Stitcher Radio

Stitcher Radio
click logo - STITCHER

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

PHYSICAL TRAINING SIMPLIFIED - The Complete Science of Muscular Development - (circa 1930) - CHAPTER 13 - BACKBONE PLUS: STRENGTHENING THE NECK AND SPINAL COLUMN - By Mark H. Berry

The term "Backbone" is often used to designate the spinal column, but probably more often it is used to describe the degree of courage or moral strength possessed by a person. Again, the term may be applied figuratively to an organization or group of persons, in reference to the strength or efficiency of such a body. In each case, we might say the literal meaning is identical. Suppose we try to determine if there can be any sound reason for comparing the moral courage of an individual with the strength of vigor of his spinal column, or back bone. Certainly it is possible for a man to be unusually strong in the back and still lack courage or aggressiveness. And, in the same way, we believe it possible for a person to possess certain aggressive qualities, quite commonly referred to as "gaul," which makes the person appear courageous, and yet they are lacking in physical vigor, including a weak and crooked spine. "Gaul" or excessive imposition of your "nerve" upon other others does not, however, constitute courage. When put to the real test, an individual of this type would be found lacking in true courageous qualities. In a like manner, some persons may have overbearing habits of conduct towards their fellow men, which makes them appear unusually aggressive. However, in a pinch, they would be found unable to back up the apparent aggressiveness unless a corresponding degree of physical training was possessed. On the other hand, the man with a strong back who lacks courage is an excellent proof that his physical training has been woefully lacking. If his physical strength had been properly developed and uniform cooperation of the entire body had been cultivated, he would have sufficient confidence in himself to possess the quality of courageousness. The true implied meaning behind the use of the term "back bone" as designating certain moral qualities, is that the spinal is the seat of all nervous energy. Therefore, if the seat of energy is vibrating with health and power, the entire make-up of the man should correspond.

Efficiency of the nervous energies seated in the spinal cord is dependent upon a healthy condition of the entire internal organism. The vital functions must be unusually efficient, otherwise the highest degree of vigor cannot be maintained. The proper condition of the spinal column is closely related to the tension and elasticity of the muscles connecting it with the rest of the skeleton and the vital organs. Each separate vertebrae must be held in its true position, otherwise pressure on the nerves passing through and between the vertebrae will result. This will result in undernourishment and incapacity of some of the muscles or organs. As we all know, the spinal column is subjected to a great amount of twisting and jarring during the course of an ordinary day, and unless the muscles of the back are sufficiently strong, these repeated jars and twists, even though each is slight, will result in some disalignment of the vertebrae. Furthermore, the stronger the muscles connecting the spinal column, the greater the protection from continuous shocks to which the spinal cord is subjected.

As we have proven in another chapter, development of muscles is dependent upon the amount of blood which regularly courses through them. In other words, increased circulation must accompany increased development of any muscle. All of which, of course, depends on the necessary amount of physical exercise. The increased circulation of the life stream, brought about by the exercise and subsequent development, is bound to have a beneficial effect on the spinal cord and its connecting nerves, adding to their nourishment an stimulating them to increased vigor and activity.

Thus, we can understand how increased vigor of the back muscles can result in greater functional power of the spinal cord and consequently greater nerve force throughout the body. If you have ever investigated any of the several courses on the market for increasing the nerve force, you will find that they advocate and prescribe certain twisting movements which are designed to stimulate the circulation of blood in and near the spine. Quite a number of fancy phrases may be used to describe the resulting action, but that is all it resolves to. Such simple, non apparatus exercises, or light resistance movements, as the case may be, are nothing more than poor substitutions for real manly exercise of a vigorous nature. The class of exercises to which we have just referred may prove of benefit to those who are in a weak and rundown condition, but for the man who wished to know the value of real nerve force, such kindergarten exercises can prove of little value.

You cannot exert any part of the muscular system, however small and unimportant, without involving the spinal column. Not only due to the nerves which stimulate the movement emanating from the spine, but the spine must be stiffened and held erect by the various muscles controlling it.

Vigorous health and a high state of physical efficiency is dependent upon a high degree of muscular efficiency of the muscles running along the spinal column.

In running through our correspondence we happened to notice a case which might prove interesting to ambitious athletes who are striving to increase their running speed. Having read an article in STRENGTH Magazine on the relation of strength in the lower back to speed and jumping ability, one of our pupils determined to make a test to see how much his running speed could be increased by exercising the small of the back. This is what he had to say concerning the results of a special training program:

"Therefore, I did not do a single exercise whereby I deliberately used the muscles on the front of the thigh, but confined myself to the ones which employed the muscles on the back of thigh. I even discarded the abdominal exercise. And the results? My best "speed" before dong this on the 100 yard dash was 14 seconds (in track shoes); the best time is now all 11 4/5, in football shoes. Understand, I am not quoting these figures as anything near records for they are far from that as I am from you (he lives a thousand miles distant) but merely, to show what results I obtained."

Quite a few prominent bar bell men are capable of covering the century dash in ten seconds. Generally you will find these same men are good at lifting heavy weights from the floor. Good calf and thigh development together with powerful buttocks an small of the back would be responsible in each instance. Likewise, men who are good at the quick lifts generally are excellent jumpers.

One thing seems to be certain as concerns exercise of the neck. The neck evidently is one part of the human anatomy which does not suffer from too much exercise. By this I do not mean that you cannot overstrain the muscles of the neck by imposing upon them exertions which are too strenuous. But when the neck muscles have been properly prepared through strength developing exercises, it is possible to place almost unbelievable demands upon these muscles without any possibility of injury resulting. Apparently contradictory to what we have just said, we must caution the enthusiast to proceed slowly at first, as stiffness or soreness in the muscles of the neck will prove difficult to overcome and cause great annoyance in every movement of the head while it lasts. As the average man very seldom uses his neck in a strenuous manner, the entire structure of this part of the body is so flabby and feeble as to be capable of withstanding very little vigorous exertion. So, while we may go as far as to say the neck is in little danger of being overtrained, such advice is intended only for he who has been accustomed to some form of fairly vigorous exercise for this part of his anatomy. Within certain limits, of course, the neck seems to gain in both development and strength in proportion to the amount of work it is given. Certain natural characteristics of leverage, controlled by the bony framework and muscular attachments, govern the ultimate size to which the neck or any other part of the body may be developed.

Judging by actual examples, it would appear that the limit of massive development which may be acquired in this part of the body is far greater than the possible limit of any other part. Any man who is interested in acquiring a neck of great size may readily do so by practicing the proper form and amount of exercise. Reasonable limitations must be expected; the small man must not work in the hopes of building a twenty inch neck, which would be massive on anyone exception colossal giants. Some few years ago, there was a great fad for exhibiting huge necks, among professional wrestlers and strong men especially. Lately, it is quite common for strong men and amateur weight lifters to refrain from exercising the neck so as to not acquire a bull dog type of neck. The largest are to be found among wrestlers, amateur as well as professional, but the most massive specimens are to be observed among the heavyweight professionals. It is truly a case of supply and demand, as the wrestlers needs a strong, thickly muscled neck, capable resisting tremendous force, and repeated work of this sort results in the type of development which is needed to withstand such efforts. Strong men and weight lifters often possess a neck of large size, when a special attempt is made to bring about extraordinary development.

A number of athletes have demonstrated the tremendous strength possibilities of the neck by permitting themselves to be hanged. Prominent among these being Farmer Burns, one of the grand old men of wrestling, and we seem to recall that Bernarr Macfadden also subjected himself to the same test during the days when he was actively identified with wrestling. These men may not have been hanged in the same manner as one who is to be executed, but it does seem possible that a man might perfect his neck strength and muscularity to such an extent as to survive a real hanging. It is hardly likely that anyone is going to train with that end in view, still we considered the subject might prove interesting enough as to be worthy of mention.

I also know of one case where a young high school athlete accidentally brought about his death by handing, through rushing his program on a homemade neck exercising machine. He rigged up a contraption consisting of an overhead pulley to which weights could be attached, with one end of the cord fastened to his head and neck. By overstepping the bounds of reasonable safety, he added too much weight to the counter balance and caused himself to be lifted from the floor, handing by the neck. This I have previously told in the pages of STRENGTH Magazine, but it may herein serve the purpose of a warning to the over ambitious. At any rate, it is unnecessary to fool with an overhead pulley attachment, and run the risk of hanging.

The wrestler bridge is most commonly used by advance physical culturists, both as an exercise and lift for strengthening and developing the neck. For general purposes this should be sufficient when used in conjunction with overhead lifts and exercises, which have a strong developing influence on the neck. It is a moot question as to whether the men who lift the heaviest weights in the bridge have the strongest necks, but we are certain that the men with the largest neck do not in every case succeed with the greatest poundage in bridge lifting. However, in wrestling there is a closer connection between the best neck development and the ability to resist the opponent's efforts by bridging. In bridge lifting, the ability to withstand the uncomfortable feeling on the scalp while holding a set position is important; likewise the strength of the arms and shoulders will govern the amount of weight which may be raised. An athlete with a powerful neck may lack the necessary and shoulder strength to elevate a record poundage to lengthy of arms over his chest, and another man may possess all the essential physical qualities and lack insensibility to the terrific pressure which is brought to bear upon his scalp and neck. Though the wrestler bridge lift must remain as the best known method among strength tests for judging neck strength, yet it is far from ideal for the purpose. For developmental purposes, in addition to the regular neck bridge, lifters practice the reverse bridge, supporting the body on the head and toes with the face and stomach towards the floor. A variety of movements may be performed in this position; rocking the head back and forth and sidewise. Another valuable bridge exercise consists of walking around with the feet while the head is kept in one spot, meanwhile keeping the arms folded.

We would therefore conclude that the ideal method of exercising the muscles which make up the development of the neck would consist of movements calling for great resistance in every conceivable direction. One aid in this general direction is to have a partner grasp your head firmly in his arms and then for you to tug bull dog fashion, allowing him to bear his weight on your head and neck as much as you can stand. Probably a better way and certainly one which is more comfortable is to make a wall pulley, and by wearing a helmet to which the pulley cord is attached, you may pull and haul while twisting the neck in various positions. Teeth lifting is a capital means of exercising the neck, but care must be take to save the teeth and gums from injury. If the teeth are not in good condition, this form of exercise should not be practiced, and heavy lifting must only be indulged by those with perfect teeth. Performers of "iron-jaw" feats get plenty of vigorous neck exercise. This customary manner of doing this class of feats is to hand upside down from the knees and support the weight of either humans or heavy objects by a teeth grip. Sometimes they support a moving, twisting, or swinging partner, which places even greater strain upon the neck. I recall a tragic ending to an act of this kind. The male member of the team was doing the "iron-jaw" work, supporting his lady partner, who was swinging 'round and 'round in a circle. The man, unable to resist a sudden impulse to sneeze, was forced to open his mouth, causing his partner to be catapulted into the audience where a hat pin pierced her body, resulting fatally. You can tell this happened a few years ago, for if it had happened during the past few years there would hardly have been a hat pin in the audience to cause the death of the unfortunate performer.

The amateur will hardly be wise in attempting feats of that kind, but may get practically the same effect by wearing a helmet to which weights are attached to a cord, and by bending forward at the hips, move the head in every possible direction.

Some courses in physical culture include self-resistance movements for the neck. These exercises consist of pressing against the head with the hands to resist the efforts of moving the head sidewise, as well as back and forth. Truly, the neck may be exercised in this manner, but not sufficiently vigorous to bring out high grade development or any degree of strength. The main fault with such resistance is that the will cannot be fully exerted and still maintain the resistance. If you do not understand just what I mean, try the following experiment to convince yourself. Place one hand, or if you wish, both hands, on your head and then try to resist the movement of your head if you really desire to move it in any direction. Also try this - set your head firmly in any position and then try to move it with the strength of either one or both arms. The truth of the matter is, that your will to hold the head firm of for that matter to move the head, it far stronger than any effort you may direct towards counteracting the head with the hands.

The possibilities of neck development are limited in the individual according to his bony framework, the exact point of muscular attachments, and several other factors. This, of course, is true of every part of the body. It is rare to find a well-muscled neck on a man of extremely slender proportions who is flat chested and narrow shouldered, as a large and well developed neck is dependent upon certain muscular attachments. You may have noticed that men with thick necks seems to have rather short necks, and seldom do you find a neck of great size which gives the appearance of being long. Stand before a mirror: draw your chin in and set the muscles of your neck so that it will appear as thick and wide as possible. Now observe that in order to bring about this appearance it was necessary to raise the chest and square the shoulders. The neck muscles being attached to the collar bone, rib, sternum (breast bone) and shoulders, a flexion of the muscles causes a combined lifting of the bones to which they are attached. A proper development of the muscles composing the neck will result in a permanent elevation of the chest, and a squareness of the shoulders. This is one of the reasons for a short, thick appearance of the neck. A properly developed neck is accompanied by well developed trapezius muscles, as without full development of these muscles the neck will not possess correct proportion and a high degree of strength. Proper development of the trapezius brings a bout a favorable position of the shoulders, to permit of sufficient freedom for the lungs.

We have just described some of the results of proper neck development, but the same points might be referred to in a sense of cause and effect. Proper development causes a certain position of the bones of the chest and shoulders, but in a greater degree an extreme development is dependent upon a certain type of bony framework. The man with naturally long and well-arched collar bones, or clavicles, ribs and sternum, has an advantage over the average man whose bone lengths and shapes are just average. Likewise, the man with a thick round head and long square jaw bones has a decided advantage in the upper muscular attachments of the neck. If one's head is of a narrow type and the face is thin, it stands to reason that the upper part of the neck cannot become as thick as the neck of a man with a broad face and head and square jaw bones. It will generally be found that these points just outlined are accompanied by corresponding bone proportions throughout the entire physique, which make possible greater mechanical strength of the various levers governing the movements of the body.

The difference between the positions of the wrestler's bridge as a lift and as an exercise is that in the former the head and heels must be closer together than when practicing it purely for exercise purposes. When extremely heavy weights are handled, the body must be set in a most firm position, while in exercising no such strain is placed on the neck and body. For the purpose of exercising, the bridge may be maintained on the crown of the head and feet, but if this position should be attempted for lifting, you would find the body spread out too much, and it would be necessary to bridge on the forehead and feet, so as give the neck, shoulders, and back muscles an opportunity to lock properly for the exertion.

With the forehead in contact with the floor, the muscles of the neck, upper back, and shoulders are flexed to a great extent, thus making it easier to maintain the uncomfortable position. While getting into the bridge, the proper procedure is to first roll up to the position, then draw your heels farther back under you and roll over onto the forehead. One way of taking the wrestler's bridge exercises is to assume the bridge and then after pulling the bell over your face to the chest, press the bell to arm's length several time succession. Another way is to hold the bell at arm's length over the chest, and then to alternately roll the head till the shoulders and neck rest on the floor, and then back again to the original position. The point in the execution of this movement is to keep the legs as immobile as possible; but do not try to keep from using them even to a slight extent.

One way to do the bridge, and about the most efficient for developing the neck; instead of using the legs to assist in bridging, do not bend the knees, but keep the legs extended straight and bridge only with the head. Do not attempt this method until you have been well used to the regular way of bridging. After becoming accustomed to holding the body in the position of the legless bridge (as we might call it) you can work the head back and forth; we caution you beforehand that this is a severe, but most effective exercise. The wrestler's bridge is invaluable as a means of invigorating and energizing the spinal column. By including this particular exercise in the regular program, you need never worry over the possibility of spinal or nerve trouble.

It is a fact well known to physical educators that sore throat is an unknown ailment to those who have a well developed neck. It is also my conclusion that the regular practice of this exercise will go a long way toward preventing headaches.

Iron Nation