“Hanging Out With Back Pain-Old School Style,” by Mark Hauer

“The problem with that remedy was that after an afternoon of
hard deadlifts and assistance work my gripping muscles were shot!”

I feel a little intimidated adding my 2 cents worth when it comes to the subject of pain abatement for aching backs. Especially given Stan Pranin’s contributions on the subject. Most of the back pain I’ve suffered over the years was due to compression. And while Yoga’s downward facing dog pose gives some relief (either that, or the sensation of relief was confused with the euphoria from nearly blacking out from the “head rush” of standing up too quickly), the discomfort was always there in the background: muted, but still present. And that’s been true with every twist, turn, and inverted pose I’ve tried-be it Yoga, Pilates, or what have you.

One of the old remedies I was shown thirty years ago when I was a middlin’ powerlifter was to hang from a chinning bar. The problem with that remedy was that after an afternoon of hard deadlifts and assistance work my gripping muscles were shot. If anyone is familiar with the “old school” culture of powerlifting gyms in the late 1970’s and 1980’s you reserved your lifting straps (canvas straps looped around the hands and onto the lifting bar to prevent grip failure) for serious training: i.e. deadlifts, not for quasi bodybuilding exercises like chin-ups. And woe betide the fellow who used lifting straps for anything frivolous.

Oh, it was okay to leap up and briefly grab a chin-up bar for a quick five second stretch. But you didn’t make it a serious part of your routine. And you certainly didn’t court shame being caught with lifting hooks….those cunning curved pieces of metal that do the work of your grip but are strapped to your wrists…

Wuss bodybuilders used lifting hooks. Powerlifters used straps. Why? Because lifting hooks didn’t hurt enough.

Anyone who read my article last month “The Fat Man Always Slaps Twice” knows I’m not shy in regards to research or experimentation. But back in my younger more callow years I was easily embarrassed by my friends and fellow trainers in the gym. I’d rather suffer the agony of chronic injury than besmirch the code of the hardcore powerlifter gym:

“Look fellers! He’s hangin’ from that chinnin’ bar using sissy bodybuilder lifting hooks!”
“Haw! Next we’ll have to give him a ladder so he don’t have to jump so high to grab that bar!”
“Hauer is a sissy! Nanner-nanner-boo-boo!”
“Haw! Haw! Haw!”
“Liftin’ Hooks! War you from purty boy?”
“Ooooh. Can I load the bar for you? Lift the weights for ya too, ya closet bodybuilding mook?”

Thirty years later I can still recall the shame as if it were only yesterday…

Okay, humor aside, I really did learn the value of chin-up bar for stretching back in the good old days. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the most efficient use of the chin-up bar until shortly after my last hip surgery. And that was by accident. A friend of mine had answered one of those get-fit-in-90 days television ads and purchased the DVD’s and the various recommended fitness equipment purported as necessary by the perfect-bodied hucksters at 4am. He religiously followed the regimen for two weeks and gave me his chin-up bar in disgust after he pulled a groin muscle attempting plyometrics.

“Take the damn thing!” He said. “I never want to see it again!”
“Cool.” I said, wondering what I would do with it. Unlike the old time doorway mounted chin-up bars that never stayed in place but collapsed when anything heavier than a clotheshanger depended from it, this new version was a model of modern engineering see?

And when you attached it to the door, it stayed. Leverage. No screws, no attachments. Unfortunately, it hung so low from the door frame my arms were bent at a ninety degree angle while my hands grasped the bar. Who knew this was a good thing?

One thing I didn’t mention was that during my recuperation from hip surgery my lower back was killing me. It was as stiff and compressed as back in my weight hoisting days of yore. I eyed the metal contraption. If it had eyes, it would have been eyeing me as well. I am not a light weight.

No doubt I looked pretty dorky hanging there in the doorway, my knees scant inches from the ground. But I noticed something. If I walked my feet forward and my body assumed an L configuration, the stretch intensified impressively. It also stretched the hamstrings. Over the following weeks I experimented with different width grips, mixed grips (as per my powerlifting days: one palm forward, the other facing opposite) each variation gave a different stretch. If I leaned forward and walked my feet back until I assumed a bow shape, not only did it load the spine gently, it also stretched out the whole of the chest and intercostals.

However, I discovered it was easy to overdo these stretches. Especially if you used (you guessed it) lifting straps or lifting hooks and lost track of time. Let’s face it. If you are an aikidoka of some standing, you’ve probably got a decent grip. Hooks simply take the stress of your hands so you can concentrate on the sensations of the stretch and where you harbor the most tension.

I know this all sounds a little wonky, but it works. Add it to your arsenal of stretches if all else fails. You can pick up a chinning bar for $20. Hooks cost anywhere from $15-$50. All told, it is still cheaper than getting hooked up to one of those chiro back contraptions and less dangerous than gravity boots.

And it isn’t wussy. It’s being smart.

Mark Hauer Bio

Mark Hauer has made Huntsville, Al. his home since late August of 2000. He began his erratic study of Aikido the following September, which continues by fits and starts, to this day. Mr. Hauer’s fiction and poetry has appeared in several magazines and literary anthologies. There is no truth to the rumor it was his work that proved the death of several of those fine publications, none at all. At present Mr. Hauer is a free agent when it comes to employment (hint, hint). He fills his time writing absurd tall tales while perfecting his 2nd favorite martial art: C’ur Lee Do (the art of the Stooge), with is signature kiah shout of “nyucknyucknyuck!” He can be contacted here.


  1. Chiropractors are specially trained to perform hands on manipulation using a high velocity, short lever approach that is applied to the problem areas of the spine that are misaligned or fixated. Some chiropractors utilize special adjusting instruments to do the same. The main goals are to restore normal alignment, reduce nerve irritation, improve motion and reduce stress off of the surrounding soft tissue. Spinal manipulation is otherwise known as a chiropractic adjustment.

  2. Several research studies support the use of chiropractic care for the treatment of low back pain. Several leading authorities and published guidelines recommend chiropractic care to be included in the early stages of care for low back pain. In addition to spinal manipulation, many chiropractors also offer other beneficial healthcare services. Physical therapy modalities are often utilized by chiropractors to help heal injured soft tissue which is common with spinal problems and to reduce inflammation. Some of these might include electric stimulation, ultrasound, traction and cold laser therapy.

  3. ‘Because lifting hooks didn’t hurt enough.’


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