Time for our Workout Of The Month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive versus negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, others feature a specific exercise, and some explain why you shouldn’t do an exercise. This month we take a look at a type of movement everyone should do: the chin up bar stretch and how relaxing it can be by stretching out the vertebrae.

Chin Up Bar Stretch Anatomy

Our spine is constantly under pressure. Let’s start with gravity. As we age the natural force of gravity our vertebrae together and over time, slowly compresses the space in between – the stuff in between there is a sensitive part of our spine called our disks. Natrual compression is one thing, our bodies are pretty well equiped to deal with that. It doesn’t help that these days as people we do so much sitting to throw our hips and spines all out of whack.

normal intervertebral disc

This is what a normal spine should look like. The blue part is what’s called your intervertebral disc and should rest comfortably as padding between your vertebrae.
The annulus fibrosus is an area of circular ligaments that connect the vertebrae.
In the center of it all is the nucleus pulposus which is a jelly like material, mostly made up of water. This jelly like structure helps our spine withstand compression forces.

Effect Of Heavy Lifting On The Spine:

Heavy lifting forces, although great for building muscles and overall strength have an effect on spinal compression over time as well. Exercises such a squats, deadlifts, or overhead shoulder presses can couse our spinal discs to become compressed. Depending on where the compression is happening, the disc will protrude to one side or the other causing pinching of nerves.

what happens with disc compression

As the vertebrae basically compress together and collapse down on each other, your discs have to compensate. That soft gelatenous tissus in the center made up of mostly water begins to protrude out ward.
The huge problem is that when this disc begins to protrude, the area that it protrudes against is our spinal cord. This can result in excruciating lower back pain and weakness. Often the pain is either to the left or to the right of the center of back – the area of the inflamed nerve.
What you want to prevent is the bulging to keep from getting worse. If the discs continue to compress and the pressure is not relieved, then a herniated disk will occur where the inner contents of the disk burst and put pressure on the spinal cord. Through rest, stretching, and medications the contents can be reabsorbed and the pain can subside but someimes the pain can become chronic and surgery may be required.

Reducing Spinal Tension Through Stretching: The Chin Up Bar Stretch

Hanging from a chin up bar allows the small intervertebral ligamnts and muscles to stretch – the stretching of the spine allows the intervertebral discs to decompress.

Lifting heavy weights such as squats, dead lifts, intervertabral discs can become pinched and the nucleus can migrate to the outer edges. Hanging form a chin up bar, the small intervertebral ligaments and muscles stretch, the interverterbral disc compression decreases, and the nucleus pulposus can return to its center position of the disk.

How To Do The Chin Up Bar Stretch

chin up bar spine stretchGrasp any pull up/chin up bar/tree/anything to hang from and with an overhand grip hang on to the bar loosely. Try to relax your breathing – inhale and exhale slowly while focusing on the relaxation of your body. All the back muscles to relax and release the pressure. When you’re finally relaxed, lean your head for and try to touch your chin to your chest. This will stretch the upper and middle back. If you’ve got a friend. Ask them to gently pull down on your hips on each side.

During this exercise it’s not uncommon to hear cracking of the spine. The cracking is caused by the release of paravertebral muscles acting like bellows and when they release, they help to decompress the small intervertebral and costovertebral articulations and help your back feel better.

The key to performing this stretch is to be as relaxed as possible. The stronger your grip, the more intense the stretch will be on your lats and upper back muscles behind the shoulder blades. The point of the stretch, is primarily for your back. When doing this stretch on a regular basis after heavy lifting, it helps to limit the amound of deterioration on discs and reduces the risk of disc herniation.

To accenuate the chin up bar stretch, swing gently or ask one of your buddies to grasp on your hips on each slide and slowly pull down. When practiced regularly at the end of squat and deadlift sessions (or any other heavyweight exercises that wouldcompress the spine), it helps over time to limit the deterioration of intervertebral discs and reduces the risk of disc herniation. Remember, the key to the chin up bar stretch is to allow your body to relax as much as possible, lean your head forward, and let the muscles in your spine relax.

Sources:

Delavier, F. “Strength Training Anatomy: Third Edition.” Paris: Human Kinetics. 2010. Print. 115.
Strength Training Anatomy