The standard deadlift & squat promote a neutral spine position. The Jefferson Curl promotes segmental stability as the spine rounds into flexion.
I recently heard about this exercise from a patient who had been attempting some gymnastic strength training exercises. During the exercise, he reported a sharp pain in his thoracic spine. Putting his injury aside, my patient asked... "is this exercise ok for my spine?" When watching his form, the patient had clear thoracic mobility deficits with a loss of lumbar flexion active range of motion. Additionally, the patient admitted to using a heavier weight than instructed.
The Jefferson Curl has potential to be a great exercise for the spine if you have the underlying mobility and stability requirements to perform the movement. As a society, we have been told that lumbar flexion is bad for the low back. This statement is not true. Adequate lumbar flexion is a necessary movement for spinal health. Problems with lumbar flexion occur when someone attempts to lift a heavy weight from a flexed spine without adequate mobility and stability. Since treating this individual, I have started incorporating the Jefferson Curl into my workouts. In addition to improving my back strength, I have also noticed improvements in posterior chain flexibility.
However, I do not think the Jefferson Curl is appropriate for all people initially. If someone has clear postural deficits (excessive thoracic kyphosis or lumbar lordosis), other mobility exercises likely need to be performed first. Additionally, if a patient is experiencing pain, and they have a directional preference into extension, this flexion based exercise will likely increase their symptoms. Finally if someone lacks segmental motor control of the thoracic and lumbar spines, the lumbar ligaments and discs may be at risk for injury. The Jefferson curl has it's role in addressing segmental strength of the spine, but it should not replace your squat or deadlift exercises. Patient's should be reminded that the best way to lift something from the floor is with your spine stacked in neutral alignment while engaging the hips and core.
1) Start performing the Jefferson Curl exercise without any weight
2) Gradually add light weights once you can effectively perform the movement pattern
3) Address any hip or thoracic spine mobility deficits prior to performing the movement
4) Retrain and core stability deficits that may limit forward flexion
-Jim Heafner PT, DPT, OCS
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