Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weightlifting/Bodybuilding - Clarence Ross

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by Clarence Ross (1954)

The progressive bodybuilder is constantly looking for something new and better in his training, to assist him in gaining larger muscles and greater power. The set series, forced reps, super-sets and cheating exercises are all used, each with definite benefits over and above what he would have enjoyed had he remained in the old-fashioned routines of years ago.

However, there is still one type of training that can be followed with great benefit, which does not receive the publicity or popularity it deserves. I refer to “weightlifting-style” movements, adjusted to bodybuilding requirements. In this type of training, a whole new field of lifting expression is opened, all to the benefit of the individual.

Most bodybuilders have overlooked the possibilities of this sort of exercise, since they mistakenly consider weightlifting movements as being of limited scope, and restrictive from muscle-building values. Still, scientific analysis disproves this . . . for actually, it is in the skillful blending of straight bodybuilding movements and classic lifting movements that the individual develops maximum muscular hardness, size and greater overall power.

And even beyond this, a change from regular bodybuilding exercises to weightlifting training gives a needed variety of exercise, one which breaks sticking points, forces muscle and mind to work in a different and productive manner. This gives the bodybuilder a new training drive, one which lifts him to greater muscular heights than ever before.

As a few examples of what this combined bodybuilding/weightlifting program can do, let us review the training of a number of outstanding bodybuilding champions. Malcolm Brenner, holder of the Junior Mr. America title, switches over to weightlifting for a month of so whenever his bodybuilding training program hits a sticking point. It never fails to break the sticking point. He attributes much of his muscularity and power to this combined bodybuilding and weightlifting training. Jim Park, Mr. America and Mr. World titleholder, was active as a competitive weightlifter some while back, winning several local contests in Illinois. This is of course proof that he combined bodybuilding with weightlifting. John Grimek held the U.S. lightheavyweight weightlifting championship a number of years ago, and also represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics. Roy Hilligenn, besides being Mr. America 1951, is also a weightlifting champion. Marvin Eder has recently concentrated on weightlifting, and today, his physique has improved tremendously over what it was in the past. Again, vital proof that weightlifting and bodybuilding combined can develop a more complete physique.

This in no way means that the standard bodybuilding exercises such as the squat, bench press deadlift, curl, laterals etc. should be neglected. But, a change from them should be taken from time to time, and the weightlifting-style exercises outlined in this article followed either in their place for a few months a year, or added to a bodybuilding routine.

If such a combined weightlifting/bodybuilding program is followed, your personal benefits as a bodybuilder will be radically improved . . . you will gain harder muscularity, greater training pleasure, more power and larger muscle size. Your muscles will get a more rugged quality, one which will give them extra impressiveness. You will avoid sticking points more easily, and thereby make faster, surer gains all-round. Here are the suggested details of the training program.

1.) Use the program in place of your regular bodybuilding schedule.
2.) Train three times a week.
3.) Follow the program for one month only.
4.) After a month, go back to your regular bodybuilding program. Alternately, you can study the exercises, learn the movements and supplement your bodybuilding program with some of them.
5.) Use all the weight you can without losing good form.
6.) Perform sets of no more than 5 repetitions.

Exercise 1.
Push Press. Clean a weight to the shoulders, one which is heavier than you can press in strict style. Or, if you prefer, you can take this weight from a pair of stands. The important part of the exercise is NOT getting it to the shoulders, but what you do with it after you have it there. Once the weight is held at the shoulders, bend the knees slightly, and then, straighten out the legs. At the same time, push or press the weight to arms’ length above the head. You can bend back slightly in this exercise, if in doing so you can handle more weight. After the initial body-thrust, the bar is put to arms’ length with pressing power, as this is not a jerk. Lower the weight to the shoulders, and repeat. Doug Hepburn can raise 450 pounds over his head in this manner. With practice and effort over time, anyone should be able succeed with more than 200 pounds.

Exercise 2.
Repetition Snatch. Start this exercise with a barbell on the ground, in front of the legs, as in a dead lift. Bend down and grasp the bar, making sure that the grip is quite wide, and perfectly balanced. Now, with one drive of power, pull the weight straight up, to about the height of the chest. At that point, split with the feet, extending one foot to the front and the other to the rear, and dip under the weight. Hold the weight in this position and straighten the legs, arriving at a completely standing position with bar overhead. Then, lower the weight to the ground, and repeat. A squat style of getting under the bar can also be used. John Davis currently holds the record in this lift with 330 pounds.

Exercise 3.
Repetition Clean to Shoulders. This exercise is performed identical to the last one, except instead of pulling the weight to above the head, you only pull it to the chest. Norbert Schemansky has cleaned 412 pounds to the shoulders. With practice and effort anyone can succeed in time with over 200 pounds.

Exercise 4.
Repetition Jerk. Clean a heavy weight to the shoulders, or take it off stands. Sink down a few inches by bending the knees, and then, briskly straighten them again. While doing so, push the weight up and off the chest. When the weight has reached the top of the head, split with the legs fore and aft, sinking down under the bar and catching it at locked arms’ length overhead. Come to a complete standing position. Then, lower the weight to the chest only, and repeat the jerk again. Saksanov, the 132-lb. Russian lifter, has clean & jerked 305 pounds. Anyone should be able to succeed with a 250 pound jerk over time.

Exercise 5.
One Arm Clean to Shoulder. In this exercise, stand with the barbell in front of the legs, bent over, with one hand holding onto the bar, in the exact balanced center. Now, straighten the body, and at the same time pull the weight up. When it is slightly above waist level, squat down and catch the weight at the shoulder, using the free hand to help you to hold the weight at the shoulder, as shown in the photo. Then, stand erect, straightening the legs to do so. Lower the weight and repeat. After you have gotten used to this exercise, which will at first feel strange to many bodybuilders, DO NOT use the free hand to help you catch and balance the weight at the shoulder, but do the exercise entirely with one hand, resting the free hand on the thigh to give you greater pulling power. Armand Tanny has cleaned 300 pounds to the shoulder in a correct, one-arm style. Anyone who puts in the time and effort should be able to accomplish 150 pounds.

Exercise 6.
One Arm Push Press. Raise the weight to the shoulder as in the last exercise, and stand erect with it, balancing it at the shoulder with one arm. Now, bend the legs slightly, and then straighten them, at the same time pushing the weight up and off the shoulder to arms’ length above the head. Lower the weight to the shoulder, using the free arm to allow you to lower it slowly, fully under control. Then push press it overhead again.

Exercise 7.
Continental to Shoulders. This exercise is the KING of power lifts. Practice of it will give you all-around power unmatched by any other movement. Norbert Schemansky has succeeded in raising 450 pounds to the shoulders in this manner, one of the greatest feats of power ever performed by a man of his bodyweight. To practice this movement, you need a strong, well-made lifting belt with a big buckle in the front. Raise the weight from the ground up to this belt, making certain the bar is securely held by the belt. Now, bend the knees, then straighten them out quickly, at the same time pulling up with the hands, lifting the weight to the shoulders. Lower the weight to the ground and repeat.

The very first workout you take with these movements will find you sorer and stiff . . . just like a beginner, even if you have been bodybuilding for some time. Your trapezius, lower back, hips, sides and legs will all be sore. BUT – you will feel a new glow of power, an ambition to get ahead in these new and wonderful exercises. Every workout will find you stronger . . . able to use more weight in the movements. And to match this increase in strength you will notice a more solid musculature over time. These movements are quite tough and dynamic, but they can definitely be rewarding.

20-Year Old Paul Anderson - Earle Liederman

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20-Year Old Paul Anderson
by Earle Liederman

In relaying to my readers a brief factual picture of the greatest strength sensation of modern times, let me first mention that Paul Anderson, a 20-year old lad in Tennessee, has arisen from obscurity to world fame in a little over one year’s time. But, Paul is an exception for he was born to be powerful. At present writing he weighs 295 pounds. When he was 12 years of age he weighed 160; at 15 he tipped the scales at 200; at 16 he was around 210; at 17 his weight went to about 230; at 18 he weighed 250; and at 19, 270 pounds. So, you can see that he was a mighty husky kid and was obviously destined to become a human powerhouse. His parents are of average build and come from larger parents themselves, so Paul may possibly inherit size from his grandparents.

His stocky build at 5’ 9” in height is one item and his tremendous power is still another. To give you an example of his natural strength, he first touched a barbell in February, 1952, and he tells me that when he made his initial attempt at a squat he suddenly found himself under a barbell that was fully loaded and upon a rack, and which weighed 400 lbs. Paul got under it. Mind you, he had never attempted a squat. However, upon once adjusting to this 400 lb. barbell upon his upper back, he made TWO full squats with this amount of weight. This first feat offers concrete proof that Paul’s legs were naturally powerful and so was the rest of his body. Were this not so, it would have proved absolutely impossible for him to perform even a single squat, let alone making two – just because he felt like it. And such is how he trains today – works with his huge weights just because he enjoys doing it and feels like it.

Anderson exercises every day and three times daily. However, he limits his program to but two repetitions at each of his thrice-daily training periods. He works his legs exclusively every other day and then, on the alternate day he practices the three Olympic lifts, which is something he but recently adopted, as his interests in training are spreading beyond the bounds of pure squats. His squats have been done because he liked them ever since he made his first attempt and so, these squats becoming like play or enjoyment to him is why he has kept at them for a little over one year. And during that time his legs grew considerably more powerful so that, today, he uses 650 lbs. on the bar for two of his daily squatting periods and then uses 680 on the third occasion. The mere glance at such record-breaking poundages is instantaneously impressive, but when one digests them after a few extra thoughts, they become absolutely amazing.

I try to imagine what the world’s reaction would have been if I had written, a few years ago, about someone being able to squat with 680 on the bar and perform a deep full squat at that! People might have considered me as a bean soup burper, or else a bit screwy in the noodle; yet here are the words in living form of a young fellow named Paul Anderson. And not only does he perform one squat with such a tremendous weight – he does it at each training period, not to show off, not even to give a thought to a record, but because he LIKES to do it.

It was with difficulty that I induced Paul to talk, for he is extremely modest and a bit on the shy side. His amazing feats are as nothing to him except that they bring him enthusiastic elation because of the actual enjoyment he derives from training in such fashion.

Not knowing actual records in similar attempts, I might state that I don’t anyone in the world has ever shouldered 1,570 lbs. as Paul has done via a one-third squat start. To accomplish this, he first loads the bar with special and huge plates which weigh 775 lbs. He places between these plates and which hide between the grooves, four 12½ lb. plates and one 15-pounder. Then, to the 45-lb. bar he ropes and chains two 100-lb. dumbbells, two 55-lb. rollers, two blocks of concrete weighing 85 lbs. each, plus a barrel filled with weights which add another 75 lbs. The strong chains must also be considered for these weigh about 30 lbs. So, if you total the above figures you will get a poundage of 1,570 or thereabouts, as I have not mentioned the slight weight of the heavy padding which Paul uses on his upper back. And to further show you the modesty that this lad possesses, he gives out the total poundage which I have outlined as only 1500 pounds. He forgets all about the chains and the hidden small plates between the extra-large ones. And if I were to predict at this point that Paul Anderson will, one day, perform this exact lift with one ton loaded upon the bar, I sort of feel that my congregation will be inclined to believe me. And if I also predict that Paul Anderson will, one day, perform a full squat with 800 lbs. on the bar, will you doubt me? I make these statements because I honestly believe that he has not, as yet, learned his full power nor does he realize his potentialities. (Anderson recently made a DKB with 714 lbs. Editor).

Lately he has added a few other movements to his training, as he is becoming interested in the three Olympic lifts and has decided to try his luck with them. In other words, he is beginning to enjoy them, too. His initial attempt at them was in December, 1952, which is five months back, at my present writing, yet last March, 1953, he entered the Dixie Championships and did a press of 300, snatch of 250, and a C&J of 325, all of which were done in sheer strength, power-style, without much of any leg work. He won the C&J event. Just imagine what Paul might accomplish if he could master the timing of the leg splits! He did all his lifts without moving his feet. And to further his latest enjoyment with the three lifts, he does a little dumbbell pressing with 120-pounders, just to limber up. But he rather seriously is interested in dead lifting and has added that to his training days with Olympic lifting. And just recently he has become slightly interested in bench pressing and as might be expected, is now using 410 lbs. However, I once more predict that this poundage will soon leap to around 500 because I recognize the latent power within this remarkable fellow. In plain words, Paul doesn’t actually, as yet, know his own strength. He will probably find out what it is when he buckles down to seriousness and competition as a change from pleasurable activities. Can you possibly imagine how wonderful it would be if Paul Anderson, John McWilliams, Doug Hepburn and Mac Batchelor could all train together! If such could only be possible, there would be world’s records made which would stand for a long, long time, for enthusiastic competition would drive their marks higher. Now it seems to be up to Paul to blaze the trail without being forced to try harder week after week.

Paul also tells me he does not eat too much – about average, he thinks. However, he drinks seven quarts of milk daily, not to put on weight, but because he likes milk.

He plans to enter professional wrestling but not until he has first tried out Olympic lifting. Paul figures that in about two more years he ought to be able to master the quick leg splits and style so essential for the Olympics, rather than add pure power as he uses today. Again my readers will have to stretch their imagination as to what Paul might accomplish at such time. All of us have to wait, watch, and learn. Meanwhile, the suspense is awful.

He is certain that he will “take” to wrestling for he says he likes the thought of it, so when that day comes, I am sure that he will make good right from the start. In fact, I have spoken to several wrestling promoters and from what I have related, he is practically booked right now.

Here is an honest fellow who would rather tell people that whatever he does is really less than it actually is. He claims to be his own most severe critic and therefore, does not believe in fooling even himself, so when he lifts 1,570 lbs. and tells others that it weighs 1,500, he sort of believes the latter himself and forgets the trivial extra 70 pounds. And so it is with his bench pressing. He uses the same grip with that as he does with an overhead press and this grip is a medium one with his hands about 20” apart. The fact that he is not a bit concerned with his present totals of 850 of so, and allows them to be known, proves that he owns inward confidence and enthusiasm for great betterment which will surely become a reality. In considering the power of Paul Anderson, I am held astounded! And I am also mystified by the way he can support, after the heave-ho, that 1,750 lbs. and stand facing the camera and smile! Also, to think that he only does such a lift to strengthen his legs and hips and thereby makes it a commonplace exercising movement. Anyway, I feel that the name and photographs of Paul Anderson will disturb the minds of everyone just as they have to my own. His accomplishments seem to haunt you!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How I Trained to Break the Press Record - Doug Hepburn

Arthur Dandurand at "La Presse" newspaper office, standing beside the 335-lb. man he lifted off the floor and then bent-pressed overhead with one arm.

John Grimek

Doug Hepburn

How I Trained to Break the Press Record
by Doug Hepburn, as told to Charles Smith (1951)

The advent of a new and great strength star has caused a sensation in the weightlifting world. Beyond any doubt, Douglas Hepburn bids fair to become the strongest man of all time, for his feats of power . . . sheer body power . . . leave one with the feeling that the impossible has been accomplished each time he takes a workout; so fantastic is the caliber of the lifts and the poundages he tosses around.

I well remember the first letter we had from Doug. So terrific were the lifts quoted in it that we absolutely refused to believe what he told us. “No man is that powerful,” I remember saying and the others around me nodded in agreement. Eventually we met Doug and at he at last began to get the recognition he deserved. As the correspondence from him in my possession reveals, he came to stay with the Weider Organization for the purpose of PERSONAL instruction by me. During the month that he lived with me and my family, I had ample time to study him, observe his reactions to certain things . . . his habits and his personality. Doug and I conducted conversations about various aspects that were hours in length. The notes I took filled five scrapbooks; the grasp he has of the fundamentals of Olympic lifting and its basic concepts leads me to believe that once he SPECIALIZES on the quick lifts, he will in all probability set records that will be with us for a long time.

Immediately after the Senior National Championships had taken place, our office was flooded with letters asking about this new World’s record holder. They wanted to know how he trained. What his development was like . . . how he compared with other outstanding lifters. Doug had impressed these correspondents tremendously. In his first competition, he had broken a world record on an extra attempt and had compiled a total that would have “placed” him in the Worlds championships. His press of 345½ was well within his power, for he experiences difficulty in cleaning a weight, having no style in the snatch and clean & jerk. But he CAN press anything up to 385 pounds if you put it into his shoulders for him or let him take it off the squat racks . . .

It is my belief that knowledge is USELESS unless it is shared by all. If you know what makes a man a superlative lifter, then it is your duty to spread that knowledge around instead of keeping it to yourself. It is with great pride that I present here the training views of Doug Hepburn, and how he trains for the press. This article was written after intensive correspondence with Doug and is set forth here practically in his own words, as told to me in his letters.

“From the first day I started training,” wrote Doug, “I have always been interested in feats of shoulder strength and the various ways in which you could press a weight overhead. At that time, I little realized I had the potentialities that would enable me to raise world’s record poundages, and it is my belief that today there are thousands of young fellows who are capable of pressing far beyond what they imagine their limit to be . . . and this they will do if they conform to the training methods I have followed.

“Like all tyros,” went on Doug, “I thought there were ‘secret’ methods that would enable me to take a short cut to strength. I found out that the only strength secret is HARD WORK. Fortunately for me, I stumbled blindly into the right path and used a series of exercises that strengthened my body in every way . . . I soon found out that BASIC BODY POWER is one of the main reasons for a man’s pressing strength. In pressing, the hips, thighs and lower back are just as important as the muscles of the shoulders and arms. So far as I am concerned, I can quit working entirely on the press and concentrate solely on leg and back exercises, and my press will suffer but little. By using squats and dead lifts, I can maintain my pressing power.

“Now this may seem strange, Charlie,” Doug continued, “but all through weightlifting history you find the strongest men have practiced these exercises as the main part of their training routine, and the greatest of them all, Johnny Davis, has utilized these movements and made them part of his workouts. These exercises give you that basic body power that seem to me to ‘throw’ that strength from an overall basis to a specific area when needed – as in the press.

“Apart from other specialized pressing training, I have found that 6 or 8 sets of TWO repetitions is the best training combination, and this view is also shared by John Davis. More than two reps puts too much strain on the muscles of the lower back and the lifter gets into an ‘unconscious habit’ of back bending. Then too, the choice of poundage is extremely important. There is a vast difference between training for speed and training for power; even the muscles of speed and strength differ as to texture and color. To improve your power, you must use an extremely heavy, near-limit poundage and I firmly believe, from the results I have obtained, that this is the only way.

“When I am working to get my record up, I will push my training poundages to the limit and I work on that press with these near-limit poundages only one day a week. I go stale if I train on the press more frequently. The other two training days I work on the squat and the two-hands dead lift utilizing the same principle back of my press training . . . low reps and heavy poundage for building power. I use 3 to 5 repetitions when training for maximum strength in a pressing routine . . . not on the actual press of course, but on the supplementary exercises that build basic power . . . the squat and dead lift. The BEGINNER should use a fairly light poundage, and a combination of two or three sets of 10 reps, or else he will find himself possessed of an injury to the muscles of the lower spine. Such an injury is hard to shake off.

“When I clean the weight for the press, I always pull it as high as possible. I also use a high split. Pulling the bar high enables me to settle it down comfortably across the shoulders. There is a reason for the high split too. If I didn’t use it, I would have to put a lot more effort into pulling the bar high. When I settle the bar into position, I place it well FORWARD on the chest. I find that I can get a much more powerful drive from this position.

“There are some lifters who have a press-commencing stance in which the bar is held in close to the base of the neck. It is my contention that a lifter using this style cannot utilize the full power of shoulder and pectoral muscles which play a major part in the execution of the lift. When I have the weight in the pressing position, I do not hesitate. I ram the barbell overhead with everything I have, getting as fierce a drive as possible. To wait too long is to court disaster because the weight of the bar across the clavicles causes pressure on the sub-clavicle artery and cuts off the supply of blood to the brain. This is the reason why so many lifters black out. I take a deep breath before I start to press, and breathe out as the barbell passes the crown of my head.

“You may have seen the mention of the pectoral muscles, Charlie,” went on Doug, “and because I believe they play an important part in the press, I have always included a great deal of bench pressing in my training. It has been my experience that as the power of the bench presses increased, so did the power of my Olympic presses increase proportionately. Another point in which I am at variance with some authorities is over the two hands curl. Most coaches claim that the practice of the curl will hinder a good lockout. My experience has been that it HELPS the lockout and here is why I think so. When I hold the weight in at the shoulders for a press, my biceps push against my forearms. I use this pressure as a ‘spring’ to gain additional momentum for the initial drive of the bar away from the shoulders.

“However, when it comes to the clean for the jerk, large biceps can be a handicap because you need to get the elbows well up. In fact you can even lose a heavy clean because of biceps development. When you have got the weight away from the shoulders, it is then that you will feel the benefit of those dead lifts. I can set my lower back and thus do much to eliminate those fatal words, ‘too much back bend’. All in all, my pressing is patterned as much as possible after the style of John Davis, who I think is the world’s most scientific presser. Once I acquire his actual pressing method, I feel my press will increase by at least 20 pounds.

“Apart from the actual press training, I have always tried to give my shoulder muscles as much work as possible . . . to work them from every angle and this has definitely helped me in Olympic pressing. At one period or the other during my training life, I have used alternate dumbbell presses, deltoid raises with a barbell, press behind neck, lateral raises with dumbbells, and all types of one and two arm holdouts. I have also used the handstand press-up a great deal, and this exercise alone will give great pressing strength. Many Olympic champions have used this exercise.

“Now for my training poundages. In the press I always warm up with a weight about 40 pounds below my training poundage (that is, the weight I will use when doing the 8 sets of 2 reps). If I am using 8 sets of 2 reps with 320, I warm up with 280, making two reps, then jumping to my training weight . . . 320. On my next pressing day, about a week from my previous workout, I try to add 5 to 10 pounds to my training poundage with the same combination of sets and reps. I warm up with 285, then jump to 325. I have used this system in all my training exercises, including squats and dead lifts and bench presses. But I have to be careful with this routine because I drive myself very hard and can easily go stale on a month to six weeks of this work. When I feel myself getting a little stale I take a rest for a few days and perform light bodybuilding movements such as curls, dumbbell presses etc. During my actual training workouts, I exercise for an hour and a half with hardly any rest during the exercises and I PUT EVERYTHING I HAVE INTO EACH MOVEMENT AND REPETITION.

“Food,” Doug continued, “is an important part of your training. You can’t reach the high poundages if you live on salads and raisins, though some people seem to think you can. During the period I am training to break a world’s record, I eat as much as four times daily. I also step up my intake of liquids, drinking lots of milk and fruit juices. My protein and starch intake is also increased to give me plenty of energy. Sleep is another important training factor and for the last five years I have been getting at least 10 hours sleep a night. I do not observe regular hours nor do I have regular eating habits. I sleep when I am tired and eat when I feel hungry and I have never failed to achieve maximum results.”

Throughout Hepburn’s system of training runs a combined theme of hard work and common sense. He recognizes that you cannot hope to build power unless you use extremely heavy weights. He believes, as I do, in building basic power through using the strongest and largest muscle groups of the body. It is a theory that is not in any way new, but it is one whose efficiency has been proved time and time again.

Neck & Forearms - Charles A. Smith

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Neck & Forearms
by Charles A. Smith (1951)

I remember a discussion a friend of mine and I had some months ago. “The pictures you have of those muscle boys in your magazines are all, more or less, stripped down to bathing trunks . . . there’s no difficulty in seeing what they are . . . lifters. But, what about a fellow walking along the street? Is there any way in which you can tell he is above average in strength and development? My pal paused for breath and went on. “Nowadays, the tailor does such a good job of building a guy up a cheat and a pair of shoulders, it’s hard to determine whether a fellow is all he’s dressed up to be.”

True, the tailor does do a lot of work in giving some men a build that isn’t exactly what it seems . . . but there’s one way I can ALWAYS tell if a man is . . . (a) in good physical shape . . . (b) above average in power and muscular development or . . . (c) a strength athlete . . . HIS NECK. And when you come to close quarters, there’s another way . . . HIS GRIP. But it’s the neck that is the key to a man’s physical condition. Look at the neck of a boxer or wrestler . . . particularly the latter . . . it’s full, thick and powerful in appearance. Now take a glance at the neck of a guy who has been sick for a long time, or the neck of an old man . . . scrawny, stringy, muscular tone very poor, with big hollows running from the base of the skull, formed by the muscles, that look like two thin ropes. Beyond any doubt, the condition of a man’s neck indicates his condition of vitality and virility. You all know how thick and powerful, and what a proud carriage the neck and head of a bull or a stallion has . . . and how drooping and soft the neck of a gelding or an ox.

Then there’s a man’s grip. Some year of so ago, I wrote an article about strengthening the hands and forearms, and gave you an idea of the impression caused by a flabby handshake. So I won’t repeat myself except to say that it is a decided social advantage to have a grip that appears sincere and firm. And so we see that the neck is the visible manifestation of a man’s condition and the grip the hidden one . . . not only of things physical but mental and emotional.

Getting back to the neck as indication of the balance in Nature’s life bank, I will never forget that great oldtimer and stage strong-man, Luigi Borra, better known as Milo Brinn, pal of Georg Hackenschmidt. I used to frequent the London Pub of Milo and at seventy-seven years of age his neck was as firm and as muscular AND as large as a young heavyweight wrestler’s. Even after a severe operation that would have been death to a lot of guys ten years younger, Milo quickly recovered without losing anything from his magnificent and shapely neck . . . and his grip too. His forearm power was something to avoid in a wrist-wrestling contest. Many of the fellows, members of the First West Central Lifting Club, used to challenge him without a single defeat being chalked up against Milo.

For the life of me, I don’t know why it is that young bodybuilders make such a song and dance about performing neck and forearm exercises. Asking some kids to work on their neck and forearms is like asking them to give you all their dough . . . neck and lower arm movements are generally looked on as a complete waste of time . . . for the usual reasons . . . two workouts and they still haven’t got 18 inch necks or forearms as big as Apollon’s so they quit cold. And when you see these kids in a physical excellence contest, they look like their necks are too weak to support their heads, and the general impression one gets is a decidedly unpleasant appearance of disproportion.

Neck work . . . and forearms too . . . are just about the most satisfying exercises you can perform. True, the results don’t arrive with lightning-like rapidity, but they do arrive much more quickly than those that arm or chest or thigh work produces. Strangely, these sections of the physique are looked on as “difficult” parts and are ranked with the calves as being hard to develop. Actually, it takes no longer than four to six weeks of specialization to produce an appreciable increase in neck and forearm size.

Take myself for instance. If I do a month’s hard work on my neck, it gets so big that it looks too large for the rest of my development, and I scale close to 235 pounds. Early this year, I started working on my neck and in no time had to discard all my shirts (17½) and get measured for ones with size 19 collars . . . much to the delight of my brother-in-law who haunted my home with a tape measure. But my early physical culture days were spent in a heck of a lot of wrestling . . . three and four hours each day . . . so it is no wonder that I can easily bring my neck up to over 19 inches if I so desire.

There are many ways of increasing the size of the neck and forearms. Just fifteen minutes hard wrestling on the mat should convince you that this is one of the finest ways to get those bull-like sterno-cleido-mastoids muscles. Then, there’s bridging on the mat and the use of a head strap and manual resistance applied by yourself or a training partner . . . or you can even use a towel, but in my opinion the very best of all neck movements are performed on an exercise bench . . . and the same goes for forearms . . . with but one exception . . . heavy dead lifts on a thick bar. The head strap has its uses too but the resistance applied to the neck by a training partner, CONTROLLED resistance . . . is perhaps the best means of developing to the full the muscles of the neck.

Here is your exercise bench routine, and first I have a few tips . . . pointers for you to follow. Both sections of the physique can stand an extremely large amount of work, so don’t be afraid to exercise them often and with great vigor. You will find the neck gets much stiffer than the forearms . . . obviously because it isn’t used as much as the hands and lower arms are, so as soon as you feel the muscles tightening up, quit neck work and get going on the forearms returning to the sterno-cleido-muscles when the tightness wears off. During the day . . . especially the day AFTER the workout . . . tensing, turning and twisting the neck muscles and head will help take the stiffness away and keep the muscles “warmed up” for the next workout. after the workout you can massage the muscles with embrocation.


Exercise 1.
Head circling. The first movement is performed with the head strap. Place this over the head with barbell plates attached to the rope or chain. Lie face down on the exercise bench so that your head and neck are just over the end. Throughout the entire exercise move only the head and DO NOT allow the shoulders or upper torso to assist in any way. Start off by lowering the head as far down as you can, then from this position turn it to the right and up and then down in a complete circular motion . . . take the head as high as you can and let it travel as low as you can. After 10 turns to the right, make another 10 turns to the left. Perform the exercise SLOWLY and DELIBERATELY so that you “feel” the weight all the way. As soon as you are able to make 20 turns each way, three sets, add more weight and work up again.

Exercise 2.
Head raising. For this exercise you need not only a bench, but a good thick towel and a training partner. Or, you can use a weight-plate, padded with a towel and placed on your forehead. Lie on your back on the bench with just your head and neck projecting over the edge. DON’T ALLOW the SHOULDERS or UPPER BACK to raise themselves off the bench. Remember that this is a neck exercises and the head is the only part of the body that should move. Place the towel (and plate if alone) over the forehead and just above the eyes. If doing the partner-assisted exercise, your training partner grips the ends of the towel. YOU lower your head as far as it will go, then you make every effort to raise it until the chin touches the chest. Your training partner applies just so much resistance that it will enable you to barely keep your head moving. As you get weaker, he should adjust his pressure (or if alone, use hands to help lift the plate with neck strength) to allow completion of each repetition. As soon as the chin touches the chest, lower the head and repeat the movement. Resist the weight on the way down. Keep this up until you can no longer force out reps.

Exercise 3.
Head pulls to the side. Lie on your back again, on the bench, and put the towel over your forehead with the ends pointing to the sides. Your training partner takes hold of the ends. If training alone, do this manually with your own hands while sitting upright. Starting position is with the head right over against the shoulders. The pull starts from there while you resist until your head touches the opposite shoulder from where you started. As in the previous exercise, your training partner (or yourself) should adjust his resistance to yours so that you are barely able to keep the head moving. In both these exercises (2 and 3) the position should be reversed. In exercise 2, instead of starting with the head DOWN below the level of the bench, you can make the commencing position from “chin on chest”. Your training partner pulls DOWN and you resist. Make as many reps as possible, three sets. While the three-sets-per-exercise routine is recommended, it is not meant to be a hard and fast rule. If you feel capable of performing four, five or six sets, do so.


Exercise 4.
Load a dumbbell bar up on one end only (illustration 4). Grip the bar by the unloaded end and rest the upper arm along an exercise bench with the elbow almost on the end. The forearm should be pointing straight up. From this position rotate the wrist in a complete circle, lowering it as far down, as far up, and as much out to all sides as you can. You will find it advisable to use a very light weight first of all . . . a 1½ pound plate on the end of the dumbbell bar, and grip the bar close to the plate, gradually increasing the leverage by increasing the distance between hand and plate. The hand can be rotated clockwise and then counterclockwise for as many sets and reps as you feel inclined to perform. This is a great wrist and hand strengthening movement.

Exercise 5.
Hold a dumbbell in the hand and rest the forearm along the exercise bench with the palm facing up. Now let the hand drop down as far as you can. From this position raise the hand until it is as high as it can go . . . almost at right angles to the forearm. Lower the hand and repeat. This is a great movement for the muscle on the inside of the forearm. Another point to be noted is the gripping of the dumbbell. Grip it with everything you have . . . tightly! Start off with a weight you can make 3 sets of 10 reps with, and work up to 3 sets of 15 before adding weight.

Exercise 6.
In the next exercise a reverse position to exercise 5 is taken. In this movement you use a barbell. Take a close grip on the bar and rest the forearms along the bench palms down. Lower the hands over the end of the bench and from here raise them up as high as you can. Use a thumbs around the bar grip and grip the bar as tight as possible. 3 sets of 10 reps working up to 3 sets of 20 reps before adding weight is best. The best time for you to use these exercises is right after you have completed your usual barbell workout. Just take a few minutes rest and go right into your neck and forearm exercises. Take it easy the first few workouts so you don’t suffer too much discomfort from sore neck muscles. When your neck and forearm muscles are broken into the idea of working really hard, you can start to go to town and build up a neck of which you can be proud . . . a carriage immensely improved, a grip to inspire respect, one that will increase your self confidence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Teaching Progression for Squatting Exercises - Loren Chiu and Eric Burkhardt

Table Training program for learning the plate squat
Click Pics to ENLARGE

Figure 1.
Plate squat viewed from the side: top (a) and bottom (b).
Volleyball has been placed on top of the plate to encourage the athlete to use proper technique.

Figure 2.
Improper performance of the plate squat.

Figure 3.
Overhead squat: 45° view (a) and side view (b). The bar must remain in the optimal “window” (dashed lines in (b)) during the entire lift. If the bar moves out of this window, the lift should be terminated.

Figure 4.
No-arms front squat viewed from the side: top (a) and bottom (b).

Figure 5.
Front squat viewed 45° from the front: top (a) and bottom (b).

Figure 6.
Back squat viewed from the side. The bar must remain in the optimal “window” (dashed lines) during the entire lift. If the bar moves out of this window, the lift should be terminated.

A Teaching Progression for Squatting Exercises
by Loren Chiu and Eric Burkhardt (2011)

Strength and Conditioning Journal
The Published Journal of the NSCA:

The squat is one of the most common exercises used in strength and conditioning programs. Squatting exercises have been used in both athletic and nonathletic populations to increase thigh muscle mass, lower body strength, and lower body power. Squat performance is associated with vertical jump and sprint performance (32) and has been reported to contribute to success during power movements, such as the snatch and clean (3). Despite the popular use of squatting exercises, dissenting opinions exist on how they are properly performed (6). The authors have empirically observed, primarily in athletes, a large variation in not only squatting techniques but also what appears to be a suboptimal technique when considering basic biomechanical principles.

Proper execution of squatting motions is required for the performance of advanced resistance training exercises, such as the snatch and clean. The snatch and clean require individuals to raise a barbell from the floor to an overhead squat and a front squat positions, respectively. These lifts require certain segment and lifter kinematics that are generally uniform across elite athletes (13). Inability to perform the squatting motions will result in a missed lift and potential injury to the athlete or will require the athlete to use an improper technique, minimizing the training benefits. Performing squats properly is also required to place stimuli on the appropriate musculature. Subtle changes in the kinematics or kinetics of the squat can greatly influence the muscular demands (21,28).

Salem et al. (28) reported identical segment kinematics in the healthy and previously injured limbs of individuals who had anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. Despite similar kinematics, the healthy limb used a strategy emphasizing the knee extensor musculature, whereas the injured limb used a strategy emphasizing the hip extensor musculature. This difference can only be accounted for by a forward shift in the center of pressure in the injured limb (15). Because center of pressure requires a force platform to measure, this bilateral difference may occur without the strength and conditioning coach being aware of it. Thus, it is of particular importance that a coach uses the right coaching cues when teaching individuals to squat (as well as other exercises). The use of an exercise progression is a method in which a coach can teach more complex exercises. A 4-stage exercise progression is detailed for teaching squatting exercise, using a novel variant developed by one of the authors.


Empirically, a common observation in individuals performing the front or back squat is inappropriate lumbar lordosis. Either hyperlordosis or hypolordosis will influence the posture of the trunk and position of the barbell relative to the feet, which will affect the loading of bone and soft tissue. These observations may be the result of excessive forward trunk inclination, a technique that shifts the mechanical demand from the knee extensors to the hip and trunk extensors (2,7,14). The plate squat exercise restricts the amount of forward trunk inclination possible, thereby encouraging an upright torso posture, distributing the mechanical loading across the hip, knee, and ankle joints.

To perform the plate squat, a weight plate is placed with the outer surface on the top center of the head and the opposite end held in the hands (Figure 1a). Initially, a 10-kg plate is appropriate, and the use of a rubber bumper plate is preferred as the larger diameter (45 cm) allows the plate to be held comfortably. The individual takes a hip width stance and takes a deep breath before placing the plate on their head. Holding the deep breath, the squat is performed by flexing at the hip and knee and dorsiflexing at the ankle simultaneously. While performing the plate squat, the plate should be held parallel to the ground (Figure 1b). If the plate drops below parallel (Figure 2), it is indicative of excessive forward trunk inclination and/or spinal flexion (i.e., loss of lumbar lordosis or excessive thoracic kyphosis). To encourage proper bumper plate positioning, a ball can be balanced in the center-hole of the plate (Figure 1a and 1b).

Although the mechanics of the plate squat have not been studied in a laboratory, research on spine biomechanics provides a scientific rationale for the effectiveness of the plate squat. The ligamentous spine, consisting of intact intervertebral discs, facet joints, and ligaments can support up to 80 N (approximately 8 kg) without buckling (9). The addition of axial loads exceeding 80 N results in reflexive activation of the spinal musculature to generate stability (8). In the plate squat, the resistive load is directed axially through the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine in the starting position, as opposed to the front squat and back squat where the resistive load is only directed through the thoracic and lumbar spine. However, it should be noted that this exercise may be contraindicated for individuals with cervical spine pain or injury. Individuals with cervical spine pain or injury should consult their physician before performing this exercise.

As the plate squat restricts motion of the trunk, it allows flexibility or strength limitations to be observed. For example, if the neutral spinal posture cannot be maintained with the 10-kg or 15-kg resistance, this suggests that the trunk stabilizing musculature is weak. Hypolordosis would indicate weakness of the erector spinae, whereas hyperlordosis would indicate weakness of the internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis (8,22). When the plate squat is properly performed, the torso should be upright in the deep squat position, the legs rotated anteriorly with the knee in front of the toes, and the weight distributed across the forefoot and rearfoot. In the authors' experience, athletes often learn the technique and demonstrate consistent performance after just a few repetitions. After a few sessions, the individual should be able to progress to a 15-kg plate and in a few weeks, to a 20-kg or 25-kg plate (Table).


The next exercise to appear in the squatting progression is the overhead squat, which also requires an upright torso posture. Like the plate squat, the nature of the exercise eliminates the possibility of excessive thoracic kyphosis and encourages the proper lumbar spine position. As implied by its name, the lift is performed by holding a barbell overhead with arms extended using the same grip width used for the snatch. Some athletes may be discouraged from performing this exercise because of flexibility concerns. However, it has been the authors' experience that the flexibility needed to properly perform this lift can be developed simply by practicing it. For example, if flexibility issues prevent an athlete from performing the movement through the full range of motion, a partial range of motion can be used. Over time, the trainee can slowly work on gradually increasing their range of motion with each session until the full range of motion is achieved. For many athletes, this strategy may be all that is needed, thus eliminating the need to perform special stretching exercises. It should also be noted that the appearance of poor flexibility may be related to motor learning, which explains how an athlete can make large improvements in the range of motion in a short period (i.e., between the first and second sessions). Although complex in appearance, the overhead squat can be learned rather quickly and with minimal instruction. If a trainee is able to maintain flat feet, proper knee position (thighs aligned with the feet) while holding the barbell in the correct position overhead (Figure 3), optimal technique usually follows. When viewed from the side, the barbell should be directly above the glenohumeral joint so that the humerus is essentially perpendicular to the ground.

The overhead squat is an excellent choice in the learning progression. It is much easier to teach and learn than its outward appearance suggests. In a manner of speaking, it can be described as “self-correcting” because it is difficult to perform incorrectly as long as the feet remain flat with the knees and barbell properly positioned. Overhead squatting develops and maintains the important qualities of ankle, hip, and spine and shoulder complex flexibility, while strengthening the lower extremity and stabilizing musculature of the shoulder complex and spine. The snatch balance (also known as a drop snatch), a more dynamic and “athletically appealing” version of the overhead squat, can be taught once the overhead squat is mastered. The snatch balance begins like the back squat with the exception of the snatch-grip hand spacing. To initiate, the lifter bends slightly at the knees (eccentrically controlled knee flexion) then explosively extends, “throwing” the barbell to arm's length while simultaneously moving into the bottom position of the overhead squat. In the snatch balance, the lifter moves into the squat position rapidly by 1) pushing themselves under the barbell and 2) rapidly jumping under the barbell using the flexor muscles of the lower extremity.


Similar to the plate squat and overhead squat, the front squat requires the trunk to be maintained in an upright position. With substantial loading, excessive forward inclination of the trunk will result in the barbell rolling forward and off of the shoulders. Once the plate squat and overhead squat have been learned, the front squat can be introduced because it allows greater weights to be lifted. In the front squat, the barbell is held above and posterior to the clavicles, with the barbell pressed against the throat. To teach proper positioning of the barbell, the “no-arms” front squat can be used, where the hands are held in front of the torso (Figure 4a). As the individual squats down, the arms should be elevated to prevent the barbell from rolling off the shoulders (Figure 4b).

The hands should be positioned on the barbell using a “clean grip” (Figure 5a). The grip should be identical to the grip used when receiving the barbell in a clean or power clean. However, it is important to note that the grip should be relaxed, with the barbell resting on the shoulders. For some individuals, the hands may be opened up with the barbell sitting on the fingertips. ALTHOUGH IT IS COMMONLY BELIEVED THAT WRIST HYPEREXTENSION IS REQUIRED TO HOLD THE BARBELL USING THE "CLEAN GRIP," WRIST RANGE OF MOTION IS NOT USUALLY THE LIMITATION. RATHER, THE GLENOHUMERAL JOINTS NEED TO BE EXTERNALLY ROTATED, AND TIGHT INTERNAL ROTATORS (PECTORALIS MAJOR, LATISSIMUS DORSI, TERES MAJOR, AND SUBSCAPULARIS) MAY RESTRICT THIS MOVEMENT.

As the front squat is performed, the glenohumeral joint should further externally rotate, pushing the elbows upward (Figure 5b). This will ensure that the barbell remains on the shoulders. Additionally, this habit should be reinforced for athletes performing the clean. If the athlete catches the barbell in the clean with the elbows pointed down, they are more likely to contact the knee, which is a technical error, and may result in dislocation of the lunate or fracture of the bones forming the wrist joint (19,23,33).

On its own, the front squat is an effective exercise for developing dynamic strength in the lower extremity and postural stability in the trunk. Recent research suggests that there may be no greater leg strengthening benefit in performing the back squat over the front squat (18). However, the front squat can be performed with a lower absolute load, minimizing compressive forces on the spine and the tibiofemoral joints. From a practical standpoint, the front squat may be considered a safer exercise to perform, particularly when using rubber bumper plates. If an athlete cannot successfully complete the lift, they can simply push the barbell off their shoulders, allowing the barbell to drop onto the floor. Although the same can be done during a back squat, an athlete may attempt to “fight through” a repetition (whereas this is less possible with the front squat), losing spinal extension, which can result in serious injury if heavy loads are used.


The back squat is the final exercise taught in this progression. In the authors' opinion, the back squat should only be taught after the individual is capable of properly performing the front squat with substantial resistance. The use of the front squat will allow the individual to develop appropriate flexibility and strength to perform squatting movements correctly, as well as giving the athlete experience to decide when to “bail out” of a lift that cannot be completed safely. When the plate squat, overhead squat, and front squat can be properly performed, teaching the back squat becomes very simple. The individual only has to place the barbell across the back of their shoulders as opposed to the front of the shoulders. The squatting motion itself is the same as for the front squat, overhead squat, and plate squat (Figure 6).

One point to note is the position of the arms during the back squat. First, the hands should be gripping the barbell just outside the shoulders. In general, the narrowest grip possible should be used. Second, the grip should be relaxed, as opposed to hands firmly gripping the barbell. Finally, the elbows should be pointed down during the back squat, as opposed to backward. We have observed that allowing the elbows to point backward encourages forward trunk inclination, whereas pointing the elbows down encourages the trunk to remain upright.


The authors have observed that many coaches instruct squatting technique using a broomstick or PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe. In our experience, this makes it more difficult to learn squatting exercises because some resistance is needed to activate the appropriate musculature and encourage proper technique. Additionally, for individuals who are limited by their flexibility, the resistance will assist in lengthening the muscle-tendon unit. Following the progression, an individual who can perform plate squats with a 15-kg or 20-kg plate should be capable of performing overhead and front squats with a women's (15 kg) or men's (20 kg) bar.

Just as it is important to use proper technique when performing squats, it is recommended that these exercises be performed using the proper equipment. Front and back squats can be effectively performed using any suitable style of squat rack system or in the free/open space of a weightlifting platform (8' × 8' minimum) using a quality bar, bumper plates, and a portable free-standing squat rack or power rack located at one end of the platform. However, overhead squats should never be performed inside a power rack. Ideally, the overhead squat and snatch balance should be performed on a weightlifting platform using a bar with bumper plates because this setup accommodates a missed lift while reducing the risk of injury or damage to the equipment. Another benefit to performing squats on a weightlifting platform is that it designates a safe area where only the trainee is allowed.

It is recognized that not all facilities have sufficient space and equipment (bumper plates) to perform the overhead squat safely. This exercise should not be performed in such circumstances because safety will be compromised. Further, coaches who do not have experience performing or teaching overhead squats (and other weightlifting exercises) should seek help from experienced coaches. These exercises are taught in coaching education courses from weightlifting organizations, such as USA Weightlifting and the Canadian Weightlifting Federation.


Beginning and experienced lifters alike will routinely experience missed repetitions when performing the overhead, front, and back squats. Although it may appear “shocking” to inexperienced coaches and trainees, dropping a bar loaded with bumper plates during a missed squat is a typical occurrence in weightlifting circles and learning to properly do so should be scheduled during the first session. Although most squat racks have built-in safety “catches,” the decision to “bail out” of a squat must be done quickly and the position of these safety “catches” may not allow an individual to miss a lift safely. The use of bumper plates and squatting outside of a rack will allow a lifter to miss a squat the instant proper technique is lost. If sufficient space and bumper plates are not available, squatting inside a rack and using spotters is recommended. However, in the authors' opinion, missing a lift by dropping a barbell loaded with bumper plates is also safer than having a spotter, which places 2 individuals in danger. It should be recognized that teaching athletes to miss a lift is an advanced coaching skill; therefore, it is recommended that inexperienced coaches learn the technique to miss a lift from an experienced coach.

Front squats are missed by losing the barbell in front of the lifter, whereas overhead squats may be lost in front or behind. To lose the barbell behind, the lifter simply has to jump forward quickly and may push the weight even further back to avoid being struck by the falling barbell. A missed lift in the front is even less intimidating as one needs only to quickly jump back while pushing the barbell forward.

The act of missing a heavy back squat may be the most dangerous situation in all of weight training if the lifter does not possess the knowledge and requisite skills. Although back squats are typically lost behind the lifter, the combination of poor skill (which can be avoided if the presented progression is followed) and torso weakness can lead to a lift lost in front of the body, presenting a very dangerous situation when attempting a heavy back squat. Add to this, the somewhat unusual location of the lifter, that is, between the barbell and the floor. This can give the inexperienced back squatter the feeling of being in a very precarious situation, especially because the decision to “bail out” must be made very quickly. With practice, missing a back squat in front of the body can be done by thrusting the barbell up and forward (similar to a push press). Beginning lifters should spend time practicing missing squats in front and behind their bodies until they are 100% confident that they can comfortably miss a heavy lift during a real-life situation.


Different coaches have expressed thoughts on a number of different aspects relating to squatting technique. In recent years, perhaps the most commonly discussed aspects are the stance width and whether to push the knees forward or the hips backward (16,20,26). These arguments are typically brought up in regard to the muscles trained and the amount of load lifted. As pertains to the amount of load lifted, the argument is proposed that using a technique that allows the most weight to be lifted will result in the greatest strength stimulus. However, this is a fallacious argument. If an individual performs a high-bar narrow stance back squat and then a low-bar wide stance back squat, they will typically lift more weight with the latter technique. However, they are not instantaneously stronger. The difference in weight lifted is because of changes in the leverage system (i.e., gaining a mechanical advantage) and possibly altering the muscles used (34). For example, the shank does not rotate as far forward in a low-bar wide stance squat (13). Without forward rotation, the moment arms through which vertical reaction forces act on the shank decreases, reducing the torque flexing the knee (15,16,35). A greater mechanical advantage allowing more weight to be lifted does not always equate to greater tension placed on the musculature.

Furthermore, if the muscles used change with the different techniques (16), the actual stimulus placed on each individual muscle would also change. In a narrow stance squat, whether using a front squat or high-bar back squat barbell position, the mechanical demand is distributed across the hip and knee extensors and ankle plantar-flexors (13). As the stance width increases, the demand placed on the ankle plantar-flexors decreases and the demand placed on the hip and knee extensors increases (13). With extremely wide stance widths, it is possible that the ankle dorsiflexors are required. Squats that do not allow the knees to move forward (ankle dorsiflexion) result in greater forward trunk lean (16), which increases loading of the lumbar spine (2). Therefore, the decision to use one technique versus the other cannot simply be made by considering which technique allows the most weight to be lifted.

A commonly made claim for using a wide stance squat, as well as the instructions to push the hips backward, is that squatting in this manner will train the “posterior chain” musculature. It must first be noted that the so-called posterior chain does not originate in the scientific literature, nor has it been subjected to scientific scrutiny. The first mention of the posterior chain (in English-language sources) was in an at-the-time popular bodybuilding magazine in the late 1990s. This term has since been propagated throughout other popular media and Internet and, recently, in some scientific articles. Originally, the posterior chain referred to the muscles on the posterior aspect of the lower extremity and pelvis, including the gastrocnemius, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus, which purportedly functioned synergistically and were invaluable for performance of sporting tasks such as running and jumping. However, there is no evidence that these muscles function synergistically during weight training or sports tasks.

In fact, the opposite may occur. For example, during the wide stance squat or sumo-style deadlift, the hip extensor demand increases while the ankle plantar-flexor demand decreases (13,14). During the snatch and clean, the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and gastrocnemius work synergistically during the initiation of the first pull, followed by decreased ankle plantar-flexor demand and a shift from the knee extensors to knee flexors (i.e., hamstrings) at the end of the first pull to initiate the second knee bend (11,12). Similarly, during jumping, the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and gastrocnemius activate in a proximal-to-distal sequence (25). The hamstrings are only activated at the end of the jump to contribute to propulsion and possibly limit knee hyperextension (25). Walking and running have even more complex muscle activation sequences (24), as opposed to the supposed synergistic activation of the posterior chain. Thus, it is clear that there is no special construct involving the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and gastrocnemius that uniquely contributes to sports tasks. Therefore, the argument of modifying a squat for the purpose of training the posterior chain is specious because this construct does not exist biomechanically.

This does not suggest that training the hamstrings is not important. Several studies have reported the value of developing strength and flexibility in these muscles for performance and prevention of injuries (31). However, there is not sufficient evidence that such training is effective (29) for coaches to alter the general purpose of the squat exercise for developing strength of the hip and knee extensors and ankle plantar-flexors. As has been discussed previously, the technique of performing the squat with the torso upright, knees pushed forward, and weight centered across the forefoot and rearfoot distributes the mechanical loading across all the 3 muscle groups (7). This distribution of loading makes it effective for developing the bulk of the musculature in the lower extremity. Furthermore, the hamstrings have been demonstrated to activate when rising out of the deep squat position, typically at the region where the sticking point occurs (24,27). Other commonly performed exercises also train the hamstrings likely to a greater extent, such as the snatch, clean, and their variations, as well as deadlifts and good mornings (11,14).


Concerns over squatting depth are commonly presented and are likely to have originated from Klein's work (30). Todd's analysis of Klein's work has suggested that below parallel squats, where the thigh and calf do not touch, were considered acceptable (30). This depth has been promoted by the National Strength and Conditioning Association in the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning text (10) and in a position stand (4). Research of squats performed to this depth demonstrates no negative effect on knee joint laxity and possibly an increase in knee joint ligamentous stability (5). Recent research has also cast doubts on the assertion that thigh-calf contact increases stress on the knee (36,37). Rather, contact of the thigh and calf generates a knee extensor torque, which would reduce the muscular demand of the quadriceps (36,37). The magnitude of the soft tissue contact-generated knee extensor torque appears to be large enough to substantially reduce the quadriceps tendon and patellar ligament forces, subsequently reducing patellofemoral joint forces and pressures. Although future research is required in this area, these data support the low incidence of knee injuries observed in competitive weightlifters (1), who typically perform some form of deep squats for hundreds of repetitions a week (17).


A 4-stage progression is presented for teaching squatting exercise. This progression uses a previously unpublished variant that has been employed for teaching college athletes to squat for a number of years. The plate squat axially loads the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine. Theoretically, this loading will increase muscular activation to stabilize the spine, restricting intervertebral motion and forward trunk inclination. Once learned and practiced, the overhead squat and front squat are introduced and finally the back squat. For athletic performance, both the front squat and back squat are effective for increasing muscle mass, strength, and power. A narrow stance squat performed through a full range of motion will distribute the loading across the lower extremity joints and musculature, thus can be recommended for most individuals.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Approaches to Neck Specialization - Charles A. Smith

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New Approaches to Neck Specialization
by Charles A. Smith (1952)

In a previous article on neck development, I dwelt on the function of the muscles and gave exercises that developed size and strength. These movements are used in the main by professional wrestlers to give the neck not only power but endurance . . . muscle stamina in addition to mere bulk. One can never begin to compare the special muscle needs of men like Bert Assirati with His 24-inch neck . . . Ad Herman who had a 23-inch neck . . . Ivan Samukov, 22 inches . . . Ivan Padoubny, 22 inches . . . Kola Kwariani, 22 inches – with the type of neck musculature that lifters and bodybuilders require. The necks of wrestlers serve a special purpose. They are weapons of defense and offense. Take men like Assirati or Kwariani who have necks of immense size and power . . . each can, by “feeding” his neck to an opponent, place him in such danger that until the victim wakes up, he never knows what hit him. A flip of the neck and head and the opponent is thrown . . . or in a tight corner with dirty work afoot, either of these men could batter an adversary’s face to pieces. Just as an icebreaker needs incredibly powerful reinforcement in the bows . . . armor and concrete to help the ship smash through thick ice, so the professional wrestler has a neck that is larger, more muscular and more powerful than the neck of any other athlete.

The bodybuilder or weightlifter does not need a neck that assumes disproportionate size as compared with the rest of the physique. Such a type of neck development is expected in a Mat Man but would look grotesque on a physical culturist. There was a time a few years back when you could glance at two athletes and tell which one of them was an Olympic lifter and which was the bodybuilder. Olympic men all have good, thick, powerful necks. They have that certain forceful appearance that goes with the athlete who is constantly active. There is an emanation almost . . . one might say an “aura” of vitality and virility.

The superior neck musculature of the lifter is due to the constant use of the trapezius muscles during snatches, cleans, and the violent static contraction of the sterno cleido mastoids during presses and heavy jerks. As you have seen from the previous neck-training piece, and as you can again determine from the #1 Chart in this article, the size and influence of the trapezius muscle is profound. It runs halfway down the back to the base of the skull, and it is at once obvious why snatches and cleans contribute so greatly to the thickness of the upper back, shoulders and the neck.

In previous articles I have given the various types of muscular contraction and for the sake of clarity and reference, I will repeat them. Concentric contraction is when the muscle SHORTENS under normal action . . . i.e., when origin approaches insertion, as in the case of the two hands curl. Eccentric contraction is when a muscles LENGTHENS against resistance, i.e., in the case of the Zeller curl when the weight is lowered from the shoulder but is resisted or “controlled” down until the arm is at full stretch. Static contraction is when the muscle contracted without ANY resistance . . . i.e., in the case of muscle control movements . . . or as pointed out in a previous lifting article, when a lifter crouches too long over a clean (legs) . . . or when a traffic cop holds his arm out at the shoulder level to direct traffic. It is this violent contraction of the muscles without any direct application of resistance, in combination with the action of the trapezius, that gives the Olympic lifter his outstanding neck development. Presses, all overhead lifts, snatches, cleans, both from the normal and the hang position, jerks and lowering the weight to the clavicles are the contributing movements that are productive of neck size in weightlifters. These are the reasons why you never see an Olympic man with a scrawny neck.

The case of the bodybuilder presents different problems. There are many bodybuilders who fail to look the part of a strong man when dressed because of a thin neck, or a neck that appears to be underdeveloped when compared with the rest of their physical appearance in clothes. My estimation of many great physique stars dropped considerably when I compared their neck musculature with the remainder of their physiques. Many bodybuilders lose valuable points in physical excellence because they resemble “Annie Laurie” – the gal in the Scots song whose “neck was like a swan’s.” But modern bodybuilders are catching up with the Olympic men because of the increasing use of the exercise bench.

Bench presses activate the muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle. The Sterno Cleido muscles are again used in static contraction, caused by the pressure of the head and neck on the bench. You can pick out this type of neck too . . . when standing face-to-face with the bench presser, the neck is very wide, thick across the front. But when you stand at th guy’s side and get a side-look at him, the neck has little thickness from front to back. In other words, he is “all front.” There is no need for this because the neck muscles are among the easiest to develop, responding quickly to the stimulus of exercise.

The neck that is well-developed has thickness, size and a certain amount of definement, and is the mark of a really powerful man. It is possible for you to get quite a build from a tailor! They tell you that clothes make the man, and so they do until you get into training togs, and then the well-cut suits and thickly padded shoulders don’t mean a thing. People see you for what you are. You can disguise all manner of physical defects under clothes but you can’t conceal the fact that your neck is SKINNY, and many a first class physique is spoiled by a stringy, scrawny set of sterno cleido muscles and thin section of the trapezius as they run up from the shoulders to the base of the skull.

Let me simplify this statement a little. It is true that the ordinary two-hands press will give you a good pair of deltoids and the effects of the exercise will be felt chiefly on the lateral section of the muscle. But to get the MAXIMUM development, you have to work the muscle “in isolation,” solely by itself that is, as much as possible. To do this you have to use movements such as the lateral raise standing for the entire lateral head . . . the forward raise with barbell or dumbbells for the anterior section, and the press behind neck, or the dumbbell raise to the side when the trunk is bent forward at right angles to the thighs, for the posterior deltoids.

Thus, specialization is merely determining the action of the muscle by itself and then compiling a schedule of movements that “functions” the muscle as strictly as possible. The muscle must work fully over a complete range of contraction, and as far as you are able, unallied with any other muscle group. While we can agree that sheer size and power for their own sakes are in certain instances desirable, we cannot subscribe to these qualities in the case of weight trainers. Not only do these men need size and power, but they also need proportion in order to insure that the other sections of their musculature don’t suffer by comparison.

When it comes to developing the neck, we have pointed out that barbells are somewhat limited. Used in conjunction with the so-called “free” movements given in the previous neck-training article, they do, however, provide the means for a complete neck development. I would suggest that you take one or two exercises out of that preceding chapter and add them to the routine that I will give you. You will then have a program that is able to provide a complete development without adding too much bulk. Your neck will look powerful, defined without that disproportionate thickness possessed by wrestlers. With each movement indicated, tense the neck and, after the exercise, massage the muscles, rubbing them up and down vigorously with a rough wash cloth.

Exercise 1.
The first exercise is the Shoulder Shrug. Hold the barbell in front of the thighs with a fairly narrow grip. Lock the arms at the elbows and keep them locked throughout the exercise. Shrug or raise the shoulders as high as you can, making every effort to touch the ears. When you have shrugged to the limit, squeeze the shoulder blades back and press back the head against the trapezius muscle, getting a strong contraction of the muscles in front of the neck. Hold for a slow count of two, lower, and repeat. The shoulders can also be circled from front to back and vice versa. Another version of the exercise that provides good work for the trapezius is holding the bar at the backs of the thighs instead of across the fronts. Start off with a weight out of which you can get 10 comfortable reps and increase gradually to 20-25. Force out every repetition and visualize the action of the muscles you exercise.

Exercise 2.
The next movement is a “towel” exercise. Place a towel around your jaws as in the illustration. The material should run around the neck and the jaws, over the chin. The ends of the towel are grasped by your training partner who stands at your side. Assuming that he is standing at your right side, you turn your head, or TRY to turn it from right to left. Your partner holds the ends of the towel tight and allows only sufficient movement to let the head turn. You will find it best to hold the chin rather high so that the jaw is more or less on a level plane. Squeeze out as many repetitions as you can.

Exercise 3.
The famous wrestlers bridge has been used by most mat men to produce coordinated effort between the muscles of the neck and trunk. It is, needless to say, a fine neck exercise and should be used by all bodybuilders. It is one of the few movements possible with a barbell. Study the illustrations closely so you get the correct position to assume. A pad should be placed under the head. The barbell can be held either across the hips or at arms’ length overhead. Keep the head steady on the pad or mat and push up with the feet, arching the back and getting the feet well back of the knee joint. Lower and raise the body by motion from the neck only, allowing the head to roll over the mat from the forehead to the back of the neck and repeating the motion. It would be best to practice the movement without weights until you are able to perform it correctly. Then start off with a barbell held across the hips. From here progress to holding the bar at arms’ length directly above the head as it bridges on the mat or pad. Take it easy with this exercise until you have managed to build up some extra size and strength with the other movements.

Exercise 4.
One of the most popular pieces of equipment for neck development is the Head Strap. In fact, it is the only single apparatus that will permit the neck to be exercises in all its complicated movements. Illustration 4 shows you one way to make use of the head strap. Most bodybuilders make the mistake of using too much weight in the exercise. It is best to use a light weight at first until you get used to the movement and then you can go ahead and gradually use more and more weight. Another common fault is the use of the upper trunk and shoulders. In all head strap movements use only the neck.

Exercise 5.
Also a head strap movement. Take your position on the bench as in the previous exercise. Hold the head well forward and allow it to fall as low as possible. Your chin should almost be on your chest. From this position turn the head sideways and UP then down to commencing position again, describing a complete CIRCLE of the head. Don’t forget to let the head go as far up, down, and to the sides as you are able. Rotate the head from left to right, and then in the reverse direction.

Exercise 6.
The final movement in this neck specialization bulletin is one that must be used at the end of the program to flush the muscles and keep them warmed up for a while. It will help prevent stiffness and maintain neck muscle suppleness. Kneel down on a mat and place your forehead on it. Thrust up with the legs so that the body and thighs are in the position shown in the illustration. You can either hold your hands behind your back or else use them to keep balance. Rock backward and forward across the top of the head, pushing forward on the toes, then thrust back again with the neck muscles. Make a conscious effort to tense the neck muscles as you rock backwards and forward. When you have completed the final movement, stand up and rotate the head for a while, then take a hot shower. It is wise when following a neck routine to drop from the program every month or so. The neck can get large very quickly and unless you are training with a view to a wrestling career, you will not need to keep on such a strenuous routine for any considerable periods. If a neck is too big it will tend to reduce the broad appearance of the shoulders. Outsize necks look good in the men who have the shoulders and chests to set them off. Not all bodybuilders have the length of collarbone or development of deltoid that could take care of any tendency to make the shoulders appear narrower, though following a neck specialization course for too long.

In concluding this article I would once again sound a warning . . . proportionate development should be the aim of every weight trainer. While the muscles INDIVIDUALLY can look outstanding they should not appear grotesque but pleasing in appearance, and members of ONE HARMONIOUSLY DEVELOPED WHOLE.

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