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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Seeing the Forest through the Trees - By RJ Hicks

The field of fitness has improved tremendously over the last 100 years; however, people are still confused. Evolution in fitness has led to better gyms, equipment, and nutritional information as well as a number of variations in training methodology. Yet, the amount of conflicting information on training is overwhelming in today’s fitness. Coaches are using the words “strength” and “strongman” as popular labels to attach to almost any type of training. These labels confuse beginners by mixing the idea of becoming STRONGER by doing almost any form of fitness, to building a strong powerful body many old time strongmen possessed. Progressive weight training is by far the best method for building strength. Many of these other training method groups are productive and have their place in the field, but if you use them in place of progressive weight training you will never reach your potential.

Bodyweight training only enthusiast

Many bodyweight only trainees attach words such as real strength or functional strength to their training, when in reality words such as fitness or exercise should take their place. Yes, bodyweight exercises will make you STRONGER, but do not pretend it is BETTER than heavy progressive resistance training for building strength. Old time strongmen, such as George Jowett, knew training with apparatuses that employed progressive resistance were far superior to bodyweight exercises for building strength. Some people believe that bodyweight exercises provide you functional strength since many of our military and police train in this manner. However, the truth is bodyweight training is free, easier to do in large groups, and can be done almost anywhere. While bodyweight training only allows for an increase in reps or an increase in instability, progressive resistance training offers weight to increase proportionate to individuals’ increases in strength. Bob Hoffman recognized this downfall stating, "bodyweight training often employs too little resistance for light weight trainers and too much for the heavier". With that said, bodyweight training is a great form of exercise and can even be made progressive with movements such as chin ups and dips, provided a weight belt is used. Take heed of the deceivers who want to convince you to replace, rather than include bodyweight training into your weight training program.

Effort only crowd

Some of the effort only crowd focus so much on intensity and training to failure, that they forget about poundage progression. Effort is a key factor in muscle stimulation, lifting to where the last few reps are challenging (regardless if it's true failure or not) works. Without a goal (any reasonable rep and set scheme works) with which you work towards as a means of poundage progression progress, training to failure with the same light loads is no better than bodyweight only training. It is similar to the story of the man trying to dig a hole with his hands and refusing to use a shovel, sure it’s hard work but it’s not efficient work. The truth is, training to failure WITH poundage progression is ONE very productive and time efficient way to train for MOST clients. You can get the same great results from using one or two sets instead of 5. However, training to failure alone is not the optimal method for a lifter who competes in one of the strength sports nor is it the best for trainees who are not willing to work hard enough in each training session. HIT promotes full body workouts, the importance of recovery, proper technique and effort, but the truth is without poundage progression all of the above does little to build great strength.

Kettlebell only trainers

Kettlebell training has become very popular in today's fitness industry. Buzz words such as strongman, functional strength and other propaganda promoting some of these kettlebell clubs has brought a ton of confusion to strength training. Men like Sig Klein and Hackenschmidt validate the effectiveness of kettlebells to build tremendous strength. When in reality these men included heavy kettlebells into their full body barbell training on occasion. Kettlebell training can be great depending on your GOAL. For a full body, fast pace workout kettlebells are great, for getting big and strong they are not as effective as sometimes advertised. Do not let kettlebell trainers fool you into thinking swinging light kettlebells is the new athletic strength training program. As a new trainee, lifting light kettlebells will get you STRONGER, but this is not as efficient as heavy progressive weight training. The truth is most kettlebell training is focused towards building muscular endurance and conditioning, creating a variety in training to meet trainees’ interest, and providing a very minimalist way to train the whole body. Kettlebell training can be a productive training tool for developing strength and some old-time strongmen INCLUDED them. However, if you are replacing full body progressive weight training with only kettlebell training, instead of just including them, you will never reach your physical development goals.

Odd object training only crowd

There are some who resort solely to the lifting of odd objects. These trainees claim they are developing farm boy strength as if it is a separate type of strength derived from use of barbells, dumbbells and machines. They attempt to deceive you that they are stronger when in fact some of them lift odd objects full time to camouflage the amount of weight they can lift. Do not pretend that flipping a 300 pound tire is building more strength than deadlifting a 300 pound bar. Many strongmen in the past PERFORM feats of strength using odd objects, but this is in ADDITION to their full body heavy progressive resistance training. The truth is odd object lifting does not truly develop the entire body and can leave trainees with many muscle imbalances. Odd objects make it difficult to track progression and make certain lifts more difficult, due to the balance and leverage involved. However, odd object training will build strength, utilize a large number of muscles, add variety, and a physical challenge. These types of lifts should be implemented in hardcore trainees’ routines after the full body lifting is complete or as Bob Whelan says "as a finisher or dessert".

Grip only trainees

Similar to odd object training there are some who resort solely to grip training and label themselves strongmen and functional trainees. If a muscle is contracting and relaxing it is functioning, therefore all forms of exercises can be considered functional exercises. A strong grip is very important, however so are the rest of the muscles in your body. These grip enthusiasts spend more time collecting grip apparatuses and competing to close grippers then they ever do talking about strength training. They want you to believe they are strongmen because of their forearm and hand development. It is great to have a strong grip and compete in grip competitions, but only if you train the rest of your body. Do not be fooled to think that they are a strongman with just phenomenal grip strength but a weak body. Real old time strongmen had great strength in their grip but also throughout the rest of their body too! The truth is grip training is often overlooked by most trainees and is a limiting factor in many pulling exercises; therefore, it should be INCLUDED in every full body program.

Performing strongmen who don't lift

Strongmen can be broken into two different categories, "competitive strongmen" that lift heavy things and "performing strongmen" who do feats, stunts, and acts etc. Competitive strongmen are without a doubt strong and lift terrific poundage, competing to lift more than they could before. I also admire some the performing strongmen. The ones who do their performing in addition to heavy weight training. But some of the performing strongmen don’t hold up to the name and have replaced their heavy weight training with the acts alone. I admire those who lift heavy weights and tear cards, but there are many performing strongmen who never even think about lifting heavy weights. Do not let the label strongman confuse you into thinking that breaking chains, bending and blowing up hot water bottles are the same as heavy progressive weight training. Weights are not going to lie to you, there are no tricks to it. You're either getting stronger or you’re not. We owe it to the great strongmen who performed in circuses and carnivals before weight training became popular, to keep that strong powerful image untarnished.

The pursuit of building strength today has become a self-promoting egotistical open forum, filled with deceit and lots of confusion. It is important to look past the misleading wording, egos and hidden agendas to observe the big picture. A lot of people with big egos are diversions to the core of getting stronger. They don’t keep on fighting and pushing the iron, instead they get frustrated and surrender to progressive weight training, switching to an entirely different easier activity. The bottom line for building strength is heavy progressive resistance for the entire body, while allowing enough rest in between sessions and proper nutrition. It is the same way Alan Calvert, Hackenschmidt, and many of the old-time strongmen trained, and although we have evolved greatly in today’s fitness, weight training still boils down to these principles.


Editors Note: Awesome job on this RJ! This is one of the BEST articles I have read in a long, long time!   My buddy Jeff T-Rex Bankens is a great example of a performing strongman who does it right. Jeff, (unlike some others), lifts heavy weights and the core of his training routine is the basic barbell exercises. 
BODY • MIND • SPIRIT