Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Grinders - Randall Strossen

by Randall Strossen (1988)

The iron game has a dirty little secret – it’s the real key to most people’s progress. It alone will transform a bag of bones or a tub of lard into something approaching an authentic husky. The secret isn’t anything illegal, and it isn’t linked in some obvious way to your DNA patterns. For all its wondrous benefits, there’s no place you can buy more of it. It is, however, equally available to all, and it’s just as useful whether you’re a lifter or a bodybuilder. In fact, it transfers extremely well to all parts of your life. If you could put it in a bottle, you might think of it as something that enhances good fortune because the results that follow are nearly always positive and often so stunning that you would think the stuff should be banned.

We call the secret “grinders.”

To back up a little, it’s no secret that the movements that produce the most dramatic gains are the time-honored basic lifts. They’re done with free weights, the poundages are substantial, and they’re the type of exercises on which making your eyeballs pop out leads to another rep or two or 10. And that’s the essence – you grind out more than you comfortably can; you stretch beyond what’s easy; you stick doggedly with it way beyond what most people would consider reasonable. Grinders call for having a quit switch that’s set somewhere around the red line.

Grinders aren’t flashy, they’re never fashionable, and most people avoid them like the plague. Sure, they work like nothing else on earth but at a price. You pay for grinders in the currency of hard work. If you want to succeed, you might as well learn about grinders as soon as possible, so you can reap the benefits.

Consider the average person who lifts weights. For starters, he or she probably chooses a gym for all the wrong reasons. Maybe the aerobics class looks good, or all the machines are strictly the latest generation maybe the color scheme makes it easier to coordinate his or her training clothes. Once in the gym the person picks a training routine that represents the course of least resistance – lots of machine work – most movements done sitting down – training frequency and intensity reduced – multijoint, basic movements avoided. That’s not a good attitude for grinders.

Grinders tend to fit in places that lean toward the primitive. It might be that primitive surroundings inspire brutal efforts, but, at the least, your focus is locked on the rep you’re struggling to complete, not the color or condition of the vinyl. One of the most famous lifting gyms in the U.S. had holes in the floor and a locker room that was so disgusting the municipal health department told the owner to redo the whole thing or be shut down. The lifters barely noticed the surroundings, and nothing they saw deterred them from training there. Down the street was a slick gym with a nice this and an even nicer that . . . the lifters there were strictly local and regional level. The lifters from the first gym frequented the Olympics and World Championships.

One of the best setups I’ve ever seen for grinders was in China. World record-holders, world champions and Olympic champions were more common there than 300-lb. bench pressers in any chain gym. How could athletes of that caliber be expected to produce their world-class results in anything less than a world-class environment, right? Consider the facts – for starters, the squat racks were the old-fashioned design that looks something like a pair of barstools. Many were made from wood, none were adjustable, and they were the wrong height for almost everyone. Short lifters had to pile up plates on the platform, under the bar, so they could reach it. Tall lifters had to stack plates on top of the rack and then balance the barbell on the stack to raise the barbell high enough to get under it. Some put plates under the legs of the rack to prop up the whole affair. Things were shaky at best, and more than once the bar fell off the racks or a lifter nearly ate it going up and down from their improvised step under the bar. Even though the local lifters kept the lifting area neat and tidy, more than once a rat greeted me in the bathroom – not exactly an advertiser’s dream. Nonetheless, there was nary a whimper from the lifters.

It’s tempting to write that despite all those suboptimal conditions, 700-pound high-bar, rock bottom squat with no belt, no wraps and no spotters were ordinary fare. In truth, because the lifters were unfazed by their surroundings, grinding through their training regardless of what went on around them, they produced elite performances. That gym witnessed some of the hardest training on the face of the earth, and the next year many of those lifters were competing in the Atlanta Olympics.

A grinder is any set that has at least one rep you could easily have failed to make, and a world-class grinder consistently gets rep after rep, lift after lift, workout after workout – each step marked by reps that surely might never have been born. Grinders might take the form of a world champion missing a huge weight a few times before making it, or a beginner gritting his teeth to make his full set of squats with 200 pounds.

Some movements are better suited to grinders than others. For example, quick lifts, such as snatches and power cleans, are executed with great speed so you can’t really grind through a dubious rep, although you might have to grind through a series of misses before finally hitting a successful snatch with a heavy weight. Isolation movements and just about anything on a machine can be attacked in grinder fashion, and the results will be good – although the leg extension machine is not well suited to grinders because of possible knee injury. Best of all, however, is grinding through the beg free-weight movements. None rivals the cornerstone of them all – the squat. In fact, the squat is so well suited to grinders that in classic 20-rep squat programs the tough guys end up grinding out 20 reps with their normal 10-rep weights – and as anyone who’s been lifting weights for a while can tell you, the results of such programs are mind-boggling.

Some people fail on grinders because they try to go too fast, too soon, meaning they try to attack a weight that’s too big for them. Because you have to be able to lift the weight in order to grind out reps, it’s important to start with something within your ability. Always remember that when it comes to grinding, it’s the size of the effort, not the size of the weight that’s important. If you do them properly, grinders will reveal their magical properties. Little grinders today lead to big grinders tomorrow, and that’s the path to progress.

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