Saturday, February 20, 2016

Strong Men and Strongman - Jim Duggan

"There is nothing quite as elemental to the makeup of a man as strength." This quote is taken from the introduction to a book written by a famous bodybuilder and strongman from the 1970s. I also used this quote in the chapter I wrote for the book "Iron Nation: Passion for Hard Training." I like this quote because it encapsulates the way that most of us who lift weights feel about our training. If you are reading this, you have probably dedicated a great deal of time and energy to the goal of building, maintaining, and even testing, overall body strength. But just what IS strength? I will not bore you with Webster's definition of the word. Nor will I attempt to differentiate between strength and power. I'll leave that to the Physics majors out there (and you know who you are!) But what does it really mean to be strong, and just what is the best method to measure strength?

Over the years, there have been many ways to measure and compare one's strength. I won't go back to the days of Milo of Crotona, or the gladiators. I will merely go back to the last century, starting back when Physical Culture became popular, and to the early days of weightlifting in the United States. When York Barbell was selling weights to the masses, and as more and more people became interested in building their bodies, the sport of Weightlifting or Olympic Lifting began to grow in popularity. In the years following World War II, the "golden age of American weightlifting," American lifters were dominant. And with increased publicity, thanks in large part to Strength and Health magazine, America's lifting champions were held in high esteem. Naturally, the heavy-weight lifters who held the world records were considered to be some of the strongest men in the world. Indeed, for as long as anyone can remember, the lifter with the highest total at the world championships was considered "the strongest man in the world." It was pretty simple. He lifted the most weight, therefore, he was the strongest. Period. Or was he?

At some point, during the 1950s, some of "odd lifts" started to become popular. Bench Pressing, Deep Knee Bends with a barbell resting on the shoulders, were being utilized by many athletes in the Iron Game. Eventually, Powerlifting became a full-fledged amateur sport, with more and more contests appearing. The Squat, Bench Press, and Deadlift, it was argued, were the truest measures of overall body strength. The tremendous poundages being hoisted in these powerlifting contests attested to the fact that the powerlifters competing in these meets were brutally strong. It wasn't long before the super-heavyweight powerlifting champions were being lauded as the strongest men in the world. Inevitably, this lead to the age-old debate between the lifters of each sport. Just who were the stronger athletes? The Olympic Lifter claimed that lifting a heavy barbell overhead was the ultimate barometer of strength. The Powerlifters countered that the Deadlift is the most basic and truest test of strength. The bickering between the two lifting factions has continued for decades. But how can you accurately compare lifters from two different disciplines?

In the late 1970s, something new was added to weekend sports programming. The first World's Strongest Man contest was held in 1977. I remember watching it as a kid. Even though it was billed as the "World's Strongest Man," the contest consisted mostly of American weightlifters, powerlifters, track and field athletes,and NFL linemen. It was fascinating to watch these athletes attempt to lift beer kegs, race with refrigerators strapped to their shoulders, and deadlift cars. And while the early WSM contests were not anywhere near as sophisticated as today's contests, the events themselves were, in the opinion of many, an accurate way of determining just who was the strongest of the group. Of course, the Eastern European weighlifting champions of that era were not allowed to compete, so it's quite likely that the winners of those early contests were probably not the strongest men in the world. But is there a way to determine the absolute strongest man in the world? In my opinion, the answer is no. I remember reading a quote from Dr. Ken Leistner where he said that the strongest man in the world is probably lifting weights in a garage somewhere in the Midwest. Or in a barn. Or some other anonymous location. The point is, some brutally strong men will not be able to compete all at the same time. Simple logistics. Incidentally, back in the early 1980s, there used to be a contest held in England called the Strongbow Contest. It consisted of three lifts: Clean and Jerk, Deadlift, Standing DB Press for reps. American powerlifter dominated this contest. It was covered in the York publications. I would eagerly await for the issue with results each year it was held. Today, with the internet, such anticipation is unnecessary.

Nevertheless, the sport of Strongman, and it is a sport, with various governing bodies and federations, has evolved into a highly marketable enterprise. And the events have evolved, too. As well as the training for the events. "Event training" is a method of training that has the athlete utilizing the equipment and implements that will be contested. There is no guesswork. Serious competitors have access to Stones, Yokes, Kegs, and lots of other stuff. Indeed, many gyms have jumped on the bandwagon and set up areas in the facilities where you can lift kegs and stones, and flip huge tires. Speaking for myself, I have five different size granite stones, farmer's walk handles, two large anvils, and other strongman equipment that I use in my backyard.

So, is the World's Strongest Man contest the best way to determine just who, if anybody, can be accurately called the strongest man in the world? Many respected authorities seem to think so. You can certainly make a strong ( no pun intended) point for the competitors being called the strongest athletes in the world. But, again, what about that guy in the Midwest who's lifting in his garage and has never even heard of Conan's Wheel? And speaking of people who have never competed, what about the recent phenomenom of guys giving strength exhibitions? You've probably seen some of these people. They have an "act." This act might consist of bending horseshoes, or rolling up a frying pan, or bending nails or spikes. Some of these people might even go "old school" and blow up a hot-water bottle. Does it take strength to bend a steel spike? Of course it does. But does such a feat actually require an inordinate amount of strength or is there some sort of "trick" to performing such a stunt? Bending nails, or even coins has long been a staple in many a strongman act. But are these accurate markers of overall body strength? You certainly need strong hands and wrists to perform such feats, but can you really compare it to lifting 400 Lbs. overhead?

And while we're talking about hand and wrist strength, we cannot overlook the "grip guys." The ever-growing population of people who specialize in grip strength, particularly closing heavy-duty hand grippers. There are books, websites, and forums devoted to the "sport." The accomplishments of these people are nothing short of amazing, and they are a very dedicated group. There's just something about watching somebody crush something with his hands. But is it a true measure of strength? We've all read about some of the guys who take it to the extreme. I remember reading about one of the elite grip guys from about ten years ago. He closed the heaviest gripper there is, but was unable to squat with 300 Lbs. It doesn't make sense to have powerful hands if the rest of your body is weak.

I will devote more time to this topic in a future article. Right now I think I will do some research into some of the old strongmen who used to have cannonballs shot into their stomachs.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Eat Fat, Get Fat or Eat Fat, Get Healthy? - By Nancy Clark MS, RD

Remember when the Eat fat, get fat mantra prevailed? Athletes avoided fat like the plague. They ate poached fish, dry salads, and steamed vegetables in efforts to reduce the risk of getting fat — to say nothing of having a heart attack. Unfortunately for many low-fat eaters, dieting went awry. Fat-free foods left them unsatisfied, with gnawing hunger and a relentless drive for fat-free frozen yogurt (fat-free = calorie free, right?) or (what the heck) a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey Ice Cream.

Nutrition professionals learned a lesson: advising Americans to eat less fat led to the unintended consequences: of eating more sugar. A big mistake. Hence, the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend we include health-promoting poly- and mono-unsaturated fats in our meals—but still limit the artery-clogging saturated fats from greasy meats and fatty “junk” foods.

Given that Time magazine reported butter is back and the Paleo diet embraces coconut oil (high in saturated fat), athletes are left wondering whom to believe. Can we really eat bacon, burgers and other foods rich in saturated fats without hurting our health? This article addresses issues related to dietary fat and your sports diet.

What about coconut oil … is it better than olive oil?

All fats contain a variety of mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated and saturated fats in varied proportions. The harder the fat —butter, beef lard—the more saturated it is. The softer/more liquid the fat (avocado, olive oil) the better it is for your health. Coconut “oil” (called an oil because it is from a plant, but it is solid at room temperature) has some “good” fats, but it also has some “bad” fats. To date, research on the health risks or benefits associated with long-term intake of coconut oil is sparse. Hence, you want to ask yourself, ”Why would I want to trade extra-virgin olive oil (known to be health-promoting) with coconut oil (with questionable health claims)?”

What percent of my calories should come from fat?

The percent of total calories that should come from fat is whatever is left after consuming a foundation of grains, fruits and vegetables to fuel your muscles, and adequate protein-rich foods (lean meat, fish, beans, low-fat dairy, soy) to build and repair muscles. The percent of total calories from fat is less critical than the type of fat.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than 10% of calories come from saturated fat. That means, if you eat 2,000 calories a day (a reducing diet from most active people), you can choose 200 calories (22 grams) of saturated fat a day. Ideally, you will spend those fat-grams on foods rich in nutrients, such as 2% milk (3 g sat-fat per 8 ounces); reduced-fat cheese (3-6 g sat-fat per ounce), or hard-boiled eggs (1 g sat-fat per egg) — not on empty-calorie butter (7 g sat fat per tablespoon) or coconut oil (12 g sat-fat per tablespoon).

Unsaturated fats knock down inflammation. For athletes who damage muscles during hard exercise, reducing inflammation can enhance recovery. Hence, you want to eat health-promoting fats—extra virgin olive oil, avocado, all-natural peanut butter, nuts, and salmon. They are not only anti-inflammatory, but also needed to absorb vitamins A,D,E and K. Plus, they help food taste better. Enjoying some healthful fat in each meal makes the meal yummier and more satisfying—and easier for you to reduce hankerings for decadent desserts. NOTE: While unsaturated fats are health promoting, they are never-the-less calorie-dense. One tablespoon of oil (of any type) has about 120 calories. Eat fats in portions that fit within your calorie budget!

Are fat-free foods, like skim milk and fat-free salad dressing, wise additions to a sports diet?

The answer to that question depends on what other foods are in the entire meal. The goal is to not eat fat-free meals! That is, a fat-free breakfast of Cheerios and skim milk can leave you feeling “unfed” and hankering for a donut or two by 9:30 a.m. In comparison, choosing 2% milk for the cereal could help you feel satiated. Better yet, add whole grain toast with all-natural peanut butter to the breakfast and you will be truly content. Similarly, a salad with fat-free dressing can leave you hankering for cookies—unless you toss in some quality calories, such as avocado, chopped walnuts, tuna and extra-virgin olive oil. Including some health-promoting fat in each meal and snack can actually help save you calories in the long run if it calms the cookie monster.

Should I avoid peanut butter because it is so high in fat?

No! Research suggests people who eat nuts and peanut butter are not fatter than people who avoid those foods. While the majority of calories in peanut butter do come from fat, the good news is the fat is primarily poly- and mono-unsaturated (only 1 g sat-fat per tablespoon of all-natural peanut butter). Peanut and other nut-butters protect against heart disease and diabetes, two diseases related to inflammation. Like all fats, enjoy nut butters in portions that fit within your calorie budget.

I consider peanut butter to be one of the best sports foods (and diet foods) around, not just because it knocks down inflammation, but because it is yummy and satiating. That is, a lunchtime low-fat turkey sandwich leaves me hankering for dessert, but a peanut butter and honey sandwich leaves me feeling satiated for several hours; no snacks needed!

The bottom line: Enjoying health-promoting unsaturated fats in your sports diet reduces inflammation, enhances absorption of certain vitamins, helps curb the appetite — and adds yumminess. Just don’t overeat calories from fat—or from any type of food, for that matter. The mantra Eat excess calories, get fat is more accurate than Eat fat, get fat.

Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD has a private practice in the Boston-area (Newton; 617-795-1875), where she helps both fitness exercisers and competitive athletes create winning food plans. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players, as well as teaching materials, are available For online workshops, visit

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Staying motivated on the other side of the hill - By Dave Yarnell

It occurred to me that there has been one on-going theme rattling around the old skull of late, and that there just could be a few others out there struggling with it, too.

Do you also get bent out of shape when those people from AARP send you membership applications? How dare they imply that I have reached that point? It will be years before that R word even crosses my mind. Especially considering the social security administration will likely move that carrot on a stick known as the minimum retirement age out of my grasp just as I think I might be able to latch onto it. But I digress. The AARP are not the only ones trying to tell me something these days. Various joints and tendons, along with some other tissues that have a slight resemblance to something I used to call muscles all chime in, usually with complaints and a generally poor attitude towards any movement that brings discomfort, of which there seems to be an ever growing number.

Wah, wah, wah; get over it, I keep telling these whiny and uncooperative members of my body. But alas, mere words fail to convince these unruly ingrates. Just because I have been subjecting them to moving through various planes of motion while simultaneously attempting to defy the laws of gravity, slamming them into parked cars, terra firma and other unforgiving objects for the last 40 plus years is no reason to cop an attitude now…is it?

Well, O.K., maybe some liniment applied before torture sessions and a little more effort on flexibility would be a nice gesture. But if this beat up old machine thinks it is going to get to sit back and be content to remember the glory days, it has another thing coming. Certainly not when plenty of other machines with at least as much or even far more mileage are still out there running strong.

So it simply becomes a matter of mind over matter. After all, the machine does not seem to realize that all this is for its own good. To allow too much rest would just invite more rust. Leave things have their own way, and sooner or later they will just refuse to respond at all. The term “over the hill “is a relative one. One person’s so- called over the hill is another’s starting point. If you follow my Forgotten Strength Secrets Facebook page, you are aware that I celebrate and strongly encourage the senior iron-heads out there, many of whom are well past my age and are refusing to make excuses about whatever they can’t do. Sure, realistically as we age, that list continues to grow, but you just can’t give in and let the “can’t” side win. Focus on what you still can do, perhaps even try to push that envelope a little, and you just might surprise yourself in a positive way. I offer my own situation as an example, not that I am doing anything spectacular in any way, mind you. After limping around for quite a while, while still involved in competitive deadlifting and squatting in 2014, I finally broke down and went to the doctor for a checkup and diagnosis, and was not tremendously surprised to learn that I had a pretty bad case of arthritis in my left hip, not to mention a bit of a disc issue in the lower spine. I was told a hip replacement was pretty much inevitable, but that I could try therapy and/or cortico-steroids to “buy some time” So, I took some oral cortico steroids which basically did nada. I then went the therapy route, which did offer a bit of relief after a while, but certainly nothing miraculous. This was roughly 16 months ago. Since then, I have given up on heavy squatting and deadlifting totally, and am concentrating on upper body strength, and trying to keep the lower body as flexible and resilient as possible, mostly by lots of time on the recumbent bike.

My mileage, resistance level and pace have been slowly but surely getting better, so I am happy with the progress. I have to admit, it does tick me off when I first get on the bike, have been pedaling for  15 or 20 seconds and I hit the program button and the stupid thing flashes “start pedaling”. Really? So, I am coming to grips with the idea of the hip replacement thing, but at the moment am trying the latest hi-tech hyaluronic acid supplement that has been getting good press in the iron community. I still hit the gym 2-3 times a week. Yes, I really miss the heavy deadlifts, which were my favorite for decades. Perhaps the heavy pulls and I will get re-acquainted again down the road; perhaps not. Soon to be 56, I am a long way from tossing in the towel. So if you catch me limping past you at the gym, stop and share your war stories. I am hoping to compete again this May in my club’s Pennsylvania state championship contest, bench press only, and wearing a single ply shirt at that. The shoulders are not thrilled with this notion, but I will do my best to keep them in line. In conclusion, I can only say never give up, never surrender. Oh, and if I smell funny, that will likely be Tiger Balm.

Dave's Website
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Strength Training's Bottom Lines - By Ken Mannie

Ken Mannie is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University. (2007)

Kim Wood, one of the original strength and conditioning coaches in professional sports, has always provided both the young and old in the field with the little gems of professional wisdom worth tucking away in the memory banks.

Wood, the now retired, 28-year veteran of the Cincinnati Bengals, still has a great knack for putting an often-complicated discipline into proper perspective.

One of his favorite one-liners continues to stick with me: "Strength training is as much an art as a science."

As I get older, the wisdom in that statement continues to gain momentum.

Make no mistake: There is, without question, a great deal of ever-evolving scientific data being disseminated in the strength-training arena. Enough, in fact, to overwhelm young coaches who have been assigned to the weight room with little or no experience. The ability to see the forest through the trees is the point that Kim is continuing to make.

Let's put the fire-storm of rep speed, sets, and exercise selection on the back burner for this discussion: How the underpinnings of a sound, practical, strength training program works regardless of philosophy nuances--strength training's bottom lines.


If you're not careful, it can be easy to drown in the sea of guru methodologies and lose sight of these two extremely vital components. Supervision and motivation will do as much--if not more--for the success of your program as anything else you can imagine.

Supervision serves as a segue to consistent gains and is a requisite from a liability standpoint. Even after several years of teaching and indoctrination, a coach should never assume that all of the athletes under his watch have mastered the training protocols and possess the desire to attack them with commitment and dedication.

Additionally, it is our duty as coaches to direct all weight room operations with a keen eye focused on safety considerations.

Here are some vital cues we stress to our staff and to each athlete in terms of being a good training partner:

1. "Coach" the athlete for the entire duration of the set.

It is the coach's/partner's responsibility to make sure that all of the techniques and important safety guidelines are constantly emphasized. Don't let your guard down with the attitude that "they know what to do."

Communication must be a mainstay over the course of the entire workout and a staple in all weight-room activities

2. Find and use the right motivational "buttons."

Athletes respond differently to various motivational strategies. It may take a while, but you must eventually unearth the approach that gets each athlete's motor running in high gear.

3. Assist, but don't perform any unnecessary work for the lifter.

Allow the lifter to do the brunt of the task at hand and only offer as much physical help as is needed to safely complete the set. This applies to movements where spotter assistance is both applicable and practical (e.g., bench press, squats, dumbbell movements, various machine modalities, etc.).

4. Don't invade the lifter's space unless it's absolutely necessary.

In most exercises, there is little need for the spotter to attach himself to the lifter like a hood ornament. Step in and assist when necessary, but give the lifter room to operate. And when it is time to step in, do so with focus and positive reinforcement.

For the athletes, learning to become a competent training partner will give them greater insight into their own strength training and enable them to devise better strategies for everyone involved.

Competent supervision and motivational methods cultivate enthusiasm and heighten the concentration and intensity put forth in the workout. Even highly motivated, "self-starter" types benefit from a teammate who exhibits a genuine interest in the betterment of everyone in the room.

Going back to Kim's statement, motivation is truly an art form. Enthusiasm is contagious, and the best way to motivate others is to be motivated yourself and bring that energy to every aspect of the training program. It doesn't necessarily require any special training or a guest speaker presentation to get the message across--just a true, heartfelt belief in what you're doing and the determination to help others be successful.

If every single athlete trains with passion and purpose--and brings both of those qualities when spotting his partner--an infrastructure of trust, unity, and credibility is quickly built within the team.


While there are certainly enough factors in physical improvement that are out of our control (e.g., genetically-based road blocks), there are enough controllable variables for us to corral and use to our benefit.

Here is just a short list of manageable criteria for success:

* Working hard and smart.

My grandfather used to tell me, "When you are thirsty, don't sit around and wait until someone brings you a cup of water. Get yourself a good shovel and go help him dig a well!"

There is no substitute for hard work. We tend to lose sight of that key principle in this age of quick fixes, mystical powders, wonder pills, and magical elixirs.

Sure, do it the right way--with integrity, a great plan, and excellent troubleshooting savvy--but be willing to roll-up your sleeves and attack the task with the great passion and enduring purpose previously mentioned.

* Comprehensive training.

Whether you choose to perform total body workouts, or have an affinity for split, upper\lower scripts, a blueprint must be established for training all of the body's important muscle compartments. Even if it is done gradually over the course of a week or so, it is important to cover all bases from the neck to the ankles.

* Commitment to consistent training habits and a healthy lifestyle.

Living "right" is as close to being the zenith of successful training requirements, as you will find. Athletes cannot train with the required intensity and progressive work increments, while at the same time engaging in activities (e.g., alcohol, illicit drugs, late-night partying, etc.) that serve only to eventually destroy them as both athletes and people.

Additionally, a well-planned and properly balanced nutritional strategy is vitally important to the success of any training program. The body needs a constant supply of the proper nutrients for fuel, recovery, and growth. We've provided suggestions and tips in Powerline for adhering to a high-performance nutritional plan, and we will continue to do so in the future.

* Rest and recover as needed.

As difficult and challenging as a sound strength program may be, everyone involved must understand the importance of allowing the body an appropriate recovery period.

Allowances must be made over the course of the entire training calendar for these respites with consideration given to the following paramount factors:

1. Weekly lifting schedule, frequency, duration, and intensity.

2. Weekly running schedule, frequency, duration, and intensity.

3. Practice schedule, frequency, duration, and intensity.

4. Competition schedule.

My advice is to pencil-in the "rest" periods on your staff calendar to emphasize their importance as an integral part of the overall program. Then, stick to them with the realization that a little time off may be just what the doctor ordered to recharge the players' batteries and get their competitive juices flowing again.


Motivation, comprehensive training, well-planned overload strategies, recovery allotments, and healthy lifestyle habits will yield high returns on the investment when they are consolidated into a workable scheme.

Strength training truly is as much an art as it is a science. And with a little extra time and effort, it can paint an absolutely beautiful picture.



High-octane suggestions from the experts--Following are some great nutrition tips from my two go-to guys on the subject, Scott Sehnert, MS, RD, and Joe Carlson, PhD, RD, who work daily with our Spartan athletes on all sports nutrition matters:


These meals should be eaten 3-5 hours before the event and should be high in carbohydrate (at least half of the total calories), moderate in protein, and low in fat (especially saturated fat).

Everyone is different with respect to the exact types and amounts of food they can tolerate prior to high-intensity activities such as games and training sessions, but each athlete will eventually learn what works best for him/her. Consuming adequate fluids (at least 16-24 ounces) with the meal is vitally important.


These are highly recommended, particularly before a strenuous or long duration affair, or when two workouts per day are on the docket. A small snack is recommended 30-60 minutes before the training session that consists primarily of carbohydrate (30-50 grams), a modest amount of protein (7-10 grams), and very small amount of fat.


Eating after an intense workout or game is essential for recovery and preparation for the next workout/practice. Doing so helps replace carbohydrate stores in muscle tissue (glycogen), aids in repairing damaged muscle, and assists in building new muscle mass.

This is especially true during "two-a-days" and other situations when there is minimal recovery time between training sessions. If you do not eat a snack or meal after an arduous workout or game, the body tends to breakdown muscle for energy, which can result in muscle degradation.

Try to eat within 60 minutes of the completion of the session/contest, with an emphasis on carbohydrates (70-100 grams) and attention to quality protein consumption (20-30 grams).

Fluid intake, as a rule, should include at least three 8-12 ounce cups of water per pound of body fluid (as indicated by the scale) lost during the activity.
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