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Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Importance of Neck Training - Jim Duggan

One of the most beneficial things that any trainee can do would be to train his/her neck. Strengthening the neck is vitally important, especially if you participate in contact sports, or are a tactical athlete. Even if you don't play sports, there are numerous benefits to having a strong, well-developed neck. Falls, accidents, or simply the everyday hazards of certain occupations, can cause all sorts of damage to the cervical spine and head. By incorporating some neck work into your strength training program, you can strengthen those crucial areas and possible make them more resistant to injury. And while training your neck may not be as fun as pumping your arms, or blasting your pecs, or blitzing your lats, the gains you derive from neck training may actually save you from suffering whiplash, or serious head injury, or worse.

The good news is that a lot of time does not need to be devoted to developing your neck. The exercises themselves are safe and effective in developing size and strength. They are relatively easy to perform, and, aside from the 4-Way Neck Machine, expensive equipment is not required. In fact, you can develop a bigger more powerful neck with as little as some barbell plates and a neck harness.

A simple, but effective, way to exercise your neck is something that can be done anywhere, anytime, and does not require any equipment at all. Several sets of Chin Tucks are a good way to introduce yourself to neck training. To perform a Chin Tuck simply turn your head as far as possible to one side. Then raise it, then lower it down so that your chin touches your shoulder. I do this simple exercise every morning upon rising. A couple sets of twenty reps is an easy way to stimulate your neck muscles.
The next exercise requires only a barbell plate, and a flat bench. Lie supine (face up) on a bench. Your head should be hanging on the end of the bench. Hold a plate on your forehead and raise your head up and down. This movement, like all neck exercises, should be down slowly and under control. Allow your head to roll back as far as you can, then raise it up and hold it for a second. Of course, you can place a towel on your forehead as a cushion once the weights get heavier. Or else you might have the word YORK imprinted on your forehead. Provided, of course, that you're using York plates, which I hope you are.

Next up on the exercise list utilizes a Headstrap or Harness. There are numerous Headstraps on the market. You want to make sure you find one that is not only strong, but comfortable. I personally use Ironmind's Headstrap Fit For Hercules. I've had it for years, and I wouldn't think of using anything different. And while it might be a little on the costly side, I personally believe that we should spare no expense when it comes to quality training equipment. In neck training, as in life, you get what you pay for! I like to utilize loading pins and/or chains to secure plates to my harness. Like all neck exercises, I prefer to do higher reps than on other exercises. For the Headstrap, I will do several sets. On my first set, I like to do a set of twenty or thirty reps. I will add weight for my second set and do a set of twenty. For the last set or so, I will add more weight and do one or two sets of 10-15 reps. Do the reps under control. I can't emphasize this enough. This especially important when you're training the neck. Do not bounce, jerk, or cheat in an effort to use more weight. It's better to lower the poundage and do the exercise under control. 

The final direct neck exercise utilizes a 4-Way Neck Machine. There are several companies that manufacture Neck Machines. They are all pretty much the same. The allow you to exercise the neck in four directions: Extension, Flexion, and each side (left and right.) A couple of sets in each direction will provide stimulation to your entire neck. Again, high reps are best. The biggest mistake that can be made on this machine- or any machine for that matter- would be trying to use limit poundages for low reps. You're trying to build strength, not set any records. Unfortunately, many gyms do not carry this piece of equipment. What a shame. Every commercial gym, as well as every high school or firehouse weight room should have a quality 4-Way Neck Machine. Think of how many aches, pains, and injuries could be avoided if everybody trained their neck in a sensible fashion.

Another way to strengthen the neck would be to include various Shoulder Shrug variations. Utilizing a barbell, or dumbbells, shrugging will develop the trapezius which will aid in strengthening the neck. The key is to keep your arms straight, and pull your shoulders straight up. There is no need to rotate your shoulders at the top position. Just shrug straight up as high as you can. Again, don't bounce or cheat. At various times, when I've done shrugs, I've used high reps ( 20 or more), as well as low reps ( sets of six.)
You may have noticed that I have not included any type of Bridging exercises ( aka The Wrestler's Bridge.) Years ago, when I trained at Iron Island Gym, I remember Dr. Ken Leistner giving a seminar about training. He explained why he did not advocate doing the Wrestler's Bridge. While I don't quite recall exactly what he said, I do remember him saying bridging placed a lot of stress on the cervical spine. If a Doctor of Chiropractic- as well as one of the most respected exercise authorities- says not to do them, then that is good enough for me. And I can honestly say that I have never done them, nor have I had a desire to try them.

By devoting a small amount of time to developing your neck, you will reap big dividends. A bigger, more powerful neck not only looks impressive, but it can actually be helpful in minimizing injuries to a vulnerable area of the body. Get going and good luck!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Journey Into Strength - By Jeff “T-Rex” Bankens

I would now like to take you on my Journey Into Strength. My aim is to inspire you, encourage you, and help you avoid some of the roadblocks I have encountered during this journey. While I still consider myself on the young side, I have been on traveling on this path for a long time. It actually began in 1977, the year I was born. You see, before I could even speak, I loved strength. While I can’t recall most of my early childhood, I can tell you what I did once a week between ages 1-3. I watched a mild-mannered scientist turn into the most powerful man-like creature to ever walk the face of the earth. I became a full time strength-seeker the first time I saw Bill Bixby morph into the green-skinned Incredible hulk!

Comic books fueled my passion for strength until I was old enough to begin weight training. For me that was age 14. Once I reached this age, I was given permission to workout at a very nice gym my dad had built for his employees, for as many workouts as I could handle. While this sounds like a lifter’s paradise, there were two important things missing: 1) Adult Supervision, and 2) competent instruction. This brought on over training, injury, and a lack of real progress. At this point, I thought I would look to the experts for advice and turned to the muscle comics. We all know where they lead, more disappointing gains and frustration.

At this point I would like to make an appeal to the experienced trainees. Share your knowledge of sensible training with the next generation. Help them navigate past the pitfalls and roadblocks that you came across as a young lifter. That is what I am doing with my son now. While he is only 11 months old, he accompanies me on every workout. Because of this, he is already learning what it takes to be a champion, by example.

We will now return to the journey. I continued to train the same way as described above
throughout high school, college, and the first year or two of my professional career. I went through the motions of 5-6 day a week blitzing & pumping for all of those years with little to show for it. I knew that I needed a change, and even began praying for change! At that time (about 2002-2003), I saw an advertisement for a book titled Dinosaur Training in the back of Iron Man magazine. I bought the book, read it carefully, and began implementing the principles into my training. My life was forever changed. I started gaining strength, muscle, and power in every lift.

It was also at this time in my life that I experienced a spiritual change. You see, deep inside my heart I knew that my new-found strength would be used to help others. I didn’t know how yet, but I would find out very soon. Over the next couple of years, I began to learn how to (crudely) perform a few old time feats of strength. This includes ripping a phone book in 1/2 with my bare hands and bending a 60 Penny nail into a “V” shape. I began to perform these feats for family and friends on occasion, but did not yet perform in public. I was far removed from a real-life performing strongman. Over the next couple of years I continued to increase my repertoire of feats, as well as perfecting the feats I already learned. After 3-4 years of practicing, I was given my first opportunity to perform in public! It was at a children’s church service. The whole show consisted of maybe 3-4 feats and lasted all of maybe 10 minutes. To me it seemed like an eternity!

I continued to have opportunities to perform from time to time, but nothing steady. I did not let this stop my journey. Instead, I used the time to keep honing my skills and increase my overall strength. This quiet period taught me something. If you have a dream, hold onto it with bulldog determination! Whether we are talking about a 500 pound squat, or a world record setting feat of strength, any dream worth having takes lots of hard work and preparation!

Finally in 2008 I received my first big break. I was given an opportunity to travel with a strength team. We traveled across the U.S. as far west as North Texas, and as far East as Upstate New York. We performed feats of strength and spoke at churches, schools, and even a private college. It was at this time that I learned how to perform in front of crowds and speak in public. Without this time on the road I would not be the strongman I am today.

Since then I have been blessed with the opportunity to speak and perform in front of thousands of people, I have been featured on television, and I have even set three world records. All of this came about because I did not quit! When my training failed me, I did not quit! I searched until I found the training style that works best for me. When my dream did not come to fruition immediately, I did not quit! I used the time I was given to perfect my craft.

When my 250# sandbag did not move off the ground, I did not quit! I worked on it until I was able to lift it and carry it. What will your response be to your next dream? Will you fight for it, or will you take flight? My advice is for you to take hold of that dream and never let go! You have no control over where your life begins, but you do have some say in where it will end.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Advanced Techniques - By Dave Yarnell

Old school progressive training programs are about as un-complicated as it gets. It is where just about everyone that has picked up a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell began their journey, and the beauty of it is that it works. It works for everyone, even us so-called “hard-gainers”. Now there is an interesting term, perhaps over-used over the years just a wee bit. In my opinion, the majority of strength and body- building trainees fit nicely into this category.

Then you have your Steve Reeves types, which really are few and far-between, being highly blessed in the gene pool game. So if old school linear progression works just fine, why the need for all the other variations that have come down the pike? Well, because though simple straight-forward progression works, it gradually slows or even stops producing gains for most of us over the long haul. The same awesome adaptability the good Lord built into our amazing bodies that causes them to grow stronger in response to being over-loaded, ironically is the problem when it comes to sustaining gains. Your body adapts to the stimulus and the stimulus no longer creates new adaptation. 

There are a whole bunch of possible responses to this predicament; one of which is to just give up, get back on the couch, grab the chips, your favorite beverage, and live vicariously through all those fitter and faster folks that earn their bread and butter through athletic endeavors. Many, unfortunately have chosen that path, but if you are taking the initiative to read this article, you probably are not in that group. Another route is that well known short cut to gains known as performance enhancing drugs, which also have lured many, but though the promised gains are legit, they do not come without strings attached. Again, if you are reading this article, posted on, this path is clearly not the one you have chosen, and I believe you have chosen wisely in that case. 

So where does that lead us? It leads us to what many have called ‘advanced techniques”, or “plateau busters” or some other such jargon. Such techniques as forced reps, super sets, giant sets, negatives, time under tension manipulations, heavy partial movements, cheating movements are just a few that come readily to mind. You will run into those folks who swear by one of these as superior to all others, and some who bad math most of them, or still others that have tried with some favorable results just about all of them. My friend Joe DiMarco, one of the founding members of the original Culver City Westside barbell club has an interesting idea about these plateaus we all face. His mindset is to just stay with the program and be content with slow or no gains for a while. Perish the thought? Heresy? Joe’s reasoning on this is that tendon and ligament strength just takes longer to respond than does that of muscle tissue, so the plateau is like your body’s little trick to keep things in balance. Eventually, when the balance has been restored, the gains start to improve again, according to Joe. I cannot tell you if this is scientifically valid, but it is certainly an interesting viewpoint, at least. 

The concept is a hard sell in today’s instant gratification society, though. OK, so let’s talk about some of these advanced training techniques. There are 2 that jump to mind as the most misunderstood and overly used in the game. You guessed it, my friends, I am talking about forced reps and cheating reps. In every commercial gym I have been in, I have seen these 2 methods horribly abused, often to the point of absurdity. I think we have all seen the “spotter” doing heavy rowing motions over the “lifter” supposedly doing bench presses with far more weight than he is capable of properly handling. This form of what are alleged to be forced reps is pretty much worthless and a waste of time for all involved (excepting maybe the spotter getting a good workout in some cases). The old Culver City method was called “the touch system”, and there were several articles in the old Muscle Builder magazines about this system (all reprinted in my book on the group). In their application, the spotter would more feign assistance than actually give any. As soon as the spotter touches the bar, the lifter assumes he is getting just enough help to finish the rep, and he naturally follows through.

This was more of a mind game than a physical thing, and most of us that have spent lots of hours in the gym realize just how important the mind is in accomplishing anything worthwhile in the iron game. This method was (is) vastly superior to the version commonly practiced by most folks these days. What about cheating? There have been volumes written on the pros and cons of the cheating method, with an on-going debate over whether it is a valid method at all. I think much of the controversy is based on the over-use and abuse of what I believe to be a very valid method. Some wise man once said “there is cheating, and then there is CHEATING”. Duh, right? In most areas of life, cheating is not a good practice, but in the iron game, a little cheating goes a long way. My rules for acceptable cheating? First, don’t jump right into cheating in any particular exercise; rather, perform some strict, full range movements with weights that allow this. Next, cheat only as much as absolutely needed to complete a rep(s) with a challenging resistance level. For example, using a little bit of swing or “body-English” to complete a heavy curl, then fighting the descent of the weight on its way down offers far more benefit than loading up twice as much weight as you can legitimately handle and swinging the weight with all the momentum you can muster to complete every rep. These ideas are far from rocket science; really just common sense which sometimes seems sadly lacking in some of our training environments. Maybe next time, we will cover some other of these techniques. Until then, train hard, train smart, and God bless your endeavors. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

A New Year and New Resolutions - By Jim Duggan

It's that time of the year. The time when just about everyone makes New Year's resolutions. And in about two or three weeks, most-if not all-of these various resolutions will be history. As it relates to exercise and fitness, most people resolve to either lose weight, or to work out more. Unfortunately, most people make resolutions that are not only unrealistic, but are just about impossible to keep.

If you've spent the better part of the past year sitting on your fat aspirations and think that you will start the new year by going on a strict diet and lose a lot of weight in a short time, you are kidding yourself. Likewise, if you've spent the last twelve months having lifted nothing heavier than a fork, and think that you will all of a sudden hit the gym everyday and become a Hercules by the end of the month, then give me a call. I've got some NY Giants playoff tickets I'd like to sell you. 

The fact of the matter is that any goal- whether it be losing weight or getting stronger- requires a plan. The plan should include short-term as well as long-term goals. The goals have to be specific. As well as realistic and progressive. Simply stating " I want to lose weight" is not going to be enough. You must have a short-term goal, a deadline for that goal, and a plan to reach that goal. If you state that you want to get stronger, without having a plan, and a series of short-term poundage goals, then you will not be successful.    
Now, in order to be able to attain your goals, you are going to have to work. Everybody wants to shoot for something, but if you are not willing to put in the effort, then you will just be wasting your time. Before you can put in the effort, you must be willing to ask yourself some serious questions. And you must be honest with yourself. What are your strong points? More importantly, what are your weak points? How do you plan on enhancing your strong points while trying to improve your weak points? What will it take to remove any and all obstacles standing between you and success?

When it comes to losing weight, you can forget about fad diets and the supposed weight-loss supplements that are being advertised. They won't work. There is no secret, no matter what the infomercials tell you. You must burn more calories than you consume. Simple thermal dynamics, if you will. If you need dietary advice, seek out a registered dietician or qualified nutritionist. Do NOT seek advice from people at the gym. Unless, of course, you are fortunate enough to train in the company of dieticians, nutritionists, and doctors.

As far as working out is concerned, you must have a sensible workout plan. A program that consists of the basic movements like Squats, Bench Presses, Deadlifts, and Overhead Presses will provide all the stimulation you will need. If you train consistently, and progressively, you will make gains. If you give yourself ample time to recover, you will avoid going stale. This will go a long way in maintaining your enthusiasm. There are many talented writers on this website, and the articles contained herein offer a number of basic, no-nonsense training information. There is also a vast wealth of information available in the strength training books offered on this site. (See the links to All of them are top-quality, written by some of the legendary figures in the Iron Game. But no matter how much good information you have at your disposal, it is ultimately up to you to provide the effort. Nobody can supply that but you. This may mean waking up extra early in order to get to the gym and lift. Or it may mean giving up something else that you prefer to do. A good motto would be "Whatever it takes." Decide what will required to reach your exercise goals, then go and do it. Sure, there will be effort required, but isn't it worth it? And if you're worried about the gym being too crowded at this time of year don't worry. In a few weeks the crowds will drop off dramatically. And more resolutions will have vanished. Until next New Year's. 

Happy and Healthy New Year to Everyone!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Join me in the Lawnmower Challenge! - By Jeff Bankens ... (Try this out next summer!)

If you are like me, then you may find it challenging to get everything done around your house. During the spring and summer, that includes weightlifting, cardio/endurance training, and taking care of my lawn. One day, as I was getting ready to mow my lawn, it occurred to me that I could combine each of these tasks into one full body workout! I call it “The Lawnmower Challenge”. As you will soon find out, one of the great things about this challenge is that it can be changed / adapted to almost any season, climate, or landscape. To complete “The Lawnmower Challenge”, you will need the following pieces of equipment: 1) A walk-behind lawnmower ( “Self-Propelled” mode is Disengaged) 2) A lawn to mow 3) An O2 Trainer (I tend to use a lower setting on this exercise, going no higher than Level 6) 4) 5 – 10 Odd Objects (Rocks, boulders, Atlas Stones, Kegs, Sandbags, etc.) 5) A stopwatch (optional) 6) **Don’t forget your Water** I will now give an overview of the “challenge”, before explaining it in more detail: Step 1) I mow my lawn with a small push mower, while utilizing the O2 Trainer and nose clip. This usually takes me about an hour to complete (At this point I mow the entire yard, except for the small strip surrounding my odd objects). I recommend that you start with setting 1 on the O2 trainer, and gradually work your way up. This is especially important in the summer months, when heat and humidity are at peak levels. 
Step 2) I park the mower near the odd objects so that I can mow the grass under them, once they are moved out of the way.
Step 3) Begin timing yourself with the stopwatch. Next, move the odd objects from their resting place to a spot near the fence, using a combination of bear hugs, push jerks, and carries. This allows me to mow the grass that they rest on. I do this while still wearing the nose clip and O2 Trainer. I have intentionally stacked these objects in such a way that they must be moved in order for me to be able to mow the lawn.  
Step 4) I restart the mower and finish my lawn mowing task.
Step 5) I have finished mowing and each object is carried back to its original resting place, utilizing the same techniques described in Step 3. Stop the stopwatch. Keep a record of your times so that you can try to beat your personal best each time you take on the challenge.
Step 6) I remove the O2 Trainer and nose clip, and then store the lawn mower in my shed.
Step 7) I rest, rehydrate, and enjoy the rest of my day. There are several reasons why I like to do “The Lawnmower Challenge”. First, it is a great test of your fitness and strength level. After all, you’re following up an hour of fairly hard cardio with heavy lifting. I know that if I can get through the challenge on a hot, humid day, my strength will not fail me in real life situations. This also lets me know that I have still “got it”. Secondly, the challenge allows me to incorporate a great full body workout into my weekly yard work. This results in a huge time savings. With the schedule I have, it is important that I squeeze in a workout whenever I get the chance to do so. Lastly, taking on the challenge builds mental toughness. That is, if you allow it to. What I mean is that you are already tired from the heat, the mowing, and the use of the O2 Trainer. Now you are expected to do some heavy, awkward lifting without the benefit of a proper warm up. If you approach the challenge knowing that quitting is not an option and that you must complete it, you will strengthen your mind every time you take it on. Now that we have established how the challenge works and what it does for you, I will show you how to setup a challenge for yourself, using mine as an example. As you will see in the photos, I have my implements (odd objects) setup in an easily accessible area of my yard. This allows for consistency and ease of use. I have them set in a certain order that I do not change. The order is as follows: 2 stones (50 – 60lbs. (22.7 – 27.2kg) each) 1 Stone (127lbs. /57.6 kg) 1 Stone (149lbs. /67.6 kg) 1 Granite Ball (100lbs. /45.3 kg) 1 Keg (160lbs. /72.6 kg) *This Keg is filled with a combination of sand, water, and bent 60 Penny Nails* 1 Keg (132lbs. /59.9 kg) *This Keg is filled with a combination of sand and water * 1 Concrete Atlas Stone (240lbs. /108.9 kg) *O2 Trainer is set at level 5 for mowing and lifting. Do not be “too tough” to take breathing breaks and water breaks during the challenge. This is very taxing, even on the fittest bodies / minds* Once you establish the setup of your challenge, you must have a way to gauge progression in your performance. This can be done in several of ways: First, you can time yourself, trying to accomplish the same amount of work in a shorter period of time than the last session. Second, you can add implements into your challenge every so often. Lastly, you can do the same amount of work for each challenge, while slowly raising the level used on your O2 trainer. Using any of these methods (or a combination of all 3) will give your body a challenge for many weeks, months, and years to come. When you setup your own challenge, remember this: We do not all live in Louisiana, USA. We also do not all have the same type of yard or training implements. We all do have the opportunity to transform our daily or weekly outdoor chores into an amazing workout. Take this into consideration as you begin taking on the Lawnmower Challenge. Before I leave you to setup your own challenge, I want to say thank you for taking the time to read this article, and I pray God blesses your fitness endeavors.

Jeff's Website

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bruno’s Health Club Powerlifting Team Tribute - By Chris Newins

Bruno's Dinner Photo: L-R Carl Calleca, Mike Duschette, Bob Sailor, Chris Newins, Dr Rich Siebert, Tommy Tedesco, Jimmy Duggan
Let me start off by introducing myself as this is my first article for Bob. My name is Chris Newins and I am a lifetime drug free powerlifter, strongman and weightlifter. Fans of Bob’s Mind Force Radio pod casts might recognize my name as Jim Duggan mentions me, as well as other lifters from our old “Bruno’s Health Club” powerlifting team during his interviews. We also had a thread on Bob’s old Natural Strength Inner Circle website about the old Bruno’s gym.

I first met Larry “Bruno” Licandro on June 1, 1979 when I joined my first gym, the old Olympic Health Club in Hicksville LI NY. I was 14 years old and weighed in at about 132 pounds. Bruno worked at the gym. Back in those days, employees at the gyms would actually instruct new members in proper lifting technique and set up a program for them. Now, all they seem to be interested in is getting a commission for signing up new members and selling “Personal Training” packages.

Every time I went to the gym (which was everyday) Bruno would say, ”Hey kid, where is your membership card?”, and I would have to show him my card to get in. Even though he knew who I was and that I was a member, he would ask for my card every day. On Friday and Saturday nights, he worked a local bar and would go straight to the gym after closing the bar to get few hours of sleep since he had to open the gym in the mornings. He would be sleeping on the couch in the lounge and I would wake him up to “show him my card”. This was the beginning of a friendship that would last until he was killed in a car accident in January of 1995.

Bruno became my mentor at the gym. He set up a program for me to follow and helped me every day. The basic concept was 5 sets of 5 of multi joint, basic exercises. Squats, dead lifts, bent rows, bench press (both flat and incline), shoulder presses, shrugs, close grip bench, and pull ups. He would also have me do ab work and yes, even curls. This was broken down as chest, shoulders and triceps on day 1, back and biceps day 2 and squats day 3. I would not take any days off, and would just repeat the sequence. Since I was only 14, and the gym was about 5 mile from my house, my cardio work consisted of me riding my bicycle to and from the gym every day, with the idea of doing it faster each day. The ride home after squat day was usually very difficult. All reps were to be done with strict form. Squats were to be done to proper depth (top of the thigh at the hip below the knee) and all benches, shoulder presses and close grips were paused. Dead lifts were not hitched and the weight was to be controlled all of the way to the floor. If the reps were sloppy, the set didn’t count and had to be repeated. I worked with Bruno every day that summer and by following his advice, on August 15, the first day of 10th grade football practice, I was 168 pounds. I had put on 36 pounds in roughly 10 weeks. Granted, my body chemistry was naturally changing at the time, but the program that he had me follow had an awful lot to do with it. The program was, on paper, simple, but it was a lot of hard work. For the most part, it consisted of several basic exercises. And it worked then, and still does today. One of the philosophies he taught me was “You can work out hard, or you can work out long, but you cannot work out hard for long”.
In October of 1980, Olympic Health Club changed hands and Bruno was always banging heads with the new owner, so he opened his own gym and Bruno’s Health Club was born.

As mentioned above, Larry “Bruno” was tragically killed in an auto accident almost 20 years ago. He was a true driving force in the world of Drug Free powerlifting on Long Island. Every year a group of us from our old team get together and celebrate Larry. This year was no exception. This past Sunday seven of us met up at Larry’s favorite restaurant. We still talk about numbers, but only now instead of squats and totals, the numbers we talk about are triglycerides and blood pressure. This year, Carl “Blowfish” Calleca, Mike “Wookie” Duschette, Bob Sailor, myself Chris “Natch” Newins, Dr. Rich Siebert, Tommy “the Thunder” Tedesco and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan were there. All of the nicknames were given by Bruno and most of them “stuck”.

One of the stories we rehashed was took place at a meet in 1985 or so. As a team, we were never much into the supportive squat suits, but some of us did wear them in the meets. Not crazy tight and we could get the straps up without help. Around this time is when we first got wind of this new bench press shirt that was supposed to add up to 15 pounds on your bench. Larry was a light 220 and I had to suck down to make 198, so we were about the same size across the shoulders, with Larry being a little bit bigger. We both chipped in to buy 1 shirt for the meet. Back in those days, the meets were run by “weight on the bar” like an Olympic style meet, not the rounds system that is popular today. We figured that we could both wear the same shirt, just switching off between attempts. Larry went first and missed his opener because the shirt threw him off. Since we both were opening with the same weight, I was next. Larry got up off of the bench, stepped off of the platform facing me. We both bent over at the waist and interlocked hands. Jimmy and Tommy, each on one side of Larry, grabbed the bottom of the shirt and pulled it off of him and right onto me. I then proceeded to miss my opener. Since the meet was run “weight on the bar” Larry was up right after me, so the shirt swap routine took place again, and again Larry missed the lift. I was then up for my second attempt, and yes, another shirt swap, and of course I missed my attempt. For our third attempt at what was our opener, we both went without the shirt and easily made the attempt. That was the last time we tried to use the shirt.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Caught Dead Deadlifting - By Burt Gam

About 10 years ago I happened to meet a cocky young kid who fancied himself a body builder. A rather chunky individual, this character was doing some sort of 6 day split routine just like an IFBB pro might do. Chest/Back on Monday, Legs on Tuesday and shoulders/arms Wedensday and all over again on Friday. It was exhausting just listening to him describe his work out. I guess he had unlimited time and energy. Not me. I had spent countless years learning about what works for me and what does not. Split routines, multi-angular training, drop sets, pre-exhaust systems, nautilus routines and countless other methods. I asked him if he had ever done deadlifts and he said no he had not. I asked him why not try them in his routine instead of the countless other exercises he was doing. He responded by saying "I don't see much point in them. That was the end of the conversation because I could see it was a dead end and a waste of energy and time.

If I had cared to expend the effort I would have told him that by deadlifting alone he could accomplish as much or more benefit than all the lateral raises, leg extensions and arm curls combined he was doing. Technically, I suppose the deadlift would be considered a lower back exercise but that description alone would not do it justice. In reality, the deadlift is a most complete exercise because it incorporates so many different muscles either directly or indirectly, perhaps as much as 70% of the entire body's musculature. The quadriceps, hamstrings, lats, and traps are all significantly activated, as are a multitude of stabilizer muscles almost too numerous to count. Much like the squat, the glandular release of testosterone, growth hormone. and insulin like growth factors combine to produce a potent anabolic effect. Perhaps no other exercise barring the squat is nearly as effective in this regard. Muscular growth and overall useful bodily strength are accelerated to a point where one becomes stronger in other exercises as well. Useful and practical strength with significant core strengthening are promoted. Even grip and forearm strength is significantly improved. All I know is if I knew I was going to prison in 3 months and could only do one exercise to put slabs of muscle on my frame, this is the exercise I would pick! And perhaps a few well placed tattoos to boot!

As old as humans have been roaming the earth, the deadlift may be the most practical and functional lift in existence. From the beginning of time, humans have had to squat down and lift heavy objects from the ground. The lift itself has a stark and primitive nature that is both gratifying and relatively easy to learn as far as technique is concerned. Deadlifts can be quite taxing. After performing deadlifts, one has the feeling that they have truly accomplished something productive. As basic a lift as it is, there is still a need to learn the techniques applicable to the lift, not just for the sake of efficiency but for safety as well. While it may be true that poor technique in the deadlift can put the discs of the lower back at risk, it is just as certain that proper performance can go a long way to prevent lower back injury. Powerful spinal erectors and strong abdominal muscles will act like a girdle to protect the lumbar discs, which when weak are responsible for a large incidence of back pain and problems. 

Rather than try and discuss proper technique for the deadlift which can be practiced and learned, what follows here is a discussion of basic principles on how to incorporate the lift into a routine. First and foremost, the deadlift should be performed early in a routine because of the taxing nature of the lift. If your passion is powerlifting or strength training, perhaps deadlifting one day a week is all that is needed. Sometimes less is better, as it may take some individuals a full week to recover from an intense deadlift work out. The other work outs will focus on some other types of lifts such as squats and bench presses. In fact, since squats incorporate so many similar muscles, it could actually prove to be detrimental to deadlift more often. Squat day would perhaps best be devoted to that lift itself. As far as repetition schemes are concerned, this lift seems to lend itself to low or moderate repetitions to focus on technique, although a few hardcore individuals have used higher reps which can be extremely effective in developing hypertrophy or cardiovascular endurance. This method can be extremely taxing and seems to be the exception rather than the rule. For bodybuilders who seem to prefer devoting each workout to a different area of the body, deadlifting on leg or back day can work just fine. Again, it would be prudent to prioritize the deadlift as the first exercise of the day or performance is likely to suffer due to fatigue. Also, some workouts incorporate the squat and deadlift on the same day, but in this instance one or the other is likely to suffer. In this case, if one is performing both exercises twice a week on the same day, train each lift heavy on one day and light on the other day to avoid overtraining. There are many different ways to train and no single right way, just general principles. Everyone is different so by trial and error see what works for you. The main thing is to make steady progress by gradually increasing the poundage. When progress stalls, some kind of change is in order or perhaps a layoff is required. Try and incorporate the deadlift into a 12-14 week cycle and take a much needed and deserved rest. Also, due to the compressive forces on the spine while performing squats and deadlifts, it is wise to perform some flexibility work after lifting to help prevent muscle pulls and tears and relax the muscles for overall back health.

To summarize, whether your passion is bodybuilding , strength training, or general fitness, consider making deadlifts a part of your program. It is truly an all around exercise with all around benefits.

Friday, December 11, 2015

High Rep Stone Workouts and El Nino - By Jim Duggan

The Northeast part of the country has been experiencing unusually high temperatures lately. While many meteorologists have attributed this to the powerful El Nino that is taking place in the Pacific Ocean, some weather experts are simply explaining the unexpected warm weather to the random nature of weather patterns. Whatever the reason, El Nino or just the fickle nature of Mother Nature, it has given many a strength athlete in the New York area reason to say "Thank You" for the opportunity to train outdoors well in the Christmas season. To anybody reading this in the Southwest, and who is bearing the brunt of El Nino, I am sorry if it seems like I am rejoicing at your bad fortune. I am not, of course. I am simply happy to be able to continue with some high-rep stone workouts withoutt having to bundle up in layers.

The last month or so, I have tried to take at least one stone workout a week. I would work out at the gym on my second training day. I would not usually lift more than twice per week if I am doing the stones. Lifting heavy stones taxes your entire body, and doing them for high reps leaves your sore for days. Of course, everybody is different, and one of the most important things that any trainee has to determine is the right amount of work that he/she is capable of doing without overtraining. Whether you train using free weights, machines, or a combination of modalities, the second-to-last thing you want to do is overtrain. The LAST thing you want to do is injure yourself. If you are a hard gainer, you might want to limit yourself to two full-body workouts per week. If you are able to handle more, than proceed cautiously and add a third workout to you weekly routine. You know yourself better than anybody else. Don't try to copy someone else's program. In lifting, or in life itself, if you try to imitate someone else you will be a poor imitation. Also, by all means, do NOT buy the latest muscle mags and attempt to follow one of the bogus routines offered by some steroid bloated so-called champion. Train hard, but intelligently.

Anyway, back to the stones. I have five spherical stones. Atlas, or McGlashen, type stones if you will. They are spherical. However, if you have access to natural stones, then by all means you can train with them using the same ideas in this article. My five stones range in weight from 145 Lbs. up to 300 Lbs.. I've used all five at various times, however, for the high-rep stuff, I usually stick to the 145, 180, and 220 pounders. When I say high reps, that can vary as well. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I took out my 145 Lb. stone and did a total of 100 reps. The actual workout consisted of lifting the stone and shouldering it for a number of reps ( usually 10-12) then going inside and doing 15 Hindu Push-ups. I would rest one minute then go outside and do another set of stones. I continued in this manner until I completed 100 reps of each movement.

My most recent workout took place on Tuesday, December 8. This time I decided to use the 180 Lb. stone. I wanted to do as many reps possible in an hour. I did not do any other exercise that day. I felt really good and was able to shoulder it 73 times. The actual time was slightly over an hour, but I felt strong during the set and was not getting overly fatigued. There was on drawback. Since it was warm, and I was not wearing a long-sleeve shirt, my forearms were taking a beating. The granite was tearing into my skin and by the end of the workout, my forearms were raw.

I would like to say a few words about torn skin and stone lifting. I do not wear sleeves, gauntlets, or tacky. I don't even like using chalk, and of course I do not wear a belt. I realize that this an individual choice, and there may be some people reading this who adamantly disagree with me. Again, you know yourself better than anybody. It is simply my choice to not wear any of those things. And while I would never criticize anybody wearing sleeves to protect their arms, I do have some questions about why anybody would opt to use tacky. Afterall, the whole idea behind tacky is to help your arms adhere to the stone. I realize that if you're competing in a strongman event, you would use whatever is available to assist in lifting the stone, but if you are using the stones to train, then it would be a smart idea to make the movement as difficult as possible. I have always felt the same way about powerlifting. If you are competing, then a supersuit, belt, and wraps are a must. But if you are training, you will build more strength by training without any of that stuff. Squatting and deadlifting without a belt will build tremendous strength, and will actually strengthen your back.

Hopefully, the warm weather will last a bit longer. I have always enjoyed lifting stones, and this favorable weather has only added to the enjoyment. And while a little cold weather will not deter me from attacking the stones, it is always more enjoyable to be able to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Forearms be damned. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Your Name is Brave Heart! - By Russell Smith, (aka Brave Heart)

In 2002, I told a colleague I wanted to start exercising. He couldn’t remember the name, only that the publisher lived in Crete…no, wait, Cyprus. “Russ, I got the strongest when I read that guy’s book and followed it.”  Of course, I tracked down Brawn by Stuart McRobert. To the best of my ability – or the best as I then understood it -- I began exercising. And I subscribed to Hardgainer. After a couple issues, a gym ad attracted my attention. It had a strange sounding slogan: “If you train here, you are not normal!” I noted this gym was located in Washington, DC – at that time, my home. Further, I noticed that the gym’s owner wrote an article in most issues of Hardgainer. Without looking back, I recall articles like “John Grimek Was The Man” and “Training and Eating in The Big Apple.”

These articles told tough tales about tough men and women. They espoused a no-holds-barred, kick-ass attitude; incredibly hard work; perfect form; and competing mostly with yourself and your mind. They exuded energy, enthusiasm, self-reliance, and swagger.  For many months, I pondered calling this author, “Maximum Bob” Whelan. A couple times, I chickened out. I called, then hung up before anyone could answer. The ads, the articles, the attitude intimidated me. I didn’t think I could train with the intensity Bob seemed to demand. That view came mostly from an inner feeling of weakness and a lack of confidence. But it had grounding in fact. 

Shortly after my birth, doctors diagnosed me with a heart problem called tricuspid atresia. The American Heart Association classifies it as a serious heart defect. In 1985, at age 10, I underwent open heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. It has and will always have a significant impact on my life. Notably, I have far less strength and cardiovascular ability than normal people my age. However, compared to patients with this condition, I live an extraordinarily active and independent life. And my parents never allowed me to become consumed with self-pity. They pushed me to participate in activities as much as possible, and attend summer camp far from home each year.

After a time, I realized that not calling Bob was a manifestation of self-pity. And so, in July 2003, I called him, setting up the new client orientation. We went through his usual briefing and Q&A. I explained my heart problem to him, but said within my limits, I would do my best. And Bob gave that Bob laugh saying, “We’ll take it SLOW, Russell. DEATHS are not good for business.”

         We did take it slowly. It takes normal clients three or four workouts to make it through the entire routine; it took me ten or a dozen. But I exercised twice per week, like Bob asked; and I started eating more and better food, like Bob asked. Before every workout, I prepared mentally, like Bob asked. I tried to do a tad better this time than I’d done last time. I attacked the iron. I channeled my anger – from whatever source – constructively in the battle with the iron. But still, I accepted limits: if I didn’t have a great workout, for whatever reason, I shook it off and determined to do better next time.

          As months drifted by, I noticed small but telling differences. I gained some weight, hitting 140 for the first time in my life. Bob would add a pound or two or five to a couple exercises whenever I earned it by my performance. It’d take a workout or two, but I’d lift that new weight to the max reps, demonstrating my new strength.  Perhaps most importantly, I noted an attitude change. I felt tougher – far in excess to the strength gains. I felt more confident and able – in the gym and in life.

          Toward the end of 2003, I came into the gym at 7am one morning. Bob held up his hand, stopping me at the door. He raised his voice above his usual volume and stated, half-laughingly, half-solemnly, “In this gym, your name is no longer Russell. In this gym, your NEW name is BRAVE HEART!”  Dumbfounded, I asked what he meant. “BRAVE HEART! You have a serious heart problem, and yet you work harder than most people, even most of my clients. You come in here each time, and you assault the workout. You have a great, positive attitude. You take this seriously. You do whatever I ask you – no questions asked. You do your best. THAT’S why your name is now BRAVE HEART!”

          So it was, from that moment until Bob and I both departed Washington in 2012. As a postscript, in 2014, my doctors recommended another open heart surgery. In pre-surgery tests, the docs noted the strength of my heart and my active lifestyle. (I went to Chicago myself for the tests; very few patients require no assistance.) In the months leading up to the surgery, I began exercising every day – not quite as intensely as with Bob – but regularly and conscientiously. I also worked harder at my cardiovascular exercise than ever before – in this case, walking longer and farther than ever before. And I also called on the master of mental motivation, “Maximum Bob” Whelan, to put me in the proper mental attitude. Tough but calm. Focused but immersed in life. The couple talks we had brought the old Brave Heart attitude to the fore, and I entered the surgery incredibly well-prepared, mentally and physically.

          The surgery went very well. In nine days, I left the hospital (it was 21 days in 1985, when far different technology and approaches to care prevailed). In about three weeks, I went home. I attacked cardio rehab aggressively and by the end, in March of this year, I felt back to normal. But then, Bob has always told me that I am “NOT NORMAL!”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Assessing Your Potential - By Burt Gam

There is an old saying regarding lifting; "Champions are born and not made". While this does hold a good deal of truth, it by no means diminishes the need for hard work and sound training principles to make it to the top. But what does having good genetics actually mean? It really depends on what type of a trainer a person is. While we cannot control what DNA we are given by our parents, just about anyone can achieve remarkable progress with enough knowledge and fortitude.

Lets look at bodybuilding first. For bodybuilding, the variables to be considered are degrees of or propensity to develop overall mass and muscle density, definition, vascularity, symmetry and proportion. Mass development is dependent upon such things as length of muscle bellies in different groups with associated short tendon insertions, number of muscle cells, as well as circulating anabolic hormone levels such as Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Testosterone, and Insulin Like Growth Factors(IGF). A long muscle belly has the potential to grow larger by virtue of the potential for greater cross sectional area achievement. Short muscle attachments can greatly affect the appearance of a muscle. The ability to put on muscular size with little gains in fat are determined by heredity as well as dietary factors. The ability to  store low amounts of subcutaneous fat while achieving muscle growth greatly affect the definition and vascular appearance of an individual. Overall body proportions, relatively narrow joints and height/weight ratios, and body frame size also contribute to appearance to a large degree.

As an example, two individuals may both claim to have 18" arms which by most standards is quite large when accurately measured. But the visual affect can be worlds apart. In certain cases it will look huge, and in other cases appear a little above average. In general, a person with a higher amount of definition(BF%) may present a much more imposing arm. If one person has a large frame, be tall, or have higher bodyweight the arm may look smaller by comparison. A legitimate and defined 18" arm on most people would certainly appear quite large, but perhaps even more so on a shorter small framed person. A person with longer than average muscle belly lengths in the biceps and particularly the triceps may excel in arm development .Other favorable genetic factors include narrow hips, joints, a tapered waist, even head size. Skin color can affect and produce a leaner look as well.

For a weight lifter, good genetics means possesing above average neuromuscular efficiency or the ability to recruit a larger percentage of muscle fibers in a given muscle group or overall. Coding is the rate of firing of the motor units. The more synchronious   the muscle fibers are firing, the greater the force produced. This would be synonomous with powerlifting or strength training. An Olympic lifter excels because they exhibit great power or the ability to produce force rapidly. These factors are affected by genetics as well as the type of training that these athletes do. A bodybuilder by comparison may appear quite massive but not be capable of producing the same amount of strength or power as power lifters or weight lifters. A weight lifter or a power lifter will be able to produce a relatively higher force or exhibit greater power than a bodybuilder relative to their size. As stated, all of this has to do in large part to genetics and to good solid training principles for each type of weight training.

So what is the point of this information? There was a day many years or even generations ago where weight lifting and bodybuilding went hand in hand. It was typical for an individual to compete in body building and weight lifting competitions on the same night! The names which come to my mind from the distant past are the likes of John Grimek, Reg Park and Marvin Eder. All these individuals excelled in both body building and were exceptionally strong by virtue of the heavy weights that they trained with. Since then, weight trainers have drifted apart and become much more specialized in their training methods. . Today it is rare to find an individual who can successfully compete in both, at least at the higher levels. The ironic truth is that the body proportions which favor one do not seem to favor the other. There have been former weight lifter converts to bodybuilding who by virtue of their small waist size,and large upper arms were not able to achieve the highest poundages, rack the weights easily or show high levels of demonstrable strength. And there are many large framed power lifters and weight lifters who could not achieve the leanness and body proportions necessary to succeed as top body builders. 

A body builder in their most "ripped to the bone condition" will likely be at their physically weakest from dieting and dehydration. While there may exist ways to evaluate potential early on through anthropometric measures, it is at best an inexact science. Most of the time, an individual will learn through trial and error. A person who is genetically gifted to be big and muscular or strong will soon be aware of this regardless of how they train. And because a person may not ever have a chance to get to the top in their chosen sport, they should never be discouraged from trying or make a conscious decision to not train hard. Certainly a stronger body builder and a more athletic physique for a weight lifter would not be a bad thing. Superior strength, health, and physique are all worthwhile goals. By educating ourselves to all aspects of training and working hard and smart we can come as close to approaching our potential as possible. We cannot be the best at everything. But we can be the best that WE can be at anything we set our minds to do!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

West Virginia Basketball Leg Training with Andy Kettler

Choosing The Right Gym - Jim Duggan

For the readers who have the good fortune to be able to train at home, this article might not carry any great significance.  However, for those of us who do not have the option of training at home, hopefully this article will provide some sort of assistance.  Afterall, having the right place to train is vitally important.  The right place will inspire you to train consistently, avoiding the pitfalls of skipped workouts and irregular training. 
Over the years, I've trained at numerous gyms.  The first gym I ever joined was Bruno's Health Club.  I've often spoken-and written- about my experiences at Bruno's.  It's something I never get tired of talking about because it gives me the opportunity to revisit an enjoyable time of my life.  The fact that I keep in touch with the main players of Bruno's Powerlifting Team makes it even more fun to travel down memory lane.  I trained at Bruno's for six years, and while we didn't have fancy equipment or machines, we had the best free weights available.  York equipment to be specific.  What we also had was a great environment in which to train.  Iron Island Gym, on the other hand, had the most extensive array of equipment available, along with a large variety of top-quality bars and unique strength-building items.  In addition, the atmosphere there was positive, supportive, and inspiring.  If you couldn't get inspired at Iron Island, then you should have been embalmed.
When trying to determine the best place to train, there are several important factors to consider.  Probably the most important consideration is the equipment itself.  While it is not necessary to have the latest and newest equipment, you want to have access to quality weights and bars that are adequately maintained.  And, let's face it, it all starts and ends with the bar itself.  While I'm not going to get into an argument about who made or makes the best bars, I will simply say that I started out with York and have maintained a loyalty to York Barbell since the first time I wrapped my fingers around a York bar over thirty years ago.
As important as barbells and free weights are to training, it's surprising to see just how many places skimp on this all-too-important piece of training equipment.  I could never figure out why a gym would have bars that are bent, or bars with non-revolving sleeves, or bars with non-existent knurling.  It's ridiculous to have an otherwise well-equipped gym with quality benches, modern machines, heavy-duty power racks, etc., yet the bars themselves are garbage.  I realize that I was spoiled by training at Bruno's and Iron Island where the quality of the free weights was unsurpassed.  I will devote more time to free weights in a subsequent article.  For now, though, suffice it to say that the idea of having a training facility that utilizes low-quality free weights is misguided at best. 
After equipment, the atmosphere of the gym plays an important role in determining the quality of your workouts, and the satisfaction you derive from training.  At Bruno's, we had a core group of lifters who trained on the same days.  As a contest approached, we'd arrange our workouts so we'd be able to train together at the same time.  I can't begin to describe how much more you can accomplish when you have a group of people working together and supporting each other.  Of course, supporting each other does NOT mean yelling, cursing, screaming and acting like a mad banshee.  You don't get stronger from noise.  You build strength with hard work and consistent training.  Being considerate of others is a desirable trait both in and out of the gym.  We've all seen- and heard- the screamers.  Every gym has them.  They'll scream and yell during every rep of every set. You would think that they are being tortured. What a joke!  What's even funnier is that they usually use baby weights. Which only reinforces the old saying that "empty barrels make the most noise."  Sadly, these yo-yos are unavoidable.  In additions to the screamers, you will also undoubtedly encounter the toners, pumpers, and posers.  These are easily recognizable.  The so-called experts who will expound on everything and spend most of their time pumping the arms and pecs.  They don't train for strength, they just want to pump and tone.  What a colossal waste of training time.  Ignore the toners.  Surround yourself with others who want to train for Strength and Health.

An important aspect of surrounding yourself with the right people is the central theme of this website.  Natural strength.  Not just getting stronger, but doing it the right way.  No drugs.  Unfortunately, many gyms that bill themselves as "hard core" are really places where steroids are prevalent.  I won't beat this to death in this article, I will simply refer to a quote from the legendary strength coach Kim Wood:  " If you take steroids, you are admitting to yourself, deep down, that you don't have enough of what it takes to be a man."  Train hard, consistently, and progressively and the gains will come.  The right way.

Finally, there is one method that I used to determine if a gym was a right fit for me.  I'd walk in, listen to the spiel given by the sales rep, and when he/she was finished I would simply ask two questions.  First I would ask if there was a power rack in the gym.  If they asked what a power rack was, then I knew it was the wrong place for me.  Secondly, I would ask if the use of chalk was permitted.  If the answer was no, then it was time to move on to another place.