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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Death of America's Golden Age of Weighlifting - By Jim Duggan

When I was trying to decide on a subject to write about, I thought about the many articles I've written for both this website, and also "The Dinosaur Files." Most of the time, I write about different training ideas, programs, or actual workouts that I've used. But one thing stuck out in my mind: Every article I've written has been dedicated to the idea of getting stronger. In other words, LIFTING. And just about every person who has ever trained with weights has envisioned themselves hoisting massive poundages. And while not everyone has endeavored to compete in the various forms of competitive lifting, those of us who have graced the platform have had many champions to admire over the years. Given the sorry state of Olympic weightlifting in the United States today, it may be hard to imagine a time when American lifters were a dominant force. However, about sixty years ago, that was exactly the case. There truly was a "Golden Age" of American Weightlifting. And one of the biggest names of that era was Norbert Schemansky.

On Wednesday, September 7, 2016, Norbert Schemansky passed away at the age of 92. His death comes just five months after the death of another legendary American lifter, Tommy Kono, who passed away in April at the age of 85. These two gentlemen were two of the greatest lifters of all time. In fact, many lifting historians make a strong case for Tommy Kono being the greatest weightlifter of all time ( although, personally, I would make a strong case for John Davis, but that's another article.) In any event, for the United States to lose two of their greatest strength athletes within months of each other signifies the official end of a bygone era. And even though neither man had competed for over forty years, the legacy that each left behind will live on in the minds and hearts of all of us who love reading about strength, strong men, and physical culture.

One of my favorite books is "Mr. Weightlifting'" an excellent biography of Norbert Schemansky written by Richard Bak. It was written about ten years ago. The foreword was written by Al Oerter, another phenomenal strength athlete. If you can get your hands on a copy of this fine book, by all means do so. You will get a real appreciation for just how great an athlete Mr. Schemansky was, as well as an appreciation of his dedication and focus. He was the first weightlifter to win four medals ( one gold, one silver, two bronze.) He was a three-time world champion whose career spanned over twenty years. He got better- and stronger- as he got older, with best official lifts of Press-415 Lbs., Snatch-363 Lbs., Clean and Jerk, 445 Lbs.. What was even more remarkable was that, unlike today's sponsored athletes, he had to hold down a full-time job in order to raise his family. Imagine having to work for a living, while finding time to train, and still being able to compete with subsidized athletes from the old Soviet Union. A well-told story is about the time he returned home from the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. He had won the gold medal, yet there were no cheering crowds to greet him at the airport. In fact, he had to take a bus home. Can you imagine something like that happening in today's day and age?

There have been many articles written about his training, and the underlying theme has always been that Mr. Schemansky trained hard, and heavy on the basics. Heavy squats, pulls, and, of course, the lifts themselves. I remember reading one of his philosophies about training that stated that one shouldn't attempt maximum singles in the gym. Always strive to lift more in a contest, when it counts. I actually had pleasure of meeting Mr. Schemansky about twenty years ago. It was at the 1996 reunion dinner of the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen (AOBS). He was being honored that year, and I actually asked him for his autograph. The word about Mr. Schemansky was that he was not exactly the most friendly guy in the world, and that he could be caustic and abrasive. However, I found that not to have been the case at all. He could not have been nicer or more gracious. And I still have the autographed program. Incidentally, I am not a big autograph collector. In fact, the only other autographs I have are from Bruno Sammartino, Al Oerter, John Grimek, and Chuck Noll. There is one more thing that I would like to mention about Mr. Schemansky. He was a veteran of World War II, and saw action in Europe fighting for our country. A member of the "greatest generation," as well as a member of the "Golden Age of American Weightlifting."

We might all benefit from closer study of the greats of the Iron Game. I've always thought that anybody signing up to train at a gym or health club should be required to read the biographies of some our Physical Culture legends. It's sad to say, but there are far too many people lifting weights today that have never heard of John Grimek, or Bob Hoffman, or John Davis, or "Mr. Weightlifting" himself, the great Norbert Schemansky. The would learn first-hand about hard work, dedication, and persistence. Three qualities that will go a long way in helping you succeed in strength training. Or any other endeavor.

Monday, September 5, 2016

It's In The Cards - By Jim Duggan

Health, fitness, and all-around conditioning are several components of an overall exercise plan that are often overlooked. Anybody who reads the articles on this website is definitely interested in building strength. We all have similar goals and interests. However, many strength athletes pay little, if any, attention to developing their cardiovascular fitness. Many times, trainees will neglect it completely, until it's too late. Good health often becomes an afterthought. I will readily admit that, when I was in my twenties, my training was centered completely on becoming stronger, especially on the three powerlifts. Lift heavy, eat a lot, rest. Repeat. Cardio work was considered an anathema. I suppose most persons who train fall into the same trap, especially in their younger years. It wasn't until I reached my thirties that my outlook changed, and I started to devote some time to developing some level of fitness.

I am not trying to turn anybody into a modern-day Jack LaLanne. Nor do I want to radically change anybodies general training philosophy. I am simply suggesting that a small amount of time devoted to improving one's health and fitness will pay big dividends over the course of a lifetime. Besides, you won't be able to lift heavy weights if you can't even lift yourself onto your feet without sweating profusely.

There are many ways to incorporate some cardio work into any exercise program. I'm not going to get into a discussion about running, jogging, swimming or the like, since this website is devoted to natural STRENGTH. But all persons interested in strengthening their bodies should perform some form of cardio, or aerobic, training. Especially if they are past the age of thirty. The choice is an individual one insofar as which form of aerobic exercise is best. Any exercise that you will be willing to do several times per week is the best exercise. Like I've said many times, you know your body better than anybody else. Be attuned to what works for you, and do it. Nevertheless, here are some ideas:

While I usually lift weights 2-3 times per week, I do some form of cardio on the other days. There are several exercises that I like to do. Probably the easiest is simply walking. That's right- picking 'em up and putting 'em down. You'd be surprised at the health benefits that you will accrue from this simple movement. I prefer to walk outside, in the fresh air. However, on inclement days I will substitute walking on a treadmill. I usually aim for about 2.5 miles. Please bear in mind that this is not the Powerwalking Program that popularized by Steve Reeves years ago. Although if you want to Powerwalk, by all means do so. But it isn't necessary. You can get great results from simple walking. Another form of aerobic exercise I like to do is the Stairmaster machine. It has two advantages that seem to benefit me. I can go at a good pace, without the pounding on my feet and ankles that would result from distance running. Those of you reading this who, like me, are in the heavier weight classes can relate. Another advantage of using a Stairmaster is that, as a fireman, climbing stairs is an all-too-familiar part of my job, and spending time on a Stairmaster is an excellent way to keep me in shape.

For those of you who simply can't- or won't - do any form of cardio training, there is an option. An option that can even include using weights, if you'd like. It's a way of training that's been around for many years. It's called the Deck of Cards workout. Wrestlers, martial artists, and other elite athletes have been using this workout for years. It's quick, easy, and the best part is that you do not need any special equipment. All you need is a deck of cards, and some imagination.

Here's how it works: Assign an exercise to each suit. Shuffle a deck of cards, then start drawing a card form the deck. Do the assigned exercise for the amount of repetitions designated by the number on the card. So, if you assigned Bodyweight Squats to Hearts, and you draw the Seven of Hearts, then you would do seven repetitions. Face Cards can be Ten, Aces are worth Eleven. You can either disregard the Jokers, or use them and assign any amount of reps you'd like. You can use any exercises you'd like. I workout that I've been doing recently is as follows:

Hearts= DB Press w/ 60 Lb. Center Mass Bells ( a new toy I recently purchased from Sorinex equipment. More on that in a future article.)
Diamonds= Headstrap w/ 85 Lbs.
Spades= Weighted Step-Ups
Clubs= Weighted Sit-Ups.

Your exercise possibilities are limited only by your imagination. You can also make it even more basic and use just two exercises, and assign one movement to the Red suits, and another one to the Black suits. You want to be able to get through the deck as quickly as possible. You can even time yourself, so that way you have a way of measuring your progress. The key is to force yourself to work hard and fast.

The Deck of Cards workout is an excellent way to increase your level of conditioning, as well as your fitness. I distinctly remember a quote by John McCallum from his Keys To Progress Book, which read: " Time spent improving your health is time well spent. Good health is your biggest asset." By making a few simple changes, you can reap the rewards of not only building your strength, but becoming more fit as well.

Friday, August 5, 2016

SPREADING THE FRAME IN THE FORMATIVE YEARS (AND BEYOND) - A LAYMAN'S PERSPECTIVE - By Todd Baisley



Much of strength and health focuses on muscles and strength. In the midst of that, perhaps a nod towards skeletal development would be worthwhile. After all, a set of 17" all terrain tires might look good on a full size truck, but not so good on a Honda Civic. While much of the frame broadens and thickens just from being under the iron, some exercises serve this purpose more than others.

One can also give a nod towards symmetry without automatically being tagged a bodybuilder. If a young man has a shallow rib cage, but wide shoulders and long arms, there is nothing wrong with forgoing wide grip pulling movements for a season. If a guy has huge hips, and no upper body, once again, it isn't a crime to stay with some real low rep squats, gentle and progressive, while focusing on the upper body till things even out. When he stands straight and true for his bride to be, he'll thank you!

To spread the shoulder girdle, I would put wide grip chins, front and back, at the top of the list. These should be done in a slow and controlled manner with a FULL range of motion. Don't bother blowing your rotator cuffs with the common kipping craze. You'll only get away with it for so long. Keep the chest out, back arched unless you want to diminish the effectiveness by half. Over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how many guys have such little back development that do the right exercises, but with bad form. Couple the wide chins with some deadlifts or rows and it is a real winner. Looking back to the narrow scapula I had as a 143 lb. guy compared to my shoulder width two years later, after consistent wide chinning and rows, I am sold on this. And remember, while muscle comes and goes over the years, the frame you build stays pretty much the same.

For spreading the rib box, nothing beats the dumbbell pullover. Some guys do pretty well with a barbell as well. This is one of my great regrets in exercise selection, and probably helps explain my two dimensional appearance. Because I didn't "feel it" in the muscle, I thought it wasn't worth much. Many young guys make this same mistake. Don't be one of them. Keep a slight bend to the arms, take a deep breath, and sink into a good stretch while keeping the hips low. Patience and persistence will yield a couple inches on the chest in a few years when you're younger. It can be done when older, but it takes longer. This also arguably makes more room for the organs and potentially bigger motor under the hood, i.e. heart and lungs.

Squats are the well deserved and predictable choice for the lower body structure. The amount of growth hormone released into the system by squats is perhaps greater than any other exercise. Add to this the large amounts of weight your skeleton has to support, and it really contributes to a strong, solid frame. The carryover strength and athleticism for everything from a vertical jump, to driving opponents backwards in football or wrestling are noteworthy as well.

When training, surround these three worthy exercises with some heavy presses, curls, rows (upright or bent), dumbbell work, and some core work. I also recommend some neck work, especially bridging, but that is up to you.

For enduring muscle (not endurance muscle), the kind that won't disappear during a two week vacation or month lay off due to injury, build up to heavy weights and some lower reps. Pyramids up to a heavy single or double and 5x5 were my favorites. This winter, for the first time in twenty years, literally, I got a gym membership. For a change (and to try to help a couple nagging joints), my teen kids and I pummelled ourselves on a high volume, higher rep lifting routine. We're talking 20 sets of 12 to 40 reps, something I hadn't done in over twenty years either, but, hey, it was dark early and we were bored. After four months all of us hated working out and even I was surprised at how quickly the veiny, puffy muscle shrunk. Those three pounds I had put on through such toil were GONE when I took a couple weeks off.

On the flip side, when my brother and I first started training consistently, 30 years ago, we didn't own a bench so we built our three times a week full body routine around heavy military presses, frequently pyramiding up to a max lift. Though I can't claim much, my shoulders have never left me, even over extended layoffs. No one else in my family, besides my brother, has noticeable shoulders, so it isn't genetic. He can also still walk into Dick's Sporting Goods and side press a 90 pound dumbbell. It would be hard to overstate the role heavy, safe, lifting can play in the formative years for how one may look and be strong for the rest of their life.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Anvil and Stone - By Jim Duggan

Over the years, I have tried to challenge myself each year on my birthday. I remember reading about the legendary feats of Jack LaLanne, and also Bob Hoffman. They would each celebrate their birthday in a meaningful way. And for anybody who follows the ideals of Strength, Health, and Physical Culture, "meaningful" is a cheerful euphemism for working out brutally hard. And while I would never consider towing a flotilla of 70 rowboats during a mile-long swim with my hands shackled, I do try to come up with meaningful. And challenging.

One of my favorite ways of challenging myself is with Stones. Atlas stones have been a staple in Strongman Contests for many years. My first close encounter with stone-lifting was at the AOBS Reunion Dinner of 1999. It was there, at the old Downtown Athletic Club, that Steve Jeck put on an impressive display of stone-lifting. After the dinner, but before heading to Peter Luger's with Bob Whelan and Drew Israel ( yes, we went to dinner AFTER the dinner!) I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mr. Jeck. It was then that I was inspired to get my hands on some granite atlas stones. To make a long story short, about a month or so later, a nice, brand new 220 Lb. Granite Sphere was delivered to my house. Over the years I have added to my collection to the point where I now am the proud owner of five spheres. They range in weight from 145 Lbs. to 300 Lbs. Each one has a specific use. The lighter stones are usually used for rep work, while the heavier ones are meant for maximal attempts. But even when my workout calls for a series of heavy singles with the heavier stones, the smaller ones serve a useful purpose for warming up. 

As far as Anvils are concerned, my collection is limited to two. For now. I have a 100 Lb., and a 165 Lb. Anvil. I was first introduced to anvil-lifting by Dr. Ken. I remember reading an article in an old issue of Muscular Development. Like all of his articles, it was well-written and contained a lot of quality training information. A few years later, I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Ken and join the Iron Island Gym. And, tucked away in a corner of the gym, was one of his anvils. That was the first time I had ever actually seen an anvil up-close and personal. Prior to joining Iron Island, the only anvils I had ever seen was on the old Warner Bros. cartoons when Wiley Coyote was trying to drop them on the Road Runner. There is no desert on Long Island where I live, so the Road Runner can breathe easily. I won't be trying to drop one on him. But I do like to use my anvils as a workout tool from time to time. Cartoons aside, I do remember reading somewhere that the anvil can be accurately described as the American manhood stone. Perhaps we don't have a history of stones like they do in Europe. But we definitely have a history with anvils. Incidentally, I would love to get a few more anvils, but they are quite expensive.

Anyway, getting to the workout. I had wanted to rep out with the 180 Lb. Stone for a while. My previous best was 80 reps, done over the course of 90 minutes or so. For my birthday, my goal was to hit 100 reps. The movement itself is quite simple: Lift the stone from the ground and shoulder it. Of course, actually doing it 100 times is something else entirely. My plan was to break it down over many sets. I would do anywhere from 5 to 12 reps with the Stone. I would then go inside and perform 15 Hindu Push-ups. I would then go to the 100 Lb. Anvil and, using my Neck Harness, do a set of 12-15 reps. After the neck work, I would rest about minute, then continue. So the workout itself looked like this:

180 Stone x 100 Reps
100 Lb. Anvil x 100 Reps
Hindu Push-Ups x 100 Reps

Upon beginning the workout, I was surprised that I was lifting the stone pretty easily. One of the problems I encounter is that when I drop the stone to the ground, it does roll around from time to time. The combination of hard ground, and spherical stone being dropped from shoulder height will cause the stone to roll around a bit. Of course, if the ground is soft, there will be the inevitable craters. Not good for the footing. There is also the issue of dirt and sweat. I did have to wipe off my forearms at regular intervals. The weather was hot and humid, but it didn't really affect me. I did try to keep hydrated. Of course I did not use a belt, gauntlets, or tacky. And, yes, my forearms took a beating  ( as they usually do when I do high-rep stone workouts.) I was very happy that I was able to maintain a good rhythm and strong pace throughout the workout. I was able to complete the entire workout in less than two hours. Afterward, I was completely sore, as one could imagine. 

While not everybody might have access to stones, we all are capable of challenging ourselves. Whether it be lifting weights, shouldering stones, running long distances, or swimming a mile with your hands shackled while towing 70 rowboats, we all have the potential to better ourselves. And while I may not be a Spring chicken at 52 years old, I am proud to say that I haven't let myself become old. Nor have I lost the desire to challenge myself.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Assistance Exercises for the Bench Press - By Jim Duggan

Bench Press assistance work consists of numerous exercises that involve a large number of muscle groups. The purpose of assistance exercises is to increase your Bench Press. If you are a competitive powerlifter, this means lifting as much as possible on the day of the contest. If you are not competing, but would simply like to add a few pounds to your Bench Press, a properly planned workout, with the proper assistance work, will help you add weight to the bar. Regardless of whether or not you compete, to make gains of size and strength, you must have a goal, and also a plan. There's an old saying that goes something like, "A goal without a plan is only a dream." This is true, not only in lifting, but in any worthwhile endeavor.

A competition Bench Press can be broken down into three phases. The first phase involves lowering the bar to the chest. Strong upper-back muscles and biceps help control the descent of the bar. By lowering the bar under control, you set up the initial drive off the chest. You want to control the bar, and not have it control you. If the descent is not under control, chances are you won't make the lift. The second phase of the lift consists of the initial drive off the chest to midpoint. Powerful pectoral muscles will blast the bar off the chest and send it on its way. The last phase is from the midpoint to lockout. Strong deltoids and triceps can mean the difference between a successful lift, and one that can't be completed. 

In order for you to develop an effective program, you must analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. If you are strong off the chest, but your lockout is weak, then, naturally, you will select assistance movements that will strengthen the muscles involved in the lockout, i.e. the shoulders and triceps. Before I list some exercises, I would like to take a moment and talk about something very important. Safety. Do not attempt to do any type of heavy Bench Pressing without a spotter. This goes for the Bench Press and all its variations ( Incline Press, Decline Press, Close-Grip Bench Press.) Always have someone spotting you. If you can't find a spotter, then perform all your Benches inside a power rack. Personally, I think a power rack is the safest, and most effective, way to perform any Bench Press. 

The following is a list of exercises that I have found to be effective in improving the Bench Press. Naturally, assistance work does not take the place of the actual lift. You must consistently practice the actual movement in order to become a proficient lifter. And, yes, you should train the lift under contest conditions. Every rep should be done with a pause, even extension, feet flat on the floor. It would be absurd to train one way, and then compete under completely different conditions. Now, on to the assistance work:

1) Lockouts. These are done on a power rack. This will help with the final phase of the lift. Press the bar from the pins to the lockout position. You will eventually be able to work up to very heavy poundages. Several sets of low reps, done after your regular Bench Presses, should be sufficient.

2) Weighted Dips. Another effective movement for helping with the final lockout. Dips have gotten some bad press lately because of the potential for shoulder injury. This is one of those movements that might not be for everybody. If you have never tried them, start slowly. More importantly, do not pause for too long at the very bottom of the movement. If you can do them safely, try to add weight and work you way into doing sets of six.

3) Close-Grip Bench Press. This will strengthen and develop your triceps. This is an excellent movement. Take a close (about 6") grip, and work up to several sets of six to eight reps. You can also do these with an EZ Curl bar as a change of pace.

4) Incline Press. This movement can be done either with a barbell, or dumbbells. This is a good upper-pectoral developer. Utilizing dumbbells will help correct the problem of uneven extension. My friend and training partner, Larry Licandro, loved doing Incline Presses. He actually liked Inclines better than regular flat Benches. On the other hand, I rarely, if ever, used Inclines as an assistance movement. I would do them in the "off-season'" when there were no contests coming up. If I do them now, I usually do them "Dinosaur-style." That is, I do them in a power rack, set the pins at the bottom position and perform the lift from the bottom position.

5) Pause Bench Press. I mentioned earlier that ALL your Benches should be done with a pause. What I'm talking about here is utilizing a good 3-5 second pause at the bottom. This exaggerated pause will develop incredible power off the chest. 

6) Rowing/Pulldowns. By developing and strengthening the upper-back you will improve the first phase of the Bench Press. A strong back and powerful Lats will aid in your ability to lower the weight under control.

7) Overhead Presses. There is no better way to strengthen your shoulders than by pressing heavy weights overhead. Military Presses, Dumbbell Presses, Seated Presses. Whichever movement you prefer, get in the habit of doing some sort of overhead movement. Stronger shoulders will help you move heavier poundages. They will also help prevent injuries to a very vulnerable area of the body, the shoulder girdle. 

If you are training for a contest, remember that you will have to discontinue assistance movements at some point. Each individual is different, and some people can keep doing assistance work up until about a week before a meet. Others may need to stop much sooner. You will have to determine for yourself the best way to incorporate the various assistance exercises into an overall program. Don't try to imitate others.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What 4 weeks of being coached by Bob Whelan on Web Strength Coach.com did for me



After 4 weeks with Coach Whelan's training routine and nutritional guidance, I was able to pack on 11 pounds and progress 10-20 pounds in most of my work sets. After our first talk, Coach Whelan laid out a specific training routine and nutrition plan to reach my goals. Coach Whelan was there every step of the way to give me encouragement, as well as to critique and make the right adjustments for me to move forward. The mentoring I received, between the phone consultations and suggested reading lists, have given me the confidence that I now have the tools to continue to move forward in my training. Thank you coach for making my goals your goal and staying on top of me to see them through. I highly recommend coach Whelan, (WebStrengthCoach.com), to anyone who is serious about strength training without the excuses.
Very Respectfully,
R.J. Hicks


Editors note: Thanks you RJ, it was a pleasure. You worked hard and deserve the results.

Monday, June 27, 2016

OLD BUT STRONG - By Ian Duckett ... A great book!

Thanks again Ian for sending me a copy of your great book OLD BUT STRONG. I just finished reading it and I thoroughly enjoyed every page. I love your approach to training and life. My favorite parts were the image of you running ten miles on the beach before school ... and your quote: "If you eat clean and train hard - that is what you will look like you do!" ... true dedication and very motivating! This is an awesome book... a truthful top quality guide book to successful bodybuilding, (and living), for all ages! I highly recommend this great book. - Bob Whelan


ORDER HERE

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Training To Improve Your Bench Press - By Jim Duggan

The Bench Press is probably the most popular exercise among people who train with weights. Just about everybody who trains has been asked the inevitable question: "How much do you Bench?" You can possess a world-class Squat or Deadlift, but most people who train in commercial gyms only want to know about your Bench Press. Which is a shame because directing all your energies to only one competitive lift will make you an incomplete lifter. Imagine a tennis player only focusing on his/her backhand. Or a boxer only learning to throw a left hook. The goal of any trainee is to develop all-around body strength. Any powerlifter reading this should strive for balanced strength in all three competitive lifts. And while it's not possible to be equally good in each lift, you should try as hard as possible to not have any weaknesses.

If you are a competitive powerlifter, and are interested in improving your Bench Press, you should develop a systematic plan for increasing your maximum lift. Even if you do not compete, but would simply like to get stronger, you must still develop a program that will lead to an increase in your poundages. And most people will not need a pep talk to get into a program of heavy Bench Pressing. The Bench Press is an excellent test of upper-body strength. I have heard it described as "pure, unadulterated power," from the motionless beginning on the chest, to the completion of the lift. Of course, if you are going to perform the lift, it should be done correctly. When I talk about a Bench Press, I do NOT mean taking a weight, letting bouce off your chest and allowing your spotter(s) to help you complete the movement. A true Bench Press should be done as close as possible to contest rules. Feet flat on the floor, lowering the bar under control, pause at the chest, drive up the bar and lock out both arms evenly. During the performance of the lift, the butt should not come off the bench. The feet should remain motionless (no kicking),and, of course, your spotter should not touch the bar at all. This is how we trained at Bruno's Health Club. And, like most gyms of that time, Larry Licandro, the owner, had a "300 Lb. Bench Press" Club. To get your name on the plaque, you had to perform a perfect Bench Press, in strict form and witnessed by Larry. We used to wonder about how many so-called 300 Lb. benchers from other gyms would be able to get their names on Larry's plaque.The point of all this is to emphasize that there is no sense in performing any lift in sloppy form. 

The first, and most important consideration, when designing a program is to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest. You want to devise a plan for turning your weaknesses into strengths, which will ultimately improve your lift. The Bench Press consists of three parts:

1) Lowering the bar.
2) The initial push off the chest.
3) The lock-out.

Lowering the bar may sound simple, but it is important to control the bar, and not have it control you. Lowering the bar will affect the initial push off the chest. If the bar is lowered too high, or too low on the chest, it can the difference between success and failure. Inhale as the bar is being lowered, and try to lower it slowly- under control. If you are a competitive lifter, remember, you will receive the referee's signal until the bar is motionless. A slow descent will bring the signal more quickly. ( I will refrain from making any comments about some federations and their, shall we say, lack of strict judging.)

The initial push off the chest involves the pectorals, and, to a lesser extent, the lats. One of the best ways to improve your initial push- or "blast-off"- is to always train with a pause. Do NOT bounce the bar off your chest. You will develop good habits which will only help you at a contest. Plus, your shoulders will thank you years from now. If you want to take your pauses to another level, you can train with a three to five second pause with each rep. Of course, as is the case whenever you're bench pressing, you should always train with a spotter. 

Completing the lift from the mid-point to lockout involves a great deal of triceps and shoulder strength. This is an example of determining your strengths and weaknesses. If you are strong off the chest, but you can't quite lock out the weight, then that is a sign that you should strengthen your triceps, and perform assistance exercises to improve your lockout. There are several exercises that you can do, and I will detail them in a future article. As for your shoulders, it is important to strengthen this important area of your body. Not only to improve your Bench Press, but to also prevent injury. 

When it comes to training the Bench Press, you must also determine the optimum number of days to perform the movement. Many lifters will find two days per week sufficient to develop strength. However, there will be some people who might find this too much. Again, be honest. If you find that you are not recovering sufficiently between workouts, or if you are perpetually sore, then you might benefit from less work. If you are training twice per week, you might find that your body responds best by incorporating higher reps in one of your workouts. High reps will provide for a nice change of pace, especially during the "off season." However, you must remember to train with low reps and heavier weights if you are actively preparing for a contest. It would be foolish to train with lighter weights and high reps when you are preparing for a contest. On the other hand, do not become a slave to heavy, near-limit poundages. This is a sure way to become over-trained and/or injured. While heavy, low-rep sets are crucial in preparing for a contest, you can build a lot of strength by utilizing moderate weights and training to a point of momentary fatigue/failure. 

As drug-free athletes, we have to be especially careful not to overtrain, while still trying to make progress. This extends to all facets of training: Diet, sufficient sleep/rest, and the actual training. By training smarter, you will make steady progress. In a future article, I will discuss assistance exercises for the Bench Press, and the best way to utilize them.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Nice Message From Jeff "T-Rex" Bankens

As a professional performing strongman and World Record Holder, I rely heavily on my training to keep me in top physical shape. What I learned, however was that as I approached 38 years old, I began to feel as though I was falling apart. To be more specific, I have tendinitis in my right wrist and pectoral muscle, a "funny click" in my right knee, and a sore area deep under one of my traps. I began to feel as though my training AND performances were working against me. To still be so far from my "golden years", I wondered how my body would survive the trek. After all, I plan to train and perform for many decades to come. I was at my wits' end and had begun to contemplate quitting or drastically changing programs as a last resort. That is, until I was put it contact with "Maximum" Bob Whelan, THE Web Strength Coach. Bob, at: WebStrengthCoach.com ... got my compass heading North again! Not only am I nearly in the best shape of my life in only 5 months, I am making tremendous drug-free gains in strength and conditioning. This is all happening at 38 years old to a guy who's trained since he was 14 years old! Besides all of the gains, my dings and dents are much less significant than before. On top of all of this, I have more family time than before, which is a big plus when you have a wife and kids.

Bob is the real deal, and he is 4 Star TRex approved!



Editors Note: Jeff, thanks so much! I appreciate this but YOU did the work. Thanks again! -Bob

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 garagegymlife.net

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

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!
BODY • MIND • SPIRIT