Friday, October 31, 2008

Pushing For Power Part Two - Bill Seno

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Pushing for Power – Part Two
The Bench Press

The bench press is the most popular lift among the lifting populace. It is so popular because most kids are introduced to calisthenics to begin building their physical statures and strength, and within the gamut of exercises, pushups seem one of the most, if not the most, renown. Youngsters are constantly aware of who can do the most pushups. They keep abreast of who is who within their own peer groups, and the person who can do the most pushups is considered prestigious in the realm of strength. He may not be skillful, but he is one to be reckoned with in combative sports.

Moving along through high school, students are introduced to weight training by almost any coach in the sport, and the continuation of the pushup mystique is furthered by the upside down pushup – the bench press. Again, students find a meaning in upper body power that seems to emphasize strength whereas, in their minds, legs are not as impressive.

I surmise that this attitude stems from several sources. When a child is young, attention is geared to legs and walking; as he continues through school, most sports activities still center around the use of the legs: soccer, basketball, track, football, hockey, etc. Being brought up in a leg conscious society, the person with a well developed upper body is not the norm. So a mystique grows. He is thought to have an advantage over the normal male. People envision the slow moving, crushing power of Hercules lifting boulders. When we speak to people at eye level, we do not stare down at their legs, so we are unaccustomed to mounds of muscle staring back at us as we converse.

Some people feel offended as if a direct personal affront has been made on their egos. Some people think it is freaky and a waste of time, for what can be done with all this muscle? Whatever personal shortcomings arise, the point remains that the lifter with the big upper body remains noticed. It is also surprising the interesting traits and characteristics the lifter observes in people’s behavior regarding the difference in stature, anything from a smile to a nervous twitch.

Needless to say, the necessity of weight training in athletics has been proven time and time again, and the athlete from freshman in high school to senior in college will always remember his weight training once his athletic days are over. He can always feel the comfortable, individual carryover of the iron, to be used at will, probably even for a new beginning. Even the non athlete who feels a need for physical exercise remembers the pushup; also, the ease of the supine position is enticing. Isn’t it great to be able to lie down and build a great body?

In spite of the enigma of the great upper body, the legs are too big, too strong and have had too great of a head start. There will always be ore people with squat ability and even deadlift ability than bench press ability. This is what makes the desire for a good bench press even greater – the fact that it is rarer than the other two. There are more people closer to the squat and deadlift records by formula than the bench record by formula. This proves what I have always believed: the good bench presser is harder to come by than either of the other two. It doesn’t mean the bench presser is the strongest because only the total can show this.

The foremost principle I have used concerning the bench press is to follow the body.

It is well and good to write out a routine and attempt to follow the paper, but what is written is not the key; the body is. If a lifter is following 4 sets of 4 with a given poundage, and the body is struggling to recover from the last workout, gains will be small or nonexistent. When there is a gain, the body is saying Yes.

When I began lifting at the age of 20, I benched 240 for 5 and 280 for 1. 300 pounds came within one month, and by my eight month I was benching 400. My initial bodyweight was 180, and by the eighth month I was 200. All I had ever done was pushups, and plenty of them, which gave me a good base. Of course, the routine that I was on then was not the pyramid that I developed by trial and error but merely 5 sets of 5 – the old standby. The old standby got old fast. I found that pushing for a single rep more often allowed me to lift a heavier single than the five reps did. It seems that as one improves in the reps, he doesn’t improve enough in the single until it is done more often.

In those days I was working out heavily three times per week. Several years later I decided that I couldn’t recuperate enough from the heavy single and sets that followed. I think I should mention two principles here that I employed then, and that I stand by to this day. I remember my days in college and high school sports when the coach merely warmed us up before an activity, making sure we were warm but not expended. I often noticed lifters working their heads off with reps before they ever got to their maximum effort and thought, “I wonder what he could do fresh?” By observation I noticed the same thing occurring in the warmup area during contests. Some novice lifters, due to lack of knowledge, or confidence, seem to think it is necessary to lift close to or even more than the starting attempt. I couldn’t believe my eyes while watching a lifter who was about to go out for his first attempt in the bench with 315 do a double with it in the warmup area to assure himself that he would be able to do it on the platform. They don’t realize how important it is to remain fresh. There is no reason to approach closer than 30-50 lbs. to the starting attempt. I knew fresh was better because it allowed my body to handle more, more often and thus become stronger if I could recover. Thus, my principle was don’t work up; warm-up and work down. I found even my sets working down were easier and grew quickly; however, there was still something bothering me. The sets grew stale. I thought to incorporate as many other principles as I could to work for me. No set was the same poundage, no set was the same amount of reps, and SPEED and THRUST became all important.

I thought that by running the gamut on poundage and reps I couldn’t possibly grow stale, and I was right for many years to come. I worked the bench in this manner three times per week for seventeen years. Within that time, however, the three heavy workouts diminished to two heavy and one medium, then to one heavy, one medium, and one light. In my eighteenth year of lifting the light set became so light I dropped to two bench workouts per week. The only thing that has changed since then is the amount of sets has lessened and the reps have gone up to rehabilitate my old bones and tendons more. I cannot go as heavy as often. I must wait for a more opportune time – a time of recovery. Notice, through it all, my body was my gauge and still is.

I did not allow other lifters’ routines or new commercial equipment to sway me from my course – what my body demanded.

I well remember the isometric racks and how they were supposed to make lifters stronger, faster. A few tries on the rack showed me that it could not compete with isotonic training. My body was very sensitive at the time, and my bench would move up, down, or stagnate within short periods of time. To this day I tell athletes: lifting weights cannot make you throw a baseball or football skillfully; only continued throwing can help itself. Weights are strength builders, so it can give distance to the throw, but not the spins and the curves. The same thought applies to isometric racks, mini gyms, Nautilus, Universal machines, etc., etc. They do not train the muscles as they will be used during the actual squat, bench and deadlift. These machines cut off the use of stabilizing muscles – muscles that control the heavy poundages in a most necessary and expedient groove. Without stabilizer strength and control the lifter will lose the lift. I must, however, speak up for the groove machines, also, because they do have their function in introducing students to weight training and have the ability to serve many students at once. Besides this convenience the groove machines do have a benefit for the experienced lifter, also. It is convenient to work auxiliary muscles and, possibly, rehabilitate on these machines. The benefit in working auxiliary muscles such as the deltoid or tricep on the groove machine is greater as an exercise for the bench press because the machines keep the particular muscle toned and strong without tiring some of the stabilizing muscles, and it also limits the use of joints and tendons which makes for greater recuperation while capitalizing on strength. The same reason can be applied to rehabilitating injured areas, and, possibly, keeping them safe from injury.

The groove machines can also be beneficial for the squat because by working the leg press, one can increase the leg strength without tiring the many joints of the spine, which again makes for better recovery: any exercises will insure quicker recovery and stronger, better conditioned muscles.

In considering which width grip for the bench press is best for you, something extraordinarily strange occurs, and I think I know why. So many beginning lifters feel confused upon gripping the bar. It is as if they have no feel of power or coordination. They grab the bar very wide, too wide for their structures. or too close, or off center. This is to be expected because they are novices, but they do not have the same degree of problems with the squat stance width. I think the reason is again connected to most people having more faith in their legs than arms; therefore, the novice lifter, even though terrified of failing, adjusts better to leg stance. Besides, he can find a degree of comfort more easily because his physical inclination is more geared to legs.

This is the principle I use to seek the best grip for the individual – physical comfort and inclination. I ask the prospective lifter to drop to his normal pushup position (without mentioning grip). I ask him to adjust his arms until comfortable and he has a feel for power: a few pushups will accomplish this. Measure the distance between forefingers and you have the grip of power for that particular physique structure.

So many lifters, even great ones, will say the wide grip is the best, or the close grip is the best. The best grip is the one that is suited to your power structure. Power structure is the particular build of the individual by which certain muscles in that structure are emphasized; for example, one person may have flaring deltoids and a flat rib cage. The chances are very great that this person will have to bench wide. The rule for competition states that the distance between forefingers cannot exceed 81 cm. which comes to almost 32 inches. The wider the individual is, generally, the wider the grip. Conversely, the individual who has a flaring rib cage, one with breadth and large pectorals, will have more drive off the chest and, thus, will assume the close position of his power. I have seen lifters built for close grip assume wide grip and develop prodigious benches, but ultimately nature catches up to them and injury and even surgery becomes evident. This happened in the cases of Larry Pacifico, Sam Mangialardi and Fred Hatfield. This is not to say that any other bench position can deep one safe from injury because maximum efforts for prolonged periods of time make anyone vulnerable.

The compactness of the close grip gives protection. There is more muscle supporting muscle rather than joints out on a limb. A good test of the instability of the wide grip is to place your hands out in front while spread far apart. Have someone try to move your arms. Try the same with your triceps close to your ribs and latissimus dorsi. Get the message? Your arms can be moved at will while wide but hardly at all while close. Close grip gives the lifter the stability of the torso. In the close grip the distance to push may be farther than the wide grip, but prevention of injury, greater development of the torso, coupled with more thrust with the close far outweigh the wide grip. It must be remembered that we are not all built for the close bench. In spite of what I have shown above, nature has a way of protecting its own, so go with our natural tendencies.

The wide grip primarily uses the lateral or outer edge of the pectoral and the anterior or frontal deltoid. Not much lat or tricep is used because the rotation or the lat is cut down considerably in the wide grip, and since the bar has a shorter distance to travel, there is not the extra needed push for the extension and, thus, less tricep development. The development of the wide gripper is in the shoulder, to a swooping pectoral.

The development of the close gripper is in the major pectorals (closer to the sternum and the middle of the pectoral muscles) and the triceps. Because of the tightness of the combination of muscle groups, there is a greater surge off the chest. The great surge still, of course, will incorporate the use of the anterior deltoid but not as much as the wide bencher. The great explosion off the chest even has a way of passing up the deltoid to a triceps catch and press. Even though speed is all important, especially in the close grip, control on the down groove is just as important. The wide bencher must be more careful with his groove; as I said earlier, the arms are more apt to wave with a wide grip. If the descent of the bar becomes too fast, the weight increases in poundage. If the descent is too slow, the muscles tire from holding the bar too long. The trick is to lower the bar under control as quickly as you can in the groove. The groove is a term used to indicate that critical area of any lift in which the lifter has the utmost control and power.

So many beginning lifters and even some experienced lifters feel that there is little or no difference in the psychological preparation for lifting a maximum single versus a maximum set of repetitions. This kind of thinking limits their ability to make gains. It is absolutely essential that the lifter prepares his mind for the degree of intensity and speed; that is, he must zero in on his power capabilities for that day, that set: he must know within a few pounds how much he is capable of lifting at that time. He must also prepare himself for the amount of air he will need to complete the set; one deal with lung capacity and endurance more when going for a higher number of reps. The lifter will suspect or know that he is stronger by the feel of the warmup and by how the trend of his workouts has been doing lately.

Sometimes a lifter will gamble strictly out of greed or rashness because some lifters become impatient of fail to acknowledge their limitations, therefore, manufacturing or imagining lifts that they really cannot handle. Handling weights that are too heavy can be disastrous to making gains because these poundages take their toll on the body which fails to recuperate even more, and it is all downhill from then on, until the lifter realizes what is happening and how to deal with the problem.

The lifter preparing for the maximum single must have warmed up properly without having expended much energy. The thought foremost in his mind is the single; nothing else matters, not possible injury, his girlfriend or his bills; he is hypnotized to one and only – pushing this new poundage that his mind and body have never before experienced. As he is warming up, the tension is building, but the warmup poundages must be made to feel light and, indeed, lighter than before. This is accomplished by being in shape, mentally prepared, having adrenaline flow, speed and maybe the effort with ego and death before failure. Any wavering in the feel, the timing and control, or the amount of thrust will lose the lift, but making the lift will bestow a “high” of personal accomplishment that is unique and difficult to duplicate.

It the single is strong, you will know you are that day, so use that power to attain more strength. Go down and do reps with poundages never before attempted. These new records will secure the strength and confidence you will need for future maximum singles. An example of a routine for a strong day: warm up to a maximum single, come down to a maximum set of 3 or 4 reps with a weight never attained before; then, drop to a poundage which allows 5 or 6 reps, then a set of 8-10 and finish with a close grip flush (a 16 inch grip) for 12-15 reps. If the single is not very strong or it is a miss, immediately drop to a lighter weight and higher reps. Follow the single with a set of 8 reps or higher, depending on how you feel that day. If you feel fatigued – quit; if not, continue with a set of 10-12 followed by 12-15 or higher. at least the lifter can still work speed.

The mental preparation for repetitions is similar, yet different. The higher the reps the greater the preparation for a longer battle. The overall battle will not be as intense as the single, but the last rep will be. The endurance factor will be higher; the air needed must be more, and the determination level must be held a longer period of time, which really tests desire.

As I said, a good time to do record reps is following a record single because the mind and body have been ultimately prepared, but a record rep set can also be done as a peak set; that is, a lifter warms up to that set alone for the specific purpose of a rep record. The set may be a record at any number of reps desired.

Techniques for working the bench are varied, and these various techniques must be chosen correctly for use depending on the individual lifter’s strong points, structure and grip. A close grip bencher will have less trouble off the chest whereas this is most of the problem for the wide gripper. The reverse is, therefore, true; the second half of the push is more troublesome for the close gripper but much easier for the wide gripper. both lifters will work on thrust off the chest, but the close gripper can make the advantage work for him by increasing the drive which will help it past the critical point of the upper third of the lift. The wide gripper will most likely work the holds at the chest with lighter poundages to increase thrust. The holds may be anywhere from two to ten seconds.

Close grip benchers may also benefit from occasional 2/3 bench presses from the power rack. This may help if the thrust becomes stale, but I have found the rack to have limitations. One must use extraordinarily heavy weight from a rack, and recuperation can be difficult. My experience has been that the rack gains come quickly and do not last long. If one continues working the rack too much per week or too long in time, the bench will become weaker.

The best method for the close grip bencher is to take what the rack will give, no more than one or two sets once a week until the regular bench movement seems to be tight, that is, a slight struggle above what he normally feels with that poundage. When this occurs, it is the signal to quit the rack. Even more beneficial, the lifter should quit before he gets the tight feeling, but we must pay some price for experimentation, or we can never really discover how we personally tick.

So often I read of lifters who are constantly working their weak points, pounding away to overcome this obstruction, but this weak point is basically a part of nature for that individual. It is not saying that this obstacle cannot be improved upon, but because of structure or other reasons, possibly favoring certain muscles, a mind to body coordination or dependency can be extremely difficult or impossible to overcome. There are reasons beyond our control why these certain muscles remain weak at certain angles in a movement for certain individuals; therefore, it can only become frustrating and discouraging to continue to work a weak point and gain such a small percentage of strength over a long period of time when the same time and effort could have been applied to a strong point, thus gaining two or three times the amount of strength.

So the close grip bencher whose main power is thrust from the torso should definitely improve his thrust by working speed with intermediate or lighter poundages. This will assure a greater burst off the chest which will continue momentum through the weak points of the shoulder and tricep. The constant handling of these poundages through the sticking point will inevitably make the weak points stronger.

Auxiliary exercises are often considered by the powerlifter to aid his power in the three lifts. The philosophy behind the auxiliaries is to make the individual parts stronger and, therefore, the whole will be stronger when all of the parts come together to perform. Basically, this thinking is sound, however, caution must be taken so as not to overwork and, therefore, be two steps behind in recuperation. Of course, we all wonder what is too much ad what is not enough. It is easy to be fooled sometimes because the weight may feel easy at the time, especially if the lifter is not breathing hard, but when it comes time to put it all together for the bench press, for example, the power is simply not there. We are always fighting the battle between rest and work. The key is to find the proper amount of work, whether high or low sets and reps, and coordinate that work with the proper amount of rest. Only time and experimentation will tell you.

Two of the best auxiliary lifts for the bench press are the press or press or press behind the neck, and the shoulder and trapezius shrug. The trapezius do not contract during the bench. First of all, after a warmup, it is not necessary to do more than 2 or 3 sets, or the bench will be negatively affected. These are to be done twice a week with high reps 8-15. The high reps assure blood to the area, conditioning, strength, and above all, healthy shoulders. As the athlete approaches competition, the sets may get heavier, but take care by feeling for the slightest shades of pain. If one continues, the pains will grow and become a detriment to the bench press. Merely stop for that day and come back lighter with higher reps next time.

It is not necessary for a close grip bencher to consider lateral raises or flies, as they are called. The closer the grip, the more pectoral is used toward the sternum; the wider the grip, more pectoral toward the arm is used. So it would stand to reason that a wide grip bencher would benefit from flies. The flies should be heavy with bent arms.

If the arms are straight, the concentration is not on the pectorals but on the arms. Wide grip benchers also benefit much more from holds at the chest than do close grip benchers. Most of the bench for the wide gripper is off the chest whereas the close gripper’s problem occurs after the initial thrust off the chest. This is not to say that the close grip bencher should not practice a hold. It is advantageous to hold the last repetition of each set but not to hold each rep in a set as wide grip benchers do.

An example of a routine using the pyramid system is as follows:
warm up to a maximum single;
work down to a set of 3 or 4, followed by
a set of 6-8
end with a set of 10-15
This is an example of a heavy day routine.

On the light day:
warm up to 90% of your recent maximum single, followed by
a set of 6-8, followed by
a set of 10-12
end with a set of about 15, which is a 16 inch grip flush set.

This is the routine that evolved out of following my body week after week until something seemed to work best. The variance in repetitions is necessary because the individual may be strong one day and not another. On a strong day, stay with a heavier poundage for 10 reps, for example, whereas a light day will call for the 15 rep set. Also, lighter weights allow for the lifter to practice for speed thrusts, that is, firing the weight in one explosive movement form the chest to arms length all in one motion.

One obvious mechanical advantage for all benchers is to bring the bar to a point at the chest where the position is most comfortable and powerful. This point for most of us is at the bottom of the pectoralis major or slightly below the nipples. The tricep can be compared to the thigh during the squat. If the upper thigh goes below parallel, it is more difficult to recover from the low position, likewise with the upper arm. The lower the elbow points downward, the more difficult the initial drive will be. So the trick is to bring the bar to the most comfortable point on the chest while compensating with an arch so that the triceps will not have to work as hard to get out of the pit, so to speak; keeping the chest high will also be an advantage here. Also, by hunching the muscles up tightly, it will give a greater thrust off the chest because all of the muscles are forced into a position that they will naturally try to spring from.

It is this thrust, the same principle a shot putter uses in his explosion as he performs the release, that can be advantageously practiced; some lifters call these thrusts “shorts” for short movements in the reps. They appear to be repetitions, but the lifter is moving heavier poundages off the chest many more times with speed. The full rep takes a greater amount of energy, and the benefits become less. If the lifter can thrust the bar from the torso to a point where the triceps are taking over and then return for the next thrust, the power off the chest increases twofold.

Using the above principle, speed, recuperation, running the gamut on reps, your own structural grip, choosing proper weights without missing, lowering the bar as quickly as you can under control, driving with the legs and letting your body be your guide will help you to master the bench press.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Psychological Preparation of Weightlifters - Philip Guenov

Al Stephan

Psychological Preparation of Weightlifters
by Philip Guenov, Chief National Coach, Bulgaria (1963)

The Russian General A. V. Suverov once said, “The more sweat in training, the less blood in battle.” This is as true for weightlifters as it is for soldiers, though we would have to substitute “failure in competition” for “blood in battle.” Training hard, sometimes under deliberately unfavorable conditions as sometimes arise in competition, develops the weightlifter’s persistence and tenacity, his will power. Sometimes the training quarters should be noisy and sometimes a bent bar should be used. Sometimes the lifter should have to wait awhile to take his turn, to see how he reacts to cooling off while other men make their attempts.

A strict self-discipline in personal living habits also is important in training, for giving up pleasures strengthens the will and diminishes drains on both psychic and physical resources. For example, the Russian heavyweight champion Medvedev never used alcohol or tobacco and never missed a workout – not even to the extent of being late – during 15 years of competition.


To succeed against his opponents in competition, a weight lifter should be bold and resolute. By this I mean he must have the capacity for quick and correct moves in complete confidence – without any hesitation, doubts or fears. Hesitation and doubt are the greatest psychological enemies of lifters. They lead to fear or the weight and failure, which in turn reinforces the hesitation and doubt in a vicious cycle. The coach can help overcome these handicaps by explaining what he must do in tones of complete confidence that he will be able to do it.

There are a number of things a coach can do to instill confidence in a lifter. Suppose for example, a lifter has done 330 lbs. in the Clean & Jerk several times and it is obvious to the coach that he has the potential to lift 340. But the lifter himself is unsuccessful in making the increase because he doubts himself and is afraid of the weight. To convince him that he is capable of lifting the heavier weight the coach might do the following:

if the lifter doubts he can clean the weight, the coach might have him assume the low split or squat position and have training partners hand him not 340, but 350 or 360 lbs., and stand by him to “spot” him while he proves to himself that he can recover with an ever heavier weight than he is afraid of. If he doubts that he can jerk the weight, the coach might have him support 350 lbs. overhead in the split jerk position and recover from it, and hold even heavier weights at his chest and overhead in the solid finishing position to make him feel that the weight he has been afraid of is in reality a “light” weight. These techniques can, of course, be applied to other movements and disciplines as well.

A particularly great obstacle to be overcome is an established record, be it personal or competitive. Faced with the possibility of breaking a record, a lifter may fail because of psychological stresses. He may think of the difficulty of doing what he, or no one else, has ever done before. He may think of the fame and feeling of well-being that will come to him if he succeeds, of the reactions of family and friends, and of his opponents.

The many distracting thoughts that come to the mind of an athlete trying to break a record disturb the balance of his painstakingly learned lessons. Emotions disturb his learned patterns of movement and sap his will to succeed. Because of this, the movement is executed incorrectly, with unnecessary stiffness and strain. His coordination is destroyed and the attempt is unsuccessful.

About record attempts, M. Ozolin has said, “Even the highest records must be stormed simply, without any bending before them, (the athlete) relying only on himself.” Tommy Kono spoke in a similar vein: “The aim of the lifter must be directed at world records and beyond them. He must strive not, for individual and national achievements, but against world records. He must progress steadily and he must train with heavy weights.” Regularly striving to lift heavier and heavier weights not only builds strength, but also the confidence that the lifter can move on, so that boldness and resolution becomes a habit that remains with him when he attempts to break a record.


A weight lifter competes not only with the weight, but also against his opponents. Many well-trained athletes who have the strength and skill to win are defeated psychologically when they become overawed by the reputation of a competitor. On the other hand, an athlete may be defeated by a weaker opponent because he underestimates him and expects an easy victory. Overconfident, he may fail to complete a lift, which may give his opponent the inspiration he needs to outdo his previous best and win the contest.

Here is an example: At the Rome Olympics, Ike Berger was considered a sure winner. Minaev was assigned the modest responsibility of trying to place second. But Berger failed twice to press 231 lbs. and only succeeded on his third attempt. Minaev suddenly realized that the gold medal was within his reach. He became a new man, bold and inspired, and did his best lifting in the snatch and jerk so that to beat him Berger needed to clean & jerk 336 lbs. This would have broken the world record by 11 lbs. Berger had actually lifted this much in training, but now he was unnerved by falling behind and be the confident attitude of Minaev, and he failed.

Another example: Vorobyev was for years an undefeated world champion and record holder. But in the 1959 world championships he lost his title to Louis Martin of Great Britain, who was competing in a world championship for the first time. Vorobyev held the world record for total and even when not at his best seemed capable of 1,000 lbs. Martin’s previous best total was 945. In the championships, Vorobyev was troubled by an injury from which he had not fully recovered and, as he failed with lifts he should have been able to make, Martin became inspired, succeeding with a clean & jerk of 386 lbs. and tied Vorobyev’s total of 980. Martin was the lighter man and knew he could win by lifting the 386 so with boldness and resolution he succeeded.

These examples show how important it is for lifters to know the performances and potentialities of their opponents. Realizing this, we maintain a bulletin board with the names, photographs, and lifting results of our competitors. Thus our lifters learn to oppose their competitors and to develop the determination to defeat them. They try to defeat their opponents on the bulletin board all year ‘round.

Other factors that must be considered in preparing an athlete to go through a contest with resolution and boldness are the conditions of the contest itself. Training situations should sometimes involve an audience, lifting at the time of day or night the contest will be held, noise, lighting, and the long delays that almost invariably occur. Simulating contest conditions will help the athlete prepare himself for distractions that might otherwise interfere with his psychological readiness to do his best.


Another important volitional quality is that of self-control. The lifter must not be thrown off balance by an unexpected failure or an unexpected success by his opponent. As an example of how a lifter was able to keep from being discouraged, consider the experience of Yuri Vlasov the first time he competed in a world championship: In the press, Vlasov succeeded with 352 lbs. instead of the 374 he expected to lift and had been lifting successfully in training. His opponent, Jim Bradford, took a big lead by pressing 390 lbs. Vlasov did not allow himself to be discouraged. Maintaining great self-mastery, he flawlessly snatched 325 lbs. and jerked 424 to overcome the deficit and win the world championship.

As another example, at the 1960 European championships Ivan Vesselinov, of Bulgaria, was able to overcome a series of failures by iron-willed self-mastery. Vesselinov missed his first attempt in the press and was unable to press any more than his starting weight. To make the best possible total, he took his first attempt in the snatch with his personal record of 286 lbs. – and failed! Instead of giving up, Vesselinov returned to the platform with new resolve and succeeded on his second try. Then he went on to snatch 297 on his third attempt, establishing a Bulgarian national record. But his troubles were still far from over. In his first attempt at the clean and jerk, with 386 lbs., he fell under the bar and was slightly injured. Ignoring his bruises, Vesselinov determinedly returned to the platform and lifted the 386 and then went on to establish another Bulgarian record by cleaning and jerking 408 lbs!

Such self-mastery as was shown by Vlasov and Vesselinov is only possible, of course, when it is backed by much hard work in training. This is why the final training periods should employ the same type of activity as will be experienced in the actual contest. More work should be done with the three Olympic lifts, in order, and with very heavy weights. In the last few days before the contest, of course, the lifter must taper off with the very heavy work in order to build a reserve of nervous energy.

It sometimes happens that a lifter will fail twice with his starting weight in a contest. Realizing that he must succeed on his third try, or lose all chance for personal success or to help his team, the lifter is under great nervous tension as he makes his final attempt. In an attempt to overcome this, we often ask an athlete to lift a limit weight, or five or 10 lbs. less than his limit, during training while imagining that he has failed twice and must now succeed in order to make a total and save his team from defeat.

It is up to the coach to take a lifter aside after failure and reassure and encourage him. The coach must persuade him by his tone of voice and attitude as well as his words that the lifter can and will succeed on his next attempt. It is a good idea to do the same in training, instead of letting the lifter drop back to a light weight if he really seems capable of handling the weight he has failed with. The coach must also be alert for complacency and over-confidence in a lifter who has just succeeded very well with one or both of the first two lifts. The lifter must not be permitted to consider the contest won or the training session over until the last lift has been made.


Firmness of will, or will power, is needed by a lifter in order to do his best despite feeling tired and weary of competition. With strong will power, he will be able to dominate his feelings of fatigue. Often you will see a lifter fail with a clean & jerk toward the end of a long contest even though the weight is one he has lifted successfully in training or in smaller contests.

Professor Mateev says fatigue diminishes the activity of nerve dells in the cortex of the brain, so that exact coordination suffers and reaction time decreases. By great exercise of will power, an athlete can increase the activity of these cells so that he regains the nervous energy needed to force his muscles to perform up to the level of strength they are capable of. Thus a lifter should strengthen his will power by occasionally lifting maximal weights in training when he feels tired. If he is unwilling to try, his coach should exhort him to go on and even criticize him in front of other members of the team if this stimulus is needed to make him keep trying.

Firmness of will also included the ability to overcome negative emotions – fear, despair, difference, and so on. The only way a lifter can truly learn to overcome these and other unsuspected difficulties that will crop up during competition is by experiencing competition itself. Only participating in contests can create the situation of highest possible attention for the lifter, in which he can strengthen his volitional qualities. Therefore lifters should enter competition regularly, especially against opponents who are at about their level of performance, where they will be called upon to do their best in order to place or win. A lifter does not improve by competing where he can win easily, nor will it do his morale any good to be competing always against men who are far above his level.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pushing For Power Part One - Bill Seno

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Pushing For Power
by Bill Seno

This book is devoted primarily to gaining strength and size through isotonic training. This may sound simple enough, but I mention primarily because some bodybuilding principles will be incorporated for the ultimate purpose of gaining strength in the long run. The probability of size is mentioned because of variables like individual body metabolism, food intake, life style, age, goals and even attitude. Isotonic training is mentioned because of the multitude of confusing devices placed upon the commercial market – devices such as Nautilus, Universal, Isometric and various spring and rubber contracting and expanding equipment. 

One of the first lessons a novice learns about weight training is that many sets coupled with high repetitions constitute bodybuilding training or what is commonly referred to as pumping iron. The pump of the inflated feeling, which is blood being sent to the worked muscle and toxins being taken away, is what the bodybuilder works for and holds as long as possible, for through this method the ultimate in muscular shape and definition will be accomplished, not necessarily more muscle mass. Other training maneuvers and principles are necessary for size. Forced feeding and the overload principle are the most important.

In contrast to the bodybuilding principles, the novice also learns that fewer sets and fewer reps, working muscle groups rather than one singular muscle or part, will engender a body which is able to handle more prodigious poundages. 

The power trainer does not work for a pump; certainly a few hard sets and reps of maximum effort will raise the strength level and the blood pressure for a short time, but no pump will occur. Of course, nor does the power trainer want a pump, for the pump is not making him any stronger. It can also hinder his body’s efforts to recuperate in time for the next big poundage workout. There is, however, a rehabilitative and conditioning benefit for the power trainer to utilize a small degree of pumping at the end of a workout. This method will be detailed later.

Our bodies differ, and because of this, some people can eat all day long and hardly gain an ounce of bodyweight while others gain easily with little intake. Body metabolism is subject to change by the individual if proper training and eating habits are used. Some people run around, constantly busying themselves every minute and making sure there is something to do until slumber. Others live at a slower pace and shun too many chores or socializing and, therefore, rest the body more. These lifestyles linked with either power training or conditioning can alter the body metabolic rate to suit one’s goal. Why would one want to alter this metabolic rate? Why, to become bigger and stronger or smaller and more defined or, possibly, other combinations such as smaller yet stronger by body formula, that is, more power pound for pound of bodyweight. Of course, attitude is important in any sport or endeavor – the power of positive thinking; many lifters discover this in their training.

The ordinary Olympic or power bar cannot be beaten when pushing for power. The stabilizing muscles are used to steady the bar. These smaller muscles are either cut off or interfered with by machines. The machines stabilize for the lifter who only concentrates on the push, and spring or rubber equipment is too much in the other direction. Spring equipment is akin to lifting on ice in which balance becomes primary and the push or pull secondary. Both are necessary, and the best way to develop powerful stabilizers and major muscle groups is by using them all as nature intended, which the free bar provides, not by confining or confusing either one.

References are made to rehabilitation therapy and other corrective measures that can be done by the athlete to aid in his quest for power. I am not a physician. The exercises that are mentioned for therapy were gotten from doctors, a medical school, friends, and from personal experiences. People who have physical disabilities or any doubts regarding the use of such methods should refrain taking part in any of the therapy.


Confusions abound in the weight room. Even the most experienced lifters are afflicted with times of perplexity, especially during stagnation.

The novice begins where others do, at the local YMCA or health club. Most of the lifters, through hearsay, either follow something similar to 5 sets of 5 reps or follow a routine found in a magazine illustrated by some noted bodybuilder or powerlifter. Often the problem of stagnation develops because the lifter is following a prescribed routine set upon paper which may not be precisely for his body’s recuperative powers. So he finds himself making no progress, or he finds a weakening in the strength level. It is difficult for a novice to follow a routine which took years for a master athlete to develop. It is comparable to placing a novice boxer in the ring with a champion and expecting the novice to do well. It takes time to find one’s strong points and weaknesses: how many sets and reps work best for gains, how many workouts of the same exercise per week, the difference between various exercises, and how one rule for one exercise does not apply to another, how a rule may be for one lifter but not another, the rest period between sets for best results and various other factors that make a difference: hyperactivity, little sleep, improper diet, emotional disturbances, or just plain getting cold between sets and lack of concentration. These are just some of the variables. 


Speaking of time is appropriate here because this is a sport of patience. It takes a long time to make the gains of your dreams, and injuries are some of the biggest obstacles to those goals. Yes, injuries – another variable that must be contended with. Any time joints, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and muscle are pushed to unaccustomed horizons, injuries are inevitable. Even nerves can become impaired by bony spurs.

It is extremely difficult to evade injuries when a lifter is pushing to his utmost – whatever utmost is.
To begin answering the multitude of questions proposed above, it is best to remember that we are, each of us, a different structure, which enables one person with longer arms, for instance, to deadlift better, and not bench as well as the person with shorter arms. Also, our differences in heredity, athletic backgrounds, physical inclinations, and metabolism will determine how much we will progress. Mentioning the word determine reminds me of positive which I have observed in those who had begun with little ability and yet accomplished beyond the expectations of many. 

We all must start somewhere, so we begin where we are, with what we can lift for one maximum effort. If this is either your first time lifting or just getting back into training, it is best to stop at the maximum single. The mistake so many health clubs make with new people is the instructors start the prospects very light but carry them through many exercises for many repetitions. This method builds up too many toxins and creates swelling in muscle. They believe light is the key. It is not. One can and should go heavy enough to a near maximum effort. I always feel that maximum effort that which a lifter may think is maximum at one time, but may find that with more determination, he has now lifted a heavier poundage and reached a depth within his mind that he never knew before.

After a few weeks of singles and doubles, the body should be ready to handle more sets of more repetitions. The routines will vary depending on the exercise. The large muscles of the legs and back hold strength longer than the smaller muscles of the triceps, deltoids and pectorals. So the bench press will, therefore, need more sets and reps more often than the squat and deadlift. Routines for these lifts will be discussed in their respective sections; however, great powerlifters usually squat twice a week, one light and one heavy. Even though some greats been known to vary from three times per week for some lifters and only once a week for others, the usual is twice per week.

The deadlift is usually worked once a week by great powerlifters because of the difficulty of recuperating the back muscles and joints. If the back remains tired, so goes the squat; even the bench press is affected because of the contraction of the spinae erector muscles. Although most powerlifters train the deadlift once per week, variations among the greats can be observed from three times per week to once every two weeks.

Because of the blending of the effort of so many smaller muscles, the technique of using the entire body with speed seems to call for more workouts per week. Most of the greats bench twice per week, but variations from five times to once per week exist.

Bodybuilders need to work fast to keep the pump going; therefore the time between sets is reduced two or one minute or according to body feel – when one feels ready. Often, to keep a well rounded pump, circuit training is employed, that is, going from a triceps pushdown to a deltoid lateral raise to a biceps curl, etc. 

Powerlifters need more time to rest in between sets; also, to assure a rise in strength level, powerlifters need more time between workouts. Of course, because of slower and less frequent workouts, the cardio-respiratory development in the powerlifter will be less than that of a bodybuilder. The range of rest time between heavy sets should be no less than four minutes nor more than six. Below four minutes that body has not fully recuperated from the previous exertion, and lifting too soon would be creating some obstacles: 1) The weight will feel heavier; this is not the objective of the lifter – to teach the mind that this particular poundage is so heavy. 2) Again, lifting too soon will develop more conditioning instead of strength, which is to tolerate or put up with the weight rather than to put it up more easily.

Waiting too long between sets is obvious; the body cools down too much, and injuries can occur. Most of us understand the overload principle to be either something extremely heavy that the body can handle or else more than it can handle; therefore, the movement with such an extraordinary poundage will not be performed in full, but in part.

This is how other versions of the three powerlifts are created: high squats, arched benches with the buttocks off the bench, and deadlifts from the knees. 

Many lifters employ these or other partial of cheat forms of the lifts to accustom the structure to heavy weight. Paul Anderson used to think in these terms: lift 1000 lbs. one foot, and you will lift 300 lbs. three feet.

The numbers may be general, but the thought has been found to hold true. Many squatters, for instance, will train the squat one to three inches high, hardening the body and mind to the movement of prodigious iron, and after training the high system, the lifter finds himself thirty pounds stronger below parallel than before he started the partial program. This principle can be applied to any muscle group; however, the partial movement cannot be too far removed from the actual full movement.

Conversely, some lifters think if terms of isolating fewer muscles rather than overloading many. Using the squat again as an example, trainers who isolate will place the bar higher on the back rather than below the deltoids. They assume a more upright position, using more thigh and less hip and back. I have known both techniques, squats high on the back and low on the back, to work well at different times during a lifting career. The conclusion that I came to is that the body and mind become stale to the weight, movement, and routines; it, therefore, is necessary to adjust at this time of stagnation.

Staleness is gym jargon for inability to recuperate. The questions are why can I not recuperate from this routine and what can I do to assure recuperation to continue satisfying gains. Changing the body’s ability to recuperate by the use of anabolic steroids is one possibility but one I cannot advocate because of alterations in the endocrine system and adverse side effects. If one wishes to undertake this approach, a doctor’s care is the only way to go.

The most clever route to recuperation from workouts if also the most complicated and perplexing. Lifters of all levels struggle with the systems and avenues to recuperation. It must be remembered that it is not the amount or intensity of work that matters as much as it is the ability for one’s own body to recover from the intense pounding. If the body were able to fully recuperate from any given amount of depth of exercise, we would all be in a range between champion and superhuman. That is, the entire physical level of human accomplishment would be that much higher than it is; therefore, in coming back to earth, we must find routines, rest periods, lifestyles, and goals we can live with. The impractical person is one who demands too much from his workouts and expects to gain in leaps and bounds. He must find a happy medium for himself through a viable program.

For example, routines are not a panacea, nor are they the only consideration. Again, a major principle in strength gain is low sets, low reps, more intensity devoted to the sets done, and only a few exercises working masses of muscle, not singularly isolated muscle. This principle in itself conjoins smoothly with the thinking on recuperation. It is easier to recover from few than many. It is something the body can handle, at the same time it would not be applicable to strength gain if we did not put the body through a trying experience-hence-intensity. With this principle established, there are further considerations involving routine. One person’s body may take 5 sets whereas another may be able to take only 3 sets to recover fully by the next workout; these must be experimented and explored by the individual. It is only then that the lifter will know which works best for him.

Some bodies are capable of tolerating more repetitions than others. This also must be explored individually. What is considered few reps to one person may be extremely high to another, not only to the mind but to the body. How can 10 reps be high to a person who is accustomed to doing 20 reps per set? Now, according to the principle, fewer reps make for strength, but again, fewer to one may not be to another and must be explored for best results. One other factor here, used by me and other lifters, is that higher reps can also rehabilitate intensely worked areas and can by indirect route lead to recuperation and, thus, gains over a longer term. In short, bodybuilding heals.

The principle for power is great if managed properly; if mismanaged, it can be crippling and lead to disaster for the joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Of course, a serious competitor subjects his body to grueling torture and learns to love it to become the best. The pains, surgery and mental torment all become worthwhile for the minute of glory, whether it be for the win, a private personal attainment, or recognition by others. 

I have observed many lifters bench pressing to a single rep which completes their workout. This is only the beginning of mine. Most powerlifters do between one and five reps in the bench. Even though this works for most, this gave me very little gains. I had to increase sets and reps and adjust the routine, which will be shown in detail in the section on the bench press. The bench press is a different animal.
Rest between workouts is as important as the routine, for without the proper amount of rest between workouts, there can be no strength gains. This also differs per individual, but some generalities are younger lifters recuperate faster than their older counterparts, and one can recover sooner from lighter workouts than heavy. Also, it is easier to recuperate from one set of one single than four or five sets of the same single. After the sets and reps become intermingled, the cellular variables for recuperation become too many and only experimentation will tell true. 

As there is a line of time needed to recover, there is also a line on the other end of the rest period. If too long of a duration elapses, the body becomes untrained to the enormous poundage it once acquired. In other words, you begin to lose it. The end of the rest period also varies but, generally, no less than 5 days between heavy workouts and no more than 10. These time limits differ for different lifts. Remember, the larger muscles of the back (deadlift) and quadriceps (squat) hold strength longer than triceps (bench).

This is not to say subsidiary muscles cannot be worked in between or even that the same muscles can’t be worked lighter. What is considered light is strictly individual; for example, a lifter may desire to work upper back between deadlift workouts. He may employ upright rows or bent-over rows or lat pulls if he feels this is a weak area which needs development. 

My own lifts communicate to me that if I rest longer than eight days in the squat, six days in the bench and two weeks in the deadlift, between heavy workouts, I begin to lose strength.

One other variable few of us consider is occupation. A person who works in a sedentary job al week is more likely to recover from a heavy pounding than a construction worker. In the iron game man of us have been aware of lifters who have little or no livelihood and find others ways of support because they are so devoted; they believe the slightest interferences cannot be tolerated. Toleration is a good word to explain this problem in opposition to the above philosophy because the tolerance is something that happens within the body after a period of time. The body becomes accustomed to the routine of a rigorous occupation, and eventually, even those with rigorous occupations can gain strength greatly. The point is “we don’t have to pamper ourselves or get carried away with protecting ourselves from work.” Overwork is one thing, but maintaining one’s individual dignity is quite another.

After months of dealing with routines, rest periods, etc., the lifter will clearly receive a message by comparing his gains and strength to others. It is healthy to utilize the comparison practically because it allows the lifter to seek realistic goals. All people can improve to heights they never thought achievable, but all lifters cannot be a Bridges, Pacifico or Kuc; therefore, one can only become frustrated with goals that are above one’s ability or too highly imaginary. A great anti-frustration goal is to try to beat your previous total. It satisfies immediate hungers, and in due time the lifter will find that other lifters are now trying to catch up to him.

Broad Shoulders - Chapter Twelve

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Top - the Brietbart Crusher
Bottom - the Professor Scmidt Lifting Apparatus

Leverage Movements

The deltoids, the muscles on the point of the shoulder, are important. They control the arm, aid in applying the power which makes it possible to box, wrestle, lift, throw or hit a ball, play any game, swim and every other athletic endeavor or type of work. We are not wrong in considering the deltoid to be the chief shoulder muscle, through its importance in moving the arm, but it does not move the shoulder. The shoulder is raised chiefly by the trapezius muscles, the muscles which extend from the base of the neck to the point of the shoulder, it is assisted by the sterno mastoid, the rhomboideus, the levator scapulae; the forward movement by the pectorals, the backward movements by the latissimus, trapezius and rhomboideus, the downward movement by the latissimus and the pectorals, the rotary motions by a combination of all these.

Some of these muscles are very, very powerful so are never developed to more than a fraction of their strength by the average man. For the advanced barbell man finds it easy to shrug one shoulder whole standing astride a 400 pound barbell which he holds with one hand; some of the outstanding strong men of the past who made a specialty of carrying heavy weights on one shoulder, carried over a thousand pounds in this manner. Horace Barre, to win a small wager, walked across the gymnasium with 1200 pounds upon one shoulder. Using a harness, with the weights supported by one shoulder, men have shrugged the shoulder with over a thousand pounds suspended from it. With this brief description of the strength possibilities of the shoulders, you are beginning to realize that you have a task cut out for you if you wish to have shoulder development which even approximates that of the famous men of might and muscle. It is necessary to practice a variety of exercises, with the accepted training appliances, using light and heavy resistance to develop as many as possible of the millions of muscular fibres, of the scores of complete muscles which make up this section of the body.

In the book “Big Arms” the movements were offered as dumbell exercises, barbell exercises, expander exercises, as well as chinning, dipping and climbing exercises. In this book I think it advisable to offer the exercises in a bit different manner. We will include them in four categories as follows:

Group 1. Leverage exercises, primarily designed to develop the deltoids.

Group 2. Repetition exercises which bring the entire shoulders into action.

Group 3. Combination movements which bring the muscles of all the body as well as the shoulders into action.

Group 4. Special exercises.

The two best known of the exercises in Group 1 are the forward raise while standing, and the lateral raise standing. The forward raise can be performed with a barbell, but it is customary to use dumbells in practicing these movements as good results will be had with moderate weights. To perform the forward raise, stand at attention, hold a dumbell in each hand, knuckles front, bells against thighs, keeping arms straight raise slowly and steadily until they are extended overhead. Breathe deeply as the weights go up, exhale as they are lowered. Raise and lower the weights with comparative slowness, so that the resistance can be felt every inch of the way. It is more important that the exercise be performed correctly than to use a heavy weight. If “cheating” is done with a heavy weight, if the bells are swung upward instead of being lifted primarily by the deltoids, instead of being a good deltoid movement, it will be a combination back, shoulder and deltoid movement. The instruction I am offering with this exercise should be kept in mind while practicing all the other movements of this class of leverage exercises.

Advanced weight men seldom use more than 20 or 25 pound bells in this movement. Siegmund Klein, one of the greatest of middleweight strong men, long famed for his splendidly developed physique, uses 20 pounds 15 repetitions in this movement. Henry Steinborn, the strongest man in wrestling, who has the ability to perform many outstanding feats of strength, also uses 20 pounds in these leverage exercises. Steve Stanko, the 1944 Mr. America, world’s lifting record holder, the world’s strongest man when was concentrating on lifting and breaking world’s records, having hoisted 382 pounds overhead in the clean and jerk (this is the world’s record), having pressed 320 pounds, habitually practices with 20 or 25 pound dumbells. And while doing so he greatly improved his physique and built a magnificent pair of shoulders, arms and a wonderful chest. So don’t feel that you must use very heavy weights in these movements. Performing the exercises correctly is most important. The bells should extend over the widest possible range of movement, stretching, building, strengthening the muscles from one extreme to the other. These exercises are quite fatiguing, so moderate resistance will suffice.

Lateral raise. After loading the dumbells amount or selecting the weight you wish to employ if you are using solid dumbells, stand in the position of attention as in the previous exercise, heels together, toes out, forming an angle of 45 degrees, the dumbells resting at the side of the thighs, knuckles out, arms hanging loosely at the sides. From this position, keeping the knuckles up and the arms straight throughout, raise them well above shoulder height. Pause for two seconds, then lower. Inhale as the weights are raised slowly, exhale as they are slowly lowered.

One of the favorite exercises practiced by John Grimek is the alternate forward raise. He habitually performs this movement with a heavy pair of dumbells, for while it is practiced chiefly to develop the front of the deltoids, when heavy weights are used many other muscles are benefitted.

One of the preferred exercises of many of the champions of lifting, strength and development is the forward raise with barbell. Practiced strictly as a deltoid exercise, the bar should be loaded only to a moderate weight, and raised and lowered slowly as in the dumbell exercise, entirely with deltoid strength. Then, as in the alternate dumbell forward raise, a la Grimek, at times a much heavier weight can be employed. Frank Rollet, of San Francisco, who teamed with his wife, makes one of the most famous and highest paid dance teams in the nation, specializing in advanced adagio dancing, lifts his wife overhead and spins her around in seemingly impossible manners, practices this forward raise with barbell more than any other exercise. I believe more than any other five exercises. He employs quite heavy weights for him – 125 pounds (he is not a very large man, about 5-8, 180 pounds bodyweight). He keeps his arms straight but puts considerable body movement into the exercise. It has aided him in building a magnificent deltoid development.

John Davis, of the York Barbell club, who as a young lad of 17 startled the world by winning the world’s 181 pound class championship at Vienna, setting a world’s record of 353 pounds in the clean and jerk, as his favorite exercise practiced the leverage movement. As Johnny grew older he became bigger and stronger, weighing over 200 pounds, and possessing one of the finest physiques in the entire world. He set world’s records of 322 in the two hands press, 317 in the two hands snatch, and cleaned, or pulled to the shoulder, weights which very closely approached 400 pounds. Undoubtedly this leverage exercise, the forward raise, straight arms, but with considerable body movement, played a major part not only in developing his large pectorals, that remind one of a coconut cut in half, and one placed on the point of each shoulder, but meant much in developing his world record breaking strength, muscle and fine physique. Early in his career Davis practiced this movement with 135 pounds for many repetitions. I have seen him handle 165 in this manner.

Jules Bacon, 1943 Mr. America, and one of the most magnificently developed men the world has ever seen, starts each exercise period with a combination deltoid exercise which he swears by. Jules is thin skinned, extraordinarily developed, and has muscles when posing under the lights that I for one have never seen before. It could be said about Jules that even his muscles have muscles. For instance on the outside of his thighs the Vastus Externus, when tensed, there is a row of little rope like muscles, which look exactly like someone has cut a small rope into sections about two inches long and placed one above the other on this leg. As Jules performs this movement he desires not only to strengthen his muscles but to warm up his body in preparation for he harder work to come, so he starts with a swinging movement. The weights are swung with straight arms from a position between the legs to overhead, then they are lowered to shoulder height, brought forward and down to the position between legs and the exercise continued in this manner. While not entirely a leverage motion, the fact that Jules uses as much as a pair of 50’s in this movement, and lowers them slowly from overhead, does develop the deltoids to a great extent.

The forward raise develops the front of the deltoid, the lateral raise the largest part of the deltoid, the middle muscle, to develop the back of this powerful three part muscle, start with a pair of dumbells in each hand, knuckles to the rear, then extend the arms backward and upward as far as you can, while keeping the elbows straight. While this is one of the best triceps exercises you will feel that it does things to the back of your shoulder.

One of the best shoulder developing exercises one which develops all the upper back muscles in addition, is practiced while bending over at right angles. Stand with legs straight, arms hanging downward, keeping the arms straight raise them up to or past shoulder level. Continue until tired. While 25 pounds in this movement will provide plenty of exercise for most body builders, some of the best strength athletes use 45 pounds. Be sure that you raise and lower the arms slowly so that you can feel the weight every inch of the way. At times you can practice the swinging movement with more speed and heavier weights, but then it will be an upper back exercise as much as a deltoid movement.

There are two weight lifting movements on which records are kept in England which are called the “lower from above” and the “raise from below.” While somewhat similar to the forward raise with barbell, considerably more weight is used as this is a competitive test of strength. In the lower from above, the weight must be halted in its downward path at shoulder height and held there for two seconds until it meets the approval of the officials. The body must be held erect. This is a pure test of shoulder strength. The raise from below is performed in somewhat similar manner, raised, as fast as desired, without body movement, and held for the count of two at shoulder height with body erect.

The crucifix as it is usually termed or the Horizontal Equipoise with weights as it is called in France, where it is a standard test and ranks among the classical tests for athletes, is a good means of determining shoulder strength. While little strength is developed by the single movement of getting into proper position for the crucifix, the exercises which lead up to proficiency in this test are most beneficial and have a high value in developing the deltoids. So the you will know just how this strength feat is performed the world over, I will include a description of the rule. The arm holding the weight to form a right angle with the body, rather lower than higher. The arm and wrist must be straight, or fully stretched. The body must have two ways of performing this feat, one with the knuckles up and the other with the palms up. More weight can be handled with the palms up. While the strength test may be performed by swinging or pressing the weights to overhead and then lowering, it is considered better form if the weights are raised laterally from below.

An outstanding record which has been created in the performance of this feat is Georg Hackenschmidt’s support of 90 pounds in the right hand and 89 in the left. Although this record was established in 1902 it has not been exceeded more than a pound or two to this day. This was performed with the weight in hand, palms up. The late George Petroski, killed in the invasion of the Philippines, held the American middleweight class of 138 lbs. In recent years American lifters have not specialized in this lift. They being content to practice for skill, fame and proficiency with the three International lifts, the two hands press, two hands snatch and two hands clean and jerk used in competition the world over, and to exercise with weights in many diverse manners to build their bodies, their strength and their physical ability to excel as weight lifters or merely to keep super healthy and superbly fit.

Various combinations of the forward and lateral raise are practiced at times. This movement could start with the weights, as in the forward raise, up to shoulder height, then out to the side still with the weight at shoulder height, then down front, out to the side and down to the sides. The movement could be varied as desired.

The swing bar permits of a very wide variety of movements which build the deltoids from every possible angle. This outstanding body building device, which has been used regularly by so many champions of lifting and development, may be used in the forward raise as with dumbells or barbells and in a variety of swinging movement which rightfully should come under the head of repetition exercises, group two.

Take a pair of dumbells in the hands of moderate or light weight, extend them to the front, and then swing them in circles while holding the arms straight in front at shoulder height. A similar movement may be performed while holding the arms out to the side at shoulder height. You will soon feel that these movements provide considerable exercise for the deltoids.

With the swing bar somewhat similar movements are performed. Hold the swing bar front, at shoulder height, twist as far as you can to one side, then to the other. Hold the swing bar overhead and swing first to right and then to left. If you don’t own a swing bar, this movement may be performed with a barbell, probably the bar alone will be sufficient to start, extend to the front and twist as with the swing bar.

In series two of group number 1 are a great series of movements which are performed while lying in the supine position either on floor or preferably on a bench. The bench permits a greater range of movement. Although these exercises are normally considered to be chest building exercises, while they are the best chest developers known, as all are performed with arm movement, the pectorals are brought into vigorous action. They are prime developers for the entire upper body, rib box, pectorals, upper back, and of course the deltoids and as we are primarily concerned with deltoid development in the book, they should be made an important part of the training of every body builder. These exercises are easy to perform, only moderate weights are used, and they bring a fine reward in development.

Those who are familiar with the life and deeds of Steve Stanko will know that first he was a famous football player and when America needed a heavyweight lifter to compete against the Germans in 1938 both in this country and abroad, Steve Stanko leapt into the breach caused by an injury to our then heavyweight champion Dave Mayor. In his first year of lifting competition he wan the district championship, the junior national championship, the senior national or United States championship, making new American records in the process, and was second in the world’s championship, making the highest clean and jerk and two hands snatch performed by any of the world famous lifters who were in action. He improved as a lifter and soon established world’s records in the press, snatch and clean and jerk, as well an the total. He increased his press from 236 pounds in 1938 to 320 pounds in 1941, his snatch from 253 to 310, his clean and jerk from his record of 330 in April of 1938 to 347 ½ in June of that year, finally to 382 pounds cleaned and jerked ten times one afternoon in training in the York Barbell gym. Steve was definitely the world’s strongest man, the world’s strongest weight lifter, he was lifting a total of nearly one hundred pounds higher than the Olympic champion. And then gradually at first and more rapidly as he continued to extend himself to the limit, breaking world’s record after record, an old injury which had first manifested itself when he was playing football, became worse and Steve was through as a top flight lifter for the time at least. His trouble was phlebitis, or a blood clot of the leg, the flow of the blood in the legs was impeded and if Steve exercised his lower extremities the legs would become almost as hard as wood and be very painful. He had to give up training for a time and during that period his weight dropped from a top of 230 to 176. After about a year of inactivity while in a generally bad state of bodily condition he started training again, this time and for several years to come, all of his exercises were performed while lying down. Not single exercise in the standing position. Nearly all the movements performed were with dumbells of moderate weight, usually twenty pounders, rarely more than a pair of twenty-fives. Steve improved at once, he gained weight, soon weighed 209 and looked good enough in the upper body that he showed up very well in posing for the exercises of the Simplified System of Dumbell Training. He continued to improve and finally culminated his efforts by outscoring all other men in the junior and senior Mr. America contest and special events. First in Pittsburgh and later in Chattanooga, Tenn., Steve won in addition to the Mr. America title, the special awards of best back, best chest, best shoulder, best arms, and strange as it may seem, best legs. In spite of not exercising the legs they, fed by the same blood stream, served by the same organs which were so materially benefited by the regular lying down of what is commonly called the Steve Stanko type of exercise, were bettered too. Steve’s bodily condition has gradually improved. It is not certain whether such a condition as he has can be overcome without a serious surgical operation, but he has improved to the point that for the first time the other day I saw him perform correctly a two hand curl, and this standing, with 165 pounds. To test his strength during the period of comparatively light dumbell lifting, Steve would occasionally pull over and press a barbell on bench. When he was at his best as a lifter, he had pulled over, while lying on an 18 inch bench, 250 pounds. In a few days he established world’s records with 300-31-320 handled in this way. So it shows that Steve is still the world’s strongest man in certain lifts, exercises and feats of strength. Stanko’s exercises are performed on an 18 inch bench. In spite of his great strength, in most of the exercises he uses only a pair of twenties, he keeps his arms entirely straight, which makes the exercise much more difficult and brings better results, and he works the muscles over the longest possible range. For instance, he may use only 50 pounds in the barbell pull over, a light weight for a man of such great strength, but he will extend it from a starting position at the thighs, until it almost touches the floor back of his head, and when he is performing this movement, his pectorals will stretch into a position where they seem equal in size and contour to his magnificent arms, which are around 19 inches at present.

The most common exercise practiced in this position is the two hands pull over. The weights are pulled from the thighs to a position well back of head. As the bells go back a very deep breath is taken and as they come forward all of the breath is exhaled. The average body builder executes this movement as a part of his regular training program, after he has performed a heavy exercise which leaves him panting for breath, then better results are obtained. It may be necessary while in this breathless state to extend the arms only over a quarter circle so that more oxygen will be obtained by the lungs for use throughout the body; when you have caught up a bit in your breathing, continue to exercise with the dumbells covering a half circle.

This exercise is usually known as the breathing pull over. When practiced as a breathing exercise, a thorax expander, moderate weights should be used. If heavy weights are employed breathing is difficult and the exercise becomes a combination of a poor chest expanding exercise and a poor muscle building exercise. Practice the movement two ways, with moderate weights to build the chest and the shoulders, and then as an actual muscle building exercise in which little thought is given to the breathing. Used as a muscle builder many leading strength athletes will employ weights of considerably more than 100 pounds.

The lateral raise while lying is the next most commonly practiced exercise of this series. Taking a dumbell of moderate weight in each hand, they are extended to straight arms over the body. From that position they are lowered to a position level with or below the shoulders, the arms should be held straight throughout and in the beginning employ a light or moderate weight until the tendons and ligaments become strong enough to withstand the moderate strain. You may feel this movement on the inside of the elbow joint. Continue the movement until tired. Twenty movements being about the right number, as some days you will repeat the same exercise a number of times. Some men who train with weights will cross the arms over the chest instead of stopping with the weights over the head at the middle stage of the exercise. This will bring a few more muscles into play, notably those of the back of the deltoids.

A third popular movement and one which is a favorite of our Big Champ, Steve Stanko, is started with the weights touching the lower thighs laterally, the palms turned in toward the body. From this position, keeping arms straight and the dumbells at shoulder height, they are swung inn a half circle around and well back of head, continue this movement until tired. It will provide the muscles of the chest with a fine workout but will develop the muscles of the deltoids to a pleasing degree.

Some will vary the two arm pull over at times by widely spreading the arms as they are being brought back of the head, then back to the position on top of thighs. This variation puts the muscle into action in a diverse manner and rounds the shoulder and pectoral muscles.

A good substantial bench or two are essential in your home gymnasium. You need one for the Stanko type of exercises, for the bench press, and the various dumbell and barbell movements. You need two of them for the rowing motion while lying face down and for the two excellent movement I’m about to suggest. The second bench is placed on top of the first for a single bench is too low, the arms will touch the floor before they can be extended to full length under the body. Lie down, with the head extended over the bench. Start with a dumbell of moderate weight in each hand, the arms hanging below the head. Keeping the arm straight raise one dumbell forward until it is in line with or above the body, when ready to lower this dumbell start the other one on its upward journey. You will notice that you will be performing a forward raise, alternately, in the prone position, which will place additional muscles of the deltoid in action, will develop and strengthen them.

There is an advantage in performing the rowing motion in this prone position, for no movement of the body is possible and you can be sure that the entire movement is being performed by the arms and muscles of the upper back rather than the entire back as is done when too many body builders find the weight a bit heavy.

Remaining in the position assumed for the former exercise, with the same pair of dumbells, but with the arms turned slightly so that the knuckles are now to the side instead of to the front, keeping the arms straight, raise the dumbells until they are at shoulder height or above. Although you will note that this exercise is similar to the movement where the dumbells are raised to the side while the body is inclined forward at right angles to the legs, no cheating is possible with this movement, so that better results are obtained.

There are two other exercises which will help the shoulders as well as the pectorals. It does not exactly belong in this group as it is performed with bent arms, but since you are in position, using your bench, you may as well practice them too. The first is known as the flying exercise, it is a favorite of our team member Jake Hitchins, and was instrumental in helping him build an 18 inch pair of arms and a wide spreading pair of shoulders. It is somewhat similar to the lateral raise except that the arms are permitted to bend at the elbows, therefore much heavier weights can be employed. Jake often used a pair of 100 pound dumbells. The movement is performed somewhat similarly to the flying of a bird. The dumbells are brought together above the upper chest, and then as low down as the upper abdomen, this brings the muscles into action over a wider range and of course places more muscles, ligaments and attachments in action. Continue this movement until tired.

The other exercise is somewhat similar to Steve Stanko’s third exercise except that instead of extending the arms forward and back at body level, they are folded over the body and brought forward close to the body in coming forward, in returning to the position at thighs the arms are kept straight and at body level.

These are the best of the leverage movements while lying down. If you desire to put in a day at times practicing only lying down exercises, you can repeat these movements as often as you like. It is not unusual for Steve Stanko to perform 5 series of 10 movements each with every one of his exercises which have been offered here.

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