“Thoughts?” So read the text message I received from a friend yesterday, which captured this Instagram screenshot.
The message was from one of the strongest people that I know, and he’ll thoroughly enjoy where this is going. Buckle up.
Stack, what the hell are you thinking? This is a recommendation that has the opportunity to work in certain situations, but not one that’s going to facilitate most folks feeling fabulous. A related example to me would be driving your car into a wall. This is a great idea if a car is about to be thrown at you. The rest of the time, however, it’s something to avoid.
When we lift heavy objects, on our torso in squats, or in our hands as in deadlifts, our bodies are learning to tolerate compressive forces and shear forces. Our bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles respond to these structural demands and become physically stronger. Our brains learn to do a better job coordinating our force absorption and production, and become more efficient and moving our bodies and external loads.
As we follow the rules of progressive overload, we get stronger. If we ignore the word progressive, we break. Taking an exercise that requires spinal stability and is often times associated with spinal movement and following it with an exercise that promotes spinal movement is ill-advised, others known as bat shit crazy. That’s not to say it’s not well-intended, it just misses out on some athletic aspects.
We rarely need more lumbar extension. Most athletes are stuck in a state of extension, with a pelvis tipped forward and ribs tipped back. This extension pattern is likely exacerbated when we put a barbell on our back to squat, or when we arch our backs while deadlifting. It may be desirable during some activities, but probably isn’t something we want to aggressively train. Instead, we need to train the opposite.
Lumbar flexion? Get some. Folks that live in a state of extension (Such as you) would benefit more from gentle lumbar flexion along with a diaphragmatic breath, which serves to decrease spinal extensor tone and move towards the mythical neutral spine. The emphasis here is on “gentle” flexion and on restoring breathing, not on the other approach, which I like to call the “Crank the shit out of your spinal ligaments because it feels good* approach.” This is often followed by the “I have ligamentous laxity approach” which is part of a fine recipe for back pain. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you don’t want that.
Instead of the Cobra pose, we can try it’s yoga counterpart, Child’s Pose, coupled with emphasis on a full exhalation. I don’t mean a partial breath out, or what you’re accustomed to. I mean full exhalation.
The yoga disinclined may prefer a drill called Belly Up Breathing, which allows for the spinal erectors to relax while encouraging full exhalation. (Shhh, Yogis, don’t tell them it’s also called cow pose!)
Lifting heavy things and doing yoga seem to be consider two distinct ends of the strength spectrum, but in reality they can and should coexist to get the best of both worlds. This specific recommendation was a short and simple attempt to blend them, but certainly not the best way for most people.
The entire article, Best Yoga Poses for Athletes, contains poses that may be awesome, or awful, depending on what your goal is. If your goal is to enjoy the hell out of your yoga class or practice, then this is for you. If you’re instead focusing on active rest that facilitates calmness and/or performance between sets, I don’t think this is the way to go.
Rather than the Cobra pose, try the two exercises recommended above, and see how you feel. I’ll follow up tomorrow with some more good idea yoga moves. Get after getting better.