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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Death of America's Golden Age of Weighlifting - By Jim Duggan

When I was trying to decide on a subject to write about, I thought about the many articles I've written for both this website, and also "The Dinosaur Files." Most of the time, I write about different training ideas, programs, or actual workouts that I've used. But one thing stuck out in my mind: Every article I've written has been dedicated to the idea of getting stronger. In other words, LIFTING. And just about every person who has ever trained with weights has envisioned themselves hoisting massive poundages. And while not everyone has endeavored to compete in the various forms of competitive lifting, those of us who have graced the platform have had many champions to admire over the years. Given the sorry state of Olympic weightlifting in the United States today, it may be hard to imagine a time when American lifters were a dominant force. However, about sixty years ago, that was exactly the case. There truly was a "Golden Age" of American Weightlifting. And one of the biggest names of that era was Norbert Schemansky.

On Wednesday, September 7, 2016, Norbert Schemansky passed away at the age of 92. His death comes just five months after the death of another legendary American lifter, Tommy Kono, who passed away in April at the age of 85. These two gentlemen were two of the greatest lifters of all time. In fact, many lifting historians make a strong case for Tommy Kono being the greatest weightlifter of all time ( although, personally, I would make a strong case for John Davis, but that's another article.) In any event, for the United States to lose two of their greatest strength athletes within months of each other signifies the official end of a bygone era. And even though neither man had competed for over forty years, the legacy that each left behind will live on in the minds and hearts of all of us who love reading about strength, strong men, and physical culture.

One of my favorite books is "Mr. Weightlifting'" an excellent biography of Norbert Schemansky written by Richard Bak. It was written about ten years ago. The foreword was written by Al Oerter, another phenomenal strength athlete. If you can get your hands on a copy of this fine book, by all means do so. You will get a real appreciation for just how great an athlete Mr. Schemansky was, as well as an appreciation of his dedication and focus. He was the first weightlifter to win four medals ( one gold, one silver, two bronze.) He was a three-time world champion whose career spanned over twenty years. He got better- and stronger- as he got older, with best official lifts of Press-415 Lbs., Snatch-363 Lbs., Clean and Jerk, 445 Lbs.. What was even more remarkable was that, unlike today's sponsored athletes, he had to hold down a full-time job in order to raise his family. Imagine having to work for a living, while finding time to train, and still being able to compete with subsidized athletes from the old Soviet Union. A well-told story is about the time he returned home from the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. He had won the gold medal, yet there were no cheering crowds to greet him at the airport. In fact, he had to take a bus home. Can you imagine something like that happening in today's day and age?

There have been many articles written about his training, and the underlying theme has always been that Mr. Schemansky trained hard, and heavy on the basics. Heavy squats, pulls, and, of course, the lifts themselves. I remember reading one of his philosophies about training that stated that one shouldn't attempt maximum singles in the gym. Always strive to lift more in a contest, when it counts. I actually had pleasure of meeting Mr. Schemansky about twenty years ago. It was at the 1996 reunion dinner of the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen (AOBS). He was being honored that year, and I actually asked him for his autograph. The word about Mr. Schemansky was that he was not exactly the most friendly guy in the world, and that he could be caustic and abrasive. However, I found that not to have been the case at all. He could not have been nicer or more gracious. And I still have the autographed program. Incidentally, I am not a big autograph collector. In fact, the only other autographs I have are from Bruno Sammartino, Al Oerter, John Grimek, and Chuck Noll. There is one more thing that I would like to mention about Mr. Schemansky. He was a veteran of World War II, and saw action in Europe fighting for our country. A member of the "greatest generation," as well as a member of the "Golden Age of American Weightlifting."

We might all benefit from closer study of the greats of the Iron Game. I've always thought that anybody signing up to train at a gym or health club should be required to read the biographies of some our Physical Culture legends. It's sad to say, but there are far too many people lifting weights today that have never heard of John Grimek, or Bob Hoffman, or John Davis, or "Mr. Weightlifting" himself, the great Norbert Schemansky. The would learn first-hand about hard work, dedication, and persistence. Three qualities that will go a long way in helping you succeed in strength training. Or any other endeavor.

Monday, September 5, 2016

It's In The Cards - By Jim Duggan

Health, fitness, and all-around conditioning are several components of an overall exercise plan that are often overlooked. Anybody who reads the articles on this website is definitely interested in building strength. We all have similar goals and interests. However, many strength athletes pay little, if any, attention to developing their cardiovascular fitness. Many times, trainees will neglect it completely, until it's too late. Good health often becomes an afterthought. I will readily admit that, when I was in my twenties, my training was centered completely on becoming stronger, especially on the three powerlifts. Lift heavy, eat a lot, rest. Repeat. Cardio work was considered an anathema. I suppose most persons who train fall into the same trap, especially in their younger years. It wasn't until I reached my thirties that my outlook changed, and I started to devote some time to developing some level of fitness.

I am not trying to turn anybody into a modern-day Jack LaLanne. Nor do I want to radically change anybodies general training philosophy. I am simply suggesting that a small amount of time devoted to improving one's health and fitness will pay big dividends over the course of a lifetime. Besides, you won't be able to lift heavy weights if you can't even lift yourself onto your feet without sweating profusely.

There are many ways to incorporate some cardio work into any exercise program. I'm not going to get into a discussion about running, jogging, swimming or the like, since this website is devoted to natural STRENGTH. But all persons interested in strengthening their bodies should perform some form of cardio, or aerobic, training. Especially if they are past the age of thirty. The choice is an individual one insofar as which form of aerobic exercise is best. Any exercise that you will be willing to do several times per week is the best exercise. Like I've said many times, you know your body better than anybody else. Be attuned to what works for you, and do it. Nevertheless, here are some ideas:

While I usually lift weights 2-3 times per week, I do some form of cardio on the other days. There are several exercises that I like to do. Probably the easiest is simply walking. That's right- picking 'em up and putting 'em down. You'd be surprised at the health benefits that you will accrue from this simple movement. I prefer to walk outside, in the fresh air. However, on inclement days I will substitute walking on a treadmill. I usually aim for about 2.5 miles. Please bear in mind that this is not the Powerwalking Program that popularized by Steve Reeves years ago. Although if you want to Powerwalk, by all means do so. But it isn't necessary. You can get great results from simple walking. Another form of aerobic exercise I like to do is the Stairmaster machine. It has two advantages that seem to benefit me. I can go at a good pace, without the pounding on my feet and ankles that would result from distance running. Those of you reading this who, like me, are in the heavier weight classes can relate. Another advantage of using a Stairmaster is that, as a fireman, climbing stairs is an all-too-familiar part of my job, and spending time on a Stairmaster is an excellent way to keep me in shape.

For those of you who simply can't- or won't - do any form of cardio training, there is an option. An option that can even include using weights, if you'd like. It's a way of training that's been around for many years. It's called the Deck of Cards workout. Wrestlers, martial artists, and other elite athletes have been using this workout for years. It's quick, easy, and the best part is that you do not need any special equipment. All you need is a deck of cards, and some imagination.

Here's how it works: Assign an exercise to each suit. Shuffle a deck of cards, then start drawing a card form the deck. Do the assigned exercise for the amount of repetitions designated by the number on the card. So, if you assigned Bodyweight Squats to Hearts, and you draw the Seven of Hearts, then you would do seven repetitions. Face Cards can be Ten, Aces are worth Eleven. You can either disregard the Jokers, or use them and assign any amount of reps you'd like. You can use any exercises you'd like. I workout that I've been doing recently is as follows:

Hearts= DB Press w/ 60 Lb. Center Mass Bells ( a new toy I recently purchased from Sorinex equipment. More on that in a future article.)
Diamonds= Headstrap w/ 85 Lbs.
Spades= Weighted Step-Ups
Clubs= Weighted Sit-Ups.

Your exercise possibilities are limited only by your imagination. You can also make it even more basic and use just two exercises, and assign one movement to the Red suits, and another one to the Black suits. You want to be able to get through the deck as quickly as possible. You can even time yourself, so that way you have a way of measuring your progress. The key is to force yourself to work hard and fast.

The Deck of Cards workout is an excellent way to increase your level of conditioning, as well as your fitness. I distinctly remember a quote by John McCallum from his Keys To Progress Book, which read: " Time spent improving your health is time well spent. Good health is your biggest asset." By making a few simple changes, you can reap the rewards of not only building your strength, but becoming more fit as well.
BODY • MIND • SPIRIT