I cheer new techniques and machines that target the low back. In fact, I just completed a month of physical therapy for a herniated disk, the consequence of fanatical free weight workouts during my early 20’s.
One good alternative is the basic back extension machine. You sit in the machine, select the weight, and work your spinal erectors by leaning against the back pad. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, today I saw a woman raise the machine’s adjustable back pad so that it lay directly across the top of her spine. By stiffening her neck and pressing back with her head, she managed to push the machine through its normal motion.
Still, no back exercise, done correctly or otherwise, is as dangerous as the good morning. A good morning consists of standing under a heavy barbell and bending forward at the waist, all while keeping your legs straight. This movement has fallen out of favor over time, either as a result of advances in kinesiology or its contribution to long lines at sports medicine clinics. I’ve even been to a gym that crossed out the good morning image on its poster of suggested back exercises.
I occasionally notice women doing this exercise with just a Body Bar, though I imagine the risk of injury at these weights is minimal. I did recently find a serious lifter mocking a gym novice online for not knowing the difference between squats and the good mornings the serious lifter was actually performing.
Well, pal, the joke’s on you. My greatest regret as a trainer is the way I encouraged many clients to add good mornings to their workouts. Though I was only passing on the best information at the time, these folks are probably cursing me from the straps of a traction machine right now.
The deadlift, on the other hand, remains one of the sport’s best overall strength and mass builders – as long as you pay meticulous attention to proper form. Here’s what not to do:
There was a guy at my gym that worked out while his girlfriend did. He would “show off” on deadlift day for her. His idea of a deadlift was to drop to the floor at light speed, smash the plates off the floor, then bounce it up to the start position and call that a rep. He sounded like a grocery cart being pushed down the stairs.
The correct mechanical position for beginning and finishing the deadlift: head up, shoulders higher than butt, and your butt higher than knees. Also, it’s important to feel yourself pushing with your legs rather than lifting with your back. I offer no guarantees, however, only the assurance that I’m passing on the best information available today.