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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     

    
BODY • MIND • SPIRIT