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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 of 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. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Big Lew's Gym in Modesto, California - "Where Champions Are Made!"

This is my good buddy Russ Lewis's gym ...aka "Big Lew" -or- Lewnatic!
Me and Big Lew were good friends, training partners and competed together in Powerlifting. We did some serious training (and eating) while in the USAF stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany about 35 years ago!! His name is in my IRON NATION chapter.

In this video, one of Lews Lifters, DEVON WOODALL with 605.

What makes muscles grow? - Jeffrey Siegel

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Thick Bar Training & What Makes It Awesome For Realistic Muscular Power - By Ben Bergman

Normally I do mostly bodyweight plus cable and hammer work but once in a blue moon I like to hit the Iron just to play around with and see where my strength is at. I love doing basic lifts and partials, partials are super fun and you get to move around more weight than in full ROM. One thing that makes it even more awesome is when you challenge yourself on a thick bar. Thick bars aren't generally around most gyms these days which can be a pain in the you know what and some of the weights you want to tackle with a thick bar like presses, deadlifts and curls may not always be possible; That's why I love using Fat Gripz. Just attach one of these suckers to a bar or a dumbbell and get ready for the ride of your life.

The thing is, the challenge of Thick Bar training is not what you can physically lift but how you create so much force internally just to pick up the freaking thing is astounding and adventurous to me. One of my favorite lifts is Deadlifting, pick up a weight and put it down, it is that simple. My best in a full lift is just over 400 lbs which to most in powerlifting is like 10 pounds to them but you have to remember, I rarely ever lift weights so don't put me down just yet lol. With the Fat Gripz they're much more challenging in a partial lift because with heavier weight you have to grip so freaking hard it can crush coconuts. My best at the hand/thigh lift is a bit over 425-435 lbs. if I remember correctly but with these things attached, 315 was a chore. 

I've also used them for putting on the machines but since most machines suck, putting them on a dumbbell o bar is a hell of a lot more fun. I train my tendons mostly and thick bar training is very prominent in building tendon strength because let's face it, most people with the right method can build muscle but it's the tendons that are the true key. When you have mastered heavy weight on the thick bar or dumbbell, everything else seems like a cake walk. Thick bar training has helped me in my bending feats, tearing phonebooks, levering hammers and even in Arm Wrestling; taking down guys as big as 6'3 and over 260 lbs. One kid I challenged that was in his mid 20's had a reputation at work for arm wrestling matches and couldn't even budge me. Besides Arm Wrestling it doesn't matter what sport you're in, thick bar training will catapult your skills within the power of your grip. 

It's brutal, tough and will make even some of the toughest men feel weak. The strongest drug-free lifters believe Thick bars give them that extra edge. The power in your hands can make you or break you in your training and if you truly want to look as powerful and just as strong; go for thick bar training; imagine shooting up your bench press, having a grip that can crush most men's hands, save a person's life with the power of your grip, crush the competition whether you're in MMA, Football, Pro Wrestling, Basketball and other sports. 

Because of Thick Bar Training it has carried over for me like in the last time I was in the gym and haven't lifted in a while and was picking Hundred Pound DB's for giggles to play with in the deadlift. Power up your tendons and that muscular hypertrophy will come in with a vengeance. Be sure to train on days where you can tackle some good weight and only do thick bar training less than a few days a week because it takes serious strength and advanced power to move big weight with these things and you'll be hungry like a mother afterwards trust me. If anyone of you has seen the show Dragon Ball Z, Super Sayian characters eat like monsters after training and it happens the same way in lifting heavy weight because you need fuel son and you eat according to your needs, not what pampas gym trainer tells you about eating this or that; eat when you're hungry and sleep well. Before you know it, muscles will come in like clockwork and you'll be crazy strong in the process.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why the S.A.I.D Principle Should Govern Your Direction in Training - By Paul Marsland

The S.A.I.D principle, what is it, you may well ask? It stands for SPECIFIC ADAPTATION TO
IMPOSED DEMANDS. What that means is that your training should be geared towards a specific goal or outcome. While I'm all for keeping things as simple as possible when it comes to training , there is also a lot to be said for having a clear understanding of the objective and direction you want your training and results to go in. Its no good simply saying “ I want to be bigger” you need to understand the how and why. And this is where the S.A.I.D principle comes into play.

As it states its a response in our case larger muscles ( if that's your goal) to a specific demand, ie resistance training or more precisely anaerobic stress , but its not simply a matter of lifting weights and hoping for the best. Your training and workouts need to be specifically tailored towards the goal of larger muscles. So the focus ( once beyond the beginners phase) becomes more about HOW you lift the weight, with the goal of targeting the working muscles and trying not too involve the outlying muscles too much. The focus is on squeezing and contracting the muscle, not simply lifting it from point A to point B with no real thought. We also need to be training with sufficient volume in order to fatigue the muscles and obtain a good muscular pump.

Lets look at these points in a bit more detail.

Sufficient Volume, just how much is enough? Well there exists no steadfast rules but what I will do is pick two to three exercise which work the muscles from various angles and then perform 2-4 sets depending on the feel I get from each exercise. If I obtain a good pump and my muscles feel sufficiently fatigued I'll call it a day and move onto the next exercise. The idea is to perform just enough work to stimulate your muscles too grow but without over taxing your system. To this point you should train hard but not to the point of total fatigue or exhaustion. Why the need for a pump? You may ask. While there is no solid evidence that a muscular pump is an indication that muscular growth will occur, what it serves as is a psychological indication that we have done “something” positive, it gives us a visual indicator that we are training in a productive manner and
it makes us look temporary bigger, which is no bad thing.

Why not simply train for strength as surely a stronger muscle is a bigger muscle, right? Well yes and No. While an increase in the cross sectional contractile fibers in the muscle may well result in a stronger muscle, as its ability to produce more force is increased this does not mean it will also increase in size. If our training is geared specifically towards simply getting stronger and with minimal frequency and volume, you may well see an increase in workout poundage’s on a regular basis but without a corresponding increase in size. Understand that muscle is very expensive in terms of the metabolic (energy) costs your body has to use to maintain it and if you add muscle these costs increase in proportion. The body by its very evolutionary nature will resist this as much as possible, hence we need to literally force it into making these costly metabolic changes. By means of sufficient, volume, frequency and intensity.

If for example we simply train for strength whilst also using a low volume and frequency approach to training, the body will look for the least metabolically taxing way too adapt, and this is usually in the form of skill acquisition ( ie, you simply get more skilled at lifting heavier weights, think of pure strength athletes such as Power Lifters and Olympic Lifters as examples of this) or via the neurological system, so your body becomes more efficient at recruiting the available muscle fibers. Hence what happens is you continue to get stronger but not any bigger. This is very much a common complaint of those who train in a High Intensity manner. Again remember we are stressing the body anaerobically.

Your body does not know its lifting weights or it understands is that its being exposed to a specific type of stress to which it must adapt specifically. However if that stress is of such an infrequent nature, again it will see no need to adapt in the form of bigger muscles but choose the least metabolically demanding method. Muscle is simply a protective barrier against a specific type of stress, once that stress is ceased, ie you stop training, your muscles begin to atrophy due to the body no longer needing them.

Remember in this instance we are Bodybuilding, I'm not talking of the 300lb steroid using freaks we see today, but Bodybuilding in the sense we are training to look better. So make sure your training is geared towards this. Its OK to want to lift heavier weights and your training will and should involve progressive overload but not at the cost of everything else. You are in charge of your training and the direction it should go in, don't be like the captain of a ship without a sail, aimlessly floating on the sea with no land in sight.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Open Your Mind and Expand Your Horizons - By Burt Gam

People can be funny sometimes. We are taught from childhood that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things. That factual knowledge is undisputable. In weight training, like so many other endeavors, has its proponents, rebels and heretics. We have theories, principles and but a handful of facts to guide us. Look for example how body builders, power lifters and weight lifters have drifted apart. Much like the polarization of people for religious and political beliefs. 

As inflexible creatures as we are we adamantly live and die by these belief. We have become self focused and narrow minded. Instead of focusing on our similarities we focus on our differences. Learning can only take place with an open mind. While each area of focus has distinct goals, objectives and theories, it does not necessarily follow that our training methods are 100% exclusive nor should they be. The truth of the matter is that all three camps have useful things to offer each other. All three train with weights to achieve their goals. They even disagree amongst each other. Without getting into the strength or size issues, it might only be fair to point out that some of the strongest bodybuilders in history have been among the best bodybuilders of their eras. It is just as true that there are some pretty strong power lifters who carry an enormous amount of muscle density. And as for sheer power, and overall athleticism we have our Olympic lifters.

A case can be made for many different theories and training principles that each has its own merit. Why not take the best of all three and incorporate them in designing your program for a stronger, leaner and healthier you? Power cleans and push presses for power development. The "Big Three" Powerlifting Programs, and some attention to a few small muscle groups that need attention can all work together! By developing strength, power and flexibility and size you become a much more well rounded person. You have opened your mind to different ways of doing things.

Here is just one of many examples of a mixed program.

Monday                                        Wednesday                             Friday
1.Deadlifts                                    1. Power Cleans                     1. Push Press  
2 Presses                                      2. Bench Press                      2. Squat
3. Chins                                        3. Dumbbell Row                    3.Good Mornings
4. Narrow bench press                   4. Leg Press                          4. Dips or Incline Press
5. Leg extensions                           5. Pullovers                           5. EZ Curl                         
6. Lateral raises                             6. Leg Curls                          6. Calf Raise

Very basic and simple. The sets and reps can be tweaked for different emphasis of strength, power or size. Or perhaps the basic exercises (not assistance exercises) can be modulated on a linear periodization program with a cycles for each. The possible variations are nearly endless.

Remember above all, there are no one size fits all programs. Use your creativity, open your mind to new horizons.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Stones and Anvils - Jim Duggan

     The New York area has been experiencing unusually warm weather for the last few days.  Because of this, and especially since cold weather is just around the corner, I decided to take advantage of the favorable temperatures and take my workout outside.  Now just to prove that I am not adverse to training outside under less than ideal conditions, some of my most memorable workouts have been in brutally cold  or extremely hot weather.  In years past, when I was training with Drew Israel, we'd train outside, regardless of the weather.  The first time I did a twenty-rep Deadlift workout was a week before Christmas one year.  The temperature was in the teens, with a nice gusty wind.  My biggest concern was not completing the reps, but having my hands freeze to the bar ( something that Drew said had happened to him once!).

     Enough cold talk.  For now, anyway.  This article is about an enjoyable workout under pleasant weather conditions.  The sun was out, the temperature was in the low seventies.  What better way to say good-bye to the nice weather than with an afternoon of lifting granite stones?  Throw in a little anvil work, and you've got the makings of an enjoyable day of training. My plan was to challenge myself with the stones to gauge my progress, and to see how whether the stones would come up easily or not.  I began by doing a couple of warm-ups with my smallest stone ( 145 Lbs.)  Then I did a single each with the 180, 220, and 260. Each time I would pick up the stone, then lift it to my shoulder.  I simply wanted to get an idea what my strength level was, then I began the actual training.

     The workout itself was a variation of a "pyramid rep scheme." 
          145 x 5
          180 x 3
          220 x 2
     Anvil Curl 115 x 10
     Headstrap  115 x 20

     After I did the two reps with the 220 Lb. stone, I would do a set of curls with the anvil.  The anvil I used weighs 100 Lbs., in addition I wrapped a heavy chain around the anvil bringing the weight up to 115 Lbs..  I did ten reps, then I attached my Ironmind Headstrap to the anvil and did twenty reps.  I then rested five minutes before beginning the cycle again.  I repeated this four times.  By the time I wa finished I was feeling pretty beat up.   But I think most people reading this will attest to the fact that a hard workout- whether it be twenty-rep squats, high-rep deadlifts,- will leave you with a feeling of accomplishment.  This is a simple, yet brutally effective workout. Three movements.  It's not something that might be advertised in the muscle comics.  This type of training probably won't give you a pump.  It won't make you "jacked," whatever  "jacked" means.  But it will build real strength.  Strength that will carry over to other areas of your training. 

     A few interesting observations:  As much as I tried to arrange the stones close to each other in order to perform the reps with as little rest as possible, it is very important to take a few seconds to make sure that there is no chance of slipping or tripping.  I must confess that I am not exactly balletic under the most favorable conditions.  Now throw in some uneven terrain ( heavy stones will create small craters when they are dropped) and you can see why maintaining balance is very important.  Also, I never use tacky, gauntlets, or other "aids."  Yes, lifting large granite shperes will tear up your forearms.  But torn skin, and a little pain are small prices to pay for getting stronger.  To quote Friedrich Nietzche, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

     One final note, is that up until the other day, I hadn't done my stones in over six weeks.  However, they felt good and I had no problems getting them on my shoulder.  I felt fresh and strong.  I attribute this to the concentrated back work that I have been doing for the last four months.  When I say back work I do NOT mean endless sets of Lat Pulldowns or Seated Cable Rows.  I was doing Stiff-Leg Deadlifts, Good Mornings, and One-Arm Dumbbell Rows.  I worked the Good Mornings particularly hard.  I remember reading about Bruce Randall and the massive poundages he used in the movement, so I really tried to push the weights.  I eventually got to the point where I did 335 x 6 reps.  I didn't train the Good Mornings heavy every week.  In fact, I settled on a heavy/light program which saw me going heavy one week, then the other week I would perform one all-out set of thirty reps.  I was able to build up to 235 x 30 about a month ago.  I firmly believe that this concentrated work was a big factor in giving me the strength to lift the stones with authority.  If only most trainees would incorporate heavy pulling movements, as part of a total body program, they would build impressive strength, make themselves less susceptible to injury, and increase their muscle mass. 

     With the cold weather coming, I will still attempt to keep up with my stone lifting.  For those of us residing in the North, we really have no choice.  But I don't think I would swap my training conditions with the snow birds, even if I could.  At least, not yet.

Friday, October 23, 2015

ROUND-UP - John McKean

Surprisingly, the fabled super human did not squash me like a bug, spit in my direction, or merely ignore an insignificant little nobody like me! At the time I was a wide-eyed college student witnessing the parade of Iron Game icons who were milling about at one of the famous York Barbell Club picnics at Hoffman's wooded Brookside Park. Brushing my right shoulder, John Grimek and his wife casually strolled by, causing an instant, massive lump to clog my throat! Best I could think to do was croak out a meek "Hi, John!" The mighty Grimek, huge arms in full display in a cut sleeve t-shirt, merely extended his hand in warm greeting and genuinely replied " Hey, great to see you! How's your training coming along?" Then he started gabbing as if we'd been long time buddies and avid training partners! Naturally a crowd quickly built around our discussion, amid other queries from the group, when it occurred to me to ask about a point made in a recent issue of John's MD magazine.

Questioning him about a very interesting, unique arm building article (written by Mr. Universe, Tom Sansone), where the major premise was always to keep training time short by constantly CHANGING bi/tri exercises every workout, I was wondering if John himself shared that author's conviction." OH, yes, ABSOLUTELY" emphasized John, "especially if you desire to greatly increase STRENGTH as well!" That statement shocked and puzzled me, as I'd assumed that one had to labor through a movement for quite a while in order to reach decent poundage. Only much later in life did I come to realize that this all-knowing lifting guru had provided the quintessential KEY to much of his own fabled super strength, and gave a glimpse to the brilliance he acquired from instinctual power work during his youth.

Of course, VARIETY is also the essence of ALL-ROUND competition, which I've been involved with exclusively for the past 3 decades. (In fact, John Grimek was our first inductee to the USAWA Hall of Fame!) However, for most of that time it's been a struggle to include a fairly good range of official lifts (we have nearly 200 events!) into workouts without spending entire days in the gym. So, to chase Grimek's lead , I read "between the lines" in accounts of his earliest training ; seems he followed a basic, constant pattern in standard, heavy exercises, but usually ended with a single massive effort on some odd strength feat. Never much in favor of "sets/reps", he'd just extend one big all-out push, pull, partial, or hold. And, of course, ALWAYS experimenting with something new, unusual, or different.

Now, it occurred to me, some 50 years since I first marveled over Grimek's sage advice, that I can save time in the gym, yet train a bigger variety of lifts more effectively if I only tweek John's essential power building KEY a bit. Simply, I needed to start with a moderately loaded barbell, build up weight in increments (such as 20 pounds each set), and perform a semi-challenging LIFT that will "FIT" each different poundage. For example, the other day I began with a fairly heavy curl, added 2 ten-pound plates, did a single bent arm pullover off the floor, then an increment up for a row. Twenty more pounds for an easy one- arm deadlift. And on up (lots of ten-pound plates laying there!) through subsequent singles for a hack lift, Ciavattone pull, heels together deadlift, Jefferson (or straddle), 12" base deadlift, 2 bars deadlift, and finish with our heavy Kennedy lift. Yep, an eleven "event" total, great variety, decent strength output (mostly along similar "off the floor" lines), and, most importantly, no multiple set drudgery or boredom at all! Heck, I thought I was competing in one of the USAWA's exciting "record day" events (in itself, a form of this training system)! At the rather fast termination to the workout, in fact, my mind & mood were as "pumped" as my legs and back were!

Next workout, if I don't decide to change the list completely, I'll merely add 5 pounds to the initial lift in that sequence, which, of course, puts an additional nickel on EVERY lift. Advancement will continue until some weak link in the chain becomes a "partial"; there's never such a thing as a "miss" - max effort is always a BUILDER! Besides, no lift stays stuck for long, as each in the series tends to boost and strengthen all others!

My training partner, 88-year-old (!!) USAWA patriarch Art Montini, has been following his own version (Art's well thought out plans feature 28 lifts, not done all at once, but 7 lifts per session, alternating each workout) of this "Round-Up" for years with considerable success. Art recently won (again!) the IAWA World Championships in Scotland, and is second all time on our national record list with over 400 current marks in various age and weight divisions. His brief, variety-enhanced workouts begin at 4 AM EVERY morning, finish quickly before 5, then has him bounding through the day with unbelievable vigor!

Want the strength of Grimek and the longevity of Montini? Forget all useless, time-robbing set/rep systems and "Round-Up" for an instant power surge, vastly increased energy, and all-round versatility!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Truth Will Set You Free - By Dick Conner

What most people need as far as help in weight training, is the constant reminder: do the hardest Exercises in the hardest way possible.

When I was young in the year of 1952 every coach I knew believed in calisthenics as the best way to exercise. Everyone I knew believed that you would get "muscle bound", which would make you slow not only in running but in thinking! None of the above bothered me, as I was already slow and dumb. I had no direction and even though I had a set of weights I desperately needed help, as what to do with them.

However if the truth had been put before me, I would not have understood – worse yet I would not have believed.

It has been said “the truth will set you free”. Give much thought to the above “the truth will set you free”, because the easiest thing to sell is a lie.

Lie #1 Train more – no – If you train more than 5 to 8 sets in a workout you are not training hard.

Lie #2 The strongest and best built in the gym know more – no – in almost every case they know less.

Lie #3 Train 4 to 6 days a week – no- Never train over twice a week. If that doesn’t work, go to 6 times a month, and yes, some can even train one time a week.

Lie #4 Jerk and yank on weights to get stronger – no- move very slow and controlled, which is harder. This will save your joints and make you stronger.

Lie #5 Last and easiest to sell lie – to get faster you must move the weight fast – no- to get faster move the weight until you can’t move it – doing no more than 8-12 reps.

Remember: “the truth will set you free" ... and, the truth is: ... a lie is easy to sell!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Weak Link - By Burt Gam

Back in 1993 when I was working in a mail processing facility I landed my dream job in a small post office. No more working nights and weekends! When I got there, naturally I was pre-occupied with learning my new job. I was not expecting to be the victim of a work place bully. Being the new kid on the block I might have anticipated a bit of "friendly razzing", but not the kind of wise-a-- remarks being directed towards me by this jerk. Now to most people I do not appear a likely target at 5'11 and 215 solid pounds. This mail carrier went about a buck 65 and looked like a one punch knock-out. What was he thinking? After a week or two I expected it to blow over. It did not. Now being generally good natured, I decided one day that today will be the last time I would be dealing with this pain in the a--!

Outside, I confronted my nemesis and extended my hand in a friendly manner to say good morning. He looked at me strange and took my hand to shake it. Big Mistake. Tears of pain filled his eyes. After I decided he had enough and released his hand, all he could do was slither into the bathroom to run cold water on his hand and yell for a supervisor. Now assaulting an employee can certainly get you fired, but shaking someone's hand too hard? I honestly believe that management was secretly happy that this problematic individual finally got his just rewards! Not my proudest moment, but needless to say I didn't hear any more crap!

Someone once told me that the true measure of a man's strength is in his grip. Certainly a lot can be gleaned from a handshake, even strength of character. Having a strong grip certainly has its advantages beyond dispatching wise-guys. For a weight trainer, having a strong grip has a lot of carry over to training. Yet after shaking hands with a good many people through the years and some pretty big dudes to boot, I am hear to tell you that grip work is probably the most neglected aspect of training. To me, nothing is more disappointing than a big guy with huge body parts and a weak grip. Back in the day, lifters and strongmen had tremendous strength in their hands and forearms. They were every bit as strong as they looked. Manual laborers too.

As a lifter, a strong grip has many advantages. Exercises such as deadlifts, shrugs, chins, and various forearm exercises with fat bars certainly will work. But sometimes something more is needed.

What can a powerful grip do for you? For one thing, it will help many of your lifts increase. Try doing deadlifts with a weak grip. I have actually missed lifts because of grip failure, which is why I never use straps. Even presses and rowing exercises will benefit. There are very few lifts indeed that do not incorporate the hands. In every day life too. The carry over is obvious. I realized this when I lifted heavy mail all day, carried grocery bags up the stairs, stripped the heads off of nuts and bolts, and opened pickle jars for my wife. Your hands are your most important tool in the box!

But if you are desiring a truly powerful grip of epic proportions, you need to invest in a hand gripper. Not just any hand gripper mind you. I am talking about a variable resistance fully adjustable hand gripper with heavy duty springs. Not the kind you find in typical sporting goods store. I am talking about a real man toy.

While I am not here to endorse any products, I do have a favorite. There are a few on the market that fit the bill. At least one comes in a set with each gripper being progressively stiffer to promote strength gains. My choice is known as "Super Gripper" manufactured by Ivanko. It kind of resembles a closed horse shoe with two thick high tension springs. It is fully adjustable in what ever increments are comfortable for you. I have personally used it for years and believe me it works! My lifts are better, in particular my deadlifts. It can be ordered out of some muscle magazines or online. As stated, there are other products out there and I am not endorsing. As long as they meet the criteria of progressive resistance and fit your hand size you will not go wrong.

As for programming, I train on it 2-3 times per week pretty much like other body parts. I prefer a higher volume work-out using something like 15-12-10-8-6-4-and sometimes 2 with increasing tension, but straight sets work too if that is your preference. Just about any set and rep scheme will work. Just remember to warm up first. It is entirely possible to injure your hand, wrist and forearms just like any other muscles. The wrist and forearm flexors and extensors are worked thoroughly. You will notice a difference fairly quickly, just take it slow and steady in the beginning. In addition, you will notice a difference in your forearms as far as size and vascularity, especially if this is a problem area for you. Remember, the body is mechanically a kinetic chain.What ever type of lifting you do, bodybuilding, powerlifting, or just want to teach wise guys a lesson, don't let your grip be your weak link!