Sunday, October 31, 2010
The Psychology of Weightlifting, Part One
by Pete George (1961)
What do champions have that run-of-the-mill athletes have not? Certainly it’s not just the size of muscle. I become more convinced of that every time I think of Shams, the Egyptian muscle-less wonder. I can remember his as a lanky, underweight lightweight who would clean & jerk poundages that would stagger many a Herculean heavyweight.
But if it is more than muscle, what is it?
Twenty years ago I heard Larry Barnholth say something which was hard for me to understand at the time. But being very young I took my coach on faith. Today, as I look back, I am thankful I did, for to those words I owe a great deal of my success in the iron game. He said, “Mental attitude is the most important thing in weightlifting, and anything you want badly enough you can get.” Those words made a profound impression on me. I kept them constantly in mind throughout my lifting career.
Since that day 20 years ago, I have been able to observe the performances of many world and Olympic champions. I have been able to listen to the advice of famous American and foreign coaches. I have read all that I could find on the physiology and psychology of strength. Nothing I have seen, heard, or read has convinced me contrary to Larry’s statement. In fact, this has served to reinforce it.
Just to know the fact that becoming a champion is more of a mental than physical accomplishment does not automatically guarantee you success, although it the first and perhaps most important step. You must not only be aware of it, but you must sincerely believe it applies to YOU. It will be necessary for you to consider mental conditioning as an essential part of your training program. You will have to work at it! There are some rare and fortunate individuals to whom the proper mental conditioning comes naturally. They do it without thinking and are not aware they are doing it. But most of us to succeed will have to go about it with a plan. I believe it is safe to say, however, that all champions condition themselves mentally for success whether they are aware of it or not.
You very likely at some time or another have heard the term “M.A.” – meaning mental attitude. It is becomingly increasingly common for it to pop up in discussions among athletic champions. This indicates there is a growing awareness in all sports that there is more to becoming a champion than physical training. If you are not now training your mental attitude you are placing yourself at a disadvantage. So let’s look into some of the factors involved.
You cannot become a champion without a definite desire. Very likely you read the last sentence without giving it a second thought. On the surface it appears too simple and obvious to waste any time with. Yet it is among the important things to know about competitive weightlifting.
I have often heard Bob Hoffman talk about the importance of a burning desire. The Barnholth brothers, who have done a great deal of serious thinking about the psychological aspects of competitive weightlifting, constantly stress the necessity of setting specific goals. From these great coaches I learned these dicta: The desire must be intense; the goal must be definite. Both of these elements are essential and both can be brought under control. However, one will do you little good without the other. Developing an overwhelming enthusiasm without a specific aim is like putting a powerful outboard motor in a rudderless boat. And a definite goal without a motivating force is about as useful as a motorboat without a motor.
Burning desire or enthusiasm is a motivating force that can make a man a champion. It is an element that can cut through the barriers (and there are many) on the road to maximum performance.
Enthusiasm comes easier to younger athletes. This is probably due to the fact that they have had fewer setbacks and are less skeptical as to what they can accomplish. As a consequence the champions in most sports are younger men. I am not trying to say that physical age has nothing to do with it whatsoever – the point I want to make is that champions begin to decline when winning no longer seems as thrilling or important as it used to be. This usually comes long before the age factor is a handicap.
One of the best examples of hanging on to enthusiasm late in a lifting career was former world champion Namdjou. There was an intense little man who never lost his desire to win, and as a consequence was doing his lifetime best lifting when in his 40s. Norbert Schemansky is perhaps an even more outstanding example. He had had the taste of being crowned the heavyweight champion of the world. He liked it and has never forgotten it. About a year or so ago, just about anyone would have said, “As far as world championships are concerned, physically he’s had it.” But not Norbert – two major back operation, a long layoff from training in the latter half of his 30s, and he smashes the world snatch record – more than nine full pounds better than Vlasov, a man a dozen years his junior and acclaimed to be the world’s strongest man!
At this point you are probably thinking, “Okay, you’ve convinced me. Enthusiasm is great for lifting, but how do I turn it on and off?”
First of all, by enthusiasm I don’t mean during each training session you must be saying to yourself, “Enjoy, enjoy, I enjoy doing this!” If you do enjoy your training so much the better, but we probably all know lifters who get a big kick out of their workouts and yet never progress much over time. Most champions do derive some pleasure from their gym sessions, but I have known some who considered them drudgery yet were very successful in competition. These men did not look upon their workouts as an end in themselves, but only as a means to an end. They had burning desires to become champions and training was the only way they knew to achieve their goals.
Anyone who knows both Namdjou and Schemansky can tell you that these are two men of entirely different temperaments. Namdjou is explosive and expressive – Schemansky, stable and reserved. But you wouldn’t have to talk very long to each of them to learn what they have in common. They are of one mind when it comes to their definite overpowering desire to become the world’s greatest weightlifter. The enthusiasm is for the end result, not necessarily for the means of attaining it.
This enthusiasm can be developed. The degree to which you develop it will to a large measure determine how far along the road of progress you will go. Many now reading this will be skeptical – never quite believing that enthusiasm can transform them. Remember, I said earlier that most of the champions were young men, and this was largely due to the fact that they were less skeptical. Most of the world’s progress has been made by men who were “young at heart” – men who were confident enough to believe that certain barriers did not exist for them. They had childlike enthusiasm while more “practical” men scoffed.
The first step in developing desire of enthusiasm is to set a goal. What is it you would like to become – the best lifter in your club or the world’s greatest lifter? It is difficult to get excited about any project without some end result in mind. The more worthwhile you consider this result the more enthusiasm you will generate. You must know what you want – what it is that you are striving for. Once you have found that out you are at least half the way to success. This may sound very simple and easy, but there is more to it than appears on the surface.
How high a goal should you dare desire? No one can answer this for you. But consider the fact that many psychologists who have studied aspiration and achievement claim the main reason most people accomplish so little in life is that they set their goals too low. The vast majority of people achieve only a small fraction of their potential because they never realize how much they have. The most difficult step in becoming great is the act of believing it is possible. Millions of American schoolboys dream of becoming athletic heroes – all but a very few laugh it off on awakening. These few are the handful who go on to enjoy that special challenge of seeking a lofty goal.
Who do you see when you look in the mirror? This may sound like nonsense or a gag question, but it is actually one of the most important queries you will ever ask yourself. You should do this before selecting any goal. Does the mirror show you a nice but unlucky kid, one who works hard but just doesn’t have the “stuff” and who would love to be great but just wasn’t born under the right star? Or do you see a determined man who takes advantages of the breaks, one who believes that his hard work will pay off, and who knows that the determinants of success are not in the stars but in himself? The answer can tell you whether you are headed toward glorious achievement, miserable failure, or something in between.
In order to succeed, your goal should be set so that it will correspond with your self-image. Your aim is too high or too low if it is above or below the mental picture you have of yourself. This can be determined only by you, and only honestly.
You can improve your self-image, and later I will give you some practical ways to go about this. But at this point you are entitled to ask, “How can the mental picture of myself determine the amount I lift?” The answer should become apparent when you consider the following information.
The limits of human ability are really unknown. Records keep going up, and where they will stop no one knows. A record on a certain lift a number of years ago was less than 250. Today it is well over 300. Ten years from now it very likely will be around 350. Why is it that men could not do 300 on this lift 10 years ago? Methods of training, style of performance, type of lifting apparatus have not changed appreciably in that time. There is no evidence that man in general is becoming stronger. Obviously some barrier existed that prevented champions of yesteryear from lifting weights that novices are easily handling today.
Larry Barnholth often tells his many pupils, “The greatest barrier to your success is within yourself.” Largely through Larry’s teaching have I come to regard the human body as a reservoir of undetermined power which is restrained by some intangible barrier. The extent to which you can remove this barrier determines the extent of your achievement.
What is this barrier? Where does it lie? What builds it up or tears it down? Can it be controlled at will? Why does it exist?
Scientists and psychologists have long recognized the existence and power of the subconscious mind deep within each of us.
The function of the subconscious mind that we are interested in is protection. Through the ages man needed this mechanism which would prevent him from attempting feats beyond his capacity and which were likely to endanger him. This function is not as important for survival as it was in prehistoric times. Many of the dangers that threatened our caveman ancestors no longer exist. Nevertheless it still operates in the same manner. This part of the mind cannot think; it cannot tell right from wrong, or possible from impossible. It only works on the information you supply it. Out of this it builds a self-image, and will not let you succeed at anything that is outside the limits of this image. If only thoughts of success, both from you and from other sources, it will react to remove the barriers to the tremendous reservoir of unused power that is within each of us. On the other hand if information indicating failure is picked up by it, it automatically starts setting up barriers to prevent us from exerting full force.
In summary of what I have said here in Part One, you need three things to become an exceptional lifter:
1.) an intense desire;
2.) a specific goal; and
3.) a positive self-image.
Once you have these three elements, your subconscious mind will remove the barriers to that vast reservoir of untapped power that lies hidden inside you.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Clyde Emrich’s Training
by Harry B. Paschall (1957)
Clyde Emrich is one of the half-dozen strongest men in the world. Any follower of the Iron Sport can prove this to himself quickly on the fingers of one hand. Quickly now, check off a list of the men who have CLEANED 400 pounds . . . start from the top and work back . . . Anderson, Davis, Schemansky . . . oops, you’re starting to run out of names, aren’t you! But Clyde has not done this ONCE, he has done it a dozen or more times, and outside of Andy and Skee, he has done it easier than anyone else.
Recently Clyde jerked 403 in training, and cleaned 415! At of a bodyweight of 197 pounds he is the lightest man to clean 400. Clyde has also pressed 310 and snatched 290. This puts him in the very select 1,000 total category, where very few athletes have found themselves in all the annals of strength. Only Vorobyev and Sheppard have made such a total in the 198-pound division.
Emrich’s Training Methods
Lifters are always interested in the training programs of those more experienced and successful, and we try to outline these routines in order that others coming up might profit from these lessons. A typical week of heavy training for Emrich goes like this:
A brief warmup and then,
Pressing – 205x6/225x5/250x3, then perhaps a series of 6 sets of 265x2. He then goes on, pressing 275 or 280x2, and may do 6 singles with 290. His top press is currently 310 pounds. He does a total of about 35 presses and now warms up for
Snatching – 135x5/185x5/205x2, then singles with 240, 250, 260, 270, and on up through 280 and 290 if he feels strong on that day. Having finished the two lifts he has concentrated on for the day, he now does some
Squatting – Emrich does a lot of squats, ‘warming up’ with 300x15, then 330x10/350x5/400x5/425x5/450x4/475x3, and perhaps singles with 500-520 pounds. These are Olympic squats, done all the way down. He varies the program a bit by doing some of these as front squats.
This winds up Monday’s workout, which may last from 1½ to 2 hours, but with plenty of rest between efforts.
Tuesday – Rest.
He again goes through the same Press routine as on Monday, then goes into
Cleaning – 205x2/250x2/300x2/320x2/340x1/360x1/370x1, and then, depending on energy, may work up t 390. After the regular cleaning he does some
Power Cleaning – without foot action or dips – 225x5/250x5/270x5/280x2/290x2/300x2/310x2, and singles up to possibly 340. Clyde is very strong on Power Cleans, and cleans for his presses of over 300 pounds are done do easily they look effortless.
Thursday – Rest.
This is his heavy day, and he will start with
Pressing – lifting about the same as Monday, except that he will try and hit his top press of 310 before going down to his rep presses. Again he will do at least 30 presses before going on to
Snatching – working up to a top snatch, and doing reps along the way, then
Clean & Jerking –working right up to his top, and trying to do some repetition jerking from the shoulders with lighter weights. On this day Clyde will usually go on to clean 400 pounds. On one Friday session he did a solid 415 in practice. He usually finishes off the Friday workout with
Squatting – working up from 300 to 500 pounds, and getting in a total of about 50 reps over the various weights.
Since this is the day off from his job, Clyde is apt to drop into the gym for a casual workout, pressing a few weights and doing some power cleans and a few more squats, both Olympic and Front. This is not a heavy workout in any way.
Sunday – Rest.
You may notice that Clyde does not put in a five-day training week, nor does he do as much pressing as some champions. This schedule seems to work for him, however. He also varies his training movements slightly from day to day – sometimes throwing in some Seated Presses with a pair of 100-lb dumbbells, doing Pushes from the Rack, and, like all other trainees, he may try some lift that somebody else happens to be doing. He is not a bench presser, but seems to have derived most of his power from quite extensive squatting routines. And PURE POWER is what Clyde Emrich has most of . . . if he had the technique of a George of a Schemansky he could break every record ever made in his class!
And it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Training Can Be Different
by John Grimek (1959)
Have you tried any different exercises lately? I mean something really different that would still work the muscles vigorously but not in the usual manner to which they have been accustomed. Has such an idea ever occurred to you?
I’m quite certain that most everyone has, at one time or another, though about doing something different in the way of exercise and may have even tried it. This seems to be quite natural for any real dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast who is always seeking new ways of improving his development.
I recall in my earlier training days I was always seeking new and better exercise that would provide shortcuts and help me to reach my physical goal faster. Some of these “brain storms” I had then still remain and are considered excellent exercises even today: the jumping squats and the upright rowing or high pull-up exercise. I first used them in my training during the early part of 1930. Of course, I performed the high pull-up in two ways: the one hand pull-up was used mainly for developing power, while the two-hand variety was included chiefly as a muscle developer. I always did these exercises quite fast and pulled the weights from the floor to shoulder or chin height. Today, however, the exercise is considered more valuable when it’s not pulled too fast and started from the front of the thighs.
In preparing the Simplified System of Barbell Training, Bob Hoffman recommended another, almost similar, exercise which he called the rapid high dead lift. In this exercise the weigh was pulled up from the floor to about chest height. It is a very good exercise for developing the strong pull needed to lift heavy weights. Exercises of this type not only develop the strong, powerful muscles of the back along the spine, but the shoulders, arms, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi muscles also are strongly activated as well. The use of such exercises will improve any bodybuilder so that he will have a more rugged and powerful structure in this region, as the champion weightlifters have. Most bodybuilders lack the ruggedness of any champion weightlifter, in this area, and therefore improvement in this region would help them a lot.
The exercises illustrated here, with the exception of the leg raise situp, are some of the ones I employed during the early ‘30s in hopes of finding something new that would speed up muscular development. Yet I must admit that this idea of combining fast, contracting movements as a means of inducing faster development wasn’t entirely my own idea. It started to formulate after I read a brief story in one of Earle Liederman’s books which he wrote in the late ‘20s. In this volume the author related a story about a man who sought to improve his chinning ability even though he could chin with either hand easily. He devised a scheme whereby he could further his progress in chinning by fixing a ladder at a rather steep incline. Grasping the lower rung he would pull hard and catch the rung above it. He acquired the ability to skip at least two rungs, and then he began to work on single-hand chins. Eventually he was able to skip two rungs while doing a one-hand chin with either hand, and anyone who has ever tried or succeeded in doing a one-hand chin knows the amount of power it takes to propel the body upwards high enough and fast enough so that two rungs can be skipped. I became so intrigues by with this idea that I decided to contrive a similar arrangement. However, I neither had the ladder nor the place to install it. Later I did try nailing several crosspieces across the joists in the basement but this proved impractical and caused me to bump my head against the crosspieces every time I pulled myself up too vigorously, possibly an explanation for some of the run-on sentences I wrote for Boho back during that era. But this experience gave rise to other ideas, some if which have just been mentioned – the jumping squats and the high pull-up. Applying the same logic once my head injuries subsided, I reasoned that if regular squatting was so beneficial, how much better might it work if one would leap up from the low position instead of just recovering. A few experimental attempts convinced me that this movement imparted stronger contractions and gave more spring to the legs. Later I convinced others when I exceeded the world indoor standing broad jump record even though I didn’t practice it. And even though during this era not many multi-million-dollar running shoe or cereal box promotions were offered to record breaking athletes, I was happy in the doing and quite certain that this exercise was responsible for my improved ability.
It was about this time that I saw a very impressive picture of Clevio Massimo, then an extraordinary showman and fabulous performer, in a pose that revealed his massive trapezius development. I wanted similar trapezius development, but the regular shrugging I was doing didn’t bring me the desired results fast enough – or it may have seemed that way to my young and impatient self at that time. I started analyzing other movements that would hasten the development of the trapezius and hit upon the one-hand pull-up, which I did exactly as a one-hand snatch except I didn’t get under the weight to complete the lift. I could note improvement after only a few weeks of using this exercise. The trapezius began to thicken, the hollows around the clavicles began filling out, and the arms, shoulder and particularly the erector muscles of the spine got heavier. During this time I studied all available courses and books by the hours in hopes of finding new and different exercises that would exercise the muscles more vigorously and hasten development. Of course I believe any interested barbell man is inclined to do the same thing if he is keenly interested in furthering his strength and development. Therefore, if any of you have found any exercise which hasn’t been publicized before and you want to make this exercise known, drop me a line explaining the details of it, and if possible, enclose a photograph showing how it should be done. If it has any developing merit at all I’ll be happy to make use of it in the Training Problems section and give you credit. I must add, however, that I get letters frequently from fellows who submit exercises which they feel are new, and when I tell them that this exercise is not new and has been used before, they feel hurt. Sometimes I refer them to certain issues in which a similar exercise appeared, if I can remember the issue, and then they realize they must have seen it within these pages before.
On the other hand, I am not trying to sell you the idea that any of these are new and unpublicized exercises. I feel sure that if you have been a steady reader of lifting information for any length of time you may have seen most of these exercises mentioned. But take it from me, some of these are different enough to challenge your ability and provide the muscles with a new kind or workout.
Let’s start with the easiest first, the forward raise and jump with dumbbells (Figure 1). Some strongmen were capable of doing a somersault while holding a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells in this exercise will provide momentum and help to increase jumping ability if proper timing is acquired. Begin with light dumbbells and don’t try to jump to your limit at first. Acquire the “knack” and time your forward jump as you raise the dumbbells. You’ll be able to make a fine jump and improve your coordination with practice. Do at least 6 or 8 repetitions, and increase the weight of the dumbbells only after you have mastered the movement.
(2.) Swinging barbell from floor to overhead position with straight arms. This exercise is especially for the erector muscles of the back. Swing the weight semicircularly in one sweep from the floor to overhead and with arms straight. If the legs are kept locked the exercise becomes twice as difficult, bringing the muscles of the calves and back of thighs into action. Use a light weight. Repeat 6 to 8 times.
(3.) Side bends and curl combination. Use a dumbbell that you can curl properly. Hold the weight hanging at the side. To start the exercise first bend towards the side you’re holding the weight, then bend at the waist towards the opposite side and curl the weight under the arm at the same time. Return to starting position and repeat 10 to 12 times. Use heavier weights and also perform lower reps as you become accustomed to the movement. Repeat with the other hand.
(4.) One-hand high pull-up. Use barbell with about the same weight you can do a one-hand snatch with. It’s exactly the same movement except you don’t have to dip under the weight as you do in the lift itself. But try to pull the barbell up to shoulder height at least. Increase the weight when 6 repetitions become easy.
(5.) One-hand lateral raise on incline. Assume a position so your body is on an angle. From this position raise the dumbbell slowly to an overhead position and lower slowly and repeat. This exercise provides terrific action to the entire deltoid muscles, but especially to the lateral section of this muscle. Repeat at least 10 counts, working up to 12 or 15.
(6.) Incline forward, arm extended curls. This may sound complicated – it’s not. Bend forward from the hips (the more the bend, the more difficult the exercise) and extend arms which should be kept almost straight while holding the barbell. Curl the weight up while holding this position and without bringing the elbows closer to the body when curling. Holding the elbows away from the body makes the exercise more difficult because it imposes greater strain on the shoulders while exercising the biceps in this manner. Use light weights until you begin to get the feel of the exercise, then use heavier weights. Do 6 to 8 repetitions and repeat in sets if you like.
(7.) Resting head on floor while doing laterals. Ever since the neck development article by Frank Leight (May 1959, Strength & Health) I’ve had numerous inquiries whether this position can be utilized for other exercises. This one is similar and works the lats, shoulders, neck, triceps and other upper back muscles. Place head on mat with feet spread apart for balance. Raise dumbbells from floor to hip, keeping the arms well back. Repeat two or three sets of 10 reps.
(8.) Jumping squats. This exercise has been featured numerous times within these pages so there is little point in illustrating it with a photo yet once again. However, it is necessary to use a light enough weight that will permit a fast rebound from the full low squat. One should leap up as high into the air as possible and continue for at least 10 counts. Attempts should be made to work up to 15 counts. Increase weight only when it is needed to produce more resistance.
(9.) Combination leg raise and situp. This may prove more difficult than it looks, but it works the abdomen like nothing else. Lie in supine position on the floor and begin to raise the legs, and as the legs are raised thrust the body forward in an attempt to touch the toes with the hands. Lower and repeat. No need to specify any number of repetitions. Do as man as you are able to or until the abs begin to ache and tire. Iron boots on the feet and weights held at the shoulders can make the exercise much more demanding.
(10.) To induce flexibility of the shoulders, hips and body in general, hold a light barbell behind the hips (palms facing away from the body, arms straight and feet comfortably spaced. Start bending forward and at the same time raising the barbell overhead. At this point the head is bend quite low and the bar forward and away from the body. Lower the weight and straighten up and repeat the exercise for as many repetitions as you like.
There you have 10 different exercises that should provide you with a bit of variety. But I’d like to issue a warning to those who are overzealous in their training. Start out by using light weights only until you get the feel of any new exercise before increasing the poundage. Instead, it would be wiser to at first increase repetitions before dropping back and increasing the weight. Don’t try handling more weight than you can use – CORRECTLY!
Saturday, October 16, 2010
4.4 – A “Total” Bench Press Training Program
Let’s try to put everything together into a generalized bench press training program that can (hopefully!) be used by everyone, at least as a base. We’ll need to incorporate the following factors:
(1) Selection of the exercises that should be used for training the key bench press muscles;
(2) The appropriate use of the periodization concepts in training these muscles;
(3) The addition of specialized sticking point development exercises; and
(4) Technique work with single repetitions in the competitive style bench press (and using technique drills such as those discussed in Section 4.3).
First, I have listed below a “partial” list of the exercises I would recommend for the three “key” bench press muscles (pectoralis major, triceps, and deltoid). I leave the other auxiliary exercises (as in Section 3.5) to the reader’s discretion.
My selection of exercises in each category gives exercise (1) the highest priority, and so one down (e.g., I prefer close grip bench presses over the other forms of triceps exercises, etc.).
A. CHEST EXERCISES:
1.) Wide Grip Bench Press (variations below):
(a) Touch high on chest, lock out fully
(b) Touch high on chest, push up two-thirds only (non-lockout)
(c) Touch mid-chest, lock out fully
(d) Touch mid-chest, push up two-thirds only (non-lockout)
(e) Touch low on chest, lock out fully
(f) Touch low on chest, push up two-thirds only (non-lockout)
2.) Wide Grip Dumbbell Bench Press (same variations as above)
3.) Low Incline Wide Grip Bench Press (same variations as above) – keep incline less than 30 degrees or so above horizontal.
B. TRICEPS EXERCISES:
1.) Close Grip Bench Press (grip with less than shoulder width):
(a) Touch high on chest, lock out fully
(b) Touch mid-chest, lock out fully
(c) Touch low on chest, lock out fully
(d) Lower only one-half way down
2.) Dips (with weight, shoulder width grip, keep body straight and elbows back)
3.) Triceps Pushdowns (grip less than shoulder width, keep elbows into sides, avoid forward lean)
C. SHOULDER EXERCISES:
1.) Dumbbell Presses (standing, palms facing head, shoulder height to overhead range)
2.) Behind Neck Presses (wide grip, lower bar only to about ear-level and push up, standing)
3.) Front Lateral Raises (keep arm in plane midway between front and side arm positions)
The specialized sticking point development exercises I would recommend for building this critical region are similarly:
D. STICKING POINT EXERCISES:
1.) Power Rack Partial Movements (at sticking point region, using competitive style bench press, low reps)
2.) Power Rack Isometric Contraction (at sticking point region, using competitive style bench press, 3-5 seconds duration)
3.) “Slow” Reps (on purpose!) Through Sticking Point Region (reduce acceleration effects, man need less weight, use competitive style bench press)
Now, with the exercises in Categories A, B, C and D in mind, the overall bench press training plan is presented in Tables 10-13. Please not in particular Table 10, which outlines the overall t raining plan. As you will see in this table:
(1) Periodization concepts are used to train the key bench press muscles;
(2) Sticking point training is reserved for the last four weeks of the cycle; and
(3) Technique training increases as the cycle progresses, with singles gradually increasing in weight and more time spent on technique drills, etc. as the meet approaches.
This general plan in Table 10 is one that can more easily be understood by reviewing Tables 11-13. These tables give a more detailed view of how a typical cycle would be structured by providing sample workouts for Week 1 (Table 11), Week 4 (Table 12), and Week 7 (Table 13).
The overall plan in Table 10 provides a base program design that incorporates the major concepts discussed earlier in the book. This sample program can be used for quite some time if:
(1) The exercises (in ALL categories) are changed at the end of each cycle;
(2) The weights used are recalculated based on the new 1 RM, 3 RM, 5 RM, and 10 RM poundages (note: 1 RM means the maximum weight you can lift for your one repetition competitive bench press, but 3-10 reps maxes relate to the maximum weight you can do for MULTIPLE SETS (i.e., 3-5) for that number of repetitions); and
(3) At least once a year (as in “off” season) one or more cycles are performed where emphasis is given only to doing “key” muscle training (i.e., no technique singles or sticking point exercises) and repetitions are kept between 5 and 10. This can be achieved, for example, by first using weeks 1-=6 in Table 10 (as outlined for “key” muscle training only), then using 1 week of active rest (as in Week 9 of Table 10), and starting over with new exercises. This provides more volume, less intensity type “base” work earlier in the season that prepares one for the later (more intense) cycles in the year.
It is recommended that beginners start with the cycle as shown in Table 10, and go through four cycles (36 weeks) before doing two shorter “base” cycles of seven weeks each as outlined above. More advanced lifters can follow the same format, but need to incorporate even more variation into this training plan. This can be achieved by using shorter cycles, varying the exercises even more (perhaps even more within each week), etc. Advanced lifters need more of such variation in order to keep progressing, and it can be incorporated easily. This workout plan is designed to peak you for a competition (or new maximum day) on a Monday. Since this is normally not the case (most meets being on Friday to Sunday), all you have to do during meet week is follow these suggestions:
(1) On Monday of “meet” week 8 follow the same type of “medium” workout you did the last Wednesday (during week 7, see Table 13);
(2) On Wednesday of “meet” week 8 follow the same type of “light” workout you did the previous Friday (during week 7, see Table 13); and
(3) Warm up at the meet on Friday to Sunday just as you have done routinely for your competition singles during the cycle, but in competition use a “comfortably easy” opening attempt, go for your reasonably expectable maximum on your second attempt, and then a “wishful” third attempt. You want to “sneak up” on your attempts and avoid excessively large (and usually foolhardy) poundage jumps. This is the day you’ve been looking forward to, so be smart, watch your technique, take reasonable poundage increments and - ENJOY YOURSELF! You’ve earned that new max.
The purpose of this book was to try and bring science and practical experience together in order to provide a better understanding of the bench press. The success of this effort, however, can only be measured by the practical training results experienced by the readers of this book, and by the results of future research on the bench press stimulated by the ideas herein. Hopefully, this book will serve as a worthy starting point for progress in both areas.
I have chosen to use this book as my means of sharing what I know with you. Hopefully, you can take this information and perhaps not only personally benefit, but possibly try to help someone else. It is always unfortunate when people spend great efforts and never achieve the results they want. Make it standard behavior to be of service to those who may not have your experience.
It all comes back.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
4.3 – Technique Training for the Bench Press
The most obvious implication of this book is that technique is important in the bench press. The research results discussed in Chapter 2 also question the value of doing multiple repetition sets of competition style bench presses with lighter weights. The shoulder forces aren’t reduced as much as the weigh is, due to the high accelerations typical of lighter high rep sets. Single repetition training that emphasizes learning the correct movement pattern should be more valuable than high repetition training emphasizing totally fatiguing the muscles involved. The bench presser must learn to be continually aware of his technique, and heavier singles are excellent for this purpose. Most great bench pressers have learned this point, as evidenced by the great number that primarily emphasize singles in their bench press training (e.g., Seno, Williams, McDonald, Estep, Bridges, etc.). Basically, the fact that singles worked so well for these great bench pressers is testimony to how important learning better bench press technique is. Further, if one incorporates singles with the periodization training concepts discussed previously (to really develop the key bench press muscles) . . . even better results should occur.
My feeling, again, is that singles should be used primarily for their technique development role in bench pressing. This should probably be the only time your competitive style bench press is done in training. The weights used should be LESS than maximal and increase gradually with your cycle so that a peak is reached in the actual bench press competition. After warmups, a number of singles (perhaps 3-5) should be done with the major emphasis given to perfecting one’s technique. Help coach each other, with the techniques discussed in Chapter 2 serving as a guide. If possible, periodic film analysis of your bench press technique would be invaluable to your progress (such analysis should be widely available soon).
Let me give some sample technique training hints (from Chapter 2):
(1) You can measure the time it takes to lower the bar and compare to the 1.7 to 2.3 seconds typical for elite bench pressers. The important point here is to practice a slow and controlled descent that minimizes acceleration;
(2) High speed films, or even home movies taken periodically of your bench press (perhaps every month of so) are an excellent way to gauge your technique progress over time until digital video becomes commonplace in the unknown future.
(3) Have your training partners watch your elbows on the way up to see that they don’t flare out too soon in the lift;
(4) Attach a pen, felt marker, etc. to the end of the bar so that the bar path is recorded. This can then be compared to the bar paths in Chapter 2, as well used to check for both improvements over time and consistency of the bar path during training sessions. In particular, work on quickly moving the bar horizontally more during that first crucial 4-5 inches off the chest. This is important to practice;
(5) Although I said earlier that you should use the widest legal grip, if you MUST use a narrower grip (this is mainly for those who are smaller in body size or have injuries to the pectoralis major, etc.) you can get a feel for the grip spacing best for you by looking at the technique changes caused by different grip spacings as discussed above in points (2), (3) and (4);
(6) Practice the competitive “pause” by having your partners give you a referee-style clap once the bar touches the chest. However, as discussed in Section 2.12, I would emphasize you use “touch-and-go”, quicker claps here;
(7) Finally, consistently practice all your competition-style bench press techniques as discussed in Chapter 2, so that when the meet does come your bench press style will be an old friend, not a nerve-wracking technique to bear when needed.
Remember, technique training in the bench press is WELL worth the effort, as the top bench pressers of the world have found. In my opinion, it is at least as important as the training of the key individual bench press muscles.
Friday, October 8, 2010
Training Ideas for Developing the Bench Press
4.1 – General Philosophy
How should we then train the bench press to maximize performance and minimize injury potential? This remains the million-dollar question and one that may elude us for some time. It is actually probable that there are many training approaches that will produce a better bench press. After all, this is what we see now with all the diversity of programs pumped out in the magazines and books every day. Obviously, people have reached high levels of bench press performance using very different training philosophies and programs. In fact, a glimpse at the research on training muscle shows a similar diversity of “programs that work” (see, for example, Atha’s review [reference 1]).
It seems that bench pressers and scientists alike are both taking the wrong approach to solving this training dilemma. That is, it is just about impossible to ever systematically try every possible training program in the hope that someday the “magic” one will appear that produces 1,000 pound bench presses in six weeks. There are simply too many potential training programs to try. But of course, we still continue to do this a lot and we also still work hard to seek out the results of top lifters in the hope that they’ve stumbled on something we missed. The dangers in this approach are mainly in misdirection with a good chance for people getting into training programs that are really bad and sometimes even dangerous.
Well, there IS an alternative that hopefully you’ve already thought of if you’ve read this far. That is, to take the information on the biomechanics of bench press techniques (as in Chapter 2), add this to the knowledge available on training the key muscles used in the bench press (Chapter 3), and put all this together with the most physiologically valid training philosophy. If nothing else, at least this procedure provides a more research-based approach to training and should logically have more chance for success than simply the “guesswork” that is mainly used today in designing programs. Let’s face it, how much logic do you think is really behind the training programs most people are now in?
Since I’ve already stuck my neck out this far, let me continue and present my philosophy of bench press training (based both on my research and experience):
(1) First, we need to think of the competition-style bench press as the complex sport skill it really is (see Chapter 2). In this lift, technique is VERY important, if not crucial to success. You should think of your competitive bench press as, let’s say, a pole vault or another “complex” sport skill. If you think of it in this way, you’ll quickly come to realize that just as the pole vaulter lifts weights to build the key muscles important to pole vaulting, he also spends a lot of time with a coach working on his techniques. We should do the same with bench press training.
(2) With this first point in mind, an important part of our training time should be spent on training the key muscles of importance to bench pressing (as in Chapter 3). Intelligent training of these muscles, as we’ve previously discussed, should be viewed as “separate” from actual training of our competitive style bench press. Further, the most research and experiential-based physiological training approach should be used as far as sets, reps, intensity, volume, etc. are concerned to best develop these muscles for their roles in the bench press. Additional specialized training can also be used here (for example, to develop strength at the sticking point region) as needed.
(3) The final step is to structure the technique training portion of the total bench press program. Now that more is hopefully understood about bench press techniques (as in Chapter 2), it is time to start coaching the bench press as it should be. Technique assessment, whether it is from simple observation or computerized biomechanical analysis of high-speed (slow motion) films, needs to be done more extensively. After all, technique work is one of the most critical aspects of high-level performance in any sport. In fact, it can be shown that the performances in the 1984 Olympics by U.S. athletes were significantly helped by the biomechanical technique studies done for the coaches and athletes over the previous four years. This is also what the Soviets and Eastern Bloc nations spend considerable efforts in.
Now, let’s spend more time expanding on these ideas and hopefully this bench press training philosophy will become clearer.
(1) Atha, J., “Strengthening muscle”, Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, (ed: D.I. Miller, Franklin Press), Vol. 9:1-74, 1981.
4.2 – Optimal Training for Key Bench Press Muscles
First and foremost, keep in mind here that I am saying that you should not rely on bench press training that simply involves doing sets and reps with your competitive style bench press. This is an important departure from most conventional bench press training approaches. Rather, we will use this section to explore how to optimally train the key muscles involved in bench presses. Training of the competitive style bench press will only be done in a “technique development” fashion (to be discussed in the next section).
What I am really saying here is that I am resolving perhaps the biggest bench press training controversy of our time – that is, whether to use singles versus a cycling approach. There are definitely advantages to each, but in my opinion, the singles have value mainly in technique development, and that will be discussed in the next section . . . whereas training individual key muscles is best achieved by using proven cycling (or “periodization”) concepts. What I intend to talk about in the section, then, is how best to develop the key bench press muscles to optimize their role in producing a great bench press.
We have already spent a considerable amount of time in Chapter 3 (see Sections 3.2 through 3.5 in particular) going over the training techniques and exercises that should be used for developing the key bench press muscles. Please refer back to these sections carefully for this information carefully for this information. What we need to talk about here, however, is the WAY in which we train these muscles to develop them most effectively for their role in the bench press.
Based on my experiences over the years it has become evident to me that most lifters believe that somewhere out there is an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper listing the sets, reps, exercises, etc. of the “perfect” training program (for example, do “X” exercise, “Y” sets, and “Z” reps every fortnight until the full moon in June, deloading each third week, but only if the groundhog sees his shadow and Christmas this year falls on either Sunday or its face . . .). They are convinced that someone (whether it is a name powerlifter, bodybuilder, candlestick maker or whatever) knows this super-secret program and their job is to try, by any means possible, to discover it. They are certain this program, if they can just find it, would be the answer to all their bench press prayers. Indeed, they often get so caught up in this quest that they spend an inordinate amount of time, money, vital fluids, etc. trying to uncover this “perfect” workout, and are often preyed upon by sharks swimming the shower-room sewers of public gyms and monkeys swinging with abandon from lat pulldown thingeys.
Wellsir, the joke is unfortunately on them. No fixed workout, no matter how perfect, will work for very long. In fact, any training program that does not effectively and systematically utilize change will eventually lead to overtraining, lack of progress, injury, loss of vital fluids, sharking monkeys and chimping fish. Overtraining is all too common among weight trainers everywhere. The body can be pushed extremely hard, but not for long periods of time without respite. Let’s have a quick look at what’s advised in avoiding overtraining.
In the 1930’s, Hans Selye developed the “General Adaptation Syndrome” that described the way an individual adapted to stress during his lifetime. Expanding on this, Garhammer (see reference 1) has presented the basic concepts of the General Adaptation Syndrome in terms of what happens during training to the powerlifter, weight trainer, or athlete. To quickly summarize, there are three distinct phases of adaptation that a lifter goes through during the course of a weight training cycle:
(1) The first phase (alarm stage) is the initial response to the new weight program. During this first phase there is typically a drop in strength/power levels due to the associated soreness and stiffness that accompany the first few days of any weight program;
(2) The second phase (resistance phase) is where the lifter positively adapts to the weight program and increases his strength/power levels. This is when the program seems to work quite well and progress continues uninterrupted;
(3) The third phase (exhaustion or “overtraining” phase) is where the total stress of the weight training program becomes too much to handle and the lifter’s progress stalls or diminishes. It’s also important to note that other stresses besides the physical stress of the training program can sum to push one into overtraining (such as stresses in work, school, personal life, environment, loss of vital bodily fluids etc.).
Obviously, what we are looking for is a way to avoid the third phase and keep improving our strength/power levels. One of the many ways to do this involves properly incorporating change into the training program. To do this one must change some of the characteristics of any training program, such as VOLUME – the total amount of work done, or INTENSITY – basically how heavy the weights are. The person who first proposed a way to do this was Matveyev in 1961 (see reference 2 for details). His concept of periodization (or cycling, as it is commonly known) is an approach for changing the characteristics of a training program so overtraining can better be avoided and performance can more effectively be increased to optimal levels.
Training volume and intensity should be changed during the course of a training program, generally so that volume begins high (at the start of, let’s say, an eight week cycle) and decreases over the course of the cycle. Intensity, on the other hand, begins low and increases over the same cycle’s duration. The details of this approach are more fully described in reference 2. However, the basic bench press cycle I recommend for developing the key muscles would basically involve 3 weeks of 10 reps, 3 weeks of 5 reps, and 1 week of 2-3 reps before the meet or personal record. Use 3-5 sets per exercise, and up to 10-20 sets per muscle group are acceptable. Beginners in powerlifting or weightlifting appear to require less change in volume and intensity than more advanced lifters with years of training behind them. Furthermore, Stone (personal communication, 1983) has found that the results of a training cycle are greater if the changes in volume and intensity are more abrupt. Many lifters decrease repetitions too gradually during the course of a cycle (for example, going from 10 reps for 3 weeks to 8 reps for 3 weeks, etc. on down towards the meet). Stone’s work indicates that going from 10 rep weeks to 5 reps weeks, then to 3 rep weeks etc. “shocks” the body into greater adaptation than more gradual changes in volume and intensity.
The advanced athlete also needs to add other changes to his program regarding volume and intensity to avoid overtraining. Changing the volume and intensity by varying the loads used WITHIN the week as well as having every 2 to 3 weeks of heavier training followed by a “lighter” week during the cycle are other changes that the advanced lifter should also incorporate in his program. Again, note reference 2 for further details. While space doesn’t permit expanding in detail much further on this point, the main idea here is to change the volume and intensity in the manner I have discussed in your program. By using change to your advantage you will no doubt improve your progress and success on the platform.
Most of the top lifters that I know today use some cycling concepts as discussed above for changing their training volume and intensity during the meet preparation cycle. What I don’t see as often is a change in the biomechanics of the exercises used during their training cycle. In other words, they generally use the same exercises throughout their cycle.
Recent evidence (for example, see reference 3) is beginning to demonstrate the need for periodically changing the exercise movements we use in training. This is, of course, totally consistent with the General Adaptation Syndrome discussed above. Even if we are already changing the volume and intensity as described previously, we still need to avoid doing the same exercise for too long a time. Perhaps the most striking example of this is seen in training on exercise machines. With any machine training situation you have greater repeatability in the exercise due to the mechanical constraints of the movement involved. It’s not surprising that so many people who go on a purely machine-based weight training program will stall progress after 8 to 10 weeks or so. What they need to do (but can’t as easily do with machine training) is to slightly change their muscular involvement through either a change in the exercise or by going to a related but different exercise for the same group of muscles. This, in fact, is one major disadvantage of machines compared to free weights. With weights you have the capacity for diverse change in exercises used, while the exercises on machines are much more dramatically limited.
Obviously, much more biomechanical research needs to be done here in defining how much change is needed and how often it is needed in the exercises used in a training cycle. However, there is no question in my mind how important it is to dramatically change the biomechanics of the exercises you use. Particularly in complex areas of the body like the shoulder joint, variety is indeed the spice of life. The salt and pepper of existence. Being’s nothingness without ‘er. Whether you change the way you do an exercise by altering stance, grip, bar placement, the movement itself, speed of the motion, etc. or periodically use a different exercise altogether, the key is to change. To me, one of the reasons that the bench press is the lift most people have the greatest trouble improving in is that there is usually so little change in the way they bench press. For the most part, when I have taught beginning weight training classes, there are many who actively resist even TRYING one of the many different styles of bench pressing available (mostly, of course, because they won’t be able to lift as much). The best way to improve a stale bench press is to invoke the many possible changes available in this exercise. To do so, as most successful bench pressers have learned, is to improve your bench press significantly. Don’t forget the exercises you use for developing the key muscles involved in the bench press (triceps, deltoids, pectoralis major, etc.) need to be similarly changed periodically as well.
Additional specialized work can be done, in particular, to develop strength in the critical sticking point region. For example, doing isometrics or small range movements with heavy loads in a power rack (set up either based on mechanical analysis of your own sticking point location, or else determined from Figure 8 – for most people about 4-5 inches above the chest and 3-6 inches down from the shoulder). Additionally, using variety in chest development exercises (especially by focusing on different portions of the chest) would help develop strength over the entire region near your bar path and sticking point. Reduced acceleration or paused motions stopped near the sticking point are also potentially useful in developing sticking point strength (and are done a lot by top benchers like Bridges, Macdonald, etc.). Forced repetitions at this sticking point range may also be of some value (ala Arcidi, etc.). I would, however, keep all this work to a minimum, since the shoulder joint (ligaments in particular) can take a beating with this type of training, and needs to be adapted gradually to these higher intensities. Also, these high intensity, specialized motions should probably occur only in the last few weeks of a cycle (during weeks of 5 reps and less), in following the periodization concepts of training.
(1) Garhammer, J., “Periodization of strength training for athletes”, Track Technique, 73:2398-2399, 1979.
(2) Stone, M., O’Brien, H., Garhammer, J., McMillan, J., and Rezonek, R., “A theoretical model of strength training”, National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, Aug/Sept, 36-39, 1982.
(3) Hakkinen, K., and Koni, P.B., “Effect of different combined concentric muscle work regimens on maximal strength development”, Journal of Human Movement Studies, 7:33-44, 1981.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Epitaph for a Strongman – Mac Batchelor
by Vic Boff (1986)
On August 10, 1986, another great chapter in the history of Strongmanism was brought to an end with the passing of Ian Gordon Batchelor.
Not many young people today know who “Mighty Mac” was, but to thousands of old-timers, who grew up in the same era and had the good fortune and thrilling experience to witness or read about his unbelievable feats of strength, Mac’s legend lives on.
In his prime, Batchelor was a world class strongman. From 1931 to 1956 he dominated the world of arm wrestling and was never defeated. He performed various feats of arm, wrist, and finger strength that may never be duplicated. Over the years Mac was featured in Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” and appeared in numerous television and movie productions. Mac was gifted as an artist, musician, writer, and lover and trainer of animals.
Mac Batchelor, by profession, was a bartender in Los Angeles. His fame as an arm wrestler spread throughout the country. Customers, athletes and strongmen came from everywhere to challenge Mighty Mac. He was sometimes even woken up in at night for a test. He always won. Always. On April 27, 1952, the New York Daily News in their Sunday magazine featured Mac in a story titled “Ten Titles in a Barroom.” One of Mighty Mac’s incredible feats, according to this article, was crushing 63 beer caps in his fingers to fill a beer bottle.
In 1956, John McCallum, a writer for Strength & Health magazine, visited Batchelor at the tavern where he worked, to see firsthand if all those stories were true. Mac reached under the bar and brought out four bottle caps. He jammed on between each finger on his right hand and squeezed tightly until all four caps crumpled under the stress. He took a cork top from a bottle and crooked his forefinger around it. He put his thumb against the top of the cork and snapped it in two. He then took a threaded bottle cap and after putting it between his thumb and forefinger crushed it WITH THE TWO FINGERS HELD STRAIGHT. Finally, he put his hand palm up, down on the bar, and asked McCallum to hold down one finger. John put both hands on Mac’s middle finger and leaned on it. Mac gave a flip and both of McCallum’s hands flew off the table. McCallum tried another finger with the same results.
The quality of man-power that Mac projected can be appreciated when you consider his mammoth proportions. Mighty Mac stood 6’ 1½ inches, weighed 300-330 pounds, with a 20 inch neck, 19¼ inch arms, 52½” chest, 19 inch calf and 8½ inch wrist. These are cold measurements.
Batchelor worked out in a small but well equipped home gym. His training consisted of a powerlifting routine performed twice weekly. The rest of his training was devoted to the forearm and grip routines. Mac’s warmup was unbelievable – performing 20 speed squats, cold, with 350 pounds – without belt or wraps.
Peter Vuono, a strength historian and good friend of mine, wrote of Batchelor’s amazing career in his illustrious articles, “Pioneers of Power” in Powerlifting USA. I quote in part.
‘In 1948, at the Pacific Telephone Company yard in Los Angeles, Mac shouldered a telephone pole over 40 feet long and weighing between 700-800 pounds. He then walked with it for over 300 feet before heaving it off. In a movie studio lot that same year, Batchelor picked up a small horse weighing 600-700 pounds on to his back, walked 20 feet with it and then carried the animal up a steel ladder 16 feet high. On several occasions while weighing only 275 pounds, he performed a backlift with a weight of 3,000 pounds.
In grip strength, Mac was unsurpassed. He could pinch grip an 80 pound plate in each hand and walk 30 feet. Each plate was 1½ inches thick and 30 inches in diameter. He pinch gripped a steel facing plate weighing over 165 pounds with one hand.
While weighing 300 pounds Mac could hang on to a vertical climbing rope with one hand, WITH HIS THUMB UNLOCKED. He could grasp a large 2 or 2½ foot high wine bottle at the tip or neck and then work the bottle upward by working the fingers downward. THE BOTTLE WAS FILLED WITH LEAD SHOT. He could pinch grip a beer bottle with both thumb holding the lip of the bottle so that it was parallel to the bar.
Mac could bend every standard spike into a “U” shape – 60, 80, 100 and 120. He could muscle out a 12 pound sledge hammer, 30 inch long handle, by grasping the end of the handle. He could hook his middle finger into the hole of an 80 pound barbell plate and do a one-arm curl.’
by Harry Paschall (1951)
Several important factors in training for strength have been so firmly proved by trial that they may now be accepted as axiomatic. There is no necessity for the current seeker of strength to make the mistakes others have had to make in the past.
The first axiom is:
If you desire strength you must be prepared to sweat and struggle with HEAVY weights. You cannot get strong with light weights.
You must cut down the repetitions when exercising for strength. Three to five reps are sufficient in almost any movement. Any time you go over five repetitions you are using too light a weight to force the muscles to their limit.
You must not over-exercise. Rest is very important between training sessions. You will also find that longer rest pauses between exercises are necessary and more productive.
The training of a man who is seeking strength will be considerably different from that of a man who is merely shaping a physique. In the latter case a great deal of attention is paid to individual muscles and to the FRONT of the body. The strength athlete is more concerned with the BACK of his body, because this is where power originates. He will also be interested in working large muscle groups rather than individual muscles.
There are three points toward which our efforts will be directed:
The ideal way to develop great strength in each of these regions is to work at least two of these sections together, and better still, to work all of them in unison.
We list the back first in importance because the lower back, particularly, is the weak spot in the human framework. It is also the key to the arch, and unless a man has a strong lower back he may as well give up all notion of being a strong man. Fortunately the back works in conjunction with the legs, and if simple exercises are adopted for the thighs, the back cannot help but grow stronger as hips and thighs develop. The upper back and shoulders also work together, so that it is hard to develop one without the other, providing that really heavy weights are employed.
Athletic trainers for many years have had a saying, “A man is only as good as his legs.” Actually, I feel that you are only as good as your lower back. The two work together so closely that sometimes you mistake the functions of one for the other. But if you doubt the superior importance of the back, all you need do is contract a slight strain in this region and then see how little your leg strength will serve you.
All the power that is generated by a runner, a jumper, a boxer or a football player is generated by his lower back and loins; the legs merely deliver it. And unfortunately too many ordinary athletes fail to develop the back to its limit, and find they are prove to injury in this region and that their very well-muscled legs fail to serve them. I cannot stress too strongly the importance of directing a great deal of your exercise toward the lower back. Perhaps we will have new records in jumping and sprinting when coaches recognize the importance of this region of the body.
In the ageing process the first sign of human weakness shows up in this region, although many an older person will tell you that his legs seem to be getting weaker. It is true that they grow unsteady in the limbs, but the trouble starts in the lower back. As Shakespeare pointed out in his Ages of Man, the infant crawls (because of lack of back strength) and in old age, the human being goes back to a similar condition, becoming more and more bent, and more and more feeble. You are not as “young as your legs”, but as young as your back!
Simply as a stimulant to vibrant health and vigor, exercise for the lower back is the most essential and rewarding labor any man can undertake, but for the strong man it is imperative that he consciously cultivate development of this region to the Nth power. Our present lifting records are still low because no one has yet fully developed the potential strength of this region. Several notables of strength, such as Goerner and Rigoulot, have gone far in this direction, but the perfect and ultimate back is still to come.
We need no reminder of the importance of leg strength, for our bodies are supported on legs, and without powerful legs we have no foundation from which to exert our strength. A word or two might be said about the importance of full development of the shoulders, however, since many embryo strong-men have the idea that arms do all the overhead lifting, and that an 18 inch arm automatically insures terrific strength.
The arms are merely connecting media, and as in the case we mentioned above regarding the legs being only as strong as the lower back, so too are the arms only as strong as the shoulders. Arm power originates here. The truly strong man will not be unduly concerned with the development of individual muscles of the arm, since the use of weights heavy enough to affect the shoulders and back will give the arms plenty to do.
Now that we have decided where to direct our strength-building efforts, let us consider some of the exercises particularly suited for the purpose. Think of a back exercise, and the first one that springs to mind is the well-known dead lift. To develop a muscle we naturally think of a bending and extending motion. Actually, your instinct is nearly right in this case, for some variation of the dead lift is certainly indicated if you are to develop the lower back to its limit. However, the back has certain natural weaknesses which sometimes are aggravated rather then improved by using the standard version of this exercise. We always like to avoid pain, and therefore we regretfully (or happily) scratch the regular dead lift right off our list. Let us instead go out in the back garden and dig us a hole eight inches deep (after the manner of William Boone, the American dead lift star) and then do our dead lifts comfortably on a bar with 18 inch discs. Or let us build up a revised version of Joe Hise’s hopper, with supporting blocks for the ends of the barbell which give us a similar height raise of the bar – so that it crosses our legs just an inch or two below the knees.
Now let us remember Axiom No. 2, and cut down our repetitions. Three to five are plenty, and take a good rest between each series. A good guide to how much rest is necessary is to wait until respiration returns to normal between sets. With some men this may take one minute, with others, as long as three.
Because of these rest pauses during a heavy strength workout, the session will take considerable time, usually from 1½ to as long as 2½ hours. Three times per week is the usual exercise schedule, but after you have entered the realm of the very strong and are striving for still more power, you may find twice-a-week workouts better, and some men have found three extremely hard workouts in two weeks resultful.
Occasional complete periods of rest are also necessary, and personally we have found that one week of rest after each six weeks of training is good insurance against staleness, and even enhances the amount of progress from our training. Heavy training requires extra rest for recuperative reasons.
Our object in all of our strength training is to use very heavy weights. By adopting the above revision of the dead lift, a lifter who could use 400 in the regular version will find 500 pounds possible in the lift from approximately knee height. This will give you a greater measure of bodily power, and will also avoid the danger zone where muscles and ligaments are stretched.
There are a number of other good lower back exercises. The heavy squat or deep knee bend affects this area, although it is usually used as a leg exercise, and so classified. The bend-over or good morning exercise is a very strenuous lower back movement, but some men find resting a heavy weight on the back of the neck very painful. We feel that the revised or shortened dead lift is probably the best of the lower back movements because of the possibility of using more weight. It is also the safest. There is always an element of danger of a strain in the good morning movement.
There is another approach to lower back exercise which has often been overlooked, and which we consider more likely to build a powerful muscular development in the lower back than even the dead lift. All you need to do to convince yourself of the effectiveness of this other type of back exercise is to take a barbell of moderate weight, snatch it to arms’ length overhead and then go down into a full squat while holding the bar overhead, and then arising to the erect position still holding the weight at arms’ length. All the way down you will find that the erector muscles are constantly at work holding the body in balance. Unless you are very strong in this region using any weight of consequence will be impossible.
This exercise has been utilized by some of our leading squat snatch lifters, and is unquestionably responsible for their rising records. It has the added value of teaching the whole muscle chain along the back and legs and arms and shoulders to coordinate to maintain balance. It promotes flexibility in the back – a muscular flexibility entirely different and better than that of the contortionist who does backbends. Because of these advantages we strongly advise the practice of this movement to both bodybuilders and lifters.
There is some danger incurred in the practice of this movement, but a great deal of the danger of overbalancing will be eliminated by wearing shoes with raised heels so the feet may rest solidly upon the floor at all stages of the exercise. We advise catchers when starting this practice, and also a very slow and cautious increase in the weight of the bar.
Another very simple movement which helps to round these lower back muscles is the side bend practiced with a bell in one hand at a time. The practice of this exercise serves as insurance against sprains and pulled ligaments by a slight twisting during practice of lifting. Purely as a protective measure the side bend should be included in all strength-building schedules.
Joseph Curtis Hise has been enthusiastic recently about another power-building exercise which also directly affects the back – the shoulder shrug movement with very heavy weights taken from a rack. He has used this as a chest building exercise, by breathing with a high costal breathing – three or more breaths between each lift – and shrugging the weight up and back with full lungs. When weights of 500 to 800 pounds are used, this limited movement exercise becomes pretty strenuous. In our strength-building regime we can use this movement under the heading of supporting exercises to accustom the body to handle larger weights.
Another of the supporting feats of great value in building bodily power is to have an overhead hitch to support a very heavy barbell so that it hangs down to about shoulder height where the lifter gets under it in the split or squat position with arms above the head as he does so. Several different heights will be necessary in whatever apparatus is used to suspend the barbell, and a number of different movements may be practiced, such as pressing out the weight from a point above head height, etc. John Grimek used this method in arriving at the point where he could support 800 pounds at arms’ length.
Leg power will be built in combination with these back exercises, but we must include several heavy leg movements if we are looking for harmonious development and the ultimate in all-round strength. First of all leg exercises is (you guessed it!) the squat or deep knee bend. Instead of doing this with weights which you can do for 15 or 20 repetitions, you will now concentrate on using really heavy weights and doing not over five counts. We have found that the full squat is best of all leg movements – with back kept straight and flat, a full breath taken in at the tip, a fast squat rebounding directly from the bottom when the biceps of the thighs strike firmly against the calves; the breath is blown out when you arise to the standing position and another breath inhaled. Sometimes you will find it necessary to take several panting breaths at the top if you are doing four or five repetitions. Never do over five squats continuously. We like to work up in weight from five to two to one and then go back down again after the highest possible weight is attained.
The leg press using a rack to secure the weight is also good, particularly if a large weight can be handled – 500 to 1,000 pounds. There is not the full range of movement in this lift that you find in the squat however, nor is it so athletic a feat. Of the two exercises, I would unquestionably pick the squat. The truly strong man cannot spend too much time lying on his back; and this goes for incline benches, flat benches, etc. I consider this type of apparatus more in the line of muscle-developing than as strength-building equipment.
For the weightlifter there is a particularly good leg exercise which employs the split technique used in cleaning, snatching or jerking a weight. You place the bar firmly on the shoulders behind the neck, using a pd, and hold down forcibly with the hands; then split rapidly fore and aft in the regular split position until your rear knee almost touches the floor. From this point you spring immediately into the air, reversing the feet, and come down again with the opposite knee almost touching ground. A very strenuous leg exercise, and one to be approached carefully, with gradual weight increases. One of our local men, Fraysher Ferguson, does this ten reps each leg (20 in all) in 20 seconds with 150 pounds on the bar.
We may learn a number of strength-building motions by observing successful weightlifters. Certainly the snatch, the clean, and the jerk are all rugged strength builders. The practice of the Egyptians in doing three reps on cleans and snatches, the first from the floor and the rest from the hang, are back and leg strength-builders. Personally we consider the habit of cleaning a weigh without moving the feet has added much to the strength of men like Stanko. Stanczyk and Davis. The regular high pull is along the line of these exercises, and is one of the best. To the man who is not interested in the Olympic lifts, it will serve as a very good substitute.
From the Viennese strongmen of the beer garden era we may derive some of our best shoulder strength-builders. The lifting of two heavy dumbbells builds a ruggedness in this region you can achieve in no other way. It is odd too, that this shoulder and back development seem to go together. At the 1950 weightlifting championships held in Philadelphia, Bob Peoples, a 185 pound man who holds the American dead lift record at 730 pounds, casually picked up and cleaned to the shoulders a pair of dumbbells weighing 107 and 108 pounds. He first pulled them to the shoulders all the way from the floor, and then repeated the clean five more times from the hang position. When we recall Joseph Manger, the pre-war German champion, had to try about a dozen times in Sig Klein’s New York Gym before he successfully cleaned two 100 pound dumbbell, the lesson is obvious.
Both the cleaning and pressing of heavy dumbbells, simultaneously and alternately, will build shoulders with all-round power, particularly the rear portion of the deltoid, which is commonly neglected in the bodybuilder. As we have mentioned previously, the use of dumbbells has helped Stan Stanczyk and Norbert Schemansky to get their military press up close to 300 pounds. And since both men are unparalleled as speed lifters, we cannot see that this added shoulder development and power has in any way injured their all-round lifting technique.
In applying these various strength exercises there are several types of routines we may use. The series programme where exercises are performed in series of three to five repetitions – and with three to five sets or more. The heavy and light system where a heavy weight is used first and then lighter weights are used for higher repetitions. The single effort – with very high poundages – with a one to three minute pause between efforts, and a total of ten to twelve lifts performed. The up and down system, where you start with a moderately heavy weight, repeat five times, and take a heavier weight for four reps, and go on up to a limit one rep effort, and then come down the same way.
There is merit in each of these systems, and since every individual has a different reaction, it would seem wise to try them all to see which type of programme best fits the exerciser.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
3.5 – Training Associated Muscles
As any great bench presser will undoubtedly tell you, it is crucial to fully develop quite a few other muscles of the upper body in order not so much to improve bench press performance as to prevent potential injuries. While there is no research evidence on the role of these other muscles in bench pressing, it is quite probable that their development is desirable. For example, it is obvious (to me at least) that one should develop ALL the muscles of the shoulder girdle, and in particular, develop the rear shoulder and upper back musculature. Consequently, training these muscles with rear/upper back type movements like supported dumbbell rowing is an important part of “total” bench press training.
I recommend to all bench pressers this type of exercise in, or similar rear shoulder/ upper back movements (for example, shrugs, rear deltoid laterals, high pulls, etc.). In addition, general upper back/latissimus dorsi training is probably of value.
One of the major muscles of the back is the latissimus dorsi (or “lat” for short) and I again refer you to an anatomy text or the hypertrophied back of your choice to refresh your knowledge of this muscle’s location. From an origin that spans a large portion of the lower and middle spine, the muscle inserts at the upper portion of the humerus (upper arm bone). The major roles of the lat are to adduct, internally rotate and extend the humerus. Basically all three of these motions can be seen in a simple chin-up type of action in which the latissimus dorsi is the major muscle involved.
Perhaps the best exercise for this muscle is the classic chin-up/lat pulldown motion. Of studies that I have done to determine the “best” of this class of exercises, several points should be made:
(1) The wider the grip, the greater the lat involvement (???);
(2) The narrower the grip in a pulldown or chin, the more the elbow flexor (biceps, etc.) involvement;
(3) The lower the position of the bar relative to the chest or neck, the greater the lat activity, reaching maximum activity at the lowest position of any exercise. This may be due to the reduced elbow flexor involvement in these positions;
(4) Pulldowns behind the neck involve less latissimus activity than pulldowns to the chest. The outward rotation of the arm needed to pull the bar to the back of the neck makes the pulldown to the neck more of an elbow flexor exercise.
Further, I have found that pulldowns to the chest performed where the where the upper body was inclined back about 30 degrees or so from vertical was perhaps the best movement for eliciting lat involvement. Additional observations include:
(1) Some people pull too much with the arms, and they need to learn to pull using the lats primarily. They should try to bend the arms only when the arms have to bend.
(2) Similarly, using straps is a good way to de-emphasize the elbow flexors and involve the lats more during these pulling motions/
(3) Chin-ups, etc. done on a fixed bar are probably more difficult than pulldowns since the body must be maneuvered around the fixed bar (where the opposite occurs during pulldowns). Also, bodyweight fluctuations from day to day can often complicate progress in chin-ups;
(4) If possible, being able to pull the arms all the way into the sides of the body (usually possible only on machines) or with the one-arm pulldown appears to be a desirable motion for the lats.
The other major movement used for lat development is really more of a combination upper back exercise that develops a lot of other muscles in addition to the lats. I’m talking about bent-rowing and its variations even extending into seated cable pulls (which are quite similar).While doing any of these movements a medium grip is probably desirable for more involvement of all the muscles. However, the major problem of any bent row motion that is unsupported is back aggravation. In a low flexion position the flexion-relaxation phenomenon is invoked and the erector spinae muscle group of the back is largely relaxed. Consequently, the load you are trying to lift plus the weight of your upper body during the bent rowing motion (unsupported) must be borne largely by the ligaments of the low back and the hamstrings. This is why a lot of lifters have back problems coming from bent rowing or seated low cable type pulling movement. It is important to keep the upper body at a higher angle of flexion, or brace the upper body over a high bench and do dumbbell rows.
The elbow flexor muscles (especially the biceps) are also important to develop for an injury-free and successful bench press career. Once again, I’d recommend looking at a good anatomy book if by now you are not too well acquainted with the muscles of the upper arm. First, we have the three flexors of the arm, which “flex” or “curl” up the arm. This classic curling motion is normally thought to be done by only (or at least mainly) the biceps bracchi muscle, but on review of an anatomy text you will learn that the flexor group also consists of two relatively forgotten muscles, the brachialis and the brachioradialis. All three of these muscles are very much involved to varying degrees in the process of curling and all its variations.
The biceps has no attachment on the bone of the upper arm (the humerus), so it is a two-joint muscle originating in the shoulder and inserting on the radius bone of the forearm. The brachialis originates on the humerus about halfway up the upper arm and inserts on the ulna bone of the forearm (which is the “weight bearing” or hinge/connecting bone that connects with the humerus). Finally, the brachioradialis originates from the outside near the forearm, all the way down to the bone above where you wrist bends on the little finger side of the forearm.
These muscles are interestingly individual in a number of ways. Studies have shown that from person to person there is a significant amount of irregular and varied involvement of these muscles during different types of curling movements. Few research studies exist, however, that really show with heavy loads how these muscles are involved in classic weight training arm exercises. There are, however, some valuable insights that should be mentioned.
One of the things that affect the involvement of the three elbow flexors is forearm rotation position. In other words, whether your grip is supinated (palms up), pronated (palms down, as in a reverse curl), or mid/condition (halfway between, as with a parallel grip) there will be a difference in how the flexor muscles are involved. For example, the biceps is most involved when the forearm is in a supinated or mid-position grip, and has considerably less activity when a pronated grip is used. The brachialis muscle (which, by the way, is under your biceps) is the workhorse or “true flexor” of the group. The brachialis is strongly involved regardless of what grip is used, although it should be worked more using pronated grips since the biceps is reflexively inhibited in its activity. Finally, the brachioradialis is most involved when the mid-position is used.
Now, where is someone strongest (that is, where can one exert the most force) during a curl exercise? Well, the strongest overall position in a curl is generally at about 90 degrees or so of flexion (or when the arm is in a mid-curling position). We did some laboratory studies a few years ago at Auburn on regular standard curls versus “preacher” curls, etc. It was found that during a preacher curl you essentially apply maximal loading to your arm flexors at a position somewhere before the 90 degree flexion spot, which depends on the angle of the preacher curl bench. In the standing curl, however, you load the flexors maximally at 90 degrees, which is no doubt better, since this is where, as I previously said, the flexors are also strongest.
What I’m leading to is that in an “optimal” elbow flexor program to help the bench press, regular standing curls should be used. Further, let me say that it also makes sense to vary the grip position used during these standing curls. For example, you could conceivably do a few sets with regular supination grip curls, then continue with a few sets using a mid-position or hammer-curl grip, and then finish off with a few sets of pronated or reverse type curls . . . remembering to reduce the weight using the pronated grip.
When doing heavy regular curls be sure to keep your upper arm stable. Using an arm restraint to help here can be a good training aid. Dumbbells can also be used here, and in fact, advantageously permit the normal supinating (or twisting) role of the biceps to occur on the way up in a curl. In any case, doing regular, heavy biceps training is a logical inclusion in a total bench press program.
The remaining muscles of importance to the bench presser are the forearm muscles in general and in particular the wrist flexors and wrist extensors. Many bench pressers (including, in particular, world class benchers I have known and trained with) have very often experienced forearm and wrist pain/injury. These smaller, weaker muscles must be strengthened to avoid inadvertently being strained during heavy bench press training. Speaking from personal experience also, it is important to all of us to develop the forearm musculature (especially wrist extensors) to “injury-proof” these muscles from the stress of heavy bench pressing. Standard exercises can be done here.
Well, obviously my list of associated muscles could continue on almost endlessly. In fact, training the neck muscles, finger flexors and extensors, etc. are also probably useful. However, if the major muscles discussed here are trained appropriately the chances for successful, injury free bench pressing are certainly enhanced.
Next – Training Ideas for Developing a World Class Bench.
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