Is Your Spine Ready for GHD Sit-ups?

Starting with the TAKE HOME MESSAGE:  awareness of your spine is essential to being a healthy, efficient human being. I’ll explain this later, but please keep this idea in the back of your head while you read on.

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Here is a question I hear frequently: “My back is smoked every time after GHD sit-ups, what am I doing wrong?” The glute ham developer (GHD) is a piece of equipment that was created to strengthen just that: the glutes and the hams. This movement is done lying on your stomach, keeping a stabile midline and squeezing your butt. It helps to teach the hip hinge, which disassociates movement from the hip and spine. This means it helps us move our hips while maintaining a solid spine to protect our body during movements and our daily lives. A lot of back problems arise form people not being able to disassociate the hips from the spine, so they move them both at once and create shear forces on the spine. The hip hinge also happens in movements like good mornings, and the top part of a deadlift.

master-the-hip-hinge safetytipsthree

So we use the GHD for sit-ups, but it was not created to train the abdominals and hip flexors in a forceful extension to flexion movement. As always, new ways are developed to use certain equipment after hours of playing in the gym and to advance training….hence the use of the GHD for sit-ups. What I get from people using this is that it’s just another way to do sit-ups. What may be lost in translation of doing this movement is that it’s a very high level exercise that requires a ton of body awareness and baseline strength as you fling your spine through end ranges of extension and flexion. Last year I wrote about the GHD, talking about Perfecting Mechanics and using this piece of equipment to practice midline stabilization in various positions. I recommend reading that if you want more detail on that part of the topic, but today I want to help you decide if your body is prepared to use the GHD for sit-ups.

Step 1: Do you have the flexibility to sit upright with your legs out in front of you and no rounding in your lumbar spine?

If yes, move on to the next step.

213-1If no, work on your mobility. It’s usually a combination of spine stiffness and the entire posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, calves and bottom of the feet). Come to mobility class to learn how to work on these. Read about how to improve your Toe Touch. And check out MobilityWod.com.

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She is unable to sit upright when her spine is kept in a good position, so she would not be ready for the GHD sit-up

Step 2: can you hold your body in a parallel position on the GHD, while breathing and keeping a good spine position.

If yes, move on to the next step

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Practice holding 20, 30, 60sec….focus on breathing…..add some arm movements for challenge

If no, practice! Refer back to this post on Perfecting Mechanics on ways to practice.

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Have someone spot you for some extra practice

Step 3: can you transition from the parallell position, up to the top and back to parallell with a good spine position. This is doing a hip hinge exercise (i.e. deadlift, hip extension and goodmorning), just in a different position on the GHD. For clarification, watch this video here and see how this girl’s spine moves the entire time, rather than just her hips.

If yes, (and you can do ABmat sit-ups well for a measure of base strength) you are prepared to start doing GHD sit-ups

If no, practice! Refer back to this post on Perfecting Mechanics on ways to practice.

Don’t assume that you are ready for the GHD sit-ups just because you’ve been doing them for years and feel no pain. Remember, pain is a bad indicator that is just telling you that you’re already in trouble. We want to catch bad movement BEFORE pain is felt. So take yourself through these steps. If GHD sit-ups are in the workout and you know you’re not past step 3, practice where you are!

Her back looks pretty solid at the end of the movement.

Her back looks pretty solid at the end of the movement.

Once you are ready for GHD sit-ups, remember that there is still a lot of pressure placed on the spine during the movement. When done correctly, it teaches an athlete to move from flexion to extension in a controlled manner. So you have to make sure that all areas of the spine are moving into flexion and all are moving into extension. Sometimes segments of the spine get “stuck” and cause other areas to move too much. So repetitive flexion/extension on an area like this will eventually wear down the spine and cause serious injury. Imagine bending a credit card.  Bending the whole card back and forth is fine, but if you take one area and bend it back and forth (just line the dysfunctional spine) it will eventually break. So if you’re going to use it, please do in moderation and counter it with doing hip extensions.

seated-toe-touch-hamstring-stretch

See where the spine compresses where it’s flexing, increasing pressure on the discs in between the vertebrae. This position is ok for stretching and under low loads, but not with heavy weight and high speed.

In my opinion and my personal training plan, I only use the GHD for it’s original purpose because I don’t want to be putting repetitive flexion/extension loads on my spine. Especially since the movements replicate what it would look like to round the spine and pick up a heavy weight from the ground, with speed, over and over again. I think strengthening the flexion/extension movement through ABmat sit-ups, v-ups, T2B and supermans are important to do. But I personally avoid GHD sit-ups. As we all know there are varying opinions on everything! And there are certain sports where this movement may be important, like hitting a volleyball. So take what you want from my opinion and find what works best for you.

Ending again with the TAKE HOME MESSAGE: everyone needs awareness of their spine. If you don’t know what a good back position is, you are most likely overusing the spine during daily activities and exercise. Yes the spine should bend. But not repetitively, under high loads and quick speeds over and over again. So take the spine to get to know your back, feel the different positions that it’s in throughout the day and during your workouts.You can use this picture as a reference (good one in the middle), but also ask for feedback from the coaches and other athletes to help you figure out what your good position is! Yep, your body will thank you for it.

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References:

1. Dr. Kelly Starrett. Do you have the spinal capacity for the GHD sit-up?

2. Greg Glassman. Glute Ham Sit-ups. CrossFit Journal.

5 thoughts on “Is Your Spine Ready for GHD Sit-ups?

  1. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day.
    It will always be helpful to read articles from other authors and use a little something
    from their websites.

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