Friday, October 1, 2021

Training Liberation or Wisdom From Bradley Steiner - By Jim Duggan

Over the years, I've written articles based on material obtained from old issues of Strength and Health magazine, usually from the 1930s and 1940s. I've always believed that quality training information is timeless, and that we can all benefit from the wisdom of the past. Naturally, common sense training advice is not limited to a certain period of time. I recently looked through an old issue of Muscular Development from August 1988. What I found interesting about this magazine was that this issue was definitely NOT before my time. Indeed, in 1988 I was 24 years old, and had been competing in Powerlifting for several years. Additionally, by 1988, Bob Hoffman had been dead for several years, and John Grimek had retired. But guess what? There was still useful, pertinent training advice written by some of the most prolific Iron Game authors. A casual glance at the contributing authors of this edition of MD shows names like Dr. Ken Leistner, Jan Dellinger, and Bradley Steiner. Any list of the most talented Iron Game writers off all-time would include these three gentlemen. Incidentally, I would also include "Maximum" Bob Whelan, and Brooks Kubik to this list as well. 

Back to the August 1988 edition of Muscular Development. There is an article titled "The Liberated Trainee," written by Bradley Steiner. Mr. Steiner passed away almost a year ago. He has been rightfully described as one of the greatest strength training writers ever. He always advocated sensible training with an emphasis on hard work, determination, and desire being the keys to success. And he was against the use of steroids and PEDs. Many people claim to be against drugs, but Mr.Steiner actually had the guts to speak out against them. Many people pay lip service to being against steroids, but people like Brad Steiner and Larry "Bruno" Licandro didn't just talk the talk. They walked the walk and fought the scourge of steroids. In this particular article, Mr.Steiner details the challenges faced by the vast majority of trainees. He refers to these people as "hardgainers" but he could very easily be referring to those lifters who are drug-free. He brings up a number of valid points which i would like to share.

"The saddest thing is being a hardgainer and quitting because you feel that it is useless to expect satisfactory gains." If you are a "hardgainer," or if you are drug-free, there is absolutely no reason to quit if gains are coming slowly. You can build impressive size and strength without the use of drugs if you are willing to work hard. In addition to working hard, you must also work smarter. Do not blindly follow follow the routines of the so-called champions. Most, if not all, of these "champions" are steroid-bloated druggies. Learn to listen to your body and learn what works for you. "Hardgainers require very limited programs and carefully controlled schedules of exercises." 

Mr.Steiner hit the nail right on the head with this statement. Training bodyparts, with endless sets on a six-day-per-week program is a sure way to overtraining, burn out, and injury. Many new trainees simply can't believe that you can make great gains by lifting only two, or at most three, days per week. "Start thinking in terms of simple, brief, and intensive workouts." Another solid statement. Squats and Deadlifts are the bedrock upon which the most effective strength-training programs are built. Developing the legs, hips, and lower back will build great all-around strength. In other words, pumping your arms and "pecs" may build showy beach muscles, but it will do little in terms of building overall body piwer. "A hardgainer's program should be built around Squats, Presses, Deadlifts, and Bent-over Rows." Truer words were never spoken. Naturally, you can make substitutions based on leverages, age, past injuries, etc., but if you wish to build strength then you must include some form of Overhead Press, a heavy pulling movement, and leg work. Concentration curls, triceps pushdowns, and other useless exercises simply will not get it done. 

"Do not organize a drawn-out program of training if you are a hardgainer." Another spot-on observation. If you are drug-free your body will not be able to recover from long, drawn-out workouts. A few hard, heavy sets on the basics is all you need to get stronger. If you train at a commercial gym and suggested abbreviated training to the vast thong of pumpers and toners you would probably be considered some sort of weirdo. But you probably walk into the gym, perform a few heavy sets of Deadlifts, Presses, Rows and be finished while the toners are still sitting around and texting their friends. "Don't grind away at any exercise to the point where you're ready for a stretcher." A common sense piece of advice. 

As drug-free Lifters, we only have so much energy to expend in any given workout. Even on a wonderful exercise like the Deadlift, you can reach a point of diminishing returns. Don't do too many sets of any movement, no matter how strong you may feel. "Be sure that heavier weights and not more exercise is your main goal." Heavier weights. Poundage progression. Adding weight to the bar. The key point of progressive resistance training is increasing the resistance. If you're not adding weight to the bar, then performing additional sets will not help. It may even hurt. Poundage progression is the "since qua non" of any strength training program, and don't let anyone tell you differently. "Avoid any tendency to train with any degree of frequency that forbids rest days between hard sessions." This was mentioned before. Give yourself adequate rest between workouts. By rest days, I mean days of NO lifting whatsoever. 

How many rest days between workouts? Again, everyone is different. Some people, due to age, work sschedule, etc., require more rest than others. Listen to your body. Nobody knows you like you do. If you haven't sufficiently recovered from your last workout, give yourself an extra day it two. Your body will thank you. " Discouragement is your worst enemy." If you love to lift, then it will be easy to maintain your enthusiasm. Many hardgainers have been able to develop great strength. You can too. Don't allow the occasional bad workout to deter you from achieving your goals. There is one other point that Mr. Steiner mentions throughout the article, and I will conclude this aarticle with his words regarding steroids" "Never use them!"
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Thursday, September 23, 2021

New Remote Training Products and Prices! - By Bob Whelan

Check-out the new options and prices for remote training and consultations! Scroll to the bottom of the landing page.  CLICK HERE FOR INFO  

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Monday, September 13, 2021

A Tribute Workout - By Jim Duggan

Every year, as the Summer winds down, most people look forward to the upcoming Autumn season. The end of August usually brings the anticipation of Labor Day along with the accompanying return to school, work, and Fall weather. However, for members of the Fire Service and especially for members of the NY City Fire Dept., it can be a difficult and challenging time. The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks bring feelings of dread and sadness as we remember the nearly 3,000 Americans murdered on that tragic day, including 23 NYPD Officers, 37 PAPD Officers, and of course the 343 members of the FDNY who made the supreme sacrifice. 

Any anniversary of a significant event causes us to reflect more than usual. "Where were we when it happened?" is a question we often ask ourselves. Time marches on, as it always does. Memories fade, as they sometimes do, which, in a way is a good thing. If we had to live with the acute pain of every past historical event that ever happened, it would be a depressing existence. But as we look past the pain and sadness, we remember the bravery, dedication and sacrifice of those we lost twenty years ago.
Every year, throughout the country, there are tributes, memorials, and ceremonies to mark the anniversary and renew our promise that "We will never forget!" There are also memorial events of a physical nature- 5k runs to honor the memory of Firefighter Steven Siller who, in full firefighting gear, ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel that day to join his unit where he lost his life while saving others. There also memorial Stair Climbs to honor the hundreds of firefighters who ascended the stairs of both towers in an attempt to save as many trapped victims as possible. 

This year, a few days before the anniversary, I decided to honor the memory of my fellow firefighters who were lost that day, with a physical challenge. I've never been much of a runner ( if I were a car, you might say I was build for comfort, not speed), and since I no longer belong to a commercial gym, I no longer have access to a Stairmaster. I decided that a Deadlift Challenge would be the most appropriate means of honoring the 343 fallen heroes, especially considering my love for all things strength-related. I came up with a very simple, yet brutal, workout challenge: 343 Lbs. for 107 reps in one hour, using my special 2" thick-handled Trap Bar. The number "343" naturally represents the 343 FDNY members who were lost that day. The number "107" represents the company I was assigned to twenty years ago, Ladder Co. 107, in East New York, Brooklyn. I decided to complete my "workout" on Friday, September 10, since I would be at various remembrance ceremonies the following day. On the morning of the workout, I decided to weigh myself, and my bodyweight was 231 Lbs., which is significant since my current assignment is Engine Co. 231, in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Talk about coincidence. 

For the last month or so, I have been doing kettlebell deadlifts with the goal of reaching 107 reps in as short amount of time as possible. I was introduced to this type of training by my good friend and fellow strength fanatic, Steve Weiner, and I've found it to be intense, and effective. A week before, I did 107 reps with two 144 Lb. kettlebells in 36 minutes, while standing on a two-inch block. However, 343 Lbs on a thick-handled trap bar would be a different story. On Friday, September 10th, at 2PM, I began my workout. I began with several singles, to warm up, and then I did sets of five until I hit 25 reps. At that point, I switched to triples, so that I wouldn't expend too much energy on each set. I kept going at a fairly regular pace until I hit 85. It was at this time that I noticed that I had torn a callus on one of my fingers. Thank you, thick-handled trap bar! I also knew that there was NO way I was going to let that stop me. From 85 onward, I alternated between triples and doubles until I reached my goal of 107 reps. Upon completing my final rep, I checked the time and was slightly disappointed that it had taken me slightly over an hour to complete my workout. I say "slightly" because I was happy that I was able to get through what turned out to be as grueling a workout as I can remember. To say I was sore the next day would be the understatement of the year. My entire body felt as if I had been run over by a truck. At our firehouse remembrance ceremony the following day, each time I performed a hand salute was a new adventure in soreness, as my entire body was aching. But I'm glad I did it. I would like to conclude this article by remembering those we lost twenty years ago. May we never forget. May we also never forget the men and women of our armed Forces who serve and protect our great nation.
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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Remember the Goal of Strength Training - By RJ Hicks MS, CSCS

The goal of strength training is to train progressively with the most weight you can in perfect form. The weight must be challenging for you, depending on your specific repetition goal. When the weight is no longer heavy you add a little weight to keep the total weight challenging for you to lift. It is so simple, but misunderstood by many.

The only competition in the gym is between the lifter's past performance and their next performance. Each workout is a competition where the lifter strives to improve how much weight they are able to lift. It doesn’t matter what other lifters in the gym are doing, world records that have been achieved or what is displayed on social media. All that matters in strength training is whether or not a lifter is able to add weight to the barbell or machine they are handling over time.

However, nobody said you add weight every time you train or at all, unless you are physically able to in good form when the goal is reached. You cannot just add five pounds each workout. It is unrealistic for the body to be able to adapt to this long term. If it was possible everyone would be benching over five hundred pounds after a few years of training.

Poundage progression is based off of your individual performance not based off of time. You can only add weight when you earn it, by surpassing the training goal for each specific lift. Training with long cycles doesn’t make sense if you are a natural trainee. You cannot pre-plan when to add weight unless you are starting so light in weight that you waste most of the year training sub maximally. Drug users can pre-plan poundage progress, because the training cycles work in conjunction with the amount and type of anabolic drugs they are taking.

The key for natural trainees is to strive for poundage progression. Do the best you can, handling the heaviest weight you can for the proper repetition range. You may hit seven repetitions two weeks in a row, six the next week and seven the fourth, but it doesn’t matter. Pat yourself on the back if you gave it your best effort and move on to the next set or the next exercise.  As long as you are TRYING to continue to lift more weight you are doing everything you can to get stronger. Eventually you will surpass seven repetitions if you stay with the weight and continue to train hard, eat the proper nutrition and take plenty of rest.

Where many beginners go wrong is they get attached to a certain repetition range or scheme and allow themselves to become negative when they reach a sticking point in their training progression. There is no magic behind any repetition scheme, whether it is straight sets, descending sets, single sets etc. They are all just systems that guide poundage progression in your training. Once you are able to surpass the goal of the repetition scheme you know to add weight. You use the repetition scheme to assist you in the goal of adding weight, but the specific repetition scheme is NOT the overall goal of training.

If you keep missing your goal with the same weight, it has a negative effect on your confidence and mood. You can start to expect to miss your lifts with a certain weight and fall into a sticking point. Strength training requires struggling with weights, but it shouldn’t become negative. Never let yourself get crushed by the same weight more than two or three times in a row without making a change. Most training plateaus are more mental than physical.

If you’re training with higher repetitions to failure, change the poundage and goal for the sets. Instead of training doing twenty repetition squats all the time, switch it up and train in the ten to twelve repetitions range for a few months. If you are training with three sets for a specific exercise, drop one of the sets or only judge your performance on the first set. This will get your mind set on a new goal and let you forget the past failures. Your mind will begin to focus on working to constantly improve instead of focusing on a specific number.

Bob Whelan coined this style of training “Common Sense Periodization” years ago as an alternate method to the popular long periodization training cycles that some of the top certification like to promote. Bob suggests every few months adjusting the equipment type, repetition ranges and or the exercise to keep things fresh. It is all dependent on how you feel and not written in stone. If you are on a roll and not burned out with your current training, continue to ride the wave. If you are stalled out and need a change of pace, switch things up responsibly. There will still be linear progression because the basic exercises and principles of strength training never change.

Poundage progression all comes down to using your own judgement when to move up on weights. If you are straining to meet the goal, stay with that weight until you exceed it. If you have a psychological issue on a specific lift change the repetition goal or repetition speed so you don’t feel negative on your performance. There is no specific rule on what system of poundage progression you use, only that you strive to improve on whatever system you train with. In the end, you are only competing against yourself. Strive to set new PRs for different repetition goals if you are stuck on a specific one.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Finnish Deadlift Routine - With A Twist - By Jim Duggan

When I began powerlifting, in the 1980s, the primary source of information was Powerlifting USA magazine. Contest results, training articles, upcoming events, and anything related to powerlifting were covered in each issue. As I've often mentioned, Dr. Ken's column "More From Ken Leistner" was one of my favorite features of the magazine. Even before I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Ken, I was a fan of his writing. Another popular feature was the "Workout Of The Month." As the name implies, it was a monthly routine described in great detail, right down to the sets, reps, and poundages. It was usually written by one of the "big name" lifters of the day. The implication was that by following a champion's workout routine, you too can build great strength and increase your lifts. All you had to do was wait for each issue to arrive in the mail. 

Fortunately, today we do not have to wait a month to obtain training information. Training routines are just a click away. Unfortunately, a lot of the information that is so readily accessible is also useless, particularly for drug-free lifters. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate between what is quality lifting information and what is not, especially for newer trainees. Let's face it, there is a lot of misinformation out there. However, we are lucky in that there is also more than enough timeless information that is worth its weight in gold. 

One particular nugget that has been around for a long time is the "Finnish Deadlift Routine." Originally published in PL/USA during the Summer of 1981, it was reprinted several years later, and has been discussed and debated by many authors, discussion boards, and forums over the years. I am going to discuss my experience with this routine and offer my opinion as well as apply it to the training of a drug-free lifter. The original Finnish Deadlift Routine was written by Jaska Parviainen. A quick search will reveal that he has written a few strength articles, and introduced a number of ideas to the lifting world. Now, to break down the routine. The routine is comprised of three cycles for a total of twenty weeks. Deadlifts are performed twice per week. 

The first cycle is seven weeks long, and requires the lifter to perform stiff-leg Deadlifts off a 5" block (what we refer to as "deficit Deadlifts today). In other words, you will not do standard Deadlifts at all for the first seven weeks, only stiff-leg Deadlifts for sets of ten repetitions. The second cycle is also for seven weeks, and like the first cycle, you will be lifting off a 5" block. However, during this second cycle you will be doing regular Deadlifts, using your legs, this time for sets of five repetitions. The third and final cycle is for six weeks, and will have the lifter performing regular Deadlifts only this time off the floor for various repetitions. 

Poundages are determined as a result of percentages of your one-rep max at the beginning of the program. The routine boasts of some impressive gains for those who follow through and complete the program. As you can see from reading the program, an increase of up to 50 pounds can be expected. Along with the increase in strength, there will be an accompanying increase in size and muscle. The exact phrase the author uses is "back musculature worth bragging about." If bragging is your thing, then you're in business! At the beginning off the year, I decided to give the routine a try. Over the years, I've attempted to follow the Finnish Deadlift Routine but never followed through the entire three cycles. This year, I decided I was going to make it through the whole program, but with a twist: Instead of doing Deadlifts with a barbell, I was going to use a Trap-bar, but not just any Trap-bar but my thick-handled trap bar, which I purchased several years ago. 

Now, I would like to explain some very important observations that I've made after completing the routine. The first and most important point I'd like to make is that deadlifting twice per week is definitely too much work for a drug-free lifter. There is simply too much volume for a natural lifter to make gains on the routine. This is especially true when you consider that other heavy movements are usually performed in a lifter's overall program. What I did to adapt this routine to my needs was to simply eliminate the "lighter" of the two deadlift days. I would simply do the heavy day once per week. Sometimes, because of my work schedule ( rotating shifts) I would deadlift once every eight days. Later in the program, during the final cycle, I would give myself extra days of rest between Deadlift sessions. I cannot emphasize this enough. Drug-free lifters cannot blindly follow advanced routines that were developed for lifters that are not natural. However, there is no reason why a drug-free lifter can't improvise, and make it work for him/her. A little imagination, some trial and error, and a lot of hard work can overcome a lot of barriers. The second point I'd like to make is some people may have never done trap-bar Deadlifts off a 5" block. This is not a problem. Like any new movement, go slowly at first and perform the movcement in good form. The first cycle calls for stiff-leg Deadlifts. If you have never done stiff-leg Deadlifts with a trap-bar, then begin slowly. 

Good form is imperative, and the routine calls for NOT placing the bar on the floor between reps. The continuous tension between reps makes it easier to concentrate on maintaining good form. I've always enjoyed pulling off a block, and using a trap bar was a minor adjustment. I found that the sets of ten were a nice way to break into the program. It will make you hungry for the heavy stuff that will come later. And, trust me, it will get heavy. When the time came to begin pulling from the floor, it took a while to get comfortable. After nearly four months of pulling off a block, that is to be expected. But the biggest twist I made to the routine took place during the final cycle. 

Sometimes I would take 12-14 days between deadlift sessions. I simply listened to my body, and didn't attempt to lift unless I felt recovered from the last workout. The biggest mistake a drug-free lifter can make is not allowing for sufficient recovery between workouts. As for the auxiliary exercises, I decided to stick to One-Arm DB Rows and Bent-over Rows. I did not do the pull-ups or hyperextensions like the routine called for simply because I do not have a chin-up bar or hyperextension bench. If you have those pieces of equipment, I would only advise you to chose one or the other. Sometimes less is more when it comes to getting stronger and recovering between workouts. 

One thing I did do during the final cycle was to substitute Good Mornings for the Rowing movements. I've always enjoyed doing Good Mornings and have always felt that they are a super strength building exercise. Again, if they are for you then do them. Listen to your body. As I mentioned before, I utilized a thick-handled trap bar for this routine. I've always enjoyed using thick-handled barbells and dumbbells. Yet another benefit from following Dr. Ken. Naturally, the 2" handles will make it more difficult than using a regular bar, but when it comes to getting stronger, whatever is harder is better. I completed the final cycle on July 1st, nearly 25 weeks after I began. That day I pulled an easy 515 Lbs, in good form. I'm sure I could have pulled another 10-15 pounds, but I've always been conservative when it comes to poundage progression, and now that I'm 57 years old I see no reason to change. Besides, I plan on using this routine again and I want to stay hungry. The Finnish Deadlift Routine is an excellent way to build strength and increase your Deadlift if you're willing to be creative and work hard.
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Friday, July 23, 2021

Getting Older and Stronger - By Jim Duggan

"Strength training should always be fun, but more so as one gets older." These words were written by Dr. Ken Leistner in the June 1992 issue of Hardgainer magazine. He was responding to a reader's question in his "Asking Dr. Ken" column, which was one of the first things I would read when the latest issue of Hardgainer would arrive in the mail. I felt then that he was one of the most prolific writers and authorities in the Iron Game, and I have not wavered in that opinion, even though that particular article was written nearly thirty years ago. The subject of the reader's question back then concerned the training of older athletes. Back in 1992, I was twenty-eight years old, and I was not particularly interested in how an athlete in his/her fifties should be training. Just as I'm sure younger readers will not be overly excited about what I'm about to discuss. But, in life as in lifting, things change. Three days ago, I turned 57 years old. I'm two years older than the reader who wrote to Dr. Ken back in 1992. To put it another way, I am now the same age as John McCallum's famous "Uncle Harry" from his "Keys To Progress" series of articles which appeared in Strength and Health magazine back in the 1960s. 

Back in the day, Uncle Harry was always in search of ways to find the "fountain of youth," and while such a thing might not exist, there is absolutely no reason - or excuse- for not working out as one gets older. Each year, I try to complete a "Birthday Challenge" as a way to set a goal and work to achieve what I set out to do. Last year, the biggest challenge was the 100 degree heat and oppressive humidity. This year, it was a torrential rainstorm accompanied by thunder and lightning which forced me to experience a "rain delay" about thirty minutes into my workout. But I was not going to let the weather- or anything else- stop me. 

This year, as in past years, I was going to start with my 180 Lb. Atlas Stone. Lifting it from the ground to the shoulder is one of my favorite exercises. Talk about a compound movement. It hits almost every muscle of the body. For high reps, it will leave you feeling beat up, and sore all over. The hardest part of doing this was the fact that the heavy rains thoroughly soaked the lawn, making it extremely difficult to grip and hold the stone. I literally had to dry my hands and chalk my fingers every two reps or so.
Naturally, this slowed down my pace a bit, but I was just happy that the rain stopped and that I was able to complete all 58 reps ( one rep for each year, plus an extra rep for good luck). My second movement, and one of my favorites, is the One-Arm Dumbbell Press with my Sorinex Bosco Bell. This thick-handled dumbbell can be loaded with steel shot, sand, BBs, etc. in order to adjust the poundage. For the last couple of years, I've added a pound of steel shot on my birthday to bring the weight up to equal my birthday. Naturally, this year's version of my "Birthday Bell" weighed in at 57 pounds, and once again my goal was 58 reps. Incidentally, I'm fully aware that as I get older, I will eventually run out of steel shot, or it may simply become too heavy, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it! Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy this excellent exercise for as long as I can. 

 The last two movements of the day were performed with my 100 Lb. Anvil. Over the years, I've accumulated a total of nine anvils ranging in weight from 50-205 Lbs.. They really are an excellent exercise modality, and can be used for a variety of movements. The two movements I used are the Anvil Curl, and then Neck Extensions with my headstrap. The anvil curls were done in rather strict form. In the past, I've used a heavier anvil, but with larger anvils, the thickness of the horn and heel make it difficult to grip. And, with wet conditions, I did not want to take a chance dropping it on my foot. I can say this from personal experience, having an anvil fall on your foot is something you want to avoid. Ouch! After the Anvil Curls, I took out my Ironmind Headstrap and did 58 reps over spaced over two sets. I was pretty much torched by this point, but I wanted to end on a positive note, and strengthening your neck is something that will have positive benefits for any athlete in any field of endeavor.

Unfortunately, many strength athletes neglect neck work. Don't make that mistake. A small amount of time devoted to neck work is an excellent investment in your overall health and well-being. At the conclusion of this year's challenge, I felt as though I had been run over and dragged by a truck. But the satisfaction in achieving a goal makes up for the soreness. Afterall, we've all experienced soreness, and we all know that no matter how sore you are after a workout, it always goes away. Eventually. There is one more quote from Dr. Ken that I would like to conclude with: "The enjoyment and satisfaction that comes with training is in great part due to the results one gets from that training, and the results come from the basic, multi-joint movements. Train consistently, and enjoyably, and productively."
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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Now Accepting New Remote Clients - By Bob Whelan

For over a year I have not been accepting new remote clients. 
I now have openings. Click on GET COACHING at top of page. 
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Friday, July 9, 2021

A Simple, Effective Workout - By Jim Duggan

Over the years, I've tried just about every workout program under the sun. I'm no different than most other lifters in that regard. Books, magazines, "word of mouth" were just some of the sources of training information. Then came the internet, and an already large pool of information grew beyond our wildest dreams. Throw in the proliferation of videos that are out there- with the requisite keyboard experts- and you'll discover that when it comes to workouts, there is a limitless supply to meet an equally limitless demand. 

When I first began lifting weights, the most popular source of training information was the various "muscle magazines." Each month, I would read the various magazines and try to absorb as much as I could. When you're fifteen years old, it's difficult to separate fact from fiction, and truth from fallacy. Naturally, as we get older and gain more experience, it becomes easier to differentiate between common sense and bull. And as we all learn at some point, common sense isn't always very common. When I began competing in powerlifting, I subscribed to Powerlifting USA magazine, like most Lifters did. There were two features of that magazine that I looked forward to each month. The first was the "Workout of the Month." Each month, a well known lifter would publish a detailed workout geared to an individual lift. The lifter/author would give a step-by-step and rep-by-rep description of his/her training. There was one very big drawback to these "workouts." If you were a drug-free lifter, you simply could not expect to follow the routine of someone who was not "clean." That statement was true back then, and it is true today. I can't make it any more clear than that. A drug-free athlete simply will not be able to train like a steroid user and make gains without risking overtraining and injury. Unless, of course, you make adjustments for volume, recovery, etc.. 

The second main feature of PL/USA, and my particular favorite, was Dr. Ken's column "More from Ken Leistner." I began reading his column in the 1980s. I always felt that his articles were straightforward and contained an abundance of common sense information. His monthly column in "Muscular Development" magazine were equally informative, as well as entertaining. I devoured anything written by him that I was able to get my hands on. When I joined Iron Island Gym, in the Winter of 1992, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Ken. As I've often stated, Iron Island was the finest training facility I've ever seen. It was a lifter's paradise. Dr. Ken was a remarkable man for whom I have a great deal of respect. And even though he passed away two years ago, I will always cherish my brief association with Dr. Ken. My only regret is that I didn't get to know him better. 

During my years at Iron Island, Dr. Ken treated my the same way he treated other lifters, which is to say, generously. I still have a stack of "Hardgainer" and "The Steel Tip" magazines which he gave me years ago. His monthly "Question and Answer" column in "Hardgainer" was one of my favorite features of that great magazine. Incidentally, as "Maximum" Bob Whelan has mentioned in a previous article, "Hardgainer" is back in business. If you haven't already done so, check it out. Anyway, the simple, effective workout that follows was written for me by Dr. Ken back in 1993. I was preparing for the Kell Classic Deadlift contest and had asked him for some training ideas. Here is the program he laid out for me: Day One. Deadlift 1x5, 1x5, 1x2, 1x1 Trap Bar Deadlift 1x15 Kell Horizontal Row 1x10, 1x6 ( Kell made a Row machine. Bent-over rows can be substituted.) DB Shrug 1x12, 1x10 ( Iron Island had DBs up to 200 Lbs!) Thick Bar Curl 1x8, 1x6 Day Two. Squat Warm-up, 1x10 Assistance work as necessary. I would usually alternate Good Mornings, Weighted Hyperextensions, and an Upper-body movement. As you can see, in terms of workouts, it's as basic as they come. I followed the workout pretty strictly, and didn't deviate from it with the exception of adding some auxiliary work on the second training day, as mentioned above. The most important thing to point out, is that I did not add training days. Two days were more than enough work. It may seem strange to some people that you can build strength by lifting only twice per week, but it is absolutely true. One salient point that Dr. Ken would always bring up was that you can train hard, or you can train long. But you can't do both. Truer words were never spoken. I'm proud to say that Dr. Ken's program, written on a piece of legal paper seen below, helped me to pull an easy 312.5 kg Deadlift on the day of the meet. Basic workouts have been a staple of my training for many years, and I am grateful to people like Larry"Bruno" Licandro, and Dr. Ken Leistner for being positive influences on my training. Influences that have endured over the years. Give this workout a try for a couple months. I think you'll be happy with the results.
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Monday, June 14, 2021

Side Bends: An Underrated Exercise - By Jim Duggan

Squats, Bench Presses, Deadlifts, Bent-over Rows, Overhead Presses. When people talk about the basics, it doesn't get any more basic than these five movements. Anyone who wants to get bigger and stronger realizes that these movements are the core exercises of any sensible training program. You simply cannot build strength without devoting a significant amount of time and effort to these fabulous exercises. Many powerlifters will also include a number of "assistance" exercises. These are exercises designed to strengthen, or "assist" a particular lift. Leg Extensions, while not a basic exercise, will strengthen one's Squat, just as close-grip bench presses will assist in strengthening one's Bench Press. Basically ( no pun intended) smaller exercises will assist in improving the big exercises. This is a formula which has been used by many lifters over the years.

Notice that I said "many" lifters because not everyone has embraced the idea of performing assistance or accessory exercises. Hugh Cassidy, former world champion super-heavyweight powerlifter, eschewed assistance exercises for the most part. His workouts consisted primarily of the three competitive lifts. Also Larry "Bruno" Licandro would go months at a time doing nothing but Squats, Bench Presses, and Deadlifts. There are also lifters who would do assistance exercises for several months during the "off-season," or when there were no contests on the horizon. So, when it comes to assistance work, there are many differing opinions as to the effectiveness of supplementary exercises.

If you are one of those people who believe in the value of certain assistance movements, there is one exercise in particular that would be an invaluable addition to anyone's training regimen. Powerlifters, Strongmen, or anyone who desires "main strength" can benefit from including Side Bends in their workout program.

The movement itself is very simple. Hold a dumbbell ( or kettlebell, CMB,etc.) in one hand while standing with the feet either close together, or shoulder-width apart. Now, simply bend sideways at the waist. Keep your knees straight. All the bending is done by the waist. Do not sacrifice good form in order to handle more weight. In other words, do the movement smoothly, without any sudden, or jerky movements. Do the exercise under control. If you're holding the weight in your right hand, then you will be bending to your right side as far as possible. Return to the starting position, but do not go past it. In other words, don't over-exaggerate the movement. Even though you are holding the weight in your right hand, it is the muscles on your left side which will be doing the work. You can do anywhere from 10-30 repetitions. After you complete the required number of reps on one side, simply switch hands and do the opposite side.

Don't try to use so much weight that you start "bouncing." Also, do not try to alter the movement by placing a barbell on your shoulders, or by using a dumbbell in each hand. If you hold a weight in each hand, then you will negate the effectiveness of the exercise.

One can readily surmise that Side Bends will strengthen the entire torso. This will lead to greater stability when squatting, deadlifting, or carrying heavy weights. Think of the benefit a competitive strongman can derive from this great exercise. But it's not only athletes who can benefit from doing Side Bends. Strong, well developed obliques will help anyone who has to carry heavy objects on their shoulders, or carry a weight in one hand. If more people strengthened their backs and torsos from Side Bends then there would be no need for luggage with wheels. Think about it: What would the early 20th century Strongmen think of a man who can't carry his own suitcase? Leave the wheeled luggage for the toners and pumpers.

Incidentally, do not buy into the old wife's tale that says that Side Bends will "thicken your waist." Who cares? If you have been doing heavy Deadlifts and rows, your waist will naturally be thicker due to the increased muscle in your lower back. Let the pumpers and other "mirror athletes" worry about obtaining a wasp waist. If you strengthen and develop your obliques, then you will be stronger and look more impressive than someone who simply seeks a tiny waist for the sake of appearances. I could never understand why anyone would want to be "all show, and no go." Don't fall into that trap. Strive to strengthen ALL parts of your body. And Side Bends will help strengthen and stabilize your body for heavy lifting. Don't neglect this excellent- if underrated- exercise.
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Saturday, May 8, 2021

High Intensity Strength Training for Wrestlers - By RJ Hicks MS CSCS

I was fortunate enough to experience training at a high intensity “strength” training studio when I was wrestling in high school.  I add the word “strength” to high intensity training because everything was focused around training progressively, not just training to failure, rolling around puking on the floor. Both of my wrestling coaches doubled as strength coaches at the gym and were excited to get the team in there to train during the off season. The gym was tucked away on the back side of a several small businesses and had two large garage doors that would be lifted up every time we arrived.

The gym was filled with tons of high quality strength training equipment. Medx, nautilus and original hammer pieces flooded the gym floors. There were over 30 pieces of equipment of all different brands and colors packed away like a Swiss Army knife with plenty of motivational pictures and quotes covering the walls. What I like best about this high intensity training gym was the fact that they still had plenty of free weights, farmer carrying bars and sandbags to mix into the training. It was a completely different training atmosphere from the traditional bench press stations and squat racks that I was use to training with at the high school and we were all excited to training there.

We trained twice a week after school during the off-season. Each workout varied in exercises, but followed a similar format as a bases of training. We would do an upper body pull, upper body push, lower body movement followed by a different series of upper body pull, upper body push, and lower body movement. Isolation movements, manual resistance, bodyweight exercises and strongman implements would be sprinkled in throughout the workout to complement all of the compound movements. It was a simple way of devising routines and allowed for a ton of variety, but devastating to all of us. No one ever left wishing they had done more.

Every set was in your face coaching until you hit your best effort on each exercise. There were no do-over or repeated sets to make up for, it was a now or never mentality every exercise we approached. Technique for the first time ever was heavily enforced on every repetition. It was demanded that you allow the muscles being trained to lift and lower the weight through the fullest range of motion. It was also the first time I trained where there was no sitting around between exercises. All of us paired up in twos and would follow a “you go I go” format. One athlete would coach, while the second athlete would lift. Roles would reverse between moving on to the next exercise. We each carried a notebook and recorded the exercise sequence, weight used and the repetitions completed. This would allow us to always keep track of our progression and act as an accountability tool.

Each workout would start off with a dynamic warm up and six 60 yard relay sprints outside in the front parking lot. We would partner up and race down and back each sprint to get the most out of each bout. After the running was done we would grab water and move inside to complete three exercises in a row. We’d hit a vertical/horizontal upper body pull, vertical/ horizontal upper body push and a compound lower body movement  for one all-out set of the heaviest weight we could handle for the target repetition range. Then we would move to an abdominal movement or 4 way neck for some built in recovery, without truly resting. It would be back to another similar three/four exercises in a vertical/horizontal upper body pull, vertical/ horizontal upper body and an isolation lower body combo (i.e leg curl and a leg extension) to cover additional planes of motion. At any point after a compound exercise we could follow up with exercises like shrugs, curls or lateral raises. And on the rare occasion we would substitute the lower body isolation movements for the hammer one legged deadlift to really drive up the intensity of the workout. Just like the first series, we would follow up the second lower body exercise(s) with another ab/lower back movement and some sort of challenge/finisher. Some days we would finish with farmer carries/sand bags, and or wrist rollers for the hands and forearms, other times we would perform chin ups/dips and or pushups at an extreme slow cadence for added torture (30 seconds up/30 seconds down or a 10/10 cadence for push-ups).

The amount of flexibility in the training allowed us to train eight to ten athletes at a time with full supervision. Each pairing could start anywhere in the sequence and never overlap or wait on a piece of equipment to become available. Poundage progression and good form were able to be prioritized in our training, because of the sequencing of exercises. We always used a push/pull format and followed less taxing exercises i.e. calf raises, 4 way neck, mid-section exercises with more demanding exercises for the lower body (squats, leg presses, and deadlifts) to maximize the amount of quality work in the shortest amount of time. This allowed us to be at our strongest during each exercise and not force us to go down from too much metabolic demand all at once.

I think the most valuable thing we got from this training that every athlete could benefit from was the clear distinction between strength training to build are bodies stronger and more resilient then going to practice to take our stronger and more resilient bodies to become better wrestlers.  Never once did we try to mimic sports specific movements underload in the weight. Nor did we waste precious lifting time trying to build explosiveness and speed (something genetically inherited) by performing quick lifts or plyometrics. Strength training is a completely separate activity from wrestling and our coaches did a great job of making that clear. They strength trained our whole bodies hard and progressively and never tried to turn weight training into something it was not. My advice to athletes and non-athletes alike is to keep the fads/gimmicks out of your training like we did and just train for STRENGTH!

Example routines:

Pulldown                                                    military press

Chest press                                                chin up

Bicep curl                                                    shrug 

Leg press                                                     squat machine

4 way neck                                                  ab movement

Seated row                                                  dumbbell row

Military press                                              decline press

Leg curl/leg extension                               Add/abd

Lower back                                                  calf movement

60 second chin up/dip                               farmer carries

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Saturday, May 1, 2021

Two Great Exercises To Build A Powerful Back - By Jim Duggan

      The importance of a strong, powerful back should be obvious to anyone who lifts weights.  Powerlifters and Olympic Lifters have always known about the need to maximize their back strength.  Over the years, many legendary lifters have demonstrated amazing power, and hoisted incredible poundages.  Record-breaking Snatches, Clean and Jerks, and Deadlifts are testimony to the benefits of devoting a great deal of time and effort towards working the back hard, heavy, and regularly.  Even if you are not a competitive lifter, nobody wants to have a weak back.  

     Most people who lift weights include some form of Deadlifting in their workout programs.  Regular (conventional) Deadlifts, Stiff-Leg, Trap Bar, or even Dumbbell Deadlifts are all effective exercises for building a strong back.  Likewise, there are numerous movements used by Olympic Lifters to assist them in increasing their pulling power.  Most of us who have trained for any length of time have tried a variety of exercises in our quest for back strength.  We've all "paid our dues," and then some. 

     However, I would like to discuss two great exercises that some people may not have tried, even though these movements are familiar to just about everyone who has ever "hoisted the steel."  They may not be seen on a regular basis in most commercial gyms, but they are highly effective in building great strength.  

     1)  Good Mornings.  This is a great exercise for increasing power throughout your entire back, particularly the lower back.  Since a powerful lower back is critical for lifting heavy poundages, it is a great assistance movement for the Deadlift, as well as an excellent movement for assisting the Olympic lifts.  It may possibly be the best exercise for strengthening the lower back.  It is also one of the most demanding movements that you'll ever perform.  

     Many arm-chair experts and keyboard warriors will tell you that Good Mornings are dangerous, or "bad for you."  This is not true.  I don't believe any exercise is dangerous, however I do believe that not all exercises are compatible with all people who train.  If you have lower back issues then you should be especially careful if you have never done Good Mornings before.  The best way for anyone to do them is to begin with light weights and gradually work up to heavier poundages.  If you do not experience any back pain, then you can consider working up to heavier weights.  I have been doing Good Mornings for decades, and I have never hurt my back doing them.  I have done them for sets of 20 reps with lighter weights, and I've worked up to 315 Lbs. for sets of five reps.  I've never experienced any problems, however it is up to each individual to determine what is best for him/her.  You must listen to your body and find out what works for you, and what doesn't. Always listen to your body.

     To perform Good Mornings, set your feet at about shoulder width.  Make sure the bar is tight on your traps.  You do not want the bar moving, or rolling on your neck.  Make sure the bar is held solidly and does not move.  The next important thing to remember is to keep your knees slightly bent.  Never do this exercise with locked knees.  Keep your body tight, bend forward while looking straight ahead.  Try to imagine pushing your feet through the floor while trying to touch your chest to your thighs, even if you can't actually go down that far.  Always do the movement in a slow, controlled manner. Do not bounce!  As far as the number of repetitions, you can vary the reps in different workouts.  On lighter days, you can do several sets of 8-10 reps, and on your heavy days you can shoot for five sets of five.  Like most movements, if you train hard, progressively, and safely, you will make impressive gains that will translate into gains in your Deadlift and other pulling movements.

     2)   Stone Lifting.  Lifting stones, particularly Atlas Stones, is an activity that will be familiar to anyone who has an interest in competitive Strongman contests.  They are a popular event- both for the participants as well as the spectators.  But lifting stones has also evolved into a tremendous exercise.  This is another demanding movement that will tax your entire body.  This is definitely NOT an isolation exercise.  After an intense stone session, you will feel as if you have been hit by a truck.  In other words, this is not an exercise for pumpers, toners, or those who want to get "shredded."

     Naturally, you will have to have access to stones to derive the benefits of this great exercise, but the good news is that stones are available. Some commercial gyms have even tried to "jump on the bandwagon" and now have stones available for their members.  Even if your gym does not have stones, there are still places from which you can order them.  I have five stones ranging in size from 140 Lbs. up to 300 Lbs.. 

     There are two popular movements you can do with stones.  Most of the time, I will lift the stone from the ground and stand up with it and then lift the stone to my shoulder.  Getting into the starting position will be uncomfortable, and you will definitely be pulling with your back.  "Lift with your legs" is definitely sound advice, but when it comes to lifting stones off the ground, the back most assuredly comes into play. Your form may not be pretty, but you will utilize most of the muscles in your body.  Your legs and hips will definitely get a workout as you attempt to get a heavy stone to your chest. And, yes, momentum will help get the stone to your shoulder.

      You can also lift the stone from the ground with the goal of placing it in your lap and standing up with it while holding it against your chest.  In most Strongman contests, the stones get lifted from the ground and placed on a platform, or a "plinth."  If you have access to such equipment, then this is an excellent movement.  Recently, I had a dead tree removed from my backyard. I asked the arborist to leave a stump of about four feet in height.  At first he wondered why no would want a four foot stump remaining until he saw the stones in my yard. I now have a perfect plinth for stone lifting!

     As for incorporating stones into your workouts, they make for an excellent "finisher." You can set a goal to shoot for in a set amount of time, or simply try to get as many reps as possible regardless of time.  There are just two pieces of advice, or more accurately two warnings. First, do not use a belt when lifting stones.  Second, do not use tacky or any other grip adhesive to help hold on to the stones.  If you're having trouble holding the stones, then work on your grip.  Real men (and women) do not use tacky!


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Friday, April 16, 2021


Great News! Hardgainer magazine is back as a monthly in digital format! It now goes by the name HARDGAINER 2.0.  I wrote for the original Hardgainer from 1994 to 2004 and I'm back. I will be a regular writer for Stuart again. For more information and to sign-up go to

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

Enthusiasm - By Jim Duggan

           " If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm."   

     The above quote is from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.  While he was not referring to lifting weights, as we will see, enthusiasm can mean different things to different people.  The dictionary definition of enthusiasm is "intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval."  "Enthusiasm" is also the title of Bob Hoffman's editorial from the June 1967 edition of "Strength and Health" magazine.  Mr. Hoffman offered his own definition of the word:  "A wholehearted devotion to an ideal, cause, study, sport, hobby, or pursuit."  Any way you wish to define the word, it is indeed a desirable trait to possess if you are working out.  On the other hand, if you lack enthusiasm for training, then your workouts will suffer.  

     Maintaining training enthusiasm can be a challenge, especially for older trainees.  Now what exactly constitutes "old" is open to interpretation.  There are people in their seventies and even eighties who have the same passion for training as they did when they first started out.  There are also folks in their twenties and thirties who have seen their joy of training steadily wane.  

     All people have demands on their time.  Family, work, and school are among the most important priorities.  Making a living, and putting food on the table are certainly important.  However,  there is always time to exercise.  It's simply a matter of arranging your time so that you can accomplish what you set out to do.  

     If your goal is to become bigger and stronger, then you should develop a plan that will help you achieve your goal.  Come up with a workout schedule, and STICK TO IT!  Do not skip workouts.  Push the poundages, eat sufficient quality food, and make sure you get adequate rest between workouts.  If you wish to lose weight and get leaner, simply plan your meals accordingly with the goal of consuming fewer calories than you burn each day.  Again, do not miss workouts, and make sure you get sufficient cardio work in during the week.  Whatever your training goals are, if you really wish to achieve something, then you must have the discipline to do whatever it takes to reach those goals.  If you thoroughly enjoy your workouts, and have a passion for training, then no sacrifice is too great.  

     In his editorial, Mr. Hoffman mentions his over forty years of lifting weights.  At the time, he was 69 years old.  In a few months, I will turn 57, and I have been lifting weights for over forty years.  From the moment I first wrapped my hands around a barbell, I have thoroughly loved lifting weights.  I'm very fortunate that my enthusiasm has not diminished at all over the years.  Even today, there is nothing I look forward to more than "hoisting the steel."  As well as the occasional stone, or anvil!

     Perhaps the greatest advantage to enjoying training is that it keeps us "wanting more."  I never view a workout as something that I have to do, but rather something that I want to do.  I've never thought "Damn, I have to lift today."  I'd hate myself if I had that sort of attitude.  I always view my workouts with following thought:  I get to lift today!  We are all fortunate to be able to lift weights and challenge ourselves.  We should never take anything for granted.  

     About twenty-five years ago, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a guy who was a personal trainer.  This guy was a proponent of the "Super-slow" method of training, which was popular at the time.  I've never been a fan of the whole "super-slow" thing, but to each his own.  Anyway, during the course of the meal, this guy asked me if I enjoyed training.  I thought it was an odd question, especially coming from someone who made his living training other people.  I responded with a resounding "Yes, I love lifting weights!"  Believe it or not, this guy actually admitted to me that he hated working out.  He said that lifting weights was, to him, a means to an end.  I couldn't believe what he was saying!  I couldn't imagine him being an effective trainer.  How can you possibly help other people develop a passion for training when you admit that you hate it?  

     In his editorial, Mr. Hoffman states the following:  "Enthusiasm is a little spark of celestial fire.  Without it you cannot succeed."  The very best trainers and strength coaches have that spark.  Dr. Ken Leistner had it.  So does "Maximum" Bob Whelan.  When I used to train at Iron Island Gym, the energy and enthusiasm in that place was palpable.  The atmosphere was inspiring to anyone who walked through the door.  I've often stated that if you couldn't get motivated at Iron Island, then you should be embalmed.  

     I'd like to finish this article the same way Mr. Hoffman finished his editorial fifty-four years ago:  "With each passing year, I have been more enthusiastic about weight training and weightlifting for there is such endless proof of its advantages.  For your health's sake, be enthusiastic!"

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Squats and Records - By Jim Duggan

     While looking through the August 1971 edition of "Muscular Development" magazine, I came across an article that caught my attention.  The title of the article was "How Low is a Full Squat," and it was written by Paul Brock.  The opening words of the article are as follows: "Confusion surrounding the involvement of what constitutes a Full Squat has, over the past few years, baffled many enthusiasts." What I find interesting is the fact that, nearly fifty years later, that question is still valid, and deserving of an answer.  And, thanks to the increasing number of videos- and the accompanying proliferation of "world records" - the answer to the question of what constitutes a legitimate squat will remain unanswered.  
     It seems that every week, somebody is posting a video of what is claimed to be a "world record" in one of the three powerlifts.   Most of these videos follow a similar script:  A steroid-bloated lifter, wearing the latest suit, wraps, and other equipment, is surrounded by his posse of "gym bros. " He  approaches a loaded bar. As the yelling, screaming, and chest-bumping reaches a crescendo, the lifter performs some variation of one of the Powerlifts.  If the lift in question is a Bench Press, he'll bounce the bar off his chest, and once he gets it about halfway up, his spotter will grab the bar to complete the lift.  If it's a Deadlift, he'll approach a special deadlift bar (designed to bend easier to assist in the initial pull off the floor.) Of course, he'll be wearing lifting straps. And once he gets the bar to his thighs, he'll rest the bar on his thighs and "hitch" the bar up to completion.  Naturally, he'll intentionally drop the bar (gotta make a lot of noise!) In both cases, he'll receive congratulations from his friends on setting a "record."  
     Luckily, most people who have been around the "Iron Game" will not take these exhibitions seriously.  Since most of these "records" are set in a gym, and not under contest conditions, they are mostly a source of amusement.  However, sometimes, these "records" are performed in what is described as a contest. 
     Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a video of a contest where a "world record squat" was performed.  I use quotation marks intentionally, since any impartial observer who witnessed this "record" would have described it as a joke.  To summarize the video, a super-heavyweight lifter approaches a bar loaded to 1,300 Lbs.. Naturally, a monolift is used, so the lifter doesn't have to go through the effort of racking and stepping back with the weight. As the lifter begins the lift, he lowers his body and performs what appears to be a partial squat of some sort. It definitely wasn't a half-squat. Maybe, if we want to be generous, we'll call it a quarter-squat.  Maybe. In any event, he receives three white lights from the judges and, voila, a new world record!  Now to be fair, I don't know if this was a sanctioned contest, or even if the "judges" were card-carrying referees.  If they were they should have their referee cards revoked.  
     Obviously, anyone who's been around the sport has seen their share of spotty judging.  Years ago, at a national meet, I witnessed a well-known lifter/coach/guru compete.  I was directly behind the side judge during the squats.  Each one of his squats were the same:  Feet a mile wide, bar halfway down his back, and depth a good 3"-4" above legal.  Nevertheless, he received nothing but white lights because he was a "big name" in powerlifting. 
     For years, the official rules dictated that for a squat to be legal, the lifter had to bend the knees until the surface of the legs at the hip joint were lower than the tops of the knees.  Naturally, powerlifting, much like the world we live in, is not perfect.  Referees can make mistakes.  But intentionally allowing bogus judging to take place does a disservice to everyone involved. For example, take a lifter who enters a contest and has all his attempts passed ( even when they are not legal lifts.) Maybe he's friends with the judges, meet director, etc.  So, his bogus lifts are passed, and he has new PRs, maybe he even set a "record." Several months later, he enters a legitimate meet, with strict judging. He will bomb out and  embarrass himself.  Lowering the standards, throwing out the rule book, and allowing an "anything goes" approach has ruined what was once a good sport.  
     Sometimes, when I watch these videos, I am reminded of Bruno's Health Club.  Those of us who trained there were fortunate to learn the correct way to perform the lifts.  Squats were done with depth to spare, Bench Presses were done with long pauses, and Deadlifts were done cleanly and correctly.  Maybe none of us ever set a "world record," but we never bombed out of a meet, either.  
     Another thing that comes to mind when I see these bogus video demonstrations is the memory of Rudy Sablo.  For those of you who aren't familiar with Mr. Sablo, he was a world record Olympic Lifter, coach, administrator, and AAU weightlifting chairman.  I only met him once, at an olympic meet at Dr. Ken's Iron Island Gym in 1992.  Anyway, Mr. Sablo was known as one of the very strictest judges around.  "Red Light Rudy" did not tolerate rules infractions, and he did not suffer fools.  But, if you had a lift passed by Mr. Sablo, then you knew it was legitimate in every way.  He was one of the most respected figures in weightlifting. On a side note, Mr. Sablo was a New York City firefighter after serving in WWII. In fact, after, after the 9/11 terror attacks, Mr. Sablo, like many retired firefighters, showed up at the WTC site and volunteered his services to assist in the search for victims.  A remarkable man. It's not difficult to imagine how he would react to these "video records."
     The accompanying photo is of two of the best squatters I've ever known. Tom Tedesco is being spotted by Larry Licandro.  Tommy will be celebrating his 66th birthday later this month.

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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Training and Eating in the Sunshine State - By RJ Hicks MS, CSCS

I arrived in the outskirts of Hudson, Florida around 8 am to meet with “Maximum” Bob Whelan. This was the third time I had come to visit Bob since my mother lives so close to him now. It is always a great time to visit Bob as we can talk about anything for hours and we both love to eat.

Bob met me at a door with a big smile and greeting, telling me to come on in. Walking into Bobs living room is like walking into a physical culture museum. He has a massive bookshelf on the right as soon as you walk in with 100s of old books and magazines from the greatest names in physical culture. He has 8 original Sandow books, over 35 Bernarr MacFadden books, all of the original Bob Hoffman books, the original Super Strength by Alan Calvert, the Original Keys to Might and Muscle by George Jowett and the original Way to Live by George Hackenschmidt and many others. Below the books he has most of the “Strength and Health” issues between the 30s-60s, tons of Peary Rader's "Iron Man" and all of the “Muscular Development” from the first issue all the way up to the early 70s. To add on to the impressive list he has tons of Iron Master, Hard Training, Dinosaur Files and a complete collection of the original issues of Hard Gainer. Sitting on top of the massive bookshelf are three replica globe barbells and dumbbells produced by Osmo Kiiha and a HEAVY cast iron globe barbell resting on the floor. Osmo told Bob the only person who bought more than him is Kim Wood whose whole house is said to be an impressive Iron Game museum.

After looking through many of the old magazines and books, talking about the sports being showed on ESPN and my upcoming trip to Cape Cod, we were ready to fuel up on some good breakfast. One of Bobs favorite spots for breakfast is Rams. Bob seemed to know everyone in the joint, introducing me to people left and right. We both got omelets filled with meat and vegetables that were delicious. I made sure to eat my breakfast potatoes and a few pieces of whole wheat toast to ensure I had enough energy to train when we got back to Bobs place.

Bob no longer has all the machines and free weights that were at Whelan Strength Training. During his most recent move I was lucky enough to buy his best machines he originally held on to after retiring his gym in Washington, DC including his prized possession the Athletic Edge squat machine. Now Bobs equipment is exclusively free weights, due to size restraints. Free weights give Bob the most versatility to train his whole body versus a big machine that has only one purpose. When you move into his bedroom to the right of the bed is a Promaxima chin/dip assist machine. This is an awesome machine and free weight, as it gives you the option to do dips and chins assisted by adding weight to the counter balance arm. To the right of that a few feet over you’ll find an old school Stairmaster from 1993, right by the dresser that still works perfectly! The rest of the equipment is located on his back porch (called a linai if you are resident of Florida). Wedged into the back porch, Bob has everything you need to have an awesome workout. The room is filled with some of the best free weight equipment I have ever seen. Bob has several thousands of pounds of York plates, to include a pair of Iron Island gym plates from Dr. Ken. They look lavender, but Bob was quick to jokingly tell me that Dr. Ken called that color Iron Island purple. He has multiple York olympic bars, a heavy-duty power rack, a black onyx EZ curl bar, 2 sets of adjustable Olympic dumbbell handles (including a custom-made pair made for him by Bob Hise), a powerlift trap bar which Drew Israel and Bob Whelan agree is the best trap bar made, a heavy-duty adjustable bench made by Jim Sutherland suggested by Dr. Ken and Drew Israel to purchase back in the 90's, a neck head strap chain, a power lift safety squat bar which is awesome for squatting and performing good mornings, and several grip training devices from

The workout started with weighted dips, I move smoothly into the descent and paused before I fired up through the concentric position. Bob was yelling at me to drive up harder each repetition as fatigue built in like a drill Sergeant because he knows I like the tough coaching. When I got to 9 my chest felt like it was going to explode, but Bob encouraged me to get two more before I was completely unable to budge on the 12 rep. Next up were chins, palms facing away from me. We put a small weight on the counter balance to so that I could achieve 20 perfect repetitions. It did not become difficult till around 15, but at the completion of the set my upper back, arms, and grip were fried. We moved into the porch to finish the rest of the exercises. The periods between exercises are not too long, but we were not rushing between exercises to create a cardiovascular effect. We were focusing on building strength by handling the heaviest amount of weight I could use for the target number of repetitions.

Up next was dumbbell chest presses on a slight incline. Heavy dumbbells become difficult to use because of the energy it takes to get the into position, but just recently Bob purchased a dumbbell spotter rack which fit into his power rack perfectly which allows him to rack and un-rack dumbbells just as if he was barbell benching.  After the chest presses, we moved to the bed room for bent over rows. Most people do not do bent over rows correctly which is why they can be so dangerous for your lower back. I was instructed to take a wide stance and to really bend my knees. My back was flat and just above parallel. There was no jerking or heaving the weight up. I pulled the bar as hard as I could into my upper abdomen and paused before the decent on each rep. The risk of hurting yourself this way is extremely low when the barbell row is practiced like this and the amount of upper body muscle used is much greater. After a short configuration of the power rack, I used the power lift safety squat bar to perform good mornings. This bar is fantastic as it allows a lot of people with lower back problems to squat with no pain at all. Similar to the barbell row I am instructed to take a wide stance again and to really bend my knees when I perform the good morning. The safety bars are set up to catch me as I hit parallel in the good morning. Each repetition is done smoothly for 10-12 reps to earn a hard effort, but stopped short of failure to avoid any unnecessary risks of injury to the lower back. After the good mornings it was on to the seated military press and upright rows to round out the upper body training. I enjoy doing upright rows with a strap similar to how Kim Woods explains he has his players use in “Hard Training” rather than a barbell. The upright row might not agree with everyone’s shoulders, (don't pull the weight all the way to the chin), but is a fantastic upper body exercises that is often overlooked. Last up was trap bar deadlifts with the power lift bar. This thing is a beast, it weights 100 pounds without any plates, has three revolving grips between 1.25 and 2 inches and is constructed to where the plate horns are higher than normal so the plates never touch the ground, this makes it a breeze to load plates on to it. We decided to use the medium grip handles for one set of 20 repetitions with a dead stop between each rep. This is extremely tough on your legs, grip and cardiovascular system when you use a heavy weight. That is why we saved it for last. If this was the first exercise I did, many of the exercises following would have suffered in performance since I would have been too fatigued to give a great effort on the rest of the movements.

The workout sequence in total was-

Weight dips


Slight incline DB press

Barbell row

Good mornings

Military press

Upright row

Trap bar deadlift

After a short rest

20 minutes interval on the stair master

After the workout we headed to Bob favorite BBQ spot for some ribs, green beans and potato wedges. We don’t always eat like this, but after a hard workout and when visiting good friends, it is a real treat! No scraps were left to spare.

It is easy to look back and count the many lessons I have learned over the years from Bob Whelan when it comes to training. I now know that having a goal going into each training session is more important than a magical number of sets, repetitions or percentage-based calculations. I understand that there is no difference in the tool you use whether it be a barbell, dumbbell, or good machine as long as they fit you and can be used safely and progressively. I realize that there is no one correct way for sequencing a workout. You do not have to do legs first, or have the bench press be the first major upper body exercise. Instead, you should manipulate the sequence to your advantage. Lastly, I now know there is no one exercise you must do just because everyone else is saying so. If you cannot squat find a good squat machine or leg press like Pendulum or Hammer. If barbell benches hurt your shoulders try dumbbells pressing. If you do not like straight bar deadlifts, but like the trap bar, use the trap bar. There are no hard-set rules to strength training, just be sure you are training natural, hard, safe, and progressively.

 It is always a blast to visit Bob, I look forward to the next visit!

Great article RJ! I always look forward to your visits! 

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Friday, February 5, 2021

Stones and Snow - By Jim Duggan

     One of the many advantages of living on Long Island is that you get to experience the changing of the seasons.  The optimism of Spring, the warm, lazy days of Summer, the crispness of Autumn.  And then there is Winter.  Short days, plunging temperatures, and, usually but not always, snow.  
     Growing up, I enjoyed the snow just as much as most kids.  A good snowstorm usually brought with it the highly anticipated "snow day."  A day off from school which meant sled riding at the local park, and having to shovel snow. Not necessarily in that order.  Today thanks in part to the pandemic and distance learning, I suppose snow days are a thing of the past.  Anyway, back to the snow, a few days ago the New York area was hit with a large snowstorm which dumped about 14" of the white stuff on the ground.  And, of course, with the snow, we were bombarded with the usual warnings of the hazards of shoveling the snow.  Every television newscast, radio station, and local news channel advised people to "Not overdo it," or "don't exert yourself," and the ubiquitous "lift with your legs."  
     Now, I want to be candid and state that there are certain people who definitely are at risk, when it comes to shoveling snow.  And, for these people, the risk is very real.  Being in cold weather requires a longer time for our bodies to warm up.  Additionally, being exposed to cold temperatures causes our arteries to constrict. This is not a good thing, especially when your heart and muscles are working hard.  In other words, if you are at risk for developing heart disease, or if you currently have some type of cardiac issues, then you should definitely avoid shoveling snow.  Usually, these are people who are inactive, and lead sedentary lives.  So, if you haven't lifted anything heavier than a fork, and have spent most of your spare time parked in front of a television, then heed the warnings and do NOT attempt to shovel snow.  
     I would guess that most people reading this are active, healthy and, like most people who are serious about lifting weights, enjoy a challenge.  Most of us will not be afraid of a little snow. Or even a lot of snow.  And the prospect of a little outdoor physical activity will be a challenge that we readily accept.  And while snow shoveling will never replace a heavy lifting session, you can definitely get a good workout while clearing the sidewalk.  
     Recently, while speaking to my friend Steve Weiner during the storm, we agreed that stonelifting is good for shoveling snow.  Steve made a very good point when he stated the following: "Not many guys in our age group will even dare shovel.  This does not speak well of the physical condition of people as a whole."  Truer words were never spoken.  After many years of countless sessions of hoisting stones, neither of us was tired after having to shovel several times throughout the duration of the storm.  
     Does this mean that one has to be a stone lifter in order to be able to clean out after a snowstorm? Of course not. Although it definitely wouldn't hurt! But in all seriousness, it is important to remember that the type of training you do, and the movements you include in your workouts, will determine the type you will develop.  Pumpers, toners, and other misguided trainees who don't train hard, will have a hard time after any snowstorm. Actually, they will have a hard time with any sort of physical challenge.  Let's face it, pushdowns, cable crossovers, and other chicken exercises will never develop real, main strength.  No matter how "pumped," "jacked," or "buff" they may be.  
     Hard, heavy, full-body workouts, using the basic movements will not only make you bigger and stronger, they will give you the kind of strength that will stand up to any physical challenge.  Squats, Deadlifts, Presses, Bent-over rows will build a body that make shoveling snow seem like a walk in the park.  Do you honestly think that a person who regularly does high-rep Squats will have a problem with a foot of snow on his sidewalk? Or someone who has been doing heavy Deadlifts for years? If you regularly include heavy sled work, or lift heavy anvils, a day of hard, physical labor will be a breeze.  And, the following day, you will not be "wiped out" from a day of physical exertion.  You'll be able to bounce back and probably not even need to miss your next Deadlift session. Unless the roads are impassable and you can't make it to the gym!
     So, with another month or so of Winter still ahead of us, don't be afraid of having to pit your strength against the elements.  While the gym may be closed, you can still get a productive workout, secure in the knowledge that years of heavy lifting on the basic movements will have strengthened your entire body for the challenge ahead.  And, as an added bonus, you will NOT have to use one of those gimmick "back saver" shovels with a special handle to protect your back.  So, in the immortal words of Dean Martin: "Let it snow!"

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Motivation and Muscle - By Jim Duggan

      "I could never understand why some people have to be motivated."

     The above quote is from Hall of Fame Football player Jack Lambert. During the interview from which this quote was taken, he was referring to pampered athletes and the lack of pride in professional athletes.  But he could easily be talking about most people who attempt to begin a weight-training program. Over the years, Mr. Lambert has been quoted numerous times, and a Google search can provide a list of witty, yet pertinent, observations. However, one of my favorite quotes came from an interview that Mr. Lambert did back in 1982. He was asked about the drug problem in sports, and the subject of drug dealing came up. 

     "All drug dealers should be taken off to the public square and hung by the neck until the wind whistled through their bones." Amen, Jack.

     Back to motivation, and the subject of this article.  Traditionally, the beginning of a new year is a time to make resolutions and set goals for the year ahead.  Usually, January is a busy month for most commercial gyms.  People who have neglected their workouts come to the gym in waves, usually inspired by their New Year resolution to exercise, lose weight, get in shape, etc.. And, predictably, most of these people give up on their goals within the the first few weeks.  By February, most gyms are as empty as they were in December.  And most people, who only weeks before were proudly trekking to the gym, are now home, sitting on their aspirations. 

     However, with the current pandemic, many gyms have been empty for reasons other than lack of motivation. Many gyms are still closed and, unfortunately, some will never reopen. Either because of restricted hours, or social distancing concerns, more and more people are stuck at home.  Many people are training at home.  And the companies that make exercise equipment are taking advantage of that fact.  Everywhere you look, there are exercise devices, machines, apps, and other gimmicks.  Many of these gadgets are designed to fit into a small space, which makes a lot of sense since many people are stuck in a small living space, with limited room for a lot of equipment.  There are literally "mirrors" with an interactive ability to provide a "trainer" to help analyze your form, count reps, and "inspire" you.  These cyber trainers are supposed to be a replacement for the real thing.  I realize that I've asked the following question before, but it's worth repeating: Is a personal trainer necessary?

     Most "trainers" are nothing more than rep-counters, and cheerleaders with nothing more than an online certification to differentiate them from the average resolutioners that walk through the door of any commercial gym in January.  If someone is genuinely serious about getting bigger and stronger, then they don't need someone to count their reps, or cheer them on. Now, when I use the term "trainers," I am not referring to qualified strength and conditioning specialists who have an academic background in exercise physiology, kinesiology, or some other related field. I'm talking about the man or woman who takes an online course and is now "certified." Certified does not necessarily mean qualified.  If you are completely new to weight training,  and feel the need for instruction, seek out a strength and conditioning specialist with an academic background.  They may be more expensive than a "trainer" from a commercial fitness chain, but in weight training, as in life, you get what you pay for.  

     As for getting motivated, my opinion is if you need to an interactive "mirror" to get inspired, then there is something wrong. Instead of an expensive, electronic trainer in a mirror, why not just look into a regular mirror. An honest look in the mirror will provide you with all that is necessary to improve yourself.  That is the only person who can truly motivate you. That is also the only person with which you can compare yourself.  And, it is also the one and only person you can not fool.

  If you truly want to get bigger and stronger, and improve your health, then you will do whatever it takes to make it work.  Forget the muscle magazines, fancy gadgets, gimmicks, and fads. A year from now, many of these "breakthroughs" will be relegated to the junk heap of failed exercise gimmicks. A sensible weight training program consisting of hard work on the basic exercises, performed two or three times per week, adequate rest and recovery, and sensible nutrition will lead you on the path to Strength and Health.  

     A few years ago, I had ordered a barbell set from York Barbell for my nephew. Within a couple days, the equipment arrived, which wasn't surprising since their service has always been excellent. But the interesting thing was that, included in the weights, was the York Barbell and Dumbbell Courses 1-4.  The original courses illustrated with Steve Stanko and John Grimek.  Imagine that! The same information that has been building bigger and stronger bodies for decades is still being disseminated.  No fancy gadgets, no apps, no bull. Just sensible information. Combine that with a desire to get stronger and that's all the motivation you need.

Editor's Note: Great article Jim. I could not agree more about personal trainers and certifications.      

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