The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Common Exercises Teach Bad Bending

I teach martial arts, yoga, and other classes at gyms on evenings and Saturdays. This morning I watched the class before mine. The music was loud. I remembered the saying "If it's too loud, you're too old."

When you read the following, remember that you already know it injures to bend "wrong," as in the photo at left, with your upper body bent over instead of upright. You know not to pick up a suitcase or child like that. Previous posts explain how that gradually hurts your lower back and discs.

The class ran a circuit:

  • They bent wrong to pick up a barbell for ten deadlifts, staying bent over while lifting.
  • They put the barbell down wrong (bending over) and ran to do ten toe touches - more bad bending over.
  • They ran to do abdominal crunches, rounding their back forward over and over.
  • They got up and kicked a target baffle, rounding their back and pushing their chin forward like a pigeon with each kick so that each impact transmitted to their spine.
  • They ran across the room, each footfall landing heavily so that each impact transmitted to their knees, hip, and spine.
  • Then leg lifts, bending forward at the hip over and over.
  • Back to bent-over deadlifts, then alternate toe-touches - bending over and twisting side to side (more pressure on discs than just bending over), then sitting and bringing knees to chest, then deadlifts.
  • They bent over wrong to get dumbbells for bent over triceps curls (healthier when done standing upright.)
  • Then standing squats by bending the hip forward over and over. The instructor coached them to stick their behind far out in back. This pinches the lower back adding to a second kind of back pain. Posts coming soon will tell more.
  • They reclined with feet up, putting body weight on their rounded shoulders to bicycle their legs in the air, and so on, rounding, bending, and pressuring discs and lower back structures for the 45-minute class.
  • They bridged up on shoulder and feet, to "stretch the other way" even though it bent their neck forward.
  • They ended by hanging forward to stretch and bringing each arm across the front of their body to stretch the back of the shoulder. This is counter-productive. Most people are already round-shouldered from sitting and bending forward all day. The personal trainer outside the room was doing similar exercises.

One of the students said she comes to the class to strengthen because of back pain. The trainer said he also had back pain and that is why he exercises. Hopefully you can now see part of why.

I'm not just an Ivory-tower egghead who wants you to reduce activity, never lift heavy things, or never move quickly or through a full range of motion. Just the opposite. I'm a former full contact kickboxer (undefeated) in the US, the Netherlands, and Thailand. I want to show you how to have a healthier, more fun and active life, where you stop pain and injuries and do more. The exercises I learned in over 30 years of martial arts were all the usual but injurious ones. Many students dropped out with injuries. It was not the martial arts but some of the exercises. But which? I went back to the lab to study until I found why the injuries were occurring and what will train you better than what we were using. If it works better, I want to know and do it.

Watch other people exercising. It will remind you of many things to avoid. Start your way back to healthy movement by noticing what your exercises are really doing.

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.