Thursday, July 28, 2011

Building the Behemoth

A friend of mine here in Tuscaloosa - Jared Smith - has a new blog. It looks like it'll be pretty cool (especially if you're into super-high-intensity training).

Here's a link:

http://buildingthebehemoth.blogspot.com/

Overtraining Your Movement Pattern

First, I want to apologize for my long delay between blog posts. I have been more than a little busy as of late. Between work (I do have a regular “9 to 5” job), moving into a new house (and all that entails), and writing quite a bit of articles, my blog just took a back seat. (Speaking of writing articles, I now have an article in almost every issue of Planet Muscle, so that’s where you can find all of my latest stuff. And I now only write occasionally for Iron Man.)

With that out of the way, let’s get on with this blog post:

As regular readers of my material know, I believe that fairly high-volume, frequent training is the best (the quickest, the most result-producing) route to bigger, stronger, more (dare I say?) functional muscles. (It must be noted that this wasn’t always my opinion. If you read a lot of my early stuff in Iron Man – mid ‘90s to very early ‘00s – you’ll find that my training programs tended to be based around infrequent training. But all of that changed when I actually started performing high-volume workouts, and began to achieve fantastic results.)

So, basically, I think the whole “overtraining” thing is overdone. Here’s something from Christian Thibaudeau (which you can find in a previous post from last July):


One of the reasons why these people fail to train hard enough to stimulate gains is out fear of overtraining (which is often just a justification for laziness).


Well, let me tell you this: True overtraining is exceptionally rare. In all my life as an athlete and coach, I've only seen two real cases of overtraining, and in both the guys were Olympians training over 30 hours per week under tremendous psychological stress.


In reality, most elite athletes train over 20 hours per week, with some even hitting the 40-hour mark. Not all of this is strength training; speed and agility work, conditioning, and skill practices are also on the menu.


Before you throw the doping argument in my face, I've seen a ton of young athletes who were obviously not on drugs follow that type of schedule. I've worked as the head strength coach of a sports academy where kids ranging from 12 to 18 would go to school from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, then train or practice from 1:00 to 5:00 pm every day. Their programs included daily strength work, agility training, and practices cumulating over 20 hours per week. None of them were overtraining; all of them progressed quite well.


Having said that, I think there are a couple of reasons why lifters often believe they’re overtrained. The first – and I’ve mentioned this elsewhere – is that they have a low work capacity. They’re simply not capable of frequent, intense, voluminous training because they have never placed demands on their bodies that would (eventually) allow them to perform such workouts. In more simplistic terms, the reason you get so sore from training everything once per week is, well, you only train everything once per week.

But there’s also another reason.

While it’s relatively difficult to actually overtrain, it’s relatively easy to overtrain your movement pattern. I believe this is the reason that the methods of Louie Simmons have been so successful. Westside Barbell understands this, and they make good use of it. This is also the reason why you can’t continually train heavy on the same exercise and make good progress. Your body grows too accustomed too quickly to the exercise, and another exercise needs to take its place. If you have attempted to train your bench press heavy (and by heavy, I mean sets of triples, doubles, or singles) on successive weeks, then you probably know this. The first week, everything goes well. The second week – especially if you’re new to these almost maximal loads – things go even better; you’re stronger. By the third week, however, you’re often back to your week one poundages. And if you attempt it for a 4th week, then you’re even weaker than week one. Well, technically you’re not weaker, but you are slower from training the specific movement pattern just too damn often.

Here’s another thing: depending on the exercise, certain movement patterns become more quickly overtrained than others. Let’s take powerlifting as an example. You can train the squat frequently for long periods of time. This is the reason that Olympic lifters can max out on this exercise every damn day (although I don’t advise training that extreme). But you can’t train the bench press and the deadlift to anything approximating the same frequency. You can train the bench press more frequently than the deadlift, but I still wouldn’t advise more than one all-out bench press session more than once per week. As for the deadlift: about one all-out session every two to three weeks seems to work well for most people.

But all of this is not to say that you shouldn’t train the muscles that you deadlift and bench press with frequently.

To make all of this very simple to understand, here’s the “in-the-gym” version of how to apply what you (may have) learned here:


• Build up your work capacity to the point that you can train with a fairly large amount of volume 4 to 6 days per week.
• Train your squat frequently. I think that 2 days per week will do fine.
• Train the muscles that you squat and deadlift with even more frequently. I think 3 to 4 days per week is ideal. Not all of this has to be weighted workouts – I love sled dragging, tire flipping, and farmer’s walks.
• On average, I believe that you should train your upper body three to four times weekly. Just make sure that the movement pattern is different at each workout. At every session, put the emphasis on a vertical push or pull movement and a horizontal push or pull movement. That’s 4 different movement patterns for each workout.



Monday, March 28, 2011

Around the Web

Here are some collections of articles that I discovered on the web recently, thought I'd share them with you. Some are new; some aren't. But they're new to me, so they might be new to some of y'all, as well.

If you haven't been to it, a great site is www.theironsamurai.com. It's an Olympic lifting site run by strength coach Nick Horton. I don't know the guy—never heard of him until I came across the site—but he has some great stuff for all lifters, not just Olympic lifters. (Oh, and he has a touch of Zen here and there, as well, which might also interest some of you.)

Here's a really good post from his site: http://www.theironsamurai.com/2011/02/09/happy-birthday-to-me-reflections-on-lifting-coaching-and-the-pre-masters-class/. It has his thoughts on lifting and coaching, including a good bit on Bulgarian style training. For those of you who are fans of high-volume training (or would like to give it a shot), Nick has some insights that can help you.


For those of you who powerlift, here's an article on the great Latvian lifter Konstantin Konstantinovs: http://www.ampedtraining.com/2009/strength/konstantinovs-is-a-badass

The article contains some footage of his lifts, and then a discussion (albeit brief) at the end about his form. I always deadlifted with a similar form, and found that it greatly aided in my pull. Beware, however, you do need a really strong lower back.


Over at Mike Mahler's website: www.mikemahler.com, Mike has re-printed my article "The Mass-Building, Split-Training Ultimate." http://www.mikemahler.com/articles/massbuilding.html

It's an article that's pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. Seriously, though, Mike Mahler seems like that rare combination of great strength coach and all around good guy. Even if you don't read my article, visit his website and check out a lot of the other great stuff he has to offer.



Finally—for all lifters—here's a terrific article from the always-good Dan John entitled "Can it Really be That Simple?" : http://www.dragondoor.com/can_it_really_be_that_simple/

Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Q&A

If anyone has e-mailed me in the last couple of months, and not gotten a response, please feel free to write me again.

It appears that quite a lot of the mail I was receiving was going to "junk," and I'm afraid that I probably deleted a good deal of my mail without ever responding.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Ultimate At-Home Workouts

Ultimate At-Home Workouts

Volume One: The One with the Session from the Night of March 7th

The Intro

Recently, I’ve been forced to do almost all of my training at home. At first, this might not sound like that big of a deal to you. If you have read my posts—or my articles—for any length of time, then you know that I trained at home for years. But that was different. At one time, I had over 1,300 pounds of weights in my garage. (I counted the total amount of weight one point, but I don’t remember what it was—and I probably accumulated even more stuff after I counted it.) My entire garage was a gym. This included a squat rack, a bench press (Forza, good stuff), and a deadlift platform.

When my wife and I separated a couple of years ago, I trained with minimum equipment. At the time, I really didn’t know how to train using minimal equipment, since I hadn’t done it since I was a teenager and my father bought me one of those old, concrete DP sets for my 15th birthday. (On a note unrelated to the rest of this post, I want to say that a lot of lifters around my age owe a great debt to DP for getting us started in the iron game. I digress…) Anyway, I experimented with minimal-equipment training and I got some good results. (Which you can read on past entries here on the blog.)

But that didn’t last too long. After a couple months of at home workouts, I moved all of my weights to a friend’s garage/wrecker pen. And I’ve been training consistently there for the last year and a half (or so).

That changed recently. I had to move my weights. So I called up my training partner Puddin’ (or, rather, he called me) and we moved all of those weights to a mini-storage. I’m sure that before long I will once again find a place to store my weights (such as a new house), but until that time arrives I am going to make the most of my situation. (Puddin’—also known as “The Ox” and “Big Perm”; occasionally known by his given name, Richard—will have none of this bodyweight and limited equipment training. He needs his heavy iron—or so he says—and so he plans on joining a local gym for the time being.)

And so, I go it alone.

I’m kind of looking forward to it. I’ve wanted to write a bodyweight-training article for some time, so I’m going to experiment with several training strategies that I believe to be effective—strategies that I didn’t use during my last stint with this sort of training. So far, I’m enjoying the workouts, and the results that I’m getting.

I’m limiting my weights even more than my situation requires. I have space where I currently live for more equipment, but for the time being I’m going to stick with a few pair of dumbbells.

The Advice

Before we go any further, I want to give you some advice about at-home workouts. Much of this advice applies to workouts in your garage gym or your average commercial gym, but I think that it would do some good to discuss it. (By the way, some of this advice is not the typical stuff you’ll hear from the “experts” in a lot of the muscle magazines or—God forbid—the internet forums.) But I think it’s sound advice none-the-less:

· Train hard. True, I don’t always recommend training to “failure”. But you still need to push yourself. The harder you push yourself—always striving to move more and more weight; always striving for a few more repetitions—the better the results.

· Stick with basic exercises. One of the beauties of at-home training is that it forces you to work hard on basic exercises. You could do worse than a hard session of bodyweight squats, push-ups (in whatever variety you choose to use), overhead dumbbell presses, dumbbell rows, and farmer’s walks.

· Don’t be afraid to train long. I know that it’s popular these days to workout for 45 minutes, then call it quits. But I want to go on record right now and say that some of the best results I’ve ever gotten are with hard workouts that lasted 1 and a half to 2 hours long. When I was powerlifting, I broke all my personal bests with Russian-style training that typically lasted 2 hours. And in the past year, I put on a lot of muscle mass—not to mention strength—when I trained 4 to 5 days per week, with sessions lasting at least one and a half hours.

· Overtraining is for pussies! Okay, maybe I went slightly overboard with this one. But, seriously, the whole overtraining thing has been way overdone. Guys from the past that were massively big and strong ( such as Anthony Ditillo) and guys currently (think Christian Thibaudeau, Charles Staley, Chad Waterbury, and myself) always recommend that the more frequently you can train, the better. Of course, the frequent training has to be tempered with wisdom and insight, but it’s still the best way to go as long as you know what you’re doing.

The Workout

To give you a good idea of what an “ultimate at-home workout” might look like, here is the workout that I performed this evening:

· After a couple sets of hill sprints to get the blood flowing, I started the workout with dumbbell deadlifts for speed. Using 80-pound dumbbells, I performed 5 set of 10 reps. The goal on each repetition was to explode as fast as possible, then lower the weight under control.

· Next up was one of the best exercises you can ever do with a pair of dumbbells in your hands: the farmer’s walk. For these, I walked back and forth in my back yard until I felt fairly fatigued. (Yeah, I know, you think that’s kind of vague.) Using the 80 pound dumbbells again, I walked until I felt as if I was about to drop the weight, rested a couple of minutes, then repeated this for 8 more sets.

· The third exercise was one-arm overhead presses. Once again, it was the 80s. I didn’t push these as hard (since I did a whole shite-load of push-ups the night before), but I still did 5 sets of 5 reps.

· The “heavy” stuff out of the way, I grabbed my 30 pound dumbbells and cranked out 5 sets of 20 reps of dumbbell overhead presses. I moved fast here; resting just long enough to catch my breath.

· For the final “weighted” exercise of the session, I did 100 reps of dumbbell curls with the 30s. For these, I did a set of 20, rested very briefly, did a set of 20, rested very briefly again, and then repeated for another 3 sets.

· Last, but definitely not least, I did sets of 50-rep bodyweight squats for 30 minutes. I’m not sure how many sets I did here. I did a set, rested long enough to get my strength back, did another set, and repeated in like manner until the 30-minutes were over.

· All told, the workout took around an hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours. Of course, half of the workout was comprised of farmer’s walks and bodyweight squats.

The key to making this training effective is to string several of these kinds of workouts together during a week. And then to string the weeks together into months, and the months into years, and then… well, you get it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Jack Lalanne videos

I hope that everyone who reads my blog—and even those of you who have just stumbled upon it—will take the time to view some of the videos below. They are some of my favorites.

Although Jack Lalanne is gone, it's nice to know that we can still watch and listen to him as he tells it like it is.

Jack Lalanne - Worry

Jack Lalanne - Body and Mind Connection

Jack Lalanne - The effect of bad habits

Jack Lalanne - Life is a battlefield

Jack Lalanne - Unhappy people

Jack Lalanne: Strength and Endurance


One of my all-time heroes, Jack Lalanne, died yesterday.

I'm not sure if—as popular as he was—Lalanne ever got his just due. Modern "fitness" experts (and I use that term rather loosely considering a lot of the current crop of "experts") couldn't hold a candle to old Jack. If you don't believe me, then ponder this: What current "expert" could do a 1,000 push-ups and a 1,000 pull-ups in just over one hour? The answer: not one. But Lalanne could.

He's due more respect among bodybuilders, as well. (And if you don't believe that, just look at the picture above.) His physique in the '40s was as good as anyone (though, admittedly, not as large as others.)

In honor of him, I thought I would post the article below. It's from 1949, but it's words ring as true now as they did back then. (Maybe even more true, considering the fact that so few lifters want to work hard these days.)

Strength and Endurance
by Jack Lalanne


The question of strength versus endurance is a question asked of me hundreds of times. Some fellows will train for just strength, others train strictly for endurance. It is impossible to develop maximum strength AND endurance. If you are trained for strength alone, your endurance will suffer. If your objective is weight lifting alone, your interest in developing a lot of endurance may be negligible, but on the other hand, if you are interested in attaining close to a perfect body developed for efficiency’s sake, you will be surely be interested in strength PLUS endurance.

Our bodies are called upon to perform numerous tasks and duties. Some require strength, some endurance. Therefore, the sensible thing for the average trainer to do is to hit upon a happy medium and strive to develop both.

You might say, “Why develop all this endurance, I’m not a distance runner or swimmer?” No, you might not be, but do you realize the tremendous amount of energy it takes to work eight hours on your job, then train several nights a week? If you haven’t the proper endurance, your job and your training will be very unpleasant tasks. For example, we’ll say your job requires 100 units of energy and you have 150 units of energy in your body. At the end of the day you haven’t much reserve left for your workouts or even the ordinary pursuit of life. The greatest complaint of Americans is, “I’m always tired.” Sure they’re tired. They have no reserve to fall back on. If you have only 150 units of energy in your body, why not build the 150 units to 300, 400 or even 500 by the correct exercise and diet? If you develop this endurance your job will be much easier than before, and at the day’s end instead of feeling depleted you will have an adequate reserve from which to draw when you are training or enjoying yourself in other ways. The whole idea may be summer up thusly: If you have a heavy load to haul that requires 75 horsepower to move, and your truck has only 80 horsepower your motor hasn’t much reserve and the strain on it would be enormous. Wouldn’t it be better to get a 150 horsepower motor with which to pull the load? There would be far less strain on the engine and it would work more efficiently and last longer. That body of yours is exactly like the truck engine. If you put too much stress on your body it will wear out quicker and function less efficiently. It would be wise to develop this strength and endurance to the utmost so the things we like and want to do will place no great strain on us. Then we can finish a full day’s work and still have a reservoir of energy stored away ready to use.

Strength and endurance can be developed. Anyone beginner can double the strength and endurance he possesses. The only thing it takes is proper guidance and persistence.

Another thing I would like to dwell on for a moment is the effect age has on one’s endurance. It has been my observation that, among my own students, the older fellows develop more endurance than do the younger ones. By older fellows I mean men in their 40’s or early 50’s. This holds especially true in the fields of marathon running and swimming. The winner of the Boston A.A.U. 26-mile marathon this year was a man in his forties, and the greatest distance swimmer in the world today is Frenchman in his 50’s.

The reason more of the older fellows haven’t strength and endurance is due to the fact that they never make use of them. Inactivity plays no part in the development of either. The more you use the body properly, the better it becomes. If you put demands on your body what happens? All the internal organs are stimulated, the heart is called on to pump more blood through the body, the lungs are called on to rid the body of waste products and to furnish it with plenty of fresh oxygen to work with, all the other organs and glands are called upon to do their part in the functions of the body, the elimination is sped up to take care of the increased manufacture of poisons and waste, your assimilation becomes more efficient, in fact you become so efficient that all of the nourishment in your food is utilized to a fuller extent. The harder you work the stronger you get and the more endurance you develop.

Remember this: It is extremely hard for a healthy, well-trained person can overwork his body! The ability to handle more work than you ever imagined was possible can be attained.

Now you want to know how to develop all of this strength and endurance. First, you have to lay out a program for yourself. Developing strength and endurance together takes a lot of self-discipline. When you think you are tired you can always do more. In fact, you’ll be surprised at how much you are capable of doing after you think you have reached your limit. To start a program for yourself, though, you have to start out quite gradually.

Keep doing your regular training, but instead of resting say, 3 minutes between sets, rest only 2½ minutes. Do this for a couple of workouts, then, for a couple more rest only 2 minutes between sets. Reduce the rest periods by 15 seconds each week until you are doing 1 set every minute including rest. In other words, you will be doing 10 sets in 10 minutes.

You may have to drop some of your poundages slightly at first, but the whole idea behind this is to be able to use heavy weights and not rest much. You will no doubt say, “I can’t lift decent weights unless I rest more.” We are strictly creatures of habit and adaptation. Why not get into the habit of shorter rests during workouts? You will be amazed to see, with hard work and persistence, how fast you can work and how much weight you can handle after a couple of months of training this way. Some of the numerous advantages of this approach are listed below:

1.) Keeping the blood in strong circulation.
2.) Building up nerve force.
3.) Accomplishing more work less time.
4.) If you are planning to, or already do participate in a sport, your condition will improve immensely.
5.) The quality of strength and musculature will be much better.
6.) The stimulation you get from a fast workout is far greater than from a prolonged one.

After you have mastered doing a hard set a minute, try doing a set, resting 10 seconds, then doing the next set. A program this intense should not be followed for more than three consecutive weeks. After the three weeks train for a week with lighter weights, longer rests and fewer total sets. Then return to the more intense work for another three weeks.

Everything we do is judged to be difficult or easy by comparison with some other movement or exercise we perform. For example, if you are lifting 100 pounds, but you are capable of lifting 200 pounds in the same exercise, the 100 pound weight will never seem really seem easy until you have lifted the 200 pound one. If, after lifting the 200 pound weight, you again try the 100 pounder, it will seem ridiculously easy. This applies to everything we do, including the length of time we choose to rest between sets. Always make new and harder demands on the body and the results will be most gratifying.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Best Article of 2010

Now that 2010 is come and gone—and now that a whole slew of people (some of you reading this) are in the midst of attempting to succeed at their New Year's resolution—I thought I would post my pick for the "Best Article of 2010."

If you know me—or at least my writings—then you won't be surprised by my pick.

I've selected Bill Starr's article that appeared in the March '10 issue of Iron Man magazine entitled "Make it Harder: There are No Shortcuts on the Road to Building Strength."

And if you are truly interested in succeeding at your resolutions, then this article is a must read.

Enjoy.

(And maybe in the near future, I'll post my "honorable mentions" for 2010.)


Make it Harder
There are No Shortcuts on the Road to Building Strength
Bill Starr

The current trend in strength training and the fitness world is to come up with some new piece of equipmentor a training system that isn’t demanding but that enables a person to get stronger or become more fit. Easy is in; difficult is out. Modern fitness facilities reflect the trend. They’re no longer places where die-hard lifters and bodybuilders sweat buckets of water and sometimes blood in their quest for greater strength and finer physiques. They’ve become social clubs where attire is more important than how much effort you put into a routine. Using heavy weights is frowned on, as are sweating and making noise while working out.
Which is why you rarely see anyone in those state-of-the-art facilities who’s strong or in great shape. People prefer the word toning to training and believe in short, condensed sessions, as they’re very busy.
Even if you do join a gym for the purpose of packing on muscular bodyweight or increasing your strength by a large margin, your task is going to be difficult due to the lack of equipment. Ever see any power racks or lifting platforms in the newer gyms? I doubt it. There are probably a dozen training centers in the county I live in, and not one of them has a power rack or a lifting platform. So athletes who would like to get stronger in order to be more proficient in their chosen sport or are aspiring Olympic lifters are out of luck in Harford County, Maryland. As they are almost everywhere else in the country.
The last thing an owner of a gym wants is a group of men and women who are serious about getting stronger. They stay way too long, taking up space that five others could be using. Of course, the reason the proprietors give for not having any equipment for heavy training is that doing the Olympic and power lifts is risky and light weights are much safer and not as stressful to the body. Plus, the machines are a great deal easier than having to learn how to do a movement with a free weight.
I can determine the true nature of any gym just by checking out its squatting stations. If there are power racks or staircase squat racks, I give the place a B rating. Should it, by some miracle, have a platform, it gets an A. If I see a row of Smith machines instead of squat racks, though, I know that this is the home of mullets: trainees who seldom miss workouts yet never make any appreciable gains in either size or strength. They come to these ultramodern fitness centers to visit, ogle the female members in skintight leotards and maybe get lucky and score an invitation to a party. Trying to improve his strength on some exercise is the last thing on a mullet’s mind.
The current attitude of the majority of Americans is that fast is better than prolonged, whether you’re talking about making money, getting promotions, gaining salvation or staying in shape. Writing a letter is old-fashioned, and sending a fax is slowly but steadily falling into the same category. No one wants to put forth much effort anymore.
When I come across one of the programs on TV selling some new gadget, I stay with it because I’m fascinated by the ideas they come up with to try and get viewers to believe what they’re saying is true and buy their product. Some are downright silly. My favorite lately is the apparatus designed to let someone do crunches. That is, instead of not buying the flimsy piece of junk and doing crunches on the floor. The selling point is that the apparatus will let you perform crunches and be completely comfortable while doing it. One happy customer, a real person, proclaimed that he loved the apparatus because he could now do crunches without any aches in his neck. Right—nothing should ache or give you discomfort while you train. That would simply be ridiculous.
After my hip surgery the only ab exercise I could do for some time was crunches. Because I was still weak, I managed only a couple of dozen the first time I did them, and my neck gave out before my abs. Someone in tune with the times would have immediately ordered one of those crunch machines, but I chose another approach. I did some dynamic-tension exercises to strengthen my neck, and I slowly increased my reps. Within two months I was doing 600 crunches, and only the last 50 bothered my neck—but nothing to the degree of grinding out of the bottom of a max squat or bringing a heavy deadlift through the sticking point. Getting stronger always involves discomfort. It’s the only way to move your body to a higher level. Yet that’s not what the masses want to hear.
The preference for the quick and easy over the long and difficult is the primary reason we see so many grossly fat people waddling around malls and supermarkets—everywhere in fact. Sure, they’re overeating, but that’s been going on for quite some time. The recent spurt of obesity in nearly all age groups is a direct result of inactivity. Moreover, if changes aren’t soon made for youngsters growing up in our do-less environment, a great many parents are going to be burying their offspring.
But enough about mullets and the lazy part of our population. No matter what they’re told, they aren’t going to change. My message is for those who are seriously trying to alter their physiques for the better or want to get considerably stronger, and it’s for those who profess a genuine desire to gain strength and build a more balanced physique but still take the easy way out when it comes to doing the hard stuff.
Working the lower back is a prime example of what I’m talking about. The single best exercise for strengthening the lumbars is the good morning. It also happens to be one of the most demanding exercises in all of strength training. Good mornings, which are often called tomorrow mornings by my athletes due to the lingering soreness they cause, are an integral part of my athletes’ programs—females as well as males. As soon as they’ve learned the basic exercises and established a firm enough foundation, I insert good mornings into their routines. That’s because without the specific lower-back work, they won’t make nearly the gains on the pulling exercises or squats as when they do good mornings religiously and with weight that’s in proportion to their squats.
Although athlete hate good mornings with a passion, they do them because I’m in charge. Plus, they feel the results right away and know they’re beneficial. As soon as they complete their sports eligibility, of course, the majority of them drop the exercise, contending that they’re no longer interested in getting stronger. They just want to maintain a fit body. What they fail to understand is that strong lumbars are critical for success in any physical activity and that if they want to continue to play recreational sports and stay reasonably strong, they must work their lower backs directly and diligently. As they grow older, keeping the lumbars strong becomes essential to leading a healthy life.
Then there are those who keep good mornings in their routines but use such puny poundages that it becomes an almost useless exercise. When the hyperextension machines came on the scene, they became instant substitutes for good mornings in nearly every collegiate program in the country. The machines looked sharp, and both athletes and coaches loved them—athletes because anything was better than good mornings and coaches because they no longer had to listen to complaints about the dreaded exercise.
I like the hyper machines, yet they’re not as demanding as good mornings, and there’s the rub. Take a step back in the difficulty department, and you’ll soon find that many of your lifts are regressing rather than progressing.
I also use almost-straight-legged deadlifts in my routine, but only as an alternative for my advanced athletes to give them more variety. At first the athletes think they caught a break. Then I inform them how much weight they’re going to be using: three quarters of their best squat for 10 reps. Plus, they’re not allowed to skip the good mornings. Rather, they do them twice as often as the deads. So there’s no moving from difficult to easy. It’s difficult to difficult, and that’s how it must be if someone wants to get stronger or even maintain existing strength. Shift to an easier movement, and strength will be lost, guaranteed. It’s just how the body functions.
Many trainees do partial squats rather than going deep. They contend that full squats hurt their knees while partials do not. That’s bullshit. Half and quarter squats put a much greater amount of stress on the knee joints than the full movement. It’s been proven in a great many studies. The best exercise for stabilizing the knees is the squat, done in a full-range movement. The real reason so many prefer partial squats is that they’re easier, pure and simple.
Cheating on an exercise is another example of how so many take the easier course. It’s easier to accomplish a higher number on the bench press much more readily and with less effort if you rebound the bar off your chest followed by an exaggerated bridge to get it through the sticking point. To use strict, correct form is much tougher and brings about slower gains—in the beginning, that is. Over the long haul using perfect technique will result in a much higher lift with the added bonus of lowering the risk of injury to the elbows and shoulders.
Taking the less demanding route is why so many prefer to do seated presses with the bar or dumbbells rather than cleaning them and pressing from a standing position. It’s also why some do shrugs with dumbbellsrather than loading up a bar with a score of plates in the power rack. Heavy shrugs are very hard; dumbbellsare not. It’s evident when athletes want to do flat-bench dumbbell presses and have teammates hand them the weights. That’s the easy way. The hard way is to learn to clean the dumbbell, then lie back and do the presses. To really test athletes’ determination, have them sit up with the weights when they’ve finished the set and place them on the floor. That’s what I mean by making a movement more difficult. Rest assured, however: The athlete who did the exercise without any assistance is going to get a great deal more out of it than someone who asks for help.
Even when rubber bumper plates are available, I have my athletes lower the bar to the floor under control rather than dropping it. Why? It’s not to keep from damaging the bar or plates but to do a bit of extra work by lowering the bar. Before the bumps came along in the late ’60s, lifters had to lower the weights back to the platform, even after a heavy clean, press, snatch or jerk. If a bar was dropped during competition, the lift was disqualified. Platforms, unless engineered to handle a huge amount of stress, couldn’t handle heavy chunks of iron being rained down on them repeatedly. Gym owners would go berserk when someone lost control and dumped a weight. I’ve trained at a number of gyms that were on the second floor and was told that if I dropped even one attempt, my workout was over. A small thing, perhaps, to lower a bar under control, but that additional bit of effort adds up in the long run. It builds a different kind of strength from what you use to elevate a weight.
Having a wide range of machines and all the other usual equipment in a gym isn’t always the blessing many believe it to be. A gym with only the bare essentials may seem to be a handicap, yet it can be a positive if you’re willing to go the extra mile. When I started weight training, the first three weight rooms I trained in had no squat rack. I believed squats were necessary if I wanted to grow and get stronger, so I cleaned the weight, flipped it over to my back, squatted and then flipped it back to my shoulders and lowered it to the floor—certainly harder than taking a weight off a rack and squatting it. The combo exercise did a great deal in helping me build a solid foundation so that when I did finally find a well-equipped gym, I was much better prepared.
Steve Stanko told me that he had to do the same thing, then did me one better. There was only a flat bench in the small room where he trained in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, before moving to York, Pennsylvania. So in order to do bench presses, he had to lie on the bench and pull the bar from the floor up over his head and place it on his chest. After he finished his set, he would lower the bar as carefully as he could back to the floor. He credited that movement with his exceptional upper-body strength. If you know the history of physical culture, you know that Steve was one of the greatest Olympic lifters and bodybuilders America ever produced. He was the first athlete in the world to total 1,000 on the three Olympic lifts—the press, snatch and clean and jerk—as well as a Mr. America winner.
Those who train alone have a tendency, over time, to opt for doing an easier exercise for some body part. They might substitute hang cleans for full power cleans. While I also use hang cleans in some of my athletes’ routines, it’s mostly for variety, and I never have them do the shorter version exclusively. Hang cleans serve a purpose but aren’t nearly as beneficial as the full-range movement. Full power cleans require a higher degree of coordination, timing, and overall quickness than hang cleans, which means they have more relevance to an athlete in any sport.
If you’re training alone, you have to constantly monitor your program to make sure you’re not cutting corners on some of the more demanding exercises. Or you might still be doing all the hard stuff but less of it so that your overall workload numbers are slowly becoming lower and lower.
The reason anyone trying to gain size and strength needs to constantly be making workouts harder and harder is that the human body is always seeking a state of complacency. The mind, however, is in charge, and dedicated athletes won’t let the physical self succumb to the ever-present urge to take it easy.
Back to the chubby segment of our population. The reason so many are in the sad state they are is simply that they lack willpower. To stay fit and healthy requires a resolve that cannot be shaken no matter what obstacles are placed in your path.
To read the article in its entirety, go here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Two New Articles



















First, in the February '11 issue of Planet Muscle, I have an article entitled "400 Pound Bench and 50" Chest." What makes this one unique is that it's actually a re-print of one that I already had in PM about a year ago. However, they said that it was "hands down, their most popular article of the last two years." Their words, not mine. Pretty cool.

And, in the February '11 issue of Iron Man, I have an article entitled "X-Factor Arm Workouts." I don't usually write "body part training" articles, so if I did, then you know it's going to be different.