Save Your Low Back and Shoulders in 60 Seconds or Less

Would you take 60 seconds to prevent injury, ensure a great exercise program, and make you feel better about yourself?

I’d say “Yes” in a heartbeat to all three of those and I’m sure you would too.

So why is it that coaches in our greater La Crosse area and across the world aren’t taking those 60 seconds to reap the benefits stated above?  Those 60 seconds are a two-way street because they help the coach and they help you, the client/member.

Fitness is a booming industry and it’s expected to keep growing through 2020.  According to International Health Racquetball and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), just 3 years ago it was said that 10-12% of the ENTIRE POPULATION had ever had a membership to a gym/health club.  That number is now over 15%.

With more people than ever involved, it’s becoming more commonplace with injuries (with the top two areas being low back and shoulders).  It’s like that classic saying, “Stats is the most failed class in college.”  This is true, but Stats is also the most enrolled class in college.  Therefore, more people getting injured could make sense with the increase in popularity of the fitness industry.

However, I would argue that it gives us as coaches (the Frontline of the health and fitness industry) more of a chance to help people and prevent injury as popularity rises.  The 60 seconds I’m referring to is as powerful of a tool a coach can have in his toolbox.

Being proactive is the name of the game.  You are hopefully being proactive on your health so you can only hope that your coach is being proactive with you as well.  When you join a gym, attend your first group fitness class, or sign up with a personal trainer, you are putting your health and fitness in their hands and they should be doing the due diligence of taking care of you.  Part of that takes ONLY 60 seconds.

There are certainly a health and training history that needs to be covered.  Then there are the assessments, particularly a movement assessment (1 minute of sit ups and push ups do not count as a movement assessment).

At my facility, Unity Fitness, we do the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) as part of your free consultation and the actual FMS takes us 10 minutes or less.  With that screen alone we can find out exactly how to create an entire exercise program as well as areas of the body we need to protect and other areas of the body we need to develop.  It gives us the baseline, or starting point, if you will.

But the FMS and our health and training history aren’t part of the 60 seconds I’m referring to.

(Quick side note: I believe everyone should go through an FMS because it truly is that powerful.  Coaches/Trainers who do not take you through that are doing you a disservice.  But, if you ever join a gym or attend any class that doesn’t have you go over your training and health history then you need to find a new gym or class IMMEDIATELY.  You’re not joining a gym or class to better your health and fitness and cares about you, you’re joining a person who just wants your money…alright, now I’ll get off my soap box.)

So back to this incredibly important 60 seconds that I keep alluding to.

The 60 seconds is comprised of two tests, or movement screens.  Perhaps the best thing about these two tests is that you can do them yourself, just make sure you’re staying honest (more on that later).

One test is called The Toe Touch and the other is called The Lat Test.

Here’s The Toe Touch: Stand tall with your feet together.  While keeping your feet together, reach up with your arms and straight down while maintaining straight legs and touch your toes.

Correct Toe Touch Test


Incorrect Toe Touch Test

Picture on the left shows the inability to touch toes successfully.  The picture on the right shows a “cheat” method by bending the knees.

Findings: Can you successfully reach down and touch your toes without pain while maintaining straight legs?  If yes, then you’re clear and you can work on the movement pattern and stability.  If no, then you are not ready for Kettlebell Swings and you should not be picking up heavy weight off the floor for you deadlift or doing burpees on the floor, but off of a platform or box until you develop your strength/stability and increase your mobility/flexibility.  If the screen results in pain that alters the movement, you should see a medical professional right away (I highly recommend the team of physiotherapists at Dynamic Physiotherapy).

Failure to pay attention to this test will result in a Deadlift or Kettlebell Swing that looks something like the picture below and result in significant back pain and lead to injuries in other areas.

This type of exercise will put an enormous amount of pressure/force through the low back (notice the huge curve in my back).  It will also have a great affect on your knees, shoulders, and neck.


Here’s The Lat Test: Stand about 10-12 inches away from a wall and come down into a partial squat.  Press your entire spine against the wall to create a neutral (straight) spine.  With your chin tucked and arms completely straight, reach up over your head and touch the wall while maintaining a neutral spine.

Correct Lat Test


Incorrect Lat Test

The picture on the left shows an arch in the low back which represents a lat (latissimus dorsi aka your large back muscles) origin issue.  The picture on the right shows flexed (bent) elbows which represents a lat insertion issue (you might want to do this one in front of  a mirror so you can keep an eye on your elbows and don’t risk cheating).

Findings: Can you successfully reach your arms up overhead WITHOUT bending your elbows and/or WITHOUT have your low back arch off of the wall?  If yes, then you’re clear.  If no, then you are not ready for pressing/pulling anything overhead which means no Overhead Press and no Pull Up/Lat Pulldown until you develop strength/stability and increase your mobility/flexibility.  If the screen results in pain that alters the movement, you should see a medical professional right away (I highly recommend the team of physiotherapists at Dynamic Physiotherapy).

Failure to pay attention to this test will result in a Overhead exercise (pushing or pulling) that looks something like the picture below and result in significant shoulder, neck, and low back pain and lead to injuries in other areas.

This type of form will put a significant pressure/force on your low back and shoulders (notice the huge arch in my low back).  It will also greatly affect your elbows, wrist, and neck.  I intentionally kept my shadow in the picture to show how the elbows don’t become fully extended (straightened), which is how some injuries in the shoulders, elbows, and wrists can occur.


And that’s it.  With low back pain and shoulder pain being the two of the most common injuries we see in the fitness injury, these two tests will help bring that number down.  More importantly, they’ll keep YOU safe from doing something you shouldn’t be doing at this time.

Did it take you 60 seconds to see if you cleared the tests?  It might have taken you less time than that yet you have learned a ton of invaluable information to prevent injury, ensure a great exercise program/boost performance, and make you feel better about yourself because you now have a plan of action (which ultimately leads to confidence 😉).

Now that you’ve checked those tests, make sure that your gym or your coach know of your findings.  If you’ve never been tested on either of these before and want to make sure they’re done properly you can either tell your coach about this blog post OR you can come over to Unity Fitness and see me or one of the other coaches and we’ll do it absolutely free of charge.

In fact, I’ll even give you a couple exercises to help with each movement and if you’re unable to touch your toes I’ll make sure we also get you to touch your toes before you leave the gym.

Lack of movement screens and initial testing like the two exercises along with overcrowded gyms and fitness classes are leading to more injuries than ever.  This is our chance as a health and fitness coach to have a bigger impact than ever.  And as a coach, we are doing you a disservice by not going through these things with you.

By no means are these two tests the end-all-be-all tests, nor should they be left as the only two tests.  What I’m pointing out is that you can easily go through these tests to see where you should be starting or what you should/shouldn’t be doing.  They’re easy, informative, and obviously super quick.

Our number one goal at Unity Fitness is to do you no harm.  If you join us and get hurt right away that is on us.  The same goes for any gym or fitness class you are attending.  If you go and are in pain you need to let a staff member know right away.  It is not your fault if you get injured on someone else’s watch – it is the staff’s.

Maybe you’ve been a member at a gym for years.  Maybe you’re doing it because your friends are doing it.  Maybe you’re doing it to be proactive on your health and fitness.  Regardless of where you’re at, these 60 seconds or less could make or break your entire perspective of health and fitness.  In a world where we are aiming to change the way fitness is done, I am doing all that I can with this post to help make our lives better in and out of the gym.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns by sending me an email at