Borg SymbolThe powerlifting collective
Wade Hanna
It's all about abs baby!
Hello!! It seems to have been a long time since I got around to actually writing an article. Well, I must apologize to my one or two fans (I know there are a couple of you out there...aren't there?) for my prolonged absence. The rehab. (ongoing but, in a much better phase) and the birth of my second daughter really slowed me down. In fact, it pretty much stopped me altogether for a little bit. So what do you do to break that funk? That is right collectivites you go and compete. I finally got my big lazy broken butt up and got back on the platform, trial by either do it right or you get hurt. 

I have pretty much been planning on doing this meet since the start of this year. When I got serious about getting my lower back fixed I figured the end of the year would be a great time to get back into it gave me the majority of the year to get straight. Unfortunately, it is taking a little longer and I can only blame myself as I have made some bad choices and taken my training in the wrong direction on a number of turns throughout the course of the year. That is okay though, I find that for every step I take back I tend to make a couple forward. Sometimes those forward steps accumulate and it seems like all you do is go back but, they are there and when they hit it is flat out awesome. The biggest thing that has been made clear to me (thank you Julie at Sportsmed) is the all importance of Abs. I knew they were important and I understood the necessity of a strong midsection for stability BUT, I didn't KNOW how important, how it really worked, or how to make it work (probably the most important). Now I know this is going to sound pretty contradictory to what Louie and others say but, I will re-iterate a point that we all should ALWAYS remember "...there is no one way to do anything." I sort of cringed when I saw this come up on the Strength List as I figured it would turn into one of those issues that everyone agrees to disagree on (we'll see as I write this I am awaiting the responses to my response). 

Anyway, on to the discussion. Let's think about what exactly your abs are doing when you Squat and Dead. Basically they are flexed to harden the torso in the midsection so that the point where you body is holding the weight (shoulders) has a solid lever arm to the muscles that are going to manipulate it (the glutes, hips, and ham hocks!). If your abs aren't up to the load imposed and do not keep your torso rigid what happens? You fold like a twig and pray to god your back spotter is a stud! Why is it so important if you do so much lower back work and your lumbar is rock solid? Well, I the lumbar really don't have much strength aside from stabilization. If my rudimentary anatomy is correct the spine is manipulated by a bunch of little muscles that attach all over the length of it and manipulate it in stages, kind of why you can roll over and then roll back to a vertical position. Now those muscles aren't intended to manipulate the torso under maximal, or even heavy load, that is the job of the hip girdle and hamstrings. The leverage that the glutes/hams/hips can exert on the torso as a lever are light years ahead of what the little muscles along your spine can do but, it doesn't mean a thing if you can't maintain that rigid torso. Here is where the abs come into play, specifically the Transverse Abdominus (it is like a belt of muscle around your front section). I don't pretend to be a highly schooled person about muscles and function but, I understand the way this works and how important it is...I got this from first hand experience and I am pretty convinced it is going to help move me to the next level of my training. If I am really massacring this then someone who IS schooled please let me know and I will get it worded right (*I* think I am saying it right but, I know what I am talking about too, doesn't help the person I confused with my misdirected rambling!).

Wade with a 650 pullTo help illustrate my point a little let me tear apart this picture of me doing a deadlift a little bit. I can illustrate a few weaknesses just from this picture and hopefully help to make a point about tight abs. The first thing I notice is that as the weight is breaking form the floor (the point of the lift it is at) my upper back is rounded a little (i.e. I am hunching my shoulders forward). It really didn't affect me too much for this lift but, the next one resulted in my getting the weight up and my hips under me but, my shoulders were hunched and I was NOT going to get them back. Yes, that is a bad thing and I am planning on addressing it quite vigorously in my future training however, the really good thing here is that my lower back (stiff and tired at this point in the meet) was never pressured and felt no pain. The reason I could do this lift and the ill fated one following it was that I actually had my abdominal tight. I wasn't relying on just the tension I could put against the belt and then utilize the belts rigidity to support me, I used the strength in my abdominal to do that and let the belt assist. Hopefully that made some semblance of sense and yeah, I probably didn't need to put a picture of myself in my article but, I am pretty happy about my return without re-breaking myself so indulge me just a little, eh? ;-) 

Okay, here is where I probably get the disagreement but, that is okay. Just don't fill my e-mail with hate mail okay? I think the premise behind the WSB methodology is basically this, you push the abdominal out against the belt to utilize a hoop tension, basically whatever pressure you can exert against the belt is the level of rigidity you get in your torso. That is what I mean by using the belt to support you. Louie is also a big proponent of erector work, lots of it. With the wide stance he utilizes and the press out abs it can work IF your erectors are Fan strong, you have a somewhat balanced abdominal wall, you tend to squat and dead very upright. The problem with the push out ab, IMO, is that it tends to get hung up on your upper leg and this will cause you to lose your tightness. What happens is you get the support from your torso resting on your upper legs and you relax your abs...light weight you can get away with that but, maximal effort this results in injury. I think this is why so many conventional DL'ers really slow and hunch in the latter half of the pull. They didn't get tight in the abs before they started...they were just resting on their upper legs and once you start to straighten then your torso is expected to support that load and the muscles snap to, snap to injury that is. Now, if you can squat and dead very upright, turn your feet way out, or just use so wide of a stance that you can have a groove to slide the pushed out ab into then you are probably going to be okay. If you are short torso'd like me you are just plain screwed for this. Yes, you can get your erectors strong (mine are...overly so), and yes, you can use wide/feet out stances to keep your large upper leg out of the way but, you still have to lean to maintain center of gravity and this is where sheer force tears you up. I have tried just about every conceivable foot placement and lean combination and I have been hurt for 3 years in my lower back from this type of squatting. People can say I have not done the program right etc. but, I know I applied it correctly and I just can't make that method of squatting work for my structure. I think a lot of people have similar problems in that Louie's stuff works great but, for some structures those same rules don't apply as universally. Before I get slaughtered, read that again, " universally. " The principle works, the why of his system I don't dispute. The focus on hips for squats and push out on the belt I do disagree with, at least for my body type I do.

So what is my solution? I thought you'd never need to disbelieve the thought that it is utter sin to let your knees come forward at all. I agree excessive movement forward is a bad thing and CAN lead to knee problems (after all, the Olympic guys do it and like Eddy says "...I don't think you'll find a bad squatter among them [them being Olympic lifters]."). However, in order to squat effectively you have to utilize your quads, why not? They are a big powerful muscle group and they can get it on for a long time and quite other word they take a good beating! Just don't rely on them for all the motion, I said "utilize" them. The majority of your squat (and dead) is going to come from the glutes/hips/hams.To get them to work though you HAVE to have your abs strong and tight. I mean strong, Jason has been bitten by Ray Benemerito's method of pulling roughly 65% for 10's without a belt to insure the midsection is ready to handle the big weight. I think of Yuri Spinov of Russia a few years back at the IPF worlds. The man hits a 900lb squat with no belt....with *no*belt. You need abs to do that and I would venture to say he doesn't have back problems fact, I think I remember seeing something about a study and the fact that Olympic lifters had the least instances of back maladies. What I am finding is that pushing out against the belt is not really using my abs. Eddy Coan told me during a phone conversation he was gracious enough to have with me, "... you need to stay tight and think of your torso like a spring or rubber ball...what does it do when you get at the bottom, it rebounds." This didn't make much sense to me until recently when I started to re-think what I had done in my physical therapy for my disc problems. The therapists kept emphasizing a "tuck" of the pelvis. Since my erectors are strong (albeit overworked) they caused lordosis in my lumbar (too much arch in relaxed posture). The "tuck" is basically the lower abdominal tensing to counteract that lordosis and reposition the pelvis directly under the torso. This allows the big movers to actually manipulate the torso since it can be "locked down", so to speak. See, if you are positioning your pelvis right from the get go then you are putting extra pressure on some portion of the disc down there at L5-S1, and eventually it is going to bulge or herniate. To actually do the "tuck" and maintain it is a tremendous amount of lower abdominal strength. Which I don't have, in fact I have so relied on the belt that I have a difficult time doing the rehab. exercises designed to strengthen the lower abs. Okay, okay, how does all this relate to actually using the abs and what were you saying about Eddy again...damn tangential writers! 

Well, when you tuck you need to think about sucking your bellybutton in first to get the lower abs tightened, then sit your torso down by flexing the abs. You should be able to feel your entire abdominal wall tense including the very lower part above your Johnson and below the bellybutton. This is the area that you really want to have tight, that is where the TA is and that is what will keep your torso rigid. The harder you sit down on that flex of your abs the more it "feels" like they are pushing out, and in actuality they do because they are flexing and this is where the belt assists makes that flex that much stronger but, the abdominal are still bearing most of the brunt. You can even use your glutes to tuck your pelvis under as long as the abs are flexed and you can hold it. It gets really hard as you go into the deep hole of a squat or start from scratch for a heavy pull but, if you can keep it then the big muscles in the hips/glutes/hams can and will effectively be utilized. As for the Eddy ball/spring thing...well I understood this all too well at my meet. When you actually get tight, and then descend it almost feels like you are caving over because you are flexing the abs so hard. In reality you are just compressing your torso so when you get to that bottom and reverse the motion you are so tight that you can't cave. In fact, you need to be careful that don't drive your hips too fast because your torso is so tight that it raises the bar as you ascend quite easily and it is easy to get too far in front of the weight and fall backwards. It is a subtle feeling to get the hang of this but, again going to an Eddy quote when I asked him if he pushed out against his belt he responded with " I just flex them, I keep them really tight...." then he went into the whole rubber ball/spring analogy. 

I need to make one thing clear about this though. If you do the tuck right and sit down and continue to keep you abs tight (I mean really tight) then you need to make sure that your upper back is rock solid. This is what happened to me, and I do cave a little because I don't have the upper back strength that I need. Despite the cave though, my lumber area is pretty protected because all my focus was on keeping the abs tight and maintaining that tuck. Once I get the necessary strength back into the lower abs and bring the upper back up to snuff this turns into habit and then the focus is on nothing and everything and that is when you hit the big numbers. In addition, you need to do this every time you squat or dead, every time you bend over to pick up a paper (albeit on a much smaller scale) because you teach your body to do this reflexively and then you will just do it and not have to worry about it. I think most people catch on to how to lift correctly on their own when they are starting. After that they start to read magazines and listen to other people and they lose something in the interpretation of the message. This is what happened to me...I knew this and used to utilize it. I just started reading and talking and before I knew it I didn't know how to do anything. It sucks in my mind that I took so long to figure this out but, I know it now and I understand why and how it works thanks to a whole lot of people and all their advice. You just need to keep piecing the puzzle together until the picture starts to take shape. Once you get the pieces and they start to come together then things really take off. I hope that I can maybe offer some piece for someone. I know that I tend to ramble and that I get tangential when I write and if it gets confusing I profusely apologize. Just let me know and I can try to explain it better. I also use myself as an example for a lot of things but, that is because I am my own experiment. For all the differences we each have, when you get right down to it...we all work the same way it just takes a little individual variance to fine tune the parts.

Good liftin'

-wade of borg

The Collective is always open.....