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     

    
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight 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: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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