Friday, May 4, 2018

The Passing of The Living Legend - By Jim Duggan

     Once, while being interviewed, Bruno Sammartino described his mother as his biggest inspiration. "She was my absolute hero," was how Bruno described the woman who was forced to flee to the mountains with her three young children when the Nazis invaded her village during the second World War.  For over a year, Bruno, his mother and two siblings were forced to eat dandelions and snow while their small Italian village was occupied.  It's not hard to see how much Bruno admired his mother.  It's even easier to see why Bruno Sammartino was a hero to many people, particularly to Italian-americans. His greatness as an athlete was exceeded only by his greatness as a person.
     On April 18, 2018, Bruno Sammartino passed away at the age of 82.  Not only was he was one the greatest wrestlers to ever enter the ring, he was widely considered to be one of the strongest men of his era.  When he came to America as a teenager,  he was literally a 90-Lb. weakling. It was after he began lifting weights that he developed into one if the biggest and strongest men of all-time. His best lifts include a 565 Lb. Bench Press with a two second pause. According to David Willoughby's book, "The Super Athletes," Bruno was capable of performing a Press ( while lying on the floor) of 545 Lbs. He also did a Military Press of 410 Lbs., as well as a strict Barbell Curl with 235 Lbs.  According to Willoughby,  "In all probability, if Sammartino had not chosen to concentrate on wrestling, he would have become a champion performer in the three official Powerlifts." David Willoughby was not given to exaggeration or expressions of hyperbole. Bruno was truly powerful, and was recognized as much for his great strength as for his stellar wrestling career.
     As a wrestler, he was one of the most popular champions ever to grace the "squared circle." He held the title longer than any man before or after. He sold out Madison Square Garden more than any other wrestler. When I broke the news of Bruno's passing with former members Bruno's Health Club, Chris Newins, one of the very first members to join Bruno's, made the statement that if it wasn't for Bruno, there would probably be no WWE today. "Bruno actually saved the old WWWF when it was tanking. As champion, he saved the company." While wrestling scholars ( if there is such a thing) might debate that last statement, there is one thing of which I am certain. There would have been no Bruno's Health Club if not for Mr. Sammartino.
     Larry "Bruno" Licandro idolized Bruno Sammartino. He even followed in Bruno's footsteps and wrestled professionally for a short time in the late 1970s. When Larry opened his own gym in the 1980s, it was only fitting that it would be named for the "Living Legend." I trained at Bruno's Health Club from 1983 through 1988. I can safely say that the memories of that gym will stay with me always.
     I am also proud to say that I have a special memory of meeting Mr. Sammartino back in 2000.  That year, the Association of Olde-time Barbell and Strongmen (AOBS) honored Bruno for his contributions to the Iron Game.  The line of people waiting to meet Bruno wrapped around the room.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, wanted to meet the Living Legend. He was gracious to everyone, and posed for pictures with just about everybody. A real gentleman. When I finally got to meet him, I had asked him to sign a copy of his autobiography that I had brought with me. When I mentioned to him that the pen that I handed him was the same one that John Grimek had used to sign my program a few years before, he seemed genuinely honored. He definitely had an appreciation for Iron History because he mentioned that he was proud to be mentioned in the same breath as the the great JCG.  During his acceptance speech, Bruno mentioned that he always loved lifting weights, and wished that he could have pursued it.  Unfortunately,  back then, as it is today, there was no money in hoisting the steel. But that didn't stop him from dedicating his life to building his body, and making himself as strong as possible. He was very appreciative of what lifting weights had done for him, and was very grateful for his legion of fans.
     If you have the opportunity to get your hands in a copy of his autobiography, I encourage you to read it through to the end. It definitely is inspiring. There are two passages that stand out in my memory.  In the Foreword, Bruno summarizes how much he appreciates the life he was able to build in this country. "For me, it is a privilege to be an American."  That just about says it all. Later on in the book, there are words that will resonate with everyone who supports this website, and believes in the principles of drug-free training. On page 186, Bruno states: "I'm proud to say that I never used or condoned the use of steroids."  Strong words from a great man.
RIP Bruno.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Learning From The Past - By Jim Duggan

     When did you first begin to lift weights? Who were your earliest influencers as you entered the Iron Game? Do you remember the first muscle magazine you ever read?
     Everyone who shares our love of "hoisting the steel" has a story.  And every story has a beginning. While we may all come into the Iron Game from different backgrounds, our introduction to the Iron usually ( but not always) takes place at a relatively young age.  My introduction took place during the 1976 Summer Olympics. I was twelve-years old, and was absolutely riveted to the Weightlifting competition.  I knew then and there that I wanted to lift weights. Over the next few years, while watching numerous Weightlifting and Powerlifting contests on television, I grew more determined to learn as much as I could in order to get bigger and stronger.  I began training regularly, and tried to emulate the huge, powerful men that I saw lifting monstrous weights on the television screen.  
     In addition to television,  there was no shortage of books, and magazines available at the local bookstores and magazine stands.  My desire to learn as much as possible, coupled with my love of reading, helped in developing a basic lifting routine that I followed religiously.  The best, or most reliable, sources of information, consisted of what was contained in thejavascript:; various "muscle magazines."  While the local magazine stand did not carry Peary Reader's "Ironman," it did carry all of the other muscle, strength, and bodybuilding periodicals of the day.  I bought as many as i could, and devoured them each month.  I'll never forget the first time I read Bob Hoffman's "Muscular Development."  It was the August 1980 issue, and it featured a fairly prominent bodybuilder on the cover.  But what really caught my eye was something written on the cover:  "How to Increase Your Benching Power." That was it for me.  What sixteen year-old boy does NOT want to increase his Bench Press? The article was written by two-time World's Strongest Man Winner Bruce Wilhelm.  It listed his current program and even included the poundages that he used.  While I couldn't do the exact program ( I didn't have access to an Incline Bench at the time), I was inspired to train even harder to increase my Bench Press.  While Bruce was a World-class Olympic Lifter,  Track and Field thrower, and collegiate wrestler, he never specialized in Powerlifting. Nevertheless,  his article motivated me to train hard in the hopes that I could lift heavy weights like the ones that he was using.  On a personal note, I had the meeting Bruce at the 2017 Reunion Dinner of the Association of Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen.  Through my friend Steve Weiner, Bruce was kind enough to invite us to sit at his table, and pose for pictures afterwards. 
     In addition to the article about Bench Pressing, there were other items in the magazine that would leave an impression on me.  The first one was about a contest that had been held in England the previous Winter.  It was called the World Strongbow Contest.  Powerlifters dominated the event but what was particularly interesting was the fact that the Lifts that made up the contest were/are some of the most impressive lifts that anyone can practice.  The contest consisted of the following:
1) Clean and Jerk
2) Deadlift
3) Dumbbell Press for Reps ( 55 kg DBs)
     Think about it.  If you were to plan a workout, and decided to do these movements, you would have one helluva workout.  If you trained hard enough, your entire body woukd be sore for days.  Every major muscle group would be called into play.  You may not get a pump in your lats, or pecs,  but you would build incredible strength. 
     The only possible variations that I can think of would be to substitute the Power Clean and Push Press for the Clean and Jerk.  The reason for this is obvious. If you are not a trained Olympic Lifter,  it would be wiser to begin with a less technical movement. It would also be a smart idea to adjust the weight of the Dumbbells so that you so that you could perform at least ten or more repetitions. 
     The last item about the August 1980 issue of MD that stood out in my mind was the very last article.  It was the famous John Grimek column "Your Training Questions Answered." The great MCG would answer readers' questioned that we're submitted to him.  In this particular issue, a reader wrote a letter lamenting the fact that people didn't train as hard as they did in the past.  Sound familiar?
     The reader mentioned that his 23 year-old son was seeking the all-too elusive "super, secret training course." Again, sounds familiar, right?
     In his response, Mr. Grimek mentioned that has stood with me for a long time. Here it is, word for word:
     "As for your son, tell him to stop looking for that secret training course. He won't find it.  The secret is hard work and regular training,  and when you feel ambitious and eager for a good workout, then you should go all-out.  But on days when your energy level is low, train accordingly.   In this way you will make better progress and you should enjoy your training much more, regardless of which system of training you elect to try.  Just remember,  you get from your training what you put into it, and the more you know about training and what your muscles can take, the better results you can expect. That's the basis for training."
     These words were written nearly 38 years ago, but they are as still as relevant, and valid now as they were when they first written.  You wont find better training advice on any website, or YouTube channel. The sad part is that most trainees at a typical commercial gym would have no idea who John Grimek was, or what Muscular Development contributed to the Iron Game.  It is up to those of us who have a deep-rooted appreciation for the Iron Game, and old-time Physical Culture, to keep the idea of no-nonsense, sensible training alive. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

More Favorite Exercises - By Jim Duggan

     In a previous article, I described some of my favorite exercises.  The movements that I selected were those that I used during my competitive Powerlifting days.  These movements could be accurately described as "assistance exercises," because their main purpose was to assist in building strength for the three Powerlifts.  At that time, most, if not all, of my training energy was devoted to increasing my total. Increasing the Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift was paramount in my training, as it should be for anyone training for Powerlifting competition.  The fact that I enjoyed doing "assistance" work meant that I could approach my workouts with a sense of enthusiasm, which is a good thing, whether you compete or not.
     I can honestly say that I have always looked forward to working out. From the time I first began to lift weights, I have thoroughly enjoyed  training. Decades later, there is still nothing I enjoy as much as being able to lift weights. And even though I no longer compete in Powerlifting,  I can honestly say that I still look forward to training.  I actually look forward to my workouts.  As I get older, I realize that I am very fortunate to be able to still "hoist the steel."
     The Powerlifting assistance exercises that I've done in the past still serve a useful purpose, but now I can enjoy a larger variety of movements that will help build usable strength. Like many trainees who do not compete, I am not limited in my selection of exercises.  A drug-free Powerlifter has limited energy to devote to movements that do not directly assist the three Powerlifts. Being free from the constrictions of a Powerlifting regimen, one can explore and enjoy many different exercises.
     There are countless exercises to choose from when designing a workout routine. For most Lifters, there is always a period of several months, during which, there are no contests to train for.  The "off-season" was always a perfect time to experiment with new things. Perhaps concentrate on improving a weak lift, or simply build strength without fear of "burning out" on the three Lifts.  Let's face it, even the most dedicated trainee can become stale if he/she does nothing but Squat, Bench, and Deadlift to the exclusion of other movements.  The exercises that I'm about to describe can be used by competitive Lifters, or by trainees who simply want to get stronger. For the Lifter, these movements offer a change of pace.  A method of strengthening a Lift, without actually performing the Lift itself.  But whether you compete or not, these exercises are an effective way to get stronger, which should be the goal of everyone.  Anyone who seeks to increase his/her strength can use these movements.  Overall body strength is something we should all strive for, and these movements will certainly "do the trick." However,  it should go without saying, that one has to train hard, and progressively in order to get stronger.
     Here are three exercises that I have enjoyed in the Past. Some I still enjoy doing, and hope to continue to do them for many years to come. Anyway, here it goes:
1) Hammer Leg Press.
     I can hear the serious Lifters screaming bloody murder at the suggestion of using machines to gain strength. I have always been a dedicated supporter of free-weights, but some of the most intense workouts that I ever did took place on a Hammer Leg Press machine. I was introduced to this exercise by Drew Israel.  When I first met Drew, I was following what can be described as a typical Powerlifting program. Heavy Squats, Bench Presses, and Deadlifts for sets of low reps.  The first time I trained at Drew's house, he had me do a set of thirty (30!) reps on his Hammer Leg Press machine. At the time, I considered anything over five to be "high reps." Boy, did I have a lot to learn! The hard work required to complete a High Intensity workout translated into greater strength.  And while I would never advocate doing sets of thirty prior to a competition, it was the perfect way to train in the "off-season." It's also a great way to train for anyone seeking to get stronger.
     For those who have access to a Hammer Leg Press, or Hammer Iso-Leg Press, you are indeed fortunate. Many gyms do not have them. Most commercial gyms favor the popular "sled" type machine. I never cared for this machine. I think the Hammer Strength machine provided for a more effective workout without placing strain on the lower back. The key is to use up the machine properly. Do NOT use it to attempt heavy singles or maximum attempts. That isn't what these machines are built for. These machines are for building strength, not testing or demonstrating strength. Try to work to a point of muscular fatigue or failure. Good form, full range of motion, slow negative, and absolutely no bouncing will give you an effective workout that will leave you sore for days.
2) Modified Push-Up
     I can't think of an official term to describe this movement, but I can explain it and it will sound quite simple. It is also an effective way to strengthen your chest muscles. Even if you're not interested in increasing your Bench Press, this exercise will develop slabs of muscle and increase your upper-body strength.
    You'll need a partner for this exercise.  Place an empty bar on the floor.  Get down into a Push-up position with your hands on the bar ( instead of your palms on the floor.) Imagine doing an upside-down Bench Press. When you are in the proper position, have your partner place a heavy plate in the center of your back.  Now, try to perform as many repetitions as you can.  I always liked sets of ten, but you can do as many-or as few-as you like.  Be sure to nice, smooth reps, with a long pause at the bottom. One suggestion I would make is that it's better to use one large plate than trying to balance several smaller plates on your back.  I realize that this exercise closely resembles the regular Bench Press, but I always noticed a difference between pushing a heavy barbell off my chest versus pushing my body off the floor.
3) Farmer's Walk
     The best is saved for last.  Over the last twenty years or so, a lot has been written about the benefits of this great exercise.  The first time I heard of the Farmers Walk was in the early 90s.  It was a staple of the World MusclePower Championships, and quickly made its way into major Strongman competitions. Indeed, there a few, if any, strongman contests that do not have some form of Farmers Walk event. The reason for this is simple:  It is a test of overall body strength that will leave your entire body sore for days. Along with lifting heavy stones, the Farmers Walk will have you feeling as if you've been hit by a truck.  Imagine something as simple as picking up a heavy weight in each hand, and then walking as far as you can! Yet, simplicity is the hallmark of genius when it comes to building strength. And this simple exercise will fry your lower back, hips, shoulders, legs, and grip. It is definitely NOT an exercise for Toners, Pumpers, Posers, and the like.
     There are several ways that you can incorporate this movement into your training program. You can mark a course and time yourself with the goal of adding weight while maintaing your time. Or you can go for maximal distance.  Either way, if you do the movement  correctly, you will feel it for days afterwards. As for what type of weights to use, you can use Dumbbells, or if you wish, there are implements that you can purchase which have a handle and a loading area which you can load with as much weight as you'd like. Either way, the important thing is to work hard, and "carry that weight!"
     The three exercises that I just described have been an enjoyable part of my workouts for many years. There are hundreds of exercises from which to choose when designing a training program, and if variety is your thing, there will always be different movements that you can do.  But to build size and strength, you don't need more than a few basic exercises.  The effort that you put forth, as well as the discipline to train consistently and progressively, is more important than having a large variety of exercises from which to choose. Think quality over quantity.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rolling: A Different approach to lower arm Health & Strength - By Jeff “TRex” Bankens

             Whether or not you have ever wanted to become a performing strongman, there are certainly things that we do that are beneficial to all strength trainees and anyone else involved in physical culture.  Today, I would like to offer you some exercises that are sure to increase the health, strength, and endurance of your lower arms and hands.  If you take things to the next level, you will develop the strength to be able to roll up a Teflon coated frying pan into the likeness of  a metal burrito!

            When it comes to rolling frying pans, you have need of two very important tools: a pair of strong, healthy, tough hands!  We will begin with an exercise that will serve to strengthen and toughen the entire lower arm:.

            Exercise #1 - Wrist Roller

Our first exercise will be a variation of the wrist roller exercise.  The type of wrist roller I recommend for this would be the type that can be mounted on a power rack.  Using this type of wrist roller will enable you to utilize heavy weights without negatively impacting your Deltoids / shoulders.  I use the one that can be purchased from Ironmind (  The reasons I like their wrist roller include: 1) It is hollow, enabling it to be mounted on my power rack safety pins, 2) It has very heavy knurling, which bites into the hand and builds toughness in the skin of your palms.  (See picture at this link: Wrist Roller)

1)      I recommend doing this exercise for four to five sets of one rep, one time per week.  One rep is equal to bringing the weight attached to the device from the floor to just below shoulder level, then back down to the floor again. 
2)       This wrist roller should be used in conjunction with weights loaded onto a loading pin
3)      Exercise both hands.  Concentrate on trying to bring the strength of your non-dominant hand in line with your other hand.
4)       I recommend doing this exercise on a non-lifting day so that your grip is not compromised before doing compound barbell, dumbbell, or odd-object movements.
5)      For more information, click on this link to a video describing this lift in further detail:( )
6)      I would suggest making a goal to eventually work up to using 75-100 lbs (30-45 kg) for your top set in this exercise. 
            The wrist roller exercise will be performed in a manner that closely mimics the movements used in rolling a frying pan.  This variation of the exercise works one hand at a time, rather than both at the same time.  Set the height of the wrist roller in your power rack at or slightly below shoulder level.  The rope wrapped around the middle of the roller should be attached to a loading pin with weights loaded onto it.  Place your right hand on the top of the roller using a thumbless grip (your thumb will be on the same side of the roller as your fingers).  Your left hand will act as a brake, holding the weight in place each time you need to reset your right hand at the end of each rotation forward.  Move the weight up by moving your right hand forward and away from your body, resetting your hand whenever you have moved the weight as far forward as you can.  Repeat this process until the weight stack is as far as it can go.  On my setup, the top of the loading pin would be touching the bottom of the wrist roller.  Now begin moving back down, repeating the entire process in reverse.  Each movement bringing the weight stack all the way up and back down again equals one rep for one hand.  You will now work your left hand using the same process, and your right hand now acts as your brake.  One rep for both hands equals one set.  Start light with 10-25 lbs (4.5 - 11kg), adding weight each successive set until you have completed 4-5 sets total.

Doing this exercise alone will strengthen the muscles and connective tissues of the entire lower arm, including the forearm, wrist, and hand.  It will also serve as a means of toughening the skin of your palms, which is needed when performing any of the feats of strength practiced by performing strongmen.  As listed above in the notes, I recommend doing this exercise on non-lifting days, once per week, for 4-5 sets.

            As stated earlier, being able to perform these types of feats requires the availability of two strong, healthy, tough hands.  While the wrist roller will definitely contribute to the strength and toughness of your hands, it will do anything for their health.  What I mean is, your hands take a beating with this type of training.  To keep them in the game, something must be done to ensure their recovery ability is not compromised.  My second exercise will actually be a super set of sorts, working both the crushing and extending muscles of your hands,

            Exercise #2 - Hand Gripper + Band

            Once again, this exercise was suggested to me by the Grandmaster, Dennis Rogers.  He pointed out that I needed to work my hands everyday in order to promote quality blood-flow in the hands.  He told me to get a set of hand grippers and knock-out 100 reps per day, seven days per week, three-hundred sixty five days a year.  Thankfully, I took his advice.  After  a few months, I remembered someone else suggesting the importance of working the extensors, so I  added in 100-125 reps of band extensions with the fingers,  Both the grippers and the rubber bands can be purchased from Ironmind, Amazon, or any number of other retailers.  Since I do not train in the mornings, I try to get my “Daily 100” knocked out in the morning.  I perform the finger extensions first, as they do not take as much time or effort as the grippers.  If you wish to progress with the rubber bands, you may do so by moving up to a thicker band.

A picture of the band I am currently using can be seen here (Extensor Training Band):

1)      Do not “over do” things. Start with a band you can knock out 100 reps with fairly easily.  Blood flow is more important than how many bands you can open with your fingers. 
2)       See this as a means of building longevity into your hands.  Keep them healthy and youthful.
            The philosophy behind using the hand gripper should be the same as what we have discussed in regards to the band.  Be sensible with the strength of gripper you choose.  Make sure you buy one that you can get 100 reps with.  When I say 100 reps, I do not mean to say that you buy a plastic hand gripper that you can easily close 100 times in a row,  I am talking about using something that is challenging enough to make you break your daily gripper routine into 5-10 sets.  You can do this in sets of 5, 10, 15, 25, etc. so long as you get 100 reps per day.  I also suggest buying several grippers so that you can use a more challenging gripper in some of your daily sets.  Some days you will be able to use your more challenging gripper, while some days you will not (such as the day after a tough lifting session).

A picture of two of my grippers can be seen here: ( Hand Gripper)

1)      Do not “over do” things. Start with a gripper you can knock out 100 reps with, even on a rough day.  Blood flow is more important than how hard of a gripper you can close. 
2)       See this as a means of building longevity into your hands.  Keep them healthy and youthful.
3)      Have fun with this.  Remember this is not in vain.  After a few months of doing this, your hands, fingers, and forearms will be noticeably thicker and stronger.
4)      For more questions related to the gripper/band “daily 100”, check out this video:( )

            Besides improving your lower arm recovery ability, this one-two combination will actually lessen the impact of the bumps, bruises, and dings we all encounter after years of hard, heavy training,  While this “daily 100” superset is great for anyone, it is essential for those lifters 35 and older.  Age thirty-five + is the time you begin feeling your mistakes and accidents over the years.  It is at this time in life that you must begin taking preventative care of your body, so that you will be able to keep living a healthy, active lifestyle well into your golden years.

            On another note, I can also report to you personally that these exercises, more than any others, have directly contributed to the size and strength increases I ave experienced over the last couple of years.  As a matter of fact, I have noticed that when making videos lately, I can see for myself that my lower arms have noticeably changed for the good.  They also hurt less, and as stated above, recover much quicker than in the past.

            I hope by now that you are able to see that I am not just trying to fill space for a deadline, but I am giving you proven exercises that DO work and WILL lead to success in improving lower arm and hand strength, as well as giving you the ability to roll frying pans with your bare hands.  They will give you the strength and toughness required to turn frying pans into metal burritos.

  If you watch carefully and follow the exercises I have listed above, you will become much of a man (or woman) among men, and you too, can begin traveling down the road that leads to strength that few can even dream of.  Continue down this road and maybe, you too can become a performing strongman. I will finish this article by giving you a link to a video that shows what these exercises can do for you. 

Jeff “TRex” Bankens, Gospel Minister & Performing Strongman,
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:

Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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