Thursday, May 23, 2024

Full Circle: and ready to train again - By Ted Peterson

My name is Ted and I am 53 years old. You might be thinking that's great Ted, now who are you and why are you writing an article for Natural Strength?

Read on and you might understand, relate, and become motivated to press on with life and your training goals. Let me start by going back to the late 1990's and early 2000's. I was in my late 20's and early 30's. Coming out of the military I was in "good" shape and lifted weights regularly. I trained with passion and loved being in the gym pushing myself and anyone around me physically and mentally.

All that being said I hit a place in my training where I thought that I had "plateaued." I was training faithfully and taking all the popular protein powders of the era. I went to a locally owned nutrition store and spoke with an "older guy" that looked serious about his training. He didn't have a Hollywood muscle for show build, but had an I can pick up a truck kind of look. I shared my frustrations of not making anymore gains in the gym and he asked how many days a week I trained. I answered proudly that I lift weights five or more days a week. I will never forget him rolling his eyes at me and saying come here as he walked toward the books section. He proceeded to explain to me that I was training too frequently and focusing on "body parts" instead of full body, big muscle movements. He handed me several free copies of Hardgainer and encouraged me to read through them.

This is when I was introduced to the writing of "Maximum" Bob Whelan. Although there were many great articles by other contributors I always seemed to gravitate towards Bob's articles. When I began reading hardgainer back then I was 6' tall and weighed about 186. I am not going to lie, these hardgainer articles challenged me mentally. They went against almost everything that I had been taught about strength training. Train less often and quit wasting your money on protein powder!? Eat a big fat steak was, and to this day is, one of Bob's main protein recommendations. So I read hardgainer articles and began to apply the principles of Bob's coaching in them.

Beyond the training tips I found the articles to be incredibly motivating as Bob would describe the brutal sessions, toughness, and attitudes of so many he trained. I applied many of the principles and went from weighing 186 to eventually peaking at 210 pounds! 210 for me was maximizing my genetics for sure and with the increased muscle mass my strength also increased incredibly. My buddies kept asking what magic protein supplement I was on. Some even hinted that roids might be involved, which really pissed me off. Many would "work out" for two hours at the gym, yet the only thing that grew might have been their mandibles. I am no better, or lesser than any man, but my gains were steady, over the course of time, and were made through honest and consistent hard work. I wasn't going to allow people to take that from me especially after I would share the training principles, knowledge, and Bob's articles with them.

I have many life experiences and one thing I've unfortunately noticed is that many people are good with living mediocre lives and want things easy. Enough of that. Let's fast forward to injuries at 43. After 9/11 I served in the military for another 4 years and then as a first responder for an additional 15 years until cumulative injuries took their toll on me. My careers were ended, I was facing surgeries, training was reduced to doctors approving "doing cardio", and I went into a depression. At the urging of family and a couple of close friends I went to the VA and began to tackle some of the intrusive memories that I had from the types of professions I had chosen. I had to dig in mentally and I pressed on. I can't say how challenging it was and to this day I have to work on keeping my mind strong.

I met with a physical therapist, Dr. Erik Salley, from Restore Performance Institute and he said that I could be restored physically. Wait, what!? The next year and a half would be challenging and rewarding. Erik believes that the mind, body, and spirit are all intertwined. Erik went against most of the don't do anything and take these pain meds norms. Over the next year Erik would help me physically and mentally to believe that I was in fact on track to be able to train again. Eventually he had me begin training with a young man named Rian on the human performance side of the house. I can't express how grateful I am to Erik and Rian for the patience and motivation that they provided during this time in my life.

So here I was back in the gym. At first I was just excited to be back in the gym training and then I had a "what am I doing at 53" moment. I am at a different place in life, what are my training goals? I believe I have more in the tank and remembered Bob Whelan's coaching articles. I went to Natural There they were, so many of the articles and kick ass motivated attitudes that I remembered, and I knew that I had the itch again and I want to train with goals.

I reached out to Bob in an email and to my surprise he responded. I say surprised because in my mind this has got to be one of the most sought after strength coaches in the country and he took the time to email me. I shared where I was at in life and about my desire to train with some purpose again. Bob scheduled a phone consultation with me and my goal was to shut up, listen, and have a pen and paper ready to write. I did plenty of writing, but we also enjoyed some great conversation about life. Bob is the real deal. He does not care to impress anyone, he is exactly the person behind the articles that I read 25 years ago. He is very direct, which I appreciate, and he is very genuine and passionate about coaching people to better themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was humbled when he asked me to share some of my story and now with a fresh set of coaching notes I look forward to the hard work and making progress with my training. Thanks for allowing me to share and I encourage you to not give up, get after it, no matter what chapter of life you are in. Thanks "Maximum" Bob!
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Friday, May 17, 2024

The Trap Bar and Dr. Ken - By Jim Duggan

By the Fall of 1987, I had been competing in drug-free powerlifting for two years and had been subscribing to Powerlifting USA magazine since the previous Summer.  As a young lifter, I couldn’t get enough powerlifting.  Whether it be training, competing, or simply reading about the sport, my whole world revolved around the three lifts and  how to improve them.  Looking back, I realize that was not a healthy outlook to have, and that there is much more to life than Squats, Bench Presses, and Deadlifts.  Although, nearly thirty-seven years later, I am still an avowed strength fanatic.  I just don’t follow powerlifting, for reasons stated in previous articles.  But anything related to building, measuring, or the discussion of strength and I am instantly transported back in time.

      Looking back at the October issue of PL/USA, there were the usual articles about training, upcoming contests, and of course, the meet results section.  I have to admit, it was kind of cool the first time I saw my name in a contest report.  I guess that can be attributed to inexperience, and I’m glad that I got over that phase relatively quickly.  But one thing that I never got over was reading quality, no-nonsense articles about getting stronger.  And when it came to quality strength training articles, few authors can compare to Dr. Ken Leistner.  Even today, his articles have withstood the test of time.  Quality information never goes out of style.

     This month’s “More From Ken Leistner” column focused on the Trap Bar.  Back in 1987, the Trap Bar was still relatively new to the lifting world.  In the article, Dr. Ken wrote that the inventor of the Trap Bar was a gentleman by the name of Al Gerard.  But it was Kim Wood, the long-time strength coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, who convinced him to try one.  By his own admission, Dr. Ken initially thought that the Trap Bar was “another scam.”  Sometimes it takes some convincing from a legendary strength coach, even for someone like Dr. Ken.  I’m glad that he took the advice, because when I joined Iron Island Gym a few years later, the Trap Bar quickly became on of my favorite pieces of training equipment.  Come to think of it, the first time I ever SAW a Trap Bar was when I joined Iron Island.  Yet another reason that I’m glad I joined.  

     During the course of the article, Dr. Ken goes on to describe the results that his trainees got from using his newest piece of equipment.  Even some of his lifter who had back problems were able to use the Trap Bar because it allowed them to use proper form throughout the lift.  “The distribution of the weight is closer to the body’s center of gravity, making lifting more efficient and less stressful.”  

     Naturally, Deadlifts with a Trap Bar became a staple of my training, especially during the “off-season.”  It’s a great way to build back strength, while at the same time providing an alternative to regular Deadlifts.  I’ve always found that if you stick to regular Deadlifts from the floor for low reps for an extended length of time, you will inevitably reach a point where you will grow stale and/or overtrain.  It’s just the nature of the beast.  Of course, you can devote some time to high-rep Deadlifts, but how many powerlifter want to do high reps in the Deadlift?  I know in my own experience, thirty years ago I thought that anything over three constituted “high reps.”  As I mentioned earlier, I’m glad that my thinking has changed over the years.  

     One of the interesting things about the Trap Bar is that it can also be used for other movements.  Shoulder shrugs are an obvious example of another movement which can be performed with the Trap Bar.  Shrugs with a standard bar have been an effective “assistance exercise” for years, but with a Trap Bar the movement can be done a lot more comfortably than with a straight bar.  If you’ve never tried shoulder shrugs with a Trap Bar, try them.  You’ll never go back to using a standard bar again.  

     Another great way to use a Trap Bar is to use it for Overhead Pressing.  The “parallel” grip, with the palms facing each other allowed for a more efficient pressing movement.  I’ve actually used a Trap Bar for standing Presses inside of a power rack.  At the time, I was preparing for a strongman contest in which one of the events was a log bar press.  Since there were no logs- or even log bars- to be found, the Trap Bar inside of the rack provided for a similar grip which was to be  used in the contest.  Of course, you can also use the Trap Bar for Bench Presses, too.  If you can fit a flat bench inside of a power rack, you will have an effective way to stimulate the same muscles used in a conventional Bench Press.  Plus, the parallel grip will be “user friendly” for your shoulders. In the years since this article was first published, many equipment manufacturers have designed machines which feature a parallel grip, for the safety of those who use them.  But if you don’t have access to machines, all you need is a Trap Bar.

     Over the years, the design of the Trap Bar has changed.  Gone is the original diamond shape.  In its place is a hexagonal design that works just as well.  As I said earlier, Iron Island Gym had one of the first Trap Bars, but eventually Dr. Ken had a special one designed exclusively for the gym.  It was a custom made Trap Bar which featured slightly thicker handles, a larger inside area ( for those individuals who had trouble fitting inside a conventional Trap Bar), and it weighed in at a massive 40kgs ( 88 Lbs).  This thing was a monster.  Just moving it around constituted a workout in itself.  I fondly remember doing high rep sets with Drew Israel on numerous occasions.  To paraphrase Nietzsche, “That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger.”  

     To take things a step further, about five years ago, I purchased a thick handled Trap Bar.  The handles ( the entire bar in fact) is a massive two inches thick!  It is a beast! And since I bought it, I have used it religiously.  You not only get the benefits of a Trap Bar, but you also have the advantage of thick bar work, which has been discussed frequently over the years by numerous strength writers.  I’ve been trying to really push the poundage, and have been happy with the results.  

     I would like to mention one other thing insofar as today’s generation of Trap Bars.  It has become something of a pet peeve with me.  I’m talking about the Trap Bars with raised handles, which decrease the range of motion.  Some of these bars have handles that must be well over six inches above the normal height of the bar.  Some are even  higher!  As I have mentioned in previous articles, if you are lifting on a bar with raised handles, then you are NOT doing a Deadlift.  You are doing a PARTIAL lift.  Or Rack lockout.  Do yourselves a favor and turn the handles over and do a FULL movement.  And, it goes without saying, you should never use straps in order to use more weight.  Instead, concentrate on working on your grip strength.  

     I will close with a direct quote from Dr. Ken’s original article:  “The Trap Bar can not make a champion out of just anybody, but I do believe that it can help to improve one’s deadlift significantly, if used properly.”  Truer words were never spoken.  And, interestingly, it’s not the first- or last- time that I found myself in total agreement with Dr. Ken.


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