Spine First

SloochingRemember when your mother or teacher would remind you to sit up straight, don’t slouch, eyes up? Well looking back we should have listened more, because they definitely knew what they were talking about.

When we slouch, round our back or hinge at the neck by positioning our head in extension (back) or flexion (forward) we actually break & kink the nervous system & blood flow between our brain and our spine. The brain immediately interprets this as a threat thinking that the head and body are in immediate danger and defaults to survival mode. This then disrupts the integrity and tension throughout the thoracic dorsal fascia sheet (gives the back & spine stability), thus putting i.e. our back at an exponentially higher risk of injury along with drastically reducing our range of motion throughout the hips and shoulders.

Here’s a scary factoid: Your head weighs about 10 lbs, for every inch that your head is in flexion (forward) or extension (backwards) it adds an additional 10 lbs to its weight. For instance, if your head had 3 inches of flexion, your musculature & spine would supporting an extra 30 lb’s. Talk about a sore neck and back… Yikes!

The only places that should have maximum flexion or extension is either in the shoulders or the hips. Any prolonged localized flexion or extension in the neck, thoracic spine or lumbar to pelvis area is a recipe for pain.

When it comes to lifting & moving, the spine’s integrity plays a major role in both stability and movement as well as helping to decrease force production and stress throughout the hip & shoulder joints.

We have all tweaked our backs at one time or another. It’s a bummer, both physically & mentally. You can’t sit, lift or do much of anything, and if you’re active, it’s just dang depressing.

Think of your spine like a carriage or a frame of a car. It’s the primary carrier for the engine & transmission, in this case the hips and shoulders. Like a car if the frame is twisted, weak and compromised, it’s not going to matter how finely tuned the motor and transmission are. The driveline is going to be its Achilles heel.

We live in a society today that for the most part has forgotten how to properly sit, stand, walk, squat and run. We slouch and round our backs while driving our cars, looking at screens, texting on our phones or even carrying our groceries. We’re basically living our lives in half range instead of full range of motion. It’s no wonder that there is a booming massage and physio industry on the go ready to put us back together.

Most of the time we operate in default, revisiting bad habits that we’ve acquired through years of poor or forgotten movement patterns. For most of us this doesn’t seem like an issue today, but tomorrow, next year, or on your 60th Birthday, things are going to break.

But it’s not all doom, gloom with broken, scattered bodies littering the landscape. The answer is quite simple, we need to prioritize the spine, that’s right, spine first, meaning that we need to be more mindful of our spines integrity (spine & head alignment) during our daily movement & non-movement activities and focus more on using, developing and expressing our hips and shoulders to their full range of motion.

Here’s the cool part, once the spine is prioritized all we need to do to generate maximal torque and power is to externally rotate (turn in) the joint (shoulder, hip), this helps keep it loaded, protected and packed, thus creating the ability to generate tremendous leverage without breaking the chassis.

Trying to generate power & torque while the spine isn’t prioritized and is in either flexion or extension will compromise first the back and second will create wear & tear in the joints (hip & shoulder) by limiting the musculature’s ability to pack and protect the joint, not to mention limiting the torque and power that can be generated.

So no matter if you’re sitting at a desk, getting up from a chair, walking, running, squatting or snatching a 32 kg kettlebell, prioritizing the spine will set up efficient and safe movement patterns and set the stage for maximal torque and power output.

Prioritize the spine, crank up the torque, live a strong pain free life.

Now Stop Slouching!

By: Coach Tim Bell


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The Drop

Drop (2)As that old saying goes; “What goes up must come down.” And when it comes to the drop in the Kettlebell Snatch it can either be smooth, painless and efficient or your worst Kettlebell nightmare, especially when it comes to your hands.

Two of the things that dictate a good drop into the backswing are;

  1. The distance, speed and arc.
  2. The amount of hand grip and the re-grip.

Let’s look first at the distance, speed and arc.

Taming the arc has two important advantages. If you think about the path of least resistance, i.e. distance & resistance, a straight line is definitely king. When the trajectory is arced away from our center of mass we create a longer distance to travel and unnecessary resistance throughout our musculature in order to compensate for that imbalance (fighting with the bell). If you’re going to fight with the bell, the bell always goes for the K.O.

Shortening the length of the drop is also integral. When the drop is shortened there is less distance for the Kettlebell to fall into the backswing thus less gravitational pull and its forces to deal with.

Once the arc is tamed and the Kettlebell drop distance and speed is shortened and slowed we need to redirect that energy to set up the backswing. This is where that Kung Fu grip comes in.

Grip Tip: If you’re going to tear your hands during the snatch it’s most likely because of griping and re-gripping issues during the drop.

Some of the mistakes that are made when it comes to the grip are: too much of it or firing it too early or too late.

During the initial execution of the drop the grip needs to be relaxed and loose, you want to shadow the kettlebell, not hold on to it for dear life. Let gravity do it’s thingy. This is an important step in saving your hands and keeping your grip. Gripping the bell too tightly at this point will ultimately cause it to pinch and pull during the re-grip phase, you want to set it up for a clean jump (palm to fingers), not a scrap across the barnacles (calluses).

The jump happens in the re-grip phase, this is the point where the bell reaches the apex going into the backswing. Now this is the tricky part, well tricky if you’re giving the handle a tad too much of that KF grip.

Think about a rock climber, they don’t hang on with their palms they hang on with their fingers. We use our palms for pushing, we use our finger flexors for gripping and pulling.

The ideal handle grip would be with our thumb locked on top of our index finger while the others assist in stability and alignment. This technique unfortunately sometimes isn’t possible with smaller sized hands and wider handles, so all of the flexors would need to be recruited into the lift, but the jump remains the same.

Now that I’ve created Paralysis through Analysis, here are a few simple takeaways to hopefully keep things in perspective.

The Drop

  • Keep the grip loose in fixation. That way you won’t be over-gripping before the drop.
  • Give the Kettlebell a clear straight path like a zipper by directing it to the center with your pinky finger.
  • Move your head back to move your upper torso back, this helps tame the arc.
  • Flex at the knees to shorten the drop.
  • Re-grip with your finger flexors at the apex of the backswing.

Obviously there are many more aspects of the Snatch Technique but through experience, trial and error, lots of trial and error I have found that mastering the drop has been the most rewarding in increasing my numbers, saving my hands, grip strength and helping me move on up to the BIG Red 32 kg.

Master the drop and you’ll master the lift.

Just take it one drop at a time.

Coach Tim Bell

OKC, IKSFA Level 1 Coach