303 ExistentialismFrench philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, a self-described existentialist, believed that “…man must create his own essence: it is in throwing himself into the world, suffering there, struggling there, that he gradually defines what this man is before he dies.”

Existentialism by definition means that “existence precedes essence”. In other words, we as humans are defined by our actions: we exist first, and our actions (and perhaps thoughts) define us. Essentially, freedom lies in our ability to “create oneself” and live an authentic life, regardless of the expectations of others’ essences or what our own genes determine.

Apparently this philosophy has also somehow bled onto the gym floor.

While I applaud and oftentimes abide by Sartre’s philosophy of self-empowerment, individual thought, and personal responsibility, there are some physical rules we cannot out-think: our basic anatomy cannot be “convinced” to do what it is incapable of without suffering the consequences.

Case in point: recently I observed a young male in the gym wielding a 45-pound weight plate and walking toward the Roman chair. Once his legs were secured, the idealistic young man proceeded to violently thrash his body back and forth, all while hugging the plate to his chest. His back was in such hyper-extension that his thighs lifted from the pads of the chair. If this description makes sense to you, you are probably bristling at the mental image. If you are wondering what I could possibly be talking about, here’s a video demonstrating how not to perform a lumbar hyperextension:

Keep in mind this is probably the most responsible way to show bad form. Our fella in the gym was using bombastic, forceful momentum with far greater range of movement. And did I mention the 45-pound weight plate?

303 bare backRepetitive hyperextension of the lumbar spine can lead to discomfort, herniated disks, and Lumbrosacral Spondylolisthesis, which is an actual break in the vertebra. Not good.

Developing strength in our lower back is essential to spinal longevity. Safely done, back exercises will serve you throughout your life. Some excellent exercises for your back include the deadlift, plank, reverse hyperextensions, and yes, lumbar extensions — when done properly.

Here’s how:

A happy back is a strong back. Don’t overdo it with weights — body weight alone is sufficient for beginners. And please don’t try to overthink it — philosophical aspirations will always be there waiting for you after your workout. Let me know how you fare.

PT-color-headshot-I3Jodilyn Stuart is the Health & Sports Senior Staff Writer for 303 Magazine, owner of ModaBody Fitness, and has been a professional fitness geek since 1997. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected] *Vote for Jodilyn as Denver’s A-List top trainer here*