If a spinal disc might easily tear in some people, could certain exercises raise the risk of a herniation?

A herniated disc is when disc material bulges (herniates) out from the spinal column. This puts pressure on nerves.

“At times, our discs can withstand tremendous load and at other times, they can tear like tissue paper,” says Dr. Jeff Langmaid, DC, founder/owner of The Evidence Based Chiropractor, LLC, in Florida, a research-based marketing and practice growth company that serves thousands of chiropractors across the globe.

“They are very strong in some planes of motion and very weak in other planes of motion.

“Exercises that have both twisting and loading are very challenging to a disc and can increase the likelihood of an injury to the disc.

“Some of these exercises may include straight leg raises, deep knee bends or the wood chop, to name a few.”

Exercises that Simultaneously Involve Some Degree of Twisting plus Loading

  • Walking lunge while holding a weight and twisting to one side with each step.
  • Renegade row (pushups alternating with a dumbbell row)
  • Bent-over dumbbell row (most people do twist somewhat when doing this).
  • Any oblique-twisting exercise against resistance
  • Some yoga routines

If you’re doing something at the gym that involves simultaneously twisting and loading, you may want to rethink your perceived need to do this particular exercise if you’re concerned about a disc herniation.

There actually is no need to simultaneously bare heavy loads and twist, whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle or achieve a certain appearance to your physique.

Unless you’re training for a wood chopping competition (and yes, “timber sports” have wood chopping events), do not combine twisting with load bearing.

Also be mindful of what seems to be linear movements that are heavily loaded, such as the leg press.

I knew a fitness director at a gym who “blew out a disc” (herniated it) when he went down very deep in the leg press apparatus, causing his lumbar area to leave contact with the apparatus, while attempting to press up a very heavy load.

Jeff Langmaid, DC
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  


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