Thursday, April 30, 2009

Barbells vs Machines: Balancing a Weighty Issue - By Ken Mannie

Ken Mannie is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University.

Our answer is simple - we use both.

We believe in a comprehensive strength-training system that, while structured, allows for flexibility in the choice of equipment. Our emphasis is on safety, efficiency, productivity, and intensity, rather than the mode itself. Proper training technique and an aggressive approach always supersede the choice of equipment.

In terms of morphological enhancement (increase in muscular size), we know that the body responds favorably to progressive overload and that the source of the overload is not nearly as important as the proper application. We attempt to stimulate the target muscle complex with constant tension throughout the fullest range of motion (safely) possible. We do not believe that any one modality (barbell or machine) has a distinct advantage in stimulating lean tissue growth, enhancing strength and power, improving explosiveness, or augmenting sport-specific skill. The scientific literature has never established the superiority of any modality in these areas.

This is not to say that the two training modes are identical in function. Some very real differences exist between barbells and machines, and their pros and cons must be understood.


As there are no rods, cams, or a leverage mechanism to guide the load, free weights require a good sense of balance. It is possible that the more synergistic muscles have a stabilizing effect on the developmental process and the rate and level at which they act merit additional study. (Note: The synergistic muscles are assistant, or secondary, muscles that offer support to the primary muscles in the specific action.)

The diversity of the free weights is also an advantage in that the barbells and dumbbells offer multiple ways of exercising most body areas.

With dumbbells, for example, you can perform the bench press, incline press, and chest flies - all of which stimulate the chest and anterior shoulder regions.

For coaches with limited budgets, free weights usually offer a more affordable option. It is interesting to note that several "plate-loading" machines that use free-weight plates for the resistance are now available in the market place at competitive prices.


Machines offer the capability of intensely targeting specific muscle while adjusting resistance to the athlete's strength needs in that area.

Simply put, during the execution of the exercises, the athlete's musculature will be weaker at certain points and stronger at others. The variable resistance machines - those that accommodate to the biomechanical changes along the strength curve - address this problem. They do a much better job than free weights in meeting this need.

Another plus for machines is that they can isolate areas that need more emphasis. This synergetic effect previously mentioned in free-weight training isn't always desirable. By enhancing the stimulation to isolate areas, the machine can force those muscles to perform the brunt of the work.

Machines also afford a safer means of performing certain exercises. Example: A bent-over barbell row, albeit a good exercise for the upper-back musculature, can be stressful to the lumber-spine region. A seated machine row affords a safer and possibly more productive alternative.

In many instances, machines are a necessity. The neck, hamstrings, hip abductors (outer hip and thigh), hip adductors (inner thigh), and hip flexors (muscles that draw the thigh toward the abdominal area) require machine intervention or manual resistance for adequate stimulation.

Rehabilitation and "special needs" situations (e.g., an injury to a single limb or an injury that limits the range of motion) also highlight the need for strength-training machines. Whenever these individual situations surface and free weights are the only option, you can wind up with a problem.

Machines are extremely useful in rehabilitation because they make it easier and document the athlete's range of motion. This documentation is important in assessing pain-free movement and determining the healing progress.


We suggest the incorporation of both free weights and machines whenever possible. Both have unique advantages that are difficult to ignore.

We would be wary of individuals or organizations that advocate the sole or primary use of a single kind of equipment - machine, free weight, or whatever - as such advocates are usually salesmen, philosophically biased, or have some other kind of hidden agenda.

Remember, as we have mentioned in past articles and as Dan Riley continually espouses in his "Power Line," progressive overload is the vital ingredient in successful strength training.

As far as equipment goes, gentlemen, choose your weapon!

(Ken Mannie can be reached for further information at The Duffy Daugherty Football Building, Michigan State U., East Lansing, MI 48824 or by phoning 517-355-7514).
Read More »

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Body Image and Athletes - By Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD

The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD, January 2009

Question: What are two things dogs and athletes have in common?

Answer: One, both dogs and athletes love to exercise. Two, they both
come in different sizes and shapes.

Question: What is one thing dogs and athletes do NOT have in common?

Answer: Dogs are content with their natural physiques, while too many athletes try very hard to change the way they look. These athletes might be better off being like dogs. That is, does that bulky St. Bernard yearn to look like a lanky Greyhound? Heavens, no! Does the barrel-chested Labrador want to look like a sleek Setter? Doubtful. Each dog is very proud to represent his breed. Wouldn’t life be easier if each active person could be just as proud of his or her “breed”?As a sports dietitian, I spend too many hours helping my clients find peace with their bodies. Most of these active people take the outside-in
approach. They think if they change their body from the outside by losing undesired body fat or by adding some muscular bulk, they will be happier on the inside. Unfortunately, not true! No weight will ever be good enough to do the enormous job of creating happiness. This story, told to me by a cyclist, proves that point: “I once weighed 124 pounds and was unhappy with that weight. I started exercising and dieting rigidly. I lost to 99 pounds but I still wasn't happy. I ended up binge-eating; I gained to 160 pounds, where I was miserable. I sought help from a counselor, stopped eating emotionally, and with time, got my weight back to 124—and I felt happy there! Why couldn't I have been happy at 124 pounds in the first place? Because
happiness has nothing to do with weight...”Granted, some people do have excess body fat they can appropriately lose to be healthier as a person and lighter as an athlete. They can rightfully feel pleased when they accomplish the goal of attaining inappropriate weight. But other athletes just think they have excess fat to lose; they have distorted body images. A survey of 425 collegiate female athletes reports the women wanted to lose 5 pounds, on average.

(1) Another survey of the top women runners in the country found the same results.

(2) Even elite athletes wistfully believe they will perform better if they are leaner. Unfortunately, the struggle to attain that “perfect weight” can cost them their health and happiness. Restrictive diets with inadequate protein, iron, zinc, calcium and a
myriad of other health-protective nutrients—to say nothing of carbs for fuel—often contribute to injuries and poorer performance. So what can you do if you are discontent with your body? First of all, you should get your body fat measured to determine if you actually have excess fat to lose. Data can be helpful. (Find a local sports dietitian to measure your body fat via the referral network at You may discover you have less body fat than expected!

Feeling fat

It’s easy to understand why so many athletes have distorted body images. When you put on skimpy running shorts that expose your “flabby things”, or a bathing suit that shows every bump and bulge, you can very easily “feel fat.” Sound familiar?

One solution to the “I feel fat syndrome” is to remember “fat” is not a feeling. That is, you don't feel “blond hair” or “freckled.” You also do not feel “fat.” Yes, you may be feeling uncomfortable with your body. But you are really feeling imperfect, inadequate, insecure, anxious—and any number of other feelings that get described as “feeling fat. ”I encourage your to explore those real feelings, and figure out where you got the message that something is wrong with your body. The media is
a good start, but it could also be a parent who lovingly said at a tender age “That outfit looks nice, honey, but if only you'd lose a few pounds...” What you hear is “I'm not good enough” and this can create a downward spiral of self-esteem. Weight issues are rarely about weight. They tend to be about feeling inadequate and imperfect.

What to do

So how can a discontent athlete feel better about his or her body? One tactic is to stop comparing yourself to your peers. To compare is to despair. Rather, pretend you live on an island where your body is “good enough” the way it is. (You are unlikely to ever have a “perfect” body, so the second best option is to enjoy a body that is “good enough.”) If you step off your island and start comparing yourself to your peers, please notice: Do you end up being too fat, too slow, too ugly, too dumb? Do you ever let yourself rise to the top and be better than others? Doubtful. You are better off staying on your island, and calling
yourself a Gorgeous Goddess or Handsome Hulk. With time and practice, you can change the way you see yourself and come to believe perhaps you are, indeed, good enough the way you are! Granted, changing the way you feel about your body is a complex process. The following resources can help you in this journey to find peace with your body: (free e-newsletter) (has videos about resolving weight issues) (offers resources, and insights into the media)

For a plethora of books, visit the online bookshelf at

Some of my favorites include The Body Image Workbook and The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook.

Life is more enjoyable when you can love your body and appreciate it for all it does and stop hating it for what it is not. When the drive for thinness comes with a high price, that price may not be worth the cost.

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports

Dietetics) counsels both casual and competitive athletes in her practice

at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA

(617-383-6100). Her NEW 2008 Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Food Guide for

Marathoners, and Cyclist’s Food Guide are available via See also


1. Beals K and M Manore. Disorders of the female athlete triad among
collegiate athletes. Int'l J Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
2002. 12:281-293

2. Clark N, M Nelson, W Evans. Nutrition educational for elite female
runners. Physician and Sports Medicine. 1988. 16:124-135

Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD
Sports Nutrition Services (books, powerpoint, handouts) (Dallas, St. Louis, Houston, online)

NEW 2008 Edition-Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook
Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions
Cyclist's Food Guide: Fueling for the Distance

Healthworks, 1300 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill MA 02467
Phone: 617.795.1875 Fax: 617.795.1876

"Helping active people win with good nutrition."
Read More »


Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 7, No. 6 (May-June 1996)

People are always asking me questions like these: “Which is better, 20-rep squats or 10-rep squats?” “Barbells or dumbbells?” “Machines or free weights?” “One set to failure, or multiple sets?” “Straight sets or pyramids?”

The answer is, “They all work!” We all have our preferences, but the way you choose to train (or the method) is not nearly as important as how you train. The key is that no matter what mode or method you use, you work brutally hard. You lift as hard and heavy as you possibly can—apply focus, form and progression. Hard work will make most methods work as long as you eat right and get plenty of recovery time.

You can loaf or use bad form using any method, and you will get poor results. You can have a negative attitude, lack concentration and just go through the motions using a Hammer Strength machine or a barbell. You can go for months or even years without progressive poundages using any method of training. Remember, there is only one absolute rule in strength training: high intensity training (hard work) + good nutrition + adequate recovery = results.

Everyone responds differently to various training methods. You should experiment to find the ones that work best for you. Keep a detailed training log and write everything in it pertaining to your training including how you feel, what you ate, any aches and pains, etc. Nothing should be haphazard. Review your notes often and learn from them.

The Basic Exercises

No matter what mode or method you use, you must include the basic exercises in your program. This is the foundation and does not change. To incorporate all training modalities—free weights, machines and manual resistance—I choose not to describe the basic exercises in free weights terms. Instead of saying “bench press” I’ll say “horizontal push.” Rowing would be a “horizontal pull,” military press would be a “vertical push,” pulldown would be “vertical pull.” With this type of description it doesn’t matter whether an overhead press is done with a Hammer machine, thick bar, regular bar, dumbbells or manual resistance. It would still be a “vertical push.”

Many people do not have a balance of pushing and pulling exercises. This can contribute to joint problems. The musculature that surrounds a joint (prime movers and antagonists) should have balanced muscular development. If you spend too much time on the bench doing bench presses, and not enough time rowing, you are inviting shoulder problems. Overly developed anterior deltoids and underdeveloped medial and posterior deltoids will be the result.
When one side of a joint overpowers the other, it is almost like what happens to a car when the front end is out of alignment, and it pulls to one side. This especially applies during sudden movements such as playing sports. Many shoulder dislocations and other problems are caused by improper training and the imbalance of pushing and pulling.

The basic movements are: vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, horizontal pull, and leg-hip-back push/pull (usually the squat and Trap Bar deadlift). You can add a few isolation exercises, such as arm work, as long as you are not overtraining. If you are healthy and able, these movements should remain the framework of your program.


There are many people who seem to think that “high intensity” only means “one set to failure.” This is not true. High intensity means hard work and “one set to failure” is just one way that works for some people. High-intensity training is simply hard training. Intensity is defined as the amount of work done per unit of time.

There are four ways to increase intensity. (1) Progressive resistance—this is the top priority. The other three ways will do nothing more than burn calories unless you always include a form of poundage progression. (2) Sets to muscular failure, or “more reps” in a given set. When you reach the rep goal, add weight. (3) Reducing the rest between sets—get enough to recover but not too much. (4) Using stricter form to make the movement harder.

Any training mode or method that works falls under these categories in some form. They are all different ways of “overloading” your muscles, causing them to work harder than before. Many people argue that they have the best or only way to train. This is pure garbage. There are many methods that work, and thousands of people to prove it.

If you put an extreme emphasis on any of the four ways of increasing intensity, then there will be some trade off in the other areas. For example, if you put an extreme emphasis on minimum rest, then you will have to lower your base poundages. You’ll have to do the same if you put extreme emphasis on form and thus do extremely slow movements. If you put an extreme emphasis on lifting the heaviest poundages, or demonstrating strength as Dr. Ken puts it, then you’ll need more rest. The key thing to remember is that we all have our own individual training beliefs based on personal trial and error, but there are many ways to build muscle and strength if you work brutally hard and always have some form of progression. In any successful program, using any method, your primary focus is adding weight ot he bar (or machine) in good form.

My Personal Training Methods

I’m 5’8” and weight about 210 lbs at 41 years of age. I train my whole body on average twice per week, doing the basic movements with an equal emphsis on pushing and pulling. (Occasionally I add an extra day or two of rest between workouts.) I also do cardiovascular work, at least three times per week, for 30-45 minutes each time.
I do different eercises on each of the two weight-training days. I usually do low reps for upper body (5) and sometimes do singles. I usually do 3 work sets per exercise. My priority is to lift the heaviest poundages possible in perfect form. I put an emphasis on the eccentric or negative side of the lift, always lowering the bar slowly. I explode on the concentric or positive side of the contraction.

For the past year I’ve only used a 3” bar for the bench press and recently got 350 with it (with a delayed pause). I’ve previously gotten 370 in the bench press with the regular bar, but after 30 years of natural training my goal is to reach 400. I do overhead presses with a 2 1/2” bar and use close to 200 lbs for 5 reps. I use a 2” straight bar or 2” EZ-curl bar for curls. My Trap Bar deadlift, and squat, are well over 500 lbs.

I train in cycles and switch my program around after about four months. I usually do 20-rep squats and high-rep deadlifts for one cycle per year, for a change. Although it works well for some people I don’t like to do extremely slow movements. I believe that many people who gravitate towards this do so to camouflage puny poundages.

Cycle Variation

There are many methods that work, and many ways to incorporate the basic movements, so why not mix things up a bit when you change cycles? This will prevent boredom, and maintain enthusiasm. I’ll do 20-rep squats for four months and then may switch to 5-rep squats for the next four months. It’s instinctive; my body usually tells me when it’s time for a change.

Many people like to “mix it up” during every workout. This may be fine if you are very advanced and really know what you are doing. But I believe that most people, including all beginners and intermediate trainees, are better served by sticking in a training program for the duration of a cycle. This way you give the program time to work, and you really know what is working. If you change things too much your record keeping will be impossible to interpret.

Give you program 3-6 months to work for you. You will learn from your record keeping what changes to make for the next cycle. During a cycle, keep the exercise sequence and rest between sets constant, or your notes will be of no help.

My cycles are loosely defined and may go longer or shorter than four months, depending on progress being made. Here are three examples of cycles I have used, listing only the core movements and work sets.

Cycle 1

Day one
1. Bench press: 3 x 6-8
2. Front pulldown: 3 x 6-8
3. Military press: 3 x 6-8
4. Seated cable row: 3 x 6-8
5. Squat: 2 x 20

Day two
1. Incline press: 3 x 6-8
2. Behind-neck pulldown: 3 x 6-8
3. Behind-neck press: 3 x 6-8
4. Lying T-bar row: 3 x 6-8
5. Trap Bar deadlift: 2 x 15

Cycle 2

Day one
1. Dumbbell bench press: 3 x 8-10
2. Chin: 3 x maximum reps
3. Dumbbell press: 3 x 8-10
4. Bent-over row: 3 x 6-8
5. Squat: 3 x 8-10

Day two
1. Incline dumbbell press: 3 x 8-10
2. Pulldown: 3 x 8-10
3. Military press: 3 x 8-10
4. Seated cable row: 3 x 8-10
5. Trap Bar deadlift: 2 x 8-10

Cycle 3

Day one
1. Bench press: 3 x 5
2. Front pulldown: 3 x 5
3. Military press: 3 x 5
4. Seated cable row: 3 x 5
5. Squat: 3 x 5

Day two
1. Incline press: 3 x 5
2. Behind-neck pulldown: 3 x 5
3. Behind-neck press: 3 x 5
4. Lying T-bar row: 3 x 5
5. Trap Bar deadlift: 3 x 5

Mental Toughness

You need mental toughness to make maximum gains in any program. I recently had a phone call from a 22-year-old trainee who said he was overtraining on 3 sets per week. I’m not joking. He needs a serious attitude adjustment. Don’t overtrain, but do train. Many people are more concerned about overtraining than they are about training. If you stick to the basic movements, training only twice per week, and only squatting and deadlifting once a week each, you should have plenty of recovery. You must pay your dues.

Be tough and train hard. I strongly recommend that you order The Psychology of Winning by Dennis Waitley, from Nightingale Conant (Motivational Tapes) 800-323-5552. Also order The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz at your bookstore.

True Dedication

Many people talk a good game but are not really dedicated. Do you drink alcohol? If so, how many days per week? This is a weak link for many. If you are pounding beers more than one night per week, I question your dedication. If you use any tobacco products, you’re not dedicated. Junk food? Sleep? Cardiovascular exercise? Mental focus? Find your weak link and work on it.

No Magic Formula

The same rules apply to all the modes and methods of training previously mentioned. Try them out and find the one(s) that work for you. There is more than one way to get great results. Beware of “research” and statistics that claim one method to be superior. Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If you look closely there is usually something being sold. Every camp that espouses a certain “superiority theory” has their own pet researcher. This is one of the reasons why the training field is so confusing for beginners.

Stick to the basic Hardgainer training philosophy, no matter which training method you use. Remember, the method is not nearly as important as how you train. You can succeed using any of the methods mentioned in this article, if you are totally committed and work your whole body brutally hard, eat right, have a positive attitude, and get plenty of recovery.
Read More »

Sunday, April 26, 2009

ENDURANCE by Earle E. Liederman - Author and Publisher, (1926), - Chapter 9

By this time it is evident to the student that before he considers endurance he must acquire muscular coordination, muscle sense, and good wind, and have his organs functioning properly. A youth may possess all of these qualifications, but how about the one who has slipped backwards? He is the fellow I am trying to reach, and if I did not think I could fully arouse his interest before the time I finish this book, if I did not hope to covert every reader to the fact that he must continue to keep himself in good condition and not backslide physically, and if I did not think that you who read this book would feel that I am correct in claiming that everyone should be able to save his own life, in most emergencies, I would cast the whole manuscript into the ocean, whose waves are almost touching my feet as I write.

For one who has discontinued training, it is advisable to begin very lightly and progress just as slowly as if he had never before had experience with exercising. In this manner there will be only a slight discomfort showing on the following day, which can be worked off by gentle movements in order to improve the local circulation and carry off the retained muscle waste, as well as to avoid over-work. It is a fact that too much exercise is more harmful than none at all, as in the case of the circus strong man.

It is folly to compel yourself to exercise when the body says “No.” Just when you receive this warning, you alone can tell. But there is a distinct difference between the call for rest and relaxation after having had enough, and the sluggish feeling of indolence. How many times have you, who have had experience with exercising, gotten out of bed in the morning with sleep still in your eyes. It seems at such times as though you could scarcely open them. It may come from the fact that you were late the night before. In most cases a cold bath will remove this felling and give you the desire for working. But should it not do so and you still lack the starting energy, it will be much better for you to skip your morning exercising period on that day. If you cannot perform it later, take none at all that day, and the following morning will find you prepared and fit to tackle a vigorous drill.

If you fail to follow this plan you are liable to overwork your muscles, and overwork would be a case of fatigue being pushed to the extreme. Overwork also can be produced by continuing an exercise or a sport after your good judgment and bodily feeling tell you to stop.

Have you ever attended a six-day bicycle race? Perhaps many of you have. Around and around the saucer track the riders go. These men have wonderful endurance powers, brought on, of course, by their continuous riding in six-day races throughout the year. The first day or so finds them still fresh, but if you can get close to them when they dismount from their wheels, after relief by their partners, to carefully study their faces, you will find that haggard, drawn expression on each of them, signifying the drain upon their energies. They are overworking themselves, and if it were not for the vast amount of sleep that each six-day rider takes when the race if over, they would soon find themselves physical wrecks.

The reader must not misunderstand me and think, when I am emphasizing the fact that everyone must possess a certain amount of endurance, that I am advocating for him marathon running, six day bicycle riding, or twenty-five-mile endurance swimming, for such is not the case. I want simply to impress upon each and every reader that a fair amount of endurance is absolutely essential not only safety’s sake in saving one’s own life and the lives of others, but for anatomical and physiological reasons as well. Endurance exercises, if not carried out to the extreme, positively will prolong life.

Overworking of the muscles burns up the tissues faster than they can be replenished, with the consequence that instead of the muscles becoming larger they grow smaller and smaller in size. This is proven by most endurance runners. You would think anyone who runs mile after mile would increase the size of his legs from such prolonged effort, so that eventually they would attain enormous proportions; but the fact that almost every endurance runner has thin legs proves that the work or pastime in which they excel breaks down the muscle tissues faster than they can be built up. Hence, in endurance work an abundant diet is essential.

Only the other night I was attending a boxing show, and among the various celebrities introduced from the ring was a tall thin fellow, whose height I should judge to be about six feet, but whose clothes hung so loosely upon his framework that he appeared rather ungainly. Much to my surprise, this young man was introduced as a champion runner, he having run without stopping for one hundred miles. He was introduced from the ringside that night for the announcement that he intended to run seventy-five miles the following Saturday. It was hard for me to imagine anyone running one hundred miles without stopping, and yet this youth accomplished this feat; so seventy-five miles would not prove very difficult for him. But I wondered, and I presume there were hundreds of others whose thoughts were the same, why he did not possess a massive chest and Heculean legs. But it is the same with him as it is with practically all other endurance athletes – the longer they work, the thinner they become.

Exceptions to this rule can be had in swimmers. It seems that the water creates a fatty tissue around the muscles of most swimmers. It is nature’s way of protecting them from the cold, just as the people of the North usually are stouter than those living around the Equator. As all rules seem to have exceptions, it is well to look into the better nutrition of long distance swimmers. You all have noticed on the bathing beaches how the thin man suffers as soon as he comes out of the water. His teeth chatter and he presents a woeful sight. You often wonder why he does not dress instead of endure his shivering. It may be that the stout people naturally take to the water and, therefore, can stand the cold much better than the thin ones. You frequently see the stout man play around in the water and on the beach, sometimes for hours at a time, and not seem to be affected. Probably this is the reason why stout people naturally become distance swimmers after they have perfected the art of swimming.

Approaching exhaustion will manifest itself not only in the muscles themselves but in the organs as well. The heart will beat with exceptional rapidity and force and the respiratory organs will be greatly affected. Prolonging an exercise beyond this point might cause serious complications – heart strain being the most serious one. The heart is a muscle and therefore, is enlarged through activity. It develops thicker, heavier, stronger walls; and in the athlete it propels the blood more vigorously than the smaller, weaker heart does in the one who never exercises. Excessive exercise, however, induces wearing and degeneration and diminished strength of the fibres, producing dilatation of the cavities of the heart resulting from a thinning , weakening and stretching of their walls. Usually the athlete who strains his heart is “through.” Therefore, my earnest advise to all my readers and pupils is to make doubly sure not to prolong a movement beyond the point when they feel a degree of fatigue that is slight enough that the exercise could be continued for some time longer.

This feeling of fatigue will become less and less pronounced as one progresses with the work. Suppose, for illustration, one feels slightly fatigued after performing a movement on or two hundred times. After the same movement has been performed for a week or two, it will be found that two hundred times does not cause fatigue; an additional twenty-five to fifty repetitions will be possible before experiencing this feeling. A similar illustration may be gotten from running. Suppose one is able to run a quarter of a mile before the respiratory apparatus is affected or the heart begins to thump. It won’t be long before it will be possible to run half a mile before experiencing the same functional disturbance of the organ.

To cite from my own experience: when I first became interested in swimming, I used to find great enjoyment in swimming in pools. To swim the length of the pool, which was sixty feet, seemed to be sufficient for me for some time. The exertions I went through in those sixty feet left my muscles tired, my breathing exhausted and my heart beating rapidly. This was because I was a beginner. It was not long before I was able to swim two and three laps and upon completion of the additional lap or laps I would feel just about as tired as I did previously at the end of one lap. After a year or so I was able to swim a mile without as much organic disturbance as I had in the beginning after my first lap’s swim.

This shows how progression can be made naturally, without any strain upon the organs. If in the beginning I had attempted to swim two laps, the over-exertion may have exhausted me to such a point as to strain my heart. Or a little later, when I was able to swim three laps, if I had forced myself to swim four or five laps the same serious condition might have resulted. And today even though I am able to swim considerably more than a mile ( though I am not a professional long distance swimmer), if I were to force myself to swim three or four miles, should it be possible for me to do so, serious organic disturbances might ensue.

Mental depression or indisposition must not be mistaken for exhaustion. By this I mean that if your are performing work or a sport that you indulge in more through necessity than through liking, often a mental disturbance manifests itself and you imagine you feel tired long before you actually do.

There may be some requirements in exercising that you will need to make good to perfect your body to a condition of physical independence, so to speak – to a point that will give you courage and a self-satisfied feeling when you realize that you are fit and able under almost any ordinary circumstances to protect yourself in emergency. If you should experience unpleasant exercises, such as forcing yourself to swim under water a certain distance or working to a point of being able to swim half a mile or more, your thoughts may tell you to stop long before you feel slightly fatigued in the muscles used.

You may wonder why I dwell so much on water sports; but I really consider swimming the foremost accomplishment in anyone’s life from the standpoint of self protection, at least. I really believe there is not one person in ten who is a good swimmer. The five or six of the ten who are able to swim or keep afloat will be incapable in case of emergency, and the remainder who do not know how swim at all will be absolutely helpless in emergencies in the water. Expert practical knowledge of swimming has saved many a person’s life. But though you may be able to swim on the surface of the water for a reasonable distance, you have only about fifty percent of the knowledge necessary should emergency arise. You should be able to swim a reasonable distance under the water, also. While this may be disagreeable to many, and difficult as well, owing to the holding of the breath and the presence of mind required as to sense of direction, still for life saving it is absolutely essential that this be mastered. Suppose you should be cast suddenly from a ship into the ocean or lake or river; the weight of your clothing would not be an asset toward keeping you afloat. You may find yourself under the water on numerous occasions. You may be compelled to unlace and remove your shoes while keeping afloat; and you will find that taking off a pair of shoes while floating requires your head to be under water many times before you successfully remove them. Each time your head is under the water, you must hold your breath to prevent the water from entering your lungs. Unless you are accustomed to swimming under the water, you are liable to become panicky and drown.

When I was a small boy we all used to swim in the Harlem River. We did not bother with bathing suits, and would have much fun diving. I recall how muddy the water was, but that made no difference to us; we liked it just the same. The diving stunts we performed then we would not attempt to do today, for we have better judgment. I often recall of diving twenty or more feet into three feet of water. I had to turn quickly upon reaching the water, to prevent ramming my head into the river bottom, and still my chest and abdomen would scrape the bottom. As we grow older such foolhardy stunts never enter our minds except as memories.

I recall that on one hot summer day, while diving off one of the piers, a number of us went off at the same time. We all came up and climbed back except our friend Joe. WE were never very uneasy because we knew he was an expert swimmer as well as diver; but we looked for him, thinking he might be playing a trick on us, hiding somewhere under the pier with the intention of sneaking up behind us to push us into the water. We waited and still no appearance, and finally Joe’s head came up out the water, directly alongside a barge which was near the spot where we were diving. I recall the agonized expression on his face. He told us afterwards that he started fetching or swimming under water, and when he came up for air he found himself underneath the flat-bottomed barge. It seemed almost unbelievable, but still fresh in my memory is the recital of his miraculous escape.

I frequently see his boy, now grown, and a few years older than myself; and many times we have looked back on the days when we were boys and often mention the narrow escape he had in the Harlem River. If he had not the presence of mind, plus the ability to hold his breath and swim some distance under water, he would not be alive today.

This is one true and excellent proof of the value of being “at home in the water.” Of course, I do not believe in one endeavoring to see how far he can swim under the water, or to the point where he begins to feel distress in his lungs or heart. But this distress first manifests itself in the mind; and the desire to give up too soon never will enable you swim the distance you should be able to swim in proportion to your size, organic condition and swimming ability. You will find, when you feel indisposed and inclined to come up for air while swimming under water, that if you repeat several times to yourself, “just one more stroke,” you will be able to take half a dozen or more extra strokes, possibly without any ill effects organically. You alone must be the judge as to your respiratory condition. If when under water your lungs feel like bursting, you have remained under too long for your good, though no real and lasting harm may result from an occasional experience of this kind.

One year while in southern California I took the boat to Catalina Island. From this island tourists are given the opportunity to ride in a glass-bottomed boat, through the bottom of which can be seen the sea-growth and shells and fish to a depth of about thirty feet, for the water is unusually clear. The lecturer on the boat I was on was in a bathing suit, and after explaining the different sights which we saw as the boat glided along, he announced he was going to give an exhibition of under-water swimming and he asked all to take out their watches to time him, to see how long could stay under the water. I would not have believed it possible had I not timed him with my own watch while he was under water; but when he came up it showed that he had been under almost four minutes. A truly remarkable test of what might be termed breath endurance, or lung capacity.

However, holding the breath and working at the same time may cause dilation of the heart. But I think everyone should progress to the point of being able to swim or hold the breath under water for at least one-half to three-quarters of a minute. This, of course, must be worked up to, for to endeavor to hold the breath for one-half a minute in the beginning, if it were possible to do so, might be dangerous.
Read More »

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring Sale at WST! If you live in the DC area take advantage!

Free first workout when you sign-up at world famous Whelan Strength Training in Washington, DC

Whelan Strength Training, Washington, DC
Read More »

Remembering John Christy -
"... I got the opportunity to have the privilege of talking to him."

Hi Bob,

You probably don’t remember me, but I did a phone consultation with you a few years ago. You helped me with a great routine, putting equal emphasis on pushing a pulling.

Anyway, I always browse your site and saw a link to John’s site listed in your links. Knowing he must be a trust worthy source of information as well, I had a look at it.

I bought his book and did a couple of phone consultations with him. His philosophy of micro loading and training for strength (like yourself) was great and really works.

I just can’t believe what I was reading today when I went to his site and read the news about his tragic death.

After it sunk in, I just thought about how I got the opportunity to have the privilege of talking to him. I immediately thought of you and your site.

I just want to say thanks for everything you do and how important and is for anyone who needs reliable information regarding strength training and health.

As John says, I think both you and John “are the real deal”.

Thanks again for everything Bob.


Bradley Sked

Toronto, Canada.
Read More »

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sad News - John Christy Passed

From John's Website:


A great tragedy has occurred. Last week, suddenly and unexpectedly, John Christy suffered a tear in his cerebral artery that quickly lead to fatal hemorrhaging. Considering his excellent health, this event has come as a shock to his family and friends. For his students, clients, and readers, John's passing is also a tragedy. For now, will stay active until such time when his family decides what will be done with John's unpublished writings.

Please see the obituary below (from The Indianapolis Star). If you have questions or comments, they will be received by his family at

Mr. John R. Christy, 47, of Carmel, passed away on April 19, 2009 at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis. John was born on April 2, 1962 in Morgantown, West Virginia to Alexander Charles and Clara Ann Lewis Christy. John attended Indiana University playing Football and Baseball, John also attended Anne Arundel Jr. College and finally playing baseball and studying Exercise Physiology at Baylor University. John was a gifted athlete being drafted and playing for the Chicago White Sox as well as the Detroit Tigers. John was the owner/operator of Total Fitness, Inc. where he was a personal trainer/coach/mentor to thousands of clients throughout a 20+ year career. John touched many, many strength to the weak, as well as courage and honor to the timid. John also was a gifted writer and author which is revealed in his writings and his first book "REAL STRENGTH--REAL MUSCLE" John also helped train and coach individuals all over the world though his self-constructed web site , as well as numerous other global publications.

John was a TRUE inspiration, a quiet--but strong leader,whom had the integrity no one could match. A consummate professional, but most of all he was a wonderful, beautiful child of God that grew into a man that loved, honored and cherished his Wife, his Children, his Mother and Father and his Brothers and Sisters. John R. Christy is what is best in men. Survivors include his parents: Alexander and Ann Christy: wife, Jennifer Lynn Snider Christy; children, Olivia Marie, Casey Alexander and Carly Suzanne Christy; sisters, Connie Ann (Bradley) Young, Kathleen (Anthony) Rudicel; brothers; Alexander C. (Jill) Christy Jr. and Jack David Christy.

Family and friends will gather on Friday, April 24, 2009 from 4-8 p.m. in Leppert Mortuary, Smith Carmel Chapel. The funeral service will be held on Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 2:00 p.m. in St. Mark's United Methodist Church, of which John was a member. You are invited to visit the website where you may share a personal memory of John R. Christy.

*Education and Knowledge were very important to John that is why the family has setup the John R.Christy Memorial Fund-for the benefit of Olivia, Casey, and Carly.

Please send in care of:
The John R. Christy Memorial Fund.
The National Bank of Indianapolis
2714 East 146th Street
Carmel, Indiana. 46033.
Read More »

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 8, No. 1 (July-August 1996)

“There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat...I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear, is that moment when he has to work his heart out in a good cause and he’s exhausted on the field of battle—victorious!”
—Vince Lombardi

Matt Brown was lying on the hallway floor, semi-conscious and breathing like a steam engine, with the 200-lb sandbag in front of him. A month ago he got 150 but 200 is a whole new animal. He had just collapsed for the final time today, while trying to get the bag all the way around the perimeter hallways of the building. And this was after a grueling one-hour high-intensity workout. There was nothing left. KOed. Comatose. Workout finished.

There are only four names on the bag and Matt is not yet one of them, but he always gives it his all and earns the respect of anyone who watches him train and hears the noise he makes. He usually manages to go an extra few steps with the bag each time he tries it. It’s only a matter of time before he gets it all the way around the building, and his name on the bag. Matt has gained 20 lbs of muscle this past year and his bodyfat has gone down. Six months ago, the 100-lb bag put him down for the count.

Effort, Not Just Poundage

The key thing to remember is that it is not just how much weight you lift that earns the respect of yourself and others. It’s how hard you work. You can’t fake all-out effort. If you are not going all out, you will get less respect and not feel as good about yourself, no matter what poundage you are lifting. I know some strong powerlifters who have no broken a sweat in years! They are strong and worked hard (years ago) to build their strength, but for the last few years have been coasting. I’m not criticizing all powerlifters, but a lot of lifters could be even stronger if they continued to work hard and not “get satisfied” with a moderate level of strength.

There is something about the camaraderie of effort that brings about respect and goodwill. Too bad that they don’t give Nobel peace prizes to places like the few good old-fashioned gyms. The good gyms do more to bring about brotherhood and camaraderie than all the theorists, philosophers and politicians combined. At the good gyms like Iron Island Gym and The Pit, they appreciate hard work and will root for you when you are going for a personal record. It doesn’t matter what the poundage is. If it’s a PR, it’s something to root for. It’s effort that gets respect, and the maximization of your genetic physical potential. And it’s not what you’ve done in the past that counts, but what you’re doing now.

Vern Veldekens was scheduled after Matt, and arrived a few minutes early. He was rooting Matt on during his last set of Trap Bar deadlifts and his battle with the sandbag. You cant help but root for, respect, and like a guy who works his guts out. Matt went several steps farther than he thought possible due to the encouragement and friendly peer pressure (i.e., screaming) of Vern, myself and other patrons of the third floor who are getting used to this, and enjoy watching.

An hour later, Vern would end up in the same shape as Matt, except today he would not even make it to the sandbag. I made him do his Trap Bar deadlifts Iron Island Gym style. He went to what most people would call muscular failure, a about 15 reps, then managed to get 5 more reps, with each rep bein a life or death effort. At 20, he collapsed. I then let him rest for one minute (timed), but did not let him take his hands off the handles of the bar. He had to rest in a squatting position and just suck in as much air as possible. At one minute it was go again! All out to failure. KOed! Workout over! My “Iron Brother,” Drew (the human wall) Israel, passed on this torture technique when he stopped by for a visit recently.

Drew and I had a great time “killing” each other. After our workout was over I made the mistake of trying to keep up with Drew with a knife and fork. Dr. Ken called earlier that day to warn me: “Keep your hands off the table when eating with Drew because he might stick his fork into them!” That boy can eat! It was Thanksgiving three times over.

Drew leaves camaraderie-building messages on my answering machine, such as, “Kick Vern’s ass today, Bob. I want him on the floor.” Vern replies, “Thanks, Drew. I love you, man!”

When I first met Vern, over one year ago, I didn’t like him at first. He came into the gym with a baseball cap on backwards, which I didn’t like and wrongly perceived as disrespect. I didn’t smile or say a nice word to him, and was like a drill sergeant. He called me “Sir.” I really busted his ass extra hard. Vern took whatever I threw at him with no complaints. After a few workouts I totally changed my mind about him and he earned my respect. We laugh about this now. You can’t help but like a guy who gives it his all.

It’s the same for women. Muscle tissue is not defined as male or female, but only as human, and will respond to hard training regardless of gender. With any individual you start with whatever can be handled and build up from there. No one at my gym works harder than Charlene McNamara. I train her the same as a guy. No BS toning. She said, in the past, she was getting so sick of being “babied” because she was a woman. She loves training hard, and ends up on the floor after many workouts. She recently carried around the building a barrel filled with sand that weighs more than she does, and after a brutal one-hour workout. She now has her name on the barrel in large mailbox letters for all to see. She is respected by all because she works her ass off!

Gym Atmosphere

The training atmosphere of a gym is far more important than the equipment in it. Some gyms have great equipment but a dead atmosphere. No one is working, and no banging, shouting, grunting and groaning are allowed. No camaraderie. Soon there will be gyms filled with great equipment but there will be no sweating allowed! These are toner gyms. If you are in one, find another gym.

I had some of the best workouts of my life at a poorly-equipped and crowded gym at an Air Base in Germany—rusty weights, creaky floors, broken cables, etc. But boy, what a great atmosphere! Several hard workers were always in there. Weights were banging, sweat was dripping, people were screaming, and chalk was everywhere. Just the basic Olympic bars and plates, a flat bench, and a squat rack was all we really needed.

Willie Bell the powerlifter, and Glenn Pieschke (former Mr. YMCA USA) were stationed there, with a lot of other strong good guys. I made great gains there. The gym was a dump but what atmosphere and camaraderie! We were all friends and had a great time training together.

Compete Against Yourself

Put for the effort to compete against yourself, not others. You never lose when you compete against yourself. Don’t get overly concerned with numbers, but always be concerned with progression. As long as you are striving to add weight to the bar and giving an all-out effort, you will never be criticized. You will be respected. People respect effort. You should feel good about yourself. If you consistently put forth the effort, the numbers will keep going up.

Don’t get discouraged. Keep striving! Nothing in life that is worthwhile is easy. If it was easy, then every wimp in the world would be strong and that would take all the fun and camaraderie out of training.
Read More »
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:

Vintage Bodybuilding Literature

Vintage Bodybuilding Literature
Oldtime Strongman Books

This site does not provide medical advice. We assume no liability for the information provided in NaturalStrength articles. Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise or nutrition program. Copyright © 1999-2024 | All Rights Reserved.