Friday, December 18, 2009

Commando-Tough Intensity - By Bob Whelan

Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 10, No. 1 (July-August 1998)

Saturday is my favorite day to go to work. I have a great line up of hard-working athletes coming in. Athletes are my favorite clients to train because I can let out all stops and pull no punches. On Saturdays it’s like a conveyor belt bringing in guys who pay me to level them! One after the other they keep coming in and keep getting laid out. We usually do sandbag on Saturday, too, as people are not in a hurry like they usually are on other days. I can also sleep late and have a big brunch. I’m usually up at 5am each day during the week and work a morning and evening shift. On Saturday I work one non-stop shift, from noon to 7pm.

I arrived an hour early and set up the plates on the machines, filled the water bottles and loaded the sandbags. I went over each client’s training records and logged the day’s planned workout for each client, wrote down poundages, etc., so that when we are in the heat of battle I won’t have to waste time looking for poundages, etc.

I had the Masimini brothers, Themba and Mpumi (pronounced “Timba” and “Poomie”) coming in back to back, followed by Melvin Tuten and Joe Bunton. Themba, 22, is 6’4’’ and 270 pounds. He’s a recent graduate of Howard University where he played tight end for four years on the football team. He was one of the final cuts of the Baltimore Ravens last summer. He’s training to make the NFL this year and has been invited to try out by three teams. Themba jokingly calls Mpumi his “little” brother when he really means his younger brother. Mpumi is 20 and a junior at Howard. He’s an offensive tackle on the football team, and is 6’4’’ and 315 pounds. Some little brother! And some genetics!

Themba is a friend of Melvin Tuten. Big Melvin had to twist Themba’s arm to get him to train with me. Melvin even paid for Themba’s first workout, and wanted me to hammer him. Melvin had been telling Themba about his training and how Themba should sign up. Themba was skeptical, as many people are, when he heard about training “only two hours a week” with weights. He probably thought it was not enough and that it wasn’t tough. Melvin paid to give Themba the “experience.” After his first workout Themba totally changed his mind. Then he paid for his brother’s first workout, and came to watch me hammer Mpumi. Mpumi, too, has changed his way of thinking. The experience of a brutal workout will change an opinion a lot faster and better than trying to explain it. If you haven’t been through it, you just don’t understand.

The workouts

Brutal strength-training workouts burn a lot of calories. You can’t train when you are out of fuel, and your body can’t compensate for poor fuel. All my clients have a 300-400 calorie high-carbohydrate snack about two hours before training. Themba had a bowl of pasta at 11am and arrived at around 1pm. He was breathing steam and ready to kick some ass! I put him on the Stairmaster for five minutes to “pre-heat” his muscles and elevate his core body temperature. Then he did a series of twenty-second static hold stretches, and a series of warmup sets with the machines to be used.

Many of my clients are friends, and come in to watch workouts and root their friends on. Big Melvin just came in with Mpumi, and shouted encouragement to Themba over the blasting cadence tape.

Themba started off with the Hammer Chest Press and went to failure, doing 9 reps with 270 pounds. I quickly pulled off two 45-pound plates and Themba immediately went to failure again, with 180 pounds. When he hit failure I stripped off two more 45s and he went to failure again, this time with a ten-second static hold at the end of the set. Then we moved to pullovers.

Themba went to failure on the Hammer Pullover machine with 180 pounds, holding the crossbar on his waist for a “one-one thousand hold” at the bottom of each rep. The pullover is an exercise in which good form plays a huge part in determining effectiveness. I used to allow clients to just touch their waists with the crossbar, and it looked like they were drilling for oil. I only recently bought this machine and am still learning about the best way to use it. After speaking with Dr. Ken about it, I decided to insist on the dead stop pause with the crossbar against the user’s waist, and to make this possible I decreased everyone’s poundages by about 50 pounds. This stricter form makes a huge difference for hitting the lats and not just the rear delts. Themba was using about 240 pounds when he was “drilling for oil,” now he’s howling with just 180! After Themba went to failure with 180 I broke down the machine twice, and added a ten-second static hold.

Next was the dumbbell curl with 2-inch diameter handles. He went to failure with 50-pound dumbbells and I added a few forced reps at the end of the set. He was now dripping in sweat and the droplets were raining on the floor. After a short rest it was over to the Nautilus Power Plus Military Press with 180 pounds. After hitting failure at 11 reps I broke it down to 135 and he went to failure again. I then switched the machine from isolateral to bilateral mode, and gave him some forced reps and a ten-second static hold.

The Tru-Squat was next, everyone’s favorite! Themba eked out 23 reps with 190 pounds and had to go down on one knee and then lay on the floor for a few minutes after the set. He was drenched in sweat and breathing like a steam engine. After another rest and some water, he felt okay and was anxious to finish.

The final challenge of the day was the farmer’s walk around the block with 100-pound dumbbells. Melvin, Mpumi and myself served as escorts, guiding Themba through the congested streets. We cleared the streets ahead of Themba. It took about twenty minutes to get him around the block as Themba had to put the dumbbells down about fifteen times to make it. His shoulders, lats, forearms and hands were just destroyed! He was “stress free” when he completed the walk—so wiped out that he could not feel any discomfort, or have any worries.

Melvin and Mpumi went through workouts similar to Themba’s. Today was “breakdown day” but we don’t do breakdowns all the time. It’s just something we do once in a while.

Hard training at 47 years young

Everyone talks about training hard, but the definition of hard will depend on the person. Hard for a beginner in his forties will not be the same as hard for an athlete in his twenties. I see a wide variety of people at Whelan Strength Training. Most of the people I train are in their twenties and thirties, but I also have some in their forties and fifties. I also have several women who train using the same principles of progression and intensity as the men.

One of my hardest workers is 47 years young—“Big Daddy” Joe Bunton. Joe is not an athlete but I almost view him as one because he trains extremely hard. Joe has transformed himself in the last two years. When Joe first came to me he was living in the seventies. He was overweight, on medication for high blood pressure, was listening to 20-year-old disco music, and had a Don-King-like “grey Afro.” Joe works at a cemetery and sees funerals every day. One of the reasons why he started training was because he didn’t want to be a “customer” at the cemetery any time soon.

Joe is now a lot stronger and a lot leaner. He’s off the medication, shaved his head, and listens to rap music! I keep telling Joe that he’s not aging. He’s youthing!

Joe was quiet and almost timid when he started training. Finally, after a few weeks of trying to get Joe excited, I asked him what got him really mad. Joe mentioned several things, most of them related to racial issues. For the next several weeks I would yell those thing at him whenever Joe did leg presses, deadlifts or Tru-Squats. But after each workout Joe used to thank me for getting him so charged up. He got so excited that he made the weights look light. His poundages shot way up. I now no longer have to yell at him to get him charged up. His mind is trained. Now he’s the most focused, ferocious, loudest client I have!

Joe even does the sandbag carry and is almost at the point of mastering 175 pounds at “sandbag alley.” If someone is way out of shape, or over 40, we don’t even think about the sandbag until the person has spent several months training with me, and has proven him/herself. I trained Joe for several months before he tried it, but now Joe trains harder than most young guys.

Consistency is the key. Keep strength training regularly, and keep doing your cardiovascular training. Enjoy your training, and look forward to your workouts. Training hard should be enjoyed. If you truly enjoy training, you will reap your just share of rewards.
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