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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