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Originally posted on NaturalStrength.com on June 20, 1999 Roger owns Atomic Athletic
I am not talking about the jerk that started mowing his lawn at 6 AM, Saturday morning, but I would like to see a meeting between his mower and my 225-pound granite Atomic Ball. This article is really about positive mental attitude. Lets face it, lifting alone in a basement all winter can get you down. When I was at Michigan State, we tried any number of methods of curing cabin fever. However, nothing worked better than a genuine sunny day. This happened to me recently. I was training in the basement gym and the lifts were getting a bit stale. I was stuck on my 105 kg clean and jerks. Sure, I was making them, but they were sloppy. Unless I am in a contest, I refuse to add weight to sloppy full Olympic lifts. After all, perfect practice makes perfect.
Standard practice for an Olympic lifter hitting a barrier like that is to go down maybe 10 kilos, easily do that weight and then go back up to the heavier weight. This usually results in improved technique. Yet, that day was a beautiful Saturday morning. So instead of doing another 95 kilo clean, I went outside. I dont think it was more than 60 degrees, and the guy down the street had just finished mowing his lawn. I was still a bit irritated about that. Cutting through the malaise was a shining sun that steadily burnt the mist from our hills.
Out rolled my 225-pound Atomic Ball. I set it up in the grass and made my approach. The amazing thing about stone is our innate knowledge that it will be there long after you are gone. Stone is also referred to from an anthropomorphic perspective where we humans give it life like qualities. How many times have you read, The columns were cut from the living rock of the earth? We all know that the rock is not living, but somehow it seems to sit defiantly. It challenges and dares you to attempt your lift. While you are attempting, it is effortlessly sitting.
With appropriate respect, I got down and drove with my legs. I never even needed to readjust my grip. I had warmed up with my Olympic lifts and developed the proper speed and acceleration to elevate it to a height where I easily placed it on my oak whiskey barrel. It was very satisfying.
That was hardly the end of my workout. I still had to make my goal of a perfect 107.5 kilo clean and jerk. The emphasis is on perfect. I knew I could do it. If you are going to hit a personal record in an Olympic lift, your technique must be perfect in training. Otherwise, there is little chance of perfect technique with a weight you have never attempted. This is where I honed my positive mental attitude. I had just lifted a stone sphere of 100 kilos, or 220 pounds, to the same height as my clean. Why was my technique sloppy on a clean with a mere 11 pounds more? Mentally, I was not focused on my clean and jerk.
Stone lifting is so much harder than cleaning a beautiful Leoko barbell, it is hardly worth discussing. Using the same focus, I loaded the barbell, set my balanced position and made a perfect clean and jerk. It was easy. A mere 10 minutes before, I had trouble making 105 kilos. This is the power of putting things in perspective and creating a positive mental attitude.
Sometimes you just have place yourself in a slightly different situation to help create that proper psychological balance. For my lifting, I have found training with unusual objects, like the stones, is beneficial for my Olympic lifts, and vice versa. Sometimes, it is just nice to imagine how the stones would work on that other jerk and his lawn mower.
"Progressive exercise is positively the only road to great strength."-Earl Leiderman Secrets of Strength 1925
Many, many of the "Old Time" lifters absolutely fascinate me with the amount of strength they were able to build and the ease with which they were able to demonstrate it. The Iron Game has taken several severe (if not fatal) blows in the past 40-50 years which have turned it from a respectable "Man's Right of Passage" to a trendy and bloated financial machine, conspiring to "tone", "pump" and "shape" the current crop of lifters. This, in my mind, has to change.
What is the one major problem with today's lifters? They utterly refuse to TRAIN HEAVY. How many times have you walked into a gym and seen Betty "Fluff body" frantically waving her neon colored "power bells" in an attempt to tighten her arms or tone her body? How many times have you seen Johnny "Buff body" strutting around the gym with his aqua blue spandex pants, his pre-torn lifting shirt and his designer lifting gloves lift nothing heavier than his water bottle through his entire "workout"? Granted, at least they're in the gym, but the real problem is that they feverently believe that they are doing it "right" and that people who grunt and slam the weight around are just macho iron-heads who haven't got a clue. Some things need to change, or the Iron Game- the TRUE Iron Game might just disappear forever.
Whew! Now that's out of the way, let's move on to the topic of the day- HEAVY WEIGHTS. You won't see those two words in most of today's current muscle-publications, but you should. Nothing will build more mass and strength than the liberal use of HEAVY WEIGHTS and HARD WORK. I'm not talking about a "Hard Set" of 135lbs on the supine press, I'm talking about 300 or more on that lift. I'm not talking about 315lbs for the deep-knee bend, I'm talking about 400+lbs. I'm talking about using a weight that is 2- 3 times heavier than the average gym bunny would even consider doing. Of course, many people can't use this kind of weight right off the bat, but that doesn't mean that they can't put as MUCH WEIGHT AS POSSIBLE on the bar and get as many reps in good form as they can. If you truly want to be strong, nothing less will suffice.
I occasionally visit internet sites which have a more "friendly" view about training than I do. I recently read a thread where one gentleman posed the question "My wife says dead lifts will ruin my back. What do you guys think?" Needless to say, the majority of the answers were in the vein of "She's right, you don't need them anyway". Basically the other guys were helping to keep the man in question from doing something they themselves are too afraid to do. A lift like a HEAVY dead lift is a true test of a man's mettle. To have to do something like a max dead lift, many of the current crop of lifters would run for cover. Hell, to tell you the truth, I wish there were an easier way of building "Super Strength", but there isn't. You need to work those hard lifts even HARDER to get any real gains.
Have you ever heard of the term "Poundage Progression?" No, I'm not talking about those numbers on the side of the nearest selectorized wonder machine, I'm talking about the adding of weight to the bar (plate-loading machine) whenever humanly possible. A lifter who wants to be big and brutally strong must see the adding of weight as the most important factor of his training. Sure diet is important. Rest? Of course! But none of that will matter if you aren't REALLY trying to add weight to the bar. Will you be able to add weight to the bar every time you train? If you don't have fractional plates, probably not. But you will be able to shoot for one more rep. You will shoot for carrying that sandbag for another 20 feet.
The point is that you can, if you really want to, make any workout a little HEAVIER. You don't have to be a bunny and make a million excuses why you "can't" lift heavy. You might be wondering what HEAVY weights can do for you that light weights cannot? Well, HEAVY weights can stimulate far more muscle fibers. They can stimulate the strengthening of the tendons and ligaments (something of utmost importance for someone wanting SUPER STRENGTH) and they can literally make a man out of a mouse. Why do you think the breathing squat programs are so successful? Why do you think some of the participants in those programs are able to pack on 30,50 even up to 100lbs of muscle? Because they strive to add weight to the bar. They strive to lift HEAVIER and HEAVIER weights. Some men, with a large amount of drive and determination, can literally add weight to the bar every time they train. They have the BALLS to push themselves. They have the BALLS to train like men and really, really give it an honest effort. Do you? I know I spent a large amount of my training career trying to get bigger or stronger by taking the easy route. I was always searching for the scientific diet and the miracle program. All of that is BULLSHIT! I finally started making gains when I stopped trying to find the easy road and just started adding weight to the bar. I must have gone up 30lbs in 6 months and I haven' t looked back since. I want to be STRONG. I want to be able to lift any weight that comes across my path. How can some people be content staring in the mirror, using the same poundage they've used for the last two years and not making one slightest bit of progress? Men lift HEAVY weights, that's what we do. We don't pump the weights. We don 't F-E-E-L the weights. We KILL THE WEIGHT. And when it's dead, we move on to the next HEAVIER battle. See you on the battlefield!
Originally posted on NaturalStrength.com on February 4, 2000
I am lucky. Yes, I wasted my first four years of training due to ignorance. But then due to the brook "Brawn" I discovered how drug free individuals are supposed to train. I started lifting smart and abbreviated January 1, 1994. I've never looked back. I was 35.
Checking my log from 1994 I found that I struggled with 154lbs for 3 sets of 6 in the bench press. Squats were tough at 132 for 3 sets of 10, stiff leg deads were the same. 2 days per week about 1 1/2 hours per day was finally letting me recover and gain. I was ecstatic! While performing too many movements per workout, I was still making wonderful gains with 5-7 movements per session!
1995 found me squatting 264x20, stiff deads at 275x3x10, standard and close grip benches around 220x3x5. It was a great first year of abbreviated training! I made a lot of mistakes though, and the biggest was still doing too many movements per workout. I cut back to no more than 3 or 4 movements per workout that second year. That put me on the right track with gains coming quicker, but now another problem cropped up. I started becoming injured easily and frequently, and usually my low back. I had badly injured my low back back in high school and reinjured it many times working in the woods as a logger. It was time for some regrouping! I sat down and went over my log. I finally found what I thought might be the culprit. I usually injured my low back on the second or third set of either squats or deadlifts. Time for experimenting.
I had no idea how I would respond to limited sets but it was time to see what would happen with just one top set in both the squat and deadlift. I had no idea how I would respond to such limited work, but I found out fairly quickly! My strength exploded! By 1996 I was squatting 385x5, stiff deads were 330x10 and my bench and close grip were running around 220x10! During this time I also experimented with 3 days a week training. It quickly became evident that I couldn't just add an extra day of movements, I needed to split the already limited movement I was performing, between 3 days.
By 1997 I was stuck again. Mo matter what I just couldn't squat more than 385x5 or bench more than 220x10-12. Something needed to change in order to kickstart some gains again. Cycle after cycle were performed that just barely allowed me to attain my former highs. It was time for some more major experimentation!
Singles training had always facinated me. Why not try something both super-abbreviated and singles training along with it? So I gave it a try. Mondays I worked up to one top single in the bench press. Thursdays saw me performing one top single in the squat. I did heavy ab work both days, but that was it. I started out with 308 for a single squatting and 220x1 in the bench press. Did something this abbreviated work? Judge for yourself. In 14 weeks I squatted 440x1 and benched 286x1! I took a week off and started over again, this time at 363 in the squat and 242 in the bench press. I finished this cycle at 484 and 302 1/2. A little less than 18 months of this super abbreviated singles training saw me top out with a fairly easy 621 1/2lb squat and a 352lb bench! An easy week thrown in every so often just to keep from going stale would be something in the order of a 500x5 squat and a 297x3 bench. This would squeak an extra 4-8 weeks from a cycle.
Looking back I can see why this ended up working so well for me. The first reason would be that I just didn't know any better! No one was around to tell me it wouldn't work! So in retrospect, I conducted a well organized experiment with no external input. Second, I think I was just plain ready for singles training. To this day, nothing I have found even remotely compares to singles for strength gaining in the squat. Nothing! The bench has turned out a little different. Even with the success I had with singles training in the bench press, I have since found that a couple sets of 5 is much more beneficial for me at this time. I plan to try singles training again in the bench press, but that is a year or so down the line. When I feel I have laid a sufficient foundation for a march towards that magic 400lb bench!
In conclusion let me say this. At some point in their training life everyone should try singles. Not a max-out attempt, but a series of well thought out cycles of singles. Be sure that you have laid down a sufficient foundation first though. Then start out very light and work your way back up. You should be able to blow past former singles maximums. Form has to be perfected first, and you have to stay very tight. If you miss your top single, stop for that workout. Come back the next week and you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is! Singles are safe. Form is unusually good with a single because of not being exhausted from the previous 9 of a set of 10. In my experience, that is when I have seen injuries crop up. When performing that top single you are very fresh as long as you used a smart warmup protocol. Use warmups, not wear-outs. So when you feel you are truly ready for something different, give singles a try!