You shouldn't bend flex or twist your spine with exercises, here's why!

Mar 14, 2022

To bend the spine or not to bend the spine…that is the question.

We hear people say it’s fine, because after all, we can. And we hear others say that bending the back during exercise is likely to damage the spine rather than develop performance.

So what’s the answer? Let’s dissect the arguments. 

Spine power – what is it and why is it relevant?

It goes without saying that the different exercises we do will exert different pressures on the spine. We feel it bending and twisting as we carry out different movements.

We might choose to move fast and repeatedly, or we might include weights to try to increase the impact of our stretches. But the faster we move or the more weight we carry, the more risk there is that the movements we’re doing will be detrimental to the spine.

When I talk about spine power, I’m talking about the relationship between these different elements of movement. And it’s best described in terms of force – the weight carried, and velocity – the speed of the movement. Force and velocity work together. If we amp up either the force or the velocity exerted on the spine, spine power will be similarly increased. And when spine power becomes too great, there is a very real risk of back injury.

So while that twisting exercise might be fine when you’re keeping it slow and controlled, if you start to speed up and lose stability that resultant increase in spine power could result in issues.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be bending or twisting the spine at all – we just need to be aware of how we’re performing in order to optimise fitness and minimise the risk of injury.

Reducing the risk of spinal injury during exercise

There are plenty of exercises that allow the spine to move without causing an injury. And by referring to the force equation above we can get a pretty good idea of what they look like.

There is a demonstration in the tutorial video above, but if you choose to use a weights machine to add force to your exercise it’s vital to keep the velocity on your spine low. That means turning at the hips, using the power of those big powerful muscles to create the movement. By keeping the high velocity on the freely moveable joint of the hips, the velocity on the spine will be minimised, thus keeping a low power spine and therefore reducing the risk of damage.

Of course this works in reverse too. We can keep the force low but increase velocity to create low spine power. If we think about a golf swing this starts to make sense. The spine twists due to the momentum of the swing, but the golf club is not that heavy - the load is low – so the risk of damage is limited. I explain more about how the muscles move to stabilise the spine during this movement in the video.  I also talk about body weight squats.

By keeping this equation in mind, we can learn how to adjust or tweak any of the exercises we want to do, to create low spine power. We can add some nuance to our thinking around the exercises.

So, can we bend the spine?

In a word, yes.

But it absolutely depends on what exercises we’re choosing and who for.

If we’re choosing high load exercises, we want to keep the velocity low. If choosing low load or force exercises, we have the opportunity to start to bring the velocity high once we’ve achieved some stability in the movement. 

If you want to understand which exercises are healthy for your spine and which are more likely to cause injury, approach them with reference to the spine power equation.

Are you suffering from lower back pain that you’re struggling to resolve? Enrol in my How to Overcome Low Back Pain Online Coaching for a tailored package that will help you re-build and protect your spine and lower back.


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