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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Farmer's Walk - By Jim Duggan

The Farmer's Walk is an excellent exercise, in addition to being a popular event in Strongman contests throughout the world. For years, just about every Strongman contest has had a variation of the Farmer's Walk as an event. And for good reason: Carrying a heavy weight in each hand, and attempting to walk a prescribed distance for time, or to try to carry it as far as possible, is an impressive display of strength. It is also an excellent addition to any strength program.

The amount of physical stamina, not to mention mental toughness, required to grind out a long Farmer's Walk will produce great results. You will stimulate gains in your lower back and traps. Your grip strength will be tested, as well as your cardio conditioning, the further you travel. However, your biceps and/or pecs will NOT get pumped. You will not get "jacked" ( I still don't know-or care- what "jacked" really means.)

The Farmer's Walk is an excellent "finisher" after a tough workout. You can also make it a workout in and of itself. It's not difficult to master, you don't need a coach to instruct you on the finer points of the movement. You simply bend down, grasp the weights, deadlift them, and then start walking. You just need some sort of implements to carry, and a place to carry them. If you have a parking lot or a sidewalk at your gym, that would work fine. If you train at home, a backyard, sidewalk, or long driveway would do the trick. Another option would be to drive to a school or park and utilize a track or open area. There are numerous ways of getting it done, and your options are limited only by your imagination. There is one proviso that I would like to point out: You will probably get some strange looks from passersby, particularly if you do these in a park or residential neighborhood. However, once you make up your mind to do it, you won't even notice. Or care.

As far as the "implements" you'll be carrying, there are many options from which to choose. If you have access to heavy dumbbells, then that will work just fine. Just be careful about dropping them when you're fatigued. And you WILL get fatigued. You can also use a Trap Bar or Hex Bar. It's not the best option in my opinion, as you will find yourself trying to keep the bar balanced as your moving. Also, if you are very large, you might not fit properly inside a Trap Bar. I remember watching Drew Israel trying to use one years ago. Drew is one of the largest-and most powerful-men I've ever met. His arms would chafe against his thighs because he was literally too big for a standard Trap Bar. Of course he solved this problem by purchasing a custom-made Trap Bar that weighed about 100 Lbs., but that's another story.

Because of the popularity of the Farmer's Walk, today there are numerous special implements that are available. I first purchased a pair from Drew about twenty years ago, and I still have them, and use them. They weigh 70 kg each, and have a loading area to add olympic plates. The first time I ever tried a Farmer's Walk was at Dr. Ken's Iron Island Gym. Several of us would go outside, behind the gym in back of the building. Dr. Ken had some nice "toys" in the back. Several large ( 500 Lb. and up) tires for flipping, a length of large nautical chain, steel I-Beams, and several water-filled kegs provided plenty of "fun" for anybody willing to challenge themselves. 

The back of the gym was perfect for doing a Farmer's Walk because there was plenty of space to walk. You could walk a set distance, turn around and go back. You would repeat as often as you could. This brings me to another hint: If you are carrying your weights in a straight path, i.e. no turn around, make sure you don't go too far. In other words, if you carry your implements to the point of failure, then you will faced with the problem of getting them back. I always preferred to walk a distance of about 50'-100' and then turn around. The turning around part can be tricky. You will have to slow down a bit in order to do it, otherwise your momentum can cause you slip.

I would also recommend that you make sure that you are thoroughly warmed up before doing this movement. Do not do it cold. A strained calf or hamstring will not only prevent you from doing justice to your workout, but it could set back your training. One time we were training in back of the gym, and we were attempting to carry 250 Lbs. in each hand. We set the distance at 100'. I was able to carry the weights the full distance, but on the return trip I felt something in my left calf. It initially felt as if someone had hit me with a pebble or rock, but I had actually incurred a strain to my calf muscle. End of workout. The moral of the story is that your muscles should be warm, and thoroughly stretched, before attempting something you've never tried before.

If you've never tried the Farmer's Walk, give it a try. There is nothing quite like fighting your way through a set distance. When your lower back is screaming, your forearms burning, and you feel as if you're about to collapse from exhaustion, you get to see just how mentally tough you really are. And, of course, upon completion of your workout, you will feel the satisfaction of having worked hard. And of having strengthened your entire body.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Variations of the Barbell Squat - Jim Duggan

The barbell Squat is one of the most important, and effective, exercises for making gains in strength, size, and power. If you've read "The Complete Keys to Progress," by John McCallum, or if you're fortunate enough to have access to the old "Hardgainer" magazines, then you don't have to be reminded of the importance of making Squats a big part of your training program. For those truly fortunate individuals who have access to the old "The Steel Tip" newsletters, hard work dedicated to Squats and Deadlifts are staples of any successful training program. We've all heard the stories of trainees making remarkable gains from heavy squatting. Peary Rader, Louis Abele, Reg Park are just a few examples of lifters who have literally built their bodies through a program of heavy squatting.

Now, there are many people who will claim that Deadlifts are just as important to building size and strength. These people have a valid point, to a certain extent. While Deadlifts will build tremendous overall body strength, nothing can really replace high-rep Squats when it comes to developing overall size and development.

There are many different forms of squatting: Back Squats, Front Squats, Overhead Squats, and while they each have their own merits, I will mainly concentrate on regular Squats, or Back Squats. I've noticed that Olympic lifters tend to refer to regular Squats as Back Squats. No doubt due to the fact that Olympic lifters do a large amount of Front Squats in their training. I guess it makes it easier to differentiate between the two movements. However you wish you label the movement, I will discuss different ways of incorporating Squats into your exercise program.

There are numerous rep schemes, and which one you decide to use is not as important as making sure you apply yourself and train hard and progressively. Try to add weight as often as possible. And, of course, there is no reason why you can't use several rep schemes throughout the year. Indeed, limiting yourself to one rep scheme to the exclusion of all others is a good way to become stale. Staleness, will lead to loss of interest, and the inevitable plateau. No lifter in their right mind wants to experience any of these issues. It's so much more productive to include different rep combinations in your training.

Just about every serious student of the Iron Game has heard of 20 Rep Squats. It's been around for years. Countless books and magazine articles have been devoted to the 20 Rep Squat Program. The concept is easy enough: Take a poundage that you can perform for ten reps, then force yourself to do twenty reps. The key, of course, is to work very hard. When you finish your set, you should be wiped out. Totally. It should be the hardest work you've ever done. And, of course, a few days later, after adequate recuperation and recovery, you get to do it all over again. If you stick with it, and push the poundages, you will make tremendous gains in size. An abbreviated program consisting of high-rep Squats and Deadlifts can put muscle on the hardest gainers out there.

For an even more intense experience, you can try doing a set of thirty Squats. That's right. 30. As in 3-0. The concept is similar, only this time you take a weight with which you can perform twenty Squats, and this time you fight your way to thirty reps. This is a special kind of torture, and I've only tried this a few times. But if you have the wherewithal to stick to it, you will make incredible gains in strength, stamina, and physical conditioning. Of course, you don't have to train to failure all the time. If you are a competitive lifter, you will have to utilize heavier weights with correspondingly lower reps from time to time. When I was competing in powerlifting, if I wasn't training specifically for a contest, I would usually do 5 sets of 5. A variation of this is doing 6 sets of 6. This is the routine we used at Bruno's Health Club for the three powerlifts. In fact, there were times when my entire workout consisted of only the three powerlifts. No Presses, Curls, or other "assistance" exercises.

Naturally, if you are training for a contest, you will have to perform heavy Squats with low reps. When you talk about high or low reps, everything is relative, of course. One person may consider ten to be a high number of reps, while another person may consider it to be low reps. If you ask the average powerlifter, he/she will probably tell you that anything over three is considered high reps. And while low reps with near maximal weight is crucial when preparing for a competition, it is not necessarily the most efficient way to actually build usable strength. You build your usable strength in the "off-season," and the last weeks before the meet are for preparing the body to lift maximal poundages. I'm not trying to start an argument as to how many reps is the best way to train. Rather, I think that if you incorporate different rep schems into your program, you will make better gains. For someone looking to increase their devlopment and make muscle-mass gains, various reps schemes will produce the results you're looking for. There will be few instances where very low reps would be useful. On the other hand, a powerlifter training for a meet, will have to use very low reps. Singles, doubles, or triples. Depending on what works for you. Personally, I always favored triples. I can still hear the voice of Larry "Bruno" Licandro when it came to the subject of triples vs. doubles. "A double is only a lucky single" was one of his favorite sayings (among many sayings.) Naturally, most of us at Bruno's favored triples when it came down to crunch time in preparing for a contest.

Just as there are variations in repetitions when it comes to squatting, there are variations in the Squat itself. I mentioned Front Squats earlier in this article. While Olympic lifters have used them for years, they are an excellent movment for all athletes. I've always enjoyed doing them. I would usually do them in a power rack, setting the pins at the bottom position so that there would be a pause at the bottom of the movement. Driving up from a motionless bottome position builds explosive power, at the same time it eliminates the temptation to bounce at the bottom.

Another variation of squatting that has been around for a while is performing them while utilizing a Hip-Belt. Hip-Belt Squats have been around for a long time. I remember reading about them years ago in the old Strength and Health magazines. During the heyday of the old Soviet Union, there would always appear articles in various magazines describing the various "secrets" that the Russians used in their training. I remember reading an article about it, claiming that the top Soviet lifters used Hip-Belt Squats as an adjunct to their regular squatting. The weight is distributed equally around the waist. There is no undue stress on the lower back, and the movement can be used whenever a back injury or soreness is present. While this is an excellent movement, do not be fooled into believing that it will catapult into the upper echelons of olympic weightlifting. If you are going to perform this exercise, sets of 15-20 would be an effective way of working your thighs without straining your back.

Yet another variation of squatting is probably the most technically difficult of all. Overhead Squats, doing the Squat with a Snatch-grip with the bar locked overhead, is extremely challenging to even the most flexible and athletic among us. I attempted them once, and found that I am not flexible enough, or athletic enough, to do them properly. If you are able to do them, and if you have access to a qualified coach to monitor your form while performing the movement, then by all means have at it. Personally, I felt that Back and Front Squats were more than enough to develop size and strength.

Whatever exercises you choose, and however many reps you decide to perform, you will not make progress unless you are willing to put in a lot of work. I remember reading about Louis Abele, and he was asked about his high-rep squatting. He stated that he was working so hard on his Squats, that his teeth hurt from all the heavy breathing that he was doing. Talk about hard work!

Monday, April 4, 2016

GETTING BACK TO OUR ROOTS - By Jeff “TRex” Bankens


As of late, it has occurred to me that something was missing from my training.  I came to this conclusion after realizing I am not as strong as a performing strongman ought to be.  I have become more prone to nagging injuries, and I feel stuck in a rut.  After coming to these realizations, I began discussing my dilemma with a couple of friends that also happen to be iron game experts.  One is a national-level strength coach, and the other is an Olympic lifter who owns a barbell company.  What can I say?  I am blessed with knowledgeable friends.  I spoke to them because I know they will give me an honest answer, rather than what I want to hear. 

That being said, I would like to share my findings with you, as I believe it will be of benefit to many or all of you to read.  But before we do that, I would like to go through a simple checklist that will help us target the areas of my training that need the most improvement:

1)    Old school work ethic                                         -  Check
2)    Balanced Full-Body Training                        -  MISSING
3)    Drug-free / PED-free lifestyle                             -  Check
4)    Regular Heart-Strengthening Cardio                  -  MISSING
5)    OVER emphasis on Odd Object Training            -  Check
6)    Regular Full-range Leg Training                        -  MISSING
7)    Hand Strengthening Exercises                                -  Check
8)    OVER emphasis on Thick Bar Training                  -  Check
9)    Tried and True compound Barbell/Dumbbell Exercises      -  MISSING

As you can see, while have several things going for me, there are also many areas for improvement.  Right here I would like to mention one of the best things about participating in the iron game, is that you can continuously learn and improve.  Knowing this encouraged me in my efforts to change and improve my program.  Now I would like to discuss each item in this checklist and share my recent findings with you.

1)   Old school work ethic

If you are going to be a REAL lifter, then you MUST possess a hard work ethic.  If your gym is more of a social club than a barbell club, you may be in trouble already! 

2) Balanced Full-Body Training

I was missing full-body training in my program.  I was haphazardly training shoulders and legs (to a degree) once per week, and completely missing everything else.  I was so focused on just a couple of exercises and my strongman training, that I lost the big picture.  You see, with balanced training comes LONGEVITY of body and (in my opinion) mind.  When you have balance in all areas of life (family, marriage, faith in Christ, training, and work), you tend to have a longer, healthier life.  What I am saying, is that I believe you will have a more enjoyable life when you strive for balance in all areas, including training.

3) Drug-free / PED-free lifestyle

This should be a no-brainer, but if you are new to this site, here we go:  We believe drugs (steroids) and PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs) are a sham, a shortcut, and a complete waste of time.  That is why this site is called http://www.naturalstrength.com/ .  All Natural strength training through hard work, balanced training, compound exercises, and good eating.

4)  Regular Heart-Strengthening Cardio

It is almost a shame to admit this, but I have had a treadmill for a good, long while, but had never used it until after I implemented the changes we are discussing in this article.  As Bob has told me in the past, ‘lift for yourself and do cardio for your family’.  He has also said ‘there is no reason to look good going to an early grave’, or something thereabouts.  According to what I have read, experts suggest a minimum of around 3 cardio sessions a week.  To be honest, I shoot for 3 cardio sessions a week, but sometimes only get 2.  The good news is that the addition of them to my program has made a phenomenal difference.  I am feeling better and losing weight while eating more (quality) food then I did before these changes were implemented.  I would also like to tell you that cardio has made a difference in my performances.  I can now go through a grueling stage show and still lift weights the next day without it affecting my workout.  Also, I have only seen an increase in strength since making these changes.  Cardio is beneficial, in both the long and short term, and it is necessary if you still want to be lifting in your golden (or as my wife’s grandma says “corroded”) years.

 5) OVER emphasis on Odd Object Training

I, like many others, had fallen into the belief that odd object training alone could make you stronger and tougher than the average bear.  While I agree that front squatting with a 250# sand bag IS impressive looking, it does not equate to lifting a barbell of much heavier weight.  What I mean is that, lifting a 170# keg overhead DOES NOT MEAN you will automatically be able to jerk a 300# barbell overhead.  I found this out the hard way.  You see, when I switched to a more balanced program of compound exercises, I had to drop my weights WAY, WAY below where I thought I would be.  While this was a blow to my performing strongman ego, I am forever grateful for it.  Even though I was humbled by the severe drop in poundage, I have been making steady, ever increasing gains in every exercise.  This shows that I have a LOT of room for growth and I have not yet reached full potential.  I thought gains were almost over, and Thank God I was wrong.  Take my advice, use the odd objects as finishers or challenge pieces, not as the centerpiece of your workout.  You will not be sorry.  While we sometimes hearken to the old days and like to imagine doing things just like the old timers, keep this in mind:  Part of the reason they used odd objects was that barbells and dumbbells were not as readily available as they are now.  Think of it this way, would you rather use an outhouse and pages from the Sears Roebuck catalog, or a nice comfortable toilet and a roll of Charmin?  Use the Charmin, your Bum will thank you.

6) Regular Full-range Leg Training

I had all but given up on full range leg training.  Since I workout at home that means I had dropped full-range barbell squats.  One of the reasons for this involves my exclusive use of an axle rather than a conventional barbell for many years, which I discuss below.  Another reason for this is that I had been doing bottom position squats and (foolishly) went too heavy, too often, too soon.  This led to a slight tear of something in my knee that makes it click / pop almost all of the time.  I decided in my infinite (make that FINITE) wisdom, I would stop regular barbell squats and use a hip belt.  While I do appreciate the hip belt, I have learned it is no substitute for full squats.  And while the hip belt DID help me maintain a level of leg strength, it did not translate into a big barbell squat.  Since implementing changes, I have begun doing 20-Rep squats OR Trap-bar dead lifts for leg work.  Since doing this, I have been able to complete all of my reps in EVERY workout, I have been able to add weight ALMOST every workout, and my knee issue has steadily DECREASED.  The full 20-Rep squat has SAVED me AND my lifting career.


7) Hand Strengthening Exercises

In my opinion, you should include some form of hand/forearm strengthening work in your training.  What I like best is using the thick-handled wrist roller.  It strengthens and toughens the hands, it increases forearm strength, and it will build strength like nothing else.  I find it especially important as a performing strongman because so many of the feats I perform can only be done with a high level of hand strength and dexterity.  And remember, you can only lift what your HANDS can hold onto.

8) OVER emphasis on Thick Bar Training

Like many others I have talked to, I bought a membership in the “Thick-Bar Training Only” club.  At one time, I trained nearly EVERY exercise with a Thick bar (2” axle).  Squats (Bottom Position), Push Presses, Curls, Dead lifts, Dumbbell exercises, etc.  While I managed to do some fairly high lifting, it had some unwanted consequences.  I developed irritation / pain in my wrists, shoulders, hamstrings, and knees.  I was getting stronger and sorer with each workout.  This was all due to A) weight jumps too large to maintain (now I jump no more than 5# at a time) and B) using thick bars exclusively.  I found out the hard way that training with thick barbells does not automatically mean increases in quality strength and muscle.  I made a big mistake and have paid dearly for it, gaining injuries and losing opportunities to gain strength and muscle.  The good news is that it was not too late for me, and it is not too late for you.  I put aside my axle and thick-handled dumbbell, bought an Olympic barbell and trap bar.  I have also changed my lifting program to include some stretching, warm up time, ab and neck work, and 2 full body workouts, going to controlled failure on each exercise.  Please take my advice, use your thick bar as an auxiliary grip strengthener, or as a finisher.  In other words, supplement your program with a bit of thick bar work.  Use the thick bar in the same manner as you use odd objects.  If you do, your body WILL thank you.

9) Tried and True compound Barbell/Dumbbell Exercises

As you may have guessed, I had quit doing many of the regular compound exercises because of the many (minor) injuries I had collected from doing excessive thick bar work and overloading the bar with weights I was not ready to use.  After discussing my dilemma with my friends mentioned above and purchasing some quality equipment (a barbell and a trap bar), I began using a program that has been truly life changing.  I know that I am truly on my way to being in the best shape of my life AND the strongest I have ever been, I have more time for my family, and my performances are getting easier!  I can also see that the aging clock has begun to reverse to a degree.  I basically perform several compound exercises back to back for 2 sets of 8 reps to controlled failure, followed by a compound leg movement for 2 sets of 10 or 1 set of 20.  When all reps of all sets of an exercise are performed successfully, I add 5# to the bar.  Below is a sample workout:

Warm-up (Kettlebell Swings – 3 minutes)     
Static Stretches (3-5 minutes)
Military Barbell Press (1 warm-up set, 2 sets of 8 reps working weight)
FOLLOWED BY
Hang Clean from knees in power rack (2 sets of 8 reps working weight)
FOLLOWED BY
Barbell Curl (2 sets of 8 reps working weight)
FOLLOWED BY
Full Squats (1 set of 20 reps working weight) ... OR ... Trap Bar Deadlift 2 X 10 ... (Alternate once per week each)

*This workout takes about an hour, which is great for a family man with a full time job (like me).  This type of workout is performed 2 times per week.*

Ab & Neck Work – 2 times per week (Non-lifting night)
Cardio (cross-country treadmill) – 2-3 times per week (non-lifting night)
 Hands/ Forearms/Strength Feats – Once per Week (non-lifting night)

Today, I challenge you to do like me, get back to the basics, get back to your weightlifting roots.  Re-evaluate your training regimen.  Is your core program full of compound exercises with barbells and dumbbells, or have you lost your way a bit, as I did?  Remember, we are all brothers and sisters in iron, and I ask you (as your brother), to make sure you are getting the most out of your training.  Keep it heavy, keep it progressive, and don’t miss your cardio.  If you do as I suggest, your body and your family will thank you.

GOD Bless,

Jeff's website:  www.jefftrexbankens.com     

    

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Way to Build 18 inch Arms Naturally - By Petros Parizas



In life there is always a good way and a bad way of doing things.Strangely i begin always using the bad way.That can well describe what exactly happened with my training..
To make the history short I want to let you know that i tried everything when it comes to training to build my arms on a bodyweight of 170lbs..from HIT to high vomume and in between..high reps, lower reps, rest pause reps and so on. At the begining everything worked well, I got stronger and muscle mass followed .. and in a period of 2-3 years i had to show 16.5 inc arms. Back then i was on the "famous" one muscle a day routine.
It was about time that problems began to show up ... pain in both shoulders, elbow and knee aches .. and the most important for me ... no strength or muscle gains for 1-2 years!
Accidentally i came across names such as Stuart McRobert, Brooks Kubik and Bob Whelan. It was time to make a huge change in my training and at last build 18in arms on a bodyweight of 180lbs.
How?
I stopped training 5 days a week but 3 at the most.
Did 2 sets for each muscle instead of 15
Relied on fullbody routines or upper/lower split if i was to train 3 days a week.
And last but not least the secret I learned from Prof. Brandley Steiner .. the forgotten light-medium-heavy training. 
On that specific principle I have so much to say that we can speak on another article.


Editors Note: Great information Petros ... especially considering that English is not your first language you did fantastic! ... Petros is a Greek Cypriot but after his medicial studies in Athens, he now lives and works in Sweden as surgeon. Keep em coming Petros!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Message from a Mind Force Radio fan in Northern Ireland

Hi Bob

Just want to let you know I recently came across your podcasts and I am really enjoying 
listening to them! I am out on the road with work twice per week and I am able to listen 
to podcasts while I'm driving so to have your episodes available to me is great.  I have 
been a fan of your work since Hardgainer magazine days and all the other writers also. 
Keep up the good work and I look forward to listening all the older episodes and await 
the ones to come!! 

Thanks
Simon Baird 

Belfast (Northern Ireland)





Editors Note: Thanks for the nice message Simon. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Strong Men and Strongman - Jim Duggan

"There is nothing quite as elemental to the makeup of a man as strength." This quote is taken from the introduction to a book written by a famous bodybuilder and strongman from the 1970s. I also used this quote in the chapter I wrote for the book "Iron Nation: Passion for Hard Training." I like this quote because it encapsulates the way that most of us who lift weights feel about our training. If you are reading this, you have probably dedicated a great deal of time and energy to the goal of building, maintaining, and even testing, overall body strength. But just what IS strength? I will not bore you with Webster's definition of the word. Nor will I attempt to differentiate between strength and power. I'll leave that to the Physics majors out there (and you know who you are!) But what does it really mean to be strong, and just what is the best method to measure strength?

Over the years, there have been many ways to measure and compare one's strength. I won't go back to the days of Milo of Crotona, or the gladiators. I will merely go back to the last century, starting back when Physical Culture became popular, and to the early days of weightlifting in the United States. When York Barbell was selling weights to the masses, and as more and more people became interested in building their bodies, the sport of Weightlifting or Olympic Lifting began to grow in popularity. In the years following World War II, the "golden age of American weightlifting," American lifters were dominant. And with increased publicity, thanks in large part to Strength and Health magazine, America's lifting champions were held in high esteem. Naturally, the heavy-weight lifters who held the world records were considered to be some of the strongest men in the world. Indeed, for as long as anyone can remember, the lifter with the highest total at the world championships was considered "the strongest man in the world." It was pretty simple. He lifted the most weight, therefore, he was the strongest. Period. Or was he?

At some point, during the 1950s, some of "odd lifts" started to become popular. Bench Pressing, Deep Knee Bends with a barbell resting on the shoulders, were being utilized by many athletes in the Iron Game. Eventually, Powerlifting became a full-fledged amateur sport, with more and more contests appearing. The Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift, it was argued, were the truest measures of overall body strength. The tremendous poundages being hoisted in these powerlifting contests attested to the fact that the powerlifters competing in these meets were brutally strong. It wasn't long before the super-heavyweight powerlifting champions were being lauded as the strongest men in the world. Inevitably, this lead to the age-old debate between the lifters of each sport. Just who were the stronger athletes? The Olympic Lifter claimed that lifting a heavy barbell overhead was the ultimate barometer of strength. The Powerlifters countered that the Deadlift is the most basic and truest test of strength. The bickering between the two lifting factions has continued for decades. But how can you accurately compare lifters from two different disciplines?

In the late 1970s, something new was added to weekend sports programming. The first World's Strongest Man contest was held in 1977. I remember watching it as a kid. Even though it was billed as the "World's Strongest Man," the contest consisted mostly of American weightlifters, powerlifters, track and field athletes,and NFL linemen. It was fascinating to watch these athletes attempt to lift beer kegs, race with refrigerators strapped to their shoulders, and deadlift cars. And while the early WSM contests were not anywhere near as sophisticated as today's contests, the events themselves were, in the opinion of many, an accurate way of determining just who was the strongest of the group. Of course, the Eastern European weighlifting champions of that era were not allowed to compete, so it's quite likely that the winners of those early contests were probably not the strongest men in the world. But is there a way to determine the absolute strongest man in the world? In my opinion, the answer is no. I remember reading a quote from Dr. Ken Leistner where he said that the strongest man in the world is probably lifting weights in a garage somewhere in the Midwest. Or in a barn. Or some other anonymous location. The point is, some brutally strong men will not be able to compete all at the same time. Simple logistics. Incidentally, back in the early 1980s, there used to be a contest held in England called the Strongbow Contest. It consisted of three lifts: Clean and Jerk, Deadlift, Standing DB Press for reps. American powerlifter dominated this contest. It was covered in the York publications. I would eagerly await for the issue with results each year it was held. Today, with the internet, such anticipation is unnecessary.

Nevertheless, the sport of Strongman, and it is a sport, with various governing bodies and federations, has evolved into a highly marketable enterprise. And the events have evolved, too. As well as the training for the events. "Event training" is a method of training that has the athlete utilizing the equipment and implements that will be contested. There is no guesswork. Serious competitors have access to Stones, Yokes, Kegs, and lots of other stuff. Indeed, many gyms have jumped on the bandwagon and set up areas in the facilities where you can lift kegs and stones, and flip huge tires. Speaking for myself, I have five different size granite stones, farmer's walk handles, two large anvils, and other strongman equipment that I use in my backyard.

So, is the World's Strongest Man contest the best way to determine just who, if anybody, can be accurately called the strongest man in the world? Many respected authorities seem to think so. You can certainly make a strong ( no pun intended) point for the competitors being called the strongest athletes in the world. But, again, what about that guy in the Midwest who's lifting in his garage and has never even heard of Conan's Wheel? And speaking of people who have never competed, what about the recent phenomenom of guys giving strength exhibitions? You've probably seen some of these people. They have an "act." This act might consist of bending horseshoes, or rolling up a frying pan, or bending nails or spikes. Some of these people might even go "old school" and blow up a hot-water bottle. Does it take strength to bend a steel spike? Of course it does. But does such a feat actually require an inordinate amount of strength or is there some sort of "trick" to performing such a stunt? Bending nails, or even coins has long been a staple in many a strongman act. But are these accurate markers of overall body strength? You certainly need strong hands and wrists to perform such feats, but can you really compare it to lifting 400 Lbs. overhead?

And while we're talking about hand and wrist strength, we cannot overlook the "grip guys." The ever-growing population of people who specialize in grip strength, particularly closing heavy-duty hand grippers. There are books, websites, and forums devoted to the "sport." The accomplishments of these people are nothing short of amazing, and they are a very dedicated group. There's just something about watching somebody crush something with his hands. But is it a true measure of strength? We've all read about some of the guys who take it to the extreme. I remember reading about one of the elite grip guys from about ten years ago. He closed the heaviest gripper there is, but was unable to squat with 300 Lbs. It doesn't make sense to have powerful hands if the rest of your body is weak.

I will devote more time to this topic in a future article. Right now I think I will do some research into some of the old strongmen who used to have cannonballs shot into their stomachs.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Eat Fat, Get Fat or Eat Fat, Get Healthy? - By Nancy Clark MS, RD

Remember when the Eat fat, get fat mantra prevailed? Athletes avoided fat like the plague. They ate poached fish, dry salads, and steamed vegetables in efforts to reduce the risk of getting fat — to say nothing of having a heart attack. Unfortunately for many low-fat eaters, dieting went awry. Fat-free foods left them unsatisfied, with gnawing hunger and a relentless drive for fat-free frozen yogurt (fat-free = calorie free, right?) or (what the heck) a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey Ice Cream.

Nutrition professionals learned a lesson: advising Americans to eat less fat led to the unintended consequences: of eating more sugar. A big mistake. Hence, the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend we include health-promoting poly- and mono-unsaturated fats in our meals—but still limit the artery-clogging saturated fats from greasy meats and fatty “junk” foods.

Given that Time magazine reported butter is back and the Paleo diet embraces coconut oil (high in saturated fat), athletes are left wondering whom to believe. Can we really eat bacon, burgers and other foods rich in saturated fats without hurting our health? This article addresses issues related to dietary fat and your sports diet.

What about coconut oil … is it better than olive oil?

All fats contain a variety of mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated and saturated fats in varied proportions. The harder the fat —butter, beef lard—the more saturated it is. The softer/more liquid the fat (avocado, olive oil) the better it is for your health. Coconut “oil” (called an oil because it is from a plant, but it is solid at room temperature) has some “good” fats, but it also has some “bad” fats. To date, research on the health risks or benefits associated with long-term intake of coconut oil is sparse. Hence, you want to ask yourself, ”Why would I want to trade extra-virgin olive oil (known to be health-promoting) with coconut oil (with questionable health claims)?”

What percent of my calories should come from fat?

The percent of total calories that should come from fat is whatever is left after consuming a foundation of grains, fruits and vegetables to fuel your muscles, and adequate protein-rich foods (lean meat, fish, beans, low-fat dairy, soy) to build and repair muscles. The percent of total calories from fat is less critical than the type of fat.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 10% of calories come from saturated fat. That means, if you eat 2,000 calories a day (a reducing diet from most active people), you can choose 200 calories (22 grams) of saturated fat a day. Ideally, you will spend those fat-grams on foods rich in nutrients, such as 2% milk (3 g sat-fat per 8 ounces); reduced-fat cheese (3-6 g sat-fat per ounce), or hard-boiled eggs (1 g sat-fat per egg) — not on empty-calorie butter (7 g sat fat per tablespoon) or coconut oil (12 g sat-fat per tablespoon).

Unsaturated fats knock down inflammation. For athletes who damage muscles during hard exercise, reducing inflammation can enhance recovery. Hence, you want to eat health-promoting fats—extra virgin olive oil, avocado, all-natural peanut butter, nuts, and salmon. They are not only anti-inflammatory, but also needed to absorb vitamins A,D,E and K. Plus, they help food taste better. Enjoying some healthful fat in each meal makes the meal yummier and more satisfying—and easier for you to reduce hankerings for decadent desserts. NOTE: While unsaturated fats are health promoting, they are never-the-less calorie-dense. One tablespoon of oil (of any type) has about 120 calories. Eat fats in portions that fit within your calorie budget!

Are fat-free foods, like skim milk and fat-free salad dressing, wise additions to a sports diet?

The answer to that question depends on what other foods are in the entire meal. The goal is to not eat fat-free meals! That is, a fat-free breakfast of Cheerios and skim milk can leave you feeling “unfed” and hankering for a donut or two by 9:30 a.m. In comparison, choosing 2% milk for the cereal could help you feel satiated. Better yet, add whole grain toast with all-natural peanut butter to the breakfast and you will be truly content. Similarly, a salad with fat-free dressing can leave you hankering for cookies—unless you toss in some quality calories, such as avocado, chopped walnuts, tuna and extra-virgin olive oil. Including some health-promoting fat in each meal and snack can actually help save you calories in the long run if it calms the cookie monster.

Should I avoid peanut butter because it is so high in fat?

No! Research suggests people who eat nuts and peanut butter are not fatter than people who avoid those foods. While the majority of calories in peanut butter do come from fat, the good news is the fat is primarily poly- and mono-unsaturated (only 1 g sat-fat per tablespoon of all-natural peanut butter). Peanut and other nut-butters protect against heart disease and diabetes, two diseases related to inflammation. Like all fats, enjoy nut butters in portions that fit within your calorie budget.

I consider peanut butter to be one of the best sports foods (and diet foods) around, not just because it knocks down inflammation, but because it is yummy and satiating. That is, a lunchtime low-fat turkey sandwich leaves me hankering for dessert, but a peanut butter and honey sandwich leaves me feeling satiated for several hours; no snacks needed!

The bottom line: Enjoying health-promoting unsaturated fats in your sports diet reduces inflammation, enhances absorption of certain vitamins, helps curb the appetite — and adds yumminess. Just don’t overeat calories from fat—or from any type of food, for that matter. The mantra Eat excess calories, get fat is more accurate than Eat fat, get fat.

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players, as well as teaching materials, are available atwww.nancyclarkrd.com. For online workshops, visit www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Staying motivated on the other side of the hill - By Dave Yarnell


It occurred to me that there has been one on-going theme rattling around the old skull of late, and that there just could be a few others out there struggling with it, too.

Do you also get bent out of shape when those people from AARP send you membership applications? How dare they imply that I have reached that point? It will be years before that R word even crosses my mind. Especially considering the social security administration will likely move that carrot on a stick known as the minimum retirement age out of my grasp just as I think I might be able to latch onto it. But I digress. The AARP are not the only ones trying to tell me something these days. Various joints and tendons, along with some other tissues that have a slight resemblance to something I used to call muscles all chime in, usually with complaints and a generally poor attitude towards any movement that brings discomfort, of which there seems to be an ever growing number.

Wah, wah, wah; get over it, I keep telling these whiny and uncooperative members of my body. But alas, mere words fail to convince these unruly ingrates. Just because I have been subjecting them to moving through various planes of motion while simultaneously attempting to defy the laws of gravity, slamming them into parked cars, terra firma and other unforgiving objects for the last 40 plus years is no reason to cop an attitude now…is it?

Well, O.K., maybe some liniment applied before torture sessions and a little more effort on flexibility would be a nice gesture. But if this beat up old machine thinks it is going to get to sit back and be content to remember the glory days, it has another thing coming. Certainly not when plenty of other machines with at least as much or even far more mileage are still out there running strong.

So it simply becomes a matter of mind over matter. After all, the machine does not seem to realize that all this is for its own good. To allow too much rest would just invite more rust. Leave things have their own way, and sooner or later they will just refuse to respond at all. The term “over the hill “is a relative one. One person’s so- called over the hill is another’s starting point. If you follow my Forgotten Strength Secrets Facebook page, you are aware that I celebrate and strongly encourage the senior iron-heads out there, many of whom are well past my age and are refusing to make excuses about whatever they can’t do. Sure, realistically as we age, that list continues to grow, but you just can’t give in and let the “can’t” side win. Focus on what you still can do, perhaps even try to push that envelope a little, and you just might surprise yourself in a positive way. I offer my own situation as an example, not that I am doing anything spectacular in any way, mind you. After limping around for quite a while, while still involved in competitive deadlifting and squatting in 2014, I finally broke down and went to the doctor for a checkup and diagnosis, and was not tremendously surprised to learn that I had a pretty bad case of arthritis in my left hip, not to mention a bit of a disc issue in the lower spine. I was told a hip replacement was pretty much inevitable, but that I could try therapy and/or cortico-steroids to “buy some time” So, I took some oral cortico steroids which basically did nada. I then went the therapy route, which did offer a bit of relief after a while, but certainly nothing miraculous. This was roughly 16 months ago. Since then, I have given up on heavy squatting and deadlifting totally, and am concentrating on upper body strength, and trying to keep the lower body as flexible and resilient as possible, mostly by lots of time on the recumbent bike.

My mileage, resistance level and pace have been slowly but surely getting better, so I am happy with the progress. I have to admit, it does tick me off when I first get on the bike, have been pedaling for  15 or 20 seconds and I hit the program button and the stupid thing flashes “start pedaling”. Really? So, I am coming to grips with the idea of the hip replacement thing, but at the moment am trying the latest hi-tech hyaluronic acid supplement that has been getting good press in the iron community. I still hit the gym 2-3 times a week. Yes, I really miss the heavy deadlifts, which were my favorite for decades. Perhaps the heavy pulls and I will get re-acquainted again down the road; perhaps not. Soon to be 56, I am a long way from tossing in the towel. So if you catch me limping past you at the gym, stop and share your war stories. I am hoping to compete again this May in my club’s Pennsylvania state championship contest, bench press only, and wearing a single ply shirt at that. The shoulders are not thrilled with this notion, but I will do my best to keep them in line. In conclusion, I can only say never give up, never surrender. Oh, and if I smell funny, that will likely be Tiger Balm.

Dave's Website
  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Strength Training's Bottom Lines - By Ken Mannie


Ken Mannie is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University. (2007)

Kim Wood, one of the original strength and conditioning coaches in professional sports, has always provided both the young and old in the field with the little gems of professional wisdom worth tucking away in the memory banks.

Wood, the now retired, 28-year veteran of the Cincinnati Bengals, still has a great knack for putting an often-complicated discipline into proper perspective.

One of his favorite one-liners continues to stick with me: "Strength training is as much an art as a science."

As I get older, the wisdom in that statement continues to gain momentum.

Make no mistake: There is, without question, a great deal of ever-evolving scientific data being disseminated in the strength-training arena. Enough, in fact, to overwhelm young coaches who have been assigned to the weight room with little or no experience. The ability to see the forest through the trees is the point that Kim is continuing to make.

Let's put the fire-storm of rep speed, sets, and exercise selection on the back burner for this discussion: How the underpinnings of a sound, practical, strength training program works regardless of philosophy nuances--strength training's bottom lines.

SUPERVISION AND MOTIVATION

If you're not careful, it can be easy to drown in the sea of guru methodologies and lose sight of these two extremely vital components. Supervision and motivation will do as much--if not more--for the success of your program as anything else you can imagine.

Supervision serves as a segue to consistent gains and is a requisite from a liability standpoint. Even after several years of teaching and indoctrination, a coach should never assume that all of the athletes under his watch have mastered the training protocols and possess the desire to attack them with commitment and dedication.

Additionally, it is our duty as coaches to direct all weight room operations with a keen eye focused on safety considerations.

Here are some vital cues we stress to our staff and to each athlete in terms of being a good training partner:

1. "Coach" the athlete for the entire duration of the set.

It is the coach's/partner's responsibility to make sure that all of the techniques and important safety guidelines are constantly emphasized. Don't let your guard down with the attitude that "they know what to do."

Communication must be a mainstay over the course of the entire workout and a staple in all weight-room activities

2. Find and use the right motivational "buttons."

Athletes respond differently to various motivational strategies. It may take a while, but you must eventually unearth the approach that gets each athlete's motor running in high gear.

3. Assist, but don't perform any unnecessary work for the lifter.

Allow the lifter to do the brunt of the task at hand and only offer as much physical help as is needed to safely complete the set. This applies to movements where spotter assistance is both applicable and practical (e.g., bench press, squats, dumbbell movements, various machine modalities, etc.).

4. Don't invade the lifter's space unless it's absolutely necessary.

In most exercises, there is little need for the spotter to attach himself to the lifter like a hood ornament. Step in and assist when necessary, but give the lifter room to operate. And when it is time to step in, do so with focus and positive reinforcement.

For the athletes, learning to become a competent training partner will give them greater insight into their own strength training and enable them to devise better strategies for everyone involved.

Competent supervision and motivational methods cultivate enthusiasm and heighten the concentration and intensity put forth in the workout. Even highly motivated, "self-starter" types benefit from a teammate who exhibits a genuine interest in the betterment of everyone in the room.

Going back to Kim's statement, motivation is truly an art form. Enthusiasm is contagious, and the best way to motivate others is to be motivated yourself and bring that energy to every aspect of the training program. It doesn't necessarily require any special training or a guest speaker presentation to get the message across--just a true, heartfelt belief in what you're doing and the determination to help others be successful.

If every single athlete trains with passion and purpose--and brings both of those qualities when spotting his partner--an infrastructure of trust, unity, and credibility is quickly built within the team.

CHOOSING TO WIN

While there are certainly enough factors in physical improvement that are out of our control (e.g., genetically-based road blocks), there are enough controllable variables for us to corral and use to our benefit.

Here is just a short list of manageable criteria for success:

* Working hard and smart.

My grandfather used to tell me, "When you are thirsty, don't sit around and wait until someone brings you a cup of water. Get yourself a good shovel and go help him dig a well!"

There is no substitute for hard work. We tend to lose sight of that key principle in this age of quick fixes, mystical powders, wonder pills, and magical elixirs.

Sure, do it the right way--with integrity, a great plan, and excellent troubleshooting savvy--but be willing to roll-up your sleeves and attack the task with the great passion and enduring purpose previously mentioned.

* Comprehensive training.

Whether you choose to perform total body workouts, or have an affinity for split, upper\lower scripts, a blueprint must be established for training all of the body's important muscle compartments. Even if it is done gradually over the course of a week or so, it is important to cover all bases from the neck to the ankles.

* Commitment to consistent training habits and a healthy lifestyle.

Living "right" is as close to being the zenith of successful training requirements, as you will find. Athletes cannot train with the required intensity and progressive work increments, while at the same time engaging in activities (e.g., alcohol, illicit drugs, late-night partying, etc.) that serve only to eventually destroy them as both athletes and people.

Additionally, a well-planned and properly balanced nutritional strategy is vitally important to the success of any training program. The body needs a constant supply of the proper nutrients for fuel, recovery, and growth. We've provided suggestions and tips in Powerline for adhering to a high-performance nutritional plan, and we will continue to do so in the future.

* Rest and recover as needed.

As difficult and challenging as a sound strength program may be, everyone involved must understand the importance of allowing the body an appropriate recovery period.

Allowances must be made over the course of the entire training calendar for these respites with consideration given to the following paramount factors:

1. Weekly lifting schedule, frequency, duration, and intensity.

2. Weekly running schedule, frequency, duration, and intensity.

3. Practice schedule, frequency, duration, and intensity.

4. Competition schedule.

My advice is to pencil-in the "rest" periods on your staff calendar to emphasize their importance as an integral part of the overall program. Then, stick to them with the realization that a little time off may be just what the doctor ordered to recharge the players' batteries and get their competitive juices flowing again.

FINAL REP

Motivation, comprehensive training, well-planned overload strategies, recovery allotments, and healthy lifestyle habits will yield high returns on the investment when they are consolidated into a workable scheme.

Strength training truly is as much an art as it is a science. And with a little extra time and effort, it can paint an absolutely beautiful picture.

TIP FROM THE TRENCHES

FUELING THE BODY:

High-octane suggestions from the experts--Following are some great nutrition tips from my two go-to guys on the subject, Scott Sehnert, MS, RD, and Joe Carlson, PhD, RD, who work daily with our Spartan athletes on all sports nutrition matters:

PRE-TRAINING/GAME MEALS.

These meals should be eaten 3-5 hours before the event and should be high in carbohydrate (at least half of the total calories), moderate in protein, and low in fat (especially saturated fat).

Everyone is different with respect to the exact types and amounts of food they can tolerate prior to high-intensity activities such as games and training sessions, but each athlete will eventually learn what works best for him/her. Consuming adequate fluids (at least 16-24 ounces) with the meal is vitally important.

PRE-WORKOUT SNACKS.

These are highly recommended, particularly before a strenuous or long duration affair, or when two workouts per day are on the docket. A small snack is recommended 30-60 minutes before the training session that consists primarily of carbohydrate (30-50 grams), a modest amount of protein (7-10 grams), and very small amount of fat.

RECOVERY AND MUSCLE BUILDING.

Eating after an intense workout or game is essential for recovery and preparation for the next workout/practice. Doing so helps replace carbohydrate stores in muscle tissue (glycogen), aids in repairing damaged muscle, and assists in building new muscle mass.

This is especially true during "two-a-days" and other situations when there is minimal recovery time between training sessions. If you do not eat a snack or meal after an arduous workout or game, the body tends to breakdown muscle for energy, which can result in muscle degradation.

Try to eat within 60 minutes of the completion of the session/contest, with an emphasis on carbohydrates (70-100 grams) and attention to quality protein consumption (20-30 grams).

Fluid intake, as a rule, should include at least three 8-12 ounce cups of water per pound of body fluid (as indicated by the scale) lost during the activity.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Importance of Neck Training - Jim Duggan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Advanced Techniques - By Dave Yarnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

BODY • MIND • SPIRIT