Saturday, November 14, 2020

Barbells or Dumbbells - By Jim Duggan

      "For it is only by exercising with heavy weights that any man can hope to develop really great strength.....unless he sedulously carries out barbell and dumbbell exercises, he can never acquire really great physical powers." These words, from George Hackenschmidt in 1908, are as relevant today as they were over one hundred years ago.  To be perfectly honest, however, the very first thing I did when I first came upon this quote was to Google the word "sedulously." It is means diligently, or marked by persistence.  Words that any serious Lifter know all too well.  Interestingly, the importance of barbells and dumbbells was evident back at the turn of the 20th century.  And two decades into the 21st century, their importance is just as apparent today. 

      Recently, I came across an article which asked the question "Are dumbbells or barbells better for building muscle?"  In the article, the author lists the various advantages of each modality before coming to his conclusion.  And while most readers are aware of the benefits of barbells and dumbbells, it's a good idea to review some of the basics.  


    We can use heavy weights on the basic exercises. The so-called compound exercises that will build the most strength and size.  Squats, Bench Presses, Deadlifts, High Pulls, Military Presses.  These movements will build strength fro the entire body.  Experienced Lifters will be able to use heavy weights on the big movements.  Even beginning trainees will aspire to work up to the coveted 300-400-500 standard.  A Bench Press with 300 Lbs, a 400 Lb Squat, and a Deadlift of 500 Lbs are worthy goals for anyone who hoists the Iron.  Naturally ( pun intended) these numbers are geared towards drug-free Lifters.  I have no idea what a steroid-bloated druggie would strive for, nor do I really care. 

     Barbells allow you to do partial reps.  Most experienced trainees recognize the benefits of partial reps and power rack training.  Countless Powerlifters have used partials for the three competitive lifts.  However,  you don't have to be a Powerlifter to benefit from using a power rack.  Any person seeking to increase his/her strength can make enormous gains with a sensible power rack routine.  Incidentally, anyone who is contemplating entering a powerlifting or weightlifting meet must absolutely utilize a barbell.  There is no substitute for the competitive  lifts if you plan on competing.  


     Dumbbells have been around since the very first days of weight training.  The early Strongmen utilized various dumbbells to build a great portion of their strength.  Of course, there are other advantages of using dumbbells other than history.

     Dumbbells can isolate and thereby intensify the muscles being trained.  This will lead to greater gains in size and strength.  Dumbbells also allow for a greater range of motion, which will stimulate greater amounts of muscle fibers and cause an increase in the size of the muscles.  Bigger, stronger muscles.  Size and strength.  Call it what you wish, but most people reading these words all aspire to the same goal.  

     One disadvantage of using dumbbells is that, for the most part, dumbbells usually target the upper body.  There is, however, one notable exception.  Dumbbell Deadlifts.  The first time I experienced doing Dumbbell Deadlifts was at Iron Island Gym.  That should come as no surprise, since it was Dr. Ken Leistner who first wrote about this wonderful exercise in his magazine "The Steel Tip" ( February 1986).  High repetition dumbbell Deadlifts will absolutely punish your body like few other movements.  An all-out set of twenty - or even thirty - reps will leave you sore for days.  The greater range of motion, coupled with the high reps, will stimulate the muscles of your lower back, legs, hips, and grip like nothing else. 

     So, which is better, a Barbell or Dumbbells? In my opinion, it is a question that need not be answered.  In other words, why choose?  I recently watched an interview with one of my favorite strength athletes.  In it, he was asked if he was a "glass half-empty," or "glass half-full" type of person.  The answer he gave was priceless.  "Half-empty or half-full? They're both losers.  Who wants to live with half a glass? Fill the thing up!" 

     In other words,  don't choose between between the two.  Utilize BOTH barbells and dumbbells to build maximum strength. 

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My Undeniable Truths of Weight Training for Beginners - (Part 8) - The Mental Aspect of Training - By RJ Hicks MS CSCS



To be successful in the weight room you have got to be there for the right reason. There is no way around it for long term success. You should enjoy training and have a desire to physically improve the right way. Nobody else can do the work for you, that is why your attitude and mindset are the keys to strength training success.

Champions in the weight room have a burning desire to improve. They have specific goals they are striving for and their training matches this desire. Waltzing into the gym to “just get a good workout” will do little to build great strength. You must be specific in what you want to achieve whether it is to improve by five pounds in the short term or a hundred pounds in the long term. Compete with your current ability and never accept your current level of strength as your final destination.

Once your goal is developed, purposeful planning can take place. Every set of any exercise you do in the gym should have a specific purpose, otherwise you are wasting time. Throw out all of the distractions in your training. The achievement of the set (of an exercise) should be your sole purpose. Like a machine, you must shut off all distractions when you approach the weights. Be present with the task at hand. The only thing on your mind should be to go all out to reach the prescribed goal on each exercise for the day.

Take time to focus before each you begin each set. There should be no talking 20-30 seconds before you pick up any weight. You are not there to socialize; you are there to train! Your mind should be dialed in solely to the task at hand. The music and people in the background should become a dull blur. The next exercise should not matter nor should the performance on the last one.  The only thing you should be focused on is lifting the heaviest weight to meet the goal (repetition range), with good form on the exercise you are currently about to attempt.

Take it rep by rep. Each repetition should be viewed as its own challenge. Too many people try to rush through a set of eight or ten repetitions with sloppy form so they can hurry up to the next set. This is a waste of time and energy. The purpose is to train your muscles with progressively heavier loads as they get stronger, not to finish an arbitrary amount of volume for each exercise. Get the most out of every repetition and every set of exercise you do to maximize your results.

Think about attacking the weights with aggression and hostility. Bob Whelan refers to it as “going postal”. You cannot be timid when lifting the weights and expect to make great results. It is okay to think this way because it is resulting in a positive outcome. Not only are you stronger when you channel all of your anger into lifting, but you are less stressed outside of the weight room. The key to this is control the anger. There is a big different between focusing this energy into the weights and focusing it into yourself. Uncontrolled aggression will waste energy and potentially injury yourself, making it very unproductive. Set your body into proper position before lowering the weights. Be dialed into the proper exercise technique so you can maximize the amount of force you are able to generate to get the weight up. When it is time for the positive (concentric) portion of the lift channel that aggression and hostility to push or pull the weight throughout the fullest range of motion. Once the repetition is finished it is time to reset and repeat.

Although you are attacking the weight with anger, your overall training should all be positive. You must have a positive attitude about yourself and what you are doing to be successful. Many of the old-timers wrote about the power of the mind and the wonderful results it would bring. Picture yourself where you want to be instead of where you currently are. Believe you are big and strong so that one day you will become big and strong. If you go into the weight room thinking you are weak your training will reflect.

Never get hung up on the numbers so much that your workout becomes a negative experience. The goal is to progress in weights, but nobody said it will happen every week. Too many people label their training as a bad workout if they failed to move up in poundage. Training should always be a positive experience. Who cares if it takes a few weeks or months to move up five pounds, that means you are using a heavy enough weight! You are doing everything right if the weights are heavy and you cannot move up that day. Just give your best on each exercise and pat yourself on the back afterwards. There is nothing you can do to turn back the clock, but you can hurt your performance on the next exercise if you are still dwelling on the last one.

Learn to play mind games and use your instincts to avoid mental blocks. Bob always uses the example of himself breaking the 300-pound barrier in the bench press as an example of this. He was stuck at 295 in the bench press and could not lift 5 more pounds, because of a mental barrier he had with benching 300 pounds. After several attempts of failing with 300 he decided to try change the goal to 305 because there would be no pressure if he didn’t make the lift. This was enough change to beat the mental block and the lift was successful. Remember the goal can always change. There are no hard-set rules of having to reach the same repetition goal as long as your training stays progressive. If you are stuck in your training you can lower the repetition goal and add a few pounds to the work set. You can refer back to your notes and decrease the weight, and shoot for beating your best number of repetitions from a few weeks ago. Or you can drop a set to change the goal needed for you to progress in weights. The key is to always strive to do better than what you have done previously. When you learn to trust your instincts, you can attempt a new PR at several different repetition goals just by looking at past attempts and understanding how you are feeling that day.

Read books like the “Magic of Thinking big” over and over until the principles sink in. Use positive self-talk to build your confidence in the weight room and to set the tone for your training. Visualize yourself lifting the weights on each exercise and succeeding, prior to showing up to train. Set high expectations for your results and pursue after them. Do not get hung up on wrist size or bone structure. Never limit your expectations because of what one person’s thoughts and opinions may be. Think of big goals and focus all of your efforts into reaching them. Your mind has to be exercised just as your muscles do if you want to be successful in the weight room.

You can have the best weight training routine and the best equipment in the world, but none of it will make a difference if you do not have the right mental attitude. None of these techniques will work either unless you truly believe they will. Spend the time to train your mind for the gym and in life. Set goals, focus your best efforts towards those goals, build your self-confidence and only worry about what you can control. You might just be surprised how far it takes you.

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