3, passage of time, or just a function of lightweight phase of lifting. Time will tell once weight gets heavier.

    I'd like to add in some back extensions, specifically isometric holds, where I hold dumbbells out in front, one arm at a time. Spine stays neutral. Strikes me as a weighted variation of the bird dog.

    Why do I want to add these? Whenever I do them, I always feel the low back & spinal erector pump immediately (in a good way) and I've read enough articles suggesting they are healthy back strengtheners. I can progressively load by using heavier weights and/or duration. Plus I have an adjustable nautilus hip extension machine that I love.

    But my boy McGill is out there specifically bad mouthing back raises where you flex your spine and then come up to neutral. He uses a paper clip analogy where if you bend it back & forth too many times, it weakens it. So that's his view on back raises/extensions, but I can't find his view on an isometric hold where you keep the spine neutral.

    Bret Contreras, who seems like a reputable source, is a huge back extension guy (though more for glutes/hams than spinal erectors, but he's not knocking the latter).

    So curious what experience you all have with isometric back extensions, or even more broadly back extensions in general?

    Do you perform them? How? When? Did you use them for rehab? Or just general back strengthening? Do you finish back day with them or put them with core/standalone day?
    Last edited by VTLifts; 01-16-2020 at 12:12 PM.
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  2. #2
    WOATbrah of peace :) sooby's Avatar
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    I think people need to let go of the notion that "back flexion" is inherently a bad thing and that if your back goes into flexion by 3 degrees on a deadlift or some chit you're going to end up in snap city.

    I've had bad back injuries and personally IMO back extensions (not the isometrics) helped. I don't think his paper clip analogy is all that accurate either. Difference is that a paper clip isn't designed to be bent back and forth. The spine is designed to support a tolerable range of back flexion. And also your spine isn't a twig that'll snap instantly as soon as you do something wrong, it is way more robust and stronger than that. Also neutral is a range rather than a specific back angle. I doubt that anybody is perfectly neutral and sometimes things may vary a few degrees towards extension, or a few degrees towards flexion. No big deal.

    It's actually the opposite, your back will get stronger. If you train your back with a specific amount of flexion, it'll get stronger within that angle of back flexion and likely be something your back will be able to tolerate. The problem comes when you subject your back or some muscle to a sudden shift in range of motion it may not be able to tolerate. Like say for whatever reason you normally deadlift with a "neutral spine" but then going for a 1RM you cat-back it really hard you're probably alot more likely to get injured like that. Where as somebody who normally deadlifts like that has got strong in that position so it doesn't really represent an abnormal deviation from what his lifts normally look like.

    Strongmen have lifted heavy af atlas stones without any problems and that involves a significant amount of back flexion. While they do get injured, this is the nature of any sport in which people compete at the highest levels. In short, it's way more nuanced then back flexion = bad. I mean I'm no Stuart McGill but you will find a lot of people that will disagree with this. I'm not saying back extensions are for everybody or you should do them with an injured back but they are a useful exercise in the right context.

    https://www.strongerbyscience.com/lumbar-flexion/
    Last edited by sooby; 01-16-2020 at 12:01 PM.
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  3. #3
    Registered User VTLifts's Avatar
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    As much as I like McGill, I agree that his paper clip analogy doesn't make that much sense to me. Spine is made to flex as you point out, but it also adapts over time to get stronger & better able to handle the stress you put on it.

    So what exactly did you do for back extensions? Frequency? Rep range? Do you still do them? Why/whynot?
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  4. #4
    WOATbrah of peace :) sooby's Avatar
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    nothing special really, just did the weighted for 3 sets of 12-15, I haven't done them in over 8 months but will likely reintroduce them again because i am dealing with a glute injury that doesn't really allow me to do heavy deadlifts.
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    Originally Posted by sooby View Post
    If you train your back with a specific amount of flexion, it'll get stronger within that angle of back flexion and likely be something your back will be able to tolerate. The problem comes when you subject your back or some muscle to a sudden shift in range of motion it may not be able to tolerate.
    Agree with this 100% and I had to figure this out for myself. I strained my back on a deadlift too heavy for my back. Then I started doing back extensions with spinal flexion - I had to start at zero load even though my deadlift was 435 I think at the time. Up to ~110 for 10s now and lower back feels much more stable when it starts rounding a tad on a heavy lift.
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    Registered User VTLifts's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by jademonkey View Post
    Agree with this 100% and I had to figure this out for myself. I strained my back on a deadlift too heavy for my back. Then I started doing back extensions with spinal flexion - I had to start at zero load even though my deadlift was 435 I think at the time. Up to ~110 for 10s now and lower back feels much more stable when it starts rounding a tad on a heavy lift.
    So how often & what days do you perform them?

    Also, both jade & sooby (a, a bit technical but what pad height do you set? Top of pad at top of pelvic bone to allow full back movement? Or do you have the pad even higher so it's more of a limited range of motion but requires back flexion. See this video starting around 2:00 mark youtube. com/ watch?v=toJa7qvMRQA
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    Registered User jademonkey's Avatar
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    jademonkey is offline
    Originally Posted by VTLifts View Post
    So how often & what days do you perform them?

    Also, both jade & sooby (a, a bit technical but what pad height do you set? Top of pad at top of pelvic bone to allow full back movement? Or do you have the pad even higher so it's more of a limited range of motion but requires back flexion. See this video starting around 2:00 mark youtube. com/ watch?v=toJa7qvMRQA
    I personally do them for back flexion and set the pad high. I initially added them fairly often, at the end of days that I already worked lower back such as squat, deadlift, or barbell row days. So on other days I could really let it recover. Now I do them less often but I try and get them done once a week at least.
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  8. #8
    WOATbrah of peace :) sooby's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by VTLifts View Post
    So how often & what days do you perform them?

    Also, both jade & sooby (a, a bit technical but what pad height do you set? Top of pad at top of pelvic bone to allow full back movement? Or do you have the pad even higher so it's more of a limited range of motion but requires back flexion. See this video starting around 2:00 mark youtube. com/ watch?v=toJa7qvMRQA
    i probably just put it slightly below where my hip hinges, but really it's kinda overthinking it, if you can do back extensions pain free then do them how you feel most comfortable with. Even if a certain position emphasizes glutes/hams rather than back it really doesn't hurt to have any of those muscles get stronger and developed. And all can aid with injury prevention of the lower back. despite the name back extensions, you technically don't want to have your back in an extended position during the lift and want to keep your legs and hips on the pad at all times. just simply start from a flexed position and "extend" your back into a more or less neutral position.
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  9. #9
    Registered User Garage Rat's Avatar
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    First you have to make your own decision on the back extensions(i call them back raises)if they are beneficial for you.
    It looks like you've done your research you have to come to your own conclusion.
    My two cents are back raises are not a movement to be maxed out or super heavy,moderate weights at most IMO and bands work well around the neck attached to your back raise bench.
    I do them to target lower lumbars an area that can be vulnerable when using heavy weight.
    I do one called the hatfield back raise over a glute/ham raise bench that allows you roll over the pad instead of hinging like most back raise benches.
    You can really feel the low back in a relatively safe movement.
    I would use it as a supplemental movement or back off from heavier movements.
    Keep the whole ab/core area strong all the way around to help prevent injuries.
    Ab movements for strength and not lots of reps will be better.
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