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Hard and Heavy



by Louie Simmons

Many lifters train with a bad back. They often ask me what to do to decrease their chances of getting hurt while squatting or deadlifting.
I fractured my fifth lumbar vertebra twice. In 1973, I pulled a 670 deadlift at 181. Shortly thereafter, I broke the vertebra while doing bent over good mornings. In 1983, I broke it again falling off my ice-covered porch. This time the doctor said he wanted to remove two disks, fuse my back, and take off a bone spur. I declined.

Having successfully came back from both injuries, I have discovered many ways to work around a bad back or prevent our lifters from getting one.
Back in 1973, my knowledge was limited. During 1974 I was on crutches on and off for 10 months. One of my most important discoveries was chi*ropractors. Because of my inactivity, my spinal alignment was terrible. I had misgivings about going to a chiropractor, but my doctor wanted me to go in for traction for a couple weeks. I hate hospitals, so finally I broke down and went to a chiroprac*tor. To my surprise, my back was much better after a few adjustments, and I was able to start training again, but my problem came back, and my back still hurt all the time. In 1975, my back was still fragile. That???s when I started doing reverse hyper-extensions.

Through the motion of rotating the sacrum in a safe way and the blood-pumping action, my back was quickly rehabilitated to the point that I pulled 710 in 1977 at 198. We picked up a lot of exercises as the years passed, and after breaking my fifth lumbar vertebra again in 1983, my rehabilitation was much faster. This time I used acupressure and acupuncture to speed up the
healing. I also received oxygen injections directly into the muscle, which helped greatly.

Aside from progressive medical help, we have found an array of back and ab exercises that have all but eliminated our low back ailments.

Good mornings done while seated on the floor are effective. Sit on the floor with an empty bar across the shoulders. Now bend forward as far as possible. Breathe normally. In other words, relax! Don???t arch the back to return to the starting position, but rather push with the heels. Your flexibility will increase rapidly. Training the deadlift in the sumo style will eliminate a great deal of back trauma. Mariah Liggett would train sumo and pull conventional at meets. She pulled 484 at 132.

Reverse hypers are the best exercise for lower back problems I have ever seen. People with bulging or herniated disks can do them without pain. They rotate the sacrum in a very safe way with virtually no compression on the lower spine. At the same time, they build the glutes and hamstrings.
Dragging weights has a positive effect on the lower back. One of the most effective lower back therapies is walking. It is the most natural way to rehabilitate a bad back.

Whenever you have a tight lower back, you will also have tight hamstrings. A weak back is almost always accompanied by weak hamstrings.
A calf/ham/glute machine will bring up your hamstrings considerably. Laura Dodd was tested at the Ohio State University Kineisiology Laboratory and was found to have a hamstring to quad ratio of 60:40 This could explain her 567 squat at 165.

A highly advanced exercise is the glute/ham raise. While kneeling on a padded bench, with your feet hanging off the end of the bench, have a partner sit on your ankles to hold you down. Lower yourself slowly without bending at the waist until your chest touches the bench. Now leg curl yourself back up. Let me recommend two ways to work up to a full rep. The first is to lower yourself slowly and hold for 3-6 seconds at various of this move*ment. This is very taxing on the hamstrings and glutes. It builds the top and mid portion of the exercise. You can lower all the way down until your chest comes in contact with the bench, then use your hands to assist in the raise until your hamstrings and glutes can curl you up the rest of the way.

The second method is to now lower yourself down to elastic bands located midway between the top and bottom positions. This will help reduce your be bodyweight while you are lowering yourself, and it will help spring you back up to a kneeling position. As you get stronger, use fewer or weaker bands until you can complete a rep unassisted.

Doing the following special dead lift will build tremendous hamstrings. Use a shoulder width stance with a wider than shoulder width grip. With your back arched, push your glutes to the rear and squat down. Never bow the back. Lower the bar just below the knees and pull it up with the legs only. Do 2 sets of 20 reps 4 times a week for a couple of weeks. Use weights that are 30-40% of your max deadlift.

A great exercise for hamstrings is the pull-through. Face away from a low-pulley machine. Grab a single handle between the legs. Walk out a few feet and squat down, letting the handle be pulled through the legs as far as possible Use the repetition method. That is, go to failure on each set 3 or 4 sets is plenty. This exercise will build the hamstrings where they tie into the glutes.

Ab Strength is extremely important in preventing back injury. Leg raises done while hanging from a chin-up bar are effective. Raise the feet until you touch the bar you are hanging from. These are great for strength and flexibility.
Do sit-ups while holding a ball or cushion between the thighs. This will realign the lower back. It also helps decrease the pressure on the back by increasing abdominal pressure.

Learn to use your abs correctly while wearing a lifting belt. You must push out against the belt. It is very important to push out to the sides, or exert outwardly with the obliques. This will start the action of straightening out the legs.

We do a great deal of ab work standing up, and why not? When you fight, wrestle, play ball. And of course lift weights, you are stand*ing up, not sitting.

Try this standing ab exercise: Stand facing away from a lat machine. Grab a triceps rope and hold it behind your head. Hold the ends of the rope against your chest. Now bend forward until your chest is close to your abs. Use light weights for high reps or for a certain length of time. We will start our workout by doing 3-5 minutes of this exercise to warm up our abs and lower back. By adding weight, you will quickly see how weak your abs are. Just compare the weight on the machine to your bodyweight and it will open your eyes.
Attach a strong strap from your power rack to the front of your belt and lean back until there is no slack in the strap. Now slide your feet forward until you are leaning backward. This will place your abs in a pre-stretched position. Crunch your abs while holding a medicine ball or cable device behind your head. This will work the abs very effectively. Hook the strap on the belt to do oblique work As a bonus, hook the strap to the rear of the belt, and with your body inclined forward, perform deadlifts with a barbell or dumbbells; this is great for lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.

This is just a partial list of exercises that will help fix a bad back or, more importantly, prevent one.

Doing special exercises like the ones listed above has kept our lifters healthy at Westside and greatly contributed to my totaling USPF Elite for a span of over 24 years even after breaking my fifth lumbar vertebra in 1973 and 1983 and suffer*ing a complete rupture of the patella tendon in 1991. Like me, there may still be hope for anyone who tries.

Westside Barbell

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