The walls of a building are attached across the floors and support each other. One wall, without the opposite face pressing against it, is weak and will fall quickly — in even a light breeze. Buildings thousands of feet tall are possible because walls buttress each other. The Golden Gate Bridge spans San Francisco Bay because the tight tight cables pull against the gravitational force of the road deck pressing against the cable tension. Together, the walls of a building are far stronger than any individual wall alone. The cables and deck of a bridge far exceed the strength of the constituent pieces.
I’ve been fighting a variety of lumbosacral issues for years. The older I get and the greater the total poundage that has traveled through my spine, the easier the problems are to exacerbate. I’ve problem solved and pondered. I’ve contemplated, scrutinized, examined and researched. Some of you have read about these things, some of you may not enjoy my weekly ramblings. Others haven’t been able to avoid me, because I’ve been doing my best to diagnose and treat what are often mutual physical peccadilloes.
In my relentless wanderings through Internet-land, I stumbled upon pelvic tilt as it pertains to lumbar curvature, specifically as related to hyperextension. No, that actually isn’t fair. I eternally believe in credit where and when it’s due, and I’d been examining lumbar curvature, iliopsoas contraction and stretching, without particular or specific attention to pelvic tilt, until talking in passing, with Stesha.
“I figured out that I had anterior pelvic tilt and that was causing some of my problems, but I’m sure you already know all about that,” she told me. Thanks for the credit, but no, I’d never actually considered it. She may not even remember the conversation as it was held in passing between classes and may have included a total of 20 words, if even that many.
I’d realized that I have a great deal of lumbar extension — hyperextension even, and I’d made great strides — without truly correcting all of my problems, by addressing an iliopsoas complex that had existed in an eternal state of spasm. Most of my issues were alleviated when my chiropractor went digging around inside my right pelvic brim, in a bizarre, prison-rape style maneuver that involved me blacking out and wetting myself on his exam table. We determined that my right psoas, in particular, had a knot the size of an orange residing therein. We fixed it.
The relief was immediate and profound. You know your psoas was tight when the removal of a muscular knot in the iliac fossa causes your lumbar spine to crack when the tension is removed. When I regained consciousness and cleaned up his table, I thanked him graciously and left the office as something of a born again nutjob.
So the psoas experiment effectively soothed the savage beast and assuaged much of the pain with which I’d been living. But my back persists in being sketchy as shit when I squat and pull from the floor. Even light weights jeopardize my L-spine. Why? What the actual fuck? Why can’t I fix this?
So, I’d been working through possible solutions, one at a time, when Stesha mentioned anterior pelvic tilt. Hmm. My lumbar extension is obvious. It stands to reason that my pelvis may be tipped a little forward as a continuation of that extension. While I was in the Air Force, indidental note of “spontaneous L5-S1 sacralization” was made on some spinal imaging that I’d had. The curvature and relationship between my pelvis and my lumbar spine is accentuated by the fact that my pelvic structure extends, effectively, into my lumbar spine with the largest of all the vertebra, L5. So, when my pelvis is tilted forward, this will extend lumbar extension to an even greater extent, as the angle of the tilt is transmitted 2 inches further into my lumbar spine than it should be via the taller-than-average sacrum.
Researching and researching, I found many articles addressing APT — perhaps you read an earlier piece I put together on the subject where I was laughing about the acronym. It’s like an evening news pharmaceutical commercial. “Do you suffer from APT, an often painful condition caused by the pelvis and lumbar spine failing to meet in a well-supported union, placing the spine in a position of compromised support while lifting and squatting, often resulting in profound, and pervasive pain? Ask your doctor about APT today…”.
I’d been fixing one issue at a time, before revisiting an article on the T-Nation website by Kasey Esser. Esser was using the lifting cue “ribs down” to describe consciously maintaining abdominal contraction and tension while squatting. I think “ribs down” may not be the best cue, and it had actually caused me to ignore the greater message intended.
The building falls without opposing walls. The bridge splinters without the tension between the cables and the road deck. The lumbar spine, without appropriately flexed abdominal musculature, leaves the spine out in the cold. The spinal erectors do their best to stabilize and contract, but they contract at the expense of lumbar hyperextension and anterior pelvic tilt. The stabilization of the “fluid ball” within the core is absent.
Ouch. Pain. That hurts.
I began walking around the house picking things up. I completely disengage my abs when I squat. They are flaccid and relaxed at the bottom of a squat — any squat. My building has only one wall. And I’ve been hanging a lot of weight off one side of it. I then consciously contracted my abs, making my core tight before picking up a few additional items. Everything felt AWESOME. So. Much. Better. The extent of my lumbar extension was addressed by the abdominal contraction lifting the anterior pelvis and placing the L-spine in a slightly more vertical position where it intersects the pelvis, in my case at L4-L5. And the abdominal contraction creates the “fluid ball” within the abdomen, which further stabilizes the core.
I then ran naked through the village screaming, “Eureka!!”
I messaged Krystie, because we’ve been working through similar issues together. I told her to throw something on the floor and then pick it up. Then, I told her to throw it on the floo again and this time consciously contract her abs when she bent/squatted to pick it up.
“I’ve been working on this for a week now.”
Krystie, we need to talk about sharing.
“I figured you knew, I think I got the idea from an article that you sent me.”
Well crap. I hadn’t gotten there yet. One thing at a time. She just picked a different thing than I did.
Let’s address and add this to your brain bucket and lifting retinue. What are you doing with your abs when you put a load through your spine, be it via squatting, deadlifting or other lifting/pulling moves? Don’t just write this off — I have a six-pack. It hadn’t occurred to me because my abs are present and strong, it’s that I was failing to recruit them. At all.
The next time you are in the gym, make sure your building has more than one wall. Make sure your bridge has cables and a deck. Make sure your abs are tight, contracted and giving the spinal erectors something to brace against.
Learn from my mistakes.