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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Remembering a great man: Mike Bondurant - By Neil Saffer

On April 14th the world lost a great man. Our friend Mike Bondurant passed from this world after a brave 5 year battle with cancer, which he fought like the true strong man he was.

Mike was one of a kind. I could fill a book or two with stories and I am sure that each of you reading this will have many of your own to add. I will try to briefly tell the story of a great man, a wonderful husband, father, son, grandfather, neighbor and friend. Mike Bondurant was a veteran, a gym owner, a bodybuilding contest promoter, an actor, an Emcee, a salesman, an Iron Game collector and historian, a writer, an environmentalist, a knife collector and a great guy!

Mike grew up in Virginia and then attended high school in Germany. The son of a highly decorated Army veteran he followed his dad Col. Ray Bondurant’s footsteps and enlisted in the US Army where he served in intelligence from 1958-1962.

After Mikes service he went to Yokohama Japan where he met the love of his life, his beautiful wife Tomi , they married in 1966 and had two beautiful daughters Michelle and Misty.

Mike and Tomi lived in Hawaii from 1964-1969 and Mike graduated from the University of Hawaii. Mike had always loved all things physical culture and while in Hawaii he worked and trained at the famous Mits Gym (taking over for Tommy Kono).

After moving back to the states (Delray Beach Florida) Mike opened the first Key Gym in 1972. Over the next 30 years Key Gym had moved several time to bigger and better facilities but the feeling was always the same, a family run gym, solid equipment, with many pieces built by Mike (who took a welding class at the local night school to learn how to build his own equipment). Homemade protein shakes, muscle cookies and brownies by Mikes daughters, and legendary Christmas parties with Tomi’s famous sushi.

Over the years Key Gym turned out many of South Florida’s best natural bodybuilders and many a young man and women got their first taste of the iron as well as a feel for the camaraderie that you can only get in a local gym at Key Gym.

Mike and his family promoted the best amateur contests in South Florida for years starting in 1980 with The Mr. Boca Raton followed in 1981 by The Palm Coast. Mike was a pioneer in the drug free bodybuilding movement and was the first to promote tested contests starting with The Natural Intracoastal in 1986. In 1990 Mike and I started promoting ANBC Contest s together which we did for the following 7 years.

Mike was always an advocate of natural foods and hated artificial sweeteners and chemicals. In 1986 he started Key fitness Formulas and there are many people that swear to this day that Key Pro 93 was the best protein powder of all time. Mike covered many miles in his van selling and delivering Key Pro to gyms and health food stores all over Florida.

Mike was a collector of any and all things related to the Iron game and its history. What started as a small collection became The Muscle Museum and Mike the curator. He would spend days tracking down an interesting piece and many hours on the phone talking to other collectors. I think that one of the best days of his life was when he acquired his 1st globe barbell, as well as the day he discovered eBay. Mike attended several meetings of The Association of Old Time Barbell and Strongmen, had many good friend in the organization and led several collectors meetings at the annual gathering. Mike wrote The Muscle Museum Forum for many years a labor of love for collectors, published by his daughter Michelle.

The Muscle Museum was housed at all the various Key Gym locations until Mike moved to Clearwater in 1998 where he opened a health food store and the new home of the Muscle Museum. A few years later Mike and Tomi moved to Saint Augustine, a town that they had always loved and dreamed of living in. In Saint Augustine Mike stated a new chapter and starred in several local productions at the local theater. The Muscle Museum moved to 2 rooms at Mike and Tomi’s new home and still welcomed many visitors as they were passing through town.

On a personal note I spend most every night on a stage in front of a crowd, a skill I learned and honed from behind the curtain watching Mike emceeing bodybuilding contests for years! I have knives all over my desk and office and read every knife book and catalog I can get my hands on, I love old westerns and I recycle, and I train in a backyard gym that is all old school and hardcore all a tribute to my best friend Mike Bondurant.

Listen to Mike's interview on MFR

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Working Out While Training - By John Greaves III

I know that’s a weird title. Seems like I just said the same thing twice. But here me out. What I mean is you should be actively involved in problem solving during your training session if you want to be successful long term. Working out has developed a bit of a bad rap over the past few years. The idea of working out is now associated with half hearted curls with pink dumbbbells or lethargic reps on a selectorized machine in between sets of posting selfies to your Twitter account about how you’re going“Beast Mode”. Today serious exercisers say they train. Either they train for a specific sport or they train to be ready for life. This is in general a good thing but it does have a downside. Training tends to imply steady progress toward a peak or specific goal and followed possibly by a deload period and then by another steady rise to a higher level of performance or improved physique.

Too bad that’s not how it works in real life. Real life training often includes plateaus, sometimes even periods where strength or fitness declines. So how do we respond when we hits those plateaus? If we’re smart, we work out the problem like a kid in math class working out problems on the board.

I’m in the same process now, working on mastering my breathing in the barbell squat. Didn’t do so hot last session. Passed out some time during the fourth rep of the third set; had to apologize to my spotters afterward and be more careful so it didn’t happen again when I did my fourth and final set. I’m experimenting with three breaths at the top; descending after the third breath. In the past I tried breathing twice and one big breath. It’s a problem I’m working out.

I don’t think that I’m the only one who has come up with good ideas during a training session. That’s why my office is in my basement right next to the garage gym where I normally train. As focused as I may be on my training session, when an idea hits me; I immediately run into my office and jot the idea down before I lose it. I’ve written some of my best work after an intense workout session. But more than that, the process of working out an exercise problem forces you to research different ideas, it may cause you to talk to others with more time in the Iron Game than you. All of this is beneficial to your brain, which is essentially an organic problem solving engine.

I think that the mental effort to figure out how to get a stalled lift to show progress again reaps tremendous benefits and not just in physical ways. I was listening to performing strongman Chris Schoeck on the Super Strength Show podcast recently and he mentioned in passing that he keeps horseshoes next to his bed while he’s working them out. Working them out. It hit me as I continued to listen to the conversation that while performing strongmen have always trained to perform strength feats, they didn’t necessarily periodize. Instead they applied effort and intellect to problems until they hit upon the secret to bending the nail, breaking the bat, juggling that barbell. Might be why some of the greatest intellectuals of the past, Theodore Roosevelt, Da Vinci also pursued regular physical training. Every plateau forces you to stretch mentally and grow spiritually.

Ignoring the power of working out problems with your lifts can lead to unnecessary discouragement, especially in our social media world where it seems like everyone else is hitting PRs everytime they step into the gym or onto a platform. Don’t fall into that trap. Plateaus come to everyone. I’ve interviewed several champions and talked so many more at competitions and they all say the same things. Everyone stalls sometimes. Even if they’re using modern chemical assistance. How much more if you’re a natural trainee?

Don’t be discouraged when you stall. Embrace this opportunity to understand more about this particular lift or how this bodypart on you responds to different kinds of training. Maybe rest a little bit more, adjust technique. Work out the problem. You’ll come out of this with a stronger mind in a stronger body.

John Greaves III’s website

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Missing the BIG picture? - By R.J. Hicks

Serious strength training was first introduced to me at the age of 14. A group of football players from the neighborhood and I would go over to Coach Mike’s house, who was not only our coach but our mentor, to workout in his basement and backyard. The basement was small but not empty; a bench press and cable pull down were situated side by side and a reverse hyper machine was only steps away. The floor was lined with heavy dumbbells and various kettlebells. Squat stands and adjustable Olympic stands stood crowded in the corner. Outside was a rubber platform for heavy deadlifts, front squats, and Olympic lift variations. Just beyond the gated fence were huge tires and other seemingly odd lifting objects resting in the mangled, overgrown yard. The workouts were challenging and progressive, and every time we trained sets and reps were recorded. A sense of nervousness came over me every time I showed up to train. Between the competitive environment, the constant reassurance and fortitude among peers, and the moment of truth that came with weekly weigh ins and skin fold measures there existed no place to escape growth, development, or self criticism. I was scared. Fear of quitting, embarrassment in my performance, and of not being able to complete the workouts or not measuring up to the other athletes constantly engulfed my thoughts. For the first time in my life a new mentality began to take place. It was built on a newfound belief of self reliance and the acknowledgement that no matter what was thrown at me while at Coach Mike’s house, I could take the pain, the uncertainty, the criticism, and sacrifice needed to eventually succeed. Despite the rigorous atmosphere, each workout brought about a strong sense of accomplishment, confidence, and mental toughness. Everything I got out of that training carried over into my daily life as I learned not to be afraid of failure and how to battle adversity, both inside and outside the weight room. The key to our successful training, which took me a long time to realize, was looking to push the weight up every workout. Because of this, every day we left the gym a little stronger and motivated for the next workout.

I have always struggled with constant frustration on my journey to build strength as I have battled multiple obstacles and derailments. When I arrived at college, I believed my strength training was a failure, which was difficult because I had been training and working since I was 14 years old. I blamed the strength programs we were using to train and the need to drop weight for wrestling. Because of this misplaced blame, I thought I needed more advanced training methods. Therefore I over trained assuming it would allow me to gain strength quicker allowing me to catch up to those I was competing against. In the end, it did nothing besides slow my personal progress in addition to hurting me physically. It was upsetting and demoralizing knowing something I cared so much about and truly dedicated myself too did not give me the results I wanted. This disappointment only fueled me to want to know more. Many others in similar situations begin to over think training programs, attempting to find the perfect rep and set scheme while trying to discover the best combination of exercises with the perfect amount of rest in between them. It is when this occurs and we feel as if our training is failing, that we must revert back to basic training principles and simply look to add weight.

Variety, change, and muscle confusion are heavily emphasized as a foundation of many training programs. The desire to improve every physical aspect of the muscle groups and work every energy system at once keeps coaches preoccupied and sometimes distant from the goal of strength training. I see it in the weight room where coaches are training for better movements, balance, speed, or specific motor abilities all the while forgetting that the purpose of strength training is to build bigger and stronger muscles. It does not matter the type of strength training the athlete practices whether one is a power lifter, Olympic lifter, strongman competitor, college athlete, or fitness enthusiast, if he or she want to get stronger weight must be continually added. If an athlete is using 70 pounds for one arm dumbbell rows for 10 reps and progressively works their way up to 90 pounds for 10 reps, then the athlete has gotten stronger, it’s as simple as adding weight for the same number of reps. A training program with the goal of building strength needs to incorporate progressive resistance throughout its entirety.

I began to witness this ideology when I put this principle of strength training in the form of just adding weight to the forefront of priorities while I interned. Once I graduated college I took an internship where my beliefs and perceptions on strength training brought me back to very basic principles. My internship was at Excellence in Fitness, which is a high intensity strength training studio run by Joe Aben who is a long time client and friend of Bob Whelan. The coaches at Excellence in Fitness practice a simple system which included 9-12 exercises, usually one set each sometimes more, where strict form is demanded and every exercise is meticulously recorded. The training is challenging and always progressive because weight is added once the rep range was met. This addition of weight meant that improvement can be found within every workout. My first workout training in this way called for 7 exercises; leg press, hammer strength bench, pulldown, pendulum squat machine squat machine, nautilus shoulder press, seated row, and back extensions. As simple as it sounded I felt I physically got more out of each exercise. I felt my muscles actually working to their limits, being able to contract harder to generate more force in that workout then the hundreds I had performed before. Not only did I feel more productive in the workout, but now I had an easy tracking system to build the weight on each exercise in a practical approach. I realized that I had gotten caught up into the finer details of building maximal strength, reversal strength, strength speed, speed strength, sub maximal lifting, concurrent training and all other component of strength. I misplaced the basic principles we all learn from the start and that really focusing on a few exercises was more powerful then drawing up the most advanced workout. I felt firsthand how I could work very hard, without stressing over programming and waiting several weeks to test for validation of my new strength. Remember it is not the exercises or training methods which our most important to strength training, but the principles. Aben’s system is successful not because of how the program is written or even the exercise selection, but due to the fact he never lost sight of constantly adding poundage in a tractable manor which makes people stronger.

Although personally I train leaning more towards high intensity strength training principles, I believe that simply being able to add weight for the same amount of reps is one of the most efficient ways to get stronger. It’s simple; add weight, same reps, get stronger. Even though great merit exists in powerlifting based programs, Olympic lifts, high volume training and even high intensity training, all of these training methods have the potential to be just as ineffective as beneficial. The big picture here is that in order to get big and strong, the underlying principle for success in whatever training method an athlete or fitness enthusiast chooses is the ingenious concept of simply adding weight. 

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


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 .  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)
Hang Clean from knees in power rack (2 sets of 8 reps working weight)
Barbell Curl (2 sets of 8 reps working weight)
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:     


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.
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!! 

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 For online workshops, visit

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.


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.


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.


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.



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:


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.


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.


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.