Spinal Stupidity?


Today, I’m taking the gloves off.

I may lose a few followers in the process, but hopefully I’ll pick a few up as well.

I’m frustrated with our industry.  Everyone wants to have an “angle,” or they want to get their 15 minutes of E-Fame.

It’s annoying.

The easiest way to do this is start a blog, write some articles with catchy headlines, and twist and contort things beyond recognition.

Watch how I could easily do this with the information below.

Blog Title:  Spinal Flexion is GREAT!

Alternate Title: Single-Leg Lifts Reign Supreme

Last month, Bill was evaluating a new client here at IFAST.  He had complained of back pain for months, and as a result, was pretty limited in what he could do in the gym.

When asked about his current lower-body training, he mentioned that he had removed all bilateral lifts, and that he could perform single-leg training pain-free.*

(* Without reading further {or bothering to evaluate him}, this would be an ideal time to jump to the conclusion that single-leg training is always better for clients in low back pain.)

Upon further evaluation, it was apparent that he had some issues. He was quite lordotic, which we know puts a great deal of shear forces on the lower back.  When evaluating his spinal motion, Bill had him perform a toe touch to examine his lumbar flexion.

Lumbar Extension

In this case, his lumbar spine actually stayed in extension the whole time! His entire toe-touch pattern was performed via hip flexion while his lumbar spine stayed in extension.

In this individual’s case, his “neutral” was actually excessive lumbar extension.  As a result, one of the first exercises we put in his program were cat/camels.  We needed to regain his lost lumbar flexion range of motion to get him back to a more neutral alignment.+

(+ This would be an ideal time to tout how important lumbar flexion is, and that you should probably be doing more of it.  Rather than discuss how this is an isolated case study, someone could easily generalize and say that “everyone” needs more spinal flexion.)

Now if Joe Blow with back pain reads this, maybe he doesn’t read the whole article – let’s say he just skims/scans the piece, and the only thing he picks up on is “Hey, spinal flexion was good for this guy, it must be good for me.  Right?”

He goes to the gym, bros out with a bunch of rounded back deadlifts, good mornings, sit-ups, etc. and ends up with a horrible case of back pain.

Now obviously I’m exaggerating a bit here to make a point, but can you see the issue?

As fitness professionals, you owe it to yourself and your clients to give all the information necessary, not just the bullet points, a fancy title and an “angle.”

Should there be a certain amount of flexion at the lumbar spine? Yes.

Should there be a certain amount of rotation in the lumbar spine? Yes.

Do most people need to train for MORE range of motion in either of these motions?  No, but again, that’s why we assess them!

I feel like a broken record here.  Why do we, as an industry, continue to have the same arguments?

Enter The Internet Icon

There’s another, possibly larger issue at hand here. Charlie Weingroff and myself discussed this extensively last weekend while attending a seminar in St. Louis.

We live in the Internet age, where everyone is an expert.  I don’t claim to be an expert myself, although some people have felt the need to bestow that title upon me.

I know a lot of true experts, and I’m definitely not comfortable being called one just yet.

The term Charlie used was “Internet-made.”  These are the guys that have minimal experience training people, yet their opinions carry a lot of weight because they’re well known in various training circles on the Internet.

The irony here is, to some extent, I was Internet-made.  Many of you wouldn’t know who I am if it weren’t for my website, T-Nation, or the Internet in general.  But all along the way, I’ve trained people of all shapes and sizes and gotten results.

The problem is, I’m seriously starting to doubt how much training background today’s Internet experts really have.

How many clients/athletes have they worked with?

What kind of results did they get in the short-term?

What kind of results did they get in the long-term? And this is a big one, because 50% of all low back pain is resolved without any therapy whatsoever.

The big question is did you resolve the underlying problem?

There’s a lot more to it than writing a sexy article, or blasting out pointless propaganda to your Twitter feed.

Again, the only reason this may come off as rude or arrogant is because I’m really passionate about this.  I see people almost everyday who are in pain, and it’s my goal to help them get back to 100% and enjoying life.

Let me give you an example:  One of my favorite IFAST clients is a young soccer player.  She came to us after having back pain for at least a year, if not longer.  She’d tried a lot of different treatments, but wasn’t having any consistent results.

Bill evaluated her, and we’ve programmed and her for over a year now.

The results have been fantastic.  She no longer has any back pain, even when playing multiple games in one day.

But you know what, it’s not about me bragging to you – it’s about the fact that we’ve helped this amazing girl play a sport she loves and enjoys without being restricted by pain or injury.

At the end of the day, it’s always about the people you work with and the lives you touch. People like this are why I do what I do for a living.


As an industry, we need to focus on the message.

Many people who visit our site aren’t experts.  Hell, a lot of them aren’t even trainers or coaches!  They are simply people who enjoy training, and want to get results while staying healthy.

I don’t know about you, but I want to protect these people.  It’s not that I’m smarter than them, but this is my world and this is the stuff I care about.  I hope that my financial planner, or accountant, or lawyer would do the same for me.

I’m going to do my best to give you all the facts and information in my work.  I know sometimes that comes off as wishy-washy, but I’d rather be thorough and correct than lead any of you astray.

I sincerely hope you liked this piece, and if so, please take a moment to pass the message along via Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Hopefully, my status as “Internet Icon” will grow as a result 🙂

All the best



Leave Comment

  1. Mike,
    I said this the other day and it definitely connects to your post.
    "Being REAL in an industry FLOODED of "Arm Chair Experts"!
    Keep doing what your doing because you are the truth. In my eyes and many of your colleagues eyes, you have earned the title "expert."
    Good work man!

  2. Mike-
    Great points here – I didn't think it was that bad at all based on your facebook warning. This industry sorely needs this type of criticism and more of it. Cheers to you and Charlie on telling it like it is!

  3. Mike, in my business an 'expert' is anyone who flies across city limits to tell management what you've been trying to tell them for years. Have heart, it's not just you; that said, it is maddening anyone can weigh in on something w/o any requirement of competence.
    Have fun at the wedding!

  4. Geez, why you thought this would ruffle anyone’s feathers, it beats me. Maybe as a New Yorker I’m not sensitive to these things. Plain spoken is a good thing. Good men don’t have to speak as if they are walking on eggshells. It doesn’t suit them.
    The Internet age is the time that Andy Warhol foresaw when he said that there would come a time when everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Well, this is it.
    Plato, yes that Plato, said, you have to know that something is true before you can recognize it as such . Funny how the truth can seem so paradoxical. But, let them slice their baloney, it has no nutrition and will start to stink in a very short while.
    And so let them have their say, they’ll only be around for fifteen minutes. We surely can wait them out. In the meantime let the truth call to those who care about it. Thank you, Mike for your generosity. Signed, a real BB. lol

  5. Great post Mike – it is a buyer beware environment on the internet and just because someone has a lot of followers does not mean they know what they are talking about. Sometimes people get what they pay for on free blogs.
    Also – patients/clients need to ditch the idea that just because something "worked" for someone they know, that same something will work, or is approproate for, them…it should go without saying that fitness and manual medicine providers should be immune to this failed logic but unfortunately many are not.
    This is the main reason we all need to continuously integrate current scientific literature into everything we do – each patient is unique and deserves a unique approach.

  6. Well said.
    I started a blog a few months ago. I am again, after reading this post, asking myself, "Do I actually know what I'm doing or am I just trying to make a name for myself."
    While I like to think the former, your post agains reminds me of my priorities and values as a doctor and strength coach.
    Do I value integrity and responsibility more than money and reputation? Of course, if I'm true to myself, I'll achieve all four values if I do it correctly, staying truthful and responsible from the start.
    Thanks Mike.

  7. In regards to Dr. Christopher Stepien comment – it is being
    true to values that is the key. Sure someone can have the
    answer to cancer and diabetes, but if no knows about it,
    it might as well not exist. So making a name for one's self
    is as vital as knowing your stuff. Either one without the other
    will create a problem.

  8. Great post Mike, I believe that as the internet grows and offers more and more bandwith it will be harder for internet made trainers to pass themselves off as something they are not. Ustream, youtube and video blogging from the trenches are starting to show which trainers and coaches are really training people and which are just blogging

  9. Awesome post Mike. I recently read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and he proved how the 10 year/10,000 hour rule for experts is actually true in every field, sometimes even more! I by no means am an expert but i continually try to learn as much as possible so one day I am considered an expert to my peers.

  10. Thom Lamb, I think you are exactly the kind of trainer that Mike is talking about. Half of your video blogs show shitty movement while you cheer them on, the other half are you talking about concepts you clearly know nothing about. But your head is so far up your ass that you don't even recognize how foolish you are.
    Snatch training?? ( http://www.youtube.com/user/elitexpt#p/u/12/_NbU_… )

  11. Great post, Mike — and very well taken. The number of sites I see/e-mails I get that are people of a certain group promoting each other unceasingly is growing. There's a reason that, in the blog I've just started, I'm not likely to say ANYthing about techniques myself, because I'm NOT so trained. I'm learning, and hope eventually to be able to specialize in training other "mature" athletes (I'm 56}, but I'm not ready to give any but the most limited advice yet.
    I have special spinal issues, myself, with a titanium cage that runs from S1 up to L2, and three artificial discs, and a couple of nerve transplants that gave me my leg function back, which I was beginning to lose due to nerve impingement. Needless to say, I have flexibility limitations.

  12. What drives me crazy is when people who have never trained might criticize the way someone else trains clients.

    It’s clear that this person is in the learning phase, given the unloaded barbell and the segmentation of the movement. The fact that their overhead squat is way, way better than the average person can do means the person coaching seems to be well on their way to teaching this person to snatch.

    I mean, how often have you seen a good squat like that at a commercial gym? Almost never – not even a front squat or a back squat with that depth let alone an overhead squat.

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