Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tweaking the 3 Days per Week Routine - By Todd Baisley

Like many readers of Natural Strength, I have trained most of the last couple decades on a two day per week, whole body workout routine, after a decade or so on more frequent training splits. This allows me to be fully charged and eager to work out again. The gains come just as well, and I feel more liberated in my day to day schedule. However, like most long time trainers, I mix it up now and again to keep it fresh. This summer, for the first time since my teenage years, I took a few months to experiment with a three day per week protocol again. Though I am back to two days per week again, here are some observations I made while going at it thrice weekly.

The first thing I figured out right away, was the need to vary the intensity and frequency of the big movements. Normally, I like to be pretty wiped out after a workout, often needing to lie down for a few minutes. This just didn’t work when hitting it Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Strength went backwards after a couple weeks and training enthusiasm dipped significantly. While we all have bad workouts, if you are getting weaker two weeks in a row, it is time to reevaluate. To combat this, I found that spot where I was training hard enough to be out of breath for much of the workout, but not wiped out. This enabled me to still get that rush of endorphins and psychological reset, where the cares of the day seem to melt away, without killing my love for lifting. I also found my poundages stayed solid or crept higher.

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing for me, was the variety I could fit in during the week without lengthening my workout. If I had already done one hard squat session that week, I felt fine about doing a lower rep session, or some other exercise, like a leg extension, that I would normally not bother with if only training two days per week. Same with weighted dips and deadlifts. I hit most of them twice per week, at least one time hard, then played around with a less draining movement for the third day. Because the other movements were not as taxing, I could hit them full bore without overtraining.

I also noticed more hardness and vascularity. Dr. Ken noted the same thing regarding hardness in an article in the September 2002 issue of Milo. And while I could hardly care less about vascularity, a veiny forearm to go along with a calloused grip and firm handshake isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can also use the opportunity to focus on some weak point. Train more moderately (intensity or frequency) on some of your stronger movements, and you can hammer away harder where you need it. I took the opportunity to train grip/forearms three days a week, with a few different movements and really noticed the difference after a month.

Though I didn’t have a set in stone program, a couple workouts I did that were representative are as follows: one set of squats 20 or more reps; one set of weighted dips; one set of dumbbell row; one set of presses; one set of barbell curls; and a couple sets of wrist rollers. Another routine in the week was: one set of weighted chins followed immediately by deadlifts (this is one of the best lat combos I have ever done); bodyweight dips to failure; leg press; upright rows from the floor; one set of preacher curls; one set of reverse curls and one set of wrist curls. Three days a week proved pretty sustainable and realistic, but I still prefer to train two. I can train heavier and harder. But for a season, it proved a good change of pace. You may find the same thing yourself.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Two Approaches to High Volume Training - By Todd Baisley

Most of us who visit Natural Strength probably wouldn't be considered high volume trainers. Years ago, we realized we made better progress and enjoyed lifting much more on a lower volume, less frequent, and more intense protocol. Some of us even became more upbeat as a person, without our CNS being beat down from 5 to 6 days per week of relentless training.

Having said that, there are some times when a higher volume (say 20 sets per body part) may fit your lifestyle. When stationed on a smaller base in Panama during the late eighties, there was precious little to do after we were no longer allowed off base. Camping out in the gym for set after set, at that phase of my life, was better than hanging out at the cheesy NCO club. Some people I know and have known of, have found a good gym therapeutic when going through a divorce, and easier than going straight home to an empty apartment. Ditto for some retirees with more energy and time on their hands than they are used to. While it would probably be better for them to develop other interests and relationships, for some the gym scratches the itch.

While there are an infinite number of ways to adjust a high volume routine, they generally fall on or between two poles. One is a more health and muscle building focus, while the other would be pure strength and size.

The first approach could be epitomized by some of Jack Lalanne's routines. In his later years he stated that he would do 20 sets per body part, resting 15 seconds between sets. While one doesn't have to follow this exactly, the idea is a lot of sets in a little time. Supersets are encouraged and reps would usually be more in the 8 to 20 range than the typical strength building range. A good blend of compound and isolated exercises is typical. Plan on using a lot less weight for the last seventeen sets or so.

The upside is there is no need for extra cardio. It also can be great therapy for aching joints. When asked what to do for injuries, Jack would often respond, "Work that sucker!". Find the right angle, the right exercises, and strengthen that muscle all around, while pumping it with blood. I have asked a couple of physical therapists if blood flow is the key to connective tissue repair, both of them said yes. Many sets equals much blood flow (as well as a cost effective and manly approach to physical therapy!).

The downside is most of us won't gain much size or strength on this protocol. While a bulky fellow might carve out some muscularity, I have frankly always gone backwards in the size and strength department when on this type of routine. Better break out your copy of BRAWN or SUPER NATURAL STRENGTH if that is your goal.

The polar opposite would be a high volume workout emphasizing big weights, long rest periods, and compound movements. Paul Anderson used this type of approach. Do a set, rest as long as needed to get your strength back, but not cool down, then do another set. Repeat many times. Squats, half squats, weighted dips, presses, presses from the forehead, deadlift, etc. Plan on spending a long time in the gym. It's not a bad idea to bring some milk or other energy giving drink while you camp out.

On the plus, if you can keep your calories up, you will slowly add layers of thick, dense muscle tissue, the kind that won't disappear if you miss a week in the gym. Because you are doing so many sets, you can become very proficient at a movement, and your strength will go up. Patience and not training to failure are important.

On the down side, this will do little to improve overall health. You NEED to do cardio as well. Strength AND health, as Bob rightly reminds us. Major time investment is another down side. You can make as good or better gains on an abbreviated program. However, if you're at a season when you need to fill time or you're a young guy and you and your buddies enjoy a long squat off, give it a try. Life will get busy again, and you can always fall back on a more sensible program.
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Monday, September 8, 2014

ONE ARM TRAINING - By Howard L. Liviskie

I have always tried to do something that entails one arm training. This type of training is great for developing power and speed. It will also help if you tend to favor one side over the other. This kind of training is great to add to a full program or just to make a training day of all one arm exercises. When most people hear the term "one arm training", they think of dumbbell curls or triceps work. Well, those exercises are okay, but not the only ones I think of. I believe that one arm movements should use a lot of muscles and should make you work hard. Swings, one arm clean and presses, one arm snatches, and bent presses are all one arm movements. These are going to give you the most bang for your buck. Some of these movements are a technique driven, such as the swing or the snatch, but anyone can do them.

Let's start with the swing. First, I would like to say that a good place to see the swing done is on the BROOKS KUBIK video. To start, you need a good dumbbell. You are going to try to get the form first so start light. Now stand over the dumbbell with the bell between your legs and your feet spread a little wider than shoulder's width. Reach down and grab the bell with one hand bending your knees. (Don't worry about which hand to start with, you will train them both.) Keep your hand right up next to the front plates. Now, keeping your arm straight, take the bell up to your waist and let it swing back between your legs to get some movement. Then swing it up over your head keeping your arm straight the whole time. Putting your other hand out to your side can help you keep your balance. Repeat these steps with your other hand. I don't recommend doing reps because your form starts to suffer. It is very important to always keep good form even if it means using lighter weights.

The one arm clean and press is actually two one arm movements in one, the clean and the press. You can train them together or separate. I sometimes separate them depending on how I feel or if I'm training for a certain contest. This movement starts similarly to the swing except you don't swing the weight. Instead you clean the weight to the shoulder, get your balance, and then press it overhead. Now a little warning, it sounds easier than it is. The form has to be good on both the clean and the press. In the press, you should lay back a little because it helps keep the bell stable. I'm not a big rep guy with this one either but you can do more than the swing. I would say do no more than five reps and keep tight. If you just press, have someone hand you the weight and keep tight all the way up and down.

The one hand snatch is next. I personally am no good at this one and to work at it to feel comfortable with the weight I am using. I find that this is a great movement to make you stronger but it is a bear and I would not say it is for everyone. It is really hard if you are tall or have long arms. It is almost like a regular snatch, but again, you start over like the other two movements, the swing and the clean. The balance you need to get heavy weights s great so start light and be careful. Make sure you get under the weight and control it.

The last movement is the bent press. I tried this movement about one year ago and found it not only awesome for body power, but it trains the core of your body like crazy. This will help you build a stable, strong middle and help get some flexibility. Now, I do this with a dumbbell from he floor and start the same as the other movements. I know that some people start the bent press differently and that is cool, but I like to keep everything in the center of my core to always keep control. Now once you get it to your shoulder, start to press and as you start to press, start to bend away from the bell. As it goes up at the end, you should be bent at the waist with the bell over you. This movement is going to help your core and you will get sore. This is a movement that can be done for reps but keep the form tight and focus on each rep.

Now, one arm movements are great, and on their own could be a session. I'd like to add them to my training. I feel that they are great for building a good stable core and they will work you very hard. Sets are up to you. I like to keep them in the context of my training at the time. I have done twenty sets of singles on the swing trying to find a top weight. I find they help now that I have started back into martial arts because I grapple and working on balance is important. Try one arm training in your program. Good luck, train hard.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Get a Grip - By Randy Roach

Looking back well over a hundred years at the emergence and growth of the fitness industry it is amazing to see the breadth of equipment that has evolved into the crazy market we see today. There have actually been some very effective tools going right back to the dawning of the basic gymnastic apparatus, to early dumbbells, kettlebells, indian clubs, cable expanders, followed later by specialty benches, cable pulleys and finally the emergence of full exercise machines beginning in the 1950s with Harold Zinkin’s Universal Gym and then exploding in the 1970s with variable resistance machines thanks to Arthur Jones and Nautilus. Nonetheless, the capstone for what we know as progressive resistance training is, has been, and probably always will be   the good, old fashioned BARBELL.  It is the instrument that constitutes the competitive strength sports of weightlifting and powerlifting and no doubt the first tool used by most beginner bodybuilders throughout the 20th century.

Over the past 30 years, the barbell has become somewhat forgotten amongst the myriad of exercise gear that has come to saturate the fitness market.  Regardless of the excuses and pseudo rationale for migrating to and even leaping at the latest exercise contraptions and methodologies, nothing over the past century has come close to building the level of muscle as the barbell.   Needless to say, the barbell has unfortunately been all too often relegated to the corner rack due  to fear, injury or simply just boredom.

It is within this growing void that I was very pleased to learn that Tim Fitzpatrick has shone some light with his great effort in resurrecting the barbell through his T-Grip Barbell company.  T-Grip has introduced a line of bars from standard to Olympic size that offers various hand grip orientations and spacing.  I became aware of these bars through world champion bodybuilder, Boyer Coe, who had mentioned that he now prefers a neutral grip (palms facing each other) for more shoulder comfort.  

I have been training for over 4 decades and have been involved in building some equipment myself for a good number of those years.  I have always been keen and excited over custom bars for variety and getting around anatomical anomalies. I know what is involved in building custom tools and it takes a lot of precision and cost.  I jumped at the opportunity to acquire a unique barbell from someone who specialized in that particular craft such as what Tim was doing at T-Grip Barbell.

My only dilemma was that I could not decide on just what bar I wanted.  T-Grip offers a variety to choose from.  I was looking at three barbells.  The first was a seven foot Olympic size bar with a 23” neutral grip.  The second bar offered two neutral grips with the first at 19” apart and the second at 25”.  There was yet a third option that also had two grips built into its design.  Like the second bar the grip widths were set at 19” and 25” but were angled at 45 degrees from neutral.  As mentioned, I knew the cost involved in producing this level of bar and I thought his prices were extremely reasonable for what he was offering, I also liked the fact that he built them right in the United States.  I bit the bullet and bought all three barbells.

Bringing them up to Canada did add significant additional costs, but after receiving the bars I had absolutely no regrets.   The bars were totally impressive and between the three there were just so many perfectly placed grip options for joint comfort.    The way the bars are constructed there are even additional grips besides the neutral and angled positions.  In fact, if asked to choose just one bar, I still haven’t determined for sure just which one I would take.  A client who had recently injured his shoulder came to try the bars and with his very first angled grip selection he found he had no pain in that movement.  He is also a professional machinist with his own company and he immediately commented on the quality and appearance of these custom barbells.  He was very impressed with how perfectly the TIG welding was stitched to the bars.  My own welder made similar comments on the quality of the T-Grip products.

With that level of quality it was inevitable that the TGRip bars have made their way throughout the industry  from the likes of bodybuilding legend Lou Ferrigno to the harcore camps of powerlifting.  In fact, Powerlifting USA in acknowledging the growing popularity of neutral grip exercise stated the following on the versatility of the bars:

“The T-GRIP BARBELLS were designed with certain curves that contour to the body of every person which will enable you to perform certain movements and exercises with complete comfort, balance and stability.  The bars are crafted with the highest quality and can handle a lot of abuse and more weight than can be lifted by any human.  The T-GRIP BARS are great for powerlifting, bodybuilding, post rehabilitation, sport specific training, injury prevention and all around weight lifting, health and fitness.” 

The bars have also earned great reviews in the IHRSA trade showpublication, Flex, and labeled “Gear of the Month” by the popular Muscle & Fitness magazine.  The bottom line is that for any level of lifter these unique custom bars add some fun and variety to the training routines.  However, as a trainer, these tools are invaluable when dealing with a clientele varying drastically in shapes, sizes, and injuries.  It is my professional opinion that any commercial gym or private training facility is incomplete without them and greatly short changing their equipment arsenal!  Do your training a great service and check the variety of bars and cable attachments offered at,

Randy Roach,
Trainer and author of Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors

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A Magnificent Grip on Pulldowns! - By Randy Roach

With over 40 years of  interaction within the bodybuilding and exercise
industry, I had for some time come to believe that there really wasn’t
anything all that new and exciting  in the realm of resistance strength
training.  Many gizmos, most of little use, had come and gone over the
decades.  The tried and true muscle building tools that emerged from the
pioneering gyms of the 20th century slowly anchored themselves through time
into the hearts of the hardcore lifters, especially with improvements via
advanced engineering and expanding technologies.  Rarely at this point after
years of tuning this equipment do you encounter innovation of any real
noteworthiness,  let alone a revolutionary evolution in design.   Rarely.

In early spring of 2014 I was sharing with former Natural Mr. USA, Josh
Trentine, about these beautifully built neutral and angled grip full Olympic
size barbells manufactured by Tim Fitzpatrick of TGrip Barbell
(  I was also updating  him on some new triceps and lat
pulldown  bars I had just purchased.  Regarding my cable bars he simply
emailed, "I hate to break the news but I have something that's going to ruin
all of your other lat bars forever.  Enjoy while you can."  I more or less
brushed off his statement as exaggeration, but Josh typically wasn't prone
to such assertions without just cause so  he did pique my interest.
Nonetheless, in the back of my mind I did believe I was going to experience
just another  pulldown bar that would be relegated  to a growing collection
which was slowly migrating into my fruit cellar.

Coincidently, during that exact time I had been conversing with a seasoned
trainer, Leon Sohn out of St Louis, Missouri. We had been discussing each
other’s equipment preferences extensively for hours.  Out of appreciation,
Leon generously purchased for me as a gift what he referred to as a "MAG"
bar which again was yet another pull-down bar probably destined for my fruit
cellar - or so I believed.

Surprisingly, the bar arrived rather quickly considering that it had to cross
 the Canadian border .  The first thing that I noticed was that this so-
called "MAG" bar did not resemble anything like I expected.  The traditional
lat pulldown bar has decades of visual recognition and most probably
wouldn't even know what  the MAG bar was or what to do with it.  Being
blind coupled with the fact that there wasn't a single piece of round bar to
grip  took me a moment to properly orientate the apparatus and figure out
just what exactly I was holding on to.

What I did have in my possession was a Maximum Advantage Grip (MAG) pulldown
bar manufactured by Tom Barton of Barton Innovations.  The hand grips were
definitely very unique.  As mentioned, this MAG bar had no standard round
bars to grasp and I was immediately enticed to go downstairs to the gym and
see how it felt and how it performed in action.  Leon had sent me one of seven bars
with his choice being Tom's medium width (22"), neutral grip (palms facing
each other) bar.

The movement was amazing!  The Maximum Advantage Grip was able to actually
place more emphasis on the back muscularture by diminishing the use of the
arms.   The bodybuilders of old use to get close to this by wrapping their
palms and thumbs up high on the standard round bar, but Tom had successfully
nailed this down with his unique MAG bar grip.  The best way to describe the
handles would be a total palm oriented grip somewhat like pulling on the
edges of two specially contoured 2” by  6"  pieces of lumber.  I immediately
moved the bar over to my cable row whereupon I received the same feel of a
very strong grip again minimizing arm action, thus placing more on the
targeted back muscles.  I was very impressed to say the least.  This bar was
fantastic!  It literally adds yet another dimension by becoming a union
between body and machine as a very intuitive lady client of mine pointed

The bar simply felt good and was a natural extension of my body rather than
a bar I was wrestling with.  The bar assisted me in doing the movement and
in achieving my weight/rep goal.  I thought less about 'form' and was able
to experience the feeling of success and motivation to do more.   

I immediately emailed Leon thanking him for this awesome gift.  I had no
idea what the bar cost nor did I care.  I took a chance the next day which
was a Saturday to contact by phone Barton Innovations.  I was surprised when
Tom himself picked up and took the call on what I figured would be his day
off.  I wanted to tell him how enamored I was with his bar and that I wanted
the remaining six bars regardless of cost.  In my opinion, his products are
very reasonably priced considering the technology, quality, and
functionality compounded with his steadfast stance on personally
manufacturing in the United States, which also appealed to me

Tom Barton is a veteran in the Iron Game industry with a background in
powerlifting going back to the 1970s.  When I asked how he came up with the
idea for his amazing grips he told me that way back he wondered why he could
do more pull ups when jumping up and performing them off roof rafters than
when grabbing a standard round bar.   The concept and products began their
physical evolution beginning in 1985 and he patented his intellectual
property in 1996.  His bars experienced some variations before he settled on
the current models in 2009.

As mentioned, Leon had sent me the medium width, neutral grip MAG bar.  I
received two more bars from Tom Barton with the medium width (22” from middle
finger to middle finger) one with a pronated (overhand) grip and the other
with a supinated (underhanded)) grip.  Both those grips were pronated and
supinated 45 degrees off a straight bar.   Tom also sent me  three bars with
the exact same grips but narrower having a width of 5" between middle
fingers.  The seventh and final bar was a 38" wide pronated grip.

All seven bars were bang on even the two I was skeptical about, both the
wide and narrow pronated grips.  I just wasn't  fully confident of those
widths for that grip orientation.  However, Tom obviously knew his business
as both bars are amazing with the narrow version being probably the favorite
for most who have tried them all at my facility thus far.

Unfortunately it has become very difficult to express true sincerity  over
the quality and functionality of an excellent product line in an industry
long over-saturated with such extensive hyperbole.  It seems as though
anything new entering the game is now accompanied with marketing hype so
over-the-top it can often surpass skepticism, leaving one nauseated.
Nevertheless with that said, I am more than willing to stake whatever
credibility I have by stating  that Tom Barton's MAG bars really are that

With his numerous years in the business, Leon Sohn had a similar disposition
as myself:

I first saw the Mag bar on Dante Trudel's popular Dog Crap website,  I am very skeptical about claims and view most  of what
I read as just excessive 'marketing.'  I honestly was not expecting it to be
anything except a substitute once in a while for my conventional handles.
When I received one of the bars and used it I was totally jazzed.  It works
so much better than a regular attachment.  I was very happy that it exceeded
my expectations.... by a lot!! Best cable attachments on the market in my

When I then asked Josh Trentine if he had heard of the MAG bars it was in
fact these very bars he was referring to and he had planned to bring them from Ohio for
me to experience.  Again, he was emphatic in his own promotion by stating,
“The bars are genius. Best bars I’ve ever used...Everything else ever is a
waste next to those!"  Josh is not only a champion bodybuilder, he is an
equipment expert and manufacturer who also happens to be a physiotherapist.
The ergonomics of the MAG bars inspired Josh to write an extensive article
on exercise movement synergy and its relationship to these wonderful tools
from Barton Innovations.

Tom Barton is well on his way in successfully accomplishing the formable
task of usurping the long standard rowing and pulldown tools with his
Maximum Advantage Grip bars.  Everyone who tries his products will want them
and it is simply a matter of time before his bars are pulling weight stacks
in thousands of gyms worldwide.  You might say that Tom is inevitably
building a MAGnificent grip on the strength and muscle building industry.
See his products at

Randy Roach,
Trainer and author of
“Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors"    

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Birthday Challenge - By Jim Duggan

I have always been a huge admirer of many of the legendary figures of the Iron Game. Men like John Grimek, Bob Hoffman, Jack LaLanne, Herman Goerner, Norbert Schemansky, and Bruno Sammartino to name just a few. I was fortunate in that the first commercial gym at which I trained, Bruno's Health Club, was dedicated to the premise of no nonsense, drug-free training. And, as I have written numerous times, the only equipment used was from York Barbell. And, even though I only trained at Bruno's for about five years, my appreciation for the idea of old time Physical Culture has only grown over the years. The stature of the legends that I listed above has only risen in the intervening years.

I remember reading about some of Bob Hoffman's strength-feasts, which usually coincided with his birthday. I also vividly recall some of Jack LaLanne's birthday feats, especially in his later years. In recent years, I have tried to honor the memory of Bob and Jack by trying various challenges on my birthday. This year's birthday was no different, except for the fact that I was turning fifty. A milestone. The big 5-0! Big deal. You see, age means almost nothing to me. I feel no differently now than I did ten years ago, when I turned forty. It was no big deal then, and it's no big deal now. I truly believe that age is only a number. Even when it comes to working out. Whether you are twenty, thirty, or fifty, there is only one way to train, and that is all-out. And, if you are familiar with the stories of the gentlemen that I mentioned at the beginning if this article, you will know that a little thing like getting older can not deter you from doing great things.

I wanted to make this birthday challenge special. I wanted to do several movements, combining an exercise I do regularly, a movement a do a little less often, and something that I rarely do. I came up with the following: Stone lifting-lifting a 180 Lb. granite stone to my shoulder. One-Arm Dumbbell Press with a 88 Lb. thick-handled dumbbell. And Anvil Curl using a 100 Lb. anvil. The idea was simple, starting with the granite stone, I would do five reps, then go immediately to the thick-handled dumbbell for five reps with each hand, then go straight to the anvil for five reps of curls. After the curls, I would rest about a minute then begin again for a total of ten sets. 50 reps of each ( yes it sounds trite, 50 reps on my 50th birthday, but it was the best I could come up with!)

Lifting stones is something I enjoy doing. I try to do various size stones every week or two during the warm weather months. Today, it felt easy at first. Maybe because I'm used to using heavier stones. I'm not sure, but, in any event, the stone was going up easy at first. Even the dumbbell presses went well. I use one if my shot loaded Dumbbells that I purchased years ago. I have it loaded with BBs to a weight of 88 Lbs.. I do the presses in strict fashion- no cheating, bending, or leg drive ( just like John Grimek always advocated.) the anvil was almost too easy at first, so I adjusted the reps. Instead of five reps of curls, I did ten. Incidentally, I almost never do curls. I couldn't tell you the last time I did curls in the gym ( I realize that this would sound blasphemous to a typical toner in a commercial gym, but I really do find them to be a drag.) Anyway, as the sets progressed, I felt strong until about the fifth set or so. After that, it became work. Especially the presses. It was not too hot outside, thankfully, so the heat did not play a factor in my workout. By about the eighth set, I was really fighting on the stone, and the presses. The curls went easy ( of all things, the one movement I never do was proving to be the easiest.) The final two sets were very hard work, as I tried to keep up the pace. My hands were particularly fatigued, especially having to clean a dumbbell with a 2-1/2" handle. But I was determined to keep my form strict. By the end of the last set, I felt exhausted, but oddly euphoric. I even decided to add one extra set of stone lifts, just for good luck. So my totals were as follows:

180 Lb. Granite Stone - 55 reps total

88 Lb. Thick DB - 50 reps

100 Lb. Anvil Curl - 100 reps

Not a bad workout. And, by the way, it took me a little less than ninety minutes to complete the whole thing. And aside from some soreness, and some nice abrasions on my forearms (courtesy of the granite stone), I seem to be no worse for the wear. And while none of us can stop the clock from ticking, there is no reason why we can't continue to train hard.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Natural Deadlift Training - By Jim Duggan

The Deadlift is one of the best movements that a person who is interested in getting bigger and stronger can do. Notice that I didn't say THE best. I truly believe that there is no best way of training, nor is there one best be-all-end-all exercise. There are many effective programs, which include a variety of quality exercises. The key is to work hard, and continually strive for poundage progression. If anybody tells you that they have the "best" way to train, then you have encountered a fool, or somebody who is trying to sell you a load of BS. Either way, ignore him/her, and find out what works best for you, work out your plan, expect to do a lot of hard work, and then DO IT. 

I've always enjoyed the Deadlift. When I was competing in Powerlifting, I enjoyed working hard to improve all three lifts, but for some reason, I seemed to enjoy the Deadlift more than the other two lifts ( Squat, and Bench Press.) and, as you can imagine, I've tried just about every type of routine over the years. The interesting thing is that I've had success with numerous different programs, which would seem to indicate that perhaps it wasn't the routine that I followed which was the reason for increased gains. Maybe it was the fact that I had a strong desire to improve. If you train with passion, desire, and hard work, then tremendous gains will accrue. 

So, for anyone wishing to add to their Deadlift, here a some movements which I have been using lately. Naturally, you must perform the movement itself. That goes without saying ( even though I just did say it.) However, you don't have to be a slave to regular barbell Deadlifts, especially if you are not training for a contest, and you are a somewhat experienced lifter. Trap Bar Deadlifts, or the more recent Hex Bar Deadlift, are excellent movements. Every gym should have a Trap/Hex bar. It's an excellent exercise, and it's a bit of a change of pace while it still approximates regular Deadlifting. Whether you train with high reps, medium reps, one set to failure, it doesn't matter. Try them all, and see what works best for you. Another variation that I particularly enjoy is Dumbell Deadlifts. I use the 2" Thick Dumbbells that I purchased for Ironmind Enterprises years ago. If I elect to do DB Deadlifts, then I will always use high reps. When I say high, I mean at least twenty, for one all-out set. This movement will also give you a terrific forearm workout, just so long as you don't cave in to weakness and use straps. Just say NO! to straps. For that matter, there is no reason to use a belt while training ( but that's a subject for another article.) 

As far as frequency of Deadlifting, I have always liked to do them once per week. I can't see how a natural lifter would be able to do Deadlifts more than that. I also prefer to Squat on the same day as I Deadlift, but some people can Squat one day, then Deadlift on a separate day. Again, you have to decide what works best for you. Please don't try to imitate what you might read in the so-called muscle mags ( in fact, do yourself a tremendous service and don't read those rags to begin with. They contain nothing of use for a drug-free trainee.) 

I do like to perform a couple of assistance exercises for the Deadlift. Any sort of rowing movement, whether it bent-over barbell rows, DB rows, or rows using a Hammer Strength ISO Row machine are an excellent to strengthen the back. Don't go crazy with too many sets. Just try to utilize good form, and try to push the poundage up. Another movement that I've always enjoyed doing is the "Good Morning" exercise. I realize that there are many people who cannot do this movement because of the very real chance of injuring themselves. You have to be careful how you perform this exercise, especially if you've never tried it before. Go slow, and see how it feels. Be honest with yourself, and if you're able to do it without pain in your lower back, then by all means include it in your training. I've never sustained a back injury from doing Good Mornings, so I include them in my workout. I've been using two sets of twenty reps. When I competed, I would go heavier and use lower reps, but the higher reps work just fine now. 

There is one last "assistance" exercise that I've been doing lately. I have a number of stones that I've purchased over the years. They range in weight from 180- 300 Lbs., are spherical, and made of granite. I got them from Roger LaPointe at Atomic Athletic. I will do the stones about once per week. I will simply go outside in my yard, do a few reps with the 180 pounder, then use the 220 Lb. Stone for my work sets. I'll just pick it up, then shoulder it, then drop it, and repeat several times. The most total reps I'll do is 12-15. I realize that not everybody has access to granite spheres, but they do make for a unique, and intense, "finisher." Incidentally, the Stone workouts are contingent upon there being dry weather, as wet soft ground plus stone workouts equals huge craters in the backyard! 

There you have it, basic exercises to improve your Deadlift. Even if you're not competing in powerlifting, increasing your poundages on the Deadlift will lead to your entire body becoming stronger.

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Friday, July 4, 2014

A Review of Bob Whelan's Book: Super Natural Strength - By Jim Duggan

"An excellent compilation of articles written by one of the most respected strength coaches in the field. The book is easy to read, and cuts through a lot of the bs that so frequently appears either in books, or online. "Maximum" Bob has been training people, and writing about training for a long time, but his writing never gets old- it only serves to motivate you even more to train hard. Whether you're a beginner, or if you've been training for a while, this book will provide excellent training information that you will be able to use over and over. Good information never gets old. Unfortunately, common sense isn't very common when it comes to training, nevertheless, Bob is able to present his ideas in a clear, easy to read style. It should be part of every trainee's library."

Buy On Amazon

Thanks a lot Big Jim! - Bob

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Discover the Champion in You - By Bill Simanovich Jr.

Many readers may have wondered what Discovering the Champion in You means. To me being a Champion isn't just about winning an athletic event and/or contest. Being a Champion is not necessarily about being the "best" at something. Ultimately, being a Champion is making the most of the ability that our Creator has endowed you with. To reach our potential in strength training, making the most of our ability, we must keep several points in mind.

You were created for a purpose. You are not here on this earth by accident, nor did you evolve from green slime or something of the sort. God made you for a reason, with abilities that are unique to you. Some may find this as "preaching" or of little importance, but I can only give you the truth. To do otherwise would be denying what has happened in my own life. This is a key point. If you see your self as just merely "being" here by chance or circumstance you can not have the peace, strength, and resolve as someone knowing that their life has meaning and purpose. With this in mind, when you train you must train with passion, purpose, and desire to reach your genetic potential that was given to you. While we classify bodytypes by ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph, these descriptions only give us an indication of muscular potential. Why not train in such a way as to reach your genetic limits, as no one can predict completely what they are, except God himself. I doubt that anyone has completely reached their maximum potential, as no one always eats just right, sleeps just right, trains just right, etc.. I've personally witnessed people with great potential for strength training never progress and others with seemingly little potential transform their bodies to points that are unimaginable. The point here is control what you can control, and don't make excuses about your lack of progress. Everyone can improve and make quite noticeable changes in body composition if they give the proper effort. Will everyone be a champion bodybuilder, powerlifter, strongman, etc.? Of course not; thank God! Most of today's "champions" are drug infested, liars, charlatans, and cheats. Being a true Champion is using whatever potential God gave you and doing your part by taking it to the limit!

You must train hard, harder than you can ever imagine. I know, I know. You train hard. It may be this is not a problem with you, however even veteran trainers need to reevaluate their efforts from time to time. Think to yourself, did I take it to momentary muscular failure on that last set of squats? You do have the ability and strength within you to accomplish much more than you could ever imagine. I can personally identify as I began competing in powerlifting three years ago. I first went to a meet to watch my brother and saw guys lifting weights I never thought I could do. Then I thought to myself, "if they can do it, I can do it." You see, these lifters weren't any bigger, built better, or even stronger. I just had never been in a competition or focused on competing with other lifters. This experience was a catalyst, a jolt if you will, and soon I was competing and lifting weights heavier than I had witnessed at that first meet I went to watch. The bottom line is to not limit yourself, and in my estimation hard effort is the key ingredient to successful weight training. Throw out much if not all the discussion about supplements, drugs, the latest equipment and focus on effort. Commit to training harder than you ever have, and then push a little harder.

You must never quit. As a Champion you must determine that you will not quit and you will not surrender. You are on a mission, someone with a purpose, remember? You see, what many people lack today is commitment. We face a little opposition and we retreat. Many millionaires went broke before they became millionaires, many top athletes had to walk on to teams, overcome devastating injuries, and had to be cut from teams before they accomplished their goals. The beauty of weight training is that it's largely in your control. No one else can lift for you, eat for you, or sleep for you. Plainly said, excuses are for losers, just as arrogance is for losers. I don't care where you've been or what you've been through, anyone can improve and make the decision to not give up. Something that I try to remind myself is that there are people all over this world with disabilities and illnesses that would cherish the joy of training hard. Their goal may be to just walk unassisted or to speak a few words fluently. How dare we moan and cry, "I'm too tired, I'm too busy, I can't." Learn to be thankful that you have the health to train. Never ever, ever quit; you must commit!

You must train smart. With all this talk of intensity, desire, and passion sometimes we can forget to train smart. I hesitated and almost didn't include this section of the article for fear of giving people an excuse. However, there are times that intensity may have to take a back seat. Let me explain; if you have an injury it would not be smart or prudent to train so hard that you are basically "throwing gasoline on a fire." I can personally attest to this as I recently suffered a shoulder injury, having injured myself weight training for the first time. Even with my experience, for a while I tried to "work through it." This was not training smart, and I further aggravated the injury. My body was telling me to rest this shoulder, and I didn't listen. Now I'm rehabbing the injury. During this rehab period, am I training as heavy or as hard as I can with this shoulder? Of course not. During this rehab period am I training my legs with alternate movements i.e. leg presses, calf raises that don't affect my shoulder, hard and heavy? Of course! You see, an injured shoulder is not a reason to give up or an excuse to not hit other areas of my body to the maximum. Remember, control what you can control. Along with training smart, work around any structural imbalances and chronic injuries or disabilities. Again, these are not to be used as excuses, but you are to utilize common sense. I hope I've conveyed this clearly for you to train smart, but to never ever make illegitimate excuses not to train with 100% intensity. Finally, training smart means learning everything you can about productive strength training, nutrition, cardio, flexibility, etc.. Over my training career I read countless articles, journals, magazines, etc.. Much of it was garbage, but this even served the purpose of giving me discernment between fact and fallacy, who to listen to and who to not, etc.. I truly believe that a Champion asks questions, and wants to continually learn more; this is training smart.

Try putting these principles into practice and see if they help your training. Sometimes even reading what we already know or believe strengthens our resolve and gives us additional focus.

Originally posted on on July 8, 2002

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nick McKinless Squats 405 x 20 reps

"Bob, ... that's high bar, below parallel, just a belt. Been chasing this for 20 years. It's not often you hit lifetime goals in training. Ever since I heard about 20 rep squats well over 20 years ago I have wanted to do this feat of strength. Last week I failed with 17 reps. This week I took a little more time and got all 20. As it happens I didn't feel great going into this workout. I was tired from a long week of work, driving in and out of London and not getting much sleep. I haven't trained since last weeks attempt though and I think my back was fully recovered. This is the end of this successful and enjoyable phase of training to push my squat to new heights. Training is simple but it is not easy. I am grateful that I can still train this hard after 30 years under the Iron." -Nick

Great job Nick! Congrats!
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Most Steroid Users Not All That Impressive - By Zac Davenport

In my experience from all the years I’ve been training in bodybuilding and strength training one of the biggest misconceptions is that anybody who happens to use steroids is impressively strong ... from what I’ve seen this is a myth I’ve seen this time and time again.

People will approach me saying look at the size of this guy every week in the gym I train in. Without fail the same people will say the same things about the local freaks but to the ignorant mind I suppose it can be excused as the youth of today haven't got a chance. While me and my friend train old school hard core we pick maybe four basic exercise such as the bench press squats barbell rows and some ab work then across the way some big guys who are obviously taking something are in the corner doing for instance if its Monday. Which for some reason seems to be international chest day their doing cable cross overs with weights my grandmother could do and she's been dead 15 years.

Bench press with terrible form normally with two 20kg plates only bouncing off their chests and letting the weight control them not the other way round. Along with dumbbell flyes with relatively lights weights I look over and see one of these not so impressive people watching our squatting poundages with eyes that look like they are going to pop out of their head if they are so strong with their drug induced physiques why would they be taking such a keen interest in our basic so called inferior workout. But another thing we also noticed and to our amusement they are actually big in the torso area. But and this is a big but have spindly legs like a sparrow so all this time they have been concentrating on their mirror muscles they have neglected their legs. Well if they do happen to train their little legs they must only use the machines. No squats. Like only the leg press lying leg curls or the leg extension.

This is the thing I can't understand because the drug using fraternity which is the bodybuilding elite of today have deluded the minds of young trainees who take steroids to use split routines and don't put the effort in to train natural and increase their workout poundages over time. It seems in terms of training knowledge we really do need to go back 50 to 100 years and learn about solid training ... more is not better ... more brief intense workouts is what its all about something I bet the drug users of today don't seem to understand. There they are in near enough every gym in the world posing in the mirrors on their phones and trying to look pretty if they happened to put that much effort in to their training and re-evaluated their training then perhaps they wouldn't have to take short cuts

That point I'm trying to make here my friends is that you can take all the drugs and take all the short cuts you want. But nothing can replace hard work on the basic compound exercises that the strength trainers of old built their impressive physiques on. Men such as Reg Park, Steve Reeves and not forgetting Eugene Sandow and what did all these men have in common? That's right they were all drug free and used basic exercises like the squat military press and deadlifts to build up their strength and physiques with hard work. At the end of the day folks its your choice if you wan't to use short cuts but if you wan't my advice just don't do it and have a bit of pride about yourself and take the natural route you might just surprise yourself.

Editors note: Your message is good. Steroids ALONE don't work. You still have to do the work. Most steroid users lack character or they wouldn't use drugs in the first place. This lack of character is also what makes many of them look for every short cut in training as well.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Concerns About Functional Strength - By Jay Trigg

In perusing the Internet, one will often come across discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of machines and / or free weights. One of the oft-used arguments against machines is that they somehow do not build “functional strength” or contribute to “stabilizer strength”. One is led to believe that if they are using machines in their workout they are somehow robbing themselves of an ability to generate power on any plane other than that a machine will provide. As a result, lifts such as squats, deadlifts, overhead presses with a barbell, power cleans, snatches, clean and jerks, etc. are defined as superior exercises, and ones that should be used in exclusion of all others for their ability to develop this elusive functional and stabilizer strength. The consensus seems to be with these folks that machines somehow limit strength in the limbs and torso to a linear motion defined by a track of a machine.

While I would advise no-one without physical limitations to avoid squatting or deadlifting, or using barbells for an overhead press. Nor would I state that the Olympic lifts are not powerful and potent strength builders. But I would challenge someone to correctly define or apply functional strength versus nonfunctional strength in a meaningful way.

Many times, for example, the case will be made for the individual who can use a leg press for 700 lb. for 12 reps or more, but cannot squat with even half that for as many reps. Somehow this is proof that the leg press doesn’t build functional strength. Yet this is an indication that the leg press actually overloads the quads, hips, and hamstrings with far more weight than could be supported when hinged upon the “weak link” of low back and abdominals. While exercising these “weak links” is paramount, providing the highest intensity to the legs can be more easily provided by a leg press than a squat. Furthermore, a person squatting regularly and well will always do better at squatting then a person who works legs in another manner, and doesn’t squat.

Functional strength is usually best defined by the manner in which the strength must be applied outside of training. And this is typically learned and developed in this arena. So “functional strength” for a football player is applying the available power and strength in a manner that makes for better football. Since there is no arena inside the weight room that is applicable to the football field, there is no style of lifting that closely mimics football performance. The only sports that truly mimic gym exercises are powerlifting and Olympic lifting. Otherwise the gym is a place to develop a base level of strength and conditioning to be honed on the practice field. For those not involved in competitive sports, functional strength is more in tune with what you do on a day-to-day basis that requires strength. For example, I occasionally like to utilize the Farmers Walk in my routine. Starting this move is similar to a Trap Bar deadlift, but not exactly the same. Nor is it exactly like a dumbbell deadlift, as the handles are quite high off the ground compared to dumbbells. And walking 120 or more feet with 300 - 400 lb. or more in the hands is nothing like either. To gain functional strength, as it were, for Framers Walking you need to have a base level of strength in hips, thighs, shoulders, back, etc. This can come from any source. But to “get good” at Farmers Walks, you have to do the move. It provides its own groove and performance envelope that cannot be developed any other way. Being a good squatter or deadlifter will not make you a better Farmers Walker outside of the base level of strength provided. This same strength can be easily provided on a range of quality Hammer, Nautilus, or Southern Exercise machines.

Re-read and realize that I do not condemn the use of free weights, or call them secondary or inferior to the use of machines. Free weights are useful, and I utilize them in my exercise programs. But development of strength via barbells is only specific to demonstrations of strength via barbells. So if one plans to competitively lift, one should spend lots of time practicing those lifts he or she will be using in competition (squat, bench press, deadlift, other competitive lifts). If one is seeking a general level of strength, power, and conditioning for martial arts, football, soccer, or general fitness one should spend a more balanced time utilizing the barbells and machines to their best advantages. You may find that you gravitate towards more use of free weights or you may fall in love with a quality line of machines. Or like most lifters you will find a core set of free weight compound moves (squat, stiff leg deadlift, overhead press) and a core group of good machines (Nautilus Pullover and Compound Row being two of my favorites) that will become the foundation for many productive routines for years to come. But whatever you do, don’t let worrisome arguments about functional and stabilizer strength concern you much. Do a quality, progressive, intense, abbreviated routine with a priority on big moves for the legs, hips, low back, upper back, and shoulders and you will have done much more than 90% of the lifters out there. Add the regular performance of Farmers Walks, Whelan Walks (sandbag carries), tire flips, and other oddities at the END of most workouts and you will be doing more than 99% of lifters, and will be doing about all that can be done to create, improve, or develop functional strength.

This article was originally posted on on June 20, 2000

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Other Unparalleled Exercise, Part II - By Jan Dellinger

Reprinted, with permission, from HARDGAINER issue #36, May-June 1995

Part I of this article sought to explore the bent-legged deadlift from a contextual perspective, which, while not new or unknown, seldom receives consideration. Broadly speaking, its full applicable utility and importance transcends the roles of a contested lift and a time-honored lower/upper-back builder. Foremost, the repetition bent-legged deadlift exercise is the only maneuver to rival the vaunted back squat in possessing the wherewithal to single-handedly upgrade the overall musculature by a pronounced degree. The extraordinary extent to which either major movement is independently able to transform one's physique can be characterized with a colorful J.C. Hise expression--ultimate "Man-Making" exercises.

Some may question the need to pay homage to the deadlift when we have the squat with its illustrious track record. As pointed out previously, due to idiosyncrasies in skeletal leverages, some individuals, over the long haul, may be better served by the bent-legged deadlift exercise. Further, there are unique case-by-case circumstances regarding existing conditions, a lack of training space and/or necessary equipment, or just a natural proclivity for the deadlift, which push it past the squat as one's personal priority choice. As long as one makes up his or her mind to work at the bent-legged deadlift diligently and intelligently, he or she will be richly rewarded.

Deadlift training

At first blush there would seem to be little mystery to this topic. After all, it's the simplest of exercises to perform. Following warm-up sets, do a set or two with a poundage which permits the performance of roughly 10-20 reps, once weekly, apply some form of sensible poundage cycling, and the formula for getting the most out of yourself is complete.

Actually, the rest of this article is not so much about sets and reps as it is about possibilities, attitude and keen application, along with some side issues which can maximize overall results. Likewise, there are potential pitfalls to be aware of.

As stated countless times, in order to develop fully the entire musculature of the human body, one must engage in a lot of hip-leg-back specialization. HARDGAINER has profiled a few individuals who have dedicated the bent-legged deadlift exclusively to this protracted task, thereby casting themselves in the role of deadlift specialists. While this is an extremely workable strategy, here's some food for thought for those in this category: In milking the most from the deadlift, generous amounts of patience will be required. Due to the grinding nature of the exercise when done with heavy weight for reps, its practice can be very draining, especially on the nervous system. Therefore, taking every set of deadlifts "to the death" all of the time may not be wise. Perhaps more so with the deadlift than any other exercise in the weight man's repertoire, smart poundage manipulation over time is imperative. An excellent source for guidance on this area is Stuart's book BRAWN.

Deadlift technique

While many who engage in true deadlift specialization do so because they feel more biomechanically comfortable with the movement, and/or it poses less of an injury threat than does the squat, recognition should also be taken that even one's inherent physical assets can become problematic if they are not managed properly. Specifically, very tall trainees, as well as those with a classic deadlifter's build (short torso, long legs and arms) tend to use an inordinate amount of back when they deadlift. Sooner or later, most deadlifters realize that by setting their hips higher when beginning the movement, the greater their leverage advantage and, therefore, a better poundage is attainable, even for reps. Obviously, a lesser degree of leg flexion permits enhanced force generation. After all, in terms of sheer poundage, most trainees can register a much greater weight in the quarter squat than they can in the parallel squat.

Up to a point, this technique is permissible and, frankly, expected with most of those who gravitate toward the deadlift. However, the "stop sign" should come up when a trainee leads with his hips out of the starting position to such an exaggerated extend that he can only raise the weight with a very humped-back, stiff-legged style. This is why, in my opinion, every rep in a set of deadlifts should be started from the floor and a conscious effort be made to move the weights from the floor by pushing hard with the feet. More on this style later.

Granted, examples of super deadlifters like Bob Peoples from the 1940s, and Vince Anello of the 1970s, can be cited as exponents of the "no-no" style, who seemingly got away with this technique from an injury standpoint, despite playing around with some outlandish weights. Bear in mind these gentlemen were several cuts above the typical trainee, as we'll see in regards to Mr. Peoples later in this article.

Common sense would dictate that allowing one's deadlift form to lapse excessively for the sake of achieving greater and greater exercise poundages is a mistake for most. Pertinent form elements for the deadlift specialist to strive for include the following: Seek a good, reasonable starting position, and begin every rep in every set from this position. By the same token, no one is advocating going to extremes in the other direction, or seeking to "squat the weight" up. Practically speaking, this approach would fall into the category of sumo-style deadlifting. This is a manner of elevating weights from the floor more suited to the squat-advantaged. I'm dealing strictly with the conventional version here.

Once a solid starting position for the deadlift has been established, the trainee should focus on pushing or driving his feet strongly into the floor to move the weight, rather than yanking on the bar. Of course, this requires that the deadlift specialist not ignore the role of leg strength in deadlifting.

Oops, it would seem that I've contradicted myself and am making a case for the indispensability of the back squat. Not necessarily, as improved leg power is very possible via usage of the bent-legged deadlift, especially when it's done off a raised surface. The elongated range of pulling motion forces the hips to be lowered slightly in the starting position, and, again, consciously break the bar off the floor by exerting leg power and pushing hard with the feet. Do not underestimate the potential of deadlifting off a raised surface as a power builder, or a developmental medium for the musculature of the lower body, even though it will not allow quite the same exercise poundage as the regular bent-legged version.

A built-up surface of 2" to 3" from which to perform the bent-legged deadlift is sufficient. Frankly, newcomers to this elongated deadlift are advised to commence with comparatively light poundages as there will probably be a few degrees of new flexibility to be gained, and the likelihood of experiencing extreme muscular soreness can be minimized. Furthermore, this particular exercise has additional relevance to the deadlift specialist because the increased range of motion will improve the stability and strength of the lower-body joints.

Gerard-style training

One deadlift specialist who employs and emphasizes all of the themes I've brought up here is Al Gerard, whose name was men-tioned in Part I. Al is a competitive powerlifter with an official deadlift of 625 lbs (done at a bodyweight of 205 lbs, and past age 40) to his credit in ADFPA competition. It's probably safe to say that Al prepares for meets differently than most other lifters. When I last interviewed the "Father of the Trap Bar" in 1992, he mentioned in passing that when readying for a contest in the prior November, he did absolutely no back squats from January of 1991 to that August, engaging in the practice of this lift only once weekly for two months prior to the actual contest, where he managed 500 lbs to the judges' satisfaction.

Nevertheless, Al assured me that in the months (January to August) prior to his pre-contest squat binge, his legs and hips received plenty of heavy work via Trap Bar deadlifts and nothing more. Experience has shown Al that the general strengthening effect from bent-legged deadlifts with this device carries over magnificently to the competitive squat and deadlift, with minimal focused peaking.

As you'll recall from Part I, Gerard's lower back has a history of breaking down from prolonged exposure to heavy squatting. Hence, relying on the Trap Bar deadlift to build functional lower-body strength throughout most of the year, permits Al to lessen his chances of injury while still whipping himself into shape for the competitive lifts. Plus, let's not forget that because the Trap Bar allows the trainee to keep the resistance much closer to the center line of gravity while deadlifting, his spine is saved even more stress throughout the preparatory phase. Note, too, that the parallel hand grips of the Trap Bar put the forearms in a more efficient lifting position, and dramatically lessen the chance of sustaining injuries to the tendons of the biceps.

Elaborating briefly on Al's general off-season training routine, which, at least in terms of exercises, could easily be adopted by the average trainee, he engages in three distinctly different deadlift cycles, each lasting approximately 7-8 weeks. First, it's stiff-legged deadlifts while standing on the raised surface, with the intent being to bolster the lower back, glute and leg bicep areas fully. The next cycle focuses on bent-legged deadlifts while standing on the same block, which are aimed at promoting greater leg drive for bringing the bar off of the floor, as well as training the legs and back to work together in a coordinated fashion for the maximum force production.

In the final preparatory cycle, Al does the regular deadlift from the floor, utilizing the Trap Bar as in the two preceding cycles. The intent here is to consolidate the gains he's made in the two prior cycles, and set himself up for a smooth transition to a few weeks of straight-bar deadlifts up to a meet. In case you were curious, the only other assistance work he includes with this trilogy of pulling exercises is the shrug done on a Trap Bar.

Al's noted some very favorable side benefits in himself and others who have undergone his combination-deadlift approach: One tends to deadlift with less of an acute round-back style. Also, there's a tendency to assume a better starting position instinctively--back flatter, shoulders higher than hips, but with the hips still staying higher than knee level. And all of these good things occurring while achieving greater deadlift poundages in the end.

That's not all. Al contends that one's squat will show improvement from this deadlift system, due to the enhanced lower back/leg biceps strength imparted by the stiff-legged deadlifts, and the increased quadriceps strength garnered from the work on extended-range deadlifts.

Strength author Bill Starr always contended that the best way to train the deadlift was to refrain from the lift in the main, concentrating instead on Olympic-style pulls, shrugs and squats.

Gerard, however, is making the opposite case from Starr, that intelligent application of the deadlift and its variations can react favorably on the squat. Rather than looking at this as being confusing as to which lift is superior, maybe what's demonstrated here is parity, commonality and a considerable degree of transference between them.

Other considerations

These illustrations of application to competitive powerlifting are insightful and instructive in the broad spectrum. However, as I specified in my opening article, my advice is primarily geared for non-competitive trainees who feel their physical tools are compatible with building their lower-body training around the bent-legged deadlift. This prompts the question as to whether the deadlift is a worthless pursuit for the non-competitive trainee with a squat-advantaged build. My opinion is that because the deadlift dynamically involves key muscle areas like the forearms, trapezius and lower-back, which when maximally developed add much functional strength and ruggedness to one's physique, this category of iron pumper should explore the deadlift too.

However, he should go about it on somewhat different terms than it's usually pursued. Specifically, I would recommend that the average trainee who is more gifted at the squat to train both major lifts but tackle them separately. For example, do a squat-only cycle and when one goes stale on that, switch to a cycle of deadlifting only. Of course, it's understood that there would be the standard upper-body rows, presses and curls accompanying either cycle, not just mixing the squat and deadlift.

My observation is that non-competitive trainees who do not have to conform to meet deadlines have an advantage over those who do. Most of the time, those in the latter category must do the squat and deadlift concurrently, thereby being forced to divide, on a week-in/week-out basis, their attention and, more importantly, their available energy and recovery ability between the two most demanding movements.

Bob Peoples

The example of alternating squat-only with deadlift-only training cycles has its practitioners as far back as the 1940s, in the person of Bob Peoples. While he was an all-round strength athlete of accomplishment, in addition to being a stupendous deadlifter, there's precious little about him in magazines of his time. Thanks to Joe Roark, my exploration for details on Peoples yielded the most expansive profile of this mighty resident of Johnson City, Tennessee, in the April/May, 1952 edition of IRON MAN. One of the more successful training strategies outlined in this account, in Peoples' opinion, centered on working the squat and deadlift independently for stretches of time.

Of course, he mixed other extraordinary tacts with this style of alternation. For one thing, on this routine he preferred to do single lifts, starting light and working up to a limit, or nearly so, single for the day. Okay, hard gainers, brace yourself for this one: As much as his farming duties allowed, he preferred to work the "lift of the cycle" like this every day. He did this until he started to go stagnant on the lift, at which point he'd switch over to the other major lift which he had not been working. Then he'd pursue that on a daily, heavy-singles basis until going stale on it. Peoples found variety and renewed progress in bouncing back and forth between the squat and deadlift, contending that this approach gave him very good results. In the interests of full disclosure, though, Peoples did state that he used other productive systems aside from this one.

Digressing for a moment, obviously Peoples was very much a "specimen" as evidenced by his clean-grip deadlift of 725 lbs, and 530 lbs full squat, at a bodyweight somewhere in the low 180s, done back in the 1940s. Also, there's the matter of being able to prosper from daily ultra-heavy training. And also bear in mind that he trained alone in barns or cellars with no moral support from others, and did his great lifting feats in exhibitions devoid of competitive stimulus from others, and registered terrific physical achievements despite making a living working the land. Imagine how the physical drain and long hours required by his occupation interrupted his ability to train with consistency. Perhaps they had Bob Peoples in mind when the Superman character was brought to life.

The partial deadlift

Returning to the bent-legged deadlift and its variations that have purpose and productivity, consideration should be given to the periodic usage of the partial deadlift done in the power rack (or off boxes) and repeated in reps of 10-20. Because of the decreased range of motion and more favorable leverage positions, very substantial poundages are possible, even for higher reps. Of course, these factors are what prompts the musculature to respond so dramatically. But, good exercise form--lifting and lowering the weight under control, and resetting for each new rep--should always be observed. Typically, trainees tend to allow these greater poundages to move with the aid of increasing ballistic momentum, generated by banging the bar off the pins in the power rack.

Not only is this tact hard on the equipment, but it increases one's risk of injury while robbing the working muscle groups of much overloading. Considerable compressive forces are being imposed on the spine, so use the combined power of the legs and lower back in a coordinated fashion, and do not become overambitious, sacrificing form for the sake of enormous poundages.

To my knowledge, one of the earliest might and muscle figures to regularly espouse the partial deadlift was Harry Paschall, feeling that, when starting the deadlift from just below the knees, the lifter would avoid the precarious "stooped over" position most people assumed when taking a weight from the floor. Besides, the higher starting position permitted greater weights, in addition to the safety factor, thereby blasting the pulling muscles even more.

Those possessing a collection of Joe Weider's YOUR PHYSIQUE from the 1950s may have noticed that Charles Smith raved and raved about the benefits of this exercise for Olympic lifters (there were no power-lifters as we know them today, in that era) and bodybuilders. Smith believed that this movement was unparalleled for imparting sheer body power, and especially for strengthening the pulling muscles. Additionally, Smith stated that the partial deadlift was in the vanguard of a select few exercises which truly had the potential to completely revamp one's physique.

Paschall was of the opinion that this was a pure power-type exercise and should be pursued with sets of 3-5 reps, with the bar positioned in the rack just below knee height (when the knees are bent in the starting position). On the other hand, Smith reco-mmended sets of 15-20 reps, advocating the bar should start just above knee level.

Even though he espoused high reps, Smith warned against developing mental ceilings about exercise poundages in the partial deadlift, emphasizing that 500-600 lbs for a couple of sets of 15-20 counts was not really that much to write home about for an advanced barbell man.

For my money, once per week is plenty on the partial deadlift. Actually, depending on age, recovery ability and poundage capabil-ities, some readers may profit more by attacking this exercise vigorously every other week, regardless of the rep range used.

When it comes to partial pulling movements, quality variations of variations exist. In his book THE STRONGEST SHALL SURVIVE, Bill Starr touts an ultra-heavy shrug movement which commences from just above knee height in the power rack. Although technically not a true deadlift maneuver, in that Bill's prime objective is to overload the trapezius muscles maximally, as opposed to all of the pulling muscles in general, the lower back receives significant loading. As a matter of fact, Bill reports having worked with a few football players who got up to in excess of 700 lbs in this pull-shrug. Any movement, or class of movements, which offers this kind of poundage potential is guaranteed to have muscles galore popping out on those who apply themselves.

As far as incorporating regular deadlifting, deadlifting off a raised surface, and partials into a training program, my basic suggestion would be to do one movement per cycle, รก la Gerard. But, really, it is up to the individual to sort out the practical implementation according to age, personal recovery ability, objectives, mental commitment, available training time, etc.

Other equipment options

Straight bars and Trap Bars are not the only implements applicable to the bent-leg deadlift. As Eric Bryan documented in HARDGAINER issue #33, dumbbells are a viable alternative for this wonderful gaining exercise. Few of us ever consider this possibility because we so strongly associate these particular training tools with the practice of upper-body movements only. Frankly, I was guilty of failing to connect heavy dumbbells with deadlifting, until the mid-1980s when Dr. Ken Leistner submitted an article dealing with this very exercise for publication in MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT.

What a natural fit, and for reasons beyond just results. In broad terms, many of the same pluses from using the Trap Bar for deadlifts can be approximated with dumbbells, i.e., resistance kept closer to one's center of gravity, the hands applied in a more advantageous force-generating position while leaving the biceps less vulnerable to injury, and, because the plates of the dumbbells are smaller, the trainee must adopt a deeper starting position, thereby achieving a greater range of pulling motion.

Perhaps the biggest drawback with the exercise for veteran trainees is finding dumbbells of sufficient weight, especially in the typical commercial gym where a pair of 100 pounders may be the heaviest. Here again, a home trainee may have an advantage in that he can secure a pair of the long, extra-heavy-duty handles, along with the required plates, and fashion his own "monster" 'bells. The unavailability of really big dumbbells was one reason why Leistner advocated high reps (15-20) in the dumbbell deadlift. Still, 20 reps with a pair of 150-lb dumbbells would prove most challenging to the bulk of HARDGAINER readers. Be advised that this task would prove a lot tougher than the same rep number with a 300-lb Olympic bar.

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