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 Ironmind.com.

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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Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

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