Friday, May 20, 2011

Developing the Lower Back - Charles A. Smith

The famous lower back exercise of Charles Ramsey, the "Back Hinge".

Developing the Lower Back
by Charles A. Smith (1951)

I see the figure of an old man. Bent, gnarled of feature and shuffling of gait, he moves along to the end of his earthly days. I see the figure of another man, old too, yet, upright and firm of step. As he journeys on his way, his carriage is erect, his eye bright and his tread assured. The first old man is what you and I might have been if we had not one day in the past taken hold of a long steel bar with weights at each end and commenced our bodybuilding career. The other figure is what we are assured of one of these days . . . a healthy, happy and strong old age . . . a triumphant end to the Symphony of Living.

It has been said by others that the back is the seat of man’s Power, that “a Man is as strong as his back.” May I qualify these statements and say that the LOWER BACK is what holds a man together, permits him to exert his full strength, makes him what he is, what every Weight Lifter and Body Builder works for . . . a picture of Powerful Virile and Vitality-filled Manhood. It is one of my firmest convictions that together with the legs, it is impossible to pay too much attention to the development of the lower back. It is another belief of mine, just as firm as the previous, that the condition of the Spinal muscles and area is a 100% determination of what the general physical condition will itself be!

That vital column we call The Spine, covered with two long ropes of muscle . . . the Erector Spinae . . . houses the Control Tower and Power Lines of the entire physique . . . Shatter the spine and death can result. If you are lucky enough to survive, living is no longer normal. Even a badly sprained back makes it almost impossible to get around. Once you’re on your back, with an injury to that region, you can’t get onto your feet without help and great discomfort and suffering.

In the field of Sport, it is hard to imagine an athlete with a weak lumbar region. For a weightlifter or bodybuilder to be in possession of lower back muscles below par in strength and development is a sheer physical impossibility. Examine the lower back of any strength athlete and you’ll readily observe that even those who have been devotees not more than three or four months already have a condition of musculature of the lower spine that is well above the development of Mr. Average Man.

The muscles of the lower Erector Spinae are easy to develop, swift to respond to the stimulus of Specialization Exercises. They get stiff and sore more quickly than the other muscle groups and they recover, with care, more readily. The CAN be overworked yet once broken in to hard exercise will stand almost any amount of reasonably tough workouts. In all exercises calling for a standing position, the muscles of the back are called into play . . . squats . . . curls . . . presses . . . rowing motions . . . every movement requiring an upright stance would be impossible of performance if the back was in any way injured . . . So, if you young bodybuilders and weightlifters haven’t as yet realized the importance of the lower back and the direct necessity of strengthening it, by the time you finish this article you should be well sold on the inclusion of a lot of Erector Spinae movements in your schedule!

The late Alan Calvert, father of Modern Weight Training in this country, fully realized the importance of the lower back. In his monumental work, “SUPER STRENGTH”, he devoted a whole chapter to the region

Thanks, Bob!

and started off by saying, “THE KEYSTONE OF THE ARCH OF A MAN’S STRENGTH IS THE ‘SMALL’ OF HIS BACK”. He pointed out that a man could have a magnificent pair of arms and shoulders , yet if he was weak in the loins and back, he could never hope to be classed as a real Strong Man. To give weight to his crystal clear words, he instanced gymnasts, trapeze artists and Roman Ring performers. “These men have wonderful arm development,” said Calvert . . . “can perform amazing feats of strength when it comes to chinning and dipping . . . in any movement where the legs are not used . . . but when it comes to feats of REAL POWER . . . the elevating of massive weights overhead . . . they fail for nearly all of them have puny hips and thighs and lower back.”

“When a man is standing on his feet,” Calvert pointed out, “he positively cannot exert the full strength of his arms, unless the strength of his back and legs is in PROPORTION to the strength of his arms and shoulders.” To my mind, this statement has never been more powerfully illustrated than in two giants of strength. One of them is dead, and the other has just risen above the horizon. One, unfortunately, never duplicated officially what he was easily capable of in training, and the other is struggling against a PETTY officialdom to have his titanic feats of power given recognition . . . I refer to the late and wonderful Ronald Walker of England, and the newest lifting sensation, Doug Hepburn of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Both of these men exemplify power of unusual quality. Ron Walker, though never what present day authorities would call a GREAT presser, possessed a strength of back that was truly extraordinary. Onetime holder of the world heavy snatch record with a poundage of 297¼, . . . he snatched 320 in training and could clean 300 with one hand officially ANY time he also had an unofficial one hand clean of 320 to his credit. Yet it was that super lower back power that enabled him to heave heavy weights overhead. Perhaps one of the most gigantic feats of back strength I have ever seen was in the late thirties when Ron was taking part in his last British championship as an Amateur. He was continentaling 404 pounds . . . had brought the weight from the ground to the belt and from the belt to the shoulders. Then he jerked the barbell to arms’ length. In an effort to fix the weight he didn’t hesitate to bend right back with it until the trunk formed almost a right angle with the floor. Failing to lock out, the fifth-of-a-ton crashed back down across his shoulders and Ron, HOLDING IT THERE WHILE STILL BENT BACK, regained UPRIGHT POSITION and put the bar back on the platform again. Just imagine the enormous strength of back it took to do this!

Doug Hepburn, through the efforts of Weider Publications and particularly those of this writer, is now getting the acclaim that is rightfully his due. Prior to our bringing him to New York, others refused to believe the feats of strength he claimed. But since he came to America and PROVED his worth, everyone is trying to jump on the Hepburn bandwagon . . . The strength of this man is incredible. Inside of 20 minutes, he broke every record created in the VAL gymnasium. Doug pressed weights from 300 to 365 pounds, and jerk-pressed up to 395. On another occasion, he was given 405 into the shoulders, gave a heave, the weight stopping in the region of his forehead. From there he pressed it to arms’ length with a little back bend. Immediately after finishing this enormous feat of arm and shoulder power, he did a FULL squat of 550 pounds without any warmup. Imagine the strength this required, after all that previous strain on the back muscles, to make such a heavy squat . . . No further proof is needed that the small of the back is indeed the keystone of a man’s strength.

Muscle Movements, which are possible in conjunction with an exercise bench, lend themselves admirably by virtue of their peculiar “leverage” efforts to the COMPLETE development of the lower back. Some of them are indeed valuable because the weight of the body alone can be handled to prepare the region for the heavier weights that can be used, and HAVE to be used in order to approach the ultimate. It is important to realize that this table of exercises given below is a SPECIALIZATION SCHEDULE and in order to get the most out of it, all movements that resemble these exercises must be cut from your ordinary workout program. If possible, it is best to cut out any exercises that affect the back including the deep knee bend, substituting Leg Presses. A Lower Back Specialization schedule should go something like this . . . Bench presses . . . Seated curls . . . Bench rowing motions or Pulldowns on the lat machine . . . Flying exercises and Incline bench deltoid raises . . . Leg presses for the thigh work, and THEN your lower back specialization course. After the workout, put hot packs on the lower back and rub in a good athletic lotion or embrocation. Give the lower back muscles a good massaging.

Exercise One

Here is a movement that directly affects the LOWER erector spinae and the entire range of muscles generally. Lie face down on the exercise bench with the hips at the end . . . the entire torso, from the head and shoulders down to the bend of the hips, will be projecting over the bench end. A training partner should be in attendance to hold you down firmly. Clasp the hands behind the neck and simply lower the trunk down until the head is near the floor . . . about an inch above it – raise it to the bench level again and repeat. DON’T let the head touch the ground and DON’T go above parallel. Start off with 2 sets of 12 reps. Gradually progress, with no attempt to rush either reps or exercising poundage, by holding barbell plates at the back of the head. As soon as you are able to make 2 sets of 12 reps, add the resistance of a 2½ pound plate and start all over again.

Exercise Two

Another “muscle isolation” exercise . . . a movement that places stress directly on the muscles involved is the Bench Good Morning Exercise. Seat yourself on the bench with LIGHT barbell across the back of the shoulders. Grip the sides of the bench with your thighs, lower the trunk DOWN towards the end of the bench until it almost touches it, then raise and repeat. Peter Poulton’s excellent illustration shows you how. Start off with a weigh you can handle EASILY for 3 sets of 5 reps, and work up to 3 sets of 10 reps before increasing the weight.

Exercise Three

In a recent article of this Exercise Bench series . . . Developing the Abdominals . . . I gave an exercise for the obliques. A similar movement is also a builder of powerful Lumbar muscles. Here is how it’s done. Lie on your side on a bench . . . your training partner should hold your legs down . . . the hips should be on the end of the bench with a pillow or padding under the hip for comfort . . . if you are using a WEIDER padded exercise bench (plug over) this should not be necessary! The hands should be clasped behind the neck. From this position LOWER the trunk down as far as possible, stopping just above the floor, and then RAISING the trunk as HIGH as you can go. As soon as you reach this position, DON’T lower the trunk at once but HOLD it for a short count of three, then lower and repeat. Start off with 3 sets of 5 reps and work up to 3 sets of 10 reps before you add any weight.

Exercise Four

Stiff Legged Dead Lifts are generally recognized as tops in producing outstanding lower back development. Many weight trainers find these hard to perform without incurring muscle strain because of the lengths of their backs. Here is one way, introduced by me previously in the Foundations of Power series . . . the Bench Stiff-Legged Dead Lift. Place a weight equal to your best clean across the end of a bench. Stand up to the weight and grasp it with a normal “clean” hand spacing. Make your first rep an ordinary dead lift and from then go on, keeping the knees locked and the legs straight. From this upright position lower the weight down until it touches the bench and, without any rebound, return to upright position again. Start off with 3 sets of 8 reps and work up to 3 sets of 15 reps before increasing the exercise poundage.

Exercise Five

The final lower spine movement in this group is known as the Back Hinge. It was originated by that Grand Old Youngster of lifting, Mr. Charles Ramsey. You don’t need a heavy poundage and the man who can use 150 pounds is indeed powerful. At first glance the movement would appear to be a version of the stiff legged dead lift on a bench, but there is a certain method of using it that makes it stand out as a Spinal Muscle developer. Here it is . . . Stand on a low bench with the weight held in your hands . . . as in the finish of the regular dead lift. Lower the weight to the feet so that it just touches them. From here raise the body to upright position but DON’T ALLOW THE BAR TO HANG AWAY FROM THE BODY, KEEP IT TOUCHING THE LEGS ALL THE WAY TO UPRIGHT POSITION. All you need to do is to press the bar against the legs all the way and don’t allow it to lose contact. As you lift the bar up, press the head up and back. Start off with a weight you can handle for 3 sets of 8 reps, and work up to 3 sets of 15 reps.

Don’t forget that the muscles of the lower back are the most important in the body. Work on them hard and regularly, for the dividends they pay mean strength in youth and vigor on old age.

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