Thursday, March 30, 2023

A Great Training Message - from Dick Conner

 At 85 I still train about 15 people a week.  I have trained one man for 55 years and another for 60 years.

The second man is 76 years old and still enters deadlift contests.  His goal is to lift 400 lbs in the near future.

In his last contest he pulled 378 lbs – so he is well on  his way.

The  two men never work out more than one time a week.  Even less most of the time. The  younger man is 68 and will soon bench 200 lbs.  Most guys his age have ruined their shoulders and can no longer bench.

More training is NOT the answer. I also train younger men.  Three of them are 14-15 years old and another 16. I have been training people for 65 years and so I have seen the results of all kind of ways to train.

The above said,  I want to make some statements that I know are the truth about training and about life.

#1  No one should train over twice a week.  As you get stronger, try six times a month. (Twice every seven to 10 days. (Don’t  be afraid of training less.

#2  Use a notebook and keep a record of your training.  That way you can see if you are getting stronger. If you are like me at 85, then see if you are getting worse!!

#3 If you have bad joints and find it hard to train, then try statics.

Example – Curl – hold the curl in the hardest position for at least one minute and forty seconds.  Forget about doing a second set, when you do statics.  One set done with enough weight in the hardest position will convince you not to be trying a second set. A good static workout could look like this: Chest press, pulldown, press, row, hyper extension and a leg press.

This workout is not for people with healthy bodies but for those who can not work out in a regular manner.



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Thursday, March 9, 2023

Who Is The Strongest? - By Jim Duggan

Anyone who is reading this is interested in strength.  The building, testing, demonstration of strength.  In all its forms, categories, sub-categories.  For as long as man has walked the Earth, there have been tests, challenges, and contests devoted to the goal of physical strength.  Throughout recorded history, and even before, men ( and women ) have challenged themselves as well as others, all in the name of strength.  

     We all have our individual history of getting stronger.  All of us have started somewhere on our journey through the Iron Game.  For most of us, the journey is a labor of love, and never ending.  Once we begin hoisting the steel, it’s hard to stop.  Many of those reading this have competed in various strength sports.  Weightlifting, powerlifting, Highland Games, Shot-Put, Discus, there are numerous ways to test one’s strength.  There are myriad challenges, and over the years there have been no shortage of great performers and performances.  

     I can tell you right now how I first became interested in lifting weights.  It was the Summer of 1976, I turned twelve years old in July of that year, and I eagerly watched the Summer Olympics on television.  There were many great athletes and numerous outstanding performances.  Bruce Jenner winning the Decathlon, the USA Boxing team winning five gold medals, Nadia Comenici setting new standards in gymnastics, and the USA Men’s Basketball team winning the Gold medal ( after being cheated by the Russians in 1972).  

     But, by far, the most fascinating aspect of those Games was the weightlifting.  It was the first time I had ever seen weightlifting being contested, and even though I didn’t know the first thing about the sport, I couldn’t take my eyes off these men lifting huge weights over their heads.  There was even an American lifter who would defy the odds and win a silver medal.  Lee James, competing in the 90kg class surprised everyone took second, competing against one of the greatest lifters of all time.  Incidentally, Lee James recently passed away at the age of 69, his silver medal performance is still one of the most impressive feats by an American lifter in the last fifty years.  

     It was while watching the super-heavyweights on the last night of lifting, that really influenced me.  Vasily Alexeev won his second Olympic gold medal and, on his final attempt, set a new world record in the Clean and Jerk with 255 kg.  I was immediately hooked.  It wasn’t only his awesome lifting that captured his imagination.  It was how he was described by the various television commentators.  “The strongest man in the world,” was an appellation frequently used by the the announcers when describing the ponderous Russian.  Here he was, live on television, the strongest man in the world!

     Back then, it was easy to believe everyone on television.  When you’re twelve years old, you tend to be more gullible.  Today, I’ve become more cynical in my, ahem, middle age.  And, with the passage of time, there have been many strength athletes over the years who have been described as the “strongest man in the world.”  

     Not long after the Montreal Olympics, in the Fall of 1977, American television offered for the first time the World’s Strongest Man Contest.  There were ten athletes chosen from various strength sports ( although curiously there were no athletes from the Iron Curtain countries due to politics).  There were ten events, and the overall winner, Bruce Wilhelm, was an easy and deserving winner.  Now, by this time, Bruce had established himself as a world class shot-putter, discus thrower, amateur wrestler and Olympic weightlifter, so it should have come as no surprise that he would dominate that contest.  And the fact that he repeated the following year ( against tougher competition) demonstrates how great he was in all facets of strength.  

     Nevertheless, there were other people who were being touted as the “strongest.”  Superheavyweight powerlifters were approaching the 1,000 Lb Squat barrier, while the Soviet Union was still producing athletes who would dominate the superheavyweights in Olympic lifting.  Interestingly, each sport ( powerlifting and weightlifting) would claim that THEIR champion was truly the strongest man in the world.  Who was right?  Was it the powerlifters who were stronger or the Olympic lifters?  What about the WSM winner?  

     More importantly, IS there a way to determine just who is the strongest?  I remember years ago, reading an article by Dr. Ken Leistner where he stated that the strongest man in the world was living- and lifting- in relative obscurity in a suburban or rural setting.  His feats of strength were not being televised, nor reported on by the various strength “experts” who so proudly proclaim their own choice for the strongest man in the world.  

     As I have many time over the years, I tend to agree with Dr. Ken.  I don’t think there is one ultimate way to determine just who is the strongest.  While the WSM has expanded greatly over the years, and the events have become more challenging, there are still many questions.  And, some of the events, in my opinion, are not true tests of pure strength.  Throwing a keg for height, for example, is not a true test.  It obviously favors someone who is taller, and has longer arms.  Likewise, some of the other events.  And, naturally, having access to the various implements that will be contested is an advantage, too.  I remember competing in a strongman contest years ago where all of the equipment used for the contest was provided by one of the competitors.  Quite an advantage for someone to train with the very equipment that will be used for the contest.

     Another valuable opinion concerning the determination of who is the strongest came from a familiar source.  On February 8th of this year, we had our annual Bruno’s Health Club Reunion dinner at Domenico’s restaurant in Levittown, NY.  While we were breaking bread, the subject of strongman contests came up and Tom Tedesco came up with a short, to the point, answer as to how best determine who is stronger:  Combine the two Olympic lifts and the two Powerlifts in one contest and compare the aggregate of the five lifts.  Highest total wins.  

     Is this the ultimate way of testing strength?  Realistically, probably not, but it is better than most.  Very few people are proficient in BOTH the powerlifts and the Olympic lifts.  Just about every lifter has some sort of weakness or, at the very least, a lift in which he/she does not excel.  In that regard, it would seem like a fair way to determine who is stronger.  The lifting platform, like the world we live in, is not perfect.  I don’t think there will ever be an ultimate test of strength, but Tommy’s suggestion is close.

     I think that I should mention one thing, however, about Tommy’s idea of strength testing.  This is more in the line of a full disclosure.  Years ago, Tommy competed in a dual Olympic/Power contest.  He went 15 for 15.  You read that right.  He competed in two contests in one day and did not miss a lift!  I have never seen anything like that, before or since.  It’s hard enough to have a perfect day let alone have two in one day.  

     In a few days, Tommy will celebrate his 68th birthday.  Three years ago, on his 65th birthday, he performed 65 Clean and Jerks with 65kg.  This year he will do something even more impressive:  He will compete in the National Masters Weightlifting Championships in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  Good luck Tommy Thundeer!

The picture is from our Bruno’s Reunion Dinner.  From left to right:

Chris Newins, Bill Mannino, Bob Sailor, Tom Tedesco, Jim Duggan, Dr. Rich Seibert.

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Friday, March 3, 2023

The fixation of training four to six days a week - By David Sedunary

It has always amazed me how a person can weight train 4 to 6 days a week, lift heavy, be consistent, train to failure, give your bloody all, enjoy it and benefit from it. I don’t believe it can be humanly possible unless the person per se is a genetic freak, is putting into himself steroids, or growth hormones which enable that person to recover, and to be able to have the recovery ability and fortitude to keep it up week after week and year after year. They don’t last, they can’t keep up the pace, their body falls apart mentally as well as physically. They need a chemical aid, simple as that.

In my hometown gym where I train, I observe and take note, when a new person starts training, the instructors have them training 4 to 6 days a week.  They split their body parts at each work out and do at least 4 sets of each exercise use incorrect form and focus. Chest is standing cable pullovers, seated machine fly’s and a bench press a total of 12 sets none worked to failure.  Arms are tricep pushdowns, concentration curls and machine bicep curls again all 4 sets each, never I repeat never using good form and focus. In between each set 3 minutes rest and sometimes longer, which normally involves chatting on facebook, or talking or catching up on the local gossip, non-training talk using the mobile phone, and looking at themselves in the many mirrors.

There are different types of split systems, the most simple split system involves training four days per week. Here is an example: Monday, Thursday: chest, shoulders, upper arms, calves and abs. Tuesday Friday back, thighs, forearms, calves, and abdominal muscles. He is an example of six   days a week : Monday, Wednesday, Friday abdominals, chest, shoulders, upper back, forearms and calves, then Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday abdominals , thighs, lower back, upper arms, forearms and calves. Each muscle group is trained three days a week. 

It’s a known fact when we are in the gym, we break down the muscle tissue, it grows bigger and stronger during rest. The blood stream, which is like a river feed the muscle with nutrients. The blood should be full of nutrients, not chemicals or harmful substances, to replenish and encourage new growth, and tissue enlargement. Of course one needs adequate rest at least 3 to 4 full days of rest, that rest may encompass walking, or hard cardio once or twice a week, swimming or martial arts . But at least rest from weight training and breaking down muscle tissue.

At 71 years of age I am full of discipline, strength and vigor after 4 days of rest from my full body workout, and that is after 55 years of training twice a week , and at times every 5th day. Yet when I talk to people who attend and train six days a week, they lack enthusiasm, vigour, discipline and seem to me would rather be home making a cup of tea and watching the idiot box. Today after my workout a twenty one year old man came in the gym, “training full body “ I said to him, “no “ he said I am bored at home thought l would come to the gym and train my chest and arms. Why not full body I said. “That’s too hard not for me,” the young bloke said. Is he going to be training for health, strength, and longevity in 50 years’ time, I doubt it.

Everyone is in a hurry to attain the ultimate physique. The bloke who is in the gym 4 to 6 days a week say’s I got results training my arms twice a week if I train them 4 times a week with twice as many sets I should get twice the results lies, lies and lunacy. When you bench press, lat machine pull, dumb bell row, overhead press you work your arms. When you squat with 250 pounds on the bar and the bar is on your back shoulders blades back, your indirectly work your upper back and rhomboids, and all the other stabilizing muscles of the body, abdominals, hips , legs ,side obliques and lower back.

I appreciate the pressing need of the aspiring bodybuilder for fast muscular development. He wants the ultimate in size and muscularity and will do almost anything to attain his goal. My advice is: do anything but stop short of the total lunacy of overtraining four to six days a week, and drug abuse.  People who have taken doses of steroids and other chemicals permanently damage their health and in numerous cases have brought about untimely death.                                     

One would best achieve the finest results from training full body once every 4th day, or if you are younger than I every 3rd day. I am a prime example of a man in his early seventies who has trained since 16 years young. Four years ago I suffered a virus causing me to have an atrial fibrillation attack and heart failure, my heart rate went to 180 beats per minute and was irregular for 10 days, which could have caused a stroke. Six months after my wife whom I nursed and cared for, for 8 months died of cancer, and next my left hip needed to be replaced. I lost weight and muscle going from 187 pounds with a 36-inch waist to 165 pounds, and looking like death warmed up.

With the help of Bob Whelan, I now weigh 184 pounds with a 34 inch waist, I train full body every 4th day, and the three days in between I walk for 40 minutes twice and push the air dyne bike once,  hard for 30 minutes.  I eat over 3000 calories a day and 160 grams of protein. At 71 years of age I can do it training twice a week, so imagine what a viral, healthy younger person can do. Ask Bob Whelan he knows he has trained many a person building them into a human superman, training twice a week or twice every 7 to 10 days.

If you have any brains train full body twice a week, and stay well away from all harmful substances. If you train 4 or even 6 days a week you are living in the gym. My motto is getting in, get the work done and get out. Go home rest, eat big and nutritiously, stay away from alcohol and all drugs. It is a well-known fact if you want a long strong life, strength train in moderation, therefore twice a week, condition your heart and lungs and be strong mentally and spiritually.

What a recipe for success.

Don’t say ... Do!

Editors Note: Thanks for the kind words David. You did all the work. Great job!

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Saturday, February 11, 2023

A Favorite Training Routine…..From Seventy Years Ago - By Jim Duggan

A sad fact of life is that very few lifters have a sense of history.  What I mean by this is that many people who train have little or no knowledge of those who have made their name in the Iron Game.  If it didn’t happen within the last ten years, then it didn’t take place at all.  It’s human nature to forget the past, and the world of physical culture is no exception.  

     I always felt that anyone who aspires to be a trainer or strength coach should have a thorough knowledge of the history of weightlifting, and the people who made that history.  It should be a requirement that names like John Grimek, Bob Hoffman, Andy Jackson, and John Davis- to name just a few- be the subject of extensive study.  Now, I seriously doubt if any exercise physiology or science course will follow through on these recommendations, but what’s wrong with asking a personal trainer if he/she knows who Norbert Schemansky is? Or Professor Attila?  If a self-proclaimed “expert” doesn’t recognize names like Tommy Kono or Paul Anderson, then do you really want to put your faith ( and money) into someone who is blissfully ignorant about the glorious history of weights and strength?

     Another name to add to those already mentioned is Sigmund Klein.  I would hope that anyone who is reading this would be familiar with one of the pioneers of the Iron Game.  His Physical Culture Studio was one of the most famous gyms in the country, and he stayed in business until he was in his seventies.  What I will discuss today is a routine he wrote for the November 1953 issue of Strength and Health magazine.  

     This is not simply a cookie-cutter article on how to get bigger or stronger.  The routine he wrote about nearly 70 years ago was actually one he had first used twenty years prior to that.  In other words, the routine I will describe is nearly 90 years old.  It is not designed to increase your Squat, Bench Press, or Deadlift.  It will not pump your arms, and it is not designed to help you play football, or increase the distance on your best discus toss.  But it will give you a full-body workout, and will not take a lot of time.  You will be doing, for the most part, basic exercises designed to hit the large muscle groups.  Interestingly, Sig uses a term that I have never seen used before.  Perhaps it was common back in the 1950s, but I have never seen the word “muscle culturist” before I read this article.  I guess it is similar to physical culturist, which itself is a forgotten term in today’s world of weights.  I like the term “strength athlete,” when it comes to describing those whose goal is greater strength.  It is a way of differentiating between those who lift with a purpose, and those who pump and tone.  Maybe we can start a new term like “Strength Culturist?”  

     Here is a list of exercises that comprise the workout.  It may seem like a lot of movements, and it is, but you are only doing one set of each movement.  The routine took Sig and his partner just over an hour to complete, this included an short interval to talk to Warren Lincoln Travis, who had stopped by Sig’s gym to visit ( Warren Travis is another name to conjure for those who appreciate Iron History).  So, here is one of Sig Klein’s favorite routines:

  1. Two Arm Curl

  2.  Lateral Raise

  3.  Side Bends

  4.  Alternate Forward Raise

  5.  Side Bends

  6.  Military Press

  7.  Deep Knee Bend

  8.  Alternate Forward Raise

  9.  Tricep Pushaway, leaning forward

  1. Chinning the bar

  2. . Wrist Roller

  3. . Leg Curl

  4. . Press-up to handstand

  5. . Criss-cross with DBs standing

  6. . Criss-cross with DBs lying

  7. . Alternate DB Pullovers

  8. . Leg Raise

  9. . Parallel Bar Dips

  10. . DB Curls

  11. . Leg Press

  12. . Neck Exercise

  13. . Squats on Roman Chair

  14. . Tiger Bends

Most of the exercises are self-explanatory and are still in use in most gyms.  The “criss-cross” movement is one that I don’t normally do, but is relatively simple to perform.  For the “Press-up to a handstand,” I would substitute something similar for the upper body ( unless of course you are proficient in acrobatics).  Also, since I don’t have a Roman chair and don’t know how to do squats on them, I simply substituted weighted step-ups.  As for Tiger Bends, instead of trying to learn the movement, I simply did a set of Hindu push-ups.

     I am speaking in the first person because I have actually tried this routine a couple of times since the beginning of the year. The first day I used it, I was in the mood to lift, but my back and hips were still sore from my previous deadlift workout.  Instead of just simply flagging the workout, I decided to do something.  

       The hardest part is moving from one exercise to another and having the various barbells and dumbbells in place without having to move things around.  Even so, there is little time wasted since you perform each movement one after the other.  The rep range that I used was 15 reps per movement, which is the same number of reps that Sig and his partner used back in the day.  Incidentally, it took me about an hour to complete the workout from start to finish, and I didn’t even have Warren Lincoln Travis stop by to interrupt my session!

     It’s also worth noting that exercise number 20, Leg Press, represented something entirely different back in Sig’s day.  There were no leg press machines, so the way most persons performed the movement was to balance a barbell on their feet while lying supine on the floor.  If you feel like going “old school” and balancing a loaded bar on your feet, then go for it.  But I highly recommend that you utilize one of the modern leg press machines that are available today.  As Billy Joel once proclaimed, “ The good old days weren’t always good.”  This definitely applies to the performance of the leg press.

     I’d like to repeat that this is not a routine to use if you are preparing for a powerlifting contest or strongman meet.  But if you would like to have a change of pace while at the same time getting in some quality work for the entire body, it might be worth your time to try to emulate the training of Sig Klein.



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Saturday, February 4, 2023


I first put my hands on a set of weights at the age of 15 doing basic weight training downstairs in the cellar of my parents’ home and then relocating to the back-patio area during summer vacations from school.  I put a lot of miles on the 110lb. plastic coated and cement filled weight set and weight bench rated at about a 300lb capacity.  Ultimately, I replaced this with a 110lb. York steel barbell set and recall getting an EZ curl bar for Christmas one year.  I grew up in a very small town with no gym and no means of transportation to travel to even the nearest one.  Nope, home gym training was how it all began for me.

Taking an immediate interest in weight training, my home gym venue continued for a number of years until I first joined a commercial gym in my late 20’s.  With a few more resources available, I still focused on the basic exercises with the occasional fluff added in.  However, during this time, I did not know what I was missing.  Over the years, it seemed like the commercial gym route was the most feasible as my life schedule changed.  However, once the COVID-19 hit, my gym at the time went out of business.  Little did I know that my commercial gym days were behind me.  It was back to the way it all began for me.

Initially disappointed as I enjoyed the spacious area of the gym that allowed me to do more functional exercises; farmer carries, sled pushes/pulls and sandbag carries, I had a Plan B in the works for those times when I could not get to the gym before it closed as I’ve always been a late evening person for training.  Back home, I had an Olympic weight set, a few dumbbells and would periodically make a few purchases of different implements that I became curious about as a result of reading more about functional training.  It was during this time, that my old school training interest really took off and continues to build.  I love the nostalgia of how the old timers trained with basic functional movements.  With that, my arsenal of resources has multiplied enormously which has resulted in my current training venue.

Being a big believer that “without your health nothing else matters”, and continuing to train all natural and having just turned 57, I have set up shop in my garage gym.  With dimensions of 11’W x 20’L and 14’H ceiling, I’m in my place of solace.  Opening and closing hours are strictly at my discretion.  Filled with atlas stones, natural stones, anvils, kegs, sandbags, bumper plates, horse stall mats and miscellaneous implements, I have everything I need.  The investment has been well worth it.  It has become my self-insured health plan.

After 42 years of training and seeing various commercial gyms over the years, garage gym training is where its at today.  The garage gym has allowed me a venue to do many functional movements with implements that are hard to find elsewhere.  I’ve learned a lot about the old-time strongmen and other iconic figures and how they used to train and have parlayed that into my own new approach.

I’ve always looked forward to my next workout, but now I can’t wait to open and raise that garage door!

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Is Your Training Program Properly Balanced? - A Review of Brad Steiner’s Article from Iron Man 1981 - By David Sedunary.

A quite common mistake that trainees make when planning and following their personal exercise routines is a failure to correctly balance their training programs or schedules of training. That is they neglect to plan workouts that thoroughly exercise the entire body, inside and out for the sake of, say pursuing super intensive concentration on bench pressing , and arm  work etc. Ultimately, such a style of training must lead to failure.

Now, I am not attacking specialization in training. This has its place in one’s training career at times; but failure to properly  balance a good  all round routine when one is not specializing, hardly has anything to do with the matter of specialization. Every good workout program should include a sufficient variety of basic exercises for each major body part . This exercise need not be done in any excessive number of sets, and they need not all require a maximum energy effort output all the time. But unquestionably, there should be enough work included in one’s routine to adequately tire and train ones whole body.

But suppose your main interest in training is a deep chest and big arms?  Is it necessary then to train your whole body? Sure, it is. And I will tell you a secret said Brad. You will make better, faster and more permanent gains in any  body areas , where you more especially want them. If you continue to maintain a good basic routine for all your body.

Remember the following facts:

1.Weight training is one of the most intensive and highly concentrated forms of physical exercise on earth. Even if you are only seriously interested in say big arms , there is only so much work the relative small arm muscles can take at any given time, and during any one given workout. This will be most frustrating and irritating and may even force you to give up weight training all together.

2. Muscles grow almost as much from indirect effort, as they do from direct effort. By this I mean the bent over dumb bell rowing exercise is about as an effective arm builder as curling. I built my arms once to 16 ½ inches by doing dumb bell rows, dips and trap bar deadlifts all for one set to failure. When I operated my own Gym In Broken Hill Australia I took a hard gaining beginner off all curls and watched his arms start to bulk up, from using only the dumb bell row, dips and trap bar deadlifts. Why because the row permits the arms to work in unison with the upper back, which is powerful enough to permit the handling of really heavy and productive weights. The principle of growth via indirect training applies in other instances as well.

3. One of the most important reasons for training even if you don’t now realize it is health and conditioning. To attain both these objectives the entire body must be worked properly and sufficient sweating and puffing and panting must be induced. Training for severe pump in any one area will not produce any degree of health benefits or conditioning. Even if you don’t care less about the fact you have leg muscles, do squats, leg presses or trap bar deadlifts. I say this fully knowing that many who read this article will be concerned only with gains or improvement on their upper body. I want to stress to these people the absolute need for balance in training. 

Work those body parts you are anxious about but never neglect to train the rest of your body.

There are two major ways in which one can assure , that one is training in a correct well rounded manner.

  1. Include a sufficient variety of good exercises for the entire body and for overall fitness.

  2. One can train on a limited schedule of exercises that because they work major muscles groups together, provide a good all -round routine. For example, Dumb bell clean and press, Squat and Chinning. Brad said his personal preference was a workout composed of between eight and twelve basic exercises worked hard in sets. Brad finished his workout with rope skipping usually  2 sets of 220 reps using ankle weights( very light ) to give extra benefit to the exercise.

Always do squatting in some form was Brad’s instruction for whole body growth. Always do abdominal work, some variant of standing overhead presses, and some basic back exercise. Work in sets of 2 or 3. Always do the major movements if for some reason you haven’t got the energy or time to complete your workout never neglect or cut back on the basic  movements, you need to ensure all round muscle growth, health and fitness.

Abbreviated type workouts are extremely valuable, though they are not all popular today. This is too bad.  I can think of many instances where an otherwise impossible case of hard gaining was corrected by the use of  a good abbreviated schedule. These schedules are what Peary Rader suggested for hard gainers to use to trigger gains by working muscles masses hard but never to excess, apparently what all hard gainers need.

For the advanced trainee, or the person in superb condition abbreviated routines maybe used from time to time for the sake of variety, or when one hasn’t the time to get in your full routine.

Here are some of Brad Steiners abbreviated workouts:

Workout 1#

  1. Stiff legged deadlift 3x12

  2. Squats 1x18 light, 1x 10 medium, 1x6 heavy

  3. Chinning 3x12 no weight

Workout 2#

  1. Chinning 3x10 weight tied to waist.

  2. Squats 3x12 medium to heavy weights

  3. Dips 3x10

Workout 3#

1 Deadlift 3x12

2. Dips 3x6 weight tied to waist

3. Dumb bell row 3x6 heavy

4. Waist work

Brad Steiner has given you more programs than you are likely to need, so that you may select the program best suited to your needs. What matters is you follow a good schedule, which consists of a compound movement squat, deadlift. And/ or a vertical push, vertical pull, horizontal push, horizontal pull, and tinkering work as Bob Whelan suggests. Add a barbell curl if you want. Tinkering work would be abdominal work, neck work , calve work, and grip work. That will round out a properly balanced program.

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

George Hackenschmidt: The Russian Lion That Defined Wrestling & Weightlifting - By James Athanasiou

George "The Russian Lion" Hackenschmidt: A man that redefined what is naturally attainable, a pioneer that shaped physical culture as we know it today. A presence so strong in physical culture, George Hackenschmidt was a man of sheer, unmatched strength, incredible athleticism and – above all – a kind spirit paired with a highly intelligent mind. Few men get the chance to define a sport, let alone two different ones. Georg Karl Julius Hackenschmidt possessed the physical prowess to dominate nearly 3,000 matches in the heavyweight division through his astounding 15-year Wrestling career, all while being one of the greatest innovative minds in physical culture. It's high time we explore this Incredible man's journey.

Part 1: The Early Beginnings

Born in 1877 in Tartu, Estonia, George was one of the three children of an Estonian - Baltic German family. While his parents did not possess any special physical characteristics, George claims his genes were passed down to him by his maternal grandfather, described as a huge and powerful man.

As a student, Georg got hooked on physical development. A true sportsman, he excelled in swimming, jumping, cycling, running, gymnastics, weightlifting and a then-popular sport called gorodki, similar to bowling. Many of these activities would accompany him till the very end of his life. It didn't take long before he astounded his teachers and peers with his surreal strength feats, as he was able to lift a small horse off the ground, 200 pounds overhead with one arm.

After graduation, he entered a local cycling club, where he picked weightlifting as a training  alternative during the winter months. At the same time, he worked at the Lausmann factory as a blacksmith's apprentice when one day a fellow Greco-Roman wrestler by the name of Georg Lurich toured through the area. Hackenschmidt took the opportunity to challenge him, but was beaten due to his limited experience. Despite that, the mere fact that George finally met a man that could rival his strength ignited his competitive spirit.

While at work, an accident occured that slightly damaged his hand. Doctor Krajewski was astonished by George's build as he examined the injury and invited him to St. Petersburg to train and live with him, recognizing soon after that he had the potential to become the strongest man in the world. Although his parents remained very much against it, George left to join the St. Petersburg wrestling club in spring of 1898. It wouldn't take long before Krajewski told George that he could "become the strongest man in the world".

Part 2: The First Steps To Conquering Wrestling

In terms of weightlifting, George surpassed all his team members. A pivotal point in his career occurred during a competition held by the Reval Athletic Club, where he went on to Snatch 256 lbs, Jerk 251 lbs and Press 269 lbs in his right hand. Soon after his 6 month weightlifting focused training, George broke Sandow's one handed press record at 116 kg by lifting 122.25 kg (270 lbs), almost 15 lbs more! Sadly, when time  came to treat his arm injury, the electrotherapy methods proved to do more harm than good, forcing him to take a full year off training to recover. 

Later on in his career, a shoulder injury occurred – so serious that it almost paralyzed his tricep. Understanding how this meant the end of his weightlifting career, Hackenschmidt dedicated his soul and effort to conquering wrestling. It took George less than five years to win his world title and almost all major wrestling events – at one point having to wrestle with 3-5 opponents a day!

Part 3: A Unique Personality And An Appaling Loss

His rise to fame didn't take long to occur. George was described as a handsome and beautifully built young man, possessing a soft spoken personality, great charm, an intelligent mind that allowed for a philosophical and innovative spirit, as well as admirable eloquence. All these traits made him adored by women and admired by men, but had little to do with excelling in wrestling and strength training. However, his tendency to give into depression and irascibility truly hampered his growth from time to time.

George got exposed to this negative mentality when he suffered the loss of his trainer and mentor Krajewski in 1901, a man he considered to be his second father. Even though he was devastated, he found the courage to compete after 9 months in the World Championships of Wrestling, receiving two gold medals. Having dropped down too much weight due to the heavy training, George seeks the guidance of a famous trainer by the name of Siebert in Alsleben, going through strenuous training methods, such as jumping over a table with his feet tied together for over 100 times, or climbing up the tower of a church with two 20kg kettlebells!

Part 4: A Goodbye To Wrestling - A Rivalry For The Ages

After defeating the American heavyweight champion Tom Jenkins in the Royal Albert Hall and winning several bouts in England, George traveled to the United States in order to fulfill the promise of wrestling with a fierce rival, a lightning fast and strong athlete by the name of Frank Gotch, as his lightning fast reflexes would allow him to match Hackenschmidt's superior strength.

Unfortunately, it was during the preparation for their first match that George's training became sluggish and his mental health started to decline. No one knows exactly what led him to "quit" – maybe his injuries and the loss of his coach began to take a toll on him. On the day of the match, Goth was accused of using dirty tactics like excess oil on his body and punching to control the first two hours of the fight. George surrendered in the second half of the bout, realizing that he was fighting a lost battle.

Their second encounter gathered a massive 30,000 spectators on September 4th  of 1911. However, people saw a similar result, with Gotch exploiting George's knee injury early on. This loss marked Hackenschmidt's retirement from professional wrestling, with a 3000-2 record. Yet, it was this very defeat that would spark a new era of greatness.

Part 5: The First Two Brilliant Innovations

As soon as George devoted himself to strength training again, his innovative mind never stopped working wonders. Amongst his greatest discoveries are the Bench Press – pressing 300 lbs the first time he attempted it. This exercise descends from the Supine press, a movement similar to the floor press which Hackenschmidt used to perform by starting off with a pullover. This made the exercise way more difficult – yet George was able to lift 335 lbs this way! This exercise was utilized by many Silver Era greats, as it "tied in" together the activation of the chest, shoulder and tricep muscles, building tendon and ligament strength while allowing for huge poundage to be used.

George's second invention came in the form of a brutal exercise called the Hackenschmidt Squat, better known today as the Hack Squat. The first version of the lift was performed with a barbell lifted behind the back in a similar position to that of the deadlift with the heels raised, first curling the bar to the hip and then lifting it. With this variation being way more difficult than it sounds, George set a record at 187 lbs.

Part 6: The Training Methods Still Used To This Day

Hackenschmidt also established the poundage progression, as he believed that "Health can never be divorced from Strength". His advanced athleticism was proof that weightlifting did not stunt sports performance, thus influencing the modern standard of strength and conditioning used in almost all sports.

George understood early on that specificity is a huge factor in one's training, and thus poundage progression is required for the sake of growing stronger – as well as the fact that stronger and bigger muscle groups require very high intensity to be forced to grow, something that light-weight repetitions cannot achieve. Being one of the first pioneers to suggest progressively increasing the weight to achieve higher strength and intensity, George had this to say about his methods:

"Some trainers recommend to their pupils for the training of all muscle groups one and the same (light) weight and believe they are able to obtain the same effect by frequent repetitions. My experience has taught me that this is wrong, for the muscles of men or animals who are distinguished for certain feats of endurance are by no means over-developed. A long-distance runner or long-distance cyclist always has comparatively thin legs, as have a racehorse, stag, or greyhound. Nature does not act without aim and purpose. Hence there is a great difference between feats of endurance and feats of strength. One must consider that, although it is quite possible to enlarge muscles by certain light, prolonged exercises, at the same time the development of the sinews may be neglected, and it is the sinews which transport the action of the muscles to the bone x frame. The sinews can only be exercised and strengthened by correspondingly heavy muscle work. Besides, to take a paradoxical example, it is quite impossible to improve strong muscle groups, as, for instance, the hip muscles, with light-weight exercises. A further illustration of the fallacy of attempting to develop the muscles by frequent repetitions with the same light exercises may be found in a comparison with any and every other form of athletics, in which a man would never think of merely repeating his training programme. In order to improve himself either in pace or distance, he must set himself a steady progression of arduous effort".

By incorporating the principles he learned through his years as a wrestler, George promoted an increasingly more difficult way of training as the only way to build muscle and strength beyond a certain point – something quite contradictory for his era. He was also a big proponent of improving one's flexibility and mobility alongside his strength, thus securing a healthy and high performing body. This led him to train in creative and varying ways, including the jumps, climbs and outlandish lifts we previously talked about. As a result, he was one of the first people to introduce various exercises for targeting specific muscle groups, including the neck.

Part 7: A Deep Philosophical Spirit and "The Way To Live"

With Hackenschmidt devoting himself to training and writing soon after his retirement from wrestling, we are now gifted with the collection of physical training and philosophy, some of which include "The Science of Wrestling" and "The Three Memories and Forgetfulness". In his greatest book titled "The Way To Live'', the barbell and dumbbell training methods introduced principles like the 5-15 reps per set and progressive overload still used to this day – almost exactly the same way, while the book itself is a complete manual including the proper way to sleep, train, eat and think in order to acquire health, longevity and fulfillment – as well as personal information.

Perhaps the most important fact, however, was that his books made physical fitness accessible to all ages, with countless exercise demonstrations for each body part and limited to no equipment. With numerous illustrations of bodyweight and weighted exercises that stressed every muscle of the body, any person could pick exercises corresponding to his own capabilities and get really good training done at home. Within "The Way To Live'', George put great emphasis on proper breathing and aerobic conditioning to not only enhance one's athletic ability, but also his overall health. In his words: "Run as much as you can and as often as you can. Whenever you come across a hill, run up it… I cannot lay too great a stress upon the great usefulness of proper breathing, by which means we introduce into our system the essential oxygen and discharge a quantity of waste matter."

There's also reports of George hosting lectures in Harvard and Yale on philosophy, debating well known professors on varying subjects. He always treated the body and mind as a union, with one complimenting the other. In fact, he was so admired for his noble and kind character that president Theodore Roosevelt famously said "If I weren't the President of the United States, I'd like to be Georg Hackenschmidt".

Regarding his diet, George always supported eating natural foods and avoiding processed products. His diet shifted greatly over the years, as it's reported that he ate a lot of animal products and meat during his prime – even though the exact amount of meat he consumed is debatable. In fact, he went into a 6 month program under Krajewski where he consumed 5L of milk a day in addition to his normal meals! After retiring from wrestling, Goerge became a big advocate for natural and uncooked food, including nuts, eggs, legumes, fruit and vegetables. He was heavily against the consumption of processed foods, smoking, drinking and sugar, as he believed they were all toxins that should be avoided. Some of his suggestions included eating at a ratio of ¾ plant based food and ¼ meat (including the organs and – if possible – uncooked), while also securing a high protein intake from natural foods like milk, eggs and legumes.

Part 8: A Crazy Strong and Lifelong Athlete

Throughout his career, George set world records in almost all lifts, with highly notable that of the Iron Cross, where George managed to hold 90 lbs in each hand. Perhaps more astounding was the fact that he did all his lifts with strict and near perfect form! One of his most impressive feats was accomplished around 1898, when George managed to get a 335 lbs barbell to his chest and overhead… in a wrestler's bridge, while lying on his neck!

It is perhaps his balanced and active routine that allowed George to stay strong and active well within old age. When asked about it, he suggested the following daily schedule: Rising up at 7am, taking a bath (cold if possible) and drying out with 15-20 minutes of light exercise. At 8am there was breakfast, followed by a long walk until 11am. The main and vigorous training for the day took place between 11-12 am, followed by lunch and an hour of sleep (if needed) at 1:30. At 5-6 pm, George would do the second workout of the day, this one being muscle focused, followed by dinner at 7:30 pm and recreational activities (preferably outdoors) up until 11 pm: bedtime. Lastly, he recommended taking Sundays off, keeping room for a good brisk walk.

More than anything, George stuck true to his teachings until the very end of his life. It is said that even through his mid 80s, George was able to jump over a chair 100 times a week, Bench Press 150 lbs and run 7 miles in 45 minutes! His perseverance to remain athletic provided him a healthy and long life until he passed away in 1968, at the age of 90.

Part 9: The Russian Lion's Legacy

Despite the fact that he stopped his professional weightlifting career at the young age of 25, George put up some incredible numbers, including a 361 lbs Power Clean, a 330 lbs Jerk, a one arm overhead press of 286 lbs and a 280 lbs standard press. During his peak, George weighed in at 204 lbs, with a height of 5 ft 9.5 inch, a 22 inch neck, 19 inch arms, 18 inch calves, a 32 inch waist, a 52 inch chest and 27 inch thighs.

Needless to say, George's contribution to the advancement of physical culture and competitive wrestling is alive to this day. I can hardly find any strength training practitioner that doesn't utilize the Bench Press or the Hack Squat on a regular basis. His revolutionary training methods like poundage progression, emphasis on heavy compounds and well rounded athleticism and recovery shaped today's physical culture – not to mention how Wrestling would have most likely never been the same without his astonishing career.

However, I'd like to argue that his greatest impact came from his writing and his philosophy. By always keeping things simple, George was training in a balanced but intense way, promoting intensity and heavy loads with proper recovery and general athleticism. He proved that anyone can reach their peak self by sticking to the basics, while showing the world the necessity of a physically strong and healthy body for retaining an equally bright mind. 

George truly believed that many mental and physical illnesses derived from a weak body. By inspiring people to get physically stronger, he boosted the willpower and shifted the life of numerous readers and pupils of his for the better. A true pinnacle of what's naturally attainable, George Hackenschmidt was a wrestler, an incredible strongman, a pioneer, an intellectual and – above all – a passionate athlete and a generational role model.

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