Tuesday, September 30, 2008

True Or False - Jeff Everson

True or False?
by Jeff Everson (1982)

1.) Working on the preacher bench correctly and selectively develops the lower biceps.

FALSE – What is being stressed here is the brachialis muscle because of its origin and insertion and the resultant angle of pull upon the muscle. Motor unit firing and subsequent muscle innervation is contiguous which, simply put, means you cannot selectively stimulate the lower biceps over the upper biceps. This is pure rubbish. The strain felt in the crook of the arm while doing preacher curls is due to the stress upon the brachialis muscle and the bicep short head, not the lower bicep.

2.) Doing heavy cheat E-Z curls will be more effective in building the mass of the arm flexors as opposed to strict, heavy concentration curls.

FALSE – Why should it be? Granted, you use a heavier weight, but doing so might involve more synergistic muscle use, whereas heavy concentration curls isolate the elbow flexors and this is what is important for size and strength. Remember, though, this is heavy, strict concentration curling, not light dumbell cramping.

3.) Use of the straight bar is more effective than the E-Z curl bar for building mass in the collective elbow flexors.

FALSE – Basmajian, the great muscle researcher, has shown by use of intricate EMG that the collective strength of the elbow flexors is greatest when the hand is in midposition (such as in the use of the E-Z bar). Do not confuse this with building the biceps itself which is a different story and might respond better to the straight bar.

4.) Training with heavy weights is the best way to convert red or slow twitch muscle fibers to fast white muscle fibers.

FALSE – You cannot convert one fiber into another type. You can change some metabolic characteristics of some intermediate type fibers and hypertrophy the white fibers but never convert them.

5.) To build total muscle mass it is necessary to train with the heaviest weights possible at all times.

FALSE – Training with heavy weights primarily builds the muscle fibers but not the whole muscle mass which includes the sarcoplasmic proteins and connective tissue. Actually, to build total mass it is best to use heavy weights frequently and moderate weights frequently for the pumping effect that stimulates sarcoplasmic constituents and the myofibrils.

6.) One set to absolute failure is probably enough to stimulate maximum size and strength.

PROBABLY FALSE – There has been no published research to verify this, yet there has been research to verify that multiple sets of varying reps build size and strength.

7.) Negative work is more effective than positive in producing strength gains.

FALSE – Let me ask you, would you rather walk up a flight of 20 stairs or walk down a 20 flights of stairs? Positive work has been shown to involve more motor units and create greater changes in internal muscle temperature. Most of the research indicates that there are no additional conditioning benefits from negative training.

8.) Forced reps have been shown to be very effective in stimulating size and strength.

FALSE – Shown by who? There has been no published research on forced reps. When the muscle system fails, it fails. You cannot stimulate additional growth by forcing reps (except in the spotter). And you wonder why you see all these skinny guys doing negatives and forced reps until they’re blue in the face.

9.) Volume work as well as intensity work is important in building total muscle size.

TRUE – You think not? Then how do you explain the following: the Olympic skater, Eric Heiden’s thighs, pro football player Mike Webster’s thighs, every high school wrestler’s abdominals and Phil Grippaldi’s biceps? Please let me explain. I mentioned earlier that intensity work tends to build muscle fiber size and volume work tends to develop sarcoplasmic proteins. Both are important for muscle size. Eric Heiden gets on the leg press and does sets of 100, not 10 or 20. His thighs are massive. He skates in a bent over position, not for seconds, or minutes, but for hours. When Mike Webster, the all-pro center for Pittsburgh, was in high school he would do leg extensions on the Universal Gym at every weight setting for 10 reps, one right after another, every morning and evening. His lower quadriceps make Tim Belknap’s look small. Ever notice how most wrestlers show such well developed abdominals? That’s because they stress their abs every day! Remember Phil Grippaldi, the great American Olympic lifter who had twenty-inch arms at age 18? You know how he developed them? He did curls and set after set of heavy presses every day. What do these examples show? They show that you can get a lot of size doing volume work, provided it is heavy enough to cause a sufficient overload response.

10.) The pullover machines in which the resistance is directed against the back of the arms isolates the latissimus totally, by removing the triceps and other muscles.

FALSE – By the very nature of this movement the long head of the triceps are activated strongly since they contract in extension of the shoulder joint beyond midline. Also involved are the serratus and pectoralis, as well as the rectus abdominus.

11.) The bench press actually does little for pec development since it’s approximately a 75% deltoid exercise.

FALSE – The stress from this exercise is totally dependent upon the position of the elbows. With the elbows out, the pecs are more involved; with the elbows in, there is more triceps and deltoid involvement.

12.) Weight training is better for weight control than jogging.

TRUE – Weight training builds muscle mass. Jogging does not. Fat is inert metabolically requiring no caloric demand. Muscle has a higher metabolic demand. Therefore, you will burn or require more calories through the day, at rest, when you are more muscular. People overlook this even though on an equal time basis, jogging burns more calories than weight training. Did you ever wonder why some experienced joggers look fat?

13.) Taking in extra protein (enough to stimulate weight gains) will increase your training lifts.

TRUE – Every lifter knows that when they gain weight their lifts increase. But you would probably get the same effect from consuming extra carbs and fats! The old adage that muscle lifts weight and excess fat doesn’t is applied out of context because external and intramuscular energy can’t be ignored. For instance, every powerlifter knows that a big gut would increase their squat. However, extra protein isn’t generally required to build extra muscle mass.

14.) Bodybuilders should eat foods that contain proteins and fats to the exclusion of foods that contain protein and sugar.

FALSE – Why on earth should they? Fats yield more calories than sugars and you don’t need much dietary fat since it’s laden in so many foods. Bodybuilders have been totally brainwashed on sugars. For instance, eat an orange and you get a mouthful of glucose and fructose. Together they equal sucrose. This doesn’t mean you should eat table sugar on your foods or load on junk food. Keep in mind that calories are important. Ten medium apples equal the calories in a cup of roasted peanuts!

15.) To enlarge and thicken the abdominals higher reps should be used.

FALSE – To thicken and build muscle size use heavier weights with lower reps.

16.) Muscle soreness is typically due to the spilling out of lactic acid in the blood stream. Unless this soreness takes place your previous workout was probably unproductive.

FALSE – Residual soreness is best described by an excess of connective tissue enzyme, hydroxyproline. While it can occur, muscle soreness does not always follow a hard workout.

17.) Losing weight is a simple matter of taking in less calories than you expend.

TRUE – Unless you are taking significant amounts of steroid. Then your electrolyte balance is changed, you retain water and your calorie equivalence must be adjusted downward.

18.) Carbohydrates should be cut drastically the last week prior to competition.

FALSE – Personally, the last week the only foods I eat carbohydrates! I stop almost all protein since they do nothing for energy and you are neither going to lose nor gain true muscle size in one week, but keeping the calories low and consuming carbs will keep your precious energy high. If you eat small enough quantities of carbs you won’t retain water either.

19.) Serious lifters should never eat the following foods: cakes, ice cream, white bread or commercial sweets. If Norman Zale were writing this he would say true, but I say

FALSE – Let’s be realistic. In the long run you will be a much happier and thus more successful lifter if you are satiated mentally and physically. Life is entirely too short to be taken so seriously that you make an enormous event out of consuming the occasional ice cream cone or Milky Way bar.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Running - John McCallum

Waldemar Baszanowski
April 15, 1935
April 29, 2011

by John McCallum (1967)

Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada. It’s nestled on the west coast about 25 miles north of the American border, with the blue Pacific on one side of it and snow capped mountains on the other. “Where else,” the natives say, “can you lie on the beach all morning and ski in the mountains half an hour later?”

The northern tip of the city consists of 1000 square acres of sylvan beauty. It’s called Stanley Park, and it draws people like a magnet. On a Sunday afternoon you can see everything from a busload of nuns feeding the monkeys to 300 hippies holding a love-in.

If you’re really lucky you might see, jogging along the 11 mile path that circles the park, a broad and bulky gentleman who is perhaps the best built, probably the best conditioned and certainly the most modest man of all time. His name is Maurice Jones. He stands about 5’8”, varies his weight at will between 205 and 235, and packs more pure muscle than any six people you’ll ever meet.

Maury, as he’s called, is a truly modest man. Getting his shirt off is like pulling teeth. Getting him in front of a camera is tougher than getting your old lady in front of a firing squad.

Maury is the finished product of sensible weight training. He’s a trained athlete in every sense of the term. His muscles are enormous, yet he carries himself with the grace and agility of a cat. He’s an all-around strongman, not a one lift specialist. He performs as well on a reverse curl as he does on a squat or a deadlift. He has superb health and unbelievable endurance. Someone once said that Maury can lift anything not nailed down. They should have added that he can also run up the side of a mountain with it.

Maury’s in his middle fifties now, but he has the health, the strength, and the physique of a 21 year old superman. He has reached and maintained this level of physical excellence through the wise use of heavy weight training, a sensible diet, and mile after countless mile of outdoor running.

Running plays a big part in Maury’s program. I asked him once if he thought so much running might hinder his bodybuilding progress.

“Not a bit,” he said. “It helps.”

Let me explain one thing first. This material is not for the beginner. It’s for the man who’s been training at least a year and has made a fair change in his level of bulk and power. It’s also for the man over forty regardless of his condition. If you’re in either of those groups, running could be the most important thing you’ll ever do.

To summarize, then:

If you’re a beginner, leave running alone for now. Carry on with basic bulk and power routines. If you’re an advanced trainee with some size, or if you’re over forty years old, work the following into your training. It’ll revolutionize the way you look and feel.

There’s an old saying that nothing is perfect. It’s true of most things and it’s true with weight training. Weights provide the quickest and best means to improve yourself physically. There’s no denying it. You can convert yourself from a scrawny bag of bones to an absolute superman by training sensibly with heavy weights. Weight training is so superior to every other form of exercise that comparisons become ridiculous. But weight training, good as it is, is not perfect and we might as well be honest and admit it.

Weight training, as most of us practice it, has three flaws. Generally speaking, and unless you work specifically for it, weight training

a.) doesn’t provide enough stimulation for your heart,
b.) doesn’t necessarily ensure crisp definition, and
c.) doesn’t, as a rule, build outstanding endurance.

While the plaster is still falling, I’ll explain what I mean by that.

a.) Weightlifting is not harmful to your heart. Quite the opposite, in fact. Heavy training strengthens your heart just as it strengthens all the other muscles in your body. Weightlifters have hearts far healthier than the general populace.

But standard weight training, while good for your heart, doesn’t provide quite enough stimulation. Your heart is best stimulated and strengthened by light exercise of a rhythmical nature carried on uninterrupted for at least half an hour. Exercise of that type provides the cardio-vascular stimulation necessary for really outstanding heart health.

b.) Weight training doesn’t usually build really sharp definition unless you train deliberately for it. You can, if you wish, alter your training routines and go all out for definition. If you work hard enough you’ll probably end up fairly well defined. The trouble is, you’ll also end up so weak and dragged out it’s debatable if it’s worth it. Physique contestants who have to train deliberately for definition are a pretty weary bunch by the time the contest rolls around.

c.) Weightlifters, as a group, have far more endurance than the average man. But, here again, weight training doesn’t generally build the kind of endurance you could and should have. Like definition, you can go on a program of very high reps and build endurance, but it usually wipes out your musclebuilding progress. Endurance is developed by very high reps. You can’t do both effectively in your weight workouts.

The solution to these three problems is to supplement your weight training with exercise of an extended, rhythmical nature. This will strengthen your heart, improve your health, sharpen your definition, and increase your endurance without you having to make any alterations in your weight training or do anything to hinder your bodybuilding and strength training progress.

The best supplementary exercise, far and away the best, is light progressive running. Running will work wonders for you. It’ll improve your physique tremendously. It’ll put the finishing touches to your appearance, giving you that polished look. It isn’t generally known, but most of the top lifters include some running in their training. Bob Gajda is an ardent runner, Bill Pearl runs quarter mile sprints and Reg Park is known for his sprinting ability. The American, Russian and European weightlifting teams all run as a part of their training.

I mentioned Maury Jones. Maury was, and still is, an avid runner. In his younger days he used to load barbell plates into a pack sack and run up the steep mountain trails around his home.

If you’ve never done any running, start gradually. Use a roughly measured distance of about a quarter mile. Run at a nice easy pace. Don’t try for any speed records yet. If you can’t make a quarter mile, then keep practicing till you can. As soon as you can run one full quarter mile without collapsing, start building it up as follows.

Run one nice easy quarter-mile. Now, without stopping, walk the next quarter and get your breath back. Don’t dawdle. Walk along at a good pace.

When you finish walking the quarter, immediately run the next one. Don’t rest between laps. Jog around easy for the full lap and then walk another one.

Alternate the laps, running one and walking one, without any rest in between. Keep moving from the time you start till you finish the workout.

Gradually build up the number of laps until you can do at least ten, five running and five walking, without stopping. When you can do that, you’re ready for the next advance.

Instead of running one lap, run a lap and a quarter for your first set. Then walk the remaining three-quarters of a lap to complete the circuit. Now drop back to the one lap running and one lap walking for the rest of the workout.

As soon as you can, do a lap and a quarter running and three-quarters of a lap walking for your second set, and then the third, then the fourth, and so on. When you can run a lap and a quarter for all your sets, do as follows:

Start running a lap and a half and walking a half lap for your first set. Then try it for your second set, then the third set and so on, until you’re running a lap and a half and walking half a lap for the whole workout.

For your next advance, build your running time to a lap and three quarters and reduce the walking to one-quarter lap.

Next, move it up to two full laps running and go back to a full lap walking. Then move it up as before. Two and one-quarter laps running and three-quarters of a lap walking, two and a half laps running and half a lap walking, and so on. Build it up to three laps running and carry on as before. Then go to four laps, five laps, and so on. Deep at it until you can eight laps, or about two miles, at a nice steady pace.

As you increase the running and decrease the walking time, you can gradually reduce the number of sets. When you reach eight full laps running you should be down to one set only. Run the eight laps, walk one to cool off, and that’s it for the day.

Run at least two, and preferably three, days per week. If you’re lifting three days a week, run on the alternate days. You can run anytime of the day, early morning or midnight if you prefer, it doesn’t really matter. The whole thing will take less than an hour and you’ll never spend time more wisely.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Commencing The Pull - Charles A. Smith

1. In this stage of the first pull the lifter is shown out of correct position. Head dropped forward and down will tend to a swing of the bar away from the body. Head should be up and held back.
2. Both the back and head are in a good position here and will be able to exert maximum power. Position of head will add to the pull of the arms and back, and also keep the bar swinging along one line.
3. At this final stage of the pull, the third pull, the arms are in a good position and the scapulae or shoulder blades can easily rotate. Thus the bar is locked out firmly in the snatch. Note the lifter has come up on toes.

4. Swinging the bar out and away from the body is WRONG. Such an action lessens the power of the pull and will make it necessary to pull the bar back into position, or use a back bend to fix the bar at arm's length in the snatch. This can lead to serious back strain.
5. Bar should be pulled in as straight a line as possible and reasonably close to the body. The lifter should then drip immediately under the bar, thus wasting no energy or motion through misdirection of force.

Some of Egypt's top lifters of the era in their training quarters at The Tramway Sports Club, Alexandria.

Commencing the Pull by Charles A. Smith (1953)

Back in the early war years I had a very graphic illustration of that old proverb . . . “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good.” While my service in the Navy occasioned some tragic incidents and hair breadth escapes, there are many things it brought me for which I am truly grateful and one of these was the chance to see almost every country on earth. The other was the time I spent with the great Egyptian lifters.

We were pretty badly damaged in the Battle for Crete and were put into dry dock in Alexandria for temporary repairs. This gave me an opportunity I did not intend to miss – to resume my barbell training during the docking period. Under certain circumstances which have been told before, I managed to get in a lot of workouts with Ibrahim Shams, the budding Fayad, and the Olympic champion, Wasif Ibrahim. These sessions I look back on with happiness, and long for them again, but since this cannot be, I at least have my memories. My thirst for weightlifting knowledge and my training enthusiasm are still as great as ever they were, although the flesh has weakened considerably, but I still remember the lessons of Wasif, who was more or less the official coach, as if they were repeated yesterday . . . “PULL . . . STRONG . . . PULL . . . STRONG . . . DON’T STOP PULLING WHATEVER YOU DO! And the last words he said on the last workout before I left were these. “Don’t forget to pull all the time and don’t stop, sackbi,” which is about as close as I can approximate in the English, the Arabic word for “buddy.” There are lots of things about my Navy service I’m sorry for, but the thrill of meeting and training with these great athletes and seeing the world cancels out every cause for regret.

Which kind of brings me to the subject for this sermon. There’s been a lot of talk about first and second, and even third pulls, but there ain’t no such animals. Actually, these phrases are used to describe phases of the “passage” or “flight” of the bar from the floor to the point where the lifter splits under the weight to bring it to arm’s length.

But the important point I want to make is this – that at NO TIME from the moment the lifter starts his pull until the weight is locked at arm’s length should he cease pulling. One of the many misconceptions about the snatch, in my opinion, is that the pull ceases as soon as the lifter starts his split, or ceases WHEN the athlete is splitting. Take a look at the physiques of the Egyptian lifters. When it comes to back development they have some of the heaviest and most pronounced in the world. The trapezius muscles of the great Touni defy description and look as if they are about to push his ears off. An addict of hang cleans and snatches, Khadr el Touni obtained his great pulling power and titanic upper and lower back musculature from these hang cleans and snatches and the habit of “continuous effort” during the clean. I am not concerned entirely with basic power, but more with the technical implications of the pull and the DIRECTION of the pull. So when I speak of first and second pulls please remember that I speak of them as not as actions, but as “AREAS” – spots passed through during the flight of the bar.

Up to this stage in my articles I have dealt with assuming the best mechanical position at the bar and the width of hand spacing and angle of thighs and back that will enable you to put the utmost into your pull and get the most of out it by allowing a COORDINATED effort of the arms, back and thighs. In other words, your muscles are in the best possible position to make a concerted effort.

As I previously told you, the pull has been divided into two parts by some authorities but I prefer to think it has three “PULLS” or phases through which it moves. This first phase or pull is in taking the weight from the floor to the region of the knees. Some lifters find that they can begin with a fast pull and maintain speed, while others have to take the weight off the ground steadily and increase speed and power of the pull as the bar gains height.

In some lifters, possibly due to skeletal structure, bone lengths, leverages, etc. the muscles cannot give a full output at the time the pull is commenced. This is perhaps best illustrated by performing an ordinary deadlift from boxes, and in the latter case the lift is easier. In the first instance I have observed that a man who uses a fast pull at the start usually has to split much sooner under the bar, while the man who uses a slow, steady first pull can usually manage to pull it higher before he splits under the weight. I may be wrong of course, but these have been my observations.]

With most lifters the bar increases in speed as it approaches the knees, the region of the second phase or pull, and it is here that the greatest power is applied. As the bar passes the waist it moves into the third phase or pull and is further boosted by the muscles of the arms and upper and lower back.

And here occurs one of the most common faults in lifting during the two hands clean or snatch. Most lifters do not alter the position of the head but keep looking straight ahead. You will notice that as the bar passes the waist the lifter raises on his toes (the successful lifter, that is), and flings his head back. And BOTH these actions add considerably to the POWER OF THE PULL and allow the arms to function more efficiently.

You will find a considerable difference in the ease with which the elbows and upper arms turn down and partially rotate. Try this experiment for yourself. Perform a fairly heavy clean or snatch without rising on the toes (adding “lift” to the bar) and flinging the head back (helping the humerus and scapulae to partially rotate). You will see that the shoulders appear “tight” or “stiff” and there is apparent difficulty in locking out the weight in the snatch.

Remember at this point – at the end of the third phase or pull – that the bar is almost chin high and moving higher, and you are all ready to start your split. If you have maintained the power of the pull up to this point you will find that as you start your split the bar not only “turns over” more readily, but your lockout is also surer. Now, you might easily be tempted to say, “Why, that’s obvious.” But it is a point that so many lifters lose sight of. Naturally I don’t refer to seasoned strength athletes, but to beginners. And since this series is mainly for beginners, they are the ones who will benefit most from them. And it is a fact that an Olympic lifting novice tends to “relax” his pulling power as the bar is chin high, and rely on his speed of split to get under it. NEVER AT ANY TIME DURING THE FLIGHT OF THE BAR STOP PULLING. CONTINUE THE PULL UNTIL THE BAR IS AT ARM’S LENGTH IN THE SNATCH OR RACKED IN THE CLEAN.

Now we come to the problem of DIRECTION OF PULL. “Well,” you will say, “there’s only one possible direction of the pull and that’s up.” Not so, my friends! You not only have to pull the bar up but you should, if you share the popular belief that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, pull the bar STRAIGHT UP.

In the immediate preceding article in this series, I showed you how the hand spacing could affect the direction of the bar – the narrower the hand spacing, up to a point, the more powerful the pull, but the greater difficulty experienced in partially rotating the shoulder blades and humerus, the upper arm bone. The outcome of this “tightness” in the shoulders was the reaction of the lifter performing the snatch – he usually bent away from the bar to “fix” it at arm’s length (back bend under the bar), or else swung it OUT and AWAY from the body. And both these actions necessitated reactions, following Newton’s Natural law that every action has a reaction. For in bending back to get the bar fixed, he very often lost control of it. And in taking it out and away from the body he had to compensate by either pulling the weight back into line (lost motion and needless expenditure of energy) and then possibly go into a back bend with the results mentioned here.

Making due allowances for the lifters skeletal structure the direction of the pull should ALWAYS be straight up the front of the body. The lifter should never under any circumstances swing the bar out and away from the trunk. All such motion is incorrect and should be eliminated as far as possible.

Swing the bar away from the body, whether by intent, or because of faulty position at the bar or incorrect hand spacing, makes it necessary to pull the bar back into line, or else swing the trunk forward under the bar and this cannot only lead to a bad balance and wasted motion, but also back injury.

If the weight DOES travel away from the lifter, I grant that the lifter’s position can be corrected by dropping into a back bend and thrusting the hips forward as the bar travels to arm’s length. But I do not advise this because of the danger of strains of the lower and upper back.

There was only one man I knew of who could correct a body position with a heavy weight in this manner, and that was the late Ronald Walker, a lifter of phenomenal power, and a man who would have set world records in the snatch and clean and jerk that would have stood a long while, if he only had American food. Ron used a distinct back bend in his snatches, and once I saw him drop back until his trunk was at an angle to the thighs in order to hold a 404 jerk overhead. The weight banged down across the collar bones with an audible thud, but Ron simply stood as firm as a rock and recovered to an upright position with ease.

There isn’t a lifter alive today who has the back strength that poor Ron had. So the best course to follow is to keep pulling and pull straight. This way you have a reasonable certainty of hitting your limit and avoiding back injuries.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stability In The Split - Charles A. Smith

Perfect balance ensures a perfect lift and recovery. The Murray Cross above illustrates a lifter's good position - hips above the box with front feet split well forward and the feet moving along two distinct parallel lines.

Back foot is too far rear. Feet have not moved in separate lines.

Here's how the Murray Cross developed from the Russian training aid. Left is the Russian Circle and right the Murray Cross.

Stability in the Split
by Charles A. Smith (1953)

A year or so ago, I began one of my articles with a story about a king who had lost a battle and his land, because of a horse throwing a shoe . . . I remember the old saying, “Because of a nail a shoe was lost. Because of a shoe a horse was lost. Because of a horse a battle was lost. Because of a battle a kingdom was lost . . . all on account of a horseshoe nail!” A small detail, one that the average person would overlook, yet it led to disaster. It very well illustrates the simple lesson I have been trying to drive home in all these articles . . . DON’T NEGLECT A SINGLE DETAIL.

To an ordinary member of the public, a snatch seems to be a single action. The lifter walks up to the bar and hurls it to arm’s length, recovering or dropping the bar, receiving approval or disqualification for the lift. But as you the lifter have seen, there are a thousand and one small details each one of which has an important bearing on the lift as a whole. Each has its place in the scheme of things and each one can mean the difference between success and failure. The strength athlete who aims high, who has his eyes on improving and outdoing his best would do well to leave no stone unturned in his search for perfection.

Let no one deny that he has not, at some time, contemplated the height of his greatest potential. And let no one say that he hasn’t wondered why it was that some fellows with no more physical endowments than he himself possesses were able to make continued progress and forge ahead. Strength isn’t everything. And style isn’t the be-all and end-all of lifting success. It is attention to those seemingly unimportant details like the width of your hand spacing, the angle of your back and thighs, the type of grip you use, the way you chalk your hands and approach the bar and whether or not you are using the correct style, the one best suited to YOUR temperament and physical structure that in the final analysis spells . . . SUCCESS.

Take for instance advice given about keeping the head up and “leading” or “driving” it back as you take the weight off the floor. Not only does this place the muscles of the shoulder girdle and spine in a more powerful working position, but it also prevents you from ROUNDING your back, something fatal to a POWERFUL PULL. A snatch is a coordinated effort of the arms, entire back, and thighs. If but one of these groups is not working at maximum efficiency, then you are not going to snatch your best. Try to analyze and find ways of understanding all the various factors that make for cleaning and snatching success. Don’t neglect a single one, because if you do, you’ll be that much poorer a lifter.

In this article I am going to deal with a problem that has caused a lot of novice lifters despair and disappointment. That is the inability to keep balance when in a deep split, and recover successfully to upright position. Now, it is not my intention to deal with the technique of the split of recover in this article. These two problems will come later and are deserving of entire articles in themselves. At the same time, although I am well aware of the fact that I SHOULD deal with splitting technique first, yet I prefer to tell you how to keep balance first. It is no use you knowing how to split if you can’t hold the lift!

This problem of balance is one that all beginners encounter. Strength doesn’t always enter into it. It is position that is the determining factor. Most coaches will tell you that all you need to do to ensure steadiness when under a weight, either in a snatch, clean or a jerk is POWER -
”Providing you perform plenty of squats and deadlifts you’ll be O.K.” is their cry and they couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I have seen some of the strongest men in the world stagger under a lift that for them was “light.” Strength they had in plenty. Power was evidenced by thighs and back bulging with muscle, yet a comfortable poundage saw them staggering all over the platform. The cause? A moment’s disregard of certain lifting musts . . . maybe their thoughts were on other things, their attention divided, and an incorrect positioning of the feet led to the loss of a lift. All the strength in the world is useless if you don’t have a firm base on which to place it . . . from which it can work!

The broader the area over which your weight is distributed, the firmer your position and balance. This you can very easily prove. Stand with your feet placed together. Place your arms at your sides and stand as rigidly as possible. Now, lean as far as possible to one side. See how easily you lose balance? Now stand with your feet well astride. Repeat the lean. Notice the difference?

This principle applies just as much when you split deeply in the snatch or clean. In the experiment you have already conducted, you were concerned only with a side movement. But in the snatch and clean you can lose your balance to the front and the back as well. In the majority of cases the lifter usually drops over to one side. The next time this happens, and you should watch for it, glance swiftly at the feet of the lifter swaying and failing with a split snatch or jerk. Notice that they are placed along the same line – one right behind the other. Instead of the body having a broad base on which to counteract the higher center of gravity that the barbell, held at arm’s length produces, the lifter’s feet on which his weight and that of the barbell is carried is along one line and distributed only over the area each foot covers . . . whereas the distance between the feet should be AT LEAST SIX INCHES. Instead of the feet travelling along one line, they should travel along TWO LINES which separate the feet by at least six inches.

How can you get into the habit of distributing your weight and that of the bar over a broader area? By drawing a simple diagram on your platform, known as the MURRAY CROSS. Al Murray, British National Coach, is the originator of this lifting technique aid, altho it was used to some extent by Russian lifters some years ago. The Russian Cross consisted of a circle divided into quarters by lines. In fact I published details of this training aid for the first time in any publication in 1939, in Peary Rader’s magazine, Iron Man. I had seen some movies of Popov, the Russian featherweight, in training and noticed how the Cross was used to help correct the direction of the split and improve the lifter’s balance. The device was so simple that its purpose and merit were obvious at a single glance. Al Murray’s method is a great improvement in design and much better for beginners to use.

Not only does the Murray Cross improve the balance, but it also improves the entire split technique. Don’t forget that the broader the base on which an object rests, the harder it is to turn that object over, or shove it off balance. When a lifter goes into a deep split in a snatch, it the feet travel along the same line then obviously the weight of the bar, added to the RAISED center of gravity, will make it tough for the lifter to maintain balance and recover successfully. The feet MUST always travel along different lines with these being, I repeat, at least six inches apart.

And it follows that the taller the lifter the wider the base over which his weight and that of the barbell must be distributed. A twelve-inch space between the lines along which his feet travel would not be too great. With this wider space between the feet when in a deep split there is a much better balance and less likelihood of losing the lift because of an attack of the staggers. BETTER BALANCE IS PRODUCED BY A WIDER AND FIRMER BASE.

The Murray Cross should be part of your training equipment from this moment. First, draw a box on your platform sixteen inches in length, the greatest distance separating the feet as allowed by the rules. The box must be twelve inches wide. Right down the center of the box draw two lines three feet in length and six inches apart. Perform your snatches and cleans in this Cross. If you make a good lift your position should be as follows when you are in a deep split – hips should be directly over the “box” and neither beyond of behind it. The front foot should be well forward and the rear splitting foot close to the box itself. But above all, your feet should travel along TWO DISTINCT LINES so that six inches separates them.

In another article I’ll go into more detail about the technique of the split. In the meantime, draw a Murray Cross on your platform. When you practice this, do so with a light bar and check the position of your feet, or have a partner do so. See that you keep your feet well apart and thus maintain a firmer balance. See that you are splitting on a WIDE BASE. Intense practice and determination to improve your style by eliminating all faults will bring you closer to your goals.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Principles Of Power - Clarence Ross

Principals of Power
by Clarence Ross (1951)

In recent years weightlifting and bodybuilding have been considered by some as being separate sports. Despite the fact that the same exercise medium is essentially used in both, certain individuals insist on establishing a clear distinction between the two, claiming one phase as being superior to the other. This is not so! All types of weight training should be utilized by the sincere bodybuilder, and have a definite place in his program. Particularly in the advanced training of the bodybuilder is he required to practice every principle of weight training for maximum muscle size and power. Only THEN will he mature into the finished product.

Weightlifting is an older sport than bodybuilding. Long before individuals attempted to improve their physical appearance through constructive bodybuilding exercises weights were used in competition to demonstrate power. As so often happens, the old refuses to accept the new, and the new ignores the old. This is the type of breach which has occurred among the ranks of some weight trainers. It must be corrected for the benefit of all.

It’s hard to understand why such a distinction is insisted on. Both the training for weightlifting as a sport and bodybuilding as a means of physical development employ the same major principle, which is the handling of weights in certain accepted styles so that fuller strength and muscle ability is gained. Each encourages the progressive use of more resistance in muscular movements as proficiency in the mechanical action and strength ability increases. It is not logical to differ between the two on the premise that the principle behind one is superior to the principle behind the other, for in fact, both are identical.

In application, the bodybuilder who uses more and more weight in an exercise movement is just as much a weightlifter and the weightlifter is a bodybuilder, as he practices repetitions in the snatch, press or clean and jerk. The principles are the same, only the actual movements differ.

Weightlifting when restricted to certain movements, such as the three Olympic lifts is a highly specialized means of training. Emphasis is placed upon those muscles which are most urgently called upon for a demonstration of power, speed and muscular utility. The actual size of the muscles is considered secondary by the weightlifter. It must be admitted that because of this method of training, pound for pound the muscles of a weightlifter when expressed in regularly practiced weightlifting movements are more efficient and much stronger than a strict bodybuilder in these same movements.

On the other hand, the bodybuilder can use much heavier weight in characteristic bodybuilding movements than the specialist in weightlifting, and does show a better all around muscle development and size.

Therefore, each possesses certain advantages, and the bodybuilder should not be so stubborn as to refuse to take the best out of weightlifting, which he can do, and still in no way neglect his bodybuilding practice.

Proof that modern bodybuilding has long realized the necessity of using really heavy weights in advanced training is shown in the fact that it has advocated following “cheating exercises” as well as specialized “power movements” in the program so that the bodybuilder can use greater poundages and in this way increase his strength and development.

It must be understood that while up to a certain point muscle size and muscle power are directly related, just getting stronger and more efficient in any particular movement in itself will not necessarily increase muscle size to a great extent. The great benefit of stronger muscles is not that they will permit the bodybuilder to work harder in a single, limit attempt on any lift or exercise movement, but that they will give him a greater reserve of strength for higher repetitions with a heavier weight. They will also permit him to recuperate more quickly after muscle exertion so that he can perform more sets of an exercise with heavier weights. It is this continued high degree of muscular action over a specific period of time which encourages increased muscle size, not the single limit attempt. The more vigorously you can work the muscles over some period of time the larger they will be forced to grow. It is in this way that greater strength will give you larger muscles sooner.

In weightlifting movements, such as the snatch and the clean & jerk, the lower back and legs are stimulated tremendously. The bodybuilder should realize that the legs, lower back and hips are the real props of substantial power in the body. If they are weak, the bodybuilder will not be able to extend himself fully in his training and will never obtain maximum results. While certain bodybuilding movements such as the squats and deadlifts do develop this area greatly, by necessity these exercises are rather slow in performance. They do not incorporate the vital principle of spontaneous muscle coordination among the full chain of leg, hip and back muscles, which weightlifting requires.

Here too, on the other side of the picture we find that while the dynamic display of speed and power in weightlifting movements develops all around body strength and utility, just because of this speed, there is lacking that quality of sustained muscle stimulation, so imperative to building large muscle. Muscle growth depends upon a very definite mathematical formula, based upon muscle stimulation, gained in a certain given period. The length of time used in a single attempt in weightlifting is not sufficient to stimulate maximum muscle growth, though it will develop great speed combined with a burst of muscle power.

I have gone into this analysis relative to both sides of the weight training question so that the full advantages of certain weightlifting movements would be realized by the bodybuilder, and that he will recognize in them the principles of power which he can use to his advantage.

In my own training I utilize this principle often, and I am certain that in doing so I have reached a greater degree of muscle size and real power than if I had neglected them. Often, I begin a workout with record attempts on the press, snatch and clean & jerk. I find that after such a workout I usually notice that I have muscular soreness the next day, generally in the upper and lower back and hips. To me, this is proof that my muscles have worked a bit differently than usual in these weightlifting movements. While it is true that the same muscles I use in every one of my workouts have been called into play, there is something about weightlifting training which affects them differently, makes them sore and of course more fully developed and stronger. This means that I have added a new element to my training, one which benefits me greatly. Never forget that the purpose behind bodybuilding is to leave no step unexplored which will aid in promoting greater muscular ability. Training the muscles from every angle is imperative and weightlifting uses the muscle units differently than ordinary bodybuilding movements.

I have already pointed out that while weightlifting as generally practiced in competition and training for a contest is in itself not ideally suited for developing the usual muscle size, in the accepted standards of bodybuilding, it is still an important means of muscular expression and a definite factor in creating great power. Therefore it must not be overlooked. The weightlifter can well afford to gain a little more muscle size through bodybuilding for specific parts, and the bodybuilder can well afford to gain more power and muscular ability through weightlifting. Combined, such a program represents the ultimate in weight training.

Armand Tanny is a good example of such a combined program. He excels in the one arm clean to shoulder, having succeeded with about 300 pounds in this lift. He has also made a two arm clean & jerk with 365 pounds. Malcolm Brenner includes weightlifting movements in his program. His 650 pound one hand deadlift off the ground gives some indication of his all around strength. Roy Hilligen, Sigmund Klein, Jack LaLanne and Bert Goodrich, all famous bodybuilders who have used weightlifting in their training. If I continued on and on mentioning every name of a great bodybuilder that came to my mind, I could also point out where he used weightlifting to make himself better developed.

For greatest benefit weightlifting movements should be included in your routine at the beginning of it, and then you should go on to your regular bodybuilding workout. Do not add too many movements. In other words, don’t change your workout to become essentially a weightlifting practice session. If you are a bodybuilder, bodybuilding should still be dominant, with perhaps 15 minutes devoted to weightlifting.

You should, from time to time, attempt limit poundages on single attempts in the curl, bench press and so on. Then, for your first weightlifting movement, limit, or near limit attempts on the standing barbell press should be practiced.

You will then be ready to include practice in the two arm snatch, two arm clean & jerk, and even in the one arm snatch and one arm clean & jerk. I advise sets of 3 or 4 repetitions to be used in practice, performing 5 or so sets of each lift. Every once in a while try your limit, but not more often than once every several weeks. I also do not advise that you include the weightlifting movements more than twice a week.

If you want, a good plan at the start is to practice just one of the fast movements with each workout. You could begin your workout with a half a dozen sets of the repetition snatch from the hang position, 3 or 4 reps each set. Keep to this for several weeks, then drop that lift and go on to the clean & jerk. In other words, first practice the style of each lift for several weeks until you begin to feel comfortable with the lift. This will come more quickly if you concentrate on only one at a time.

Later on you can start your workout with several sets of all three Olympic lifts and then go on to the rest of your bodybuilding program. You will note that your lower back, lats and trapezius will be most affected by this, but you will also be gaining speed of leg muscles and fine coordination.

I know that you will enjoy including weightlifting movements in your routine. I know that they will help your training in many ways. You will gain a new type of power, a new burst of strength and greater, more usable development. In addition you will begin to understand the weightlifter more. You will appreciate his ability more fully, and little by little the gap between weightlifters and bodybuilders will be closed, through understanding and hands-on knowledge.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Weightlifting 101 - Randall Strossen

Naim Suleymanoglu Photos 1 & 2
Click Pics to ENLARGE

Suleymanoglu Photo 3
Ronny Weller

Igor Sadykov

Ivan Chakarov

Weightlifting 101: Getting Started
by Randall Strossen

Part One

Olympic-style weightlifting (“weightlifting,” for short) consists of two lifts: the snatch and the clean & jerk. Both are considered quick lifts and both start with the bar on the ground and end with it being at arm’s length overhead. In the snatch, the entire lift is performed in one continuous movement, with speed and good technique sometimes substituting for raw strength. The clean & jerk is really two lifts in one. First, the bar is lifted to the shoulders, and from there it is jerked overhead. Speed and good technique certainly help on the clean & jerk, but there’s no way you can clean & jerk a lot of weight without being just plain strong. In fact, the clean & jerk is probably the ultimate power lift.

Let’s not make any bones about it: weightlifting is not the easiest thing in the world to learn. For anyone who is less than a first-rate athlete learning the lifts will be quite a challenge, so be prepared to invest months of effort before achieving even a moderate level of technical skill. So why put up with these rites of passage when you can learn to perform the powerlifts and most bodybuilding movements much quicker?

For starters, whatever reservations some people might express about weightlifting, it is the only branch of the Iron Game that –indisputably – is a true sport. Thus, anyone with even an inkling of athletic skill or ambition will find it infinitely more rewarding to perform even a power clean than all the benches and curls in the world. And for the select few, the ultimate athletic showcase – the Olympic Games – awaits weightlifters, while bodybuilders and powerlifters can only become spectators. By extension, weightlifting is the preferred weight-training medium for virtually all sports.

Second, the qualities required to be a top weightlifter are essentially independent of those required to be a top bodybuilder, so it’s very possible that someone who might not even make it to the finals in a regional bodybuilding contest could become a champion weightlifter. This might be a refreshing revelation to all who aspire to great achievements in the Iron Game, but whose genetic gifts simply do not present the opportunity for significant success in competitive bodybuilding.

Third, the amount of equipment required for weightlifting is a pittance compared to either bodybuilding or powerlifting. A top-flight weightlifting gym is nothing more than a platform, an Olympic set and a pair of squat racks. Period. And you can start with much less than even those three elements. For example, Bud Charniga – who at one time was snatching within spitting distance of the world record – used to snatch 260 pounds on a 6-foot York standard exercise bar in his basement, early in his lifting career. Mario Martinez – easily the top performing American weightlifter of the past decade – spent his early training days bending exercise bars and putting holes in his parents’ patio. Mario would straighten out the bars with a hammer, and move to one side of his latest set of holes before starting anew.

But what about some of those negative things you might have heard about the sport of weightlifting?

In recent years, someone started the rumor that weightlifting is dead in the USA, and that even for athletes this is just as well because light bodybuilding movements, machines and powerlifting could produce better results anyway. The truth is that weightlifting is undergoing something of a resurgence in the United States – in no small part because coaches from track to football realize that there is no better way to increase the power of their athletes than to have them train on the Olympic lifts. In fact, the elite strength coaches’ professional organization – the NCSA – has become increasingly involved in introducing weightlifting to its members and their athletes.

Ignorance – rather than malice – has probably led some people to claim that the sport of weightlifting is inherently dangerous and has an extremely high rate of serious injuries, when the facts contradict this situation. One need look no further than to such a seemingly tame sport as gymnastics to find injury rates higher than in weightlifting, and by the time you get to something like American-style football, any comparison becomes ludicrous.

Finally, there seems to be a residual feeling in some quarters that all weightlifters are drug users. To be sure, at least in the USA, the earliest applications of anabolic steroids in sports were with weightlifters, and since that time many weightlifters have used these, and other, drugs. What you should also know is that the sport of weightlifting will probably go down in history as being the first sport to seriously try to eliminate drug use: Weightlifting has be far the most stringent drug-testing program and by far the most severe penalties for drug positives of any sport.

Getting Started

Your active involvement with weightlifting can be either as a means to an end, or as an end in itself. In the first case, for example, you might be a bodybuilder, primarily, who is interested in the unparalled back development achieved through weightlifting; or you might be a basketball player looking for a big boost in your vertical jump, or a football player looking for more horsepower coming off the line. In the second case, you might be interested in seeing what you can do on the lifts for their own sake, regardless of whether you ever enter a lifting contest. Whatever your motivation and goals, you will essentially start your weightlifting career the same way.

Assuming that you are basically in sound physical condition and have been training steadily with weights for at least a year or so, the most important way to kick off your weightlifting journey is to start stretching to increase your flexibility. Talk to a qualified coach or buy a good book on stretching and start to systematically work, minimally, on your shoulders, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. Start to stretch before every single workout and don’t hesitate to stretch as many times during the day as you can. Please don’t think that stretching is a waste of your time: Whatever flexibility you develop will only augment your performance when you actually grab the barbell, and it just might be the most important factor in preventing injuries.

In addition to stretching, you need to start thinking about speed: Weightlifters are among the very fastest of all athletes (some would argue that they are the fastest). Until you see a world class lifter hoist hundreds of pounds to arm’s length overhead faster than you can follow the bar with your eye, it will be hard to fully appreciate the level of speed we are talking about. To put yourself on track, just remember two things: 1) A world class lifter will snatch the heaviest of weights in less than one second, literally, and 2) as your technique develops, try to move ever more explosively on the lifts.

Start by making the following adjustments to your current training program:

1. Stretch daily.

2. Perform all your back squats in a high-bar, medium-stance, rock bottom style, with no support gear.

3. Add standing presses to your routine.

4. Add the clean deadlift and shrug to your routine, performed as follows. Using a moderate weight, grab the bar with a conventional overhand grip, using a grip a little wider than your shoulders. Perform a conventional deadlift, but strictly maintain a flat back and your hip-shoulder position throughout the lift. At the top of your deadlift, shrug the bar as high as possible, rising on your toes as you shrug. Perform each rep like this.

Do 5 sets of 5 reps in each of these movements, using progressively heavier warmups for your first 2 sets and then do 3 sets of 5 with your “working weight.” Be sure to include a little abdominal work at the end of your workout as well.

Making these changes in your routine will help lay a foundation for the next step in your training. Don’t forget to stretch!

Part Two

Last issue I introduced the Olympic lifts and had you start to incorporate related movements into your training. Now we are ready to build on that preliminary step and advance in your adaptation to weightlifting.

High Pulls From the Hang

The essence of weightlifting is to get the weight to arm’s length overhead by first pulling a weight as high off the ground as you can and then instantaneously reversing directions and getting under it. Pulling the bar in the most efficient manner possible is likely to be very different from what you might have already been doing, so try to ignore your preconceptions as you learn to pull.

For simplicity, consider the pull to comprise two stages: 1) The first stage involves breaking the bar off the floor and getting it to above the knees for 2) what is usually called “the second pull.” The first pull somewhat resembles a deadlift; the second pull is the essential aspect and is much harder for most people to learn. Thus, your training on the pull will begin with pulls from “the hang,” that is, you will do your pulls with the bar starting off a little above your knees.

In the first photograph of Naim Suleymanoglu (Turkey) he is just starting his pull, where the primary objectives are to break the bar off the floor and put it in the best position for the second pull. Note the relative position of his hips, back, shoulders and head. In the second photo of Suleymanoglu, the bar ready to receive the second pull; this will be the starting position for all your pulls from the hang position.

From the hang you will, in order, straighten your legs, back and finally shrug your shoulders to finish in a position as shown in the third photo of Suleymanoglu. Note the arms are mere connectors in this chain of events – you do NOT perform something like an upright row. Pulling with “bent arms” or “arm pulling” at the end of the movement will be a natural temptation, but don’t give in to it – these faults will only weaken your pull, and from a bodybuilding perspective will turn a great back movement into a lousy biceps exercise.

Pulls are done for both the snatch and the clean, with the primary difference being one’s hand position. Snatches are done with a very wide grip, and cleans are done with the hands a little more than shoulder width apart. The first two photographs of Suleymanoglu illustrate the hand position for a clean pull, and the third photo illustrates the hand position for the snatch pull. If your time/energy is limited, perform snatch and clean pulls in alternate workouts; otherwise do your snatch pulls first and follow them with your clean pulls. The weight used for snatch pulls should be about 80% of what you use for clean pulls, with the bar reaching about pec-height on snatch pulls, and about waist-height on clean pulls. Don’t let your form deteriorate in an attempt to handle too much weight too early.

The Push Jerk

No matter how strong they are on the standard bodybuilding movements or the powerlifts, most people new to weightlifting will be very weak overhead. Since the Olympic lifts are overhead lifts it’s a good idea to start working on your overhead strength immediately.

To simultaneously lay a foundation for learning the classic jerk and for building overhead strength, you should begin with the push jerk (also called the “power jerk”). The idea is to begin standing upright with the bar on your chest as if your were going to do an overhead press. Next, in sequence, dip, and then forcefully straighten your legs, push up with your arms, and simultaneously drop under the bar. The net result should be that you catch the bar on fully straightened arms, in the position illustrated in the photograph of Ronny Weller (Germany).

If this entire sequence proves too difficult to learn initially, don’t be afraid to spend several weeks training on the push press instead: Start as above, but simply dip, straighten your legs and finish the movement by pressing the bar to arm’s length overhead. After a few weeks on the push press the transition to the push jerk should be fairly direct.

The Overhead Squat

The overhead squat is considered by many to be the single most unpleasant movement in the weightlifter’s program – so you might as well learn about it immediately. The overhead squat is nothing more than a full squat with the bar held overhead in the snatch position, which sounds innocent enough, but for most beginners it will leave the wrists and shoulders absolutely screaming for mercy, so progress slowly, allowing your body to loosen up and your mind to toughen.

Begin the movement with a wide grip (collar to collar or thereabouts for anyone from medium height on up), as the bar fests on your shoulders (as if you were going to do presses behind the neck of squats). Now, in sequence, dip the knees, quickly straighten the legs while pushing up with your arms – jerking the weight to arm’s length overhead. This is your starting position, and from here you will lower yourself into a full squat – as illustrated by Igor Sadykov (Uzbekistan). Balance will likely be tricky at first, so descend slowly, always under control and don’t be afraid to start off with your heels slightly raised on barbell plates or a block of wood.

Back Squats and Front Squats

Perhaps no exercise/lift is capable of such a wide variety of interpretation as is the squat. Thus, what a powerlifter calls a squat would probably cause an Olympic lifter to ask, “What’s that?”

To be sure, if your sole objective is to see how much weight you can “squat” with, you will want to emulate powerlifters – from position to gear. For weightlifters (as with bodybuilders), the squat is a means to an end – an absolutely critical tool, but one that must be used properly for best results, even if this requires that less weight be moved than in a different style. Of course the irony is that while a top weightlifter could easily adapt to the powerlifter’s style match his poundages, a powerlifter converting to the weightlifter’s movement will probably get a very cold shower when it comes time to load the bar.

In the get-set position of an Olympic squat:

1. the bar is high on the traps
2. the chest is up
3. the chest is lifted
4, the feet are about hip-width apart
5. no wraps, squat suit or belt are used

Once you have developed proper Olympic squat technique you will understand why the old-times referred to this movement as “the deep knee bend” and not “the squat.” Note Chakarov’s depth in the photo, as well as the position of his head, chest and feet. The key element is that the hip-back-shoulder position does not deteriorate into a simulated good morning with a lean forward and the back taking up the work – instead, form is held even when breaking through the sticking point. By the way, Chakarov’s best effort in this style, at 198 lbs. bodyweight is about 772 pounds.

In addition to properly performed back squats start to do front squats as well. Front squats will be performed just as the back squats except that the bar will be held on your chest, instead of your upper back. At least until your wrists and shoulders loosen up, feel free to front squat with the bar only resting lightly on your fingertips, rather than feeling you have to maintain a death grip on the bar. Be sure to keep your elbows high, maintain your hip/back/shoulder position throughout the lift, and squat to rock bottom. Also be sure to keep your elbows clear of your knees. If you have to dump the bar while front squatting and your elbow hits your knee, you can end up with a severely sprained wrist.

Perform back squats and front squats in alternate workouts, doing back squats, for example, on Monday, front squats on Wednesday, back squats on Friday, and so forth.

Here’s how your whole training program will look:

Snatch Pull
Clean Pull
Push Press/Push Jerk
Overhead Squat
Back Squat/Front Squat

Perform 5 sets of 5 reps of each. Make the first two sets progressively heavier warmup sets, and then do three sets with your “working weight.” Finish off your workout with a little abdominal training. Train 3 days per week, allowing one or two rest days in between workouts. This is a lot of work and if it leaves you overtrained cut down on the number or work sets and/or make one training day fairly light, one day moderately heavy and make the remaining day heavy.

Best of luck!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vern Weaver, Part 2 - Jan Dellinger

Vern Weaver & Karl Norberg

John Davis

Vern Weaver, Part 2
by Jan Dellinger

Like most trainees focused on attaining peak muscular mass, Vern was an avid squatter. However, due to the poundages he became capable of handling he frequently suffered lower back problems from rock-bottom squats. The remedy to this catch-22 cycle of having to squat heavy for developmental purposes, while simultaneously having to somehow avoid injury for the sake of workout consistency proved to be an innovation. of sorts, in the weight training field circa the early 1960s. At the urging of Dr. John Ziegler the York Barbell Company began promoting a system of strength training generally known as isometric contraction, and one necessary ingredient for its proper practice was a power rack.

While Vern never indicated that he experimented with isometric contraction per se, he clearly made liberal usage of the power rack, seeing it as an avenue to unprecedented overloading of the body’s musculature with increased poundages and achieving this objective with a measure of relative safety. Hence, this particular training tool allowed him to squat from a preset parallel position without any real need for spotters and with the heaviest possible weights for him. And perhaps even more heartening from his viewpoint, minus any more back miseries.

Ultimately, Vern became able to sets and reps with 585 while squatting from a dead stop in the power rack. Anyone who has ever squatted from a dead stop this way knows this style greatly inhibits one’s squatting performance in contrast to starting from a standing position and then dipping. However, it’s terrific for encouraging hip/thigh development. In fact, Vern’s piston-like lower body grew to such proportions from this severe leg training that he had to abandon power rack squatting for the sake of preserving overall symmetry and revert to hack squatting.

And the high pull? It should be obvious from his philosophy of training that Vern brought a “lifter’s mentality” to his bodybuilding craft. This shouldn’t be surprising for as I mentioned early on, Vern was as much of a lifter as he was a bodybuilder throughout most of his training career. In fact, he trained for both endeavors concurrently, doing one or two of the Olympic lifts first during his three weekly workouts and then finishing up with conventional bodybuilding exercises.

While vastly higher standards in both areas prohibit contemporary athletes from “splitting their vision” as Vern and his contemporaries did, pursuing this athletic duality was the norm back then largely because it paid dividends. Among those who practiced both it was widely held that one augmented the other. For starters, greater variety could be injected into one’s workouts. Secondly, the practice of Olympic-oriented movements seemed to add a distinctive ruggedness to the human form. Beyond that, it was expected that a muscleman’s physique would exude function as well as form. Possessing both in quality was the definition of “the total package.”

Coming back to Vern – being a product of his time he included at least one or two Olympic movements in virtually all of his bodybuilding routines. Here again, he tended to gravitate toward the movement(s) which allowed him to utilize the most weight, which in the lifter’s repertoire would be the clean-grip high pull. Ultimately performing sets and reps with as much as 440 lbs. in this movement gave him extraordinary back development from erectors to trapezius.

It goes without saying that the extreme cultivation of these attributes served him well on the dais as his twisting sort of became his signature pose. And Vern’s back double biceps pose, which also displayed incredible thickness in all sectors of his back, really wowed audiences back in the 1960s. And just for the record, Vern officially snatched 300 and power cleaned and push pressed 375 as a 198 pounder. While he was certainly no slouch as a competitive lifter bodybuilding eventually captured his full attention.

As to technique for the high pull, we really didn’t get precise on form. Essentially, we assumed a good bent-knee, back flat lifting position and tried to elevate the barbell quickly with as much snap as possible. From a pure technique standpoint, the only real rule was to keep the bar as close to the body as possible. During my training time with Vern we typically performed high pulls from knee height in the power rack, to focus on the muscles of the upper and lower back, removing the leg boost from the initial part of the pull. We pulled to the chest-shoulder area on the warmup sets while the heavier work sets were brought to the upper-lower rib area, with the pulling height diminishing over the 6 work sets due to fatigue.

As previously mentioned in Part 1, Vern’s overwhelming choice of set/rep pattern on heavy exercises designed to cultivate maximum muscle mass was 6 sets of 6 reps. But on rare occasions he felt the need to go even heavier and still get in a decent workload. In such instances, he more or less specialized on a single movement with 10 sets of 3 reps with a constant poundage. Obviously, he could only do this with a very limited number of exercises at any one time. In other words, if he wanted to give his upper body pushing muscles an extra blast, he would do 10 sets of 3 reps on the decline bench press.

While he cautioned to do this extensive workout with only one exercise at a time, the one movement he suggested that I never try it with was the deadlift. But because this was the one lift I felt I had at least some natural ability at, I tried a spree of deadlift specialization with 10 sets of 3, training the deadlift just once a week for most of the cycle. This was when I was no longer training with Vern. In retrospect, I hung in with it much better than expected, and did manage to make some gains with this “set-feast.” But things came to a halt after about six weeks and for some strange reason I never desired to try 10x3 on the deadlift ever again . . .

Even though I’ve expended considerable ink on Vern’s little four-exercise routine we followed, I’m sure more than a few readers still have trouble “swallowing” a musclebuilding routine devoid of direct arm work. Among the things my 16 weeks of lifting with Weaver taught e was that one can add greatly to arm size without ever doing curls or isolation triceps work. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if there is an exercise which is vastly overrated, it’s the curl.

Of course, Vern did include some various barbell and dumbbell curling movements in his routines over the years, but he was quick to point out that one didn’t need to curl in order to be strong at curling, provided one was training properly otherwise. Once, during a lengthy when he was concentrating on weighted chins (and decided to drop all curling exercises from his routine), someone in the gym apparently bet him he couldn’t do a strict curl with 215 pounds, which would have been a tad over his bodyweight, incidentally. Despite the lack of direct biceps work he nevertheless managed a strict curl with this very credible weight.

The lesson was that if a trainee worked his arms with heavy chins, rows or similar pulling movements – and, of course, did likewise with demanding pressing movements – his biceps and triceps would respond as much as inherited genetics allowed. Furthermore, Vern also pointed out that he had witnessed Olympic lifters out-curl advanced musclemen who had put plenty of time in on heavy curls. Ostensibly, the heavy Olympic pulls can also tax the biceps strenuously.

Thus far, this article has spotlighted Vern Weaver’s opinions on the building up process. But as I alluded to at the outset, Vern did get around to sharing his wisdom on other aspects of physique training. I only bring this up to illustrate just how much practices and techniques change over time, even among the physically gifted.

Today’s competitive bodybuilders have their off-season (for acquiring mass, ostensibly) and their in-season (to, in the vernacular, hone this mass into “polished granite!”). Whereas in Vern’s day, as I understand it, a trainee was pretty much on a build-up schedule of some description until he felt he had enough size in order to compete effectively. In other words, your degree of readiness dictated whether or not you competed, not the calendar.

Ironically, 30 years ago this refining process was commonly referred to as “training down,” the antithesis of everything the trainee sought to achieve up to that point. During this phase, which typically lasted from 8-12 weeks, the bodybuilder set out to intentionally overtrain his body for the purpose of metabolizing any adipose tissue covering the muscles.

And how did one go about whittling off the excess? Basically, by training the entire body with generous amounts of sets, higher reps and more exercises than normal. Of course, as one’s conditioning got better, more of the aforementioned was required. Prior to his last shot at the Mr. Universe title in London, Vern was performing five, more or less, full-body workouts weekly, each of which lasted up to five hours in duration.

This may explain why he tended to train in spasms. After several weeks of this kind of volume binge, even the elite needed to take a break to recover from the near-daily torture. But Vern also acknowledged that occasional layoffs from regular heavy bodybuilding training were necessary. In fact, he felt layoffs of considerable length (3-6 weeks away from all weight training) tended to help the serious trainee in the long run. In his experience and observation, anyone who applied himself 100% both mentally and physically, and maintained extreme focus for several weeks of steady workouts absolutely required time away from the gym in order to recharge fully, and usually more time than he thought. Otherwise, without training breaks he would stagnate faster and experience prolonged physical plateaus.

But returning to the matter of the phenomenal abuse of one’s training volume when preparing for a bodybuilding contest – when Vern eventually was training 5 hours per day and 5 days per week to tune up for a contest, he was by no means “living in the gym” in comparison to the standards of some others. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, in particular, legions of name bodybuilders came to York for their pre-contest training.

Prior to the 1959 Mr. America show a bodybuilder tipping the scales in the 250-pound range by the name of Pete Ganios blew into Muscletown. For weeks on end in advance of the big event Pete would show up at the York Gym every day (except Sunday) with a shopping bag of fruit and proceed to put in 8 hours of training. That’ no exaggeration – 8 solid hours. The only breaks he took were to gobble down some fruit between bodyparts. And form all accounts, he essentially trained his bodyparts by the hour. It got so that regulars in the York Gym knew what time of the day it was just by checking what bodypart Ganios was working.

Apparently the Ganios formula called for 10 sets of 10 reps per movement, and it was anyone’s guess as to how many exercises he performed per muscle group. While all of this sounds like a game plan for failure – and for 99 out of every 100 people it is – Pete survived these rigors to place third in the Mr. America contest that year. And, by the way, a young muscleman named Weaver placed fifth.

However, if you ask Vern for his recollections about Pete Ganios, one thing he always recalls in addition to the marathon sessions is seeing Ganios squat 405 for 10 sets of 12 at least three times weekly, week in and week out.

Very few barbell enthusiasts can rightfully claim to have worked out in the same gym with a major bodybuilding title winner, much less say they have actually trained with such an accomplished individual. Hence, on this score I consider myself to have been exceedingly fortunate. However, my intent with this article was not to “blow my own horn.” Rather, in spotlighting Vern Weaver’s training methodologies and exploits my desired mission was to recognize a man who imparted to me invaluable knowledge and insight via an unforgettable opportunity. Beyond that, I hoped to provide readers with a trip down memory lane that was both a little entertaining and informative.

After all, the trends that today’s trainees embrace surely evolved from the trends of those who went before them.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Vern Weaver, Part 1 - Jan Dellinger

George Sheffield and Hugo Labra

Vern Weaver - Part One
by Jan Dellinger

A decade-and-a-half of employment at the York Barbell Company has allowed me a number of encounters and experiences which most dyed in the wool barbell enthusiasts would deem as priceless. Significant, too, is that most of these contacts involved notables from a variety of Iron Game eras, thereby exposing me to a clear-cut diversity of opinion regarding all aspects of meaningful progressive resistance.

My greatest single, and sustained learning experience pertaining to the ins and outs of making serious might and muscle gains came from a fellow employee back in the 1970s – Mr. America (1963) Vern Weaver. Fortunately for me, Vern was of a mind to go on a training spree and he required a training partner. He tended to attack the weights, more or less, in spasms even while in the midst of his competitive bodybuilding career. So, every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for a 4-month period back in the very early days of my time at York Barbell, Vern and I spent our lunch hours beating our bodies instead of feeding our faces.

In the interest of complete disclosure I had to be quite a comedown as a training partner for Vern, as he’d worked with the elite from the Olympic lifting and bodybuilding worlds on both coasts here in the States during his heyday. Nevertheless, his invitation provided the ultimate fantasy fulfillment for a young musclehead like myself – training side by side with a very accomplished physiqueman (As well as a Mr. America, Vern was also a class runner up in at least two of the NABBA Mr. Universe shows during the 1960s). Plus, few people remember, but Vern had an excellent track record a competitive Olympic lifter as well.

In Vern’s era it was not uncommon for a weight man to give a good account of himself at both endeavors, and do it at the same show! Furthermore, when you represented York Barbell, as Vern did back in those days, proficiency was sort of a prerequisite.

Because he was the expert, Vern naturally dictated the terms and conditions or our workouts together. Fortuitously for me, again, as we progressed he passed along much of his personal trial and error determinations, empirical observations and anecdotes which comprised his back of training knowledge.

Incidentally, Vern’s self-experimental “findings” largely mirror the general training practices of his generation, which were distinctive in many ways from, but undeniably built upon, the prevailing practices of the preceding generation of musclemen. Hence, what follows as “Weaverisms” can also be rightfully construed as “period” information. At the same time though, it should also be recognized that Vern exhibited considerable originality in determining what worked for him.

Certain Iron Game instructors of note developed a training slogan of sorts which encapsulated their particular approach to working out. For example, the late and great strongman/poser Sig Klein became identified with the phrase, “Train for shape and strength will follow.” Be comparison, Vern’s favorite expression to sum up the successful bodybuilding experience was, “To get big muscles, lift big weights.”

On this point he was very much a traditionalist, equating pure muscle building with pure strength training on standard bodybuilding exercises, albeit conducted at slightly higher repetitions than commonly employed by competitive lifters. Yes, he acknowledged giving the other “school” of bodybuilding thought a whirl briefly – the strict pump up approach with set after set of medium/light weights and hour upon hour of training. This style worked for some – one of whom was a friend of Vern’s from Nevada named George Sheffield, who acquired a national calibre physique and appeared on the cover of Strength & Health magazine. However, it left Vern flattened out physically and mentally, and with less muscle to show for it. This occurrence proved conclusively to Vern that he required heavy stimulation in order to build heavy, high-quality muscle.

This obviously brings our discussion to the matter of sets and reps. Vern was of the belief that 6 sets of 6 reps were unsurpassed for stimulating size and power gains. Of course, he had tried long established patterns like 3 sets of 10 and the 10-8-6-4-2 routine, or some affectation of it, and gotten noticeable results. However, as he pushed his bodybuilding endeavors to the national level, Vern found that 6 sets of 6 reps put him “over the top,” so to speak, allowing him to reach what he felt was the apex of his musclebuilding potential.

So, naturally, when Vern and I performed our lunchtime workouts we did 6x6 on all the exercises we did for the entire program – four of them. Mondays and Thursdays were upper body days, which meant we did decline bench presses and chins. Tuesdays and Fridays we spent our hour laboring on squats from a parallel position in the power rack, and high pulls. That was all we did – ultra-abbreviated training.

To clarify further, Vern’s version of 6x6 was not five successively heavier warmup sets in preparation for the best set, weightwise, of 6 reps for the day. We did a couple of preparation sets with easy weights and then moved to a fixed “working weight” for 6 sets of 6 reps. For example, if we were using 250 lbs. in a particular exercise, we’d take 135 for several reps, then something in the vicinity of 185-205 for 3-5 reps and then move on to 250 for the 6x6.

Throughout most workouts, we couldn’t get 6 reps on all 6 sets with the fixed poundage. Typically, we got 6 reps of the first 3 or 4 sets and then had to settle for 4 or 5 reps on the last 2 or 3 sets. Like any other set/rep pattern you stayed with it until you reached the goal figures and then increased weight. So, when you got all 36 reps with a poundage you knew it was time to up the weight 10 or 15 pounds, depending on which exercise it was.

Short rest periods between sets, though, kept the overall intensity of the particular exercise higher than you’d expect. Frankly, it’s not realistic to expect all 6 sets in a system like this to be all-out. If they were, they would quickly become self-defeating. But if one doesn’t dawdle between sets, each is taxing enough to be challenging.

To Vern’s way of thinking, this set/rep system had the virtues of taxing the involved muscles with the heaviest possible poundages – short of dropping down into very low reps with correspondingly increased weight thereby greatly upping one’s susceptibility to injury – while simultaneously supplying enough of a workload to provide the muscles with something of a pump.

One fine point pertaining to execution with this system – Vern tended to favor rest periods between sets of 1½ to 2 minutes in duration. Anything over 3 minutes was deemed unnecessary in his book.

If you review the published routines of bodybuilding champions from the post World War II to mid-1960s you’ll find that multiple sets of relatively heavy weights for 6-8 reps was fairly common among many of the big names. Among the luminaries who immediately come to mind are Bill Pearl, Reg Park and Marvin Eder, to name a few.

Getting back to my gym binge with Vern – I just assumed that we only pursued four movements because of the considerable workload devoted to each and our 60-minute time constraint. However, I was informed that while our splitting the routine was a concession to time the limited choice of exercises was not.

This brings me to a point I wish to make. Those of us who have more desire for muscle size and strength than we have innate ability to obtain often harbor a certain amount of envy toward those who are blessed with superior genetics, feeling that all they have to do is walk into a gym and look at the weights and their bodies magically transform.

While the “physically advantaged” clearly have an easier time of it, without question, I’ve yet to encounter a physique luminary who didn’t have at least one formidable obstacle to overcome.

Vern had two hurdles. One was calves. But a more significant one in terms of his overall bodybuilding success was an inability to gain muscular bodyweight over a certain point. From accounts of former training partners, Vern trained and gained strength like a demon. as his strength increased so did his muscular bodyweight, until he reached the 195 lb. mark or thereabouts, where he plateaued noticeably. Even in the late 1950s and early 60s, in order to challenge for the Mr. America crown, Vern knew he would have to gain another 15-20 lbs. of rock-solid muscle. In effect, Vern had symptoms of hardgainer traits, although they didn’t surface until he was well along.

He responded by consolidating his routines and focusing only on movements which yielded maximum return for the amount of energy invested. In brief, he pretty much stuck to the major muscle of compound joint movements when he was looking strictly to gain more mass. I make that differentiation because later, other training objectives will be touched on.

Of the aforementioned exercises we performed, I’m sure at least one of the choices raised a few eyebrows. Today, many trainees in the States view decline benching as an indispensable adjunct to “total chest training.” However, if memory serves me correctly Vern, more of less, happened upon it by accident several months immediately prior to his Mr. America victory. But his rewards from declines were so immediate and pronounced that he instantly became a staunch advocate of this angle over all others.

It goes without saying that over his years of training Vern had tried every imaginable form of barbell and dumbbell pressing at every conceivable angle. But he was always looking for the exercise which permitted him to apply the maximum possible poundage to a particular muscle group. In comparison to flat and incline bench pressing , the decline version filled this criteria. Furthermore, I believe he tried declines in the hope they would force new growth in his triceps, in particular, which did occur. Dramatic effects were noted in his deltoids and pectorals as well.

Needless to say, over time he fiddled with various hand spacings and lowering the bar to different points on his chest. Apparently, he settled on a moderately close grip – about the start of the knurling on an Olympic bar, and lowering it to the bottom of the sternum prior to pressing. I believe he also preferred a 30 degree decline angle or thereabouts. However, I recall the particular bench we used for pressing at that time being at about a 45 degree slope. Like Vern, my experience was that doing this exercise in the manner prescribed did stress the triceps, as well as the pecs and delts quite strenuously.

I might add in passing that had Vern been forced to abandon decline benching for any reason his alternative selection for a major upper body pressing movement would appear to have been parallel bar dips. Unlike declines, dips enjoyed great popularity among bodybuilders back then, being viewed as the ideal complement to Vern’s upper body pulling favorite, chins.

Indications were that he settled on dips and chins early in his training career, after receiving recommendations for this pairing from noted bodybuilders of that time who stopped off at the York gym. According to one circulated story Vern once asked Hugo Labra, who possessed terrific muscular mass and definition for those days, which movements he thought were tops for the upper body. In his South American accent, Hugo replied, “Cheens and deeps!”

Blog Archive