Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Remembering a great man: Mike Bondurant - By Neil Saffer

On April 14th the world lost a great man. Our friend Mike Bondurant passed from this world after a brave 5 year battle with cancer, which he fought like the true strong man he was.

Mike was one of a kind. I could fill a book or two with stories and I am sure that each of you reading this will have many of your own to add. I will try to briefly tell the story of a great man, a wonderful husband, father, son, grandfather, neighbor and friend. Mike Bondurant was a veteran, a gym owner, a bodybuilding contest promoter, an actor, an Emcee, a salesman, an Iron Game collector and historian, a writer, an environmentalist, a knife collector and a great guy!

Mike grew up in Virginia and then attended high school in Germany. The son of a highly decorated Army veteran he followed his dad Col. Ray Bondurant’s footsteps and enlisted in the US Army where he served in intelligence from 1958-1962.

After Mikes service he went to Yokohama Japan where he met the love of his life, his beautiful wife Tomi , they married in 1966 and had two beautiful daughters Michelle and Misty.

Mike and Tomi lived in Hawaii from 1964-1969 and Mike graduated from the University of Hawaii. Mike had always loved all things physical culture and while in Hawaii he worked and trained at the famous Mits Gym (taking over for Tommy Kono).

After moving back to the states (Delray Beach Florida) Mike opened the first Key Gym in 1972. Over the next 30 years Key Gym had moved several time to bigger and better facilities but the feeling was always the same, a family run gym, solid equipment, with many pieces built by Mike (who took a welding class at the local night school to learn how to build his own equipment). Homemade protein shakes, muscle cookies and brownies by Mikes daughters, and legendary Christmas parties with Tomi’s famous sushi.

Over the years Key Gym turned out many of South Florida’s best natural bodybuilders and many a young man and women got their first taste of the iron as well as a feel for the camaraderie that you can only get in a local gym at Key Gym.

Mike and his family promoted the best amateur contests in South Florida for years starting in 1980 with The Mr. Boca Raton followed in 1981 by The Palm Coast. Mike was a pioneer in the drug free bodybuilding movement and was the first to promote tested contests starting with The Natural Intracoastal in 1986. In 1990 Mike and I started promoting ANBC Contest s together which we did for the following 7 years.

Mike was always an advocate of natural foods and hated artificial sweeteners and chemicals. In 1986 he started Key fitness Formulas and there are many people that swear to this day that Key Pro 93 was the best protein powder of all time. Mike covered many miles in his van selling and delivering Key Pro to gyms and health food stores all over Florida.

Mike was a collector of any and all things related to the Iron game and its history. What started as a small collection became The Muscle Museum and Mike the curator. He would spend days tracking down an interesting piece and many hours on the phone talking to other collectors. I think that one of the best days of his life was when he acquired his 1st globe barbell, as well as the day he discovered eBay. Mike attended several meetings of The Association of Old Time Barbell and Strongmen, had many good friend in the organization and led several collectors meetings at the annual gathering. Mike wrote The Muscle Museum Forum for many years a labor of love for collectors, published by his daughter Michelle.

The Muscle Museum was housed at all the various Key Gym locations until Mike moved to Clearwater in 1998 where he opened a health food store and the new home of the Muscle Museum. A few years later Mike and Tomi moved to Saint Augustine, a town that they had always loved and dreamed of living in. In Saint Augustine Mike stated a new chapter and starred in several local productions at the local theater. The Muscle Museum moved to 2 rooms at Mike and Tomi’s new home and still welcomed many visitors as they were passing through town.

On a personal note I spend most every night on a stage in front of a crowd, a skill I learned and honed from behind the curtain watching Mike emceeing bodybuilding contests for years! I have knives all over my desk and office and read every knife book and catalog I can get my hands on, I love old westerns and I recycle, and I train in a backyard gym that is all old school and hardcore all a tribute to my best friend Mike Bondurant.

Listen to Mike's interview on MFR
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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Working Out While Training - By John Greaves III

I know that’s a weird title. Seems like I just said the same thing twice. But here me out. What I mean is you should be actively involved in problem solving during your training session if you want to be successful long term. Working out has developed a bit of a bad rap over the past few years. The idea of working out is now associated with half hearted curls with pink dumbbbells or lethargic reps on a selectorized machine in between sets of posting selfies to your Twitter account about how you’re going“Beast Mode”. Today serious exercisers say they train. Either they train for a specific sport or they train to be ready for life. This is in general a good thing but it does have a downside. Training tends to imply steady progress toward a peak or specific goal and followed possibly by a deload period and then by another steady rise to a higher level of performance or improved physique.

Too bad that’s not how it works in real life. Real life training often includes plateaus, sometimes even periods where strength or fitness declines. So how do we respond when we hits those plateaus? If we’re smart, we work out the problem like a kid in math class working out problems on the board.

I’m in the same process now, working on mastering my breathing in the barbell squat. Didn’t do so hot last session. Passed out some time during the fourth rep of the third set; had to apologize to my spotters afterward and be more careful so it didn’t happen again when I did my fourth and final set. I’m experimenting with three breaths at the top; descending after the third breath. In the past I tried breathing twice and one big breath. It’s a problem I’m working out.

I don’t think that I’m the only one who has come up with good ideas during a training session. That’s why my office is in my basement right next to the garage gym where I normally train. As focused as I may be on my training session, when an idea hits me; I immediately run into my office and jot the idea down before I lose it. I’ve written some of my best work after an intense workout session. But more than that, the process of working out an exercise problem forces you to research different ideas, it may cause you to talk to others with more time in the Iron Game than you. All of this is beneficial to your brain, which is essentially an organic problem solving engine.

I think that the mental effort to figure out how to get a stalled lift to show progress again reaps tremendous benefits and not just in physical ways. I was listening to performing strongman Chris Schoeck on the Super Strength Show podcast recently and he mentioned in passing that he keeps horseshoes next to his bed while he’s working them out. Working them out. It hit me as I continued to listen to the conversation that while performing strongmen have always trained to perform strength feats, they didn’t necessarily periodize. Instead they applied effort and intellect to problems until they hit upon the secret to bending the nail, breaking the bat, juggling that barbell. Might be why some of the greatest intellectuals of the past, Theodore Roosevelt, Da Vinci also pursued regular physical training. Every plateau forces you to stretch mentally and grow spiritually.

Ignoring the power of working out problems with your lifts can lead to unnecessary discouragement, especially in our social media world where it seems like everyone else is hitting PRs everytime they step into the gym or onto a platform. Don’t fall into that trap. Plateaus come to everyone. I’ve interviewed several champions and talked so many more at competitions and they all say the same things. Everyone stalls sometimes. Even if they’re using modern chemical assistance. How much more if you’re a natural trainee?

Don’t be discouraged when you stall. Embrace this opportunity to understand more about this particular lift or how this bodypart on you responds to different kinds of training. Maybe rest a little bit more, adjust technique. Work out the problem. You’ll come out of this with a stronger mind in a stronger body.

John Greaves III’s website
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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Missing the BIG picture? - By R.J. Hicks

Serious strength training was first introduced to me at the age of 14. A group of football players from the neighborhood and I would go over to Coach Mike’s house, who was not only our coach but our mentor, to workout in his basement and backyard. The basement was small but not empty; a bench press and cable pull down were situated side by side and a reverse hyper machine was only steps away. The floor was lined with heavy dumbbells and various kettlebells. Squat stands and adjustable Olympic stands stood crowded in the corner. Outside was a rubber platform for heavy deadlifts, front squats, and Olympic lift variations. Just beyond the gated fence were huge tires and other seemingly odd lifting objects resting in the mangled, overgrown yard. The workouts were challenging and progressive, and every time we trained sets and reps were recorded. A sense of nervousness came over me every time I showed up to train. Between the competitive environment, the constant reassurance and fortitude among peers, and the moment of truth that came with weekly weigh ins and skin fold measures there existed no place to escape growth, development, or self criticism. I was scared. Fear of quitting, embarrassment in my performance, and of not being able to complete the workouts or not measuring up to the other athletes constantly engulfed my thoughts. For the first time in my life a new mentality began to take place. It was built on a newfound belief of self reliance and the acknowledgement that no matter what was thrown at me while at Coach Mike’s house, I could take the pain, the uncertainty, the criticism, and sacrifice needed to eventually succeed. Despite the rigorous atmosphere, each workout brought about a strong sense of accomplishment, confidence, and mental toughness. Everything I got out of that training carried over into my daily life as I learned not to be afraid of failure and how to battle adversity, both inside and outside the weight room. The key to our successful training, which took me a long time to realize, was looking to push the weight up every workout. Because of this, every day we left the gym a little stronger and motivated for the next workout.

I have always struggled with constant frustration on my journey to build strength as I have battled multiple obstacles and derailments. When I arrived at college, I believed my strength training was a failure, which was difficult because I had been training and working since I was 14 years old. I blamed the strength programs we were using to train and the need to drop weight for wrestling. Because of this misplaced blame, I thought I needed more advanced training methods. Therefore I over trained assuming it would allow me to gain strength quicker allowing me to catch up to those I was competing against. In the end, it did nothing besides slow my personal progress in addition to hurting me physically. It was upsetting and demoralizing knowing something I cared so much about and truly dedicated myself too did not give me the results I wanted. This disappointment only fueled me to want to know more. Many others in similar situations begin to over think training programs, attempting to find the perfect rep and set scheme while trying to discover the best combination of exercises with the perfect amount of rest in between them. It is when this occurs and we feel as if our training is failing, that we must revert back to basic training principles and simply look to add weight.

Variety, change, and muscle confusion are heavily emphasized as a foundation of many training programs. The desire to improve every physical aspect of the muscle groups and work every energy system at once keeps coaches preoccupied and sometimes distant from the goal of strength training. I see it in the weight room where coaches are training for better movements, balance, speed, or specific motor abilities all the while forgetting that the purpose of strength training is to build bigger and stronger muscles. It does not matter the type of strength training the athlete practices whether one is a power lifter, Olympic lifter, strongman competitor, college athlete, or fitness enthusiast, if he or she want to get stronger weight must be continually added. If an athlete is using 70 pounds for one arm dumbbell rows for 10 reps and progressively works their way up to 90 pounds for 10 reps, then the athlete has gotten stronger, it’s as simple as adding weight for the same number of reps. A training program with the goal of building strength needs to incorporate progressive resistance throughout its entirety.

I began to witness this ideology when I put this principle of strength training in the form of just adding weight to the forefront of priorities while I interned. Once I graduated college I took an internship where my beliefs and perceptions on strength training brought me back to very basic principles. My internship was at Excellence in Fitness, which is a high intensity strength training studio run by Joe Aben who is a long time client and friend of Bob Whelan. The coaches at Excellence in Fitness practice a simple system which included 9-12 exercises, usually one set each sometimes more, where strict form is demanded and every exercise is meticulously recorded. The training is challenging and always progressive because weight is added once the rep range was met. This addition of weight meant that improvement can be found within every workout. My first workout training in this way called for 7 exercises; leg press, hammer strength bench, pulldown, pendulum squat machine squat machine, nautilus shoulder press, seated row, and back extensions. As simple as it sounded I felt I physically got more out of each exercise. I felt my muscles actually working to their limits, being able to contract harder to generate more force in that workout then the hundreds I had performed before. Not only did I feel more productive in the workout, but now I had an easy tracking system to build the weight on each exercise in a practical approach. I realized that I had gotten caught up into the finer details of building maximal strength, reversal strength, strength speed, speed strength, sub maximal lifting, concurrent training and all other component of strength. I misplaced the basic principles we all learn from the start and that really focusing on a few exercises was more powerful then drawing up the most advanced workout. I felt firsthand how I could work very hard, without stressing over programming and waiting several weeks to test for validation of my new strength. Remember it is not the exercises or training methods which our most important to strength training, but the principles. Aben’s system is successful not because of how the program is written or even the exercise selection, but due to the fact he never lost sight of constantly adding poundage in a tractable manor which makes people stronger.

Although personally I train leaning more towards high intensity strength training principles, I believe that simply being able to add weight for the same amount of reps is one of the most efficient ways to get stronger. It’s simple; add weight, same reps, get stronger. Even though great merit exists in powerlifting based programs, Olympic lifts, high volume training and even high intensity training, all of these training methods have the potential to be just as ineffective as beneficial. The big picture here is that in order to get big and strong, the underlying principle for success in whatever training method an athlete or fitness enthusiast chooses is the ingenious concept of simply adding weight.

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