Bending Over – Fundamental Human Movement

Bending Over – Fundamental Human Movement


People bend over for all sorts of reasons. Commonly it is to pick things up off the ground. This article will examine two popular exercises that require you to bend over – the deadlift and the jefferson curl. These exercises are similar in that they load the entire body and different in how they stress the body.

The deadlift requires hip hinging (fold at the hip) with a straight back to reach the floor whereas the jefferson curl requires spinal flexion, or spinal rolling, to facilitate bending over. When most people bend over in daily life, they employ a combination of both hip hinging and spinal flexion to reach towards the ground.

The Deadlift – When you absolutely must pick up all the weights

During the Roman Empire days, soldiers needed a way to stop getting hurt while clearing dead bodies from the battlefield. It is believed they were taught proper lifting technique by their commanding general, and this is how the deadlift was born.

There are many different variations of the deadlift as seen in the sports such as powerlifting, olympic lifting, and bodybuilding. They all have the following things in common.

The lift focuses on a powerful hip extension while maintaining a braced neutral spine. The deadlift works well because it focuses the load across the hamstrings and glutes, two large muscle groups, capable of generating large amounts of force. While the deadlift certainly will condition all soft tissue in the body, it is primarily aimed at building muscle, strength and/or mass.

Deadlifts are very useful for building full body strength, albeit through a limited range of motion. Due to the mechanics of the lift, the exercise can be completed with a relatively large amount of resistance or weight making it an excellent choice for developing raw strength.

There are many types of deadlift, this is an example of ques that work for a solid beginner deadlift.

The Jefferson Curl – one exercise to rule them all

The jefferson curl is a weighted mobility exercise, with the aim build strength across a large range of motion. This exercise is common in gymnastic and acrobatic practices. It is an excellent exercise to develop the spinal articulation coordination for the press handstand.

The jefferson curl requires the spine to roll forward followed by a deep lower back, butt, and back of legs stretch.

Approach the jefferson curl conservatively. Starting with very little (2kg) or no weight at all. The movement requires you to roll your spine, starting at the head, forward into flexion, aiming to move each vertebrate in sequence until you are hanging in a forward fold.

Loading the spine in flexion places stress on the connective tissue holding each the vertebrae of the spine together. While your back muscles may be strong, the strength of your spine in flexion is probably not unless you have trained this movement before.

This exercise will progressively overload the connective tissue. Connective tissue takes about 9 months to replace itself, muscle takes about 3 months. The rate of connective tissue adaptation to stimulus is very slow and difficult to perceive. With this in mind, the jefferson curl can be very slowly weighted over months and years. It would be reasonable to consider a 5 year conditioning period to reach a bodyweight jefferson curl.

The jefferson curl can address many commonly observed musculoskeletal dysfunction that can lead to back pain.

The Wrap

If you’ve ever experienced back pain you should consult your physical therapist before considering working with either exercise.

See you in class,


Calisthenics Coach

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