Friday, August 5, 2016


Much of strength and health focuses on muscles and strength. In the midst of that, perhaps a nod towards skeletal development would be worthwhile. After all, a set of 17" all terrain tires might look good on a full size truck, but not so good on a Honda Civic. While much of the frame broadens and thickens just from being under the iron, some exercises serve this purpose more than others.

One can also give a nod towards symmetry without automatically being tagged a bodybuilder. If a young man has a shallow rib cage, but wide shoulders and long arms, there is nothing wrong with forgoing wide grip pulling movements for a season. If a guy has huge hips, and no upper body, once again, it isn't a crime to stay with some real low rep squats, gentle and progressive, while focusing on the upper body till things even out. When he stands straight and true for his bride to be, he'll thank you!

To spread the shoulder girdle, I would put wide grip chins, front and back, at the top of the list. These should be done in a slow and controlled manner with a FULL range of motion. Don't bother blowing your rotator cuffs with the common kipping craze. You'll only get away with it for so long. Keep the chest out, back arched unless you want to diminish the effectiveness by half. Over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how many guys have such little back development that do the right exercises, but with bad form. Couple the wide chins with some deadlifts or rows and it is a real winner. Looking back to the narrow scapula I had as a 143 lb. guy compared to my shoulder width two years later, after consistent wide chinning and rows, I am sold on this. And remember, while muscle comes and goes over the years, the frame you build stays pretty much the same.

For spreading the rib box, nothing beats the dumbbell pullover. Some guys do pretty well with a barbell as well. This is one of my great regrets in exercise selection, and probably helps explain my two dimensional appearance. Because I didn't "feel it" in the muscle, I thought it wasn't worth much. Many young guys make this same mistake. Don't be one of them. Keep a slight bend to the arms, take a deep breath, and sink into a good stretch while keeping the hips low. Patience and persistence will yield a couple inches on the chest in a few years when you're younger. It can be done when older, but it takes longer. This also arguably makes more room for the organs and potentially bigger motor under the hood, i.e. heart and lungs.

Squats are the well deserved and predictable choice for the lower body structure. The amount of growth hormone released into the system by squats is perhaps greater than any other exercise. Add to this the large amounts of weight your skeleton has to support, and it really contributes to a strong, solid frame. The carryover strength and athleticism for everything from a vertical jump, to driving opponents backwards in football or wrestling are noteworthy as well.

When training, surround these three worthy exercises with some heavy presses, curls, rows (upright or bent), dumbbell work, and some core work. I also recommend some neck work, especially bridging, but that is up to you.

For enduring muscle (not endurance muscle), the kind that won't disappear during a two week vacation or month lay off due to injury, build up to heavy weights and some lower reps. Pyramids up to a heavy single or double and 5x5 were my favorites. This winter, for the first time in twenty years, literally, I got a gym membership. For a change (and to try to help a couple nagging joints), my teen kids and I pummelled ourselves on a high volume, higher rep lifting routine. We're talking 20 sets of 12 to 40 reps, something I hadn't done in over twenty years either, but, hey, it was dark early and we were bored. After four months all of us hated working out and even I was surprised at how quickly the veiny, puffy muscle shrunk. Those three pounds I had put on through such toil were GONE when I took a couple weeks off.

On the flip side, when my brother and I first started training consistently, 30 years ago, we didn't own a bench so we built our three times a week full body routine around heavy military presses, frequently pyramiding up to a max lift. Though I can't claim much, my shoulders have never left me, even over extended layoffs. No one else in my family, besides my brother, has noticeable shoulders, so it isn't genetic. He can also still walk into Dick's Sporting Goods and side press a 90 pound dumbbell. It would be hard to overstate the role heavy, safe, lifting can play in the formative years for how one may look and be strong for the rest of their life.
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Monday, August 1, 2016

Anvil and Stone - By Jim Duggan

Over the years, I have tried to challenge myself each year on my birthday. I remember reading about the legendary feats of Jack LaLanne, and also Bob Hoffman. They would each celebrate their birthday in a meaningful way. And for anybody who follows the ideals of Strength, Health, and Physical Culture, "meaningful" is a cheerful euphemism for working out brutally hard. And while I would never consider towing a flotilla of 70 rowboats during a mile-long swim with my hands shackled, I do try to come up with meaningful. And challenging.

One of my favorite ways of challenging myself is with Stones. Atlas stones have been a staple in Strongman Contests for many years. My first close encounter with stone-lifting was at the AOBS Reunion Dinner of 1999. It was there, at the old Downtown Athletic Club, that Steve Jeck put on an impressive display of stone-lifting. After the dinner, but before heading to Peter Luger's with Bob Whelan and Drew Israel ( yes, we went to dinner AFTER the dinner!) I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mr. Jeck. It was then that I was inspired to get my hands on some granite atlas stones. To make a long story short, about a month or so later, a nice, brand new 220 Lb. Granite Sphere was delivered to my house. Over the years I have added to my collection to the point where I now am the proud owner of five spheres. They range in weight from 145 Lbs. to 300 Lbs. Each one has a specific use. The lighter stones are usually used for rep work, while the heavier ones are meant for maximal attempts. But even when my workout calls for a series of heavy singles with the heavier stones, the smaller ones serve a useful purpose for warming up. 

As far as Anvils are concerned, my collection is limited to two. For now. I have a 100 Lb., and a 165 Lb. Anvil. I was first introduced to anvil-lifting by Dr. Ken. I remember reading an article in an old issue of Muscular Development. Like all of his articles, it was well-written and contained a lot of quality training information. A few years later, I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Ken and join the Iron Island Gym. And, tucked away in a corner of the gym, was one of his anvils. That was the first time I had ever actually seen an anvil up-close and personal. Prior to joining Iron Island, the only anvils I had ever seen was on the old Warner Bros. cartoons when Wiley Coyote was trying to drop them on the Road Runner. There is no desert on Long Island where I live, so the Road Runner can breathe easily. I won't be trying to drop one on him. But I do like to use my anvils as a workout tool from time to time. Cartoons aside, I do remember reading somewhere that the anvil can be accurately described as the American manhood stone. Perhaps we don't have a history of stones like they do in Europe. But we definitely have a history with anvils. Incidentally, I would love to get a few more anvils, but they are quite expensive.

Anyway, getting to the workout. I had wanted to rep out with the 180 Lb. Stone for a while. My previous best was 80 reps, done over the course of 90 minutes or so. For my birthday, my goal was to hit 100 reps. The movement itself is quite simple: Lift the stone from the ground and shoulder it. Of course, actually doing it 100 times is something else entirely. My plan was to break it down over many sets. I would do anywhere from 5 to 12 reps with the Stone. I would then go inside and perform 15 Hindu Push-ups. I would then go to the 100 Lb. Anvil and, using my Neck Harness, do a set of 12-15 reps. After the neck work, I would rest about minute, then continue. So the workout itself looked like this:

180 Stone x 100 Reps
100 Lb. Anvil x 100 Reps
Hindu Push-Ups x 100 Reps

Upon beginning the workout, I was surprised that I was lifting the stone pretty easily. One of the problems I encounter is that when I drop the stone to the ground, it does roll around from time to time. The combination of hard ground, and spherical stone being dropped from shoulder height will cause the stone to roll around a bit. Of course, if the ground is soft, there will be the inevitable craters. Not good for the footing. There is also the issue of dirt and sweat. I did have to wipe off my forearms at regular intervals. The weather was hot and humid, but it didn't really affect me. I did try to keep hydrated. Of course I did not use a belt, gauntlets, or tacky. And, yes, my forearms took a beating  ( as they usually do when I do high-rep stone workouts.) I was very happy that I was able to maintain a good rhythm and strong pace throughout the workout. I was able to complete the entire workout in less than two hours. Afterward, I was completely sore, as one could imagine. 

While not everybody might have access to stones, we all are capable of challenging ourselves. Whether it be lifting weights, shouldering stones, running long distances, or swimming a mile with your hands shackled while towing 70 rowboats, we all have the potential to better ourselves. And while I may not be a Spring chicken at 52 years old, I am proud to say that I haven't let myself become old. Nor have I lost the desire to challenge myself.
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