Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tribute to Dr. Ken - By Linda Jo Belsito

Kathy, Sol, BariAnn, Bari, Doris, Greg, Kevin, Family and Friends.

As I sat down to write about my memories of Ken, I wasn’t sure how or where to begin. My mind has been flooded with 40 plus years of so many memories. How can I put all of this into words? As I read the tributes over the past week the recurrent themes I read were: He was a Dr. of Chiropractic, dedicated father, husband, son, brother, grandfather, friend, mentor, motivator, coach, great man, real, honest, smart, author, gentle, brilliant, motivator, pioneer & historian in the iron game and strength world. He was all of those things and more to me, as I called him my brother from another mother.

I received a call last Saturday afternoon on my way home from my gym which he helped me build.
All of us have some piece of equipment from his home gym or had something donated from someone he contacted to help us build his legacy. We will carry on his traditions of paying forward in the world of strength training.

Nothing made his chiseled face light up more than when he would give you a new piece of equipment, t shirt, steak, or slip you some cash as you walked out the door. Paying it forward was something he did constantly. He still is by asking us to donate to the kids in his community he has helped for so many years.

Beth and I worked for Ken and Kathy in his Chiropractic office from 1986- 1992. We were reminiscing, about the basement gym, the juke box, where he and Kevin allowed us to pick a song to train to after everyone else was done. 60 minute Man comes to mind. What he did for so many was taught us how to find that inner strength, mentally and physically. He lived that life, he had this charismatic way of making you want him to bring you to that next level. He would not give you any leeway, he would not ask you to do anything he had not done, or wasn’t willing to do along with you. If your goal was to get stronger, he was going to get you there.

I was blessed when he came into my life over 40 years ago at a local powerlifting meet on Long Island. I have to be honest, I was a little afraid of this guy with tattoos, who was running the meet. I guess he saw potential. He introduced himself “ I’m Dr. Ken”. He gave me his information in case, I wanted to get serious. I had no idea that in a short time I would be calling on him for help. I took him up on that after a squat work out when I attempted 225 lbs., pulled something in my low back. I went to the ER, where the physician said, “ women don’t lift weights! They gave me pain meds, told me to sit on ice and heat, rest and don’t lift.

I called Ken and told him what happened, and in Ken fashion, he said, “F**K that, get in here, I will adjust you and you will be back in the gym this week. “ And I was.

He has helped athletes of all walks of life. Many came to Ken wanting to train. But he gave us so much more. He made us all stronger, not only physically but mentally. He could explain the how and why, we needed to do something, due to his knowledge in the Iron Game that goes back so many years. But we all remember the experiences of those high rep workouts, where we either hit the bucket, or would attempt to stop, and his words were “ I didn’t tell you to F** ing stop”.

We did HIT training back then, which I incorporate every now and then with my athletes.

I traveled with Ken doing lifting exhibitions on Hammer equipment, did seminars, visiting colleges, and he also would take me to competitions to get the experience I needed in PL since he believed I could be a champion one day. He taught me how to find that inner strength. He let me figure out what it meant to be a mentally and physically strong in a world that did not yet accept female strength athletes.

Something he always demonstrated was unbelievable stamina, resilience, and a never quit, positive attitude to a degree where we questioned if he was human? Does he eat? Does he sleep? I could never figure that out. But believed in him and he would always greet me with a big hug and That great smile.

What I do know is, when he did eat, it was for the masses and he loved good food. He introduced me to Peter Lugers, steak tartar. He invited me to Thanksgiving dinner and asked me to help make smashed potatoes, which was a back and tricep workout. He would have summer strength events and BBQ’s, and pudding pie fights with the kids in the backyard of valley stream. We would train in the cold garage fully clothed, but completed the workout only to come inside and have Kathy waiting with something great to eat. His legacy will live on in everyone he has touched, mentored or trained. From local high schools, college, pro teams to helping produce an Olympic Champion Derrik Adkins.

He made us mentally and physically strong. He gave me unconditional love, friendship, guidance, and always followed through on anything I asked of him. He made me a better person and my successes in life and lifting I can say are because of him.

I find myself doing what he did for me with my athletes, young kids, children, and most recently the wounded warriors, marines, and Army soldiers who come into my gym to find that strength. I make it a safe place for all. I expect as he did that you train well, stick to the program and make the most of that training time.

All of us who have had the opportunity of training under Dr. Ken, know the lessons we have learned from him. We all can probably recite the stories he would tell about back in the day, when strength training for him consisted of lifting steel beams, sand buckets, in his garage, and the stories of trips he took to York Barbell to pick up equipment in a massive snow storm back in the 60’s.

What amazed me about this when I read it, is that the rack he picked up on that trip, he gave to me for my home gym back in 1986. I have it in my gym now. Beth and I worked for Ken and Kathy as their rehab nurses, in Valley Stream and it was some of the best times of our lives. Not only did we get great experience and learn, but he would always have perogies, cheesecake, steak, or Graters Ice Cream, to help us get stronger, after a workout.

Ken was real. He said what he felt. He was misunderstood by many, but to those of us who he loved, you knew you were loved. This man would give you anything to help you succeed, or put you in touch with those who could help you.

If he is listening now, just hear this. We didn’t tell you to Fucking STOP!

To say I will miss Ken, is an understatement. I will miss his hugs, calls, emails, that great laugh, and of course the events he held at his home. His absence is felt by us all. Our hearts are broken, But I know every time we step in the gym, now more than ever, we will be living his legacy and paying it forward as he taught us to do. I know we will meet again someday at his “Iron Island In the Sky”.

In Strength, LJ your sister.

Editor's Note: A Great Tribute to Dr Ken Lindo Jo! 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Much Respect and Rest In Peace Dr. Ken - By Bob Whelan

I really only knew Dr. Ken in a professional way, mostly in the 90's when we both wrote for some of the same magazines and he contributed a chapter for my book IRON NATION. I also got the idea of having a puke bucket in my gym after watching a few of his training video's! It sure beat cleaning the mess! If I had lived in the New York area, I believe we would have been the best of friends. I met him when I visited Iron Island Gym with Drew Israel in the mid 90's and had a chance to speak briefly to him and see his great world class gym. I wrote about this visit in Hardgainer. A few phone calls and emails pretty much sum up our personal relationship. We really did not know each other well, but I always had the greatest amount of respect for Dr. Ken. He was a unique personality and the people who knew him best absolutely loved him. I loved reading his articles and always wish that I had the chance to go to one of his epic Thanksgiving dinners. I heard so many great things about them from many of our mutual friends. I consider him to be one of the greatest and most influential writers in the history of physical culture. He will be missed. Much respect and Rest In Peace Dr Ken.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Dr. Ken Remembered - By Jim Duggan

    It would be difficult to overstate the impact that Dr. Ken Leistner had on the world of Powerlifting, and Strength Training.   As a chiropractor, strength coach, writer, and gym owner, he influenced countless Lifters, and Iron Game devotees over the years.  Earlier today, I received the sad news that Dr. Ken had passed away, at the age of 72.
     Several of us from Bruno's discussed the impact that Dr. Ken had, not only on us, but on the world of weight training.  Chris Newins put it best when he said: " He was a mentor and friend to so many."  Truer words were never spoken.  He certainly had an impact on my life insofar as it relates to training.  There will undoubtedly be numerous tributes to Dr. Ken over the coming days, and rightfully so.  I think it is accurate to say that he was one of the most influential figures in the world of Strength and Lifting.
     My first introduction to Dr. Ken was through the pages of Powerlifting USA Magazine.  His column, "More From Ken Leistner," was a regular feature.  It was also one of the first things that I would read.  His no-nonsense, straight forward, no bull style of writing was perfectly suited for those of us who love to lift.
     Dr. Ken wrote for many magazines over the years.  Just about every Muscle/Lifting/Strength publication benefited from his expertise.  And readers like me were all the better for it.  His own publication, "The Steel Tip," was years ahead of its time.  I'm glad that I have a complete set of back issues,  which he generously gave to me.  One of my favorite articles of his appeared in Muscular Development magazine.  It was titled "Unorthodox Power Builders."  It described how one can become brutally strong by lifting odd objects.  Back then, lifting I-Beams, Anvils, or Torpedoes was not something that was generally done by trainees. This particular article was focused on lifting heavy anvils.  It must have made an impression on me since I am the proud owner of nine ( yes, nine) anvils ranging in weight fro 50- 206 Lbs..
     The first time I ever met Dr. Ken was in the Winter of 1992, when he opened the world famous Iron Island Gym.  I had the pleasure of speaking with him for about twenty minutes. At the time, I was 27 years old, and I thought I knew a lot about lifting.  Boy, did I have a lot to learn, and I could not have have picked a better place to learn, nor a more knowledgeable person to learn from.  You could just feel his passion about all things strength related, and he wanted to provide the very best facility for those who shared his passion.  I think if you ask anybody who trained at Iron Island, you will get the same answer:  It was the best lifting gym that any of us had seen.  The atmosphere, equipment, environment, and energy of that place could inspire anyone.  I have often said that if you couldn't get motivated at Iron Island, then you ought to be embalmed.  Dr. Ken and Ralph Raiola created a gym that was second to none.
     My first experience with High Intensity Training was through Dr. Ken.  At the time, he was writing articles for "Hardgainer" magazine. He was kind enough to give me a stack of back issues.  Looking back, Hargainer was one helluva training magazine.  And, just as with PL/USA magazine, his column was the first thing I would read.  Incidentally, during the mid 1990s, Hargainer could boast of having Dr. Ken, Bob Whelan, and Brooks Kubik as regular contributors.  Imagine, three of the most knowledgeable and talented Iron Game writers on the same magazine at the same time!
     I can't begin to imagine just how many lifters and Strength coaches have been influenced by Dr. Ken.  I certainly learned a lot from him.  I still have his monthly "Iron Island Insights," that he wrote for the members of the gym.  As I've often said, quality training information never goes out of style.  In fact, I still have a hand-written Deadlift program he wrote for me in 1993.  It was a program that helped me to a personal best of 688 Lbs., which I pulled at a meet at his gym.  The trophies he gave out were made from actual I-beams.  I cherish the program, and the trophies I received to this day.  More importantly, I will forever cherish the memories of a great gym, and a man who made a difference in the lives of those who benefited from his talent, passion, and wisdom.  I would like to offer my sincere condolences to his family, relatives, and many friends.
Rest in Peace, Dr. Ken. And Thank You. 

Editor's Note: Thank You Jim for the great tribute to Dr. Ken. I had a great deal of respect for him. He was an Iron Game legend and one of the best strength/ muscle writers in history. He will be missed but his influence on weight training will long remain with us.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The 3 x 3: Oh, How I Love Thee! - By Rick Rignell

Whenever I’m looking for a quick, simple, metabolically challenging workout, I usually turn to the 3 X 3.  If you’re not familiar with it, a 3 x 3 consists of a multi-joint leg exercise, a multi-joint upper body pushing exercise, and a multi-joint upper body pulling exercise.  Examples of each of the three categories are listed below:

Multi-Joint Leg: Squat, Leg Press, Deadlift

Multi-Joint Upper Pushing: Bench Press, Incline Press, Military Press, Dip

Multi-Joint Upper Pulling: Row, Pulldown, Chin Up, Pull Up

The three exercises are performed in 3 cycles with as little rest as possible between exercises.  In other words, do a set of squats, then go immediately into a set of bench press, then immediately to a set of rows.  Then it’s right back to squats and so on until all three cycles are complete. As far as reps go, you’ve got some flexibility.  A common recommendation is to start with 15-20 reps on the legs and 10-15 on the upper body. If you hit muscle failure on each set, your reps then may end up looking something like this:

First Cycle: Squat = 20, Bench = 15, Row = 15

Second Cycle: Squat = 15, Bench = 12, Row = 12

Third Cycle: Squat = 12, Bench = 8, Row = 8

You can keep the weight the same on each set, increase it, or decrease it as necessary to hit the desired rep goals.  My personal preference is to keep it the same for all three cycles and of course, the number of reps completed on each cycle will decrease.  Regardless, I take each set to the point of muscle failure (or very close). My current favorite 3 x 3 routine is performed entirely on Hammer Strength machines as follows:

V-Squat: 15, 12, 10
Iso Horizontal Bench: 8,6, 4
Iso Rowing: 8,6,4

I prefer slightly higher reps for the lower body and slightly lower ones for the upper.  I take the V-Squat within 1-2 reps of muscle failure ( prefer not to get stuck at the bottom of a squat movement), and take each upper body set to failure. During the third cycle, I go to failure on the upper body sets, rest 20 seconds, then go to failure again.  Then, if time and energy permit, I do this “finisher”:

Using one pair of dumbbells, complete 3 cycles of the following exercises non-stop:

  1. Biceps Curl
  2. 2-arm Shoulder Press
  3. Single-arm Shoulder Press
  4. Negative Hammer Curl
  5. 5 Push ups

Specifically, curl the dumbbells to your shoulders, press both overhead, alternately press each, lower both with a hammer grip, then set them down and perform five push ups.  Repeat the cycle 2 more times. Some colleagues and I learned this finisher at an outstanding strength and conditioning clinic at Michigan State University a few years back, and chose to name it “MSU Upper Body Finisher” out of respect.  I highly recommend the 3 x 3 workout. Use whichever combination of exercises and reps best suits you, and get after it!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Perfect Home Gym - By Jim Duggan

     In a previous article,  I discussed various exercises that should be performed if one wished to develop strength, health, and increased muscle mass.  The motivation for writing that article was something I came across on the internet.  The "age of information, " in which we live, has given us access to a seemingly unlimited source of training knowledge.  Unfortunately, we are also subjected to a large amount  of fancy theories, sissy exercises, and "bro science."  Any so-called expert who doesn't  endorse consistent, progressive hard work on the basic exercises should be ignored.  Granted, ignoring useless information is easier said than done.  But if you have a realistic goal, a systematic plan, and the desire to put in the required work, then you can successfully navigate through the silliness and become bigger and stronger.
     Recently,  I came across another internet article on a training website.  The subject of this one was how to create the perfect home gym.  For those who are fortunate enough to be able to train at home, I sincerely hope that your gym is, indeed, "perfect." While most commercial gyms will never be able to satisfy each and every member, a home gym, on the other hand, provides the perfect opportunity to create an optimal training environment.  Naturally, you have to know which pieces of equipment you will need to accomplish your goals.  And, of course, you have to be able to obtain the items you need, as well as have the available space for everything to fit.
     I will describe the article, written by a film industry personal trainer, and see how it applies to a hard-training lifter.  While we don't normally equate Hollywood trainers with serious lifting, there are many points that were brought up with which I agree.  Of course there were others that were complete nonsense.  I will try to separate what is good from that which is best left ignored.
     The first point that was raised is a very valid one: "Do time and budget constraints make it exceedingly difficult to belong to a commercial gym?"  Most commercial gyms are, sadly, expensive.  Additionally, very few of these gyms cater to serious Lifters.  Naturally, paying an arm and a leg for a membership to a place you cannot possibly train properly will make the decision easy.  If you are lucky enough to have access to a quality gym, then you are in the minority .
     Before I get to the equipment that this "trainer" recommends, there is one paragraph in the article that needs to be addressed.  Motivation.  The author argues that some people need to be in a group environment in order to to make gains.  Gym Bros, Gym Chat, and other silliness are supposed to be a motivating force.  What a bunch of bull!  If you are truly dedicated to a goal of Strength and Health, you will not need others to inspire you to train.  In fact, you should be able to motivate yourself without the aid if a "trainer," or anyone else.  One of the greatest lifters of all-time, John Davis, for many years trained in the basement if a church, by himself.  He did not need cheerleaders, "rep counters," or anybody else to become one of  greatest Weightlifters who ever lived.  Incidentally, I sometimes  wonder if most personal trainers today have any knowledge about John Davis, Tommy Kono, or Norbert Schemansky?
     Now, according to the "expert," here are the essential pieces of equipment that no home gym should be without:
     Barbells and weights.  I have always felt that ANY gym should start with a quality barbell.  Do not settle for a cheap bar.  Sure, quality barbells cost more, but isn't it worth it?  In lifting, as in life, you get what you pay for.  There are many quality barbells available.  Don't sacrifice quality just to save money.  A good barbell will literally last a lifetime.
     Bench.  A strong, sturdy bench is also crucial.  Bench Presses and Incline Presses are important movements.  A quality bench is an invaluable addition to any gym.  While we're on the subject of Bench Presses, do NOT perform Bench Presses or Incline Presses alone.  Always have a spotter on hand.  If you do not have a spotter available,  then the next item is crucial.
     Power Rack.  The Power Rack has been around for decades.  Countless lifters have built tremendous strength with this great piece of equipment.  You can do heavy partial movements, as well as Squats and  Bench Presses in complete safety.  Whether you want to call it a Cage, a Rig, or a Rack, find yourself a heavy-duty power rack.  You will never regret the investment.
     Kettlebells.  Here is where I don't  completely agree with the author.  While I have nothing against kettlebells, per se, I think a set of heavy adjustable  Dumbbells are more practical. And just as effective.  If you have access to both, then by all means invest in both.  On a personal note, I would try Center Mass Bells (CMBs).  I've purchased a bunch of them over the last few years, and have had great workouts with them.
     Cardio. The author, surprisingly, does not recommend investing in a treadmill, stationary bike, or other cardio machines.  He advocates high-rep bodyweight exercises.  He also recommends "lifting weights fast."  Whatever that means.  I think everyone should do some form of cardio, particularly if you are over the age of 35.  Brisk walking is an easy, low-impact way to get your body moving.  Needless to say, you won't need any fancy equipment other than a good pair of walking sneakers.  A more intense way of incorporating cardio training into your workouts would be to purchase a good Jump Rope. If your knees and ankles can handle the impact, then skipping rope is an effective way to burn calories.
     Spin Bikes, Suspension Trainers, Punching Bags.  These are other items that the author recommends.  I had always thought that most stationary bikes are the same, but, boy, was I ever wrong!  Spin classes are extremely popular, and the bikes they use are technically advanced, and capable of simulating myriad workouts.  As for punching bags, in the past I've used both Heavy and Speed Bags.  While you may get a nice workout from these pieces of equipment ( as well as burn off a lot of aggression), there a more effective ways to build strength. An additional note regarding the use of Heavy Bags:  It would behoove anyone planning on using it to learn the correct way to deliver a punch.  Your wrists will thank you!
     Mirror.  While the author is ambivalent about the need for a mirror, I would just like to add what I learned about mirrors from my days at Bruno's Health Club.  While they may assist you in developing good form in the Squat, and Deadlift, especially if you're a beginner, they are not necessary. Don't become dependent upon them.  Especially if you are a competitive lifter.  As Larry Licandro used to say: "There are no mirrors in a contest." In other words, if you are used to Squatting in front of a mirror, then you will be in for a rude awakening when you are Squatting in front of a crowd of people.
     For those "Garage Gorillas" who are in the process of equipping their gym, best of luck.  It goes without saying that you can have the very best if everything, but it won't do a bit of good if you don't use the equipment properly.  Training progressively, and safely, with the goal of poundage progression, should be the goal of all people who lift weights.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Strength And Health Must Be Earned - By Jim Duggan

Strength and Health must be earned. These are the first six words of an article by the same name which was originally published in the December 1942 issue of Strength and Health magazine. Over seventy-six years ago, Bob Hoffman offered advice that is as useful and relevant today, as it was back then, during the height of World War Two. While there is no way to accurately determine how many people read the advice offered in the original article, it is interesting to wonder just how many people derived a direct benefit by following the numerous axioms of that time. Hopefully, there were a great many Physical Culture devotees who lived long, healthy , and strong lives by heeding the advice of the "Father of World Weightlifting." In this article, I will mention a few of the more notable nuggets of information.

"The state of strength and health we enjoy depends upon the lives we lead." Obviously, you cannot get stronger without lifting weights. But just going to the gym is not enough. You have to train the right way. By that I mean consistently and progressively. Hard and heavy. Whichever words you want to use to describe it, you cannot simply buy a membership to a gym and expect to make progress. This point is especially pertinent to the many New Year Resolutioners who annually invade gyms and Health clubs at this time of year. You cannot sleepwalk through a workout, and expect to get stronger. You must have a goal, and a plan to achieve that goal. Then you must dedicate yourself to achieving that goal.

"A large percentage of the population go through life offering themselves excuses why they don't exercise." I suppose laziness, insofar as it relates to working out, has been around since time immemorial. Certainly, for as long as people have been lifting weights, there has always been the constant struggle against becoming lazy and complacent. We've all had to fight the temptation to skip a workout when we didn't feel like lifting. But, if you really want something, you will find a way to get it done. We all have time- 1,440 minutes in each day. How we use those 1,440 minutes will determine if we earn our Strength and Health.

"Proper exercise is the difference between strong, healthy, energetic supermen, and the sadly out-of-condition people we see everywhere." The more you put into your workouts, the more you will get out of it. Regular workouts are a long-term investment that you can make for the future. Even moderate lifting will pay you a thousand times in dividends of physical benefits. Certainly, during the 1940s, weight training was not as accepted as it is today. Nevertheless, many people still embraced the idea of progressive resistance training ( no doubt because of the gospel put forth by people like Bob Hoffman, and John Grimek) and developed their bodies. Today there is no reason why anyone cannot achieve some sort of physical condition. Numerous gyms, exercise equipment and training information exist today that simply weren't available during the "war years."

"Activity is life. Stagnation is death." Sensible strength training brings healthful activity to every organ, gland, and cell in the body. While Bob Hoffman could not have possibly foreseen the sedentary lifestyles that would characterize our present-day culture, he did warn against slipping through life doing nothing constructive or beneficial for our bodies.

"Weightlifting and weight training is a pleasure." Truer words were never spoken. Lifting weights is indeed a pleasure. The ability to push yourself, and push yourself through a challenging workout is something to be celebrated. You should look upon your workouts as a pleasure. Not something to be endured, but rather something to look forward to with anticipation. The anticipation of being able to challenge yourself. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to train should never take this for granted.

Lifting weights and working out can - and should- become more than a mere hobby. It is a way of life that will improve your life, and add to it in ways that cannot be described in an article. While some train for the goal of entering competition, such as Weightlifting, Powerlifting, Strongman, or bodybuilding, the vast majority of trainees lift for the sheer love of training. Even if you do compete, your toughest opponent will always be yourself. All people who strength-train are, in fact, engaging in competition. Your opponent is your potential.

While the world has changed a lot since 1942, people, for the most part, have not. And words of wisdom that resonated nearly eighty years ago ring just as true today. This is the time of year when just about everybody has some sort of physical goal set for themselves. As the weeks, and months, go by, time will determine just how many people are truly serious about achieving their goals. How many of us will earn our Strength and Health in 2019?

Editors Note: Great article Jim!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

My 10 Undeniable Truths of Weight Training for Beginners - Part 2 - Do the Hard Exercises - By RJ Hicks, BS Exercise Science, CSCS

One of the biggest mistakes I see is the use of ineffective exercises. Although many exercises are effective, there are some exercises much more effective than others. For a program to be productive and yield the greatest results, a trainee must train using the most effective exercises. For maximum results in size and strength, train the hard exercises.

Multi joint exercises vs single joint exercises

The hard exercises are the major compound multi joint movements. They are the most systematically demanding, involve the most muscle mass and carry the most potential for poundage progression (or greater increases in strength). These are the exercises many trainees like to avoid, simply because they are uncomfortable and hard to do. This is a huge mistake! A routine of squats, dead lifts, rows, dips, pull ups, presses and bench will do more to transform your muscular size and strength than any number of lateral raises, cable cross overs or hack squats. The foundation of the routine should be built on the hard exercises. Squat, deadlift, leg press or any variation of the three should be a stable in your lower body training. Presses, rows, chins/pull downs, flat/incline bench and dips should be the primary exercises in your upper body training, with pullovers, shrugs and barbell curls as a close secondary. Keep the hard exercises as the meat and potatoes of the workout, leave the single joint exercises for dessert.

The easy exercises are often, but not always, the single joint exercises. It is common for beginner trainees to choose to perform single joint exercises for most of their routine. Most single joint exercises are nothing more than a pumping exercise in my book. The whole toning, sculpting and shaping theory is a myth that DISTRACTS many trainees from using the hard exercises. Muscles adapt through progressive overload (stress), not through pumping. The pump these trainees experience is a temporary rush of blood that bloats a muscle, doing little in the long term for muscular size and strength. Toners and phonies primarily use pumping exercises, because they “feel” good and are the EASIER to do.

You can get a painful burn on leg extensions and watch your quads swell up, but it is nothing compared to the total body metabolic shock your body would undergo from a hard set of 10-12 repetitions on the trap bar deadlift. Pumping exercise involve less muscle activation, less weight and less metabolic stress. Often, you’ll see trainees perform hack squats instead of squats or skip overhead pressing and go straight to lateral flies. This is a sin for serious trainees. No real long-term gains in size and strength are made by pumping exercises for the natural trainee, because there is a lack of mechanical stress on the muscles. Be wary of exercise routines filled with single joint exercises as they distract you from the hard exercises and never substitute them for the hard exercises you can do safely.

Rehabilitation, tinkering and special circumstances

The best exercises to train with are the hard exercises you can do safely. If an exercise hurts, don’t do it. Not everyone can squat in a safe manor due to long limbs or previous injuries. The pendulum Squat, trap bar/DB deadlift, Hammer Strength horizontal leg press, or a belt squat can serve as a good substitution for the barbell squats. Substituting a belt squat due to injury is acceptable, substituting a hack squat because it is more comfortable is not. The same is true with single joint exercises, if you cannot do the multi-joint exercise, but can target the muscle with a single joint exercise, do what you can! A lateral raise will never compare to an overhead press, but it will be far more productive than doing nothing for the shoulders.

Not all single joint exercises are bad. Some parts of the body are best trained with single joint movements such as the neck, calves, rotator cuffs, forearms/hands and midsection. Bob Whelan ( refers to these as your tinkering exercises. He often sequences them in after multiple compound exercises, strategically using them as built in rest. They are of low intensity compared to the major compound exercises, but important in keeping the entire body strong none-the-less. Any serious strength training program should include these exercises a majority of the time.

Sometimes extra work is needed due to a lagging muscle group. While the major compound exercises advantage is in the amount of muscle mass they work, not all the muscles are worked equally. Sometimes the best way to bring a lagging muscle up to par is to train it with a single joint exercise, but don’t overdo it. Single joint exercises have the advantage of what's known as the “direct effect” and can force all the mechanical stress on the targeted muscle. The lateral raise is a great example of an exercise with a “direct effect” upon the shoulders. If you feel it is of physiological/psychological benefit, great! Add it in to the end of the routine, if it doesn’t take away hard exercises. To summarize, you can train single joint exercises IN ADDITION to the hard exercises AFTER all the hard exercises have been completed.

Final walk-through

If you’re a beginner, train the basic hard exercises. If you’re a middle age adult, train the basic hard exercises. If you’re an athlete train the basic hard exercises. If you want to look strong and be strong, train the basic hard exercises.

Editors Note: This is great RJ! Awesome job on this!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Staying Motivated - By Jim Duggan

     As I am writing this, I am looking out my window at the snow on the ground from the first snowstorm of the season.  The snow, cold temperatures, and gloomy forecast remind me of two things.  First, that this is just the beginning, a preview of what's to come during the next few months.  Second, the holidays are rapidly approaching.   This is reinforced by the large Christmas display at the local Home Depot, the Christmas music playing at the bank, as well as the holiday light display along Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where I work.
     For many trainees, the holidays pose a significant problem.  Staying on a workout regimen. Finding time to train.  How to avoid overeating and other indulgences.  Finding the motivation to train hard. It's very easy to fall into a rut.  Miss a couple workouts, fall off your diet, and you can easily see how quickly your progress can slow down or even stop.  And once you stop it will become difficult to resume a training program.
     Once you hit a snag, you can become dejected and lose your drive to train.  Once your drive is stymied, your progress comes to a halt.  Now, there are ways to deal with a training slump.  One method that has worked for some people is to take a brief layoff from working out.  I say "some people" because I don't believe in taking layoffs. Layoffs have just never been something that worked for me. There are those who benefit greatly from an occasional break from training, and if you are one of those individuals, then a scheduled layoff of a week or so will help recharge your body, and energize your training.   I've never liked taking time off from working out.  Doing nothing can become a habit.  Besides, the worst part of doing nothing is that you never know when you're finished ( sorry for the lame joke.)  Seriously, becoming lazy, or sedentary,  even if only for a brief period, can lead to longer periods of inactivity. I don't believe in backsliding- whether it be in lifting, or life itself. The only way is to keep going.  Even if your lifting may have hit an inevitable "sticking point," there are other ways to improve your strength, health, and appearance without burning yourself out.  Instead of taking a day off, go for a vigorous walk.  Engage in some of other form of physical activity on your "off days."  This will provide your body with some sort of exercise.  It will also give you the motivation to follow healthy eating habits.  If you stick to an exercise program, then you will have the incentive to be disciplined during the holidays when temptation- in the form of too much food- is everywhere.
     The hardest part of staying disciplined is to make up your mind decisively and just do it.  Decide that you want to continue to make progress, and that nothing will stop you from achieving your goals.  Then work out your plan, and do it.  Ambition plus effort equals success.
     There are ways to stay motivated during this time of year.  Since it isn't beach season ( at least here in New York), one has to be creative in developing a plan to maintain training enthusiasm.  One way, if you happen to train in a commercial gym, is to think of how empty the gym will be in December.  The lack of crowds ( toners, pumpers, gym bros, etc.) means that there will be less nonsense and no waiting for equipment and machines.  Imagine how crowded things will be in January, when the Resolutioners invade the gym.  Now, think about how much you can accomplish during December when you have the gym to yourself.
     Now, back to the training itself. What if you have a bad workout? My answer to that is "So what?"  Every person who has ever lifted weights has experienced the occasional "off day."  This is particularly true for drug-free lifters.  Let's face it.  A bad workout every once in a while is a fact of life. It's not a reason to panic, or become dejected.  Learn from it, and move on.  Now, if you have a succession of bad workouts, then it maybe time to analyze what you're doing.  Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting proper nutrition? Again, the holiday season can bring about bad habits, and halt progress.  Overcome that which will stop your progress.
     Of course, one of the best ways to get out of a rut is to not fall into one in the first place.  Discipline yourself into not only training consistently, but into putting everything you have into each and every workout. Every set and every rep. Don't sleepwalk through your workout.
     Setting goals will help keep you focused. Not only long-term goals but short-term as well.  Remember, the most worthwhile goals will never be achieved without a systematic plan of action.  Great things cannot happen if you do not make them happen. That heavy barbell will not lift itself.
     There is one trick to maintain motivation that I first read about ten years ago.  Since most people make resolutions for the new year, and subsequently begin working towards those goals after January 1st, what's wrong with getting an early jump on the year ahead? Who says you have to wait until January to begin your quest for Strength and Health?  Why not start now? You'll gain a healthy head start on everyone else.  And you'll feel better about yourself in the process.
     Once a man ( or woman) gives up, he/she is beaten.  You can't be beaten as long as you continue to fight.  Fight for your goals, fight for the things you want in life.  Strength and Health are noble pursuits that are worth fighting for.
     Don't use the holiday season as an excuse to skip's a poor one.  Keep lifting.  You'll be glad you did.

Editor's Note: Great article Jim.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

What To Avoid....And What Not To - By Jim Duggan

     There is no shortage of training information available to anyone willing to look.  And you don't have to look very hard.  Note that I didn't say "quality" training information.  A casual glance at the typical articles appearing in the various muscle comics, fitness blogs, or the ubiquitous training videos will illustrate that there is a serious shortage of quality information for those who seek to build strength and health.  As for those unfortunate individuals who are forced to train in commercial gyms, well, I don't have to remind you of some of the silliness that passes for training today.
     It is not my intent to denigrate an entire generation of trainees.  And I certainly am not trying to be one of those people who look at the past through rose-colored glasses.  The "good old days" weren't always good, and the only way to make gains and achieve your goals is to train progressively.   And the only way to make progress is to continuously look forward. Living - or lifting- in the past won't get the job done.
     It's usually not too difficult to look past some of the strange training ideas being put forth by "the experts."  Just about anybody can go online and become a "certified" trainer.  Anybody with a smart phone can make and publish exercise videos.  And anybody can make, and post, exaggerated claims regarding what they lift.  I've always approached such claims with a great deal of skepticism. Perhaps I've become a bit cynical in my, uh, middle age. But for as long as I can recall, if a person claims a certain lift, then it should be verifiable. Eyewitness testimony is usually reliable, so long as you can trust the witness.  As a Lifter, it was easy for me to distinguish between what was real and what wasn't. If it wasn't done in a sanctioned contest, then it is merely a "gym lift," which means it falls into the same category as the various outrageous claims made by countless persons.  And while there are countless claims, and all too many foolish ideas floating around, most of the time, it is easy to ignore the silliness.  Once in a while, though, you have to take the time to address things that are just plain wrong.   
     Recently, a popular magazine published an article detailing fourteen exercises that you shouldn't do if you're over 50 years old.  Over the years, I have made my feelings about getting older quite clear.  It may sound trite, but age is only a number.  Whatever your age, there is only one way to approach your training, and that is to go all-out.  Progressive resistance means training progressively, regardless of your age.  Naturally, if you're injured or have a medical condition, you may need to adjust your training. Train smarter, not harder if that's the case.  But if you have no medical issues, then there is no reason to limit your training, or your choice of exercises.  
     So, getting back to the article in question, I will highlight some of the exercises that are verboten.  And I will offer my opinion as to why these movements SHOULD BE PERFORMED.  
1) Push-Ups.  Is there anyone out there who has not done Push-ups at various times during their life?  Push-Ups are part of every American Phys-Ed program. Not to mention every branch of the Armed Forces. Why Push-Ups are right up there with Apple Pie, the Flag and watching The Honeymooners reruns ( OK, The Honeymooners is my addition, but if you've ever watched it, you known what I mean.) Seriously, what lifter hasn't done his/her share of Push-Ups, especially during their early years?  The person who wrote the article claims that wall push-ups ( leaning against a wall a doing them standing) is safer, in order to save your shoulders as you age.  What a joke.  Charles Atlas did hundreds of Push-Ups every day until the day he died, and he enjoyed a long, healthy life.
     2) Squats.  Has there ever been a strong man who did not dedicate a large portion of his training to performing heavy Squatting? Back Squats, Front Squats, Partial Squats.  All elite strength athletes have spent a large amount of time inside a Squat Rack ( or Power Rack.) Now there may be some people who, because of poor leverages or body mechanics, cannot Squat without risking injury.  If you have a legitimate issue, there are alternatives. But if you can Squat safely, then you should do Squats. Period. Don't let fear of hard work deter you from performing this wonderful exercise.
     3) Bench Press.  The King of upper-body exercises.  Pure, unadulterated power is how the Bench Press has been described, and I think most people will agree.  Except the person who wrote the article.  Her alternative? Using a rowing machine.  Ridiculous , don't you think? Bench Presses, properly performed ( no bouncing, no back arch, no cheating) will develop great upper-body strength. 
     4) Pull-Ups.  Another staple body-weight movement.  Yes, they are challenging, especially if you weigh more than 200 Lbs.. But if it were easy, then everybody would be able to do it, right?  Stick to it, and make the effort to do them.  You will build great strength. You can do Chin-ups if it's easier. Either one if those exercises is superior to using a Lat machine in my opinion. The author of the article recommends doing Lat Pulldowns instead of Pull-Ups.  Yes, you can pump your lats better with Pulldowns.  But is there anybody reading this who is interested in pumping and toning?  This website is called Natural STRENGTH.  Go someplace else if you want to pump.  Besides, how many times have you seen somebody doing Pulldowns incorrectly and hurting their shoulders? Stick with Pull-Ups and Chins.
     5) Crunches.  While the person who wrote the article advocates doing Planks instead of Crunches and Sit-ups, my advice would be to listen to your body. If you can do Sit-ups without injury,  then stick with the exercise that has been strengthening the mid-section of generations of lifters.  We're not looking for six-pack Abs, we are after functional strength.  Therefore,  use a sensible approach. No need to try to do hundreds of Sit-ups per day. Leave that for the posers. 
     6) Deadlift.  "The meet doesn't start until the bar is on the floor." That is a refrain that is familiar to all Powerlifters. The most majestic of the three Powerlifts, and the one that will build the most overall body power.  Is there anything more motivating than seeing someone fight through a heavy Deadlift? While some lifters may have mechanical issues with the Deadlift, there a several safer alternatives. Dumbbell Deadlifts, Trap-bar Deadlifts, Partial Deadlifts, Deadlifts off a block, Snatch-Grip Deadlifts.  All of these are more effective than the alternative suggested by the person who wrote the article. Her recommendation? Glute bridges.  I kid you not.  If performing Deadlifts after the age of fifty is dangerous, as the author claims, then I recommend she speak with Steve Weiner who regularly does heavy Deadlifts in his mid fifties. Or Tom Tedesco who is still doing Deadlifts at age 63.  
     7) Leg Presses.  Earlier, I mentioned that if you can Squat safely, then you should most certainly do Squats.  However, there are some people who simply cannot Squat without incurring injury.  Years ago, I used to train with Drew "The Human Wall" Israel.  Drew had a congenital back condition that prevented him from doing Squats.  That did not stop him from training hard.  He simply substituted Leg Presses for Squats.  Through heavy high-rep Leg Pressing, he was able to build great size and strength. There are two important things to remember when doing Leg Presses.  One, use a quality Leg Press machine.  The sled-type machines found in most commercial gyms are of little, if any, value.  Yes, you can load a lot of weight, and the toners can feel strong moving heavy poundages.  But what they don't realize is that the machine is leveraged in such a way as to allow anybody to use a lot of weight. They are just ego machines, plain and simple, for people who don't want to Squat.  The Hammer Strength Iso-Leg Press was an excellent machine, and Drew had one in his home gym.  The second thing to remember about the Leg Press, is to use it properly.  That is, do not try to use it for low reps with near-limit poundages. High reps, done to failure, will give you a terrific workout.
     The above movements are just some of the exercises that shouldn't be done by those of us over fifty, if you were to listen to the author of that dubious article.  Personally, I think that they are all terrific exercises that have been used successfully by generations of Lifters the world over.  But if you are over fifty, and want to take her questionable advice, then so be it. If you are younger than fifty, then on the day before you turn fifty, do all of the exercises listed above.  Then never do them again.  Seriously, don't listen to people who have no understanding of what it's like to train hard. Listen to your body,  train smarter, and progressively.

Editor's Note: Great Article Jim. This is one of my favorites.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My Personal Journey of Training - By Burt Gam

When I was a kid I remember reading my first issues of Strength and Health, which was published by Bob Hoffman. I was simply captivated by the muscular looking dudes on the cover and within the pages, and Bob Hoffman himself was pictured at times, particularly in the ads of the products Bob was selling. Inside the magazine were also published results of regional weightlifting contests with the contestants poundage lifted. I was a skinny young teenager and these guys were my heroes. I wanted to be like them and I wanted it bad. My father knew this very well. He was a lifter of sorts himself, and he taught me the basics. Nutritionally I needed help too, and since I wanted to gain weight my father purchased Hoffman's products from the neighborhood health food store. Soon enough I was making milkshakes with Bob's Weight Gain Formula,taking Energol and Dessicated Liver pills. Being pre-pubescent the gains came slow until later on. Bob was my go to guy for years ahead.

I remember my first 200 pound bench press in my garage and how proud I felt. Lacking self confidence, this was exactly the remedy I needed. Even so, I still had not filled out much and graduated high school at a whopping 140 pounds. Off to Florida State University I went. They had a gym for students and a small weight set in a dungeon like room in my dorm building. I tried to hit the weights 2-3 times a week, mostly bench presses .Bench pressing was about all I knew about lifting with a few supplemental exercises back then. My break out was the next summer at my home in Miami. That summer I hit it hard in my garage gym, again mostly bench presses and accessory work. But I was also eating a lot and drinking Hoffman's Weight Gain Formula religiously.I was weighing 150 pounds,10 more than after high school. By the end of the summer I got on my bathroom scale at 190. Not to say it was all muscle, but for sure I was noticeably bigger. People were a bit startled and I got a bit of attention due to my abrupt change in appearance. The hormones had kicked in and I guess my body was finally ready to grow. 

Here I realized my greatest single phase of bulking, but the refinement of physique was needed. At that point, I decided to chuck college for awhile and join the Air Force. When I discovered the base gym I thought I had found heaven. Squat racks, sturdy benches, machines, all kinds of equipment. I met up and began training with some more seasoned lifters and bodybuilders, drawing on their education and experience. Still loving benching, I hit my first 300 lb. bench. But I also discovered what later became my favorite by far, the deadlift. I also began training my lower body and added more assistance work. My chest got larger and I put on another 20 pounds of bodyweight. The Air Force used to weigh us annually, and we had to do a mile and a half within a prescribed time. They wanted to put me on the "Fat Boy Program" but I was actually pretty damn solid. I ran the mile and a half in 11:30and the Air Force ended up giving me a waiver for technically being 20 pounds overweight. Around that time I also began reading about lifting and trying to apply some of that knowledge. I read Terry Todd's "Inside Powerlifting"and Bill Starr's "The Strongest Shall Survive". I tried everything I could, my body was my lab experiment. Power cleans and push presses were added to the program. I deadlifted my first 400 lbs. I tried everything to get bigger and stronger along the way. I even sent away for Charles Atlas's course just out of curiosity. 

There was a system of training published by some unknown author called the "Tri Contractional System". The system called for hard work on a handful of basic compound exercises using 3 continuous sets each; A heavy set say on dips with added weight, quickly followed by a reduction in weight,in this case bodyweight for as many reps as possible, then finally a third set of as many partial reps as possible! Very much like a "Heavy Duty Routine". Looked easy on paper but brutally hard. Neither of these routines worked out very well for me. Later on I tried to get inspired by reading up on Arther Jones and Ellington Darden's Nautilus inspired routines. I did that one set to failure on Nautilus machines in my university gym while studying Physical Education. Did that for a year and a half until I decided to test myself in the free weight bench press. I was so weak I could hardly steady the bar. That was when I realized the superiority of free weights over machines, no matter how state of the art. But I read, lifted and learned.  I read articles, became certified as a trainer. I tried different programs. I wanted to know what worked and what did not.Eventually, I learned what my body responded to and how to design my own programs for what worked for me, not for someone else.

Today at age 62 I stick with a simple and basic 3 day a week program, utilizing basic powerlifting and compound exercises performed first in the workout using moderate reps for strength. Following this with higher rep assistance and isolation work for fewer. sets. I use my off lift days to swim, stretch and rest. After this long journey of trial and error, I came back to simple and basic. I am an average guy with average genetics and a thirst for knowledge. I train at home in my home gym with my own equipment. I set lofty goals for myself. I reached some, others I didn't. I never competed, nor did I ever desire to. I realized at some point long ago I would never be the guys in the magazines. I achieved something much more. I have a wonderful life with a wonderful family, wife, daughter grand daughter, friends.I have had a career. I have seen beautiful places and marveled at the bounties of nature.Lifting is part of life, but it is just one part. The body, mind and spirit make up the total person. Balance is the key. We all can achieve greatness in our own way. Life is a journey. Lift, love and be happy.

Editor's Note: Great article Burt. I'm just a few years older than you and can relate to a lot of what you wrote. I got an Air Force waiver too. :) Good job on this.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Lessons From Tommy Kono - By Burt Gam

I just got finished listening to my first Bob Whelan podcast featuring the legendary Tommy Kono. It was as enlightening as it was inspiring. First I wish to be clear. For those reading who have never heard of Tommy Kono, it would be because you were probably just a glimmer in your father's eye when Tommy was competing in the late 40s, 50s and 60s in Olympic weightlifting as well as bodybuilding. That is to say those of you under 50 or perhaps 40 or so. Secondly, I am not intending to be redundant here to speak about the article directly or to summarize it. I would suggest very strongly instead that you take the time to listen to it.

But just a few words about Tommy first just for context so I can make a few significant points, and highlight the lessons that I derived from the interview. Tommy Kono was probably pound for pound one of the greatest Olympic lifters who ever walked the earth. He may have been the best Olympic lifter that the United States has ever produced. He competed in an era where weight training and good health went hand and hand. It was a wonderful era for lifting beside steroids were all but unheard of up to a point, rather emphasis was placed on good old fashioned hard work and sensible training. Tommy was lucky enough to train at one point under the coaching of Bob Hoffman, considered the "Father of American Weightlifting". Tommy Kono in this regard in my opinion could only be compared in greatness to the legendary Paul Anderson, considered by many strength historians to be the strongest man who ever lived. Paul too was competing around that time as a super heavyweight for the United States.Tommy actually won numerous titles, Olympic medals in four different weight classes and was nominated by a number of hall of fame organizations. Not only that, Tommy was no one trick pony because as was more common in that era, also competed as a bodybuilder and took numerous titles.

I want to emphasize this point and come back to it in a bit since there is a valuable lesson here too. Sadly Tommy passed away in 2016 at the age of 85. So since in Bob Whelan's interview Tommy stated he was 84 years old, I surmised Bob's interview must have been a year or so before his passing give or take. So it was very fortunate indeed that the interview took place before Tommy passed. Again, it was an excellent interview full of excellent training info and I highly recommend spending 45 minutes or so to take it all jn. Which leads me to the purpose of this article. Bob's questions to Tommy and his forthcoming answers got me thinking about a few key insights I would like to share. The lessons of the past to the present so to speak. So for what it is worth, here I go.

1. Tommy stated that as a youth he was not very strong. He in fact described himself as skinny and sickly. This kind of brings me back to my own youth and the reasons I started lifting. Yeah I was skinny and weak. I was not sick, but I knew deep down that what I was doing was HELPING ME BE HEALTHIER. I was making my body stronger and healthier because strength was equated with health. That is why a popular bodybuilding magazine was titled "Strength and Health". Tommy made himself stronger and healthier, although he took it to a way higher level. And he did it clean. No drugs. Tommy stated that he was able to successfully complete against the Russians even though they were doing steroids and he was not. 

2. Tommy stated in the interview that he started out with very little equipment to train with. Paul Anderson could have said the same. Yet both became incredibly strong. Tommy claimed he had no bench or squat racks to use. They had to be creative and improvise. So it would seem to imply that hard work on basic exercises is all that is necessary, not a wide variety of movements. 

3. Back in the day, lifters competed in both weight lifting a and bodybuilding. Oftentimes both types of contests happened on the same night. Today it is less common to compete in both due to the way contests are scored and the highly specialized nature of each at the higher levels of competition. Still though, there are a handful of examples of unique individuals who train for both. 

4. Tommy spoke about the mental aspect and it's importance to training. Hard work, discipline to eat healthy, get enough sleep and train hard regularly. No amount of performance enhancers can overcome the lack of these variables. And this type of rigorous discipline has real life carryover to breed success in all aspects of life. Old school thinking is just as valid now as it was then. 

 5. One final message. I realize that many of you young guys are going to feel invincible. That is the blessing and the curse of youth. Know this. If you take one thing from all this it should be that no amount of drugs or fancy equipment will make you a REAL champion like Tommy. God did not give you the gift if you were not willing to work your ass off for it. And if you think you might want to get married and have kids one day and live to see them make something of themselves, stay away from the juice. If you do not believe this or care, go online and research all of the bodybuilders and pro wrestlers who decided that a moment of glory in the sun can take the place living a long, healthy and glorious life. They cashed in their child before 50 or 40 or sooner. Take care of your body now and reap the rewards later. Lift, love,and be happy and healthy. You might just live long enough to have kids. grandkids. or great grandkids if your lucky. I am working on that now.Thank you Tommy.

Editor's Note: Great article Burt. Besides being the greatest athlete in the history of physical culture, Tommy was a class act and one of the nicest human beings ever.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Variations in Iron - By Jim Duggan

     Hoisting the Steel. Pumping Iron. Slinging the Iron. These are just a few of the expressions used to describe what we do ( and love): Lift weights. Many books, and countless articles have centered around the same sort of language.  One of my favorite Iron Game authors, Brooks Kubik, has used the word "Iron" in the title of many of his great books and articles.  And while we may consider ourselves to be "Iron Slingers," we hardly pay any attention to what we are actually slinging.  And, for good reason: Who cares? Just Lift!
     The very first set of weights I ever used was made of neither Steel nor Iron.  My first weights were plastic filled with sand.  Somehow, I just can't embrace the idea of "Pumping Plastic."  It wasn't until I joined Bruno's Health Club in July of 1983 that I quickly became aware of the beautiful sound of steel plates clanging as they were being lifted.  There was a lot of steel at Bruno's. YORK steel to be precise. And while I've been lifting weights for many years, I've tried as best as I could to stay true to York Barbell and the brand that has built strong men and women since 1932.  Naturally,  there are many brands available today.  Some good, many not so.  But, no matter what type of equipment you use, the important thing is to train hard and consistently, with an eye on poundage progression .
     I still have York weights at home, much of it vintage stuff from years ago.  Sometimes,  though, I will lift weights that aren't exactly weights in the conventional sense.  There are two items in particular that are not exactly what one would envision when you think of "working out."  One item has been around for a long time and has a rich history, though not in the sense of Physical Culture.  The other item is relatively new to the lifting scene, but is becoming increasingly more popular.
     I've been using anvils for a long time.  My first exposure to anvils as a training tool was through the pages of Muscular Development magazine back in the 1980s.  It was an article written by Dr. Ken Leistner about "unconventional power builders."  In the article, he described the various ways in which to use an anvil as a training tool.  Several years after the article, I had the good fortune to join Dr. Ken's Iron Island Gym.  One of the first things I noticed upon entering the gym was a large anvil sitting next to a rack of dumbbells.  I used the anvil, as well as the various I-beams, Sandbags, and other toys that the gym offered.  And over the years, I have used anvils to perform various movements.  Curls, Presses, Deadlifts are some exercises that can be easily done with an anvil.  They can also be used to provide resistance for a Headstrap when doing neck work.  There also grip specialists who use them for grip work by lifting them by the horn.  And, incidentally, some of the poundages these guys use are staggering.
     I have a total of nine anvils ranging in weight from 30Lbs, up to 205 Lbs.. If you use your imagination,  you can do any movement with an anvil that you can do with a barbell, with the exception of Squats.  While purchasing an anvil can be expensive, you can pretty much rest assured that it will last a lifetime.  We don't often see anvils breaking apart.  One thing that I've noticed when purchasing anvils is that they are often described as being made of "Cast Iron," or "Wrought Iron."  I realize that anvils are designed for Farriers and Blacksmiths, and these terms are important for what they are used for.  Admittedly,  metallurgy was never my strong suit.  But since my goal insofar as it relates to anvils is simply to lift them, I'll ask again: Who cares? Just Lift.
     Now the debate between Cast or Wrought Iron brings me to the other unconventional strength-training item that I have been using: Center Mass Bells (CMBs.) These are made from Ductile Iron. All you metallurgists can have a field day debating the pros and cons of each type of Iron. I'll just describe my experience with CMBs.
     I've been using CMBs for a couple of years now.  I purchased mine from Sorinex.  I have all the large sizes up to 100 Lbs, and I can tell you that these things are great!  They are an excellent training tool.  In fact, all of the equipment from Sorinex is excellent: Top-quality and built to last.  Try them and see for yourself.
     The CMBs can be used to duplicate exercises that can normally be done with Dumbbells.  Standing Presses, One-Arm Clean and Press, One-Arm Rows, Curls are just some examples of the wide range of movements that you can do with CMBs.  From the moment I tried them, I liked the feel of using a CMB as compared to kettlebells, which I never really cared for.  I realize that it's a personal preference and that there may be people who adamantly disagree with me.  Use what works for you.
     The actual workout that I've used is a variation of a popular workout utilizing two movements. It's an excellent way to get in a workout when you are pressed for time.  The two movements are:
One-Arm CMB Clean and Press
Anvil Curl
     The goal is to do 55 reps of each movement, via doing a superset of Presses and Curls for 10 total sets.  For the serious Lifters out there, don't panic at the mention of "supersets."  You will not be emulating some pumped up bodybuilder, rather, you will be combining two heavy movements with minimal rest.  The goal is to push yourself, not pump yourself up.
     Here's what it looks like:
One Arm CMB Clean and Press x 1 Rep supersetted with Anvil Curl x 10 Reps. 11 Reps Total.
Next set, do 2 reps of the CMB Press and 9 Anvil Curls. Again, 11 Reps Total.
Keep going until the last set of 10 Presses, and 1 Curl.
There should be minimal rest between sets. In fact, for the first five sets, try not to rest at all. After the fifth set, you can rest up to one minute between sets.  The workout should take no longer than fifteen minutes or so.  For those who want to really challenge yourselves, after you complete the workout, you can do it again in reverse.
     You can do this workout with different movements, or you can even utilize bodyweight exercises. I chose these movements because they are eady to perform, but physically demanding. And besides, the title of this article is "Variations in Iron," and while I had never considered the different types of Iron, I have always enjoyed lifting them.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Birthday Tradition - By Jim Duggan

     For the past fifteen years or so, it has been something of a tradition for me to celebrate my birthday by challenging myself with the lifting of heavy objects.  Anvils, Stones, Tires, Barbells, and Dumbbells.  It didn't matter what tools were available, just so long as I challenged myself.  There are many definitions of "tradition," but the best one I can think of is "a longstanding custom or practice." And while fifteen years can hardly be considered to be a long time, it is significant enough so that I always look forward to my annual birthday challenge.
     This year, on July 20, upon waking up , the first thing I did was the "Magnificent Seven" exercises.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Magnificent Seven, I urge you to check out "Combat Abs," by Matt Furey.  It is loaded with functional exercises that will help you achieve a powerful, and functional mid-section. And while there are hundreds of exercises in the book, the seven movements that constitute the Magnificent Seven are supposed to be done on a daily basis.  I try my best to perform them every day, as much as my work schedule will allow, anyway.  The exercises are simple to do, require no equipment, and take less than twenty minutes to complete.  And they help energize you at the beginning of the day.  Even though the Magnificent Seven are not part of the Birthday Challenge, I like doing them, and I wanted to make sure that I include them, birthday or not.
     The main part of this year's challenge would be made up of two main movements:
1) Repetition Clean and Press with 75 Lb. Dumbbells
2) 180 Lb. Atlas Stone, Lift to shoulder for 55 Reps
     I have developed a renewed interest in lifting heavy Dumbbells. I've always enjoyed heavy dumbbell training whether it be DB Deadlifts, Rows, Cleans, etc.. They are an excellent way to develop great strength. It's been only recently that I've dedicated myself to working hard on DB Pressing.
     In my last article, I mentioned the Sig Klein Dumbbell Challenge.  Basically, it consists of cleaning and pressing two 75 Lb. DBs for twelve reps.   Clean the DBs, and then press them overhead in strict fashion.  Then lower the DBs, and repeat for twelve strict repetitions. No cheating, no leg drive, no back arch, no pause between reps.  It sounds relatively easy, until you begin to do it.  I tried to to establish a rhythm and concentrate on breathing so that I would not be "gassed" halfway through the set. I'll admit it was tough, especially after the eighth or ninth rep. I had actually entertained thoughts of doing more than twelve reps, but I was happy to be able to do the twelve in strict form and then live to press another day.  Needless to say, I was breathing pretty heavy after the DBs, but now it was on to the Stones.
     I've always been a fan of stone lifting, and have included them in each of my birthday challenges. There's just something about lifting a heavy, granite sphere off the ground and on to the shoulder.  Not withstanding the fact that the rough granite tears the skin of your forearms, and leaves bruises on your shoulders, there is quite a feeling of accomplishment after a demanding stone workout. And lifting a 180 Lb. Stone for 55 Reps is certainly demanding. I chose the number 55 because it was my 54th birthday, and added an extra rep for good luck.  It was also an homage to one of my favorite strength athletes, Jon Kolb, who wore number 55 for the Steelers during his stellar thirteen year career.
     After a few warm-up reps, I was going to tackle the Stone in sets of 8-10 reps.  I would do a set, go inside and do a set on my York Krusher as a form of active rest, if you will.  Then I would rest a minute, then go outside and continue.  For some reason, the reps seemed smoother as I went along, and I seemed to have plenty of energy. Maybe it was because the weather was not excessively hot, maybe I was in a groove.  Whatever it was, I was able to complete 55 reps without feeling too much worse for the wear.  Except for the previously mentioned "rock burns," I felt pretty good.
     Like I mentioned, I included my York Krusher as a tribute to the York Barbell Company.  It was meant as active rest, but I also wanted to do a little something for my upper body.
     After the Stone Lifting, my next goal was to use my 193 Lb. Sewer Grates and hold them for time.  I purchased these about ten years ago. They are basically heavy sewer grates with a handle welded to the top.  Each one weighs in at 193 Lbs. They are excellent for Farmer's Walks, Shrugs, or just holding them for time.  My goal was to hold them for a minute.  It was tough, especially since my hands were sore from the Stones, but I was able to hold them for one minute and four seconds.
     The final thing that I did, a lifting coda if you will, was to bend a horeshoe.  My friend Steve Weiner recently taught me how to bend horeshoes, and I have really enjoyed going through the learning process while bending them.  So much so that I recently ordered a large box of horeshoes to improve my technique.  Even though my technique is still crude, and I was fatigued, I was able to bend one into a nice "S" and hopefully establish a new tradition. Thanks, Steve.
     All in all, I was happy with how everything went.  I want to continue to lift heavy Dumbbells, increase my hold time on the Sewer Grates, as well as improve my horeshoe bending. So I guess I have something to look forward to next year as I approach the speed limit!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Occupational Strength and Health - By Burt Gam

One of the the most neglected aspects of weight training and conditioning is he topic of occupational health and wellness. As a 35 year career postal employee I can personally attest  to this. Postal workers and workers in many industries perform hard physical labor routinely for 40 or more hours a week for years on end with just short interruptions for vacations and other scheduled or sick days off. These industries employ a wide variety of workers who sacrifice their bodies and health at times to make a living and provide necessary services we all depend on if not take for granted. Many of these employees are given 'safety" training on how to lift properly during orientations by some pre-elected  human resource employee who may never have lifted a weight in their life other than perhaps performing "beer curls". They are given safe advice on how to lift with your stronger leg muscles to avoid back injuries. In some cases workers are issued back braces to help provide lumbar support. They are told to remain "for for duty" throughout their careers and then turned lose to fend for themselves. Rather than providing real help and training that would be truly beneficial it seems more geared to removal of company liability for injuries of workers. To be fair,some more progressive companies have taken the steps to provide gym on-site exercise and wellness programs or perhaps gym memberships which is a step in the right direction but may still fall short of providing useful help or training in proper exercise performance. The focus tends to be about injury prevention as it relates to list work days. Since injuries are often related to overuse , lack of muscular strength and flexibility plus poor lifting .mechanics, certainly something is lacking.                                                    
                                                         Enter the Worker Athlete 
The first concept about physical labor and it's relationship to strength is simple but vital to understand. A person who performs physical labor in a regular basis will become only physically strong enough to meet the requirements of job performance.That is, simply put if your job requires you to lift or move 50 pounds daily over a given period of time, you will only become strong enough to lift or move 50 pounds, regardless of how many times you do it. You may move or lift more once or twice but that is a different topic. Your body will only allow you to get strong enough to do your job based on a lack of progressive overload. The body only becomes strong enough to accomplish the task(s) that are demanded of it. And this worker will be performing work at 100% capacity. But suppose this worker decided to start a weight training    program and through hard training developed enough strength to lift 100 pounds. Now the lifter returns to work and now lifts the 50 pound weight. The worker is now working at 50% capacity.The weight will seem considerably lighter. The net effect is the workers job becomes much easier to perform. And very likely the workers chances of injury drops drastically because he has literally become twice as strong as necessary to perform the job! He will go home less tired and fatigued. Perhaps with enough reserve energy left to perform an exercise program. It is a win-win.This worker will possibly even receive recognition for job performance due to higher work production. He will likely  have fewer sick days. Couple a basic resistance training with some flexibility work and perhaps light cardio to round out the program. It seems clear to me that the laborer and the athlete are highly correllated. The same factors that make an athlete great makes the Worker great! These things are increased strength,flexibility and overall conditioning. A worker sacrifices their bodies just liked an athlete and are paid to do so. They get injured. They are required to perform under similar harsh conditions day in and day out.Their bodies are subjects to similar stresses. Increased strength and conditioning and injury prevention is vital for optimal performance for both. Therefore, does it not follow that both should train for the same results, perhaps in a similar fashion? Designing a sensible program for the Worker to increase strength, endurance, flexibility and overall conditioning.To increase productivity and longevity.That is how I made it through 35 years of physical labor.Something to think about.

Editors Note: Welcome Back Burt! Good article.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Lifting Heavy Dumbbells - By Jim Duggan

     Dumbbells can- and should- be an integral part of any serious strength-training program.  For competitive Lifters looking to increase their strength, dumbbells are an excellent way to increase overall body strength, which will translate to success on the lifting platform.  For those who seek to increase their muscular size and mass, dumbbells have been a proven bodybuilding tool for many decades.
     Many trainees, myself included, were introduced to weight training through the use of dumbbells.  I vividly recall my early workouts with a pair of 14" adjustable dumbbells with plastic weights and collars.  And even though we've all progressed to various other training modalities, dumbbells still play an important role in my training.  And rightfully so.  You can build great strength and power with heavy dumbbell training.
     For many beginners who train at home, one disadvantage of dumbbells is having to change more plates than when using a barbell.  This is one time when training in a commercial gym may be an advantage over training at home.  Most gyms will have a large selection of fixed ( or pre-loaded ) dumbbells from which to choose.  Of course, if you have the space, you can obtain a collection of fixed dumbbells for your home gym.
     Another reason why some people avoid using dumbbells is that, pound for pound, dumbbells are more difficult to handle than a barbell.  The reason for this is quite simple.  Lifting a pair of dumbbells makes it necessary to control each one individually.   This is the opposite of handling a barbell, which is lifted as a single unit.  Sometimes, one arm may be slightly weaker than the other, which means that one arm may falter or lag during an exercise.  Even if both arms are equal in strength, a lack of concentration can cause the same thing to happen.
     There is one more reason why some people avoid dumbbells.  Some movements, like the Bench Press or Incline Press, require the help of one or more spotters just to get the dumbbells in the proper starting position.  Even cleaning a pair of dumbbells to the shoulders for a standing Press can be tricky, especially for a beginner.  However, learning to get a pair of heavy dumbbells to the shoulders is an important skill to master.  Lifting heavy dumbbells is an excellent way to build good, rugged power.
     There are two ways to clean heavy dumbbells.  You can either stand in between them, or your feet can be on the outside of the dumbbells.  Personally, I prefer to stand between them, with the dumbbells on my sides.  By keeping your back flat, and straight,  drive with your legs and hips with a strong pull and bring the dumbbells in one sweeping motion to the shoulders.  You can bend at the knees slightly to help get them to the shoulders. You want to keep the dumbbells close to your body and concentrate on pulling the dumbbells.  You do NOT want to swing them.  Once they're at the shoulders, then you're ready to do either strict Presses or Push Presses, whichever you prefer.
     While I prefer doing strict Presses, you can also Jerk the dumbbells overhead.   It may take a while to find out the precise timing and coordination while combining the slight leg dip while throwing the dumbbells overhead.  If you re pressing them strictky, then you must keep the knees locked and push the dumbbells overhead with minimum arching of the back.
     There is one very important thing to remember:  Don't assume that just because you can Clean and Press a 250 Lb. barbell, that you should be able to handle 125 Lb. dumbbells in each hand.  It doesn't work that way.  The same goes for dumbbell Bench Presses.  Like any other movement,  you'll just have to determine, through trial and error, the correct amount of weight to use.
     One thing that I've neglected to mention is that you don't necessarily have to lift the dumbbells overhead.  Dumbbell Power Cleans are an excellent exercise just by themselves.  You can develop great power doing heavy dumbbell Power Cleans.  And, in my opinion, dumbbell Power Cleans are easier to do than Power Cleans with a barbell.  And you will greatly increase the size and strength of your legs, back, arms, and shoulders.  One of my favorite movements is dumbbell Power Cleans with my Ironmind thick-handled dumbbell bars.
     For those of you who want to really push yourselves, I suggest the Sig Klein Dumbbell Challenge.  As most of us know, or should know, Sig Klein is one of the legendary figures of the Iron Game.  He was a Physical Culturist, gym owner, bodybuilder and one of the strongest men of the early 20th century.  At a bodyweight of slightly over 150 Lbs., he was able to do twelve strict reps in the dumbbell Clean and Press.  He felt that this was an accomplishment that few men could perform.  A casual glance through a typical commercial gym would prove that he is still correct today.  Anyway, here is the challenge:
     Take two 75 Lb. Dumbbells and Clean and Press them for 12 perfect reps.  Perform a separate Clean and Press for each rep.  The Press has to be strict. Legs locked, back straight, complete lockout. While it may not seem very daunting on paper, after a few reps, most people will quickly realize that it is harder than it looks. Much harder.
     Whether your goal is to challenge the great Sig Klein, or simply build more size, strength, and power, learning to lift heavy dumbbells is a worthwhile endeavor .

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Thrill Is In The Doing - By Jim Duggan

     Why do you train? Everyone who begins a weight-training program does so for a reason. From the very first time we wrap our hands around a barbell, there is a motivating force which drives us.  For many of us, the motivation is to get bigger and stronger.  This applies to the great majority of teen-age trainees who take up the sport. For older lifters, the reason for training may be to "get back in shape," after years of inactivity.   Then there are those who use weight-training as an adjunct to another sport.  There are countless athletes who lift to improve their performance in a chosen sport.  And, of course, there are those who lift competitively,  in either Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting, or bodybuilding.
     Naturally ,as we get older, our reasons for lifting change.  It's only natural. Our goals, our view of the world, and our priorities change, so it follows that our motivation for lifting will change too. A trainee of forty will not have the same goals and aspirations of a teenager.  Nor should he/she.  But that doesn't mean that we should all approach our training with a plan of action and a willingness to train progressively and consistently.
     For older trainees, there are many fine examples of lifters who have demonstrated that age is merely a number.  Legends like Norbert Schemansky, Jack LaLanne, and Sig Klein are but a few of the legendary Iron Game figures who defied Mother Nature, and showed what "hoisting the steel" can accomplish.
     What about those who lift competitively?  Is it a worthy pursuit?  As someone who competed for many years, I can say that it certainly is a worthwhile endeavor. Setting a goal, developing a plan of action to achieve your goal, working hard to accomplish your goal, and being able to achieve what you had set out to do are just some of the rewards that you can derive from lifting.  Incidentally,  if monetary gain is your motivation to compete,  then I can enthusiastically recommend that you try your hand at another sport. But if you wish to develop discipline, and the ability to set and reach goals, then competitive lifting will certainly be worth the effort.  And competitive Lifters, like all athletes, want to win.  Sometimes this desire to win will lead some people to an attitude of not caring how they win, just as long as he/she wins.
     Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with competing, and wanting to win.  But competing should be something to be enjoyed.  One of my favorite athletes of all-time is Al Oerter, the four-time Olympic champion in the Discus. Mr. Oerter once described his Olympic pursuit as "very internal...a self-fullment, not an acquisition of fame and fortune."  He viewed sports as "a joyous personal challenge." I couldn't agree more with his assessment of his Olympic career.  I've always felt that Powerlifting- or and strength sport-  was a competition with yourself.  Your opponent is your potential.
     Years ago, in one of the first contests that I ever did, there was a former world champion who was scheduled to compete in my weight class.  Even though I had no chance of beating him, that did not stop me from training hard in preparing for the upcoming meet.  On the day of the contest, the former champion not only won his weight class but also pickedmup the Best Overall Lifter trophy, too. But, I had set personal records in my Squat, Bench Press, and Total.  I was very happy, and felt that I had a successful  contest. And my friends and I, the four of us battled a blizzard to drive to Pennsylvania, each of us had a great time. Looking back at that meet, and many others in which I participated, I think about the training, and preparation, and how much joy it brought.  This brings me to another favorite quote of mine: "The Thrill isn't in the winning. It's in the doing."
     How many lifters have that attitude today?  For many, anything goes.  Their drive to win "at all costs" sometimes leads to taking drugs.  "The end justifies the means" is a philosophy that, sadly, is widely accepted today.  Far too many athletes rely on an assortment of drugs to reach their maximum performance.  But at what cost?
     Don't be afraid to lift without drugs.  Your own drive and incentive will suffice if you train properly.  And when you succeed without the aid of drugs, you'll last longer and enjoy greater longevity than those who cheat.  It's up to you to lift the right way now, so that in the future, you can look back and know in your heart that you did your best. And if you do your best today, then years from now,  you will have the good fortune to be able to reflect upon "the good old days" and be proud of what you did. And how you did it.
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me:

Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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