Friday, August 31, 2018

Lessons From Tommy Kono - By Burt Gam

I just got finished listening to my first Bob Whelan podcast featuring the legendary Tommy Kono. It was as enlightening as it was inspiring. First I wish to be clear. For those reading who have never heard of Tommy Kono, it would be because you were probably just a glimmer in your father's eye when Tommy was competing in the late 40s, 50s and 60s in Olympic weightlifting as well as bodybuilding. That is to say those of you under 50 or perhaps 40 or so. Secondly, I am not intending to be redundant here to speak about the article directly or to summarize it. I would suggest very strongly instead that you take the time to listen to it.

But just a few words about Tommy first just for context so I can make a few significant points, and highlight the lessons that I derived from the interview. Tommy Kono was probably pound for pound one of the greatest Olympic lifters who ever walked the earth. He may have been the best Olympic lifter that the United States has ever produced. He competed in an era where weight training and good health went hand and hand. It was a wonderful era for lifting beside steroids were all but unheard of up to a point, rather emphasis was placed on good old fashioned hard work and sensible training. Tommy was lucky enough to train at one point under the coaching of Bob Hoffman, considered the "Father of American Weightlifting". Tommy Kono in this regard in my opinion could only be compared in greatness to the legendary Paul Anderson, considered by many strength historians to be the strongest man who ever lived. Paul too was competing around that time as a super heavyweight for the United States.Tommy actually won numerous titles, Olympic medals in four different weight classes and was nominated by a number of hall of fame organizations. Not only that, Tommy was no one trick pony because as was more common in that era, also competed as a bodybuilder and took numerous titles.

I want to emphasize this point and come back to it in a bit since there is a valuable lesson here too. Sadly Tommy passed away in 2016 at the age of 85. So since in Bob Whelan's interview Tommy stated he was 84 years old, I surmised Bob's interview must have been a year or so before his passing give or take. So it was very fortunate indeed that the interview took place before Tommy passed. Again, it was an excellent interview full of excellent training info and I highly recommend spending 45 minutes or so to take it all jn. Which leads me to the purpose of this article. Bob's questions to Tommy and his forthcoming answers got me thinking about a few key insights I would like to share. The lessons of the past to the present so to speak. So for what it is worth, here I go.

1. Tommy stated that as a youth he was not very strong. He in fact described himself as skinny and sickly. This kind of brings me back to my own youth and the reasons I started lifting. Yeah I was skinny and weak. I was not sick, but I knew deep down that what I was doing was HELPING ME BE HEALTHIER. I was making my body stronger and healthier because strength was equated with health. That is why a popular bodybuilding magazine was titled "Strength and Health". Tommy made himself stronger and healthier, although he took it to a way higher level. And he did it clean. No drugs. Tommy stated that he was able to successfully complete against the Russians even though they were doing steroids and he was not. 

2. Tommy stated in the interview that he started out with very little equipment to train with. Paul Anderson could have said the same. Yet both became incredibly strong. Tommy claimed he had no bench or squat racks to use. They had to be creative and improvise. So it would seem to imply that hard work on basic exercises is all that is necessary, not a wide variety of movements. 

3. Back in the day, lifters competed in both weight lifting a and bodybuilding. Oftentimes both types of contests happened on the same night. Today it is less common to compete in both due to the way contests are scored and the highly specialized nature of each at the higher levels of competition. Still though, there are a handful of examples of unique individuals who train for both. 

4. Tommy spoke about the mental aspect and it's importance to training. Hard work, discipline to eat healthy, get enough sleep and train hard regularly. No amount of performance enhancers can overcome the lack of these variables. And this type of rigorous discipline has real life carryover to breed success in all aspects of life. Old school thinking is just as valid now as it was then. 

 5. One final message. I realize that many of you young guys are going to feel invincible. That is the blessing and the curse of youth. Know this. If you take one thing from all this it should be that no amount of drugs or fancy equipment will make you a REAL champion like Tommy. God did not give you the gift if you were not willing to work your ass off for it. And if you think you might want to get married and have kids one day and live to see them make something of themselves, stay away from the juice. If you do not believe this or care, go online and research all of the bodybuilders and pro wrestlers who decided that a moment of glory in the sun can take the place living a long, healthy and glorious life. They cashed in their child before 50 or 40 or sooner. Take care of your body now and reap the rewards later. Lift, love,and be happy and healthy. You might just live long enough to have kids. grandkids. or great grandkids if your lucky. I am working on that now.Thank you Tommy.


Editor's Note: Great article Burt. Besides being the greatest athlete in the history of physical culture, Tommy was a class act and one of the nicest human beings ever.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Variations in Iron - By Jim Duggan

     Hoisting the Steel. Pumping Iron. Slinging the Iron. These are just a few of the expressions used to describe what we do ( and love): Lift weights. Many books, and countless articles have centered around the same sort of language.  One of my favorite Iron Game authors, Brooks Kubik, has used the word "Iron" in the title of many of his great books and articles.  And while we may consider ourselves to be "Iron Slingers," we hardly pay any attention to what we are actually slinging.  And, for good reason: Who cares? Just Lift!
     The very first set of weights I ever used was made of neither Steel nor Iron.  My first weights were plastic filled with sand.  Somehow, I just can't embrace the idea of "Pumping Plastic."  It wasn't until I joined Bruno's Health Club in July of 1983 that I quickly became aware of the beautiful sound of steel plates clanging as they were being lifted.  There was a lot of steel at Bruno's. YORK steel to be precise. And while I've been lifting weights for many years, I've tried as best as I could to stay true to York Barbell and the brand that has built strong men and women since 1932.  Naturally,  there are many brands available today.  Some good, many not so.  But, no matter what type of equipment you use, the important thing is to train hard and consistently, with an eye on poundage progression .
     I still have York weights at home, much of it vintage stuff from years ago.  Sometimes,  though, I will lift weights that aren't exactly weights in the conventional sense.  There are two items in particular that are not exactly what one would envision when you think of "working out."  One item has been around for a long time and has a rich history, though not in the sense of Physical Culture.  The other item is relatively new to the lifting scene, but is becoming increasingly more popular.
     I've been using anvils for a long time.  My first exposure to anvils as a training tool was through the pages of Muscular Development magazine back in the 1980s.  It was an article written by Dr. Ken Leistner about "unconventional power builders."  In the article, he described the various ways in which to use an anvil as a training tool.  Several years after the article, I had the good fortune to join Dr. Ken's Iron Island Gym.  One of the first things I noticed upon entering the gym was a large anvil sitting next to a rack of dumbbells.  I used the anvil, as well as the various I-beams, Sandbags, and other toys that the gym offered.  And over the years, I have used anvils to perform various movements.  Curls, Presses, Deadlifts are some exercises that can be easily done with an anvil.  They can also be used to provide resistance for a Headstrap when doing neck work.  There also grip specialists who use them for grip work by lifting them by the horn.  And, incidentally, some of the poundages these guys use are staggering.
     I have a total of nine anvils ranging in weight from 30Lbs, up to 205 Lbs.. If you use your imagination,  you can do any movement with an anvil that you can do with a barbell, with the exception of Squats.  While purchasing an anvil can be expensive, you can pretty much rest assured that it will last a lifetime.  We don't often see anvils breaking apart.  One thing that I've noticed when purchasing anvils is that they are often described as being made of "Cast Iron," or "Wrought Iron."  I realize that anvils are designed for Farriers and Blacksmiths, and these terms are important for what they are used for.  Admittedly,  metallurgy was never my strong suit.  But since my goal insofar as it relates to anvils is simply to lift them, I'll ask again: Who cares? Just Lift.
     Now the debate between Cast or Wrought Iron brings me to the other unconventional strength-training item that I have been using: Center Mass Bells (CMBs.) These are made from Ductile Iron. All you metallurgists can have a field day debating the pros and cons of each type of Iron. I'll just describe my experience with CMBs.
     I've been using CMBs for a couple of years now.  I purchased mine from Sorinex.  I have all the large sizes up to 100 Lbs, and I can tell you that these things are great!  They are an excellent training tool.  In fact, all of the equipment from Sorinex is excellent: Top-quality and built to last.  Try them and see for yourself.
     The CMBs can be used to duplicate exercises that can normally be done with Dumbbells.  Standing Presses, One-Arm Clean and Press, One-Arm Rows, Curls are just some examples of the wide range of movements that you can do with CMBs.  From the moment I tried them, I liked the feel of using a CMB as compared to kettlebells, which I never really cared for.  I realize that it's a personal preference and that there may be people who adamantly disagree with me.  Use what works for you.
     The actual workout that I've used is a variation of a popular workout utilizing two movements. It's an excellent way to get in a workout when you are pressed for time.  The two movements are:
One-Arm CMB Clean and Press
Anvil Curl
     The goal is to do 55 reps of each movement, via doing a superset of Presses and Curls for 10 total sets.  For the serious Lifters out there, don't panic at the mention of "supersets."  You will not be emulating some pumped up bodybuilder, rather, you will be combining two heavy movements with minimal rest.  The goal is to push yourself, not pump yourself up.
     Here's what it looks like:
One Arm CMB Clean and Press x 1 Rep supersetted with Anvil Curl x 10 Reps. 11 Reps Total.
Next set, do 2 reps of the CMB Press and 9 Anvil Curls. Again, 11 Reps Total.
Keep going until the last set of 10 Presses, and 1 Curl.
There should be minimal rest between sets. In fact, for the first five sets, try not to rest at all. After the fifth set, you can rest up to one minute between sets.  The workout should take no longer than fifteen minutes or so.  For those who want to really challenge yourselves, after you complete the workout, you can do it again in reverse.
     You can do this workout with different movements, or you can even utilize bodyweight exercises. I chose these movements because they are eady to perform, but physically demanding. And besides, the title of this article is "Variations in Iron," and while I had never considered the different types of Iron, I have always enjoyed lifting them.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Birthday Tradition - By Jim Duggan

     For the past fifteen years or so, it has been something of a tradition for me to celebrate my birthday by challenging myself with the lifting of heavy objects.  Anvils, Stones, Tires, Barbells, and Dumbbells.  It didn't matter what tools were available, just so long as I challenged myself.  There are many definitions of "tradition," but the best one I can think of is "a longstanding custom or practice." And while fifteen years can hardly be considered to be a long time, it is significant enough so that I always look forward to my annual birthday challenge.
     This year, on July 20, upon waking up , the first thing I did was the "Magnificent Seven" exercises.  For those who are unfamiliar with the Magnificent Seven, I urge you to check out "Combat Abs," by Matt Furey.  It is loaded with functional exercises that will help you achieve a powerful, and functional mid-section. And while there are hundreds of exercises in the book, the seven movements that constitute the Magnificent Seven are supposed to be done on a daily basis.  I try my best to perform them every day, as much as my work schedule will allow, anyway.  The exercises are simple to do, require no equipment, and take less than twenty minutes to complete.  And they help energize you at the beginning of the day.  Even though the Magnificent Seven are not part of the Birthday Challenge, I like doing them, and I wanted to make sure that I include them, birthday or not.
     The main part of this year's challenge would be made up of two main movements:
1) Repetition Clean and Press with 75 Lb. Dumbbells
2) 180 Lb. Atlas Stone, Lift to shoulder for 55 Reps
     I have developed a renewed interest in lifting heavy Dumbbells. I've always enjoyed heavy dumbbell training whether it be DB Deadlifts, Rows, Cleans, etc.. They are an excellent way to develop great strength. It's been only recently that I've dedicated myself to working hard on DB Pressing.
     In my last article, I mentioned the Sig Klein Dumbbell Challenge.  Basically, it consists of cleaning and pressing two 75 Lb. DBs for twelve reps.   Clean the DBs, and then press them overhead in strict fashion.  Then lower the DBs, and repeat for twelve strict repetitions. No cheating, no leg drive, no back arch, no pause between reps.  It sounds relatively easy, until you begin to do it.  I tried to to establish a rhythm and concentrate on breathing so that I would not be "gassed" halfway through the set. I'll admit it was tough, especially after the eighth or ninth rep. I had actually entertained thoughts of doing more than twelve reps, but I was happy to be able to do the twelve in strict form and then live to press another day.  Needless to say, I was breathing pretty heavy after the DBs, but now it was on to the Stones.
     I've always been a fan of stone lifting, and have included them in each of my birthday challenges. There's just something about lifting a heavy, granite sphere off the ground and on to the shoulder.  Not withstanding the fact that the rough granite tears the skin of your forearms, and leaves bruises on your shoulders, there is quite a feeling of accomplishment after a demanding stone workout. And lifting a 180 Lb. Stone for 55 Reps is certainly demanding. I chose the number 55 because it was my 54th birthday, and added an extra rep for good luck.  It was also an homage to one of my favorite strength athletes, Jon Kolb, who wore number 55 for the Steelers during his stellar thirteen year career.
     After a few warm-up reps, I was going to tackle the Stone in sets of 8-10 reps.  I would do a set, go inside and do a set on my York Krusher as a form of active rest, if you will.  Then I would rest a minute, then go outside and continue.  For some reason, the reps seemed smoother as I went along, and I seemed to have plenty of energy. Maybe it was because the weather was not excessively hot, maybe I was in a groove.  Whatever it was, I was able to complete 55 reps without feeling too much worse for the wear.  Except for the previously mentioned "rock burns," I felt pretty good.
     Like I mentioned, I included my York Krusher as a tribute to the York Barbell Company.  It was meant as active rest, but I also wanted to do a little something for my upper body.
     After the Stone Lifting, my next goal was to use my 193 Lb. Sewer Grates and hold them for time.  I purchased these about ten years ago. They are basically heavy sewer grates with a handle welded to the top.  Each one weighs in at 193 Lbs. They are excellent for Farmer's Walks, Shrugs, or just holding them for time.  My goal was to hold them for a minute.  It was tough, especially since my hands were sore from the Stones, but I was able to hold them for one minute and four seconds.
     The final thing that I did, a lifting coda if you will, was to bend a horeshoe.  My friend Steve Weiner recently taught me how to bend horeshoes, and I have really enjoyed going through the learning process while bending them.  So much so that I recently ordered a large box of horeshoes to improve my technique.  Even though my technique is still crude, and I was fatigued, I was able to bend one into a nice "S" and hopefully establish a new tradition. Thanks, Steve.
     All in all, I was happy with how everything went.  I want to continue to lift heavy Dumbbells, increase my hold time on the Sewer Grates, as well as improve my horeshoe bending. So I guess I have something to look forward to next year as I approach the speed limit!
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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