Believe to Achieve
Jay Cutler's house
Hard and Heavy
TRAINING FOR THE BACK
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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