Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Friday, November 20, 2015
In 2002, I told a colleague I wanted to start exercising. He couldn’t remember the name, only that the publisher lived in Crete…no, wait, Cyprus. “Russ, I got the strongest when I read that guy’s book and followed it.” Of course, I tracked down Brawn by Stuart McRobert. To the best of my ability – or the best as I then understood it -- I began exercising. And I subscribed to Hardgainer. After a couple issues, a gym ad attracted my attention. It had a strange sounding slogan: “If you train here, you are not normal!” I noted this gym was located in Washington, DC – at that time, my home. Further, I noticed that the gym’s owner wrote an article in most issues of Hardgainer. Without looking back, I recall articles like “John Grimek Was The Man” and “Training and Eating in The Big Apple.”
These articles told tough tales about tough men and women. They espoused a no-holds-barred, kick-ass attitude; incredibly hard work; perfect form; and competing mostly with yourself and your mind. They exuded energy, enthusiasm, self-reliance, and swagger. For many months, I pondered calling this author, “Maximum Bob” Whelan. A couple times, I chickened out. I called, then hung up before anyone could answer. The ads, the articles, the attitude intimidated me. I didn’t think I could train with the intensity Bob seemed to demand. That view came mostly from an inner feeling of weakness and a lack of confidence. But it had grounding in fact.
Shortly after my birth, doctors diagnosed me with a heart problem called tricuspid atresia. The American Heart Association classifies it as a serious heart defect. In 1985, at age 10, I underwent open heart surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. It has and will always have a significant impact on my life. Notably, I have far less strength and cardiovascular ability than normal people my age. However, compared to patients with this condition, I live an extraordinarily active and independent life. And my parents never allowed me to become consumed with self-pity. They pushed me to participate in activities as much as possible, and attend summer camp far from home each year.
After a time, I realized that not calling Bob was a manifestation of self-pity. And so, in July 2003, I called him, setting up the new client orientation. We went through his usual briefing and Q&A. I explained my heart problem to him, but said within my limits, I would do my best. And Bob gave that Bob laugh saying, “We’ll take it SLOW, Russell. DEATHS are not good for business.”
We did take it slowly. It takes normal clients three or four workouts to make it through the entire routine; it took me ten or a dozen. But I exercised twice per week, like Bob asked; and I started eating more and better food, like Bob asked. Before every workout, I prepared mentally, like Bob asked. I tried to do a tad better this time than I’d done last time. I attacked the iron. I channeled my anger – from whatever source – constructively in the battle with the iron. But still, I accepted limits: if I didn’t have a great workout, for whatever reason, I shook it off and determined to do better next time.
As months drifted by, I noticed small but telling differences. I gained some weight, hitting 140 for the first time in my life. Bob would add a pound or two or five to a couple exercises whenever I earned it by my performance. It’d take a workout or two, but I’d lift that new weight to the max reps, demonstrating my new strength. Perhaps most importantly, I noted an attitude change. I felt tougher – far in excess to the strength gains. I felt more confident and able – in the gym and in life.
Toward the end of 2003, I came into the gym at 7am one morning. Bob held up his hand, stopping me at the door. He raised his voice above his usual volume and stated, half-laughingly, half-solemnly, “In this gym, your name is no longer Russell. In this gym, your NEW name is BRAVE HEART!” Dumbfounded, I asked what he meant. “BRAVE HEART! You have a serious heart problem, and yet you work harder than most people, even most of my clients. You come in here each time, and you assault the workout. You have a great, positive attitude. You take this seriously. You do whatever I ask you – no questions asked. You do your best. THAT’S why your name is now BRAVE HEART!”
So it was, from that moment until Bob and I both departed Washington in 2012. As a postscript, in 2014, my doctors recommended another open heart surgery. In pre-surgery tests, the docs noted the strength of my heart and my active lifestyle. (I went to Chicago myself for the tests; very few patients require no assistance.) In the months leading up to the surgery, I began exercising every day – not quite as intensely as with Bob – but regularly and conscientiously. I also worked harder at my cardiovascular exercise than ever before – in this case, walking longer and farther than ever before. And I also called on the master of mental motivation, “Maximum Bob” Whelan, to put me in the proper mental attitude. Tough but calm. Focused but immersed in life. The couple talks we had brought the old Brave Heart attitude to the fore, and I entered the surgery incredibly well-prepared, mentally and physically.
The surgery went very well. In nine days, I left the hospital (it was 21 days in 1985, when far different technology and approaches to care prevailed). In about three weeks, I went home. I attacked cardio rehab aggressively and by the end, in March of this year, I felt back to normal. But then, Bob has always told me that I am “NOT NORMAL!”
Labels: Mind Strength
Friday, November 13, 2015
There is an old saying regarding lifting; "Champions are born and not made". While this does hold a good deal of truth, it by no means diminishes the need for hard work and sound training principles to make it to the top. But what does having good genetics actually mean? It really depends on what type of a trainer a person is. While we cannot control what DNA we are given by our parents, just about anyone can achieve remarkable progress with enough knowledge and fortitude.
Lets look at bodybuilding first. For bodybuilding, the variables to be considered are degrees of or propensity to develop overall mass and muscle density, definition, vascularity, symmetry and proportion. Mass development is dependent upon such things as length of muscle bellies in different groups with associated short tendon insertions, number of muscle cells, as well as circulating anabolic hormone levels such as Human Growth Hormone (HGH), Testosterone, and Insulin Like Growth Factors(IGF). A long muscle belly has the potential to grow larger by virtue of the potential for greater cross sectional area achievement. Short muscle attachments can greatly affect the appearance of a muscle. The ability to put on muscular size with little gains in fat are determined by heredity as well as dietary factors. The ability to store low amounts of subcutaneous fat while achieving muscle growth greatly affect the definition and vascular appearance of an individual. Overall body proportions, relatively narrow joints and height/weight ratios, and body frame size also contribute to appearance to a large degree.
As an example, two individuals may both claim to have 18" arms which by most standards is quite large when accurately measured. But the visual affect can be worlds apart. In certain cases it will look huge, and in other cases appear a little above average. In general, a person with a higher amount of definition(BF%) may present a much more imposing arm. If one person has a large frame, be tall, or have higher bodyweight the arm may look smaller by comparison. A legitimate and defined 18" arm on most people would certainly appear quite large, but perhaps even more so on a shorter small framed person. A person with longer than average muscle belly lengths in the biceps and particularly the triceps may excel in arm development .Other favorable genetic factors include narrow hips, joints, a tapered waist, even head size. Skin color can affect and produce a leaner look as well.
For a weight lifter, good genetics means possesing above average neuromuscular efficiency or the ability to recruit a larger percentage of muscle fibers in a given muscle group or overall. Coding is the rate of firing of the motor units. The more synchronious the muscle fibers are firing, the greater the force produced. This would be synonomous with powerlifting or strength training. An Olympic lifter excels because they exhibit great power or the ability to produce force rapidly. These factors are affected by genetics as well as the type of training that these athletes do. A bodybuilder by comparison may appear quite massive but not be capable of producing the same amount of strength or power as power lifters or weight lifters. A weight lifter or a power lifter will be able to produce a relatively higher force or exhibit greater power than a bodybuilder relative to their size. As stated, all of this has to do in large part to genetics and to good solid training principles for each type of weight training.
So what is the point of this information? There was a day many years or even generations ago where weight lifting and bodybuilding went hand in hand. It was typical for an individual to compete in body building and weight lifting competitions on the same night! The names which come to my mind from the distant past are the likes of John Grimek, Reg Park and Marvin Eder. All these individuals excelled in both body building and were exceptionally strong by virtue of the heavy weights that they trained with. Since then, weight trainers have drifted apart and become much more specialized in their training methods. . Today it is rare to find an individual who can successfully compete in both, at least at the higher levels. The ironic truth is that the body proportions which favor one do not seem to favor the other. There have been former weight lifter converts to bodybuilding who by virtue of their small waist size,and large upper arms were not able to achieve the highest poundages, rack the weights easily or show high levels of demonstrable strength. And there are many large framed power lifters and weight lifters who could not achieve the leanness and body proportions necessary to succeed as top body builders.
A body builder in their most "ripped to the bone condition" will likely be at their physically weakest from dieting and dehydration. While there may exist ways to evaluate potential early on through anthropometric measures, it is at best an inexact science. Most of the time, an individual will learn through trial and error. A person who is genetically gifted to be big and muscular or strong will soon be aware of this regardless of how they train. And because a person may not ever have a chance to get to the top in their chosen sport, they should never be discouraged from trying or make a conscious decision to not train hard. Certainly a stronger body builder and a more athletic physique for a weight lifter would not be a bad thing. Superior strength, health, and physique are all worthwhile goals. By educating ourselves to all aspects of training and working hard and smart we can come as close to approaching our potential as possible. We cannot be the best at everything. But we can be the best that WE can be at anything we set our minds to do!
Labels: Strength Training Truth
Thursday, November 5, 2015
For the readers who have the good fortune to be able to train at home, this article might not carry any great significance. However, for those of us who do not have the option of training at home, hopefully this article will provide some sort of assistance. Afterall, having the right place to train is vitally important. The right place will inspire you to train consistently, avoiding the pitfalls of skipped workouts and irregular training.
Over the years, I've trained at numerous gyms. The first gym I ever joined was Bruno's Health Club. I've often spoken-and written- about my experiences at Bruno's. It's something I never get tired of talking about because it gives me the opportunity to revisit an enjoyable time of my life. The fact that I keep in touch with the main players of Bruno's Powerlifting Team makes it even more fun to travel down memory lane. I trained at Bruno's for six years, and while we didn't have fancy equipment or machines, we had the best free weights available. York equipment to be specific. What we also had was a great environment in which to train. Iron Island Gym, on the other hand, had the most extensive array of equipment available, along with a large variety of top-quality bars and unique strength-building items. In addition, the atmosphere there was positive, supportive, and inspiring. If you couldn't get inspired at Iron Island, then you should have been embalmed.
When trying to determine the best place to train, there are several important factors to consider. Probably the most important consideration is the equipment itself. While it is not necessary to have the latest and newest equipment, you want to have access to quality weights and bars that are adequately maintained. And, let's face it, it all starts and ends with the bar itself. While I'm not going to get into an argument about who made or makes the best bars, I will simply say that I started out with York and have maintained a loyalty to York Barbell since the first time I wrapped my fingers around a York bar over thirty years ago.
As important as barbells and free weights are to training, it's surprising to see just how many places skimp on this all-too-important piece of training equipment. I could never figure out why a gym would have bars that are bent, or bars with non-revolving sleeves, or bars with non-existent knurling. It's ridiculous to have an otherwise well-equipped gym with quality benches, modern machines, heavy-duty power racks, etc., yet the bars themselves are garbage. I realize that I was spoiled by training at Bruno's and Iron Island where the quality of the free weights was unsurpassed. I will devote more time to free weights in a subsequent article. For now, though, suffice it to say that the idea of having a training facility that utilizes low-quality free weights is misguided at best.
After equipment, the atmosphere of the gym plays an important role in determining the quality of your workouts, and the satisfaction you derive from training. At Bruno's, we had a core group of lifters who trained on the same days. As a contest approached, we'd arrange our workouts so we'd be able to train together at the same time. I can't begin to describe how much more you can accomplish when you have a group of people working together and supporting each other. Of course, supporting each other does NOT mean yelling, cursing, screaming and acting like a mad banshee. You don't get stronger from noise. You build strength with hard work and consistent training. Being considerate of others is a desirable trait both in and out of the gym. We've all seen- and heard- the screamers. Every gym has them. They'll scream and yell during every rep of every set. You would think that they are being tortured. What a joke! What's even funnier is that they usually use baby weights. Which only reinforces the old saying that "empty barrels make the most noise." Sadly, these yo-yos are unavoidable. In additions to the screamers, you will also undoubtedly encounter the toners, pumpers, and posers. These are easily recognizable. The so-called experts who will expound on everything and spend most of their time pumping the arms and pecs. They don't train for strength, they just want to pump and tone. What a colossal waste of training time. Ignore the toners. Surround yourself with others who want to train for Strength and Health.
An important aspect of surrounding yourself with the right people is the central theme of this website. Natural strength. Not just getting stronger, but doing it the right way. No drugs. Unfortunately, many gyms that bill themselves as "hard core" are really places where steroids are prevalent. I won't beat this to death in this article, I will simply refer to a quote from the legendary strength coach Kim Wood: " If you take steroids, you are admitting to yourself, deep down, that you don't have enough of what it takes to be a man." Train hard, consistently, and progressively and the gains will come. The right way.
Finally, there is one method that I used to determine if a gym was a right fit for me. I'd walk in, listen to the spiel given by the sales rep, and when he/she was finished I would simply ask two questions. First I would ask if there was a power rack in the gym. If they asked what a power rack was, then I knew it was the wrong place for me. Secondly, I would ask if the use of chalk was permitted. If the answer was no, then it was time to move on to another place.
Labels: Jim Duggan - FDNY Strongman
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Me and Big Lew were good friends, training partners and competed together in Powerlifting. We did some serious training (and eating) while in the USAF stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany about 35 years ago!! His name is in my IRON NATION chapter.
In this video, one of Lews Lifters, DEVON WOODALL with 605.
Monday, November 2, 2015
Training Middle and High School Athletes, Intensity and Good Form, Recovery for Natural Lifters, Steroid Dangers - Dick Conner Interview with Bob Whelan - NATURAL STRENGTH NIGHT podcast - (episode 25) - 02 June 15
I always need good articles about drug-free strength training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: firstname.lastname@example.org