Monday, November 20, 2017

Dedication to Hard & Heavy Weight Training - By RJ Hicks, BS Exercise Science, CSCS

Year after year you hear the excuses of many trainees for their lack of results in the weight room. Poor genetics, old age, the wrong program, plateaued muscles, the list of excuses goes on. These excuses blind us to the real problem at hand, inhibiting us all from receiving the training results we deserve. An honest assessment must be made with one's training approach to developing muscular size and strength by asking the following questions. Am I lifting heavy enough weight to provide adequate overload? Am I training legs heavy and hard twice per week? Do I use the hard and productive exercises or use the easy toner exercises? Am I striving to progress in training poundage each week? It is the total dedication to training hard that will bring results gym trainees seek not any magical program.

People like to complicate weight training more than they need to. You lift weights to build muscular size and strength, that’s it. The largest muscle fibers responsible for gains in strength and size are type IIa and IIx muscle fibers, which make up around 50% of an average person's muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are anaerobic by nature and require heavy resistance exercise to cause overload to the working muscles. Light weight will not provide adequate overload, stimulating mostly the type I muscle fibers. The principle of orderly recruitment states that motor units (a bundle of muscle fibers) are ranked by sized and recruited in ascending order. Type I motor units are recruited first during muscular contraction as they are the smallest motor units. The large type II motor units are recruited sequentially as the movement demands for greater force. Too many trainees train with light weight, doing very little to stress their largest muscle fibers due to the low levels of force. Lifting with light weight only burns calories and provides some endurance work through the stimulation of type I muscle fibers, but does little to build muscular strength and engage the type II fibers. To build muscular size and strength you must lift with the heaviest weight you can handle for the given repetition goal, using perfect form.

The truth is that heavy resistance training intimidates a lot of people for fear of becoming injured. Lifting with heavy weight does not injury trainees, lifting more than you can handle with bad technique injures trainees. Heavy weight is needed to generate the higher levels of muscular force to stimulate the largest motor units. This is hard work; many trainees try to avoid training heavy and find excuses why to reduce the training load on a continuous basis. There are no secrets or ways around working hard, heavy resistance training for the entire body is necessary throughout the year to develop muscular size and strength.

"Legs feed the wolf" and any serious trainee who desires real results must follow suit. In every workout where time or energy is a limiting factor leg training is the first thing to go. Leg training is uncomfortable and extremely demanding which is why many trainees refuse to do it. Many trainees will replace lower body training with running or use the excuse of fear of injury as to why they are handling light weight. Many functional trainers and performances coaches like to avoid these exercises as well. They like to talk about movement patterns, muscle activation and stabilization to build stronger athletes, as if this is more advanced than weight training for strength. This is total BS! If you want real training results you are going to have to train the legs heavy and hard twice per week, once the form is learned. Body weight squats, kettle bells, band walks and plyometric jumps are not going to get the job done. Squats, deadlifts and leg presses done with challenging weight are needed to bring fourth the greatest training stimulus to the lower body. Done through the most complete range of motion as safety dictates, these exercises will bring about the greatest stimulus to the hips, thighs and lower back. These exercises should be rotated each training session as these are the hard exercises with the greatest potential for growth.

Words such as toning, firming and pumping have hurt the weight training community in a big way. Popularized by many of the present-day bodybuilding magazine and fitness models, these words have gotten many trainees spinning their wheels on the wrong exercises. Cable cross overs, concentration curls and hack squats are dominating many commercial gyms. The exercises promoted by old-time strongmen like Mark Berry, Sig Klein and Henry Steinborn have been tossed to the side. The hard-productive exercises have not changed since the early 1900's. Squats, rows, deadlifts, presses, dips, barbell curls and shrugs should be at the forefront of any weight training program. These exercises provide movement of heavy resistance through the fullest range of motion forced by muscular contractions. Two factors needed for productive exercise. All the old-time strongmen knew this and worked religiously at these exercises year after year, with fantastic results! Toners will look for the easier exercises and will make little to no progress. Do not look to replace the most productive exercises, rather formulate your training around them for the best results. Choosing the basic hard exercises is important, but without poundage progression results will be limited.

I have seen plenty of people at gyms training with the same weight they used several years ago. Everyone has a certain weight they are comfortable with on each exercise; however, it is necessary to push past that mental barrier. It is a lack of poundage progression that holds many trainees back whether they notice it or not. Many trainees switch from program to program in hopes of finding the best training routine, inevitably doing little to force poundage progression. Tracking progression, in terms of poundage, is the greatest evidence any individual has of training success. A real assessment needs to be made on your training journal to physically visualize how far you have come since the beginning of your training cycle. The weights must be increased over the weeks, months and years. This is hard to do! It takes patience and discipline to trust in the process and keep grinding away at the basic exercises. It is more appealing to add massive variety, changing the exercise routine every few weeks. Most trainees will run to variety as soon as the weight gets heavy, in fear of reaching a plateau, when they should be digging in and focusing on slowly building the poundage. George Hackenschmidt, an old time strongmen and champion wrestler, used a simple method of progression to build his legendary strength and so can you. Whether you train with single sets, multiple sets or pyramids the overload principles stay the same. Every time you complete the number of repetitions for an exercise add a little iron to the bar for the next workout. A little bit of added weight every few weeks turns into serious weight over the years.

There is no one method for hard weight training. Multiple sets, machine training, low repetitions and olympic lifts all can work given the proper dedication to hard training. The emphasis does not rely on training tools or methods, but rather the principles. Heavy progressive strength training, utilizing the best exercises to cover the full body, will always produce the greatest gains in muscular size and strength. The only question left to ask, are you training hard and heavy?


Kenney, W. L., Wilmore, J. H., Costill, D. L., & Wilmore, J. H. (2012). Physiology of sport and exercise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Todd, J. S., Shurley, J. P., & Todd, T. C. (2012). Thomas L. DeLorme and the Science of Progressive Resistance Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(11), 2913-2923. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31825adcb4

Editor's note: Fantastic article RJ! This is the truth. The current "effort only" and multi-dimensional fads are NOT the way to go. Get back to heavy and hard weight training.
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Friday, November 17, 2017

The Mighty Atom Documentary is Finished and it's Fantastic! - by Bob Whelan

"Known as 'The Mighty Atom,' Joseph Greenstein was, indeed, the greatest and perhaps the most unlikely strongman who ever lived. He overcame impossible odds to simply survive to adulthood, then learned to harness the powers of the body - and more importantly, the mind - to achieve the impossible. Stopping an airplane from taking off with his hair, bending cold rolled steel with his hands, biting through nails - Greenstein may have been the inspiration for Superman. An amazing tale of human potential, The Mighty Atom will have audiences cheering." - (from the movie website) Click on image below.

Click on image above.
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Buddy Jeff Bankens Does an Impressive 145 Pound Bent Press with 2 inch Bar

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CARDIO - For Life and For You! - By Jeff "T-Rex" Bankens

Last summer, our friend Christian Tackett wrote an article entitled “Cardio Thoughts”.  In this article he talks about the “fake news” he was told regarding cardio vascular training for most of his training career.  He then goes on to say that his coach (our coach), “Maximum Bob” Whelan advised him to take another look at cardio.  It changed Christian’s life.  

You can read that article for yourself at this link ( )

As soon as I read that article it struck a cord with me.  You see, it was not very long ago that, Like Christian, I too believed I did not need cardio.  After all, I was not only a weightlifter, I was a performing strongman.  I saw those two activities as a free pass on cardio vascular training.  Enter “Maximum Bob” Whelan.  He taught me something that I pray I will never forget.  He said, ‘Jeff, do the weight training for YOU, and the cardio for YOUR FAMILY’.

What Bob meant, was that, while weight training alone will make your musculoskeletal-skeletal system strong and virile, it will do little to nothing for your cardio-vascular system.  What point is there in having a strong, powerful body if you are not going to put in the necessary work to ensure that body STAYS strong and powerful for years to come.  If I want to be around to see my son grow up, and (God Willing) play with my grandkids, I better do something to ensure that my heart and lungs stay healthy enough to get me there in one piece.

Bob shared that advice with me a little over two years ago.  I am here to tell you that it was some of the best advice I have ever received!  In the last two - three years, God brought mentors into my life that I am convinced were meant to help bring my physical game to the next level.

Rather than re-hash that story, I suggest you read it for yourself at this link ( ).

After seeing the physical changes I have experienced over the last 2 years, I can say that Bob knew exactly what he was talking about.  I can also say that, on the other side of two years’ worth of cardio training under my belt, I now see that the cardio is not just for my family, it is for me too!  I heeded good advice that brought about what we are all looking for: RESULTS.  I would like to take a few minutes of your time to share with you the results I have seen manifested in my own life, to encourage YOU, the natural lifter.

I was told that, besides two days of weight training, I needed to have a minimum of two cardio workouts per week.  Implementing this was not that difficult, as I already had a treadmill in the house.  It even came with a built-in incline and two cross-country ski poles to boot!  I was all set, and began implementing the cardio work into my regular weekly schedule.  I usually have two - three cardio sessions per week that are usually thirty - forty-five minuted in Length.  While the intensity varies, I try to make a practice of regularly pushing myself so that I do not become “satisfied” with a certain level of fitness.  Just to be clear, when I say I push myself, I do not go crazy.  For example, I may try to increase the length of time I maintain a certain speed before  slowing down to catch my breath.  Other times I may walk an extra five minutes, or try to get another quarter or half mile in before quitting for the night.

Doing these things has helped me get stronger and fitter than I have been in many years, at an age when many people have started to let go and  become couch potatoes, forty.  I now find it quite thrilling to be getting stronger and leaner at the END of youth, looking down the road at middle age with a smile!

As I mentioned earlier, I am a performing strongman.  In fact, I am also a minister.  As stated in previous articles, I have a unique ministry that allows me to combine the feats of strength of the performing strongmen of old, with the Gospel message of Jesus Christ!  This has allowed me to speak and perform for many 1,000’s of people over the years.  I regularly speak at elementary schools, churches, youth groups, employee picnics, and other family-oriented venues.  It is a really unique way to connect and share with others that I really enjoy!  

Even though I have been doing this a long time, I have never done a large multi-day event as “TRex”.  One of my desires for many years has been to be given the opportunity to do something big, and last summer I did it!

It all started in October of 2016.  I reached out to the largest church in my area, in hopes that I might be able to schedule a time to speak and perform for them one Sunday or Wednesday.  The children’s pastor contacted me and asked that I meet with him.  I was hoping and praying for a successful meeting, but I had no idea what God had in store for me!  I was about to find out just WHY GOD had brought mentors Bob Whelan and Dennis Rogers in my life.  It was to prepare me for this very meeting!  You see, the children’s minister was not looking for someone to speak and perform for some random service, he was looking for someone to be the children’s speaker at a four-night / two-day church-wide revival!  

He proceeded to explain to me that I would have to prepare and preach four different sermons, with a unique performance tailored to each sermon, as well as write an anti-bullying program that would need to be presented seven or eight times during a two-day period that same week!  I can only imagine the ridiculous look I must have had on my face!  I had just been asked to do exactly what I had been dreaming of doing for so many years!

To be honest, I knew I (in myself) was not prepared, but I could not pass up an opportunity like this.  These types of events can be life-changing for the attendees, as well as the presenter.  It was a once in a lifetime event and I had to say “YES”.  I said yes to this because:  1) I knew this was an opportunity from God that I could NOT pass up; 2) I WAS prepared as an experienced speaker / preacher; 3) God had brought two men in my life that were ALREADY helping me get ready for this event, Bob Whelan and Dennis Rogers.  Knowing these things, even though I was very surprised and nervous, I KNEW it was going to be a success.

From October 2016 through August 2017, I trained my butt off!  I learned during that season of life that having an end goal in mind will keep you in the weight room and on the treadmill, not to mention on your knees (in prayer), and in the Word (studying the Bible).  After all of those months of preparation, the week had come, and it was showtime!  I ended up performing more than TEN times over a four day period, with little rest between performances.  I also spoke more than TEN times, either preaching from the Bible or giving an anti-bullying program.  We probably ministered to a couple of thousand kids that week.  Make no mistake about it, by the end of that four night period I was tired.  I was tired mentally, physically, AND spiritually!  But, I was not nearly as tired as I SHOULD have been.  You see, I had been preparing for that week for a long time, because of the mentorship of the men God brought into my life.  HE planned ahead for my success, so that those kids would get to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

I can tell you for a fact, had it not been for the hours of proper cardio-vascular training, I would not have been able to display the strength I had forged through the hours of weight training and practicing feats of strength.  I can also tell you that, had I not built up my “wind”, I would have been hard-pressed to properly present the Gospel or the anti-bullying program.  

I was successful because I was obedient to the instruction I was given, and you can too!  Remember, weight lifting is for YOU, cardio-vascular training is for YOU AND your family!

Jeff “TRex” Bankens is available for performances and speaking engagements.  He can be reached via his website or e-mail address listed below.  Feel free to drop him a line, as he loves to communicate with people from all over the world.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Favorite Exercises - By Jim Duggan

Everybody who lifts weights realizes that there are many exercises from which to choose that will make up an effective training program. Whatever your goal may be- gaining muscular size, building maximum strength, rehabilitating an injury- there is no shortage of movements to help you get there. And, if you train consistently, and progressively, you should be able to make considerable gains in the form increased strength, more muscle, better health, and improved appearance.

One of the wonderful fringe benefits from lifting weights is that it causes you to learn a lot about yourself. Hard work, persistence, consistency, resilience, and an increased level of self-awareness are all admirable traits. And they are all traits that will develop as a result from hoisting the Iron. I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who has been lifting weights for many years who regrets dedicating so much time and energy to working out. Simply put, lifting weights is an enjoyable, and beneficial, pursuit.

When we begin our journey of lifting, most of us will start with the same exercises, as a general rule. Squats, Bench Presses, Curls, Presses, to name a few. These are the basics. As we gain experience, and make progress, we might add different movements based on our goals. For example, if you wish to become a competitive lifter, you will begin to learn the respective lifts, preferably from a qualified coach/mentor. And as you continue to make progress, you will also gain valuable knowledge and experience. You will discover a lit about the wonderful world of Iron. And about yourself.

As we continue to train, we will invariably learn that there are certain movements that will be of benefit to us, and others that will not. Some exercises may work for other people, but may not work for you. And vice versa. That's why it is vitally important not to blindly follow the routines of others. It is especially foolish to try to attempt the "routines" published in the various muscle magazines ( aka muscle comics.) Learn what works for you, and then do it.

Naturally, there will always be exercises that we just plain enjoy doing. Bodybuilders, for example, always seem to have certain exercises that they swear by, when it comes to gaining mass, or developing definition. Lifters will discover exercises that will help them accrue great overall body strength. This discovery does not occur overnight. It may takes months, or years of experimenting to find out which exercises are most effective for you.

Year's ago, when I began to compete in Powerlifting, I had to develop a routine that was effective, yet compatible with my school/work schedule. I had to focus on the three Lifts, of course, in addition to including various "assistance" work. Like most Powerlifters, I had exercises that I preferred over others. Movements that not only worked for me, but also that I enjoyed doing. What I always found interesting was that all of the lifters at Bruno's Health Club each had their favorite exercises. What was especially interesting was that we practically NEVER agreed on any of them! For instance, my friend and training partner Larry Licandro loved to do Incline Presses with a barbell. He hated regular Bench Presses, but he loved to do Inclines. He often lamented that the Incline Press- and not the Bench Press- should be contested in Powerlifting contests. On the other hand, I never particularly cared for Incline Presses, and never did them during my competition years. I thought they were superfluous when included in a Powerlifting routine.

To make an additional point, Larry had an older brother who dabbled in the sport, but was never a serious lifter. Robert never had an interest in training seriously, but there was one exercise that he absolutely loved to do: The Barbell Pullover. He was able to do heavy weights on this relatively obscure exercise. Robert, a non-lifter who was thirteen years older than Larry, was able to put his younger brother to shame when it came to this one and only exercise. Go figure.

Anyway, at the risk of sounding like a popular former talk-show host, here are some of my favorite exercises. A competitive lifter might label them as "assistance exercises," but I think that they are good enough to stand on their own. You can build a lot of strength by doing just these movements. Anyway, here are a few:

Front Squats. I was never a gifted squatter. I never had natural leverages for doing Back Squats, but I did have the good fortune to train with people who did. I was motivated as well as challenged, to come up with a routine that would allow me to strengthen my lower body which would help add pounds to my competitive Squat. My favorite assistance exercise was the Front Squat. I realize that there are a couple ways of performing this exercise, but my preferred way of doing it was to try to do it the way it is performed by Olympic Lifters. This requires flexible wrists and shoulders. It also requires that you keep your elbows up throughout the movement, otherwise you will lose the bar forward. Yes, it is uncomfortable, especially at first. But if you work on your flexibility, you can make the exercise a bit less taxing on your wrists. I always did Front Squats inside of a Power Rack. I'd set the pins at 36", which would allow me to go slightly parallel. I would pause at the bottom position for one second. This would eliminate bouncing. Then I would try to drive explosively out of the bottom. I would always keep the reps low, usually no more than 5-6 reps and working up to a heavy triple.

Bench Press Lockouts. When it come to the Bench Press, my favorite assistance movement involved the Power Rack. As I mentioned earlier, I was never a big proponent of Incline Presses. I never did them while I competed because I felt that the movement too closely resembles regular Bench Presses. I've always felt that the Bench Press was easy to overtrain. This is especially true for drug-free lifters. Too much Bench Pressing will eventually take a toll on your shoulders.

When it comes to utilizing the Power Rack for Bench Presses, I'd set the pins at a height which was about halfway through the movement. Personally, my weak point was always the lockout. I never had a problem getting the weight off my chest. If I lost a lift, it was during the last several inches to completion. The heavy lockouts were an effective way to improve a weak point, while at the same time overloading my muscles. One thing to note is that I usually scaled back in my regular Benches so as to avoid overtraining.

Good Mornings. When it comes to the Deadlift, I have several favorite exercises that have been effective in strengthening my lower back. I've always felt that since the Deadlift involves so many muscle groups, you can't just stick to one assistance movement. I'll just describe one right now, the Good Morning. Now, before anyone blows a gasket and starts ranting about how dangerous they are, let me explain that I have been doing Good Mornings for years. When I first experimented with the movement, I started slowly. Using moderate weights, and being careful about my form, I did not try to push the poundages until I was sure that I could perform the movement without getting hurt. Good Mornings are not for everyone. If you decide to give them a try, pay close attention and listen to your body. If it doesn't feel right, then discontinue them, and move on to another exercise. What I've always liked about Good Mornings is the fact that they can be used with just about any type of rep scheme. High reps, low reps, and anything in between. I've gone as high as thirty reps, for one all-out set. I've also used heavy weights for sets of 5-6. Again, if you're able to do them, Good Mornings are an excellent exercise.

While I have only listed three exercises here, there, are of course, many other movements that I enjoy doing. That's one good thing about lifting weights for nearly thirty-five years. Years of trial and error will inevitably give anyone a large number of favorite exercises to keep in "your pocket." I'll list more in a future article.

Editor's Note: Great article Jim!

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