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timiacobucci

Is Atlas Stone Lifting Bad For Your Back?

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timiacobucci

Hello everyone. I haven’t posted here in a while because I had to stop grip training for a bit when I got a new job. ( I started selecting at a wharehouse and it’s tough when your hands don’t work and you have to grab cases for 10 hours.)

My question now is unrelated to grip training though. It is about atlas stone lifting. I

made one and it is one of my favorite exercises now. But I recently read this article http://www.t-nation.com/findArticle.do?art...04-111-training

Why are there no rounded back variations? Here’s the deal: You can build a great set of spinal erectors using round back variations of these lifts. But, you probably can’t do it and stay healthy for an extended period of time.

Now I’m sure some old-school lifters are going to bash me, saying that they’ve done rounded back lifts for years with no pain. That’s great, pal, but you’re probably the exception to the rule and others who follow your advice probably won’t be so lucky.

Round back good mornings, stiff-leg deadlifts, pull-throughs, deadlifts and the like can and will develop your erectors to a high-degree, but I won’t have it on my conscious to prescribe them for you. Stuart McGill, the world’s foremost researcher of spinal biomechanics, discusses in length in both of his books about how bad loaded spinal flexion is on your spine. To make a long story short, if you value your spine in its current state, stick to the neutral spine versions I’ve described above to get yourself stronger while staying injury-free.

This concerned me because I had read about and realized the dangers of using incorrect form or too much weight such that form was sacrificed for lifts like the deadlift and good mornings and I was prepared to deal with that, but this concept seems to strike a direct blow to stone lifting. Most specifically atlas stones.

I began to look for more information about the specific dangers of loaded spinal flexion as they referred to in the t-nation article and found this webpage.

http://www.dryessis.com/modules.php?name=N...ticle&sid=2

In discussing the dangers of incorrect form in the deadlift it says

When you bend over and round the spine as you lower the trunk to the horizontal position the forces acting on the spine are compounded greatly. In addition, when bending over with a rounded spine the erector muscles do not counteract the forces generated in the spine. As a result, you can easily over-stretch the strong ligaments that hold the lumbar spine in place and limit the amount of flexion. Because of the high forces acting on only a small portion of the spinal discs and vertebrae, other injuries can also occur. In fact, bending over and lifting a weight with a rounded back is one of the most common causes of low back injury!

For the saving grace of the deadlift it goes on to say

The deadlift is a perfectly safe exercise if you have sufficient flexibility in the hip joints and adequate strength of the lower back erector spinae muscles to maintain the normal curvature of the spine during the down and up actions.

But none of that applies to the atlas stone. Unless there is some way I am totally unaware of the only way you can possibly lift an atlas stone is to lift exactly the way that they warn against.

I had thought that by progressing in this lift slowly and building lower and arched back strength that I could build up the reinforcement that the lower back muscles would provide the spine in its disadvantaged position. But if what they are saying here is true

when bending over with a rounded spine the erector muscles do not counteract the forces generated in the spine

Then these muscles cannot even support the spine in this position only in the neutral position with the back straight.

So is it just a matter of time before something bad happens in my back with progression to heavier atlas stones?

It seems odd to me though that the evolution of the human spinal musculature and its biomechanics and leverage capabilities would not develop in such a way as to accommodate lifting a stone.

I mean how did cave men lift? I can’t picture a Neanderthal doing safety squats on a smith machine.

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John Beatty

I've got 10 years in now doing Atlas stones & no back problems at all & I probably have trained then lterally hundreds of sessions . Most of these articles are written by non lifters who have no experience at all in a weight room (machine & cardio at best) & would never lift a stone, it might snag their spandex cute suit. I think the odd angles & arch only make everything that much stronger. You really don't see that many back injuries at strongman meets, only the guys that already had a back issue. Mostly blown biceps or hamstrings.

The thing these guys don't get is that free weights & odd object lifting prepare you for real world lifting. The machines work drive muscles, but the stabilizers are neglected since everything moves in a straight line. Then the first time they hit a DB, or pick up a couch at home, they blow a shoulder, or tweak their back. Then they make the obvious connection that free weights (or stones) are bad.

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mobsterone

Although I rarely do full range stone lifting I have lifted many stones from the floor to the knees. It always feels like they actually free up my back. Nigh on all of the other lifts I do are done with a straight back and I more or less constantly have some form of back discomfort yet can do round back (cos there is no other way of doing stones) easily. Indeed my grip means I never use tacky and rarely chalk. I think my best is 170-kilos onto the knees.

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timiacobucci

Thanks for the reassurance I know both you guys have an impressive track record and I respect your opinions on this very much. I do wonder if I intentionally went to ask this question on a board where I knew strongman lifting to be highly regarded and I would get positive feedback on my favorite new lift.

John what you said was basically my main gripe with that particular theory. The lack of serious back injuries in strongman and the practical functional use of a rounded back in lifting real things. I mean like you said it’s hard to even pickup a couch to move with a straight back let alone something so unstable as another unwilling person.

The thing these guys don't get is that free weights & odd object lifting prepare you for real world lifting. The machines work drive muscles, but the stabilizers are neglected since everything moves in a straight line.

Well I wouldn’t say this is true for the 2 articles I mentioned because the first is advocating good morning and deadlifts and has no machine work at all. And the second actually says certain machines like the hip abductor are more dangerous than deadlifts if done properly.

I mean the guy they site Stuart McGill http://www.backfitpro.com/ has a pretty impressive background, I mean he is a professor of spine biomechanics. I don’t want to take his opinions lightly. I mean if this pretty smart guy in doing lots of testing in a laboratory on spine mechanics says that rounded back lifts put heavy forces on discs in an unsupported manner I certainly don’t have a much better theory to counter with.

The part like I said that bothers me is that they are saying that strengthening the back muscles doesn’t even help to counteract these forces in the spine. What do you guys think of that specifically?

170 kg that is a damn impressive feat. I think I could lap a much heavier stone because I can shoulder mine at 200 lbs now on both shoulders. This was my concern though I was just in the planning of a 250 -300 lb stone when I came upon this info and am second guessing the heavy stones now.

The only idea I had when contemplating the problem was this. If you fall out of good form on a heavy good morning or deadlift you don’t round your whole back immediately, so it would put a ton of pressure on the 1 or 2 discs that start to tilt first while the rest of the back is still straight, resulting in a lower back pull or slipped or ruptured disc. But when starting the atlas stone your whole back seems to be equally curved and each disc tilted so that it is more equally loading each disc form the start.

I wish one of theses guys in their lab would do some tests on an atlas stone lift and asses it.

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mobsterone

It's a strange one for sure. Many Chiro's earn a good living off of the work they do on weightlifters. I have, so I am told, two bulging discs. It could well be that the bulge/s are positioned in such a way that round back lifting frees them up or reliefs pressure.

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honk

I once read an very intresting article about back issues in the magazine "GEO".

The bottom line was that most people in the 50 to 60 range have health problems with their spine.

But only those with slight mental problems actually experience backpain.

If round back lifting might damage your spine, so what?

If you don't feel the effects and have a strong-as-heck back.

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Scott Styles

I have never lifted a stone. I have hurt myself several times with weights.

I don't really think you will find a lot of support for round back lifting of 200lbs+. From a safety perspective, it sounds like a dumb thing to do. Stuart McGill is one of the most prominent back specialists in the world. Elite Fitness even sells his book. I don't think he should be disregarded based upon the experiences of guys who enjoy round back lifting hundreds of pounds. Their experiences don't change your anatomy.

With that said, I think with most things if you build into them slowly and back off if you get any severe pains, you'll be ok. The body is very good at adapting, given the right amount of time to adapt. You have to decide if enjoyment of the sport is worth taking on the risk. If you do choose to take on the risk, you should also look at ways to mitigate that risk. Three I can think of are:

1. Build up slowly

2. Develop the proper flexibility needed to do the lift without putting your body at risk

3. Ensure you don't have any restrictions or imbalances in the muscles that will become hot spots while doing the lift

I don't think most lifting related injuries are a result of a single catastrophic event. They are a result of a chronic problem that has built up over time. At some point, that problem culminates in the catastrophic event, but the warnings signs were there all along.

You also might want to talk to a few guys who have had the experience of living with a severe back injury before going down the road of lifting with a rounded back. From what I have gathered, it can make every day a living hell.

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danegarreau

I'm not sure I have ever heard of anyone hurting their back lifting stones. It might have happened, but very rarely I would presume.

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AP

Scott's post is right on! Acknowledge that there is a risk (you should understand that if you are doing any heavy lifting too!) but work to try and mitigate against it.

Also remember that the awkwardness of the stones kinda helps too, most people wouldn't have any trouble deadlifting the weight of the heaviest stone they can lift.

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mobsterone
I have never lifted a stone. I have hurt myself several times with weights.

I don't really think you will find a lot of support for round back lifting of 200lbs+. From a safety perspective, it sounds like a dumb thing to do. Stuart McGill is one of the most prominent back specialists in the world. Elite Fitness even sells his book. I don't think he should be disregarded based upon the experiences of guys who enjoy round back lifting hundreds of pounds. Their experiences don't change your anatomy.

With that said, I think with most things if you build into them slowly and back off if you get any severe pains, you'll be ok. The body is very good at adapting, given the right amount of time to adapt. You have to decide if enjoyment of the sport is worth taking on the risk. If you do choose to take on the risk, you should also look at ways to mitigate that risk. Three I can think of are:

1. Build up slowly

2. Develop the proper flexibility needed to do the lift without putting your body at risk

3. Ensure you don't have any restrictions or imbalances in the muscles that will become hot spots while doing the lift

I don't think most lifting related injuries are a result of a single catastrophic event. They are a result of a chronic problem that has built up over time. At some point, that problem culminates in the catastrophic event, but the warnings signs were there all along.

You also might want to talk to a few guys who have had the experience of living with a severe back injury before going down the road of lifting with a rounded back. From what I have gathered, it can make every day a living hell.

It's difficult to build up per se with stones. Even with the few new ones Mike has made here we still only have 8 or so. 80, 90, 110, 140, 165 and a 251-kilo stone plus some others as yet not weighed but which fall somewhere in between the others. In my case I have an ongoing back injury which stones do nothing either way for. That said I may only play with a stone every few weeks or so whereas our pure strongmen here use them every week.

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nickr104

My back used to get achey and sore from working at UPS. Ever since I started strongman training 5 years ago I no longer get the pain in my back from lifting boxes at work. It has made my job tons easier. My back is stronger in the odd positions when I am picking things up at work. One of the main reasons I train the way I do is to help me at work. If I sat at a desk all day I wouldn't worry about it near as much , but I don't. This type of lifting may not be for everyone and if you want to start tring it slow and smart is the way to go. Listen to your body and don't do to much to soon.

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The Mac

Round back vs Neutral vs Arched is an age old discussion - McGill is certainly not someone I would ignore, but it is only personal experience and investigation that will show what YOU can perform and benefit from. I know lifters who hurt their backs more often from trying to keep a classical arched spine on lifting movements.

Having said that I've rearely seen or heardof lower back injuries during stone lifting.

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John Beatty

I'll have to go in as the middle ground again. Our abovementioned spine specialist in a powerlifter, most guys in other sports tend to look at other sports as not as good as theirs. As the Dr is a PL'er I'd like to know if he wears a suit & shirt, which allow you to lift more than you can naturally handle? And being a nurse, I certainly know plenty of doctors that know "everything". Doctors also used to advocate smoking as an aid to digestion. Doctors, when I was born, had babies eating all baby foods by 3 months, now thay say no food at all (only breastmilk & formula) until 6 months to 1 year old.

As to working up, a good idea. I'd recommend working the DL & stiff leg DL to build a good base, then find a quarry & get some limestone chunks ($11 per ton around here) & play with them. Or landscaping stones, whatever. I've come very close to lapping a 425 (up to the knees) at the end of a 300, 330, 365, 390 run & never had a problem at all with back pain from stones. Like Scott said, be reasonable & work up to it, listen to your body is always sound advice. But to say it's a bad thing is saying thousands of strongman competitors are totally wrong is totally wrong. There are no absolutes.

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climber511

If I had to pick something that offers higher risk of back injury - I'd have to say one arm lifting. But even that can be done fairly safely with progression and practice - the body has an amazing ability to adapt to stress's given a chance. Until the invention of barbells etc, everything man lifted didn't have handles or balance of any kind. Try dragging a deer out of the woods and throwing it into the back of your truck - I never think about lifting "with my legs" - just getting it done. For most of mans existence, there has been no such thing as technique or "proper" lifting form.

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suterp

I guess I'm one of the few who have hurt their back lifting stones. But I would say if you start light and work your way up you should be fine. I think my problem is that I come from an olympic lifting background and ALWAYS lifted with a flat/neutral spine so I wasn't used to rounding as required with the stones. Heavy stones with a round back just felt bad from the get-go and eventually lead to the injury. Since then I have lightened up on the stone and feeling much better now, hoping to go heavier eventually.

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Damien

There is always some risk involved when doing round back stuff.

But before on abandons all round-back lifting, one should give several things a thought:

1) most people that injure their back are sedential people attempting to lift a couch or bending over to pick something up with straight legs.

This means, their spinal muscles will be completely under developed for such a task.

Since you probably already have some experience with deadlifts and pulls with a neutral spine, your back muscles probably already have some strength to them to protect your spine in rounded-back lifting.

No I wouldn't go all-out the first day and try to lift the 400lbs one, but if you start with higher volume conservativles, I'd imagine your spinemuscles would become strong enough to support the spine in controlled back rounding (most back injuries also involve a lack of core and overall stability... try to lift an atlas stone on a wobble board...).

2) There is a difference between rounding of the lower back (lumbar spine) and mid-upper back (thoraic spine). Now the first one has a higher risk potential, the second one isn't all that problematic really, since that region is designed to move and be under load.

You can keep a more-or-less neutral lower back while rounding of the mid-upper back occurs, which is the case, especially in the "second pull" of stone loading, ie getting it to chest height.

What I would imagine could be relatively more risky would be straight leg stone lifting, since you couldn't even counteract the forces acting on the spine by squatting down and catching the stone in your lap... so you should maybe steer away from that one. :)

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timiacobucci

Suterp, how exactly did your back get hurt, I mean what was the injury that resulted and how long did it take for you to recover?

Where there any warning signs like pain or discomfort beforehand or was it very sudden?

If I had to pick something that offers higher risk of back injury - I'd have to say one arm lifting.

Great now you are going after my suitcase deadlifts and heavy sidebends, what is next I can’t do keg work either?

2) There is a difference between rounding of the lower back (lumbar spine) and mid-upper back (thoraic spine). Now the first one has a higher risk potential, the second one isn't all that problematic really, since that region is designed to move and be under load.

I hadn’t heard that before, but I think it works well with my idea about initial loading of a completely rounded back (or mostly upper back) on the start of a stone lift vs losing form on heavy deadlift when you are already loaded with a neutral spine. I think you tend to bend more at the lower back in the ladder case.

I am still curious about the part where he says that strengthening the muscles does not counteract the forces in the spine.

I think what he is saying here is that the muscles are like the hydraulic ram in a fork lift, it actually does the work of lifting the load but the mast is the structural part that transmits the forces, so the muscles may be plenty strong but this does nothing to help the load bearing structure if it is placed in a disadvantaged position.

I know that heavy lifting will make your bones and vertebrae stronger and more dense but can it also toughen the discs between them?

Does anyone know of a good spinal decompression stretch or exercise? Maybe that would be a good complement to add after stone lifting?

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stew2

Anything lifted wrong can injure your back. I hurt my back playing hockey in highschool years ago and let it heal over instead of getting fixed. I use to powerlift and got hurt alot ( terrible form with some strength = ouch alot). I started having back problems at work alot (very physical job) so I started doing stones and odd stuff along with regular lifting (better from kinda) haven't barely had any problems yet.

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j.scribner

I am with Stew and Nick in that before I started working out with them I would injure my back about once a year or so. It was always doing something stupid- twisting to reach something, lifting a smaller object, etc. It hurt the worst when I was running a lot, especially with an Army rucksack loaded with rocks (go figure). When I started working my back and abdominals, the episodes of back pain stopped almost 3 years ago, and I haven't had one since. I think I have unconsciously trained myself to pick up anything, not just stones with better preparation and technique, and I am much stronger. So I think the type of training we do ("strongman") does keep my back protected, and stones are part of that training.. That being said, at 53 I have also developed a defense against hurting myself, and I don't try some lifts that I know I can't do. At my age an injury takes 3X longer to heal than 20 years ago, so I "wimp out" sometimes, usually when I feel a big pressure building up in my low back. (This is disadventageous when lifting with the Rosendaul boys, who will try anything, and won't stop until they conquer the lift.) Oh, BTW, I have lost about 1/2" of height over the past few years, and I won't be surprised if down the road we find out this heavy stuff compresses our spine somewhat.

John Scribner

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Scott Styles

Supposedly doing spinal decompression exercises ( inversion table / gravity boots ) holds value. I've never tried them.

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suterp
Suterp, how exactly did your back get hurt, I mean what was the injury that resulted and how long did it take for you to recover?

Where there any warning signs like pain or discomfort beforehand or was it very sudden?

I never went to a doc but I suspect it was a disc problem. There was discomfort/slight pain ever since the first day I started lifting stones, but I said to myself I would toughen up over time and the pain would go away. Finally one day I tweaked my back doing deadlifts and went on to do the stones and it was killing me. The next day I could hardly move, and three months later I'm still dealing with some pain. After some time off, I've lightened up to a 170 stone and am doing it for high reps and it feels fine.

I've been lifting for about 20 years and can tell you that when I was in my teens and early 20's I lifted with a round back all the time and had no problems. I'm 33 now and can't get away with it. I think the discs get more fragile as you age. Forum owner Bill P. is always preaching that round back lifting is risky and will catch up with you one day and I think that's very good advice. The thing with stones is that the weight is much lighter than a max deadlift so they shouldn't be that risky provided you've given yourself some time to get used to them. My .02.

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Damien

I know quite a lot of people who swear by spinal decompression after heavy spinal loading.

Easiest way to decompress the spine is just hangiong from the pull-up bar for a while... take straps if needed and hang for 5min or so.

Or one can use an inversion table like scott said!

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John Beatty

I've done decompression for years after back & leg days. Hanging from my squat rack as long as I can & relaxing the back. I have also lost about 1/2" of height over the years.

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