Super Strength - Chapter 6 - The Sides

By Alan Calvert

Posted on on 06 March 2002

In his book on physical education, Dr. Felix Oswald said, in some parts of England, the title of "the strongest man in the neighborhood" was awarded to the man who could take the heaviest weight on his shoulder and walk with it the longest distance with the firmest step. That, by the way, is a very fair test of bodily strength. If a man is weak in the back he cannot even get the weight on his shoulder in the first place. If he is weak in the knees (that is, if his leg muscles are weak) his legs will "buckle" at the knees, and he will shamble along after he has carried the weight a very short distance; and a little after that he will collapse entirely under the weight. A man with strong back and legs must successfully carry a weight which rested on both shoulders; but, unless he had strong sides he wouldn't get very far with the weight on one shoulder, because when you do have a heavy weight on one shoulder the tendency of the weight is to pull you over sideways. With even a moderately heavy weight on the right shoulder the tendency is to thrust the hips toward the right in order to better balance the weight. When the hips are thus thrust out of thier proper alignment, it becomes impossible to walk with a firm, even tread. Again, no man can hold a heavy weight on the shoulder unless he has great strength in the trapezius muscle, which lifts, or sustains the shoulder. If the trapezius is weak, the shoulder under the weight will slump, and the weight will roll off. There is a concrete example of what I mean by bodily strength; and I again want to emphasize the fact that super-strength is immense bodily strength, and not just arm-strength. If you have ever tried to carry a 200-lb. Box or trunk on the shoulder, it will make you appreciate the bodily strength of a man like Horace Barre, who one put a 1270-lb. bar-bell on one shoulder and walked about fifty feet with it.

If you examine the statues of the ancient Greek athletes and demigods, you will find that there is very little delineation of the muscles. There are no bunches of muscles on the arms or legs; and about the only muscles which are plainly outlined are the pectoral muscles on the breast and the muscles at the sides of the waist. In modern men, you find the side-muscles finely developed only in wrestlers, in bar-bell lifters and in laborers whose daily work requires them to carry heavy weights in one hand, or upon one shoulder. Some gymnasts and light-exercise enthusiasts get a partial development of the side-muscles, and if they bend sideways, they can make the side-muscles apparent; whereas, if a man has trained with bar-bells, his side-muscles are at all times as apparent as the muscles on his chest or shoulders.

One of the easiest ways to develop the side-muscles is to take a very heavy weight in one hand and walk around the room. If the weight is in the right hand, it tends to pull you over to the right; and therefore, the muscle on the left side of the waist is very busy in its efforts to hold the trunk upright. The main trouble with this exercise is that your fingers will give out before your side-muscles do. Another simple exercise is to take a 40- or 50-lb. dumbbell in one hand, to keep the legs upright and bend over sideways at the waist, as in Fig. 32. You should bend over and straighten up again, several times in succession. In Fig. 32, the muscle at the right side of the waist is plainly visible, but it is the muscle on the left which is doing the work, as it is that muscle which straightens the body after you bend it over. Another exercise for the side is to hold a bar-bell across the shoulders, to stand with the feet far apart and firmly braced; then bend the body first to the right and then to the left. The objection to that style is that it never allows you to get a full contraction of the muscles on either side.

The very best exercise for developing the sides is the one illustrated in Fig. 33. You start out by taking a 25-lb. dumbbell and pushing it to arm's length with the right hand; then you step forward with the left foot, so that the heel of that foot is about 20 inches away from the inside of the right foot, the toes being turned slightly outwards. Keep the right leg straight; bend the left leg at the knee; then, still holding the bell aloft, lean over and touch the left toes with the finger-tips of the left hand. Straighten up again and repeat several times without lowering the bell. It is very much easier to do this exercise if, when you have the bell in your right hand, you rest most of the weight on the advanced left foot, as this makes it easier to bend the body over. When you first try this exercise you will find it difficult, because the hand holding the dumbbell will sway around in a manner which will make you think you're going to lose your balance; and so you will, unless you keep your gaze fastened on the dumbbell. Never make the mistake of looking down to see where your left foot is, because your hand will find the foot automatically. Keep watching the bell and you will have no trouble keeping your balance. The arm which holds the bell, should be perpendicular to the floor at all times. As you stand up, both legs should be straight for an instant; and then you can bend the left knee and rest your weight on the left foot as you bend over. (Of course, all these directions are exactly reversed when you have the bell in the left hand.) In performing any kind of work, lift or exercise, the body is rarely bent directly to the side. Almost always the bend is sideways - and partly to the front. The virtue of this exercise is that it teaches your side-muscles to work in harmony with the lower-back muscles, and that it helps to develop the muscles which rotate the trunk on its own axis. Furthermore, it is simply invaluable training if you wish to learn, later on, to lift heavy weights above the head by the method known as the "bent press."

In my talk about back-strength, I compared the hips to the centre of a hinge, and said that there must be equal strength in both sides of the hinge. This is equally true, no matter of which joint you are speaking. It is impossible to exercise the side muscles by themselves any more than you can use the back muscles by themselves. When you bend the body sideways, you call into vigorous action not only the muscles at the side of the waist, but the muscles on the outside of the thighs. Therefore, any athlete with strikingly developed muscles at the side of the waist is practically bound to have an equally striking development on the outside of the thighs. Turn over the pages of this book and look at the pictures of Sandow, Saxon, Matysek, Nordquest, Carr, or any of the other men who have made great records in the one-arm bent press, and you will see that the thighs of all these men have a great, sweeping curve on the outer side of the elg, from the knee to the hip-bone. Following the same principle, any man with highly developed muscles along the spine is almost sure to have swelling biceps muscles on the back of the thigh, and the calves of the legs which are deep from front to back. Likewise, any athlete with fine abdominal muscles will have fine muscles on the front of the thigh. I will modify that last statement. It is possible to develop the abdominal muscles in a certain way without bringing out much development on the front of the thigh. In my opinion, that is a foolish way to develop any set of muscles. Muscles are not just for appearance, but for use; and if your front-thighs and abdominal muscles are exercised in concert, they will be much better developed and very much stronger than if you attempt to develop the abdominal muscles alone. Occasionally you see a man who, bu the so-called "muscle-spinning" process, has acquired quite fine development of many individual muscles; but it is very rarely that such men have anything more than the average strength. Their muscles have been developed through first placing the body in a position which allows a particular muscle to get in the position of extreme contraction, and then contracting and releasing it just by an effort of the will. Muscles developed in this way have some size and some shape, but practically no power and absolutely no co-ordination. The Germans used to have a complicated word describing this condition. When translated, it meant "A-man-who-is-like-a-shop-keeper-who-has-all-his-goods-in-the-window-and-nothing-on-the-shelves-in-his-store." There is a great difference in the quality of a muscle which has been developed by work; that is, by contracting against actual resistance, and a muscle which has been developed simply by continued contractions against no resistance. I have taught many a man how to get a fair arm-development by putting his arm in two different positions and flexing first the biceps and then the triceps muscle by an effort of the will; but I always warn such men that muscles developed in this way are apt to be "puffy" and not capable of doing any real work.

The muscles at the sides of the waist are often overlooked by devotees of light-exercise, who prefer to devote their time to developing the showy muscles on the arms and shoulders. It is possible to get a fine arm and shoulder development without any real hard work; because most arm exercises are not vigorous enough to cause fatigue. (That is why the teacher who advertises that he has some "easy and pleasant method" of becoming strong, almost always makes you specialize on arm-exercises.) Furthermore, it explains why so many men who have spent years in cultivating their arm muscles, have never acquired the bodily strength and development which raises a man into the class of the super-strong. Whatever you do, don't fall into the error of neglecting the exercises for the legs, back and sides. When you come to the description of some of the overhead bar-bell lifts, you will find that instead of these lifts being performed solely by the strength of the arms, the bulk of the work is done by the back, leg and side muscles you have developed by doing the exercises in the preceding chapters.