A Talk On Training Essentials
by Mark H. Berry (1936)
It should be opportune that we discuss the question of matters that might be looked upon as essentials in the training routine of those who are ambitious to excel in the physical sense of either muscular improvement of in the furtherance or their ability at lifting.
So far as concerns the average reader of these pages, I should presume him to primarily interest in the attainment of some degree of physique shapeliness; in other words, the realization of physical perfection within the limits of his inherited potentialities. A fair percentage of our readers should be included among those who have he supreme desire to reach their goals in competitive lifting and the setting of records in the hoisting of weights.
I believe myself justified in claiming some credit for the dissemination, during the past few years, of correct information relative to the sport of weight lifting; it would appear that my articles and books have had at least some small measure of the job of imparting knowledge as to the most approved methods of lifting. Our widespread publication of lifting photos, showing low squats and wide splits must have had something to do with the advancement this sport has made in
America during the past thee years. As to what might constitute lifting essentials will be dealt with further, later on in this treatise. For the moment, let us confine ourselves to the consideration of the question as it affects those who are primarily interested in improving their possession of muscular symmetry.
The prime essential is, of course, that the enthusiast put forth some effort, or in other words, that he adopt some means of exercise. That he must follow out such system with religious regularity is hardly to be doubted. It would certainly prove a waste of time to attempt the improvement of one’s physical condition and at the same time to allow other activities to interfere with the consistency of the practice. However, I should be inclined to guess that there are literally hundreds who regularly undertake bar bell exercises who do not persist for longer than a few weeks; that anyone should anticipate satisfactory results under such circumstances is entirely beyond my comprehension. But, you will find that a tremendously large percentage of the world’s population acts in like manner; they simply lack persistency to follow any one thing to its conclusion. A friend of mine avers his belief that many persons are simply incapable of doing differently, that they lack the mental qualities and capacity to so what might be termed the right thing. Here you have one of the very best explanations as to why a large proportion of people are failures in life. So, all I can say is that if you belong in any such category and find it impossible to buckle down to one thing long enough to accomplish that which you have in mind – it is just too bad, and we shall have to consider your case hopeless.
Perhaps you are about to conclude that this amounts to something like a pep talk or is intended for the purpose of firing your ambitions, but it is not. What I am getting at is this: it may be suggested for your benefit that a certain procedure be adhered to in order that a definite objective may be reached; in which case, it is intended that you follow such advice explicitly and not to suit yourself as to whether or not you should play games, and indulge in a number of other activities on the side. There is only one plan of procedure that leads to success and that is through specialization. If you would excel in any line, the one and only plan for you to follow is that of concentrating your attentions upon that one thing. The “Jack of All Trades” becomes the master of none, to borrow from an old saying, the wisdom which has never been disproven; and, it is always thus, regardless as to whether your pursuit be mental or physical.
My conviction relative to the satisfactory development of anyone is that an all around routine should be employed for quite some length of time; then, depending upon the manner in which the pupil reacts to the work, the course may be changed to suit the individual requirements.
Even if you have in mind the improvement of no other part of the body but the arms, it is best that you provide the same type of exercise for the entire body in the initial stage; likewise, if the arms seem to be well developed and you desire to build up the legs, it would be proper that the arms be given a fair share of work. I am a believer in the harmonious development of the entire body, and one can hardly be sure of bringing about a proportionate affect upon all the muscles unless the exercises be so directed. Many a fellow has increased his arms through working hard for the improvement of the legs with consequent effect upon the chest, shoulders and arms.
You have only to reason that the limits of your arm development may be ascertained through a study of the size and shape of the upper body in general, and so if we are able to expand the chest and increase the size of the torso through the practice of vigorous leg work, there is every reason to expect that the size of the arms may then be increased; in fact, it is far more than a pretty theory, and has been proven practical time and again.
When an increase in bodyweight is the thought uppermost in mind, various definite plans may be employed once the preliminary stage has been passed; reference is made to the necessity of using the all around routine for the first few months or so or your exercise experience. The deep knee bend had been found most valuable as one of the training methods; nothing less than twenty repetitions should be employed, and many pupils have found it advisable to plug at forty, fifty, and even more; it is chiefly a matter of becoming accustomed to the exertions, plus the manner in which the individual reacts to the efforts; it is also wise to force oneself to a certain extent in respect to the amount of weight used. We cannot forget the limitations of the individual in this respect, as what may be regarded as exceptionally hard work may be easy work for another, irrespective of the size of the person. Age, unquestionably has a lot to do with it and the fellow in his ‘teens or early twenties should have the edge on those who are older when repetitions are to be considered.
As many of my readers are aware, I have in the past recommended refraining from the practice of abdominal exercise when it is desired to add to the bodyweight; the one point in this connection on which it is preferred there should no misunderstanding is that such advice is intended solely for those who wish to increase the bodyweight above all else and want to follow the most certain and short-cut way to the attainment of such objective. Let there be no misunderstanding relative to the culturist who is out after the perfectly developed physique or the thorough prominence of all muscles of the body. If you should be satisfied with your degree of bulk or feel that the bodyweight you have in mind is well within your reach there should be no reason to neglect the abdominals. On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that a great many ambitious culturists will become imbued with the thought that prominence of the abdominals is imperative and that the health will be adversely affected unless such exercises be practiced; all in spite of the fact that they may be underweight of at least not very much above the so-called normal for one of their age and height. Therefore my admonition to refrain from exercises affecting that part of the body, until the pupil reaches the state of development where he will be justified in feeling that the general standard of muscularity is suitable to the cultivation of the abdominals. The muscles of the abdominal region are neither so difficult to improve or to preserve once their development has been brought up to a fair standard. In this respect you may accomplish much within a short space of time, so it is just as well that improvement of that area be delayed.
In the building of an architectural structure, the foundation must be taken care of first, and similarly, in the improvement of the body it will be wise to start from the bottom; this does not mean that you first begin the practice of exercises affecting the lower legs and then move up to the neck, last of all; as before stated, the wisest course is that of providing an all around program for all parts of the body; what I do have in mind, though, is to progress as fast as possible on the leg work and acquire as well developed a pair of legs as you are able; by advancing to a high standard of combined poundage and repetitions you will also succeed in the proper expansion of the chest and in this way have a suitable foundation of the torso for the complete development of the shoulders and arms.
The question of suitable repetitions is one that perplexes all, novice and expert alike, and a great deal of experimenting may be required in order to arrive at the correct answer for any individual case. Various, and widely differing plans have been used, and as will be found true, with perhaps an equal degree of success so far as pertains to individual cases. The oldest and most popular plan, in all probability, has been that of working from but three to six up to ten or twelve counts in each month on arm and shoulder movements, and to perhaps double the number on the leg and back work. Another popular plan has been that of working form but three to six within each month; on each of these plans it is of course understood that resistance would be added at the end of every four of five weeks and the lower repetitions again commenced.
More recently, a number of us have become convinced of the efficacy of the flat repetition plan, adopting a certain number of counts and sticking to it; another innovation has been adopted in conjunction with the same, this pertaining to the addition of poundage to the bells as the strength will permit. I should be inclined to suggest that for the beginner either of two plans might be undertaken, either the flat rate fight from the onset, or to work on the scheme of five to ten for the first few months, and later on changing over to the flat rate idea. I also consider it wise for the more experienced culturist to adopt the progressive system when he reaches that bug-bear of all weight enthusiasts – the sticking point, from which it appears almost impossible to make any headway. If you find that progress on poundage seems practically out of the question, try working up to a higher number of counts, even though you find it necessary to reduce the present poundage to some extent, and then from this point try to stay with the higher counts until it becomes possible to add to the weight; sooner or later, you’ll be enabled to progress on poundage and through dropping down on repetitions be capable of continuing the progress.
He who had in mind the strengthening of his muscles moreso than any increase in muscular size may find it to his advantage to follow out a different plan than would, in the average case, tend to increase growth. Here, it is to be understood, the principle consists of acquiring greater contractile power of the muscles plus a toughening of the structure of the ligaments and tendons; contractile power of the muscles is partly chemical in nature, and it is likewise dependent, to a great extent, upon habit, which is something that may appear to possess little in the way of being actual or concrete. Habit is something, however, that is acquired through practice, and results from a coordination of the nerve and muscular forces; as you may be aware, there are certain nerve centers which have to do with subconscious and more of less involuntary actions; these have control of such movements as we may learn to perform through habit. Thus, an accustomed movement becomes easier to perform than one with which we are totally unfamiliar. Nevertheless, and without attempting to become technical, the fact remains that contractile power is not wholly dependent upon the size and shape of the muscles. As before hinted, as well, the connective tissues and principally the ligaments and tendons must become used to withstanding strain.
Taking all the foregoing into consideration, we find that the muscles may be strengthened in this respect through the practice of minimum repetitions while employing an amount of resistance requiring considerable effort. Actual lifting will accomplish this purpose to a great degree, and to a certain extent the average fellow might do better to depend upon the developmental type of exercise rather than actual lifts, but in using few, rather than many, repetitions. There are various plans that may be adopted to advantage in this respect.
One plan would be to simply perform the movements a few times and let it go at that; perhaps employing a wide variety of exercises in order to provide sufficient quantity as well as quality. A different plan would consist of repeating the exercises from two to several times at a few repetitions each time; for instance, let us say that on the curl you took a weight that you could handle about three counts they you would repeat that two or more times; moving on to the press and other movements in the same fashion. Here again, there is opportunity for variety, for you may go through a complete or partial routine as suits your purpose, and then work through it one or more times again. Much, of course, depends upon the experience, the condition, and the will of the culturists. Above all, make certain that you are getting results from the program you are following; if not, be certain to consult your instructor and arrange for some change. On the other hand, just as long as you feel that progress is being made, there can be no sound reason for alteration unless it be proven to you that something else may accomplish more.
In relation to improvement at lifting, it is every bit as essential that you chart a definite course and it is even of greater importance that you adhere to a specialized program. One can never reach his true lifting possibilities without concentrating upon that one game alone; if you choose to fool around at other things you may be sure that you are only succeeding in cheating yourself to that extent.
Moreover, it is of the utmost importance that you do little in the way of pure developmental repetition work if the mastery of lifting technique is your objective. Much, of course, depends upon the abilities and the condition of the man, as well as his natural constitution; one man may stand an amount of work that would undermine the resistance of another.
One of the more important points you must determine is how often you can stand to test your strength; in the case of the average man, about every week or perhaps fortnight is sufficient and there are some fellows who can hope to push themselves to the limit no more frequently than once in a month; I recognize that many lifters insist on forcing themselves to the limit almost daily, and while I am willing to concede that some of them may be able to keep it up for a length of time you may be certain that sooner or later they will reach the time when such procedure must cease. You will learn through experience that the best way to accomplish most in lifting is to practice for form more than anything else and to push yourself to the limit of your powers only now and then. If you alternate your training periods with lifting and the deep knee bend exercise, also including the dead lift, either in regular or stiff-legged style, sufficient strenuous exercise will be provided; that is, say that about once a week you devoted the training period to deep knee bends and deadlifts (solely in the form of exercise and not as limit lifts) with the addition on those days of some snappy exercise for the improvement of your speed, flexibility and agility, then you would have a well rounded program by lifting twice a week. Make the lifting practice consist of repetitions with something well within your limit so that your form may be perfected; take a stiff workout on limit trials about once in two weeks, or say that once a week you would try yourself on a couple of the lifts.
The foregoing offers some hints as to what might constitute the essentials in your training, and it is to be understood that no one plan can be accepted as of the utmost value to everyone. You can read between the lines so far as concerns your own problems.
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