Avoiding Trauma in the Gym: High Back

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Joe Dispenza


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Barbell or Dorsey Bar Rowing Machine

Speaking of the barbell rowing machine, let's go back to talking about complex movements and greater risk of trauma. It should be noted that, from a trauma point of view, the dorsey bar o T-bar it can be assimilated to the barbell. 

The latter, however, having fewer movement constraints, makes injury more likely. On the other hand, the use of the barbell is more profitable in anabolism.

The rowing machine is potentially damaging to the spine for the same reasons described in the good morning exercise and deadlifts: the back must be kept straight, the lumbar lordotic curve must not retrocurve beyond flattening, otherwise the painful consequences already mentioned.

The problem is exacerbated by the usual, bad, widespread habit of throwing the back with "blows of the kidneys" in order to increase the load raised and show oneself stronger than what one is to ignorant spectators in kinesiology.

Other points at risk of injury are not to be observed, unless of course the barbell falls on the feet. The stress of the spine, in itself, is enough as a reason to stay focused and keep a correct, slow and controlled execution.


Nothing to report.

Vertical Pulley Traction or Reverse Grip Lat Machine (Supination Hands Shoulder Width)

The vertical pulley or lat machine pull-ups present another common mistake, at risk of injury, due to the excessive load compared to one's resources.

Also in this movement the trauma risk point is the lower back. The unwary subject instead of carrying out the traction keeping the back perpendicular to the ground as it is correct, helps in traction by vigorously and abruptly extending the trunk, up to the limit case of bringing it almost parallel to the ground. The eccentric part is skipped and starts again with a sharp blow of the kidneys. Of course, not doing the negative part, and using the hip and spine extensors allows you to move a much greater load. The cheating just mentioned is among the most common, together with those described for the side openings, side openings for the bent torso, bench press, legs raise. The list of errors could be further expanded, but the purpose of the discussion is not to describe the execution errors, but to show the damaging potential of the various exercises. So, staying with the exercise currently in focus, I leave you my recommendation to keep the torso perpendicular to the ground for the whole set - the very last reps except where, in the absence of a forced spotter, a little cautious cheating is acceptable.

Vertical Pulley Traction or Lat Machine Prone Grip - Forward or Behind the Nape

For the variant with descent to the chest, in front of the head, what was said for the previous exercise applies. That is, the movement in healthy subjects does not present particular dangers if the load is reasonable, but the risk is made by a widespread executive vice, consisting in the extension of the trunk to help in traction. The variant with descent behind the neck does not provide for this possibility, so the error and the relative risk do not arise. However, a forced retroposition of the humerus caused by this variant, stresses, stresses, puts the rotator cuff in difficulty, pushing towards a dislocation. This is why many instructors prefer to eliminate it. The traction movement behind the neck is contraindicated in those with a history of dislocation of the humeral head from the glenoid cavity, and in subjects with particularly loose cuffs.

The movement, like all those that force the retroposition of the humerus, is potentially harmful and should be used with caution, warming up well, using suitable loads and slow and controlled movements. It is possible to undertake a path of mobilization of the shoulders and shoulder blades, and of flexibility of the muscles of the other back. However, if it continues to cause difficulty in training, it is best to avoid it. In this case it is important, subject by subject, to consult the professional's opinion.

Vertical Pulley Traction or Lat Machine Narrow Grip, to the Chest

See the above for the vertical pulley pull-ups, hands in pronation, shoulder width.

Horizontal Pulley Traction Wide or Narrow Grip, Supine or Prone

The movement of the horizontal pulley foresees a variant compound version, in which the first part of the movement is of extension of the trunk (hip and rachis) and a second part is of traction of the bar to the chest.

Whether you are performing the classic version, or the compound version, whether the grip is wide or narrow, supine or prone, the vigorous and accelerated extension of the trunk must absolutely be avoided to give impetus to the subsequent traction. That is, let me explain better. It is true that the compound version provides for an extension of the trunk, but this must not serve to give impetus to the subsequent pulling movement to facilitate it. Movement - in any exercise - must always be controlled, avoiding accelerations and dangerous inertia. The risk of trauma to the spine has already been explained several times.

Pull Down or Sagittal Extensions of the Arms to the Lat Machine, Semitese Arms

Traumatologically speaking, the critical point of this exercise is the wrists. As with the triceps movements, it is also important to keep the hands in line with the forearms or slightly flexed in this exercise.

Pull-ups with Dumbbells, Leaning on the Bench

Many consider him a rower. No particular observations, the attention remains to keep the back straight and to avoid vigorous extensions, blows of the kidneys only useful to get hurt.

Pull-ups with Dumbbells, Leaning on the Bench

Many consider him a rower. No particular observations, the attention remains to keep the back straight and to avoid vigorous extensions, blows of the kidneys only useful to get hurt.

Bar The fixed bar tractions do not allow the cheating mentioned in its version homologated to the lat machine. So for its version with a bar that touches the chest, no observation, assuming that reaching a height just below the chin would already be sufficient.

For the variant with the bar carried behind the nape, given the forced retroposition of the humerus, what has already been expressed for its counterpart to the lat machine is valid; it is a very critical exercise.


The risks of injury related to weight lifting movements can be classified according to:

  • Injuries related to the activity in itself: that is, weight lifting, as such, involves the lifting of loads that stress tendons and ligaments. Stress is proportional to the load used in relation to one's strength. For this reason the cycles of strength are more dangerous than those of resistance, from this point of view;
  • Injuries related to a single exercise: the mechanics of each exercise involve specific risks. The most delicate points we have seen are wrists, lumbar spine, knee, shoulders. To a much lesser extent ankles, elbows, cervical spine. The risks are greatly reduced when foolish cheating is avoided, correct, slow and controlled execution is maintained;
  • Injuries related to the operator: the subject makes mistakes due to ignorance, therefore involuntary, or due to the psychological need to show himself stronger than he is, therefore voluntary. The great majority of discovertebral lesions are due precisely to operator errors and not to the nature of the exercises.

Obviously, damage due to external agents is intended to be neglected

The above applies to the conditioning phase, which must be long, concentrated and thorough, containing the basic multi-joint exercises. In this phase both the correct gesture and the most important laws of kinesiology should be transcended, making them become part of themselves. Once the effective phase has begun, correctness must be so impressed that it becomes automatic, theoretically without the need for too much attention - but "don't let your guard down". The attention must instead be aimed at obtaining that overload which is absolutely necessary to have any result.

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