Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Key to Might and Muscle - (Circa 1926) - Chapter 12 - Strengthening the Weakest Link in the Spinal Chain - By George F. Jowett


When I was a little chap and things were not going just the way they should, my dad would say to me by way of encouragement, "Put your back to the wheel, sonny, and you'll pull through." It helped to put the sand in me, and I'd come back just that much stronger. However, as I grew to manhood and left the shelter of the parental wing, I found the necessity of putting my back to the wheel greater than ever, to meet the obligations of manhood.

It has become habitual with mankind to use certain expressions until they have a world of meaning, and while it is understood that the little saying of my dad, and millions of others, is just one that can be applied in many senses, yet it holds a lesson. It tells the mind in more ways than one, that the back is the source of our man power. "You are just as old as your back," the family physician will tell you, and he is right. Without a strong back you can't get anywhere. A weak back weakens all of your natural resources, and you become a living wreck.

If I asked ten men on the street to place their finger on what they considered to be the weakest part of the spine, nine would instinctively name the small of the back. The tenth one might hesitate, but understanding would overcome that hesitancy and he would side in with the other nine. That is where all the back aches and pains that seem to sap the life and energy of a man originate. But why put up with it? There is a cause for this unnatural condition, and a natural way to overcome that cause.

The lumbar region, and sacrovertebral sector of the spine, are the parts of the back that are prone to weakness. Like weakness in any other part of the body, this is all due to lack of muscular toning, but other parts of the body can lack proper muscular toning, and yet never have the injurious effect upon our general health that a muscular weakness in the small of the back has. The main reason is that other muscles do not envelop the important organs of life, which are found in the sector formed by the spine from the base of the last rib down to the sacrum. Of course, the heart and lungs are extremely important, but look at the protective agencies that surround them. The bony structure of the ribs, and a mass of muscle back and front, that are not as prone to deterioration as is the case with the muscles of the lumbar region. Where do you find a weak back, you find a weak abdomen, and with the degeneration of muscular tissue in the back and abdomen, what have you to protect the organs of assimilation and evacuation? There are no other structural supports to help this part of the spine, which exists alone in its bending, twisting and moving with the thousand and one daily actions of the body.

No matter what part of the muscular body you may have under cultivation, a fact that you should always bear in mind is that wherever the muscular organism is low, the nerve generation is low too. You know then what the results must be. Low vitality and virility.

The vertebral column consists of thirty-three segments or vertebrae, which are divided into five sections and named according to the regions through which they pass. I think, while we are on the subject, I might as well name these parts as a source of information for future reference. Now all these five sectors of the thirty-three vertebrae are divided into two other classes, and are known as the movable, or true spine, and the fixed, or false spine. The first seven are known a the cervical and cover the space from the head to the shoulders. The next twelve are the thoracic, that cover the costal, or rib region. Next five are the lumbar. Next five the sacral, and the remaining four are known as the coccyxgeal. Our interest is centered upon the lumbar and sacral sector, but more particularly the lumbar region. So let us begin by concentrating upon these five segments.

Due to the fact that these five vertebrae stand alone, they are quite a bit heavier than the other movable vertebrae, and are supported and controlled by the muscles which surround them. Now if you carefully study the spinal column, you will see that it has an interrupted connection. That is, between each vertebra there exists a space. This space is filled up by a cartillagus pad, or cushion, and from each vertebra there runs a nerve which branches from the sciatic nerve. With each nerve runs a feeder. These nerves stimulate the muscles in their activity according to the degree of their health. Often these nerves become impinged or affected, and in most cases the nerve injury is the result of the poor condition of the muscles in the lumbar region. These happenings are quite commonplace. Perhaps you have been bent over in a stooped position longer than you were accustomed to. Maybe you stopped to pick up something and you got a kink in your back. The object does not necessarily have to be heavy to cause this. Then again, you might have been reaching too high, or it may have been a cold that lodged in the small of the back, or the kidneys were out of order. In the first three conditions, a vertebral displacement has probably occurred; in the last two the blood circulation has not been up to the mark, and its sluggish condition has allowed some affection to invade this part. Of course, there can be, and undoubtedly are, other causes of these conditions, but I am sure these muscular conditions are a very prominent factor in causing all the trouble.

It goes without saying that if the muscles of the back are up to par the blood condition will also be good, and when the latter condition is good the nervous system is healthy.

Anyhow, let us take a little look at the back in the lumbar region. We don't need a skeleton; we will consider the average person in the nude. In the first place you will see that right above the hips the back arches in a forward curve. If the muscles are well developed, you will see a groove, with long, fleshy columns flanking each side of the spine. If these fleshy columns were not there then you will see the backbone sticking out in a pronounced ridge. Now there is such a thing as having too deep a spinal depression. It is a condition of curvature, and I believe such a spine is much weaker than most other spinal conditions. These backs are always weak when it comes to holding or pushing any objects overhead, or doing any work that calls for overhead action, or carrying heavy objects in the arms with the weight across the chest. You see the movable vertebrae have a downward inclination. That is, they are meant to support a weight in the perpendicular, but if the arch is too pronounced the pressure is not entirely perpendicular, and a vertebral displacement or compression is more readily affected. By developing the spinal erectus muscles this condition can be improved. Now the prominent backbone, which generally brings about the lazy humpback condition, is caused through lack of muscular quantity, and the possessors of such backs cannot stand lifting any objects off the ground. Most backs have this defect and most people cannot stand an hour shoveling coal in the cellar or snow off the pavement. They get a lame back of some kind. The muscle is not there, and all the strain is thrown upon the spine. A nervous reaction and irritation is always being caused, which generally develops into lumbago and kindred troubles. When the nerves are affected the muscles do not receive their natural flow of energy and they become stagnant.

What most often happens is this. Nerve irritation burns up a lot of energy, which breaks down a certain amount of tissues, and due to the fact that the muscles are not as active as they should be, a carbonic substance accumulates. Not only does this substance clog the muscle cells, but it accumulates around the vertebral segment. In time this substance forms a scale, which in process of accumulation becomes lodged between the movable segments. Then an impingement is created against the nerve or nerve feeder, which is dangerous in either case. From this source originates the cure of the backache. Wherever there is a lack of muscle something has to help out, and the nerves work overtime trying to charge the muscles with the necessary electricity to secure the action. It works out much the same way as starting the motor in an automobile when the spark plugs are fouled. The batteries work overtime to supply the necessary ignition.

Faulty positions have a lot to do with our back troubles. For instance, when a man leans over to pick up an object he does so with a round back. Wherever a round back is employed the muscles of the small of the back flatten out instead of contracting. Now the vertebrae in the spine open fanwise, producing a wide space between each segment. The lumbar section is no different, and whenever you lift with a round back with flattened muscles, you are in the position that most readily causes the vertebrae to become displaced. The muscles, instead of being contracted, are extended. No support is there to reinforce the spine, and the vertebrae, in trying their best to work alone, slip out of line, a condition which may call for a chiropractic adjustment. When the back is flattened, just notice the difference. Why; the erector spinae muscles bulge like pillars of steel as they contract to fulfill their duty, which their names explains--"erect the spine." This is as it should be. Also, instead of a vertebral separation, the vertebrae close together into one apparent solid column, which positively prevents any such thing as a vertebral displacement.

A few years ago an exercise was taught, and widely used, in which the exerciser stood on a stool while holding a weight in both hands. Then the exerciser was supposed to bend forward, stiff-kneed, and see how far past the toes he could allow his hands to travel and from that position raise himself erect. That is one of the worst exercises anyone can do. How can your erector spinae muscles erect the spine when they are not contracted? It is not logical, apart from the unnatural position into which it throws the vertebrae. Go to a chiropractor and learn what he will tell you. He will say, "Exercise, but do not practice touching the toes." I asked one chiropractor friend why he advised that omission, and he frankly told me that it always had a tendency to undo what he had corrected. He knew the effect of the spine all right, but he was not a student of anatomy and did not know the muscular action. When I explained the muscular action to him he understood clearly how right he was. Lifting with a rounded back also has a bad effect on the abdomen, as it causes a great compression. I make all my pupils use a flat back, which apart from correcting any faulty spinal position, does not bring about the compression of the abdomen. In the lift known as the two hands Dead Lift, and Hands Alone, I immediately caution a lifter when I see his back begin to round.

The erector spinae muscles are very important. They are also very peculiar muscles, due to the manner in which they branch out. Their proper name is the sacrospinalis, because they originate in the region of the sacrum and run all the way up the spine to the skull. The muscles of the back are arranged in four series according to their attachments, and their order is as follows: Vertebro-scapular, vertebro humeral, vertebro cranial and vertebral. Of this group the erector spinae are the vertebro cranial, and vertebro costal, because they are attached to the cranium or skull, and the ribs. They commence at the dorsum of the sacrum and follow up the spines of the sacral and lumbar regions. It really is a deep muscle, practically covered by the fascia or membranus attachments of the latissimus dorsi uscles. They bulge very heavily in the lumbar region, where they are most prominent, and taper away under the latissimus dorsi and trapezius muscles. One on each side of the backbone, they form additional spinal columns that can be developed into really massive pillars of muscle. I have seen some athletes with such heavy development here that the mass was almost the depth of my fingers. Get these muscles built up right, and there will be little to fear from lumbago or any of its kindred back disorders.

The latissimus dorsi mslis the big muscle that covers all the small of the back. It is known s a vertebro humeral, because its origination is one the spine and it becomes attached in the biceptial groove of the humerus bone.

Weight lifters, shot putters, hammer throwers, and scullers all have powerfully developed backs. This is especially true of weight lifters and scullers. A favorite pastime with scullers is pulling the stick. The contestants sit on the floor and place the soles of their feet against each other. Then they take a stick and both take hold. The object is for the stronger man to pull the other off the floor. Of course, this is a sculler's specialty, and if he is not good at this stunt, he is not good at sculling, just as a lifter unable to raise a one hundred pound bag of flour overhead with one hand would not be good at lifting. However, the best man I ever saw at pulling the stick weighed one hundred and forty five pounds, and hed never sat in a shall in his life. He was a great track star, with a distinguished athletic record while in the army, but he is otherwise unknown. Arthur Latcham was his name. He and I chummed together and I have seen him pull large, powerful men with ease. Honestly, I would like to see the man who could pull him. He stuck me more than once. He was an enthusiastic bar bell man and it was from this source he obtained his power. He had a great fondness for that pastime. There is an interesting stunt which is similar and practiced a lot by lumberjacks. They pit their strength against horses instead of men, by hitching a horse to a whiffle-tree with the tugs passing on each side of a tree. He lumberjack takes up his position with the whiffletree held in the bend of his elbows and his feet firmly planted against the trunk of the tree. The object is to resist the horse's pull a few seconds. Some men have resisted the pull of a team of horses. This feat calls for all-round bodily strength, but the moment the back bends it is all over.

Exercises for the erector spinae muscles are quite numerous. Two that I know you will find interesting and productive of good results follow. Place a bar bell, about forty pounds in weight, across the shoulders. Allow the feet to be spaced from twelve to eighteen inches apart and keep the knees locked. Take hold of the bar with each hand and begin to bend forward until the body is at right angles with the waist, and then return to the erect position. However, always keep the back flat and straight.

While the bar bell is held in the same position, bend sideways from the hips--bending from the hips allows the body to lean at a more acute angle--moving from side to side. The erector spinae muscles will show up very prominently in these movements. When I want to get a good view of these powerful back erectors I generally ask the exerciser to clasp his hands at the back of the head, and then bend over backwards and sideways. Take for instance Sam Kramer, Massimo, Steinborn, and among the lighter men, Fournier and Klein. When any of these men strike that position the erector spinae muscles have the appearance of huge twisted cables. Any movement that twists the body or tends it brings these muscles into action.

The latissimi dorsi are muscles which are entirely sufacial, covering the erector spinae muscles, spreading across the small of the back, slightly covering part of the serratus magnus in their process of insertion upon the humerus bone. They are very powerful, and, as their name implies, they are the broadest of the back muscles. While they have a lot to do with the small of the back, they have a lot to do with broadening the upper back. Movements that pull a weight to the chest from the ground, and that thrust the weight overhead with either one or two arms, are good developers for these muscles. But of the two series of muscles, the sacrospinalis are the more directly important to the spine. They are known as the muscles of posture and, as I said before, they originate down in the sacrum region and cover the area of the fixed or immovable spines, as well as of the lumbar section. If these muscles do not receive any active stimulation, they seem to deteriorate quickly and lose energy. They lose their power of contraction and their elasticity and the living cells of the muscles become clogged. Then the spine is affected in a more dangerous manner. The hardest ache or pain to get rid of is one in the region of the sacrum of the spine.

A peculiarity of the spine is that when we rest at night we grow taller. During the daytime the direct pressure of our body upon the vertebrae causes the cartillegus pads to flatten somewhat, but in our nightly process of recuperation they elongate. It is with the idea of causing a greater elongation of these pads that the people work, who claim they can increase their height. In my estimation, it is a foolish and a dangerous practice. These pads are not muscles. If you are meant to be tall you will be tall, and if short you will be short. Exercise will stimulate the growth of the spine and get out of it all that nature intended, but you must work through the muscles. The bar bell man gets the most out of all things that are muscular, his muscles become supple, strong and active. Make the small of your back the dynamo of your spine and help yourself by putting steel in it from proper intensive training.
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Bob Whelan

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