Friday, April 2, 2010

Powerlifting, Part Two - Bradley Steiner

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John Kuc

Center: Marvin Eder
2nd place, Jr. Mr. America 1949

Powerlifting, Part Two
by Bradley Steiner

You have probably seen pictures of such magnificent physique/power specimens as Franco Columbu, Reg Park, and so forth. Perhaps it was their example that inspired you to begin training. In any case, have you ever asked yourself this question:

“What is it that makes so-and-so such an OUTSTANDING example of super-human strength and physical development – an example that stands above even the majority of those who train hard and regularly?”

Without in the least wanting to discourage you I must point out that training, attitude and diet can take you only so far. The men who hold the top positions in great physique development and outstanding power were born with the potential to achieve what they now possess. By this I do not mean that they were born with their DEVELOPMENT. They certainly were not; they all had to work brutally hard to achieve it – but they were born with INHERENT POTENTIAL to ultimately become what you, today, see them as.

HEREDITY is one factor in the development of an extremely powerful and magnificently developed body that you just cannot control. Paul Anderson, for example, would never have “become” the strongest man in the world unless he had been born with the physical structural potential to build such strength. Very hard work over many years is necessary for anyone who aspires to reach their ultimate potential; but only heredity can decide to make those hard years of work turn you into the greatest.

Do not, therefore, begin your struggle by believing in a lie, no matter how popular it may be or how much you wish to believe it. There are continual claims made year after year by pseudo teachers and physical culture “experts” that promise to make you Mr. Universe in a short time, or a powerlifting champion by year’s end etc., etc. If you ever follow any of these “courses” they will only discourage you. You won’t gain anything close to what the ads claim and, more than likely, you’ll get so disgusted you won’t give yourself an honest chance of enjoying the benefits of following more sensible and legitimate methods.

Nature made you what you are. You start out with a certain basic “type” of body, and an inherent potential to develop it to some, as yet, undetermined level. All right. Be satisfied with knowing that if you conscientiously follow proper methods with determination you will achieve the maximum development possible for you. If you have the potential to develop into one of the best then you will begin to see evidence of this fact after about eight months to a year’s time of steady, hard and correct training, coupled with a proper lifestyle and diet. Even with a favorable potential and with other apparent advantages it is not possible to judge too soon that you’re destined for the ultimate in strength and development.

The majority of people are not hereditarily capable of building a world championship physique, or hoisting world record poundages. Yet, I have never met one single individual who wasn’t capable of improving his present level of development and strength.

The training principles are the same, no matter what you are hereditarily. You require good, basic exercises, a balanced nutritious diet, ample rest, and a strong will coupled with a positive, optimistic spirit to succeed. And by succeed I always refer to developing yourself to your own maximum – I am not indicating victory over others.

Think of yourself as the special, unique individual you are, requiring the same method of basic training that all human beings require in order to develop great power and a fine physique. Then apply those basic training methods to yourself, and determine to actualize every iota of potential that you were born with – THAT’S the way to go about training.

The Bone Structure Question

In my writings I have always stressed the relationship of bone structure to ultimate growth; strength and physique-wise.

There are three basic bone structures: small, medium and large. They are characterized by heavy, thick wrists in the big-boned individuals, and decreasingly smaller wrist and ankle girths in the medium and small-boned people. Extremely small-boned individuals cannot hope to become world powerlifting champions. They can become very powerful, surprisingly powerful in fact – and they can often develop physiques that are by far superior to their heavier-boned, non-training friends; yet they can’t become world champions. The reason is simple. There are many extremely big-boned men who also train hard and follow the right bodybuilding and powerlifting methods. Inevitably, those better-suited to it make better gains.

Bone structure cannot be altered. It needn’t be such a thorn in your side, either, if you’ll view training and self-development as I’m trying to get you to see it. Accept the fact of whatever physical bone structure you have. Make the best of it. In 1943, a strongman/athlete by the name of Jules Bacon won the Mr. America title. He was the first small-boned man to do so, and very few after him followed. I mention this, and point out his example for two reasons: One, to show you that outstanding achievement in training is possible for a small-boned man. Two, to point out that there is little likelihood of a very small-boned man winning top honors in modern times.

So, if you happen to be small-boned, realistically accept the fact. Train hard, live right and see what happens as the months go by. You’ll be wise to continue hard training always, but not to invest yourself too heavily as a physique or lifting competitor. If you are a Reg Park or Paul Anderson that’s entirely a different story.

Simply put, view what you see, hear and read realistically. Do not shoot for 19” arms if your wrists are 6” and you stand almost six feet tall. Forget about being a powerlifting champion if after a year’s hard work your best squat is 200 pounds at a bodyweight of 185 pounds!

You will always be able to improve. You can get very, very strong and become exceptionally well built. But only a relative few people can hope to become the top men. That, in case you haven’t thought about it lately, is why they’re considered “tops” to begin with! An exceptional physique or ultimate strength – in the nationwide or worldwide sense – is just that, a rare, exceptional and unusual thing. It is the result of factors not entirely within the control of the champion himself, or the mentor who may have helped him with his progress. Many champions do not realize this themselves, just as many geniuses simply don’t understand why everyone can’t understand everything they so easily understand. It is difficult, sometimes, to be truly objective about things.


People who participate in physical training always have more energy than those who do not exercise at all. However, there are certain individuals who are born with an unusually high level of energy. They seem to never tire. Now, you can develop and increase your energy level, and you can assist the increase of you energy by proper mental training, but you cannot acquire anyone else’s unusually high store of “drive”. Jack LaLanne is a perfect example of an energetic man in the physical culture field. He is exceptional. Part of his energy and abundant drive is, undeniably, due to his regular, vigorous exercise habits, and his adherence to near-perfect dietary habits. However, if Jack LaLanne didn’t have an unusually high inherent potential for energy output, he just wouldn’t be the same human phenomena that he is. Please understand that. And don’t think for a minute that Jack’s poor health and bad dietary/exercise habits in his early years put the lie to what I’ve said. Not so! In his youth it is true that Jack LaLanne did have a poor beginning – but only because he had failed to live and train properly (a not-uncommon thing for youngsters). His inherent potential responded when he changed his health and living habits. Had he never become the dedicated physical culturist that he did become, Jack LaLanne would have remained a member of that vast army of people who are born with the blessings of potential, yet who stifle the potential there through self-neglect. Yes, a person with poor natural energy levels will develop lots of drive and great energy through proper living and physical training. A person with great natural energy will turn into a human dynamo. That’s the way it works.

Take an average guy and put him though college and he will, if he tries hard, acquire a good, basic education and a broad understanding of the roots of many academic disciplines. But take a born genius and put him through college and the end result will be something closer to a phenomenon. In body or in mind, it’s the same thing. We can all improve greatly, but only the rare individual can reach the top. This hardly makes it fruitless to be an active, enthusiastic participant, since there are no losers in this game whatever.

Your bone structure will have a deciding effect more on how much weight and size you can effectively carry, than it will have on how much power you can develop. For strength is at least as much a function of mental concentration and will power, as well as one other item, muscle tissue quality, as it is a function of the muscle’s size, per se.

Muscle Fiber Quality

It is only partially true that “the bigger a muscle becomes the stronger it automatically is.” Sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no. More often than not the strength of a muscle is determined by its size, an by the quality (not quantity, but quality) of its fibres, as well as the degree to which your physiological system permits your brain to effectively direct “commands” to the muscle in question.

Fiber quality is inherited. It can be improved, of course, by adequate nutrition, etc., but it is, in some individuals, inherently superior to others. What are some indicators of fiber quality?

How quickly do your muscles “spring back” after a hard workout?
How long do your muscles stay “sore” after a hard workout?
If you overwork severely, how long does it take for you to recuperate. Some few people can do it with one good night’s sleep. Others need a full week’s layoff.
How “hard” are your muscles when flexed? The harder and denser they are, the greater your muscles’ fiber quality probably is.
Are you able, from time to time, to PUSH – hard – on a set, using heavy weights, without “hurting”?

The answers to these questions will help you to understand how your muscle “quality” stacks up. The greatest aids to improving the quality of muscle fibers is a balance of perfect nutrition, adequate sleep and rest, good circulation and deep breathing.

Mental States

The mind, as I’ve said thousands of times in articles and books, is your master! If there is a single source of great power within you it is in your mind. Learn to control and direct mental energy and power, and you have but to set your mind on what you wish physically in order to attain it.

Medical science has accepted the fact that the state of a person’s mind can have as direct an effect on his body as an actual administration of medicine in the treating of disease. Time and time again doctors encounter individuals who, through the force of their resolve and willpower conquer illness within their body. There have been cases where medicine has failed and where the will of the patient has destroyed disease within the body.

There have been thousands of recorded instances – in every field – where the proper state of mind has decided victory for an all but totally lost cause. The power of the mind must not be overlooked.

Aside from whatever religious beliefs you may hold there is a very practical aspect to mind control. It has application in art, science, business, in every field of human endeavor. In physical training it is half the battle.

What is the “right” mental state for the individual bent upon achieving greater physical power and muscular development? It is a state of expecting to succeed. One must continually hold in one’s mind the vision of the goal one wishes to achieve, and then one must apply the principle of confidently expecting to attain that goal. It is a state of mind that will not admit negativism. This last part is all-important.

Mental states are tricky things. On the one hand, your mental state is under your full control. But, on the other hand, living in this gosh-darn crazy world, your mind is subject to continual bombardment from others – others who, because of a less than fully satisfactory life are only too glad to pour out their negativism on you. So you must learn to be on your guard, always.

Is it selfish to always be concerned with your own interests like that? Yes, it is. And what is wrong with being selfish? If you are not selfish, pray tell, upon whom are you supposed to turn for your welfare? Your family? Your neighbors? Your friends? Who? And why are they qualified to look out for your interests while you are not? Nonsense! Be selfish! If you are not selfish you will merely live the life of being a timid, idiotic follower. When people snarlingly, that’s right, snarlingly accuse you of being selfish what they are really whining is: “You should be serving my self-interests instead of your own – doing what I deem ‘right’ or ‘appropriate’ or ‘suitable’ or ‘proper’ or ‘acceptable’ instead of what YOU deem thus.” No, people will never admit that this is what they mean – but it is nevertheless what they do, in fact, mean.

Learn that you must take control of yourself by learning to accept your mind as your own “boss”. Think in terms of how you can serve your own positive self-interests. Your success in training (or in anything else, for that matter) lies in that direction.

Optimism is just as easy to maintain, and a hell of a lot more comfortable to experience, than is negativism! So start to think fully, optimistically and positively.

Speaking from the standpoint of pure results, remember this: being gloomy, sulky, negative, bitter, hostile and generally down does nothing but reduce your efficiency unless, of course, you are a pro fighter, a deadpan comic, or an artist who finds no thrill in apple pies cooling on the windowsill after a summer rain. Anxiety creates a vicious cycle of internal self-destruction within you, and, always, the result is awful. Burning up energy by working cheerfully towards your goals is one thing. Burning up energy by sitting in a corner with a frown of hatred on your face after realizing everything you say, do, create or love will one day be dust, forgotten dust at that, is another thing, indeed!

Strength, muscles, physical-mental efficiency and happiness await the optimistic, cheerful and positive person who has advanced to the level of doing without reason, meaning, or petty need for religion. Learn to be such a person!

Diet And Rest

Aside from your mental state, which is entirely within your capacity to control, there are two other items that you can fully regulate most of the time as well: your diet and the amount of rest you obtain. Both are as essential in building strength and size as is exercise.

Strength is built on solid foods. Meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Milk and cheese. Thick hearty soups. Whole grain bread. Fruits and vegetables. All sorts of nuts, beans, peas. That’s good eating. That’s what you need to build strong, solid, healthy muscles! Two nice-sized meals a day are usually enough for most mature people who train. Many people can easily do with three big meals a day, plus one or two healthy snacks if they train hard and try to couple it with a full-time job and family responsibilities.

Supplements are overrated in importance, though they are valuable when taken correctly and in moderation. Correctly means as a SUPPLEMENT, not as a replacement for good, balanced meals and not as a substitute for fresh, real foods. Some people seem determined to overdo supplements, and this is just a silly waste of money. If you take a good vitamin/mineral along with a few carefully chosen other supplements based on your individual needs, that’s generally plenty. If there is any serious deficiency in your body’s nutritional balance you need a doctor, not more supplements. A well-balanced diet provides plenty of the nutrients you need. Judiciously-taken supplements round out the picture. Don’t get crazy with this.

Protein supplements are about as unnecessary as they are popular! My apologies to the manufacturers of these powders, but really, aside from convenience when time is tight, they serve little need. Protein is quite easy to obtain in such delicious foods as ground meats, peanut butter, milk, eggs and various nuts and beans. There is always a far greater chance the bodybuilder will be lacking in vitamin/mineral intake than in protein intake. It is relatively easy for a healthy man to ingest 150-200 grams of high-quality protein each day in his meals alone.

Meals should always be balanced. Try to eat, in the course of a day, meat, poultry or fish, various raw vegetables, fresh fruits and some whole grains. Drink plenty of water and have a rice, potato or whole wheat pasta dish with a meal. You need starches and fats, regardless of what you may have read elsewhere. You’ll just not get as powerful as you could without them.

Overeating should of course be avoided, but it is best done by eliminating the “garbage” from your diet, instead of reducing portions of good, wholesome foods at mealtime. This is common sense, and you must decide what really means more to you – a bag of potato chips, or a strong and healthy body.

The long-term effect of careful eating will repay you handsomely. You will find that your training is always maximally productive, and that you can recuperate speedily from tough workouts. All very, very important.

Sleep is important, of course. Sleep and rest, if neglected, lead to general feelings of discontent, irritable behavior patterns and physical depletion. People vary as to how long they can go without adequate rest before they show marked signs of deterioration, but I cannot see why anyone would care to see what his own particular limit was! Just do everything possible to rest adequately and well, following a hard day’s work. Get to bed in time to sleep enough. Don’t keep hours that drain you! This is all common sense, but as my experience has taught me, common sense is not all that common.

It is wise, after a hard workout and a shower, to relax and either sit or lie down for twenty minutes or half and hour. Read, meditate, think, or have a nice leisurely conversation with anyone who’ll sit and talk to you – but try if at all possible, to give your just-worked body a little help in recuperating from the day’s training.

Rest is as much mental as it is physical, by the way, and all sorts of arguments and aggravation should be avoided. If you have noisy neighbors and you find it difficult to sleep or relax or do things around the house because they won’t quiet down, invest a dollar and get ear plugs. Peace and quiet – tranquility – leads to inner and outer strength, and permits your body to maintain a peaceful equilibrium conducive to growth, maintenance and tissue repair.

All told, those are the factors contributory to success in effective power-bodybuilding. Remember what they are, and learn to apply them. Once you’ve done that, you’re set to move on. So read on and let’s see what your actual training exercises must be like . . .

Analysis Of The Basic Power-Building Exercises

The course of exercise that is best for the attainment of our goal is very clear and very limited, when you consider that literally thousands of exercises do in fact exist. I see no point in considering or even discussing second best when we can start off and deal in depth with the best.

For the purpose of analysis I am going to divide the exercises into four main categories, and three supplemental aspects of training. The four main categories are:

Press movements, and their variations.
Pull movements, and their variations.
Squatting movements.
Bench work.

The supplemental aspects of power-bodybuilding are:

Rack work.
Isometric contraction.

My reason for analyzing the exercises in this manner is to help you achieve a balanced and orderly understanding of the arrangement of the required movements. This is desirable since, eventually, you will be off on your own and you’ll have to be your own trainer. This is the way the most effective and successful physical culturists work out. Know yourself, and know your tools!

Press Movements And Their Variations

Press movements are builders, primarily, of the shoulder assembly. They produce enormous benefits to the upper-back as well, and build triceps, trapezius and, when done standing, aid in the development of the low back area and the hip muscles. I suggest that all pressing be done in a regular standing position. Seated pressing can be followed at times, but essentially, standing presses are the way to go.

Military Press

This is the most widely known and certainly one of the finest press movements one can do. Generally, trainees do their military pressing incorrectly, and thus fail to gain full benefits. When you do you presses . . .

Stand as erect as possible.
Look straight ahead, not up.
Drive the bar hard, tensing the hips and mid-section for extra power and full support.
Keep a tight grip on the bar.
Lockout completely in military pressing, and return the bar in a controlled, steady fashion to the starting position.

The feet should be a comfortable position apart, and every effort must be made to fight for the maintenance of perfect balance throughout the movement.

The best way to train on heavy presses is to do your reps and sets off a pair of good squat racks. If you do each set commencing with a cleaning action you will be using too much energy – especially when four, five or possibly six sets are involved, as they often are in power training.

When military pressing is done with only light or moderate weights there is no reason to do them off racks, unless you happen to like them done this way.

Persons who are strong pressers generally find that they are capable of using somewhat wider handspacing on the bar when they press, than others who are “poor pressers”. The important thing is to find your best individual position and stick to it. You will reach your own best output in effort and achieve the best results if you stay with the handspacing you find most comfortable.

Suggested set/rep schemes are:

General development – 2 or 3 sets of 8-10 reps, with a moderate poundage.

Advanced development – 3 sets of 10-8-6 reps, adding some weight after each set.

Power development – 2 set of 6 reps, add weight and do 1 set of 3, add weight and do 1 set of 2-3, add weight and try to squeeze out a final 2 reps.

When going for a new limit single attempt – 1 set of 6, 1 set of 5, 1 set of 3, 1 set of 2, 1 set of 2, 1 set of 1 (near limit), 1 set of 1 (limit) – if feeling energetic do the limit lift again for 1 rep.

The above represent good basic examples, and you should try them. If experience or preference urges you to make some minor alteration in the set/rep scheme by all means do so; you must use your own experience and judgment to a high degree.

Press Behind The Neck

This is the single finest all-round press movement in existence, when done properly. Follow all the tips for the regular press when doing presses behind the neck, plus:

Be especially careful not to let the bar drop or bounce on the back of the neck in the downward motion.
Don’t do “jerks” instead of presses.
Do full-range movement presses behind the neck – i.e. gently touch the back of the neck (near traps) after each rep and then go to a full lockout press.

Suggested set/rep schemes are the same as for the military press.

I have tried to give you the benefit of my experience here, again, but you must try always to use your experience, where appropriate, and your own judgment in your training.

Presses behind the neck should be done off the racks.

Excellent variations of the two fundamental press movements can from time to time be utilized. Heavy dumbell pressing is always a good movement to use for variety. They should be done in a standing position, not sitting. This permits much heavier weights to be used, and it enables a good share of benefit to be distributed to the low back area. Simultaneous heavy dumbell presses should be done for 2 or 3 sets of 8 reps with every possible ounce of iron you can handle on the bars. Light presses, once you’re accustomed to heavy barbell work, are about as effective as lateral raises.

Alternate dumbell presses are more of a bodybuilder’s exercise than a power man’s. Still, they are from time to time valuable. Do 2 or 3 sets of 8 reps. Heavy!

Also, for some crazy reason, there is a strong tendency to look UP when doing dumbell presses. I can’t know why this is so, but I urge you: look straight ahead during all pressing movements. When you look up there is a natural tendency for your body to lean back. This shifts, partly, the burden of effort from your shoulders to your chest, which is defeating the whole purpose of the exercise.

JERKS can be used profitably from time to time, however, they do not really provide all that great benefit as is commonly believed. Jerks off the racks are popular, I suspect, because they make PRESSES easier to do with a heavier weight, more than because they provide superior gains. The best power and shoulder/tricep/trapezius development I ever saw was on men who worked behind the neck STRICT, HEAVY pressing into their routines regularly, and who were good at heavy, STRICT military pressing as well. I would restrict the use of jerks off the racks to instances where staleness and boredom have set in, and perhaps to those few times when a sticking point is encountered.

Guard against the tendency that some power-men have to call a jerk off the racks a “press”. I have seen well-intentioned lifters going for a new limit press and satisfy themselves that they had achieved it when all they did was jerk the new limit instead of pressing it.

If you’re going to use heavy jerks in your training I suggest a warmup set of military presses AND behind the neck presses (10 light reps each) to insure a fully warmed up shoulder assembly.

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