GTP TV: Ep 8 – What Do You Know About the Spine?

Happy New Year, gang!

Goalie Training Pro TV is back! If you missed the video, you can find it above or at the link below:

So, this is Goalie Training Pro TV, I think it’s episode eight. I think. And we’re talking all about the spine. First of all, I hope you all had a safe and happy New Year and setting … You don’t have to set goals, if it’s not your thing, if you do it another time of the year, your birthday or whatever, that’s okay, but sort of have a … Make a little measuring stick for yourself to see where you’re at.

We’re running the Shutout Smackdown in the Shutout Academy and it’s going really, really well. I’ve got to jump on there after this and have a chat with them, but it’s going well.

So, you know, just, yeah. You can pooh pooh it if it’s not your thing, that’s okay. But if you’re looking, if you’re like, if last year this time, you said, “Oh, next year, by this time next year I’d like to do this, this and this,” and you haven’t done it, then it’s like, “Okay, well, there’s stuff you want to do, so make a little plan to make it happen.” That’s all I’m going to say about it.

The other thing I’m going to say, is I have new gear and so, I actually just got it yesterday. I did a test order myself, so I’ve got it set up so that you can order it online and it’ll get shipped right to yourself. I did a test to myself to make sure I could see how the process went and the flow and everything. And it worked really, really well.

So, let’s get to business! What do you know about the spine? Our spine is curved. So, it’s not straight. Like when people say, “Oh, I really try to keep a straight back,” it’s not actually meant to be straight. What we say in the gym, is you have to keep a neutral back, which is with curves.

Basically, if I’m standing sideways, I have a curve that is actually called a lordosis in my neck. Then I have a curve outward where my ribs are. That’s called a kyphosis and then I have a curve inward where my low back is, or an arch where my low back is, which is another lordosis. So there’s a cervical lordosis, there’s a thoracic kyphosis and there’s a lumbar lordosis.

And that’s the way it’s designed and there’s also little vertebra that are in there, so it’s amazing. Like, they are individual pieces and they’re actually even different shaped like, cervical are different shaped from thoracic are different shaped from lumbar. And they just sit on top of each other, they don’t even snap together like you would hope. They just sit on top of each other and then there’s connective tissue that holds them together, there’s muscle that holds them together.

It’s mind blowing! Like, from our pelvis all the way to my head is really just that spine. Our ribs are attached to it, our rib cage is attached to it, but there’s nothing, there aren’t little stays on the side that help hold us up. It’s just this wiggly spine with muscle and connective tissue that keeps us upright. Again, it’s mind blowing that it works at all, that we don’t just crumple into a thing.

So, I think the other points I want to talk about are that your lumbar vertebra are designed to be pretty stable. They are not intended to have a lot of range of motion. So, like, if I lift my arm at my shoulder, it’s my shoulder joint. (My scapula also contributes, but it’s sort of one thing.) And like, if I’m standing and I turn my body to look around, well, each individual vertebra turns as much as it can within its limit and those summate to let me turn around like that with my spine. So, it’s not like a single joint like the shoulder.

Here’s where we get into trouble. When we sit a lot or we play net with a slouch position or we just stand with a slouchy position, our thoracic spine gets a little stiffer. We don’t have the same rotation when we’re bent over as when we’re in our neutral kyphosis, so we’ll tend to get a little bit stiff there. And I’m talking about stiff in our thoracic spine, which is sort of this middle back part.

And we do need rotation, even just in regular life, like driving the car and things like that. But certainly as a goalie, this is really important for you guys, because if they’re playing funny behind the net with the puck and trying to just get you moving and get you out of your position, you have to be able to get around more without having to move or turn your skates. I don’t know, because I’m not at that level, but I bet you 100 bucks they watch and as soon as your skates move so that you can see, I bet that’s a cue for them to, whatever, pass it out front or try to deke back and get a wrap-around or whatever they’re going to try to do.

So, if I can stay in position and get a lot more rotation to keep my eye on the puck better, that’s to my advantage.

So, when I get stiff on that thoracic spine, I’m not getting that rotation that I’d like to have. But I’ve got all these other vertebra, so it’s like, okay, well then what happens? Well, my neck will try to get more range of motion and my lumbar spine, my low back, is going to try to facilitate more of that rotation. But that’s not their job. Which, you’re like, “But I do it, and my back doesn’t … I can do this and my back doesn’t hurt.” No, it doesn’t hurt until it hurts and then there’s a problem and then there’s a big problem.

So, even people that have serious disk injuries, things that have to have their vertebra stabilized, usually this is how it goes. There’s a lumbar vertebra and then there’s your sacrum. So, your sacrum (I explained this in the hip video) is sort of your tailbone. So, your pelvis is attached to the sacrum.

And usually, the most common place for disk injuries is L4, L5 or L5 S1. Which means some of those have to be stabilized. So, what happens almost … I don’t want to say all the time but really common is they stabilize those two segments to take away the pain and then what happens is within a few years, the segment above now has degenerated because they’ve taken away that range and the segment above is paying the price and now it’s worn out, too.

So, you want to stay nice and mobile in our thoracic spine. We do things like sitting, tall sitting with our hands behind our head and we’ll come over in a side bend and then breathe in through our nose for four seconds, really trying to fill air into the side and then breathe out through our mouth. All of our air, so that we’re expanding and contracting our rib cage and just getting some movement in there. We might just do three or four on each side, staying nice and tall.

Then we can do it by just rotating, same thing with the breathing. We get the double tennis ball or the peanut, some people call it, and put it under our thoracic spine and do a little thoracic mobilization. The thing I see when people do that thoracic mobilization with the double tennis ball is you’re actually doing lumbar extension. So, if you do thoracic mobilization, you always give yourself a hug to get your shoulder blades out of the way and then it’s just a very small little wiggle to help mobilize those.

And then there’s all the muscles that are attached to the spine. It’s pretty busy in there but I want you to understand. I had an email from someone the other day who was like “I was getting back pain, so I started working on the muscles in my back”. So like the erector spinae, which are big strap-like muscles. Like, if you look at someone with their shirt off and on either side of their spine they have what looks like two ropes, those are your erector spinae. And your erector spinae are like big movers. They’re not really designed to be a stabilizer so much.

So, he’s like, “Yeah, so I got my back muscles really strong.” (You might do that with back extensions but we never train for your erector spinae because it’s just something like, if you’re squatting or doing a good, functional training program, they’re going to be strong anyway.) But anyway, he’s like, “But now that pain is back and I can’t make it go away, so I think I need to make those muscles stronger.”

Well, no. Because also, if those get stronger, we have to think of the forces. So, the muscles, when they contract, they extend us but they also compress us. So, if we’re making those really strong and kind of tight all the time, it’s sort of crushing us a little bit.

So, it’s something that should sort of work and, even I trained an NHL guy who was pretty number amount of hypertrophy but then right at his thoractal lumbar junction, that segment was really hypertrophied. Like, unbelievably hypertrophied. Right away, it’s like, what’s going on? Something isn’t right. It’s dysfunctional the way he would develop those, because it told me that they were doing so much more work than they were supposed to do.

So, those are sort of big global muscles. What you need if you want to keep your spine functioning the way it should and be stable, and we talk about core stability, this is a huge part of it. Like, our core isn’t just on our front, right? And I mean, some people don’t like the term “core,” I know what you mean, so I’ll use it with you. I think of the torso or everything from this hips to the armpits. But it goes all the way around, like a paper towel roll. If I have a paper towel roll and I set it up on end and I hit the top like that, it’s pretty stable. If I take one side and make it weak, and press it in, it just collapses underneath me, right? So we need to have the whole thing strong all the way around.

So, I want you to get a sense of where’s your QL, then you have little muscles that just go from transverse process to transverse process. You have little muscles that go from spinous process to spinous process. You have your multifidus that goes, I can’t remember how many segments at a time. But it stabilizes maybe, I can’t remember, three segments up and then three segments up and then three segments up, so that there’s all different ways that it’s nice and stable and supported, it’s not really about those global movers.

Hopefully by now, you understand that, like our glutes are a really powerful hip muscle and they’re good for our pushing muscles, but they shouldn’t be stabilizing our hip joint. We have deeper muscles that are responsible for stabilizing our hip joint, those are a big, like … MUSCLE. And we want the, “Oh, let’s just fix this and fix that,” kind of muscles to do the actual stabilization.

So, to use the same analogy, the erector spinae are like MUSCLES and then the little ones are like, “Okay, well, if we do this and that’ll be stable and then we’ll do good and then you can push harder and then you’re not going to be shearing your disks …” And you get the idea.

Okay. Let’s move on.

So, next I think we’ll talk a little bit about what disks are, because I think that’s sort of misunderstood. If you pull up a picture of the spine, can you see in between the bones, there’s a little kind of white coloured piece? So, in between the vertebra, the body of the vertebra, there’s a little white disk in there, that’s a disk.

And it is sort of shaped a bit like a jelly filled donut and it does have fluid in it, so it is, it can sort of move around based on your posture. And they’re arranged, they’re oriented to adjust to, “Okay, it’s a kyphosis, so it’s oriented to be this way. It’s a lordosis, it’s oriented to be this flat, this way.” So, it is oriented based on where it is in the spine.

So, my lumbar spine is supposed to have a little arch, a little lordosis, but if I’m always sitting with crappy posture and sitting on my sacrum rather than my tail bone, so I’ve rounded my low back and it’s sitting in a kyphosis almost, then those disks will start to get our of shape. Have you ever hear of a disk bulge? That’s what it is. So, it kind of squishes it to the back and then it can bulge and then it can push on nerves or compress nerves or just do miserable things and make you feel awful.

So, that’s part of the reason, too, that it’s like … Even with crunches, like, we don’t do crunches anymore because of the repetitive flexion on the spine. Stu McGill, who’s a spine biomechanist, so he studies the load tolerance of spines and what creates injury and how to prevent injury. But he says it is very much like a coat hanger.

So, I can take a metal coat hanger and bend it like this, no problem, bend it like that, no problem. Bend, fine, fine, fine, snap. And that’s what backs, like, you all probably know someone who has really hurt their back or herniated a disk in their back and you’re like, “How did you do it?” “Oh, I bent over to pick a t-shirt up off the floor.” “No way, you just bent over and you herniated a disk?”

Well, no. It’s like, really you should say like, “I’ve been doing terrible things to my back for years without realizing it,” you’re not doing them on purpose, “and so my back finally bit me in the ass when I bent over to pick up a t-shirt.” That’s sort of how it works.

So, those are the disks. So, again, our spines should move. We’re not going to be like robots and we’re going to keep our spine in one place, but we have to have all those muscles working and smart so that they can stabilize us as we go, so that we’re not over-working one element or creating shear forces in another area, it just all has to work together.

Even like,  if you look at your spine and your hip flexors, there’s a thing called your iliopsoas, it’s really kind of two muscles that have a common insertion. But like, look at where it goes. It goes right up and attaches to your lumbar vertebra and that’s muscles in your hip. So, it’s all integrated together.

So, what do we do about that? Oh, I know what. So, a lot of you email me and you’re like, “Hey, could you give me some stretches for my back, because my back’s always tight and so I need to stretch it out.” A lot of times, that is not the right thing to do. Your back is tight probably because your erector spinae are working way too hard and doing things they’re not supposed to do because your stabilizers are weak or not smart or for some reason they’re de-facilitated. So, again, if we go in and just stretch those muscles out and take out whatever’s kind of holding you stable, that actually could create more of a problem and set you up for a worse injury.

So, really, again, if it’s just like, “That’s weird, this muscle is tight all the time.” Even though it’s not like a, “Oh my God, I can’t walk, I have so much pain,” kind of injury, something is going on in that it’s time and money well spent to go see a good physiotherapist, get them to assess what’s going on, see why that’s always tight. It’s a chance that some muscle somewhere in the chain isn’t doing its job. Physiotherapist can help you figure that out, give you some specific exercises to target that muscle, get it working and then it’s going to go away.

So, other injuries, not uncommon to sublux a rib. So, a rib will just kind of come out a little bit and that will start a whole cascade of events. Your body will hate you, so, yeah, a rib will just kind of sublux, muscles will go into spasm and it’ll hurt when you take in a whole breath. And it’ll be a sharp pain.

A lot of people get it and they’ll say, “Oh, I pulled my neck.” Because it’s often more like a higher rib and the spasm will go up into their neck and it is, it just feels terrible, like you can hardly even roll out of bed in the morning. I used to row competitively and we get them a lot in rowing because we’re so, you’re always pulling and it would just pull it out and it’d be like, “Ooh.” And sometimes, people will be like, “I just woke up with it,” but that’s one that a good physiotherapist that has manual therapy skills, they can mobilize it back into place and then it will take a little time for it to settle down. If you just leave it, it might get kind of slowly better, but the longer it stays out the harder it’s going to be to put back in and it might also come out easier again.

So, again, like really anything, if there’s something that just like, “Wow, that wasn’t there before,” you should go see a physiotherapist.

But then you can get, like, facet joint irritation, but it’s going to be really hard for you to know, “Is this facet joint? Is this a disk?” And either way you’re going to go to the physio to get it sorted out anyway, but those are kind of a, “Yeah, I just moved and oh, something in my back.” And people will be like, “Oh, I strained my back.” Most people don’t actually strain their back that much. A strain is a muscle thing, it’s like a torn muscle. Usually it is something like a facet irritation or a disk irritation, so those are trips to the physiotherapist.

There’s a thing called a spondylolysis and a spondylolisthesis and those are usually hyperextension injuries. So, somebody gets hyperextended, really common in gymnasts, figure skaters, even football players that get run back. So, it could happen in hockey too. And what happens is because the vertebra don’t snap together, but they kind of will fit together and so, a part of that gets snapped off is what happens. And it can just crack it off, which is spondylolysis, or it can crack it off and the vertebra can shift a little bit, which is spondylolisthesis.

Really, there isn’t much you can do for it, definitely get it checked out so you know what it is, and it’s more like adolescent athletes. Once we stop growing, we’re not really prone to it unless it’s a real high velocity thing, I guess you could. But there isn’t much you can do to just like, make it better now. It just needs to heal over time. And then some people get rattled because they’re like, “I had a broken back.” Well, yeah, but it’s like, it’s pretty inconsequential long term. Not at the time because it hurts. But long term, it’s pretty inconsequential.

So, if we look at, well, how do we protect our spine, how do we strengthen it? We start with the basics. So, when you’re doing planking with your team or side plank or glute bridging, make sure you’re doing it perfectly. If you’re wiggling all around, you’re not learning to stabilize. And I already said, yeah, but Maria, you said we want to be stable but we need to be able to move. Yes. But first thing we need to do is just learn how to stabilize. How can we keep it nice and strong and then we want to learn, okay, well then how do we make it functionally strong?

So, then we do ground based training, just like we do in the Shutout Academy. We’ll do, like, instead of laying on a bench and doing pec flies which isn’t that helpful to us, we’ll do a staggered stance bungee or cable reverse fly or pec fly. We’ll do landmine contra shoulder press or single leg landmine dead lift or things like that, so that we’re teaching our body to stabilize while we move in different planes.

And so, again, it’s so important that you do those things with purpose and precision, because if we’re sloppy, or for example like, when people squat and it’ll be like, you butt wink, like your bum tucks under at the bottom. Yeah, I have that. Well, that’s actually flexing your spine, your lumbar spine under a compressive load and we already talked about even just doing crunches, flexing the lumbar spine is a little bit of a recipe for disk herniations down the road. Well, now you’re putting a load on your back and rounding your back, “Oh, just a little bit,” well, your spine doesn’t know “just a little bit,” it just knows, “holy crap, we are not supposed to be here.”

So, it’s all those little things. I’ve actually just started reading a book called The Gift of Injury by Stu McGill and Brian Carroll, Brian Carroll was a world champion power lifter. Like, could squat like, 4,000 pounds. Not really, but like, a lot. And again, did things crappy but he could do it and I can lift it until, yeah, one day he couldn’t. And really, really actually pretty sad story, to the point where he was almost ready to take his own life, he was so desperate and in so much back pain. And then he met Dr. McGill, who’s the spine biomechanist I told you about and they kind of rebuilt him.

But again, it just started with, yeah, for him and again, it’s different for everybody, but for him, it was like, you don’t need to stretch your back, your back doesn’t need to be more flexible, it needs to be more stable and you need to be better at that and so, here’s how we build it up. So, it’s actually a really good book. If you’ve ever had back injury, I’m enjoying it, so you might want to check it out.

Okay, I think that’s all I’ve got for you on the spine today. Next week I’ll be back with another episode of Goalie Training Pro TV, I’m actually traveling on Thursday, might do it on Wednesday, a day early. Not sure what body parts we have left to do. I think we have the, oh, shoulder. We’ve got shoulders to do. So, that’ll be the end of our bottoms up, and then we’ll talk about other topics.

Oh, make sure if you’re asking questions, you either do it on the Goalie Training Pro page of Facebook, or you send it to my assistant, I just was on my private, my personal Facebook page, which I’m happy to have you come along and see the dumb things I post, but I probably won’t answer questions there.

So, Goalie Training Pro on Facebook, Goalie Training on Instagram, Goalie Training Lab on Facebook, those are all places that I do hang out and don’t just talk to my high school friends and my cousins out west and that kind of thing. So, that’s it, that’s it for Goalie Training Pro TV this week, I’m Maria from Goalie Training Pro, duh. I’ll catch you next time.