The modern dysfunction
I’m doing it right now, and you are probably too.
It’s something most people do for 80% of their waking hours. Sitting down. When it comes to functionality, flexibility and strength, this is probably one of your main enemies.
The human body was not evolved to be seated and in fact if you compare homo sapiens sapiens against the animal kingdom the one physical area in which we can excel and hold some ground is in fact the long distance run.
Strength wise we are weak. Agility, rubbish. Speed, slow.
But in a long; hilly race man can in fact in the right circumstances, course and distance beat a horse (proved a few times in the annual Man versus Horse Marathon in Wales, UK).
This is sometimes attributed to our hunter-gatherer past, where early man had to use his superior brain power and long distance ability to chase down and kill prey larger, stronger and faster than himself. The point is, we as a species seem to have evolved to be good on our two feet. For more information have a look at this excellent TED Talk by Christopher McDougall, Are we born to run?
Obviously modern living doesn’t really call for running down antelope for dinner anymore and in the Western world even compared with the more recent industrial era of the last centurywork and leisure is taking on an increasingly sedentary and immobile inclination.
With the reliance on the internet, computers and remote communication ever increasing there seems to be only one way this trend is going to go; I think the growing average weight and the expanding average waistline particularly in the West are a pretty neat barometer of the amount of time people are on their ass.
The health risks from a sedentary lifestyle have been well documented (increased chance of being overweight, heart disease, diabetes to name a few) and we’ve all heard of the recommendation to try and walk more and do at least 30 mins of activity a day to try and offset some of these risks..
However this is obviously not sufficient.
Squat and deadlift are important for your flexibility and back health
Since you’re reading this you are training or are looking to start, so I appreciate I’m not speaking to those who think doing 30 minutes of light physical activity a day is a challenge.
I’m not going to say that you must do the squat and the deadlift because I understand that some people have genuine pre-existing problems with their backs.
I am going to say however that they are the two top exercises (if performed properly) that will help preserve and enhance your lower back health and your flexibility in the face of all this modern dysfunction.
Without going into too much detail (more to come in follow-up article of the deadlift and squat), in order to perform these two movements properly you need above all good hamstring flexibility, open hips and a strong core. These lifts will help your posture and strengthen your entire musculature.
One of the main reasons for lower back pain is having short, tight hamstrings; a condition of too much sitting and lack of use of these major muscles that puts stress on your lumbar spine.
To even get in the correct position to deadlift you have to have the required flexibility, and this can be worked on by regular stretching and assistance work until you can get into the position; once you have it you can add weight which will add strength to your entire musculature.
Basically if you can train these lifts with good form with some weight, there is a high chance you will have good flexibility and core strength.
By training your lower back and posterior chain (more to follow) you can not only help you posture and overall strength, you can therefore help counteract some of the negative dysfunction you get from sitting all day.
Isn’t deadlifting bad for your back?
In an ideal world we would all get to move around and have jobs that helped rather than hindered our health.
However if we have no choice in how we work we should at least try to offset the negative effects as much as possible.
The squat and deadlift are easily the two most crucial exercises that are rarely performed in today’s gym; they have an image of being ‘hardcore’, difficult or even dangerous.
Hardcore? If you are doing them to 3x bodyweight then yes they can be some of the most raw lifts out there. The dangerous tag is interesting because of the fact that if done properly they can both be good for your back; I have noticed those who label them as dangerous have either never tried them or have tried them a few times and tweaked their back due to bad form and/or ego lifting with too much weight not due to the exercises themselves.
You can compare it to a lot of activities; scuba diving has risks and can be dangerous if not done properly with the requisite knowledge and experience. But it is not dangerous if you are sensible and follow the protocol.
Difficult: extremely. These are challenging and mentally difficult lifts that require a measure of knowledge, dedication and work ethic to get right. But if you stick at it you can not only reap huge rewards from other parts of your training, you can actually help offset the dysfunctions that are intrinsic to modern living and enjoy a good posture and healthy back for longer.
Personally, I think it is worth it!