BACK POWER is essentially the crux of all lifting effort, but in particular a strong back is needed in doing the power lifts. Of course, the deadlift is strictly a test of back power and doesn't require any technique or style -- just power. On the other hand, a strong back is necessary when doing heavy, power squats. It keeps the body upright and prevents jamming of the spinal vertebrae. People who have weak backs find it difficult to move about and the least amount of effort can injure their backs, incapacitating them for prolonged periods.
Since there are countless people with ailing, weak backs, perhaps it might be appropriate to suggest certain auxiliary movements that will help to overcome this weakness. But how can a weak back be improved to prevent further injury?
Exercise to strengthen those long erector muscles that start at the base of the skull and terminate at the coccyx region. These muscles, when developed, are like a pair of strong cables running along each side of the backbone. They help to keep the body upright and the vertebrae aligned. These muscles also give spring to the legs and strength to the whole body; that's why they are an important factor in body development.
What type of exercise strengthens these erector muscles?
Just about any bending motion; forward, side to side and back bending movements . . . in fact these two erector muscles are involved in every bending effort the body does.
However, packing power into the back is still another story. For example, to increase back strength the mere act of bending forward and touching your toes (if you're flexible enough to do this) can improve your flexibility and serve to strengthen these muscles if they are very weak. But the man who has an ailing back must exercise with caution and include some variety to improve his condition. One the other hand, just coddling a weak back is not the answer. One day you are apt to stumble over an object, sneeze violently or bend over to tie your shoelaces when the old back will snap and give out, causing you excruciating pain. Therefore, heat and exercise can improve your back and make it stronger so that you can do many things without the fear of re-injuring it.
Keep in mind, the muscles of the body were designed for action and work, but if you've been having some difficulty with your back, there is no point in being unreasonable and trying to rush things. Exercise yes, but be conservative and cautious, progressive and tactful. This should help.
If your back is weak and you would like to strengthen it but don't know if you can exercise it, they this. If you can bend your upper body forward, to a position parallel with the floor while keeping your legs stiff, then you can exercise. However, it's not going to be easy and you won't overcome your weakness in a matter of days. You'll have to work at it, slowly, progressively and tactfully . . . but you will improve.
Stand with feet comfortably apart with hand on hips. Now, without bending the legs, bend over (frontwards) as low as you can without feeling any discomfort or pain. Straighten up again. Repeat slowly about 10 to 15 times. If after this your back feels alright you know it's strong enough to continue this exercise at least once or twice a day, but now place your hands behind your head (for added resistance) and do the exercise in this manner. When this method becomes easy, take a light weight, 10 to 25 pounds, and hold it behind your head and do the exercise with it. Again, proceed cautiously. Just remember, weakness cannot be rushed and if you try to hasten results you may only impede your own progress. This is why it's best to be cautious and tactful.
Continue to increase the resistance in very small jumps but only when the weight you're using becomes light. You can even include exercises such as side bends, using a light weight and switching hands to give both sides of the erector muscles equal work.
Twists, while holding arms sideways and keeping feet and hips stationary is also excellent, but must be done with care and not violently.
Doing a light deadlift is perhaps the most effective way to improve back strength, but must be done with care and regularly, three to four times a week. Either the stiff legged variety or the regular deadlift can be employed, but stress should be placed on doing high repetitions rather than weight if weakness is to be overcome at this stage.
So much for steps to overcome back weakness, and now to explain a way of powerizing the erector muscles to improve power performance.
Assuming your back is strong and normal and you're capable of deadlifting round three times your bodyweight . . . a 165 pound lifter can do at least 500 pounds. For most power lifters, however, this is simple enough but it's not enough to win a championship.
So how can you increase your deadlift?
First, always warm up the back before attempting a heavy deadlift. This is safer and prevents injury. After the warmup do at least 8 to 10 more reps, using either the regular or stiff legged variety. Now you're ready to work up to your limit -- or nearly so.
Increase the weight of the bar by 50 to 75 pounds. Do at least 2 but not more than 5 reps. Again, more weight and repeat this two to three times. More weight and repeat the same number of reps, but if you can't, do only 2. Then add more weight and do at least 3 singles with a weight that is close to your record, but don't try to exceed your record if the weight feels heavy. Stop there.
There will be other times when you know you can do more, then do it but not on days when you don't feel as strong. This is important to remember.
Another thing, while warming up and before working up to your limit for the day, use the knuckles-front grip. Why? To improve your gripping power. So many lifters fail on their deadlift simply because they feel their grip slipping and give up before they complete the lift. A strong, secure grip gives the lifter greater confidence and makes the lift seem lighter. However, as you approach your limit use the reverse grip, which feels stronger, especially after using the knuckles-front grip.
However, don't always depend on straps for your deadlifting. They are not permitted in a contest and using them in training does not improve your gripping power . . . in fact they may weaken it. So adopt the suggestion given here to improve your gripping force and use straps only to "save" your strength or to see how much you can really deadlift in training.
One more suggestion. To give you more snap and bounce, I suggest that you include the high deadlift occasionally.
What's a high deadlift?
Well, instead of stopping at the thighs as you normally do, pull the weight up to your waist at least and arch your back at the conclusion. Naturally you won't be able to handle your limit in this manner, but you will be amazed how much you can do with regular training on this lift. The exercise provides the back muscles with excellent movement and packs power into your loins.
You can also include a one arm dumbbell swing or the two hand dumbbells swing, both excellent back strengtheners as well as grip improvers.
The movement can be done as a warmup, or as an exercise. It should help to improve your deadlifting ability. In any case, if you have a weak back and want to improve it, read the first section of this article and apply the suggestions given therein. But if you are a power lifter and want to increase your deadlifting ability, the latter part of this feature should be adopted.
Editor's note: For additional information on strengthening the back refer to the 1969 September MD
and the 1979 January edition: "Put New Life in Your Deadlift"
I haven't put that article up here yet. It's available on eBay if you want it.
Paul Anderson, the mighty powerhouse, is still rated as on of the best in the world. Undoubtedly, Paul could have set a deadlift record that would have been beyond the reach of lifters today. Unfortunately, he never trained seriously on this lift but has repeatedly made over 800 pounds.
Paul hopes to reveal some of his training on this lift sometime soon . . .
Enjoy Your Lifting!
By the way . . .
anyone guess who the real author writing under a pen name here is?
It's one of John Grimek's.