In this article we’ll be considering how and why you should be taking good care of your spine through spinal decompression exercises. Although back pain is often a result of exercise and heavy lifting, it need not be inevitable, and taking just a little bit of time on a regular basis to attend to the health of your spine will pay dividends in the future. Here we will consider the effects of spinal compression and how to reverse its effects simply and effectively.

Spinal Decompression Quasimodo
Spinal Decompression — Quasimodo never did them

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If this is you as a young lifter, you need to start taking care of your spine NOW!

Why Spinal Decompression?

If I asked you to picture an old person, you’d be likely to think of a grey-haired (or bald) man or woman, possibly wearing spectacles, bent over, perhaps with a walking stick in one hand and their free hand on their lower back or hip – just like the image above. The simple truth is, lower back pain and the hunched posture that results from it are synonymous with being old. 

As we’ve said in our recent piece on strengthening your neck, your posture, whether you like it or not, instantly conveys messages about you to those around you. Even if you aren’t actually an old man, walking with a hunched posture will almost certainly make you look older than you actually are. 

Would anybody want this if they could avoid it?

Well, you definitely can. Although back pain is often a result of exercise and heavy lifting, it need not be inevitable, and taking just a little bit of time on a regular basis to attend to the health of your spine, through spinal decompression exercises, will pay dividends in the future.

Back pain can be the result of many things, among them performing exercises like squats or deadlifts with poor form. As we’re always at pains, ahem, to tell you: mastering form is more important than piling on the weight. Check your ego at the door and focus on doing the movements properly, before you add massive amounts of weight, and forcing yourself into endless sets of spinal decompression exercises to reverse the damage like emptying a sinking boat with a ladle.

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Don’t be this dude. Learn how actually to squat before you pile on the poundage.

One cause of back pain that gets less attention than ego lifting or other forms of general idiocy is spinal compression, which is a general result of placing heavy loads on the spine. Let’s look in detail at how this happens.

How the spine works

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the spine to being human. Without your spine you wouldn’t be able to stand up straight, or even stand up for that matter. It provides structure and support and allows you to perform the full range of movements you can perform, from throwing a punch to kicking a ball and everything in between.

As well as providing support, stability and structure, the spine functions as a shock absorber (more on this shortly) and also acts as a conduit for the body’s nervous system. The spinal cord and nerve roots run through a channel in the spine. These nervous tissues govern our perception of and reaction to the environment around us, from the flow of blood and physical sensation to the activity of the gut, breathing and excretion through the bladder and bowel — which is why spinal decompression is important!
Image result for the spine

The spine, then, is a tremendous feat of natural engineering: 33 bones, or vertebrae, stacked on top of one another, with discs (think of them as shock absorbers) between them.

Certain areas of the spine are, however, especially vulnerable to injury, because their mechanical leverage is worse than that of other areas. The lumbar region, or the lower back, is the worst offender in this regard.

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Eddie Hall performing his world record 500kg deadlift

Even when you perform, say, a deadlift with the correct form – when you brace your spine, squeeze the glutes and engage the lats, all of which are to protect the lower back – the lower back is still placed under tremendous load. The muscles around the spin become stiff and this increases pressure on the discs, which, over time, can degenerate, causing pain and hampering mobility. Spinal compression of this kind can cause fractures, arthritis, bone spurs and bulging discs, among other things.

Decompression is simply reducing this pressure to restore the spine to its normal state. Although you can visit a specialist to have this done, there are also simple ways you can do it yourself at home. Below are a few exercises you should do regularly if you are lifting heavy weights, to ensure the health of your spine.

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Spinal Decompression Exercises

Dead hangs

Just hang out and let gravity do the work for you. Simply hang from a bar, with your scapulae relaxed, not retracted, and let the tension drop out of your back. You may hear your joints click into realignment. 

The spinal decompression exercise king

We recommend three or four hangs of up to a minute (start with less time if you have to). You can also do hard squeezes, gripping the bar hard for a few seconds and tensing your abs, to help release your spine.

Cat Stretch

If you don’t have access to a bar or tree branch from which to hang, you can perform this yoga mainstay.  Many physiotherapists prescribe this exercise as a spinal decompression tool for the lumbar spine.

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The cat stretch takes place on your hands and knees and mimics the type of movement a cat would do when waking up from a nap. It usually happens at the beginning of class alongside its counter-pose, the cow stretch, in order to get your body prepped and ready for the full flow.

1. Kneel on all fours. Place your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips.

2. Balance your weight evenly.

3. Inhale and look forward.

4. Exhale as you gently tuck your chin into your chest, dropping your head. Draw your navel toward your spine, as you round your spine upwards.

5. Keep the fingers spread wide as you push the floor away, focusing on lifting the space between and above your shoulder blades. 

6.  Hold the cat pose for a few breaths before you return to the initial position.

Perform this for 5-10 repetitions.

Reverse hyper

Another very effective spinal decompression exercise is the reverse hyper. You’ll need a reverse hyper machine to perform it, however.

Louie Simmons, the famous father of Westside Barbell, fractured one of his lumbar vertebrae as a young man and was told he would never lift again. Of course Louie being Louie, he had other ideas, and through a programme of rehabilitation that included using reverse hypers, he was able to get back to lifting absurd poundages – something he continues to do to this day.

Spinal decompression tool and potent posterior chain builder

If you don’t have access to a reverse hyper machine, there is a spinal decompression bodyweight alternative that you can try.

Bodyweight version of spinal decompression exercise

Whichever of these exercises you choose to do, we recommend you perform them after every session that includes heavy spinal loading, so especially after deadlifts and squats. Even a small amount of spinal decompression training will help you protect your spine and bulletproof it against injury.

Remember: you want to be in this for the long run.

Spinal decompression features in our upcoming eBooks on deadlifting and squatting, both of which will be available soon.

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