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Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Importance of Concentration - By Jim Duggan

One of the most prolific- and talented- writers ever to grace the pages of any muscle magazine was John McCallum. His "Keys to Progress" series appeared in "Strength and Health" magazine from 1965 to 1972. It was an extremely popular feature, and his articles had a positive influence on countless thousands of trainees. Although I was too young to be able to enjoy his writing during its original run- I was born in 1964- I have been able to benefit from John's words, thanks to the foresight of Ironmind Enterprises, Inc., which compiled his articles in a book. "The Complete Keys to Progress" is one of the finest books on training ever published. If you have not done so already, do yourself a tremendous favor and order a copy today.

Of course, when I refer to training, I mean sensible, productive, no-nonsense training. Certainly not the type of useless misinformation found in any of the "muscle comics" available at most newsstands. Common sense is timeless. It is also, I am sad to say, not very common at all. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of some of the best training articles ever written, you can't let it slip away.

There were about one hundred articles in the original Keys to Progress. The series covered everything from diet, to building bulk and power, to training for definition, and the all-time classic: Heavy breathing Squats. And while some articles may have become somewhat archaic (P.H.A. training, high protein-high set training), most of the information presented is as relevant today as it was nearly fifty years ago.

One of my favorite pieces was dedicated to the importance of concentration. Actually, he devoted three articles to the topic of concentration. One of his best quotes is as follows: " If you're not going to concentrate on your training, you may as well forget it." Which leads me to an amusing- or sad- incident that I had the pleasure of witnessing at the gym about a month ago. I was working out during the middle of the day. Now, the gym where I train has a Power Rack and two Squat Racks, all three are lined up side by side. On this particular day, all three pieces of equipment were being used at the same time. One trainee was doing standing Presses in the Power Rack, another was doing standing Presses in one of the Squat Racks, while the third guy was Squatting. The three trainees in question were all about twenty years-old or so. They were each about 5'10" - 6' tall, and they each looked to be around 200 Lbs..They were definitely not beginners. Which makes what I'm about to relate even more pathetic.

The guy who was doing standing presses in the Power Rack had the bar loaded to 95 Lbs.. The guy who was Squatting was using 135 Lbs..And last- and definitely least- the guy doing standing presses on the Squat Rack was using 75 Lbs.. Of course, they all used lifting belts to assist them in their massive poundages. But the other thing that they had in common, was that each one of them would pull out a cell phone and proceed to text after each and every set. Who or what they were texting is not important. How could they possibly be concentrating on their training? They were more concerned with playing with the phones than they were about lifting. And it showed. It's too bad that someone else couldn't take a picture of the distracted trio. The perfect caption would be: "This is why you are using baby weights!"

Now, in fairness, maybe all three of them are ER surgeons on call. But I doubt it. And the sad part is that they were not the only ones engaged in such nonsense. Go to any commercial gym and you will see the same sort of behavior. You'll be amazed. You will also become envious of every person who is lucky enough to lift in a garage or basement gym and thereby not have to be subjected to this sort of thing.

One of my favorite old quotes about lifting came from an old Soviet weightlifter from the 1970s. In response to a question about how he psyched himself up to lift heavy weights, he replied: "The weight must not be feared. It must fear you." Well, how is the weight ever going to fear you if you are not even paying attention to it?

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Lost Art of Dumbbell Pressing - By Jim Duggan


One of the most effective upper-body exercises is the Overhead Press.  Whether you utilize a barbell, dumbbells, any of the various machines, a log ( as popularized in the early World's Stronges Man contests during the 70s), tremendous strength can be developed by pushing a heavy weight overhead.  And, of course, your muscle mass will increase, but more importantly, a stronger shoulder girdle will make that area of your body less susceptible to injury.  We all known persons who have sustained shoulder injuries.  Some minor, others more serious, sometimes even requiring surgery.  Over the years, many authorities have expounded on the reasons for the increase in shoulder injuries to people who lift.  Too much emphasis on Bench Pressing, not enough direct shoulder work, muscle imbalances in the deltoid area, etc.. Fortunately, it is universally agreed that if trainees devote more time to doing overhead pressing, and strengthening their shoulders, there will be fewer injuries to that vulnerable area.

Even though I competed in powerlifting for many years, I have always enjoyed doing overhead presses. Perhaps it's because my earliest inspiration to lift was watching the Weightlifting championships on television as a kid.  I vividly recall watching the 1976 Olympics as a twelve year-old and being awe-struck as the weightlifters hoisted huge poundages overhead.  All these years later, I am still impressed watching somebody lift a weight off the ground and push it to arm's length over their head.     

For many years, I have used standing Military Presses as my principal overhead exercise.  I would usually use a power rack, set the bar at chest height ( or slightly above depending on the rack.)  I would usually do sets of five or six.  And, of course, with a power rack you also have the option of setting the pins a little higher and doing partial presses.  But I'll save those for another article.

Over the past few years, I've done more Dumbbell Presses than I have with a barbell.  Sometimes it was more convenient, since I don't have a power rack in my house.  I do have dumbbells.  Two of the best items I've purchased have been dumbbell handles from Ironmind Enterprises, Inc..Both the thick-handled and regular size handled bars are excellent tools for doing Dumbbell Presses. Last year, I concentrated on doing One-Arm Dumbbell Presses using the thick-handled DB bars.  I would load the bar, grasp it with one hand, clean/pull it to my shoulders and press it overhead.  I would try to stand as straight as possible, no leaning.  I would usually do several sets, beginning with a weight I could handle for six reps.  I would increase the weight on each succeeding set until I could do one or two reps.  Even though I am righ-handed, I would make every effort to keep the reps even with my (weaker) left arm.  This is an excellent exercise, provided that you use good form.  Come to think of it, you can probably say the same about any movement you perform.  Anyway, if you keep your body as straight as possible and lock out the weight and hold it overhead, you will develop significant strength in your shoulders.  This increased strength will easily translate to your barbell presses.  At least it does for me.

Since the beginning of this past Summer, I have been doing something different for my shoulder presses.  I'm still utilizing dumbbells, but I'm doing higher reps, and a different movement.  I've been doing dumbbell clean and presses, using two DBs at a time.  I'm also lowering the DBs to the hang position between each rep.  This makes the exercise a lot harder when you have to clean the DBs each time.  You can also lower the dumbbells to the floor, but I like the idea of doing a hang-clean for each rep.  And since I'm doing higher reps, this will also improve your conditioning to some extent.  There are two ways that I've used this exercise.  The first method was to perform a set of eight reps, rest a minute or so, then increase the weight and do six reps.  Another rest and weight increase, followed by a set of three or four. This method works quite well, except that you have to keep changing the weight on the DBs.

Another method that I've been using for the last few weeks is to use one pair of dumbbells.  I will begin with ten reps. I will rest exactly one minute, then perform a set of nine.  One minute of rest, then I do eight reps, and so on.  I would continue until I hit one rep.  The important part is to keep the rest at one minute.  No longer.  And even though the number of reps decreases with each set, you are still working quite hard.  When it gets to the point where you can complete the ten sets easily, then it's time to use heavier dumbbells. Or, for an extra challenge, after you complete the last rep, you can try to move up the ladder again.  In other words, add a rep with each succeeding set and see how far you can make it.  This method is especially good if you are pressed for time- no pun intended- since you can complete all ten sets in less than fifteen minutes.

Many of the greats of the Iron Game utilized dumbbells and made tremendous gains.  With some imagination and hard work you can make similar gains while at the same time honoring those who have set the standards of Physical Culture.
BODY • MIND • SPIRIT