On the 24th of April, 1954, I interviewed my friend Doug Hepburn and asked him some of the most frequently asked questions concerning himself and his training. Some of the opinions Doug voiced may surprise and even shock the gentle reader, so please bear in mind that these are the opinions of Doug Hepburn and not necessarily those of the writer or this magazine. I am using the Q & A format, quoting Doug directly.
Q: How about a few vital statistics, Doug?
A: I’m 27 years old, weigh 296 lbs., chest 57½ normal, thigh 32½, arm 22 (on anybody’s tape), forearm 15¾ held straight and I span 26 inches across the shoulders. (Here is a man who actually does turn sideways when he goes through a doorway.)
Q: What is your present diet?
A: I adhere to no set schedule . . . I eat when I feel like it. In the case of a man competing with heavyweight lifters in an area where they weigh up to 300 lbs. and over, he must force-feed himself to get and maintain this needed bodyweight. Forced food intake is not a healthy thing, but there is no moderation for a competing man. Extra weight around the midsection acts a support in pressing by giving better leverage and acts also as a cushion in squatting . . . A strongman should be 5’10” tall and have a “squat-like” build like Paul Anderson. (Doug went on to say that he eats large quantities of protein supplement to retain his heavy bodyweight because “it’s easier assimilated than other foods.”
Q: Who is the best lifter?
A: Pound for pound Tommy Kono is the best lifter. A number of Russian lifters in the lighter divisions are very outstanding. The most efficient lifter, I think, is Norbert Schemansky. I have great respect for men lifting such enormous poundages at such a bodyweight. Marvin Eder is a very strong young man, especially in the pressing department, and should do well in the three lifts if he can get amateur standing.
Q: Can you give some hints to would-be strongmen?
(This question led to several other topics and his principal comments are quoted here.)
A: I must see a man try . . . train for six months before I would help him . . . he must have the drive. It is harder to be a lifter than a bodybuilder . . . lifting is purely masculine whereas bodybuilding entails feminine traits. Bodybuilders remind me of a woman getting ready to go somewhere. Can you tell me that greasing your body up and posing in front of a mirror is masculine? A bodybuilder puts strength secondary to his physique, whereas the lifter puts strength foremost because it is more masculine to do so. The reason bodybuilding is on the upward trend is that the opposite sex have more and more influence over the males. Women do not like the large waistline necessary for the weightlifter . . . No! You don’t have to first become a bodybuilder to become a weightlifter . . . three reps in the various exercises are all you need to build size and strength. Low reps give a maximum improvement in strength and size of muscle and a minimum of fatigue. You don’t need a “pumped up” feeling to get big muscles. I tried high reps for my arms when I wanted to make them larger and I found they did nothing for my arm size. In any exercise I like doing 3 reps and no more than 5 reps. Sometimes I do one rep for good results. Exercises should be devoted to increasing the strength in regard to certain muscles used in lifting and that does not include the calves, pecs or biceps . . . I work out when I feel like it and do as many sets as my energy will allow. (My personal observation of Doug is that he does only one or two exercises a day when training for strength, and these exercises are: the full squat, supine press, and military press. He is now working really hard on the dead hang pull-ups in reps of two. This has brought his clean up to 400 lbs., which he did while training.)
Doug then went on to say, “I believe the king of all exercises is the bench press. However, I did get most of my power from handstand presses at which I did 15 reps at a bodyweight of 245 lbs. (Doug doesn’t do these handstand presses anymore, nor does he do the deadlift very often, except when training for a record in this lift, although he thinks they are important strength-giving exercises.)
Q: What hours do you sleep?
A: I average ten hours sleep a day. Weightlifting is very hard on the nervous system, so therefore must sleep and rest is needed for the muscles and the nerves. (Doug’s regular sleeping hours are from 2 a.m. to 1 p.m. He keeps late hours.)
Q: Doug, what do you do in your spare time?
A: I rest . . . lay around in the sun . . . conserve my energy. Among my recreational interests are playing snooker, going to the cinema, reading my encyclopedia, discussing philosophy, memorizing poetry. (He then gave a wonderful 10-minute recitation of Kellogg’s
Spartacus to the Gladiators at Capua
Ye call me chief; and ye do well to call him chief who for twelve long years has met upon the arena every shape of man or beast the broad Empire of Rome could furnish, and who never yet lowered his arm. If there be one among you who can say that ever, in public fight or private brawl, my actions did belie my tongue, let him stand forth and say it. If there be three in all your company dare face me on the bloody sands, let them come on.
And yet I was not always thus,--a hired butcher, a savage chief of still more savage men. My ancestors came from old Sparta, and settled among the vine-clad rocks and citron groves of Syrasella. My early life ran quiet as the brooks by which I sported; and when, at noon, I gathered the sheep beneath the shade, and played upon the shepherd's flute, there was a friend, the son of a neighbor, to join me in the pastime. We led our flocks to the same pasture, and partook together our rustic meal. One evening, after the sheep were folded, and we were all seated beneath the myrtle which shaded our cottage, my grandsire, an old man, was telling of Marathon and Leuctra; and how, in ancient times, a little band of Spartans, in a defile of the mountains, had withstood a whole army. I did not then know what war was; but my cheeks burned, I know not why, and I clasped the knees of that venerable man, until my mother, parting the hair from off my forehead, kissed my throbbing temples, and bade me go to rest, and think no more of those old tales and savage wars.
That very night the Romans landed on our coast. I saw the breast that had nourished me trampled by the hoof of the war-horse,--the bleeding body of my father flung amidst the blazing rafters of our dwelling! To-day I killed a man in the arena; and, when I broke his helmet-clasps, behold! he was my friend. He knew me, smiled faintly, gasped, and died;--the same sweet smile upon his lips that I had marked, when, in adventurous boyhood, we scaled the lofty cliff to pluck the first ripe grapes, and bear them home in childish triumph!
I told the prætor that the dead man had been my friend, generous and brave; and I begged that I might bear away the body, to burn it on a funeral pile, and mourn over its ashes. Ay! upon my knees, amid the dust and blood of the arena, I begged that poor boon, while all the assembled maids and matrons, and the holy virgins they call Vestals, and the rabble, shouted in derision, deeming it rare sport, forsooth, to see Rome's fiercest gladiator turn pale and tremble at the sight of that piece of bleeding clay! And the prætor drew back as I were pollution, and sternly said, "Let the carrion rot; there are no noble men but Romans."
And so, fellow-gladiators, must you, and so must I, die like dogs. O Rome! Rome! thou hast been a tender nurse to me. Ay! thou hast given to that poor, gentle, timid shepherd lad, who never knew a harsher tone than a flute-note, muscles of iron and a heart of flint; taught him to drive the sword through plaited mail and links of rugged brass, and warm it in the marrow of his foe;--to gaze into the glaring eyeballs of the fierce Numidian lion, even as a boy upon a laughing girl! And he shall pay thee back, until the yellow Tiber is red as frothing wine, and in its deepest ooze thy life-blood lies curdled!
Ye stand her now like giants, as ye are! The strength of brass is in your toughened sinews, but to-morrow some Roman Adonis, breathing sweet perfume from his curly locks, shall with his lily fingers pat your red brawn, and bet his sesterces upon your blood. Hark! hear ye yon lion roaring in his den? 'Tis three days since he has tasted flesh; but to-morrow he shall break his fast upon yours,--and a dainty meal for him ye will be!
If ye are beasts, then stand here like fat oxen, waiting for the butcher's knife! If ye are men, follow me! Strike down yon guard, gain the mountain passes, and there do bloody work, as did your sires at old Thermopylæ! Is Sparta dead? Is the old Grecian spirit frozen in your veins, that you do crouch and cower like a belabored hound beneath his master's lash? O comrades! warriors! Thracians! if we must fight, let us fight for ourselves! If we must slaughter, let us slaughter our oppressors! If we must die, let it be under the clear sky, by the bright waters, in noble, honorable battle!
Memorizing lengthy bits of poetry is only a small part of Doug’s literary activities. He is well read on many subjects pertaining to human behavior and is at present studying Yogic teachings and mysticism as interpreted by Paul Brunton
Doug is constantly enlarging his knowledge and understanding of life and its many forms.
To Doug Hepburn, weightlifting is hard work. His right calf deficiency will not permit the full movement necessary for heavy cleans. This is a barrier, one that he is fighting in order to please public demand that he continue in the Olympic lifts. He is a weightlifter by public pressure and not by personal choice. He is and will be by his own choice a strongman, in the true sense of the word. He enjoys doing feats which require a minimum of skill and a maximum of strength. He can’t picture Louis Cyr doing the Olympic lifts. He wants to be known, for years after his death, as the strongest man that ever lived.
It is quite common to hear Doug say something like this:
“Where is it all getting me? You do a 381 clean & press and they want 400. Do 400 and they want 430. And what do you get for it? Pats on the back . . . all the pats on the back won’t buy you a meal when you’re fifty and forgotten. I want security now and in my old age. Sure, I could go on remaining an amateur and more than likely clean & press 430, but why should I? Cleaning that much weight would require much hard work on the clean . . . something I don’t enjoy doing . . . something which is painful and difficult for me because of my right calf deficiency.”
When we first met the Russians, in 1946 at the World’s Championships in Paris, they had a pretty good pressing style. They held the bar on the chest with a rather wide hand spacing. They stood with raised chests and a moderate back bend. Kassianak, the featherweight champion of Russia in that distant day, claims to be the inventor of this method. I have seen Kassianak in Moscow on my last two trips, and he officiated both times.
With this pressing style Gregori Novak pushed the lightheavyweight record from an ordinary 253½, held during the war years officially by Gietl of Germany, to 308½ lbs. in the lifting in Paris in 1946. He broke the record a pound at a time, and received a lot of worldwide acclaim as well as considerable coin of the realm, rubles in this case, as the Russians pay well for each world record.
The Russians were good pressers and at times held some of the world records. Members of the American team have at various times held all the world records, also, but all of those records have gone, and most of the Russian lifters’ records too. The Hungarians learned to outpress the Russians, with what we would call a jerk press, so the bantamweight record is held by Foldi at 253½, the featherweight record by Foldi at 272, the middleweight record at 324 by Veres of Hungary, the lightheavyweight record, 341, by Veres. The Russians hold the lightweight record, the midheavy record and the heavyweight record. Vlasov, who somehow or other broke Paul Anderson’s world record by pressing 415, was unable to press more than 391¼ at the recent world championships in Budapest. I was one of the officials as Stepanov failed to make a world record in the mid-heavyweight class at Moscow a year ago, yet since then he has been credited with 351½, which has been accepted as a world record.
All of this proves just one thing – that a lifter who “presses without sin” cannot hold a world record. It has been said that in Rome, you must do as the Romans do. In weightlifting you must do as the Russians do, and the Hungarians, and a lot of others too, who have mastered this style of pressing. All of the members of the 1946 Russian team are still around. The middleweights of that team, Shatov and Bozhko, are the head coaches in Russia.
Pushkerev, who was the other lightheavyweight on that team of 1946, claims to have been the man who invented the present Russian style of pressing. The present style of Russian pressing starts, as they did in 1946, with a fairly wide hand grip, the chest raised, the body leaning back slightly. From this point, most of them move the weight overhead like lightning. The lifter straightens up a bit, and then drops back to pass the sticking point, and he comes up as the weight raises. Thus they lean back, push forward with their body, as well as their arms, lean back, and press the weight up. A good share of them have knee action, some smooth like Vorobiov used to do it, some rough like Plukfelder’s pressing of last year. Starting with the knees already bent, he would bend still farther and get the weight up with a heave of the knees and a jerk of the body. He received three white lights for a 308½ press, a 319½ press and a 330½ press in the 181 lb. class. I asked him what he thought he could press correctly, and he said 286½, but I think it would be as low as 264½.
Perhaps the officials have bad eyes, perhaps the lift is done so quickly that they cannot see the knee action, the overall body movement. Bushuev, who was a former world, and the last Olympic weightlifting champion, the lightweight of the Soviet Union who lifted against the American team in Chicago, Detroit and New York, was one of the first masters of this style. He would ram it up so fast that the officials could not see what happened. At Rome he pressed 275½ and totaled 876¼.
Soon Lopatin, 20 year old son of the Russian lightweight lifter who was beaten by Pitman, Kono and George back in the days when the Americans were winning world titles, made a world record press record of 292½. Even this record has been beaten, just as Bushuev’s total record was beaten with Lopatin’s 892¾, and at the last world’s championships Kaplunov, the hunter from Siberia, made a new world record of 914¾ in the lightweight class. The world press record in this class is just short of 300 pounds.
When Lopatin is about to press, he lowers the weight and sinks back slightly, waiting for the signal to press to be given; then suddenly the weight is at arms’ length. I do not believe that any present-day official could see what happens, that is, with the naked eye. I knew there was a lot of hip action, but the rules say nothing about hip action. I did not see any knee action as I could see with Vorobiov, Plukfelder, Stepanov, Vlasov and others. I did not see any leaning back after the signal to press was given, but like a shot from a gun, it went from the shoulders to arms’ length. Only with the Analizer, a new method of viewing athletes in action, five times as slow as slow motion, can you see just what happens during this explosive effort. There is at least an 18-inch movement of the center of the body, as is shown with the sketches accompanying this article.
Look at the photos of Lopatin carefully. You will notice that he is leaning back slightly, not nearly enough for disqualification; his knees are slightly bent, but again, not nearly enough for disqualification. Note that he has drawn his hips back, and that he shoots them forward. The legs are ten times as strong as the arms, the hips and legs are ½ of the muscular bulk of the body, so here you see a lot of help in the press, from the largest and strongest muscles of the body.
If the lean back in the third picture were assumed slowly, many officials would rule it out. At the Melbourne Olympics, Jim George, who at that time had not mastered this style, would bend back like a hinge, and was disqualified for his second two presses with 275½. He later learned to do better, smoother work with this type of pressing, and has pressed in pretty good form 308½ lbs. Something of a triumph for a man who certainly does not have favorable leverage.
If you had seen Lopatin press as often as I have you would think that he is pretty close to being the best presser in the world, and you would be doubly amazed then to see what the Analizer shows of his pressing style. As the lift is made, there seems to be no cause for disqualification, almost no noticeable movement, no noticeable back bend. The action is so fast that you cannot see it, but the pictures show just how much movement there is.
As I said before, it is no longer possible to place high in world championships by pressing without sin. Tommy Kono made one of those presses without sin at Budapest with 330½. But you will notice that even Tommy, a smooth presser, puts his hips back as he is ready to press and brings them forward into a more favorable position.
This style has been adopted all over the world. It can be done smoothly enough that no official can turn such a press down. At Budapest, the Russians in particular were amazed as they saw Tony Garcy press 275½ to a three-white-light success. They asked if all the Americans pressed that way. I had to admit that all did not, but we are trying to. Not one of our team was turned down on a press except Gary Gubner with his second press with 380¼, which was definitely a back bend, but he took it again and got a success. Our fellows made tremendous presses – 314 for Gary Cleveland, 325 for Bill March and 402½ for Norbert Schemansky.
Tony Garcy spent his summers in York, before he came here permanently as a high school teacher. He ran the films time after time as he watched Bushuev in particular press, and he finally mastered the style. He pressed 290 while he weighed 154, just before the Olympics. After the Olympics he did not lift for a year, as he wanted to complete his education, but lifting was back in his blood so now his ambition is to win the Olympic title in his class at Tokyo. That will take a lot of lifting, but I feel sure that no one in his class will outpress him at Tokyo.
Others of the American team are making progress with a correct version of this style of pressing, for it is not the intention of officials in this country to pass jerk presses. Floyd Spirito is one of the best with this style, having pressed 290 as a middleweight. Bill March would press this way to about 310, and then just stand and push, which caused some disqualifications as there is usually a noticeable lean back with a slow press. But now he is mastering it better every day, so that his 343½ press made recently would have passed anywhere. I believe that Bill will reach the world record in his class. It is essential that American lifters master this style in passable form, for it helps a lot in weightlifting competition to go ahead in the press. The time has gone where a poor presser can come through to victory in the snatch and clean & jerk, as Pete and Jim George would do with their world record ability in the quick lifts. Now you have to be a star in all three lifts. So study the pictures, and learn to do likewise.
What many lifters may not know is that in the area of high reps they may be gifted. I am not saying there is anything easy about a tough 50 or 100-rep set of squats or deadlifts. What I am saying is you might naturally be suited to high reps. You might ask, of what value is such high-rep work, and what is needed to actually do it?
First of all, you will have to be relentless to do it. Not so much to be intense, but to be relentless. When you get to the point where you can go below parallel on the squat with 200 lbs. for 100-150 reps, in no more than 10 minutes, and do the same with the deadlift, you will have made yourself tougher and will also be in great shape. You definitely won’t have to worry about being an “average” lifter.
At the Pit, a 500 lb. deadlift is average, and we have a 123-lb. lifter trainer who is after such a lift. But not many are after Dave Wedding’s squat and deadlift records because the high-rep work is so tough to do. Lots of people could do it in time. Most of all you have to be relentless, unforgiving in intensity and merciless to your own body.
As a child, I never envisioned myself as being a weight lifter. I played baseball and football and did well. I was a catcher on my Little League team, and middle linebacker on my 8th grade football team. My problem, then, was that I was 4’ 11” and weighed 78 lbs. During my high school years I grew at a slow rate, so that in my senior year I was about 5’5” and 130 lbs.
It wasn’t until I was 18 that I started a program trying to make myself bigger. At home I would do pushups while watching TV, then go outside and do chins off an old swing set. Later on, I joined a health spa. It was the usual ‘get as many members as possible’ place, bank the money and then forget about the members. Not one person in that spa trained their lower body. In 1980, after a year and a half of the spa mess, I joined the Pit.
After several weeks in the gym I approached Dick Conner and asked him if he could teach me to powerlift. The next six months nearly killed me. I was not used to training my lower body or the big muscle groups. Dick also cut out all the excessive movements I was doing at the health spa.
When I first learned to squat, it was like trying to ride a bike, learning to ice skate. I felt clumsy and embarrassed, and started with an empty 45-lb. bar until I could keep my back flat and squat below parallel. I could not believe that 10 exercises per workout would build my body. I had always seen the spa members perform set after set of each exercise and now Dick Conner was telling me that I had overtrained immensely. I am happy I trusted Coach Conner and stuck with it.
For my first powerlifting meet, Dick welcomed me to lift with his team so I could be introduced to the sport. He emphasized that I shouldn’t worry about my total since this would be a learning experience. My lifts were 265 squat, 195 bench and 380 deadlift in the 165 lb. class. I decided I was going to work my rear end off and show Dick I wasn’t a quitter.
Over the next several years I trained diligently, and listened to Coach Conner and his training philosophy. He would tell me to come to the gym, give it everything I had, then leave and not worry about it. My lifts rose slowly, but they rose.
After six years in powerlifting I squatted 455, deadlifted 540 and bench pressed 259 in the 165 lb. class. These were fair lifts but six years of grueling training told me that I would never be a top lifter. Something I found out in my years of training was that I had the ability to train high reps with moderate weight quite well. I had read stories from Dr. Ken Leistner about people performing high reps in the squat and deadlift and I knew I would have a better chance of performing these types of strength feats than single reps. I talked this over with Dick and he agreed with me. He told me I should only train twice a week since I’d be going at it so hard.
As of the time of writing (1995), I have squatted 200 lbs. for 123 reps, which is a gym record. It took me a few seconds over 10 minutes. I have squatted 300 lbs. for 30 reps and 235 lbs. for 65 reps, each in under 10 minutes. My bodyweight was 175 at the time. I have also deadlifted 200 lbs. for 120 reps and 400 for 15.
If you’re having difficulty gaining weight, don’t for one minute imagine you’re the only one with troubles. 80% of all bodybuilders go through the same trials and tribulations as you. Out of this vast number, a mere half-dozen will solve their problems through sheer luck. They’ll hit on the right combination of sets, reps, exercise and rest through the process of trial and error, and after many months of effort have gone by will eventually begin to put on the pounds. The rest will waste just as much time floundering around trying this or that routine without the remotest signs of success and will at last give up in despair and disgust.
I’m going to show you a sure way to gain bulk and power and I’m also going to show you how the “hit-or-miss” trainer and the “bulk-gaining failure” could have succeeded. All they had to do was try and completely understand their individual gaining problems, for the simple reason that when every side of a problem is understood, a man almost automatically knows what to do to overcome it. Plenty of people will tell you that your physical type has an influence on the degree of bulk you can obtain, and this is mainly true. Obviously no man with the framework of a Tony Sansone can hope to build the bulk of a Doug Hepburn. But such and individual CAN get rid of his skinny appearance, and gain the right amount of muscular massiveness and proportionate appearance that his frame is able to carry.
As for age preventing you from gaining bulk . . . I can’t go along with this theory either. Modern weight training has made it possible for anyone from 16 to 60 to gain weight. So long as a man enjoys good general health, no matter what his age or physical type, his body MUST and WILL respond.
Failure to gain can be caused by many things, and it is always advisable for a lifter to examine his own case objectively. Is he getting proper food and enough of it? Has he any focal points of infection? Does he smoke heavily? Is he getting sufficient rest? Does he find himself constantly worrying over trifles that have yet to even occur? Any one of these factors can mean the difference between success and failure to gain.
If you have bad teeth or tonsils, have them examined and treated. If you are a night owl, prone to missing sleep, start keeping regular hours. If you smoke heavily, cut down the number of cigarettes daily, or quit altogether.
Perhaps the best thing a bodybuilder can do if he wants to gain bulk is to see that his meals are big and hearty. A nourishing diet is the only way to add weight to your frame. There is no escaping this fact, so determine now that you will fuel your efforts with the proper quantity of healthful food.
You MUST eat three big meals daily and you MUST drink plenty of liquids . . . milk with your meals and milk or fruit and vegetable juices between meals. Your diet should be high in protein. All types of meat should be eaten, starch intake should be stepped up, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables should be eaten in abundance. In addition to the above changes in your diet, you should make use of weight-gaining and protein drinks prepared in a blender.
Close companion of the adequate diet is the exercise routine. It is useless for you to perform exercises which affect only local muscle groups. Increases in body weight come from OVERALL increases. Obviously you stand to gain more weight if EVERY muscle group in the body is worked than if you exercise say, only your back or your arms. Yet at the same time, such a weight gaining schedule must be planned with an eye to energy conservation. In other words the schedule must use as FEW exercises as possible yet effect affect as MANY muscle groups as possible. This is where cheating versions of compound exercises can be used.
There’s one other factor to take into consideration that some may disagree with. Contrary to popular opinion that low reps build bulk, it is my personal experience that a system of working up to 15 repetitions is best for bulk building. This will create an appreciable appetite for food, and effect changes in metabolism that will lead directly to weight increases . . . through the more efficient utilization of the food eaten.
Take my experience as an example. At the time I made my biggest bulk gains I did six sets of every movement using 15-20 reps. I gained 33 pounds in a 2½ month period. It seemed like each time I stepped on the scales I’d gained a couple of pounds! And let me again emphasize the high reps, which I used with all the weight I could handle in the various movements . . . AND I kept myself supplied with plenty of nutrient-rich foods.
The very best time any man can begin a bulk training routine is right at the start of his lifting career. After he has gained all the bulk he wants he can then begin to specialize for proportion and muscularity. But bear in mind that a bulk program does not imply that you pile on mere flesh. Hard MUSCULAR BULK is what you MUST strive for. Don’t overdo the eating and think it will miraculously turn to muscle. Beyond a certain caloric level all you will gain is fat that will have to be lost at a later date. I have chosen some of the finest movements for building bulk and which form the basis of any bulk training program. The first one is . . .
1.) Heavy Bench Press – Lie on an exercise bench with a barbell held at arms’ length above your chest, hand spacing about an inch from the collars. Lower the weight down with a slight bounce off the chest press it back to arms’ length. As the reps become increasingly tough, bridge up off the bench to press the bar to full lockout. FORCE out each and every repetition. Cheat all you have to and don’t be afraid to take several breaths between reps. Start off with the reps performed in fairly strict style and then bounce and bridge the barbell up to force out the repetitions.
2.) Heavy Cheat Barbell Curl – What your best single curl performed in strict style? Well . . . take that weight to use as your EXERCISE poundage in cheat curls. Standing, use your normal curl grip, bend forward at the waist, then return swiftly to an upright position, starting your curl at the same time and bending back a little to complete the curl. The motion of the body should assist the curl to the shoulders. Lower the weight back to starting position as steadily as you can and repeat the exercise. This movement, especially the lowering, forces the biceps into growth.
3.) Cheat Bentover Row – Grasp a barbell in your hands as you stand erect . . . your hand spacing should be a few inches wider than shoulder-width. Now bend forward at the waist until your body is level with the floor, forming right angles with your legs. Drop your body down a bit then pull swiftly up to just above parallel position, at the same time pulling the barbell up to the chest. The movement of the trunk and the pull up of the bar should be made together, so that body movement imparts motion to the barbell. Lower the weight steadily down from the chest and repeat the exercise. this is an all-round movement for the back.
4.)Squat – This movement has always been a mainstay of a weight gaining program since it works the largest muscle groups of the body. Take the weight off the squat racks, and spread your hands along the bar wide so the largest shoulder area supports the bar. Take three deep breaths, forcing the air in and forcing it out. On the third breath drop down into a deep squat and as soon as you hit rock bottom, bounce back up to the erect position, breathing out as you do so. Take another three deep breaths and repeat the exercise. Don’t forget to force that air into your lungs and force it out.
5.) Cheat Upright Row – Stand erect with a barbell held in your hands, fairly narrow grip, at full downward stretch of the arms. Lean the body forward a little at the waist and return it with a snap to upright position, at the same time pulling the bar up to the throat. The movement of your body and rowing motion should be made at the same time, so body motion helps with the pull up. Lower the bar down to commencing position steadily and repeat.
In all five of these movements, start off with a poundage you can handle for 9 repetitions and work to 15, 3 sets each exercise. As soon as you can manage the 3 x 15 increase the weight and drop back to 3 sets of 9.
Although the pair of two-handed lifts currently performed in Olympic-lift competition have proven their popularity over the years, they are by no means the only set that could be used with equal – or possibly even greater – success. The same type of lifts – Snatch, and Clean & Jerk, respectively – when performed with one hand rather than with two – call upon general bodily strength to the same degree as when using two hands, and in addition require greater control, agility, grace and balance.
Too, one-arm overhead lifts of all kinds bring into play and develop the muscles of the side-waist (external or oblique muscles) to a far greater extent than do lifts made with two arms acting together, since the latter require no side-bending at the waist. Some of the greatest professional strongmen on record have been capable exponents of one-arm overhead lifting: Sandow, Cyr, “Apollon,” Hackenschmidt, Lurich, Rolandow, all three Saxons, Edward Aston, Charles Rigoulot, to name only a few. The present dissertation will be confined to the One Hand Snatch (OHS) which one British writer referred to as “The lift that calls for brain and brawn.”
In the days when the English heavyweight Ronald Walker was astonishing the followers of weightlifting with his remarkable performances at a bodyweight of only 195-200 lbs. (height 71.5 inches), the following encomium to the OHS was made in the London weekly Health and Strength:
“In all the various phases of weightlifting there is no spectacle more thrilling than a perfectly executed One Hand Snatch. Swiftly and cleanly the bell leaves the ground. With lightning speed the body drops beneath it. For a trembling second the weight hangs motionless. Then speed and control, timing and power combine and verge. The arms lock; the body straightens; the legs snap into position. In two short seconds the lift is finished – two seconds of scientific strength technique at it thrilling, most spectacular best.”
In view of such praise, why is it that in both Olympic lifting and Powerlifting only two-arm lifts are used – is it because today’s lifters are unwilling to master the skill required in one-arm lifts? Or is it because today’s enthusiasts are apprehensive about tackling something unfamiliar? More on this delicate subject anon; meanwhile, let’s get on with the One Hand Snatch.
To start with, the OHS can be performed with a DUMBELL as well as a barbell. However, the latter is the conventional piece of apparatus. So, unless mention of a dumbell is made in the following discussion, it can be assumed that all the records quoted were made using a BARBELL. For the benefit of those not thoroughly familiar with the technique of the One Hand Snatch (and among present-day Olympic and Powerlifting men there may be an army of such individuals!), a concise description of its performance is as follows.
Standing over the barbell, space the feet equidistant from the center of the handle and about 12 inches apart from heel to heel. Stoop down by bending at the knees, hips and back. Grasp the bar in the exact center, which should be marked beforehand, either with chalk or by adhesive tape wrapped around the bar. Then – assuming that the lift is being made with the right hand – place the left hand just above the left knee, as in the accompanying drawing. Note that the fingers of the left hand (NOT the thumb) are on the inner side of the thigh. This position of the hand enables the left arm to be bent freely as the subsequent “dip” under the weight is made. Another point connected with the start of this lift is that the lifting arm should not SLANT too much from hand to shoulder, but for maximum efficiency should be STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN, or nearly so. This can be brought about by moving the feet slightly to one side of the center of the barbell handle. Thus, in a snatch with the right arm, as illustrated, the arm can be brought to a perpendicular position by moving the feet slightly to the LEFT, which will bring the right shoulder directly over the right hand. This may seem like a lot of explanation before the lift is even on its way, but it is details such as these that can add a few pounds to one’s lift.
Now, when perfectly “set,” as just described, straighten the body and legs simultaneously, press down strongly on the left knee with the left hand, and pull the bar upward and backward as high as you can. Put every ounce of your strength and speed into the effort. As the bell reaches shoulder-level and its momentum slows down, dip under it by bending the knees to the extent necessary to “fix” the weight on a straight arm. With the bell held securely in balance, straighten the body to a fully erect position and hold the weight overhead for several seconds. Be sure, in this lift – as in all other one-arm overhead lifts – to KEEP YOUR EYE STEADILY ON THE BELL so as to maintain it (as well as yourself!) in perfect balance. A sure sign of an inexperienced (or just careless) lifter is where the performer staggers all over trying to recover the balance in a lift that he has already started in an off-center direction.
It may be added that in order to dip under the weight with the least loss of time, the feet should be placed at the start of the lift in a position that enables a full squat to be made WITHOUT MOVING THEM. To accomplish this, before grasping the barbell, find out by experiment the distance apart that you must place your feet for the easiest position to squat in while holding the weight on one hand overhead. The toes should be pointed outwards to whatever extent best permits dropping into the position shown in our illustration. In this connection, Mark Jones often would perform a snatch with his left arm in a foot position where the weight should be held in his RIGHT arm! However, since Jones was perhaps the best all-round weightlifter of his bodyweight in the United States in his day (c. 1919), it only goes to show that there can be exceptions to every rule.
When smoothly and correctly performed, the several aforementioned stages of the Snatch all merge into one, and the bell is taken from the ground to overhead seemingly in a single, continuous movement. Preparatory to lowering the weight, it should be shifted overhead into both hands, then lowered to the shoulders and down as in a two-hand lift. If one is attempting a really heavy lift – specifically a One Hand Snatch, where it may get out of control – there should be a “catcher” stationed at each end of the bell, ready to grasp it the instant it is seen as falling. In this connection, I personally, many years ago, was seriously injured when one of my catchers was “asleep at the switch.” I was attempting a One Hand Snatch of 171½ lbs. with my left arm. One of my catchers was the famous Henry Steinborn, who caught his end of the backward-falling weight satisfactorily; but the other catcher, who is best left unnamed, shifted his gaze at the crucial moment to a girl whom he saw crossing the street outside. The result? – my left arm was dislocated (hyperextended) at the elbow, with the ligaments so damaged that to this day I am unable to fully straighten the arm.
In performing a Snatch, the bell must be raised overhead WITHOUT PRESSING OR PUSHING to get the arm straight at the finish. That is, the lift must be accomplished by the power of the initial pull, plus the extent to which the lifter is able to dip and get his arm straight after that pull is exhausted. With a light weight, the pull may be sufficient to carry the bell all the way to arm’s length overhead without need of a dip. With a heavy (to him) weight, however, the lifter may have to squat clear down on his heels in order to get under the bell with a straight arm.
Some of the old-time super-heavyweight strongmen were so huge and bulky that in making a lift to the shoulders or overhead they either could not or did not dip under the weight. For a long time, I had supposed that the reason lifters weighing over 300 lbs., such as Louis Cyr and Karl Swoboda, were unable to lift to the shoulders in a single “clean’ movement as much weight as they could easily jerk overhead, was because they couldn’t clear their huge bellies with the barbell handle. However, when the phenomenal Soviet super-heavyweight Olympic champion Vasily Alexeev, who allegedly had a waist girth of over 60 inches (!), became the first man to clean 500 lbs., subsequently increasing this to over 560 lbs., it became evident that a big belly was no bar to speed and agility in shouldering a weight, provided one trained long enough and hard enough. But as will be related further on, whether any of today’s top performers in Olympic two-hand lifting can remotely approach the proportionate poundages in one-hand lifting, especially the One Hand Snatch, remains to be seen.
The best performers in the OHS – all of whom must now be looked upon as “old-timers” – were principally French and German lifters. In their time – which extended from the 1890s up to 1930 or so – weightlifting standards, because of fewer performers and lesser competition, were necessarily lower than they are today. And in the One Hand Snatch – which during a period of over 40 years was one of the favorite competition lifts – it was considered a noteworthy performance for a lifter, whether amateur or professional, to snatch with one hand a bell as heavy as himself, that is, a bodyweight one hand snatch. Quite a number of lightweight and middleweight strongmen came to be able to snatch more than their bodyweight, but the number of heavyweights who could do likewise was, and remained, very small. The reason for this, of course, is the fact that muscular strength varies in relation to muscular CROSS-SECTION rather than body volume or weight. However, in cases where the cross-section is high in relation to the weight, on account of the HEIGHT being low or short, strength CAN vary directly as bodyweight. As a general rule, though, muscular strength and quickness of bodily movement both become relatively less as bodyweight increases, and this is the reason why big men rarely lift as much in proportion to their weight as do smaller men. Here too, however, there are exceptions to the general rule, as witness the One Hand Snatch by Charles Rigoulot, which is commented upon later in this discussion.
Perhaps one of the first athletes to attain a high standard of proficiency in the OHS was a German professional named Simon Bauer, who in or about the year 1890, and at a bodyweight of 141 pounds, did a Right Hand Snatch of 75 kg. (165.34 lbs.), or over 24 pounds more than his own weight. An even more remarkable lift by the same athlete was to snatch 70 kilos (154.32 lbs.) on a bar 55 mm. (2.16 inches) in diameter. This indicated tremendous gripping strength; but perhaps Bauer had disproportionately large hands for his height and weight.
Some of the old-time strongmen in the light bodyweight classes who excelled at the One Hand Snatch were Otto Arco (Poland), who at a bodyweight of 138 pounds snatched 71 kilos (156.52 lbs.). Aaron Beattie (Australia) who weighed 136¼ pounds, snatched 145.50 lbs. Josef Whur, (Germany) at 138 lbs. snatched 145.50; while Emil Kliment (Australia), who weighed only 130 pounds, snatched 141.53 lbs. Arco, when weighing 137 pounds, also snatched 137.12 pounds with his LEFT hand. He was thereby perhaps one of the first to snatch his bodyweight with either hand. However, if he had shown the average 6% difference between his right and left hand snatches, instead of over 12%, he would have been capable of 147 lbs. with his left hand instead of only 137. Evidently he was very much stronger in his right hand than in his left – a condition which has been noted in a number of other topnotch strongmen. Edward Aston, for example, who at a bodyweight of 161 lbs. snatched 184 with his right hand, did “only” 162 pounds with his left, which was still a highly meritorious performance.
Monte Saldo, another English professional, at 144 pounds snatched 149 with his right hand, while Albert Soguel, a Swiss professional, in a contest with the English featherweight W. L. Carquest, did a left hand snatch of 144½ pounds at a bodyweight of 132. This was in 1911. Carquest, who was very capable at certain other lifts, notably the Bent Press, in which he had a record of 222 pounds at a bodyweight of 126½, was relatively poor in the OHS, in which he did only 123 pounds. The lifts made by a number of other feather-weight, lightweight, and middleweight strongmen in the One Hand Snatch are listed in the accompanying table. As will be seen there, the most extraordinary lightweight was Ibrahim Shams, of Egypt, who snatched with his right hand no less than 190 lbs. when weighing only 143. Even so, this lift was somewhat below the standards of his more familiar two-hand lifts, in which he had phenomenal records of 115 kg. (253.53 lbs.) in the Snatch and 153.5 kg. (338.42 lbs.) in the Clean & Jerk. As if these official poundages were not high enough, Shams had unofficial marks of 120 kg. (264.55 lbs.) in the Two Hands Snatch and 160 kg. (352.74 pounds) !!! in the Clean & Jerk. These fantastic “quick” lifts he was able to accomplish largely because of his dazzling speed. Indeed, in the 1936 Olympic Games at Berlin, Shams was adjudged as having the fasted reflexes of any athlete participating in any of the events.
To resume with the One Hand Snatch, probably one of the first “heavyweight” (although only 190-pound) strongmen to snatch more than his bodyweight was the famous George Hackenschmidt, who on April 27, 1898 (shortly after his 20th birthday), in an official World Competition held in Vienna, snatched with his right hand 89.5 kilos (197.31 lbs.). Although Pierre Bonnes, the French lifter, who had also competed at Vienna, snatched a half-kilo more, or 198.41 pounds, unofficially a short time afterwards, Hackenschmidt’s lift remained the amateur world record until August 1904, when Heinrich Schneidereidt, a topnotch German lifter, increased it to 200.17 pounds. Then, in May 1910, the celebrated lifter Louis Vasseur raised it to 95 kilos, or 209.43 pounds. The record returned to Germany in November 1912, when Heinrich Rondi, a big heavyweight from Düsseldorf, snatched the then-tremendous amount of 219.90 pounds. The world’s heavyweight amateur record remained in Germany until the summer of 1925, when the rising French champion Charles Rigoulot increased it for the first time beyond 100 kilos. His record was 101 kg. or 222.66 lbs.
Limited space forbids more than a brief mention of some of the many athletes who have made notable records in the One Hand Snatch. I have a list of over 30 different strongmen who have each snatched 200 pounds or more with one hand. By far the best heavyweight record is that which was made in Paris in the spring of 1930 by Charles Rigoulot, who by then had become a professional. His bodyweight at the time was 225 pounds (height, 67.7 inches). Accordingly, he stands at the top of the accompanying table, with a phenomenal rating of 1100 points. It should be noted, however, that in making this lift Rigoulot used a specially designed, shot-loading bell with globular rather than plate-loading ends. This barbell was over 8 feet in length, and the great distance between the globes made the handle exceedingly springy. And since, after the initial momentum imparted to the bar, the lead shot inside the globes would be momentarily suspended in space (and therefore not being “lifted”), it is possible that Rigoulot got an advantage out of using this barbell, even though the technique of handling it was a special one that had to be learned. What he could have lifted if he had used a regulation plate-loading barbell (or “Berg Hantel”) will never be known, but such a bell might have the effect of lowering his lift in the One Hand Snatch, for example, by as much as 10 pounds. Even so, Rigoulot would remain the world’s greatest exponent of the OHS in the heavyweight classes, although this point-rating might fall slightly below that of star performers in lighter classes. The accompanying table, along with the graph derived from it, should clearly show who were the leading performers in the OHS between the year 1898, when George Hackenschmidt made the first official heavyweight amateur record, and 1953, when Asdaroff, also of Russia, snatched 164.8 pounds when weighing 123. I may have overlooked a few performers who should also have been listed in the table, but if so it was unintentional!
A few “odd” or unstandardized, performances in the One Hand Snatch are here added for the benefit of those who may be interested. First, however, it should be noted that the poundage to be expected with the left (or less capable) arm is, on the average, about 94% of that with the right (or more capable) arm. That is, if a lifter can snatch 200 pounds with his right arm (assuming he is right-handed), he should, if properly trained, be capable of about 188 pounds with his left arm. Rigoulot’s best left hand snatch, though, was only 100.5 kg. (221.56 lbs.), which was less than 88% of his right hand record. Rigoulot made both lifts in the spring of 1930, in Paris, at a bodyweight of 225 pounds. Earlier, in 1928, when weighing 238 pounds, he made a Right Hand Snatch of 221.56 pounds using a DUMBELL.
Now for some unofficial, yet highly meritorious One Hand Snatches.
Away back in 1896, in a public exhibition in Chicago, Louis Cyr, the “Canadian Samson,” snatched with both his right and left hands a solid barbell of 188½ pounds, the handle of which was 1⅝ inches in diameter. But since Cyr’s right arm was six or seven percent stronger than his left, it could well be that, as a limit lift with his right hand, he could have snatched on this same bar 200 pounds. And since it is doubtful whether Cyr, with his relatively short, thick hands could have secured a strong “hook grip” (thumb- lock) on a bar 1⅝ inches thick (even if he had deigned to employ such an aid!), his one-arm snatches – which he is said to have performed virtually without bending his arm – are examples additionally of extra-ordinary grip strength.
John (Grunn) Marx, the old-time Luxembourg strongman, did a Right Hand Snatch of 70 kg. (154.32 lbs.) on a barbell the handle of which was 70 mm. (2¾ inches) in diameter. The world-famous Arthur Saxon, though he usually only weighed about 200 pounds, had exceedingly large hands and a powerful grip and fingers. One example of this strength was when he snatched with his right hand 93.5 kg. (206.13 lbs.) on a bar 42 mm. (1.65 in.) in diameter. If he made this lift without hooking his second finger with his thumb (i.e. using a “hooked grip), it indicated gripping strength. Saxon also snatched 237 pounds to shoulder height, then finished the lift overhead with a quick Bent Press. What a lifter! The giant French “super-athlete,” Apollon (Louis Uni) snatched with his right hand 80 kg. (173.36 lbs.), made up of four 44-pound rectangular ringweights, the ring of each weight being hooked with a single finger.
George Lurich – who next to George Hackenschmidt was the most famous old-time strongman to have come from Estonia (Russia) – was a remarkable all-around weightlifter, especially in “quick” lifts. He weighed generally between 187 and 190 pounds at a height of 69.3 inches. One of his “odd” lifts was to snatch approximately 160 pounds with his right hand while keeping his arm STRAIGHT (cf. Louis Cyr, above).
As to REPETITION one-arm snatches, Alexander Aberg, a Russian heavyweight wrestler and weightlifter who was a foster-brother of Lurich, snatched a barbell of 41 kg (90.38 lbs.) 53 times in succession and 49.5 kg. (109.12 lbs.) 30 times. For comparison with these lifts there is Hermann Goerner’s One Hand SWING of a dumbell weighing 50 kg. (110.23 lbs.), 48 times in succession. And the poundage possible in a Swing is slightly LESS than that in a Snatch.
Since neither the One Hand Snatch nor the One Hand Clean & Jerk (which in competition is to be performed with the OPPOSITE hand to that used in the Snatch) have been used in international or Olympic competition for many years, records have soared in the presently-used Two Hands Snatch and Two Hands Clean & Jerk, while remaining mostly what they were 50 years ago in the One Hand Lifts. In this connection, a possible new world’s heavyweight record was made when the Russian super-heavyweight former champion, Vasily Alexeev, snatched 105 kg. or 231.48 lbs. in an exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada, when in 1977 a group of Soviet weightlifters visited the gambling metropolis. The reason given for Alexeev’s not performing in the customary two-arm lifts was that he had shortly before injured his right hand to an extent that it made it inadvisable to use it. So, after warming up with 90 kilos and 100 kilos, Alexeev snatched the 105 kg. bell. However, his style was atrocious, and the weight was out of balance at the finish. The significance of all this is that to be on a par with today’s super-heavyweight records in the Two Hands Snatch (over 400 lbs.) and the Two Hands Clean & Jerk (over 560 lbs.), the One Hand Snatch should be no less than 300 pounds and ideally about 350 pounds. For the ratio of a One Hand Snatch to a Two Hands Clean is, and always has been, 62½%, or as 5 is to 8.
The writer of the account of Alexeev’s “possible” one-hand Snatch record ended up with the remark, “who cares?”. Well, I for one, care; and so do the many other old-time lifters who remember the days when the OHS was the most thrilling of all exhibition or competition lifts. And the significance of Alexeev’s showing as a one-handed lifter, even though it is doubtless better than that of many present-day performer, is that the two standard (two-arm) Olympic lifts of today have been practiced to an obsessive degree while other, equally appropriate, competitive lifts have been abandoned – as though their practice belonged exclusively to a bygone era! It would be a refreshing change if officials in charge of international weightlifting would reflect on the extent to which the Two Hands Snatch and Clean & Jerk have become SPECIALIZED out of all proportion to the ideal goal; namely, a lifter who is capable of using not only his two arms together but each arm SEPARATELY. And the same criticism – over-prolonged specialization – applies also to the present speed-lacking trio of Powerlifts. AMEN!
When I first began training, my goal was to get as big as possible just as fast as possible. Most of my earlier workouts were devoted to squats, bench presses and curls. After meeting Marvin Eder in 1949, I began to train with him at John Terlazzo’s Gym in New York City. During the four years that Marvin and I trained together I really learned the importance of lat work.
Well-developed lats add the finishing touch to a man’s upper body. Steve Reeves was probably the first bodybuilder who really specialized on lat width. Since Steve won the Mr. America title in 1947, massive lat development has really been in vogue.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to see a great many physique champions train. In almost every case, the men with the most sensational upper back-lat development agree that one exercise in particular helped them achieve their exceptional development – THE TWO ARM CHIN.
There are many variations of chinning. I have found a method that seems to thicken and widen the lats much faster than any other chin-up movement. Before actually describing the lat specialization program, there are a few training hints I would like to pass along to you.
To my way of thinking, the most important thing to remember when working a muscle is to fully concentrate all of your attention on what you are doing. It is necessary to feel every repetition and try to get an extra strong contraction on each movement. For example, when performing a curl, the exercise becomes more effective if you thoroughly flex the biceps with each rep. This same idea should be applied to your lat routine.
Another thing that I have found very helpful for stimulating lat growth is keeping the muscles under constant tension. This is done by fully contracting the upper back muscles on every rep as described. When the weight is returned to the starting position, don’t allow the arms to fully straighten. In other words, by not completely locking out the arms, the lats are unable to rest and they remain under constant tension throughout the exercise.
In my opinion, cheating exercises have no place in a lat specialization program. You can’t force muscles to grow by handling more weight than you are capable of using in strict form. Muscles aren’t impressed by poundage in the least, but only by how much direct stimulation they receive. By completely focusing all of your attention on each rep and using correct form, the lats receive maximum benefit, which is, after all, what you want.
When it comes to lat development I have found that higher repetitions result in faster growth.
Here is the lat specialization program that I recommend. Remember that it is a specialization program designed to rapidly improve your lat and upper back muscles. When you are satisfied that this area is sufficiently developed for the time, you may then concentrate on some other muscle group, or return to a good overall training routine.
1.) Chins In Front – I can honestly say that I owe most of my lat development to this exercise. Take a medium grip on the chinning bar and lean slightly backwards as you pull your body upward until you touch the bar with the upper part of your chest. Lower your body slowly, spreading the lats as you do, until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. In reality, this is more of a half-chinning movement. It allows you to keep the latissimus muscles under continuous tension throughout the exercise. 8 sets of 15 to 20 reps will produce results. Don’t rest more than one minute between sets.
2.) Long Pulley Rowing – Here is another terrific movement for the entire latissimus group. While seated on the floor with the feet braced, grasp the handle of the wall pulley and pull back until the hands touch the chest. Tense the upper back muscles before allowing the pulley to return to the starting position with the arms not quite fully locked-out. Repeat for 5 sets of 15 reps. (If you do not have a wall pulley, substitute close grip barbell rowing. This movement is done by bending forward at the waist so that your back is perfectly flat. Grasp a suitably loaded barbell with the hands about eight inches apart. Pull the bar right up until it touches the upper abdomen. Forcibly contract the lats before lowering the bar back toward the floor. As with the pulley, don’t let the arms completely straighten but keep continuous strain on the lats for the full 15 reps.)
3.) One Arm Rowing – This exercise will add considerable thickness to the latissimus dorsi and teres major muscles. Bend forward at the waist and grasp a dumbell with the right hand. The left hand is placed on a bench for balance and support. Start with the arm slightly bent and with the dumbell almost over the left foot. Pull the dumbell up in an outward-sweeping motion until it touches the right pectoral area. Lower the weight slowly, allowing the lat to spread out and become thoroughly stretched. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 reps with each arm.
4.) Straight Arm Pulldowns – Here is an excellent finishing movement for the program. Take a close grip on the overhead lat bar and lean slightly forward at the waist. Pull the bar downward from the overhead position all the way down to the thighs with straight arms. Thoroughly contract the lats and upper back before returning the bar to the overhead position. Resist the pull all the way up by spreading the lats. Perform 4 sets of 20 reps.
In between each set of the above exercises stretch the lats by grasping a vertical pole and gently stretching and spread the lats for about 10 seconds.
Use this lat specialization schedule three times a week. It is advisable to keep the rest of your workout to about one hour or so as it will take about 35-40 minutes to complete the lat program.
Because of their importance the following points bear repeating:
1.) Focus all your attention on each movement and contract the latissimus muscles with every rep. Remember to spread the lats as wide as possible as you return to the starting position. Don’t just go through the motions.
2.) Always use strict form.
3.) Maximum rest between sets is one minute.
4.) Perform ten seconds of lat stretching exercises in between each set of each exercise.
Not only have I greatly benefitted from this program, but every bodybuilder at VINCE GIRONDA’S GYM that has used it has made great gains. I am sure you will make fine improvement also if you use it faithfully.
The Back, Part Three – The Erector Spinae by Ron Lacy
Without a doubt the lower part of the back is the most important area of the body, although I don’t fell that this is the most popular area with the majority of bodybuilders. This may be because this part of the physique is not as noticeable as other bodyparts, nor is it discussed and emphasized as other sections of the body. Yet this area is far more valuable than it is recognized to be, and development in this section of the body will contribute a great deal more to overall strength, better health and posture than any other muscular region of the body.
Specialists who study the spine, nerves and mechanisms of the body tell us that posture plays a very important role in relation to health. The organs of the body perform better and more efficiently when the spinal erector muscles are developed to keep the body upright. These muscles also help to keep the back strong and free from complaints so prevalent in this modern day of easy living and not enough exercise.
I spent several months in rehabilitation work for the physically handicapped, and back injuries seem to head all other types of injuries. Some cases were caused by great force being brought on the area, such as automobile accidents, injuries suffered in coal mine cave-ins, and injuries sustained in various sports all seem to affect the spine in varying degrees. Of course such injuries could have happened regardless of the degree of development, yet we know that the outcome of such accidents are often determined by our condition to withstand these pressures.
But what about the injuries that should not have happened had a little thought and preparation been followed? There are thousands of people that receive injuries in the lower back by twisting or bending over to tie their shoe, or sneezing, or missing a step, etc. This doesn’t seem right to me. If the muscle is fully developed it holds the spine in place and prevents many of the injuries that normally happen only because the individual has a weakness in that area. Everyday stress and strain places a need for good, strong development of the lower back. This region, along with the abdomen, seems to be among the most neglected of the body, resulting in weakness and an overweight condition.
I can speak with some authority on the matter because I myself have suffered a few back injuries along the way. I have a slight congenital condition of the spine, one which I became conscious of very early in life. The pre-existing condition was brought to light while participating in football during my high school days. Contrary to the examining doctor’s advice, I played football for weeks in my senior year with the help of a back brace. At that time there wasn’t any weight training program at out school, and I actually didn’t get acquainted with weight training until I attended college.
Since beginning weight training I have injured my back several times, usually through not showing good judgment or through ignorant zeal. But the sensible training I have done has helped to strengthen my back and prevent many a painful event that might have occurred had my erector muscles been less strongly developed.
On one occasion while working with the Rehabilitation Center at the University of Kentucky, I was carrying a patient in my arms who weighed over 200 pounds. On descending a flight of steps my foot slipped, and so did my already weakened disc. I suffered a very nasty back injury and had to have my back X-rayed. Upon receiving the diagnosis the doctor suggested an operation. I was against any operation and felt this would be only as a last resort. I felt certain that through a series of well-planned exercises and time I could heal and strengthen my back, and I did. I now feel that the best assurance against further trouble in this area is to make sure I get the proper exercise that will keep this region strong.
For those who have had any type of back trouble or any back operations a regular training program for the lower back should be undertaken. I feel positive, and this is speaking from my own experience, that everyone can improve and strengthen the lower region of the back through properly selected exercises such as I have outlined here. Naturally care must be exercised to achieve progress gradually, which should assure one of success in time.
Here’s an interesting case I like to mention, about a friend of mine who suffered a back injury from a fall from a horse and ruptured a disc in the process. He began to do strengthening exercises for his lower back. Within several months his back bothered him less and less. In time he grew interested in lifting. Later he was able to win the 132 lb. weightlifting title, proving that progressive exercise can overcome many back injuries when employed properly.
I am amazed at the progress that Norb Schemansky continues to make in his weightlifting career after having submitted to two back operations. His back is undoubtedly developed to such an amazing degree that it enables him to handle and support the tremendous poundages he lifts. Of course, few men are as strong as Norb, and because he developed and strengthened his muscles so gradually, he is one of the strongest men in the world today.
Beginners especially should take care to see that they begin their training by paying attention to those exercises that develop and strengthen this part of their physique, always doing some type of exercise for the lower back. This section, the lower back, is often neglected in favor of other areas, but these areas do not contribute near as much to health or strength as the lower back. In my opinion I don’t think any section should be neglected. Include one or two lower back exercises in every workout, and occasionally change them around for the sake of variety and more rounded development. Make your lower back strong before participating in a lot of heavy, overhead movements. Play it safe and never push yourself to your limit too often in lower back work. Remember the old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Personally I have always felt that in the majority of cases a bodybuilder would be wiser to start his workout schedule with leg work, then follow this with exercises for the back. I believe this would contribute more to his overall strength and health and be more conducive to promoting better athletic ability.
I consider training that involves the larger muscle groups, which influences them to work as a unit, excellent, because it builds a good foundation on which some specialization can follow.
Competitive lifters as a rule have very good erector spinae development due to the many exercises they include in their training for this area. Doing many sets of deadlifts, squats, cleans, snatches, high pulls, etc. gives the lifter all the exercise he needs for the lower back. Of course the lifter needs good development in this region. This area is the seat of basic power and combines forces with the hips and legs. Time spent on lifting and power exercises will do much to give you a better all-round physical development.
I would like you to keep this thought in mind – that time spent on strengthening the erectors will pay you big dividends in the long run. I urge you to try these few exercises and see if you don’t feel better because of them. They will help you avoid future backaches that seem to plague all who allow themselves to get out of condition in this area. Here are the exercises:
1.) Swing With Dumbell – This exercise is a great one for the lower back and can also be used as a warmup. The movement is performed by grasping the dumbell with both hands, knees slightly bent. Allow the weight to swing back between the legs and then overhead. The exercise can also be done with one hand, working the other hand as well. Use 3 sets of 8 reps.
2.) Cleans With a Barbell – A very good movement to develop and build strength in the entire back. This movement is included in training programs for the lifter. The starting position is with knees bent, back flat, arms straight and head up. Begin the initial pull with the legs and lower back, with the arms and shoulders taking over the later phase of the movement. After you have pulled the weight as high as possible, dip under the weight by bending at the knees and catching the bar at the shoulders. For general purposed I would recommend 3 sets of 5 repetitions.
3.) Deadlifts – This is perhaps one of the best movements for the back and hip area. A lot of power can be built with this exercise. However, I would caution the beginner not to overextend himself in this movement until he has succeeded in developing his lower back to the limit. Too much weight exerts too much pressure on the spine in general and might result in an injury. Work progressively and you will eliminate all dangers of strain and injury. I think 3 sets of 10 repetitions should prove ample at first. When more strength is obtained and more is desired, you can use heavier weights and lower reps, but this should not be attempted until you have fully strengthened your back through progressive training.
4.) Hyperextensions – This movement concentrates all the resistance to the spinal erector muscles, strengthening them tremendously. I feel this is a very good therapeutic movement. You can feel the resistance fully as you arch. Advanced lifters often use weight across their shoulders for added resistance. Personally, I think excellent results can be obtained by increasing the resistance slowly and never trying to see how much you can do. It’s a good exercise and should be included in your routines. Try 3 sets of 10 to 20 reps.
These four exercises are some of the finest back developers to be found anywhere, and anyone from a rank beginner to the strongest man can utilize them simply by adjusting the poundage to his strength. Bear in mind that weight is not the only important thing in these exercises, unless you are trying to establish a personal record. The way you perform the exercise is always important.
Break into your any lower back training program gradually and work in a slow but steadily progressive manner. You will obtain many benefits and you can keep a close eye on your progress. Make your back a strong one . . . you’ll never regret it.
The development of the back is a varied and interesting study, and includes three specific areas: the trapezius, the latissimus dorsi, and the erector muscles of the spine.
Although many lifters believe the back consists mainly of the latissimus dorsi muscle, the fact is it’s the trapezius that is actually the largest muscle of the back, and the erector spinae is the longest muscle.
The average lifter thinks of the back only as the “lats,” but a glimpse at any anatomical chart will show that the latissimus dorsi area, although very important to back shape, comprises only one portion of the back and not the entire back area.
Impressive looking backs are impressive because they have corresponding mass with good muscularity, and that gives such backs a rugged and powerful look. But increased muscularity does not result from developing only the lats but more upon the development of the rhomboideus, infraspinatus, trapezius and teres groups. Consequently, the bodybuilder anxious to increase his muscularity must concentrate on developing the muscles located in the upper section of the back as well as on the large latissimus dorsi. On the other hand, if your goal is to achieve a more impressive V-shaped back, then you would be wise in specializing on the lats by adopting the training routine advocated in another article to follow written by Dom Juliano, who has, undoubtedly, the largest and widest latissimus development of any man his size and weight today, and his suggestions will be worth the effort.
Back development, I repeat, is interesting because such a wide variety of exercise to develop this area is available. And because it has three major areas, many effective and result-producing exercises can be employed. Most of these exercises involve only the muscle that is being worked, while other movements involve all areas simultaneously.
There is something about a well-developed back that has a rugged and powerful look, particularly when the trapezius muscle has been developed to the maximum. This makes the upper ridges of the back thicker with deeper muscular furrows. A back that does not have well-developed trapezius, even when the lats are fully developed, has that weak, immature look. To prove this, examine the backs of two such individuals – one that has a well-developed trapezius region, and another that is lacking in development in this region. Only a fleeting glance will convince anyone which is the better and stronger back. There is really no comparison between the two . . . it’s so obvious.
It’s a recognized fact today, ever since I first pointed this out a few years ago, that thick, massively developed trapezius do tend to cut down visual shoulder breadth, yet no bodybuilder should neglect the development of this muscle because of the many physical benefits that accrue from the exercises that serve to develop it. And although massively developed trapezius seem to give the shoulders less breadth, it is only an illusion created by those muscles that bulge out on each side at the base of the neck that cause this. This, however, can be overcome by developing the deltoids more fully, thus adding an inch or more to your overall shoulder width.
Although development of this muscle is rare, it is something that no one strives to acquire, yet to overdevelop any muscle (or group of muscles) one must apply greater effort and concentration to that area. However, one can control the precise degree of development of any muscle simply by eliminating regular vigorous work to that muscle, although some exercise should be done, once or twice a week, to maintain the size and strength of that muscle. So there is no reason why anyone should overdevelop this or any muscle unless he desires to, and certainly there is no reason why anyone should not develop it at least in proportion to his chest and shoulders.
Since the trapezius is the largest muscle of the back, which is activated in various movements, the more direct exercises are the shrug, high pullups, deadlift and lifting movements, especially all snatching and cleaning movements. Proof of this can be had by observing any champion lifters, all or whom have exceptionally well-developed trapezius muscles.
As already mentioned, the trapezius becomes involved in many exercises but I have selected six movements which I feel can be used to advantage by the bodybuilder. Two of these exercises – the shrug and high pullup, also known as the upright rowing exercise, is familiar to all bodybuilders, and when employed regularly, can help to develop the upper back area exceptionally. 10 to 12 repetitions for developing this muscle is ideal, although higher repetitions may be needed to bring about maximum development in some cases.
Four other exercises are included for added variety, simply because they involve other important muscles located in the trapezius area. The wrestler’s bridge, for example, is primarily a neck builder, and because the trapezius is actually a part of the neck, this muscle comes into play in the exercise, especially the lower section where it merges into the 12th thoracic vertebra.
Another good exercise is the lateral raise with bridge. This exercise is not commonly performed but has a definite place in any back developing program because or its action. It activates all the muscles of the back, including the neck and shoulders, but is particularly valuable where sharper definition and added muscularity of the back is desired. This and the preceding exercise should be done at least 10 times but not to exceed 15, unless experience has shown that higher, or lower, repetitions are necessary in your case . . . then include them.
The one arm high pullup is another terrific trapezius builder which also affects the deltoids, arm and lower back region. The exercise is similar in movement to a one hand snatch, except the weight is not pulled up to an overhead position, but only as high as possible and then lowered and repeated. 6 to 8 repetitions with each arm are recommended.
Shrug and simultaneously curling a dumbell into the armpit is a good combination exercise that activates not only the trapezius but the arm, shoulder, external oblique and the erector muscle along the spine. 6 to 8 repetitions should be done with each arm.
Of course if you decide to include all of the six exercises mentioned here, you should not repeat any of them over 8 repetitions, however, include enough reps to fully congest this muscle. On the other hand, if you are bent on repeating the exercises in several sets, 4 to 6 repetitions per set should prove ample.
Other exercises that activate the trapezius and can be included for added variety are: all forms of lateral raises (standing or sitting) in which the arms are carried up to an overhead position, the bentover or partly inclined lateral raise, presses from a low-start position, all lifting movements from the floor to shoulders or overhead, all chest expander exercises, etc. In fact it’s easy to find exercises for this aria if you don’t like any of the ones I’ve listed here. The important task is to do enough movements to make those heavy mounds of muscle feel tight and congested.