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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Danny D - M.OsT
12/16/2016 03:00:06 am
Good article my friend. I often see people trying to do the cool looking moves they see on instagram without the pre requisites. As you say, most just don't have the mobility or stability, so doing a movement loaded that you cannot even do properly with bodyweight is insane. Most do not even realize how stiff their thoracic spine is.
11/9/2017 09:47:49 am
The Jefferson Curl is definitely controversial. Many professionals say that since most people are subject to excessive spinal flexion already, the lift is a redundancy. For athletes that need tons of flexion like gymnasts, there may be no way around it.
2/12/2018 03:28:39 pm
Do you have evidence of this being safe for the majority of people? Because we do have ample evidence of injury with prolonged flexion and acute flexion / rotation. Are we all supposed to jump on new and unproven exercises just to challenge old beliefs? Early adopters not always right or safe...
2/12/2018 10:30:18 pm
2/13/2018 03:26:33 am
Appreciate the reply---and agree---mostly---
6/26/2022 07:55:49 am
I do wonder why people argue that this might be a flexion exercise, because it inherently is an extension one! All the dorsal muscles are at work
10/31/2022 01:15:51 am
I appreciated you pointing out that good lumbar flexion is a vital movement for spinal health. My friend was recommended for spinal bracing. I should advise him to look for a specialist with years of experience in spinal bracing.
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