This is a very common sight: a sweaty intense looking guy cranking out pushup after pushup on the floor. It looks impressive at first glance, but on second glance, you notice a big “C” shaped arch in his low back, so much in fact that his belly button almost touches the floor each rep! Then wait, you realize that only half of his body is moving – the top half. Is this really a pushup you might wonder? Does this position do our pushup friend any good? Today we answer these questions and more!
The horrible open scissors position; notice the poor low back and head position here.
This excessively arched low back position has been referred to as “open scissor syndrome”. Low back position that is compressed like this may be linked with increased muscle activation in this area. Why would this be? Most likely, something else, often the glutes are weak, so the low back takes over the mobile role of the hip extensors. The low back is supposed to be a stable joint, so this can lead to injury, muscle imbalance and pain over time. Often times, those with low back pain exhibit excessive back muscle activation and low abdominal activation. The lats or the serratus anterior could also be inactive, and the muscles of the upper back can be overactive. This restricts the mobility up top and once again the low back is forced become hypermobile.
Normal positioning is seen on the left; overarched “open scissors” is seen on the right.
Open scissors not just makes you look like you are weak and have no idea what you are doing, but it stalls your training results. Without proper closed scissor position, your ability to activate the right muscles at the right time and breathe under load is impaired. This means you will not progress to lift bigger weights or lift for longer sets very fast in any exercise! Training the midsection muscles and improving body awareness here is key.
The dead bug exercise. Creative name aside, it is one of the best core training exercises out there.
Midsection training exercises should focus on keeping strong closed scissor position. You may notice that as you fatigue the scissors want to open up. Don’t let them. Either make the exercise a bit easier or take a break. The deadbug, the bird dog and the plank are the most basic of these exercises for improving lumbar stability and midsection strength. Take as long as it takes to get the low back flat and hold it there with normal breathing. Once mastered, progress to sitting exercises and hold the closed scissor position. Breathe. Once that is mastered, go on to standing and then full on dynamic exercises. By now, keeping the scissors shut should be second nature!
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O’Sullivan, P. B., Phyty, G. D. M., Twomey, L. T., & Allison, G. T. (1997). Evaluation of specific stabilizing exercise in the treatment of chronic low back pain with radiologic diagnosis of spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis. Spine, 22(24), 2959-2967.
Radebold, A., Cholewicki, J., Panjabi, M. M., & Patel, T. C. (2000). Muscle response pattern to sudden trunk loading in healthy individuals and in patients with chronic low back pain. Spine, 25(8), 947-954.