Dr Mel Siff vs Paul Chek – Back Strong and Beltless Part 1

Author: Dr Mel Siff Blog  //  Category: Dr Siff On All Things core, Dr Siff on Injuries/Disease, Dr Siff on Resistance Training

Several folk have requested that I review a few articles that Paul Chek wrote
for Testosterone magazine on “How to be Back Strong and Beltless”, as
published on the following webpages:

< http://t-mag.com/html/body_121back.html >
< http://www.t-mag.com/html/body_122back.html >

He has not submitted Part 3 of this series, so, if he is still working on it,
it will be interesting to see if my review influences what he submits. These
two article already suggest that he has taken some of our earlier criticisms
to heart, because he is now admitting in this series that breath holding does
indeed stabilise the trunk.



<<Regardless of your opinion about the origin of man, if you believe in God,
you have to wonder why he didn’t provide weight belts as standard-issue
equipment. On second thought, maybe he did, and we just don’t know how to use
them correctly.>>

*** Exactly the same remark may be applied to the wearing of shoes and it is
entirely spurious. We might even have said that we should have retained a
hairy cover all over our bodies to protect us from the sun and other extremes
of climate. Why we should have evolved to lose something that protects us
from our environment is anyone’s guess. A remark like that has been used by
Luddites, the Amish folk, the Taliban and others who reject many
technological advances on a similar basis.

<<Today, our understanding of the stabilizer system is at an all time high,
thanks to the works of people like Richardson, Jull, Hodges, Hydes, Vleeming,
Snidjers and Gracovetsky. >>

*** This is misleading, because no theory of spinal function has been
regarded as pre-eminent over any others. In fact, there is even more
disagreement over spinal function than there has ever been. The number of
theories about spinal action may be at an all-time high, but our
understanding is certainly not yet at an all-time high. It is still highly
theoretical and by no means definitive, though it is very exciting to try and
decode some of the complex biomathematical models (which Chek, unfortunately
is not trained to be able to do).

<<As you are likely aware, when lifting a heavy object or exerting yourself
to throw or move an object such as in work or sports, it is natural to hold
the breath. Holding the breath under load is associated with increased
tension in the diaphragm. …

Practical experimentation in the gym will show that the trunk is stiffer
when filling the lungs as opposed to not filling the lungs with

***These remarks are most revealing, because Chek has constantly disagreed
with me and several others (in several Internet exchanges that still exist in
the archives of several user groups) on breath holding as a perfectly natural
concomitant to spinal stabilisation. He has always been vigorously opposed to
breath holding to stabilise the spine. Instead he has placed an exaggerated
emphasis on “pulling the abs in” and trying to voluntarily activate
transversus abdominis (TVA) during all stages of squatting and lifting. It ap
pears as if our criticism of his views may have caused him to change his mind.

<<More recently, it has been shown that IAP does provide a stiffening effect
on the lumbar spine, but that IAP is most effective at stabilizing the spine
when applied in concert with co-activation of the erector spinae muscles…..

Although, as suggested by Gracovetsky, we can not rely on muscles alone
because mathematical modeling shows that Olympic athletes would not be strong
enough to lift the loads they currently are lifting during competition. We
must look to the fascial system of the body for a missing link, the hydraulic
amplifier effect…

It has also been suggested that IAP does not stabilize the spine. Standing
firmly against the notion that IAP provides any significant stabilizing
mechanism for the spine are Gracovetsky and Bogduk…..>>

***Note well that the models of Gracovetsky and others whom he mentions,
though compelling in some respects, are by no means unopposed by other
theorists and researchers, especially some of the world’s most erudite
biomechanists. What Chek has done is a commendable cut-and-paste collage job
of information from various sources, but he has failed to go beyond a
literature retrieval stage of the literature review. A true review retrieves
the necessary information, then compares and analyses it, then, if the author
has specific scientific or research skills, he offers his own views and
models. Anyone can cut and paste from books, articles and Medline, but not
anyone can intelligently analyse the material and go beyond the obvious.

<<The hydraulic amplifier effect, originally theorized by Gracovetsky to
increase the strength of the back muscles, was later proven mathematically to
increase the strength of the back muscles by 30%…. The hydraulic amplifier
mechanism is composed of the TLF (thoracolumbar fasciae) surrounding the back
muscles to create a relatively stable cylinder…. >>

***While Chek has given a reasonable summary of how some of the trunk
musculature can act like an hydraulic lift, he has not shown that he
understands the significance of the “amplifier” part of the spinal model.
This is a very significant omission, because a knowledge of the dynamic
process of mechanical amplification (including amplifier “gain” and feedback
control) is vital to an understanding of lifting, stabilising and injury.

<<What modern researchers have been able to do is more clearly define two
major stabilizer systems of the body, the inner unit and the outer unit. The
stabilizer system considered as our “God-given weight belt” is the inner

The Inner Unit serves to stiffen the axial skeleton in preparation for work.
The Inner Unit muscles are A) Transversus Abdominis and the posterior
fibers of obliquus internus, B) Diaphragm, C) Deep Multifidus,
D) Pelvic floor musculature….

The outer unit consists of many muscles such as the obliquus externus,
obliquus internus, erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus,
adductors and hamstrings working in concert with the inner unit musculature
and fascial systems. …..

A simplified version of the inner/outer unit systems, seen in Figure 9,
depicts a pirate ship’s mast as a human spinal column. While the inner unit
muscles are responsible for developing and maintaining segmental
stiffness, the bigger muscles, shown here as guide wires, are responsible for
creating movement. >>

***The accompanying figure depicted the spine as a system of guy wires
supporting the mast of a ship. Significantly, this model excludes any
transverse members on the sails or the fact that the hull, like the rest of
the human body, does not provide a stable base. This incomplete spinal model
allows us to understand in part why it is nowadays so fashionable to talk
about “core stabilisation”. The latter misleading concept is based upon a
system which excludes the role of peripheral stabilisation (of which I have
written elsewhere) and the systems nature of motor control. One of the
problems with models and analogies is that, in attempts to simplify complex
processes, they can omit details which can lead to some very defective

Division of the muscles of the trunk into “inner” and “outer” systems, while
often being convenient for the sake of simplifying the complexity of the
spine, sometimes proves to be a rather limiting model of trunk functioning.
Interestingly, Chek, while sketching this model in a superficially
attractive way, has not explained if this mast and guy rope depiction of the
spine or Gracovetsky’s model constitutes a frame, truss or machine (recalling
that frames are designed to support loads, whereas machines are designed to
transmit or amplify forces or couples).

Chek, in previous discussions, has always evaded my attempts to make him
understand the difference between moments, couples, force couples and related
mechanical concepts with some entirely irrelevant personal retorts. This
latest article makes it very apparent that he really should have attended to
this deficit in his knowledge base. He might then have come across
biomechanical models of the spine which rely on a systems theoretical
approach which does not regard the spine a system of guy ropes and rigid
members and which do not implicate the fasciae in the role suggested by
Gracovetsky and others.

Other models regard the spine as a cantilever system, while yet others
examine the spine as a suspension system. In these models, there is no
necessity to divide the muscles into inner and outer units, but as an entire
system which stabilises the spine in terms of the least energy principle.

By selecting only one favourite model of the spine, he has been biased to
make some misleading and unjustified conclusions and applications in the rest
of his material, especially the practical applications.

Dr Mel Siff

The next post discusses Part II of Paul Chek’s Article!

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One Response to “Dr Mel Siff vs Paul Chek – Back Strong and Beltless Part 1”

  1. Back Strong and Beltless Says:

    [...] I'm still embarrassed that I put the back strong and beltless article here. The more I've learned and the more I've seen of CHECK, the more I've realized that he is a whack job with virtually no scientific or analytical ability. Now I have the pleasure of linking this thing where Mell Siff rips him a new one and critiques this thing by CHECK. Must read. http://www.drmelsiff.com/9334/dr-mel…ltless-part-1/ [...]

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