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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Birthday Challenge - By Jim Duggan

I have always been a huge admirer of many of the legendary figures of the Iron Game. Men like John Grimek, Bob Hoffman, Jack LaLanne, Herman Goerner, Norbert Schemansky, and Bruno Sammartino to name just a few. I was fortunate in that the first commercial gym at which I trained, Bruno's Health Club, was dedicated to the premise of no nonsense, drug-free training. And, as I have written numerous times, the only equipment used was from York Barbell. And, even though I only trained at Bruno's for about five years, my appreciation for the idea of old time Physical Culture has only grown over the years. The stature of the legends that I listed above has only risen in the intervening years.

I remember reading about some of Bob Hoffman's strength-feasts, which usually coincided with his birthday. I also vividly recall some of Jack LaLanne's birthday feats, especially in his later years. In recent years, I have tried to honor the memory of Bob and Jack by trying various challenges on my birthday. This year's birthday was no different, except for the fact that I was turning fifty. A milestone. The big 5-0! Big deal. You see, age means almost nothing to me. I feel no differently now than I did ten years ago, when I turned forty. It was no big deal then, and it's no big deal now. I truly believe that age is only a number. Even when it comes to working out. Whether you are twenty, thirty, or fifty, there is only one way to train, and that is all-out. And, if you are familiar with the stories of the gentlemen that I mentioned at the beginning if this article, you will know that a little thing like getting older can not deter you from doing great things.

I wanted to make this birthday challenge special. I wanted to do several movements, combining an exercise I do regularly, a movement a do a little less often, and something that I rarely do. I came up with the following: Stone lifting-lifting a 180 Lb. granite stone to my shoulder. One-Arm Dumbbell Press with a 88 Lb. thick-handled dumbbell. And Anvil Curl using a 100 Lb. anvil. The idea was simple, starting with the granite stone, I would do five reps, then go immediately to the thick-handled dumbbell for five reps with each hand, then go straight to the anvil for five reps of curls. After the curls, I would rest about a minute then begin again for a total of ten sets. 50 reps of each ( yes it sounds trite, 50 reps on my 50th birthday, but it was the best I could come up with!)

Lifting stones is something I enjoy doing. I try to do various size stones every week or two during the warm weather months. Today, it felt easy at first. Maybe because I'm used to using heavier stones. I'm not sure, but, in any event, the stone was going up easy at first. Even the dumbbell presses went well. I use one if my shot loaded Dumbbells that I purchased years ago. I have it loaded with BBs to a weight of 88 Lbs.. I do the presses in strict fashion- no cheating, bending, or leg drive ( just like John Grimek always advocated.) the anvil was almost too easy at first, so I adjusted the reps. Instead of five reps of curls, I did ten. Incidentally, I almost never do curls. I couldn't tell you the last time I did curls in the gym ( I realize that this would sound blasphemous to a typical toner in a commercial gym, but I really do find them to be a drag.) Anyway, as the sets progressed, I felt strong until about the fifth set or so. After that, it became work. Especially the presses. It was not too hot outside, thankfully, so the heat did not play a factor in my workout. By about the eighth set, I was really fighting on the stone, and the presses. The curls went easy ( of all things, the one movement I never do was proving to be the easiest.) The final two sets were very hard work, as I tried to keep up the pace. My hands were particularly fatigued, especially having to clean a dumbbell with a 2-1/2" handle. But I was determined to keep my form strict. By the end of the last set, I felt exhausted, but oddly euphoric. I even decided to add one extra set of stone lifts, just for good luck. So my totals were as follows:

180 Lb. Granite Stone - 55 reps total

88 Lb. Thick DB - 50 reps

100 Lb. Anvil Curl - 100 reps

Not a bad workout. And, by the way, it took me a little less than ninety minutes to complete the whole thing. And aside from some soreness, and some nice abrasions on my forearms (courtesy of the granite stone), I seem to be no worse for the wear. And while none of us can stop the clock from ticking, there is no reason why we can't continue to train hard.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Natural Deadlift Training - By Jim Duggan

The Deadlift is one of the best movements that a person who is interested in getting bigger and stronger can do. Notice that I didn't say THE best. I truly believe that there is no best way of training, nor is there one best be-all-end-all exercise. There are many effective programs, which include a variety of quality exercises. The key is to work hard, and continually strive for poundage progression. If anybody tells you that they have the "best" way to train, then you have encountered a fool, or somebody who is trying to sell you a load of BS. Either way, ignore him/her, and find out what works best for you, work out your plan, expect to do a lot of hard work, and then DO IT. 

I've always enjoyed the Deadlift. When I was competing in Powerlifting, I enjoyed working hard to improve all three lifts, but for some reason, I seemed to enjoy the Deadlift more than the other two lifts ( Squat, and Bench Press.) and, as you can imagine, I've tried just about every type of routine over the years. The interesting thing is that I've had success with numerous different programs, which would seem to indicate that perhaps it wasn't the routine that I followed which was the reason for increased gains. Maybe it was the fact that I had a strong desire to improve. If you train with passion, desire, and hard work, then tremendous gains will accrue. 

So, for anyone wishing to add to their Deadlift, here a some movements which I have been using lately. Naturally, you must perform the movement itself. That goes without saying ( even though I just did say it.) However, you don't have to be a slave to regular barbell Deadlifts, especially if you are not training for a contest, and you are a somewhat experienced lifter. Trap Bar Deadlifts, or the more recent Hex Bar Deadlift, are excellent movements. Every gym should have a Trap/Hex bar. It's an excellent exercise, and it's a bit of a change of pace while it still approximates regular Deadlifting. Whether you train with high reps, medium reps, one set to failure, it doesn't matter. Try them all, and see what works best for you. Another variation that I particularly enjoy is Dumbell Deadlifts. I use the 2" Thick Dumbbells that I purchased for Ironmind Enterprises years ago. If I elect to do DB Deadlifts, then I will always use high reps. When I say high, I mean at least twenty, for one all-out set. This movement will also give you a terrific forearm workout, just so long as you don't cave in to weakness and use straps. Just say NO! to straps. For that matter, there is no reason to use a belt while training ( but that's a subject for another article.) 

As far as frequency of Deadlifting, I have always liked to do them once per week. I can't see how a natural lifter would be able to do Deadlifts more than that. I also prefer to Squat on the same day as I Deadlift, but some people can Squat one day, then Deadlift on a separate day. Again, you have to decide what works best for you. Please don't try to imitate what you might read in the so-called muscle mags ( in fact, do yourself a tremendous service and don't read those rags to begin with. They contain nothing of use for a drug-free trainee.) 

I do like to perform a couple of assistance exercises for the Deadlift. Any sort of rowing movement, whether it bent-over barbell rows, DB rows, or rows using a Hammer Strength ISO Row machine are an excellent to strengthen the back. Don't go crazy with too many sets. Just try to utilize good form, and try to push the poundage up. Another movement that I've always enjoyed doing is the "Good Morning" exercise. I realize that there are many people who cannot do this movement because of the very real chance of injuring themselves. You have to be careful how you perform this exercise, especially if you've never tried it before. Go slow, and see how it feels. Be honest with yourself, and if you're able to do it without pain in your lower back, then by all means include it in your training. I've never sustained a back injury from doing Good Mornings, so I include them in my workout. I've been using two sets of twenty reps. When I competed, I would go heavier and use lower reps, but the higher reps work just fine now. 

There is one last "assistance" exercise that I've been doing lately. I have a number of stones that I've purchased over the years. They range in weight from 180- 300 Lbs., are spherical, and made of granite. I got them from Roger LaPointe at Atomic Athletic. I will do the stones about once per week. I will simply go outside in my yard, do a few reps with the 180 pounder, then use the 220 Lb. Stone for my work sets. I'll just pick it up, then shoulder it, then drop it, and repeat several times. The most total reps I'll do is 12-15. I realize that not everybody has access to granite spheres, but they do make for a unique, and intense, "finisher." Incidentally, the Stone workouts are contingent upon there being dry weather, as wet soft ground plus stone workouts equals huge craters in the backyard! 

There you have it, basic exercises to improve your Deadlift. Even if you're not competing in powerlifting, increasing your poundages on the Deadlift will lead to your entire body becoming stronger.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Review of Bob Whelan's Book: Super Natural Strength - By Jim Duggan

"An excellent compilation of articles written by one of the most respected strength coaches in the field. The book is easy to read, and cuts through a lot of the bs that so frequently appears either in books, or online. "Maximum" Bob has been training people, and writing about training for a long time, but his writing never gets old- it only serves to motivate you even more to train hard. Whether you're a beginner, or if you've been training for a while, this book will provide excellent training information that you will be able to use over and over. Good information never gets old. Unfortunately, common sense isn't very common when it comes to training, nevertheless, Bob is able to present his ideas in a clear, easy to read style. It should be part of every trainee's library."

Buy On Amazon

Thanks a lot Big Jim! - Bob

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Discover the Champion in You - By Bill Simanovich Jr.

Many readers may have wondered what Discovering the Champion in You means. To me being a Champion isn't just about winning an athletic event and/or contest. Being a Champion is not necessarily about being the "best" at something. Ultimately, being a Champion is making the most of the ability that our Creator has endowed you with. To reach our potential in strength training, making the most of our ability, we must keep several points in mind.

You were created for a purpose. You are not here on this earth by accident, nor did you evolve from green slime or something of the sort. God made you for a reason, with abilities that are unique to you. Some may find this as "preaching" or of little importance, but I can only give you the truth. To do otherwise would be denying what has happened in my own life. This is a key point. If you see your self as just merely "being" here by chance or circumstance you can not have the peace, strength, and resolve as someone knowing that their life has meaning and purpose. With this in mind, when you train you must train with passion, purpose, and desire to reach your genetic potential that was given to you. While we classify bodytypes by ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph, these descriptions only give us an indication of muscular potential. Why not train in such a way as to reach your genetic limits, as no one can predict completely what they are, except God himself. I doubt that anyone has completely reached their maximum potential, as no one always eats just right, sleeps just right, trains just right, etc.. I've personally witnessed people with great potential for strength training never progress and others with seemingly little potential transform their bodies to points that are unimaginable. The point here is control what you can control, and don't make excuses about your lack of progress. Everyone can improve and make quite noticeable changes in body composition if they give the proper effort. Will everyone be a champion bodybuilder, powerlifter, strongman, etc.? Of course not; thank God! Most of today's "champions" are drug infested, liars, charlatans, and cheats. Being a true Champion is using whatever potential God gave you and doing your part by taking it to the limit!

You must train hard, harder than you can ever imagine. I know, I know. You train hard. It may be this is not a problem with you, however even veteran trainers need to reevaluate their efforts from time to time. Think to yourself, did I take it to momentary muscular failure on that last set of squats? You do have the ability and strength within you to accomplish much more than you could ever imagine. I can personally identify as I began competing in powerlifting three years ago. I first went to a meet to watch my brother and saw guys lifting weights I never thought I could do. Then I thought to myself, "if they can do it, I can do it." You see, these lifters weren't any bigger, built better, or even stronger. I just had never been in a competition or focused on competing with other lifters. This experience was a catalyst, a jolt if you will, and soon I was competing and lifting weights heavier than I had witnessed at that first meet I went to watch. The bottom line is to not limit yourself, and in my estimation hard effort is the key ingredient to successful weight training. Throw out much if not all the discussion about supplements, drugs, the latest equipment and focus on effort. Commit to training harder than you ever have, and then push a little harder.

You must never quit. As a Champion you must determine that you will not quit and you will not surrender. You are on a mission, someone with a purpose, remember? You see, what many people lack today is commitment. We face a little opposition and we retreat. Many millionaires went broke before they became millionaires, many top athletes had to walk on to teams, overcome devastating injuries, and had to be cut from teams before they accomplished their goals. The beauty of weight training is that it's largely in your control. No one else can lift for you, eat for you, or sleep for you. Plainly said, excuses are for losers, just as arrogance is for losers. I don't care where you've been or what you've been through, anyone can improve and make the decision to not give up. Something that I try to remind myself is that there are people all over this world with disabilities and illnesses that would cherish the joy of training hard. Their goal may be to just walk unassisted or to speak a few words fluently. How dare we moan and cry, "I'm too tired, I'm too busy, I can't." Learn to be thankful that you have the health to train. Never ever, ever quit; you must commit!

You must train smart. With all this talk of intensity, desire, and passion sometimes we can forget to train smart. I hesitated and almost didn't include this section of the article for fear of giving people an excuse. However, there are times that intensity may have to take a back seat. Let me explain; if you have an injury it would not be smart or prudent to train so hard that you are basically "throwing gasoline on a fire." I can personally attest to this as I recently suffered a shoulder injury, having injured myself weight training for the first time. Even with my experience, for a while I tried to "work through it." This was not training smart, and I further aggravated the injury. My body was telling me to rest this shoulder, and I didn't listen. Now I'm rehabbing the injury. During this rehab period, am I training as heavy or as hard as I can with this shoulder? Of course not. During this rehab period am I training my legs with alternate movements i.e. leg presses, calf raises that don't affect my shoulder, hard and heavy? Of course! You see, an injured shoulder is not a reason to give up or an excuse to not hit other areas of my body to the maximum. Remember, control what you can control. Along with training smart, work around any structural imbalances and chronic injuries or disabilities. Again, these are not to be used as excuses, but you are to utilize common sense. I hope I've conveyed this clearly for you to train smart, but to never ever make illegitimate excuses not to train with 100% intensity. Finally, training smart means learning everything you can about productive strength training, nutrition, cardio, flexibility, etc.. Over my training career I read countless articles, journals, magazines, etc.. Much of it was garbage, but this even served the purpose of giving me discernment between fact and fallacy, who to listen to and who to not, etc.. I truly believe that a Champion asks questions, and wants to continually learn more; this is training smart.

Try putting these principles into practice and see if they help your training. Sometimes even reading what we already know or believe strengthens our resolve and gives us additional focus.

Originally posted on on July 8, 2002