Wade Doing What He Loves!


  Just a bunch of Stuff!!

By Wade Hanna

        Hello again everyone!  Well, a lot has happened for me lately and I will probably be all over the place with this installment so bear with me.  The good thing is that you all can see what kind of warning signs I ignored or just flat out didnít see.  So hopefully this will have something to help out everyone.  For the newer lifters take heed of some of these things so that you donít start down a bad path like I did.  In essence I have wasted about 2 years by not paying attention to the minute details.


        Okay, onto the first part...STRETCHING!  Oh how I kick myself...I used to be extremely flexible.  Let me put it like this...if I were standing against a wall with my shoulders, hips, and heels touching, I could have someone raise one leg (kept straight) so that the toes would touch the wall above my head while still keeping the aforementioned points in contact with the wall.  Get the picture?  Splits were a joke...however, once I got out of the military and had kids my time was much more limited and my daily stretching really suffered.  The result is my hip girdle and hamstrings are ungodly tight now and it has affected my form in everything.  There is no need to be as flexible as I used to be, at least not for Powerlifting/Strongman stuff, but it canít hurt to have a little more than necessary to insure that you donít tempt injury.  So how do tight hips/hams affect things so badly and how does that give you a bulging disc?  Well, it is a slow cumulative process.
        In my case, once my hip flexibility went downhill it altered my groove.  I would sit forward in the hole more and rely on already large quads.  No real notice of difference in poundage, but this also brings your lower back into the motion more.  See when you sit into the deep hole you get a much more pronounced tuck.  Mine is real bad now, starts about parallel and just shoots right under.  In addition, by doing this you lose the tight abs, so in your turn around you are now caved in and the stress comes two fold onto your lumbar region to straighten you out.  Too much pressure on the discs and not too mention they are getting stretched hard in the hole.  Result: you tear some fiber in the disc and the nice little jelly that absorbs all that pressure starts leaking out and pushes the edge of the disc out against nerves (this will take longer depending on the relative strength of your lower back-mine is pretty strong so it took awhile).....that equals pain and there isnít a darn thing you can do to make it feel better, at first anyway.  In essence, if left unchecked you get into a situation like mine.  Basically, the muscles are so confused about the order they need to fire in that my hip girdle is kind of flopping in the wind when I SQ or DL.  Hamstrings donít fire because my body has learned to not use them (what for?  Hams are saying that is what my lower back is for), the abs donít stay tight because the flexibility issue caves me in and the low back takes over, and finally the glutes/hips are not utilized because in an effort to minimize the tuck I sit down too much and rely on big and flexible quads to be the prime mover.
        Some things I think you can watch for so that you donít get started down this path.  1) Have a partner really hammer you if you are tucking a lot (I donít know if a little is overly bad, but a lot is terrible).  2) STRETCH...make sure that you can keep your LOWER abs tight when in the hole.  Part of this came from raising my belt up a little.  I was bruising pretty bad on my hips from the belt so I lifted it up a little on my torso (teach me to be such a wuss).  The result is that I learned to push hard with my abdominal wall and not with my transverse abdominus.  The TA is what will keep your thoracic pressure high.  I think that contributed because now my hips were tucking and what residual work they did, they just continued to tighten up.  Muslces will do that as they recover...that is why it is imperative that you stretch to insure that you donít become ďmusclebound.Ē  This wives tale has some validity IF you neglect to counteract that natural tightening that comes when muscles recover.  Just a little bit daily and you will not have to worry.  Last month Keith Hobman had a very good article about stretching and I have found these to be helpful.  3) Insure that your abs are working correctly.  As I mentioned above, I have been tensing the wrong areas of my abs and thus contributing to the problem.  The belt is good and bad for this and I will address that a little further down.  Just insure that you are tight low in your abs, about where your belt (normal clothing belt) would sit.  
        An interesting little aside on that, any of you that play Tai Chi (or many forms of Martial Arts) will recognize the Tantien (center) as the same place as your TA.  Part of moving meditation is to place a portion of your awareness (at all times) on you Tantien (about two finger widths below your naval).  This in turn keeps the TA in a semi flexed condition at all times.  Over time this becomes second nature and you walk around with an extremely powerful and supported hip girdle (I have read that by increasing the thoracic pressure this way you can relieve like 3-4% of the compression on your lower vertebrae).  Ever wonder why some of those old Tai Chi masters could do the amazing things they can do? Ever seen an old Judo Master who looks like he is slumped with a low pot belly (tight TA and helps to lower center of gravity)?  IMO, this is part of it.  They train their bodies to levels well beyond what most do, but they train the really important aspects.  Hip girdle foundation is fundamental in almost any movement.  The more powerful this region is the more power/force/energy (whatever!) you can transfer away from it.  Whether it be from the legs or from the arms, you must be stable in the midsection.  Now why is it that I have been so lax on my Tai Chi lately???


        Okay, off the MA tangent, but I think it has some validity and is definately worth checking out.  Another aspect that needs to be addressed and considered is GPP (Genreal Physical Preparedness).  Louie made this famous for what he calls the restorative aspect and also to raise you total volume.  I think that there is more to it than that.  Martial Arts would be a good form of GPP, Tae-Bo might serve as a good form of GPP as well.  Part of what GPP is going to do is that it will work and strengthen the little supporting muscles that donít get worked in low rep training.  Besides, they are supporting muslces and they flex constantly.  They need to be trained for endurance not for brute strength alone.  I think  why Louie has such great success with GPP is that he is working these key groups the way they need to be worked.  Higher repetition or constant tension to strengthen these areas to support the big groups when they are needed.  Your hip girdle can tire out just walking out a squat and then you got no support from the little muscles during the actual motion.  I think that pretty much any activities that are going to hit the hip girdle and possibly some work on the shoulder girdle for duration work (within reason of course...be smart about it, as Louies says a lot of the GPP work they do is short sessions) are worthwhile, thus the mention of the MA stuff.


        Belts.  Boy that is a topic of much controversy and varied opinions.  Speaking of opinions Iíll add one more to the mix. ;-)  I think Louie has really hit the nail on the head regarding belts.  He has his guys wear the belt for the three lifts...thatís it.  The rational behind this is so they learn how to push into the belt and use it effectively.  Enhance the TA in supporting the thoracic pressure thus allowing you to use the much stronger hip/glutes/hamstrings to manipulate the motion of your torso as a lever arm.  As soon as you lose the abs the lumbar becomes the main supporting force...it does this by contracting.  It is going to contract from either a rounded position (dangerous because the discs are stretched) or from an arched position (dangerous because the discs are stretched).  In an arched position I think you are prone for just as bad of injuries.  You are basically rounding your back in the opposite direction and thus expose your discs on the internal side of the spine.  Either way you will overtax your lumbar muscles and more than likely get a bulge in your disc.  You have to maintain the natural arch in your back...you do this by having equal support from the abs and erectors.   
        As some argue you ďde-trainĒ the abs by relying on the belt...I whole heartedly agree IF over used.  I also think that the belt needs to be utilized correctly or it can have detrimental effect, as I touched on above.  The reason I like Louieís approach is that you learn to utilize the belt on the motions you need it for.  Then on everything else...you strengthen the TA on its own and thus up the advantage you gain by using the belt.  The best of both worlds...also, by using the belt you can learn exactly what it feels like to push in the right spot.  This is helping me because I have some serious muscle confusion and getting things to fire in the proper sequence/area is tough...especially when you have learned the wrong way.  Un-learning is much harder than learning in my opinion.

Knees vs. Hips and Arching

        Okay, one final little thing that I am going to touch on and then Iíll go away for a bit. ;-)   For those on the list that remember the big discussion with Paul Chek on starting the Squat from the hips vs. the knees great.  If you donít subscribe or you just need a refresher then check it out here...
         Anyway, I think I understand what Mr. Chek was advocating when he brought this up and I think he is right (I also think it contributed to my back problems).  It is such a subtle thing that I think this is why it got so much resistance.  Okay bear with me as I try (operative word) to describe what I mean.  When you Squat the first thing we are told is to sit back and start the movement at your hips.  I think this means something different that what it really is saying.  If you start the movement at your hips then you are in essence arching your lower back to the rear (unless the meaning is flex on the bottom side of your pelvis...then the next couple of paragraphs are pretty senseless. ;-P).  This is going to take the abdominal support away from its most optimal position (natural curve/arch of your spine).   
         I mean, how strong is your hamstring when it is really stretched?  Anyway, this is also going to shift the load onto your lower back as the primary supporter since you donít have the optimal thoracic pressure and the compression just went up on your discs as a result of the thoracic pressure going down.  Now as you start to descend and sit back, like we are told to, you are placing more load on the lumbar than what it can handle.  In tandem with your abs the center of your body should be able to support what your legs/hips/glutes can move.  Since you arenít utilizing the abs fully and relying on the lumbar as the prime supporter you arenít operating at 100% efficiency.  The result of the descent is you either fold like twig or you sit more straight down and negate the hips/glutes/hamstrings from fully helping because you are now relying on mostly quad strength.
         Now, if that made sense and you follow the visual I just TRIED to describe then this will make sense and hopefully explain what Mr. Chek was talking about.  First though, let me touch on an important, I feel anyway, distinction about arching your back.  This is a misnomer and should be clarified.  If you just say arch your back then the first thing that comes to mind is arching low and really stretching the abs, pushing your butt (stomach) out.  This is wrong IMO, you need to maintain the natural arch in your lower back and then arch your UPPER back pushing your chest out high.  Maybe many already realize this, but if you are arching your lower back as well you are cruisiní for a bruisiní if you know what I mean.  To demonstrate this, tighten up your abs and get a good mimic of that tight feeling you have when you SQ or DL.  Now maintain that feeling and push your chest up and out while maintaining that tight feel in your midsection...that is the arch I think you need to have.  An example of the ďbadĒ arch would be pushing your butt backwards while you are pushing your chest out and up...here you will feel a tightness in just the lumbar region and those of us with mono-abs will notice a bit more jiggle in the front. ;-) If you are doing this when you Squat (the ďbadĒ version) you will feel like you are well in front of the bar, which you are, but you wonít feel any tension on your hamstrings...which is bad because they arenít going to be utilized fully.
         Back to the description of what I think Mr. Chek meant.  Assuming that your start position is with the above described good arch and you are balanced abs vs. erectors.  When you start to squat you do sit back, BUT.....you are not flexing at the top of your hip girdle (pelvis/spine).  That natural arch never varies and in essence your knees are bending to accommodate the shift in balance backwards.  Now as you descend you start whatever degree of lean you need to maintain bar position over your feet, BUT again the natural arch in your lower back is not varying.  This way the load is transferred to the  hip/glutes/ hamstrings and the flexion you have at your hip is on the bottom side of your pelvis.  If you sit back and arch your lower back to push just your butt backwards then you are in for a bad injury or you are only going to go as far as your back can support, quite possibly a reason for squatting plateaus.  This is such a subtle thing, but I think it is vitally important to maximizing your squat....and to some degree your deadlift.  You cannot under any circumstances vary that arch in your lower back (_maybe_ in the extreme hole, but I am skeptical of even this now).  When it caves in, rounding, you react and transfer the load to your quads. 
         In addition, if your hamstrings are still pulling hard they are fighting to increase the rounding unless your lumbar is so dominant that it can handle the disadvantaged position and also overcome the acceleration that your hamstrings are putting on the pelvis as you ascend.  This is probably more applicable to the DL than the squat as I think most people tend to over arch in an effort to sit back.  See it is much easier to arch your lower back and let that support the weight than to maintain the natural curve which brings the hamstrings in as the mover of your torso as a lever arm.  Especially as you sit back and down, as you descend you are fighting a flexed hamstring that is controlling the lean you are getting...as long as your natural curve is maintained.  Also the hips and glutes are much more active in controlling the descent of your entire upper body, so with your hamstrings controlling the lean and your hips glutes controlling the descent you are working a whole slew of muscles and also fighting against them if they are tight.  Much simpler to just arch your lower back hard and let the lumbar support the weight then use the quads to control your descent and ascent...they are easy to fire and the mind body link is very simple to have, it is more difficult with the aforementioned way.
         Soooooo....with all that said, and if it makes any sense, I can see what Mr. Chek was talking about by initiating at the knees.  I donít think he meant bending the knees forward and over the feet, rather an abstract bending them backwards.  By doing that you push your butt back and mimic the sitting motion that is the most powerful utilization of the hip girdle musculature.  I think this is what Louie is onto and that is why he so likes the Boxes and he is so adamant about abs, hips, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back strength.  This would be much easier to explain if I could demonstrate what I am trying to describe.  Hopefully, they are somewhat clear enough so that you can perform some experiments yourself, even without weight and just squatting you can feel the differences in what muscles are activated.  Even when the back is over arched you can compensate and get the glutes etc. working at the top....it is when you are under maximal weight that these little things become vital.  I have been going to physical therapy sessions lately for my back and I am learning a ton of stuff....not necessarily them telling me things as much as I am re-evaluating how I perform the motions and how is it going to be performed utilizing the most muscle groups to maximize the weight that I will eventually move?

The Ending...yea?

         I know that some of this stuff is hard to grasp via this medium, but I think I am on the right track with some of this stuff (before any one flames me, ;-) understand that my description is limited by this medium-I think a visual aid along with the description would be MUCH more effective, but...).  It is also giving me a much better understanding of why Louie proposes the things he does and why they work.  I think this is one of the fundamental reasons why a lot of people donít see good results with Louieís system.  You have to understand WHY he is doing what he is doing.  You need to understand how the muscle groups interact in the course of the motion and then be able to identify what is weak (basically anyway, I donít think you need a PhD in Kinesiology or anything).  I think this is the only thing that my anal nature about weightlifting is beneficial for.  I constantly evaluate my lifts and lifting.  I constantly look for improvements in my form.  My problem as of late is that I was looking at too big of scale and not evaluating the subtler fine points...that will not happen again.  I pretty much guarantee that lifters like Eddy Coan, Doug Furnas, Kaz, and other greats were/are very attentive to the fine points and tweak the weak points in relation to how they lift.  Louieís methods arenít the only ones that work, but his program is designed to accommodate all the necessary factors.
         Well with that ramble session out of the way Iíll pack it up.  I apologize for using myself as an example so much, but I figure as I learn these things maybe it can help someone else.  Besides, let me make all the mistakes then you can reap the benefits without the subsequent aches, pains, and arthritis! ;-) As always, feel free to e-mail me or grab me on the list or some of the boards...I am pretty regular on all of them and I like to talk about lifting.  In the meantime, stay strong and good liftiní

P.S. I finally got some CHAINS!!!!!!  For anyone who is within driving distance of Grand Rapids Michigan (west side of the state).  Call AAA Sling @ (517) 530-0500 and ask for Dave.  I got mine for $2/foot and they are sweet!!  The only catch is that you have to pick them up yourself and you need to bring cash!


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Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purposed other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright 1999 Wade Hanna.