Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Thoracic-Lumbar Hinge Says Alot About Your "Core"

Stabilizing a load of any significance over your head is really one of the best exercises there is to develop real-life, functional trunk strength. To be clear, there is no physio-ball exercise on the planet that can match standing under a heavy load.

There are many functional movement screens out there that will allegedly show the weaknesses of an athlete in training. Our movement screening is based upon the actual, base exercises that we perform (the push press being one). We are opposed to using correlates of evaluation (movement screens) in lieu of using our bread and butter foundational movements. I don't need to "test" your abdominal strength to know that you will fall apart under increased overhead loading. I just need to see you start pressing and push-pressing. Your weaknesses will show themselves. And as Coach Rippetoe says, "The cure for bad form, is good form."

All of the photos of the athletes above share a common movement fault. Can you see it?

All of the athletes are under sufficient overhead loading to elicit the same basic movement fault. That is, all of these athletes' mid-line stabilization breaks down at the base of their rib cage. The junction of the rigid ribcage and the start of your low back/lumbar spine in known as the T-L junction, or thoracic-lumbar junction. The photos show good examples of T-L hinging.

Now, there is nearly always some weight/work load that will exceed the stabilizing capacity of the athlete's trunk. But T-L hinging is probably the most common "over-extension" based fault that we see. The potential hinging that occurs in this region puts a great deal of localized stress on the spine here. In fact, many athletes will report that their backs are a little sore after big pressing movements. Over extension of the spine (here in the T-L junction) is to blame.

But really, blame the abdominal muscles. Sure your shoulders are tight and leaning back will help this problem, but your abs should not let your rib cage leave the locked down, anchored position. It is largely your internal obliques that are failing you here. Ironically, keeping the ribs in and down when going overhead sets the big, prime movers of the shoulder blades, up for the optimal position from which to generate force. So, letting your ribcage fly up (creating a T-L hinge) actually decreases your body's ability to move weight overhead. So weak abs leads to hinging, which leads to decreased force production over head. Not sweet.

And that's why we really care.

Poor positioning and moving away from "best fit" might look bad and make your back ache, but really, it just decreases your incredible ability to generate power.

So keep the ribcage down when working overhead. And keep working on that "core".

Coach Kstar


Person said...

It seems like "ribcage down" means "no layback." But my reading of the "Press" chapter in Starting Strength is that a little layback during an overhead pressing movement is fine, so long as the vertical plane tangential to your sternum doesn't cross the vertical plane tangential to your glutes. (Or something like that.) Is that reading incorrect? If not, how to square it w/ "ribcage down"?

Thanks-givingly, rkn

Kelly Starrett said...

You are right, tell your sister, you were right....

The lay back is just that, not a breaking in the mid back.

Laying the entire spine complex back at the hips can help initiate the load. Most people still can't do it.

You can never recover correct positioning once you've given it a away.

And, Rip would never advocate increased shear, compression, hinging for a little body english.
Or Tagalog. Or whatever.


Anonymous said...

I love my Ab-Core

Josh Cunningham said...

Dunkin' Donuts (DD's for the initiated) runs do absolutely nothing to prevent the thoracic-lumbar hinge effect of going heavy overhead. I have tested this hypothesis out at school and it only makes your pants a bad way. Keep it real and have a Happy Thanksgiving SFCF.

Roop said...

Side-Note: Congrats to all who complete the 30 day Hand-Stand PushUp Challenge!!!! Was no small task, but damn worth it...going to be nice to give the shoulders a break for a day or two.

For those that started late, keep pushing up...see you at 30.

Person said...

Got it! Layback = entire spine complex back at the hips, not a mid-back break. Thanks kstar! BTW, can we have a post about "metabolic enzymes"? Their mention in the last post got me all jazzed, and I had a dream about them, in which I was flying, and then forgot how to fly but my metabolic enzymes saved me, AND brought me the pants I'd forgotten to wear. Anyway, I feel cheap dreaming about them when I don't know what they are.

Anonymous said...

Just a note for all of you traveling home for some turkey. Our TSA friends at SFO do not allow kettlebells in your carry on. I tried to take my 44 puond kettlebell in a backpack over the summer...after some very confused looks after it went through the xray they made me check it in (which i had to pay $25 bucks for).
sorry about the crappy form in the press- dave

FilthyBrit said...


Next time, you might try prison-style concealment.


Anonymous said...

The boys at TSA also won't allow you to take containers of cottage cheese in your carry-on. I tried offering it to the dude - figured by the looks of him he could use a healthy snack or two - but he declined. Had to throw it out.

I've also been threatened with a "$500 fine" for having a bottle of unopened cologne in my carry-on.

I love flying.


Anonymous said...

KStar - Is that E Caf pushing her head through on a press? I knew that girl has some skills.

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