Spine Straightening Preparation Yields Better Deadlifts

April 28, 2006 12:19 PM


Pavel Tsatsouline asked me to let all of you "Pavelizers" out there in on a special "leverage-building-body-stabilizing-breathing-opposing-stretch-contraction" exercise which fascinated him. This movement ensures the best posture ever plus, it's a great intrinsic and extrinsic "spinal warm-up" before implementing any major power/leverage movement ? most particularly dead lifts.

As what Pavel calls his "favorite" Chiropractor/Naturopath/Clinical Nutritionist (or so he says when I have his neck in my hands during a subluxation reduction or some other vulnerable position) it is my continuing pleasure to align the neuro-musculo-skeletal system and extremities of someone who is as totally committed to excellence as he. As a three-time (Natural) Mr. America winner and having dead lifted over 700 pounds myself, Pavel finds it interesting that I possess exemplary power given an epidemic of so many "weak/nonfunctional" bodybuilders these days.

Actually, Pavel recommended that I either write this article or get down and give him 50, I decided to do both (pushups with 1 arm of course) and provide the article "broken" into two parts:

1. An explanation of my personal technique for deadlifting taken from my powerlifting "glory days" mixed in with a little history which Pavel believed would be of interest

2. An explanation of a self-help spine straightening and stabilizing technique which he finds useful as a preventive modality and I found extremely useful as part of my before dead-lift or squat preparation

Part 1

Basic Instincts and Physics Taken to a
New Quantum Level

My first real introduction to deadlifting was at the Rochester YMCA and the Iron Masters Powerlifting Club in Rochester, New York (1972-6) and more specifically, from Frank Savage who was one of this country's most eminent power lifting gurus at the time, able to pull over 900 pounds at the time I met him.

Both Savage and the Pieriello Brothers (2 large and very strong dual competition focus powerlifting /bodybuilders ? a more common occurrence in those days as compared to the extreme specializations of today ? who could do seated behind in neck bar presses with outrageous weight) coached me in unison. "Simply go up to the bar, inhale while bending straight-backed at the waist and knees, locked left-hand under-thumb-grip with the right hand over-thumb-grip at palm's width greater than shoulder width, pull the bar to the shins as you fall into a semi squat, back still kept straight as an "arrow" and then exhale quickly ? locking the abs and freezing the diaphragm ? as you lean back and lift the bar as you straighten your hips and knees as if you were going to fall backwards using the bar to keep you from falling over while pulling the bar literally over the top of your entire body to over your head in full extension." (Obviously the bar and my hands would never go past mid thigh, nor would I fall back and roll the bar over my head to full overhand extension position as in a press, but the execution of this thought was intended to help me line things up in order to better visualize a larger picture of movement somewhat similar to the beginning of an Olympic clean and jerk movement).

And by the way, "skinning" the shins was considered entirely acceptable (blood is good!). Also I was reminded not to forget to shift the hips forward and squeeze in the "the butt cheeks" as I approached full spinal extension for maximum leverage and a better center of gravity. In effect the bar was supposed to be moving as close to the center of my body as possible either by pulling the bar to me or my body to the bar, whichever was most efficient at a particular movement point.

The big no-no in all this was to never "round out the back" which was to be held in semi arch at all times, both as injury prevention and for maximum leverage, which always go hand-in-hand. Other than that no-no, the idea was to get as close to the bar as possible throughout the movement, lock forearms, not bend the knees too deeply, use as little motion as possible, and to keep the movement as compounded as possible ? never letting the full weight rest on small muscle groups or unleveraged positions, rather use all the groups of the body around the hip as its primary fulcrum.

Needless to say, this actually felt pretty good and the weight seemed light while the shearing force/pressure was felt more by my hips and less in my low back than I imagined it would. Surprise, surprise, 315 pounds seemed to move with very little effort on my first official powerlifting deadlift day at a body weight of 179 pounds?although I was very sore/stiff all over for the next 72 hours. 315 pounds might not sound like much but keep in mind that I was fresh off an Olympic alternate status in swimming, and taking a fifth place in a track and Field Jr. Olympics ? so I was new to weight lifting and especially new to "real" dead lifts.

Ultimately, I succeeded in officially (and certifiably natural? my trademark), pulling 750 pounds at a body weight of 242 pounds a few years later. (Thanks to my strong back, I also executed some quite interesting "unofficial" highly unorthodox feats of strength at 272 pounds on my quest for the World's Strongest Man Contest which I abandoned due to extremity injuries.)

A closer look at technique reveals that the key to my (or anyone's) deadlifting success is in keeping the entire back as straight as possible with Abs and diaphragm locked down as a consequence of intense exhalation?almost breathing it up, shortening the total movement of the bar as much as possible, keeping the bar as close to the body's center of gravity as possible, maintaining a straight line of movement (no swinging of body or bar), and minimizing any deviation from all of the above.

But there is much more to this than meets the eye for different people based on certain bodily characteristics, beginning with the spine and other relationships of their limbs in terms of length and body height. At this time I did not know that I possessed what chiropractors and osteopaths referred to as a semi-static spine and in this case, what I came to call a "lock ? semi arch" which was crucial to my personal success at moving big weight.

In fact, there are three "spinal types" to consider in the mastery of deadlifting movements. There are some variations of these three basic types, the dynamics of which should be considered in one's approach to optimizing leverage while minimizing spinal instability. These three types of spines are categorically called dynamic, neutral, and static?all of which are entirely based on the degrees of anterior to posterior curving present throughout the four curves found (And, deadlifting techniques should never be one-size-fits-all).

These curves multiply spinal leverage by seven times over the spine being completely devoid of curves. Side-to-side (lateral) curves also known medically as "scoliosis," only serve to undermine the leverage that these front-to-back curves impart. In a future article with space and time permitting, we can more technically examine the implications of the three basic spinal types in relation to extra-spinal considerations for the creation of the least movement, greatest leverage arm, smallest resistance arm, center of gravity alignment, increased intra-thoracic/abdominal pressure, and traveling the shortest distance between the two points of movement execution, along with some power promoting S.A.I.D. training and Target Nutrition techniques* for more efficient physio-chemical adaptation.

Part 2

A Very Effective Spinal Straightening/Stabilization Technique

Both before and after deadlift execution and as part of the daily stretching/strengthening routine, the following technique should be considered as part of any normal stretching or posture?improving and strengthening routine. This particular movement performed with back against the wall was originally described to me by my German born-grandfather as advised by his osteopath. Needless to say both he and my grandmother practiced this movement daily and had perfect posture right up to age 100, which is why I took notice.

Of course, Pavel tried it and loved it as a matter of his extended spinal therapies (even though a German ? not a Russian ? is on record for this movement's origination). Since a lot of people feel that at times their back is up against the wall, I named this movement, the "Up Against the Wall" SSST or Spinal/Straightening/Stabilization Technique.

Step 1 ? Back up into a wall or door so that the heels, buttocks, low middle back to C7/T12 (most upper back) and back of head (held level) make contact with surface along with the back of the fully supinated hands/arms, elbows triceps and rear lateral delts, in a down position with hands at hip level as if in the beginning of a power curl.

Step 2 ? Breathe in as you squeeze your contact points of heels, spine and back of head against the wall, as you slowly raise the arms out laterally while sliding the back of the hands/elbows/triceps against the wall to a 90? position at the shoulder and elbow (as if in a "hold up" with a gun to your belly).

Step 3 ? Exhale, then inhale again, push your body contact points (heels, buttocks, mid upper back, scapulae/rear deltoids, head, elbows, back of wrists, triceps) against the wall and then raise your arms overhead further to the point where you can touch the thumb tips directly distal to your head in an arm extended position (as if extending in a water-dive). Hold this position and inhale and exhale from the diaphragm at least three times and hold the breath each time for a count of five while pressing the body deeper into the wall.

This is not as easy as it looks and you will discover that in fact not only will you feel straighter and taller as a result of performing this "up against the wall" exercise but you will be warmed up for any type of spinal extension to follow.

Dr. Greg Tefft is the world's leading expert on personalized nutrition. Dubbed the Mind-Body Connector, by Weider publications, he is a Board Certified Naturopathic physician, a Chiropractic doctor and the founder of Personalized Nutrition Consultants. Dr. Tefft is also a triple crown Natural Mr. America bodybuilding title holder, a renowned clinical bio-nutritionist, and certified drugless wellness practitioner. See www.RealPNC.com for related information about ortho-molecular sports medicine and his latest book Your Personal Life ? Measuring What Your Specific Body Needs to Live Lean, Long, Strong & Better.