Kabuki Strength
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By Phillip Snell, DC
Chiropractic Physician
Creator of FixYourOwnBack.com

On occasion, I refer to a formative patient I had in my chiropractic practice many years ago. I call him Carl. Carl was a big strong guy that had lifted heavy and played hard for most of his life. While his prior activity was apparent in his physical frame as he sat in front of me, it was juxtaposed by his emotional state. Carl was crying…and not just a trace tear on the cheek, either. This grown ass man was sobbing and fortunately for me, it was tears of joy. He had suffered a disc injury while lifting, and subsequently re-­‐injured it several times. He’d seen a handful of chiropractors who painfully bounced on him to try to get some magic crack which made him feel worse about as often as it had made him feel better. He’d had more needles stuck into him than his mother’s pin cushion. He’d seen many physicians and surgeons who had all given some sort of advice that resembled “Stop lifting” or “These opioids should take the edge off” or “We can cut you open and snip that out”. He’d heard about poor surgical outcomes and was leery of going that route. His fear of surgery was rivaled by his fear of lifting which had now generalized to include lifting his child, lifting the garbage and lifting his socks from the floor. Carl didn’t know when the other shoe was going to drop and he was incredibly frustrated that his source of solace-­‐lifting-­‐could have seemingly turned on him like a traitorous friend. But he wept at the moment because of what we had just done in the clinic.

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We had lifted a bit of weight, only 35# or so, but the importance of it rivaled his 3X BW deadlift he had been proud of. He had lifted the weight a bit differently than he had lifted before, and he lifted it over and over, and the pain in his back was totally absent. First, the fear with the movement fell from his shoulders and then the happiness gave way to the tears of joy. He looked at me and said the words that aimed me in the direction that places the readers of this article and I in proximity to each other. He said “Where in the hell was I supposed to have learned this?”

After reviewing the x-ray of my shoulder which I had hurt on the ski hill a few weeks earlier, my doctor said to me in his office “there’s nothing structurally wrong with it, just a little bursitis. You’re just getting old”. I was 54 at the time and my first thought was: “Screw you! I refuse to accept that I cannot continue to lead an active lifestyle”. Hell, except for a nagging pain in the shoulder that wouldn’t go away, I still skied and water-skied and felt like I did 10 years earlier. I was not going to sit on the couch and become a spectator and wither away. That doctor’s words resonated with me and motivated me. I refused to believe I was getting “old”, in fact, at that moment I banned the word from my vocabulary and proclaimed myself a “mature athlete”. I immediately embarked on a mission to rehab my shoulder and to get into the weight room to get strong and fit.

If you, too, were born between 1946 and 1962 (the Baby Boomers) you are part of America’s largest and most productive generation ever. Our generation has had the advantage of living during an age in which we have seen the greatest advances in science and medicine in the history of mankind. We will live longer than all previous generations. We say that 50 is the new 40 and 60 is the new 50.


Recently I presented at University of Western States Chiropractic College on the topic of the bench press. I often get questions from the clinical community about the bench press. The deadlift and squat are discussed quite frequently as functional and corrective movement patterns, but the bench press is the dirty little step child that never gets covered in these environment, making it the most asked topic from this community. If it is covered, the posturally correct flat back or “sternal crunch” bench press is considered the most functional and preferred pattern.

Yet the question always remains: why can you bench more with an arch then? Correct patterns on the squat and deadlift help you lift more but the bench does not. Additionally, it’s easy to observe more shoulder deviation and control of shoulder centration/position with the flat back bench than an arched bench. Often times, people with lack of control of shoulder position can be corrected almost immediately by placing them into an arch. This is counter to what one would expect if you’re moving from a correct/functional position to an incorrect.