Fortnite Marathons and Deadlifts: A Devastating Combination

by Randy Sullivan
in blog

Today’s blog will be a tag team effort featuring FBR Strength and Savage Coordinator, Garrison Roy.

G-Roy is a former TBR and FBR student who recently wrapped up a successful collegiate baseball career and served internships at The Florida Baseball Ranch and Cressey Performance before passing his CSCS exam and returning to FBR to assume his current full-time position.  He’s smart, motivated and passionate about helping baseball players get stronger so they can play better.  We’ve been working on a lot of cool stuff together, and last week the topic of low back pain came up.


When I started my career as a physical therapist over 25 years ago, I quickly realized that the most common complaint among my middle-aged patients was low back pain.  More times than not, the source of that pain was a bulging disc.

Your spine is of a column of stacked vertebrae that surround and protect the spinal cord. At each level, nerve roots exit through tunnels on either side known as foramen.  In the lower back, these nerves merge to form the sciatic nerve that runs into the buttocks, the backs of your thighs, beyond the knee and into your lower leg.

An intervertebral disc separates each vertebra. The disc is like a fibrous jelly donut.  If you cut it in cross-section, you can see a series of concentric rings, like the rings of a tree. These are labeled “the annulus”.  In the center of the disc is a gel-filled center known at the nucleus pulposis. The purpose of the disc is to attenuate the movement of the vertebrae as we bend forward, backward sideways and rotate.

Here’s how it works with forward and backward bending:  When you bend forward, the bones squeeze the gel in the disc backward. When you bend forward, the gel shifts toward the front.  As long as we keep moving in all directions frequently, the disc gel does a nice job of cushioning the movement between the vertebrae.  But, in our society, we have legitimate and escalating a first world problem.

We live in a world in which we spend a large portion of our time sitting with our backs curved forward. We sit in cars. We sit at desks at work, hunched over our computers.  We sit with backs rounded in seats at sporting events or movie theaters. Then, we go home and sit in poorly designed furniture such as over-stuffed chairs, recliners, and sofas.  As the day ends, some of us go to bed and sleep curled up in the fetal position.

We bend forward a lot but we hardly ever have the opportunity to bend backward.

Over time, the constant pressure of prolonged sitting and forward bending squeezes the gel toward the back of the disc.  The gel begins breaking through the fibrous rings, working its way slowly but surely toward the spinal cord.  Fortunately, the last ring on the outer edge is thicker and more robust than the others, so the disc doesn’t usually rupture right away .  Nonetheless, even if the disc doesn’t give way entirely, it can be problematic.  The outer one-third of the intervertebral disc contains an abundant supply of pain-sensing nerve endings.  As soon as the gel migrates to the edge of the disc, your body sends you an alerting message in the form of low back pain.  Most people write it off as “muscular” but as it persists, the condition worsens.  Eventually, the gel pushes so hard against that last ring that it causes a bulge in the disc, like an inner tube on a bicycle tire with a weak spot.  When the disc bulges, it begins to press on the spinal cord or the nerve roots as they exit the spinal column.  This condition can result in pain, numbness, or tingling radiating down either leg.  The more prominent the bulge, the harder you squeeze the nerves.  The harder you compress the spinal cord or the nerves, the further into the limb you’ll feel symptoms.  If the disc ruptures, allowing the gel to leak out onto the nerves, you have trouble.  This kind of problem usually requires surgery.

The typical age of onset is 30-50 years old.  In the early days of my physical therapy practice, if a person under the age of 30 came into the clinic complaining of back pain, the last diagnosis I considered was a chronic disc bulge.  That syndrome usually required 15- 20 years of sitting and forward bending to reach the pain threshold.  Younger clients simply hadn’t had enough time to sit that much.

However, as my physical therapy career progressed, I became aware of an alarming trend.  More and more frequently, I was seeing younger patients with disc bulges — some as young as 15 years old.  I wondered what had changed to create this emerging problem.  I drove home thinking about it, and when I walked into my house, it hit me in the face like a frozen fish.

On the way to the office in my home, I passed through the game room where my three teenage sons were hanging out with their friends.  Two boys were sitting cross-legged on the floor hunched over video game controllers.  Four others were curled forward, immersed in their cell phones.  As I passed through, no one looked up.  “That’s it!” I thought.  This new technology had created a generation of 15-20-year-olds whose postural habits were tuning their backs into the functional equivalents of 30-50-year-olds.

I have no data to support this, but I would guess that today’s college baseball player has spent more time in lumbar flexion (sitting with a C-shaped spine) than any of the previous generations combined.

Now consider the additional stress when they report to college, and we add a hefty dose of heavy weight training, including deadlifts and squats. Their vulnerable discs — the gel prepositioned at the back door by a life of sitting and forward bending — are ripe for the bulge and can eventually rupture. When you bend forward or round your back while holding a heavy load, even if you hip hinge perfectly the amount pressure in the disc is extreme.  The results can be as bad or worse than this 20-year-old who recently MRI of his back.

Listen, if you hurt your back lifting weights, you, you won’t just miss a few weeks or a season, you’ll probably carry that with you for life.  As we say in physical therapy, “That’s why they call it back pain, because it always comes back.  Strength coaches, baseball coaches, I urge us all to consider this factor before we ever prescribe any heavily loaded lift that requires forward bending or hip hinging.

Players, I know you want to lift to get stronger.  That’s great!  I’m all for it. But, a marathon of Fortnite followed by a 6 am max day of deadlifts and squats sounds like a recipe for disaster. 

What can you do to keep this from happening to you?  For that, I’ll turn the mic over to the superb FBR Strength and SAVAGE Coordinator, Garrison Roy.


Garrison Roy here.

Stop what you’re doing! Examine your current posture. If you’re sitting, are you slouched down into your chair? Do you favor one side more than another? Odds are after reading this you might have corrected your posture since you are now more conscious of it.

In today’s world, we have an epidemic of sitting. Kids in the classroom are sitting for hours upon end. Many work environments involve sitting at a desk. Then we go home and slouch on our overstuffed couches while watching our favorite tv show or game (I’m guilty).  What many may not realize is that it is detrimental to our health. One of the books I’ve recently read, Deskbound by Kelly Starett, opened my eyes to this phenomenon, and I’ll add a short excerpt below:

“Some experts argue that sitting is even more pernicious than smoking. An Australian study conducted in 2008 reports that every hour of television watched after age 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.  By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by 11 minutes.  Dr. Levine claims that for every hour we sit, we lose two hours of life. He concludes simply, “We are sitting ourselves to death.”

I’m not saying you have to stand all the time. Don’t be that person who refuses to sit during class, at a meeting, or at dinner. However, when you do sit, make sure you’re not doing so improperly and feeding into these detrimental patterns.

These are the most common posture errors:

Rounded Spine (C Spine)

Arched Spine (overextension)

High Hip/ High Shoulder Fault

This one is most common in the baseball population for other physiological reasons as well.

People are sitting their lives away. As a strength and conditioning coach, this is a problem I have to address and correct. Having this pattern of lousy posture forces your body to take on abnormal loads for which it is ill-prepared. This is where the reset exercises come into play before the workouts. We can temporarily reverse the flexed slouched position before adding heavy loads.

If you add strength on top of dysfunction, then you’re setting yourself up for injury.

Therefore it is critical that when you engage in resistance training, you to do so with proper form.  Clear any mobility issues and perfect your technique before adding heavier loads. Ego lifting with poor form is flat-out stupid and counterproductive to helping athletes perform better. Training through back pain (or any pain for that matter) is ill-advised and can lead to injury that won’t only make you play bad but also give you problems for the rest of your life!

If you’re an elite athlete, you CANNOT be addicted to sitting

One of the keys to improving your performance is staying injury free! My job is to manage the risk/reward ratio in training and put the athlete’s safety first. But I can only do so much with the hour time slot that I have with the athletes I train. They have to take charge of their own lives.

Let me leave you with five simple solutions to fixing this problem:

  1.  Sit on your “sit bones” –thee bones right below your butt cheeks.

2.  Stand when you can. It’s what you were created to do.

3.  Go barefoot when possible.Shoeless walking is as nature intended and it can increase your proprioception, improve your balance and posture, and strengthen your feet and legs.

4.  Breathe with your diaphragm. It’s nearly impossible to take a diaphragmatic breath while you’re slouching.

5.  Check your neck when you check your phone!

And for heaven’s sake, as well as the sake of your coaches, teammates, and parents …

STOP PLAYING FORTNITE!

We’ll see you at The Ranch.

Garrison Roy, CSCS

Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS

 

References:

  1. Starrett, K., Starrett, J., & Cordoza, G. (2016). Deskbound standing up to a sitting world. Las Vegas: Victoria Belt Publ.

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