Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Assistance Exercises - Jim DeCoste

Norik Vardanian
Pat Casey

Bill Pearl

On Assistance Exercises
by Jim DeCoste (2008)

Note: You might be able to look at some of the views here in a way that could be applicable to non-Olympic forms of lifting as well.

A short time ago there was a discussion on the merits or lack thereof of such exercises as the Romanian Deadlift and various movements from the hang. The thought seems to be that these exercises may be counterproductive to the learning of optimal timing and position in the contest lifts.

The discussion mentioned above:

(Denis Reno) I've praised Bigger-Faster-Stronger magazine before. An article titled "A New Look at Squatting" highlights the principles of Dr. Guy Voyer.

An article published in Bigger-Faster-Stronger, January/February 2008 called "The Case Against the Romanian Deadlift" gives a little background on how the Romanian Deadlift, now used by a lot of athletes in the USA, came to be.

The case against the RDL seems to revolve around the stated opinion of Bud Charniga, a former top USA lifter and the seller of Elieko barbells in the USA, and also the translator of a number of Russian articles used with great success by many USA coaches. I'll indicate some of Charniga's complaints against the Romanian Deadlift with quotes of Charniga from the BFS article.

"First, it teaches you to move your trunk in isolation to your legs - to use your back too much."
"The Romanian Deadlift is trying to simulate Olympic lifting, but the fact is it's only a fraction of a second that your hip extensors are on their own during a pull," says Charniga.

Denis Reno's comments: Well, I like to use the RDL as a strength builder to help a lifter "stay over the bar" during the beginning of the pulls, not to simulate the Olympic lifts. Like Charniga mentions in the article, I also like the snatch- or clean-grip deadlift from the floor to the knee. I agree to some extent with Charniga's opinion that there are problems with exercises such as power cleans from the hang - Charniga discourages them; and I think that coaches include too many "from the hang" lifts.

These two articles and others are well worth reading and thinking about. Too many USA coaches just prescribe the same old exercises that their coaches gave them, and not much thought or study has really been given to what is being performed and what muscles and habits are being developed because of various exercises.

(Jim Decoste) Such scrutiny of assistance exercises as these provokes renewed discussions on both the value and applicability of all assistance exercises. Can any assistance exercise be incorporated without disturbing the finer motor patterns of the contest lifts? Are there "neutral" exercises that address physiological weakness without interfering with muscle memory pertaining to the performance of Snatches and Clean & Jerks? It might be interesting to take an historical view of the philosophy of assistance exercises with these questions in mind.

Assistance exercises have been around as long as the sport of modern weightlifting itself. Bob Hoffman, writing in the late 1930's, describes lifts such as hang cleans and snatches, good morning exercises, full squats, and half squats. Russian literature in the 1950's indicates that various pulls and snatches and cleans from boxes were employed in most training programs. As squat cleaners became more prevalent front squats began to appear as a regular staple of most workout plans. [Note: see also the writings of Charles A. Smith in the 1950's on assistance exercises.]

What are some of the purposes of assistance exercises? Let's discuss a few. A primary use of assistance movements is to address particular individual weaknesses. For example, when the Russian team visited Mexico in 1967, Tommy Kono observed world champion Victor Kurentzov doing clean pulls while standing on a couple of 20-kg. plates. Assumedly this was to strengthen his initial pull. Around the same time the Japanese world record holder in the Snatch, Ohuchi, spent time doing snatch grip shrugs in order to work the top of his pull. In 1974 American champion Phil Grippaldi spent several weeks training in Russia. His hosts recommended several exercises designed to address weakness in his pull. It was expected that a coach or trainer would introduce a new lifter to various modifications of standard assistance exercises with the goal of strengthening that individual's weak points. The use of such exercises seemed indispensable since a lifter would have trouble learning correct technique if his strength was unbalanced.

Assistance exercises are also used to inject variety into training. In the early sixties, as we read the training routines of that era's top lifters, this concept of changing one's training program to prevent staleness was a common theme. The belief was that effective programs eventually became monotonous and had to be modified. Enthusiasm was the key to progress as Tommy Kono noted in an interview with "Strength & Health" in 1964. And enthusiasm was best maintained by introducing change and variety into our workouts. Naturally the more exercises used the greater the possibility of change and variety. Working only with the contest lifts and squats leaves much less room for rearrangement and modification. But the inclusion of a variety of assistance movements makes room for almost endless changes.

Another argument in defense of assistance exercises was that they are generally less stressful physically and mentally then the contest lifts and thereby reduce the chances of encountering both acute and overuse injuries. In 1973 Fred Lowe published a training program in "Strength & Health" that contained mostly pulls and squats but no contest lifts. His plan was to work the contest lifts in as an important contest was approached. He hoped that by using exercises that had maximum transfer to the contest lifts he would build strength and also save his knees. A few months later he broke his own American record in the Clean & Jerk and nearly racked a world record. Eight years later at the age of 33 he added 2.5 kg. on to this American record Clean & Jerk with a lift of 182.5 kg. It would be difficult to argue with the merits of his approach.

Perhaps the strongest argument for employing assistance exercises is the overload principle. Here, the belief was that strength could be increased more rapidly by using weights in simulated exercises that were greater than one's best contest lifts. For example, one could always use a weight greater than one's best clean by doing heavy pulls and front squats. This practice was around for a long time but was given much currency in the mid-fifties by the training of Paul Anderson. This lifter, widely recognized as the strongest man in the world, developed innovative methods for doing partial lifts with very heavy weights. Because of his rapid rise and unbelievable lifts, his training methods were widely initiated both nationally and internationally.

A few years later York Barbell, with much hype and fanfare, launched the isometric craze, but kept secret the concurrent experimentation with steroids. As a result the vast majority of uninformed lifters thought that isometrics were the road to phenomenal strength. The phase of isometrics that used limited movement in a variety of positions with very heavy weights was really a more controlled, sophisticated version of earlier overload systems Anderson's. These very heavy weights were indeed heavy, sometimes more than 100% higher than one's best contest lifts. Bill March, one of the first practitioners of these methods, once remarked that jerking 405 pounds is easy when you are using over 700 in the overhead support lift.

In the meanwhile Russian systems were evolving in a similar manner but with a couple of important differences. First, isometrics never seemed to really take hold there and secondly, the poundages in their overload systems were kept only a few percent above the lifter's best contest lifts. The use of ever heavier weights was thought to be a proposition of diminishing returns because of the possibility of injuries and the certainty of minimum transfer because those heavy movements could not be performed fast enough to simulate contest lifts. After 1970 with the sudden emergence of superstars such as Ivanshenko, Kolotov, Rigert, and Alexeev, students began to pay more attention to Russian systems. They must be doing something right. But from what could be gathered from the available Russian literature on training practices, no new paradigms were emerging. The main course for assistance exercises still consisted of power snatches, power cleans, snatches and cleans from boxes at varying heights, clean and snatch pulls, front and back squats and to a lesser extent good mornings, hyperextensions and various jumping exercises. For novices the training loads favored the contest lifts. For advanced lifters the loads shifted towards assistance exercises.

While lifters like Rigert and Alexeev were provoking wide ranging discussion of Russian systems, the Bulgarian, Ivan Abadajayev, was developing a radically different approach to training. He maintained that some athletes could benefit from extremely arduous volumes and intensities - the theory of adaptability. The second hallmark of his training philosophy based on research by Hiden and Meerson, pointed to the necessity of devoting most of the training sessions to practicing the skills that were needed in the contest - the theory of specificity. As Norb Schemansky would advise, "If you want to improve your Snatch, Snatch." Many forms of assistance exercises were thought to interfere with the more subtle aspects of timing and force application needed for both correct performances of the contest lifts and the increased possibilities of progressing to heavier results. In order to teach the muscles to lift heavier and heavier poundages, it was necessary to employ limit poundages in the contest lifts on a very frequent basis. In order to compensate for this increased stress, volume was reduced by eliminating most assistance exercises which were being increasingly viewed as detrimental anyway. Most routines consisted of Snatches, Clean & Jerks, power snatches, power cleans, and front squats. Naim Suleymanoglu's biographer, Enver Turkileri, included a 1986 training program of Suleymanoglu's that consisted of heavy contest lifts, front and back squat - no other pulling movements. Interesting enough, Suleymanoglu's very early programs showed a much greater variety of exercises. This approach is diametrically opposite to Russian practices which as noted above spend most of their volume on the contest lifts when training beginners only to shift more emphasis on assistance exercises as the lifter advances.

In America it is well known that Bob Bednarski practiced only the contest lifts and back squats. In the fall of 1965 I spent every Sunday training with him at Central Falls. He would usually do two lifts a session and work quickly up to limit poundages. If he did not reach 95% of his limit he was either sick or tired. Of all the Central Falls lifters, Bednarski most closely followed Joe Mills' principle of devoting training session exclusively to the contest lifts with squats as only an afterthought. In the era of isometrics and assistance exercise overloading, this approach was very unorthodox. When Bednarski became pound for pound the best lifter in the world his training was examined more closely but was never widely imitated. Most seem to believe that he was a unique case, that his methods were not suited for the majority. Interestingly, Bednarski's best squat was never far above his Clean & Jerk. In the summer of 1966 he visited Central Falls (he was then living in York) and worked up to a 500 pound squat that didn't look easy. A few weeks earlier he Clean & Jerked 446 at the Nationals. Even if we gave him a limit 525 squat, the Clean & Jerk is about 85% of that squat, a relatively high ratio.

A superficial treatise such as this cannot provide any definitive answers on the value of assistance exercises. It can only provide some generalizations which I'll offer as concluding thoughts. I would first of all question the reliance on assistance exercises as the main vehicle for the improvement of contest lifts. The danger here is that with an over-reliance on say, snatch pulls or power snatches for improving one's Snatch. The temptation is to develop a too passive approach to the snatch itself. It becomes too easy to not worry about the Snatch. All you have to do is add poundage to the snatch pull or increase the power snatch and the Snatch will take care of itself. To a degree this may be true if there is a transfer in performance of these movements to the actual Snatch. But in too many cases the transfer is minimal because way too much focus is transferred onto the assistance exercise. We train to get good in the assistance exercise. Joe Mills once told a story bout a guy who failed with a 325 lb. clean. He vowed to transcend this by embarking on a program of clean pulls. As the weeks passed he could pull that 325 higher and higher but still could not clean it. All he accomplished was an increased proficiency in the clean pull.

The real training task at all stages of Olympic weightlifting is to teach our muscles to Snatch and Clean & Jerk. [the real training task at all stages of Powerlifting is to . . . the real training task at all stages of Bodybuilding is to . . . the real training task at all stages of weight training for football is?] This is the key to reaching one's own potential. Simply put, progress is realized by teaching one's muscles to lift a new personal record. Each time we add a kilo to our limit a new variable is added. The bodyweight to barbell weight ratio has changed. A learning process is needed. The body has to learn to provide an appropriately stronger force during the lift. How this is best achieved is the ongoing debate. I'll use a quote from Tommy Kono made in the early Sixties for a concluding thought.

Kono said that the great lifter is a product of a constant striving to lift more and more weight. As an un-reflective 17-year old I thought this simply meant that we should try to lift personal records each training session. Now, especially in view of the above material, I see this more as a philosophy of training than a license to go to limit poundages all the time. The real objective of training is to develop a focus that is oriented toward lifting heavier weights and having that focus permeate the entire training regimen. All the lifts and all the sets should be focused on the personal record. Lighter weights should not be approached in states of distraction or without full concentration. If assistance exercises are used, they too must be performed with maximum focus in order to get the most out of them. It may seem like a subtle distinction but even when doing a snatch pull we must always see it as a teaching device to make a record Snatch. Its essence lies not in itself but in the essence of the record Snatch one aspires to. Such sharp goal oriented focus teaches the body to lift heavier weights. How successful one is in these endeavors will determine one's future in lifting.  

Squat Jerk Sequence Photos - Denis Reno

Click Pics to ENLARGE

The third good jerk by 69 kg. World Champion Zhang Guozheng of China with 192 kg. The first two photos show what is always the most important part of the Jerk: the balanced and vertical strong drive upward. The rest of the sequence shows the unusual Squat Jerk of Zhang, but more important is that this is not just a squat but an act of WORK, BALANCE AND PERSISTENCE. Note on the second set of photos that just standing up after apparently having the weight securely overhead is a LOT of work.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lifting in the 5th Dimension, Part Nine - Thomas Foote

 The Rope Trick

"In  the 5th Dimension," Path Finder lectured, "time and space are non-linear."

The old dude was in an unusually talkative mood. Having survived the journey this far, The Kid was becoming seasoned enough to trust his instincts a little. At present he was suspicious.

"Because time/space is more subjective here," Path Finder continued, "travelers tend not to be where they logically expect. Rather, one tends to be where one 'ought' to be."

"Rudimentary," The Kid commented. He didn't like the direction his guide's monologue seemed to be traveling. Neither did he like the direction he had been traveling physically. They had entered a region increasingly rugged and eroded. Long ago "the path" had become an extension of his guide's memory rather than a tangible trail. Presently, the going consisted of winding in and around rough gullies. While the horizon, when visible, was essentially level, the surface was a torturous maze.

"As I was saying, in the 5th Dimension a traveler seems to encounter what he needs," spoke Path Finder as he deftly picked his way. "One might almost expect a conspiracy the way lessons present themselves. That is, if one were paranoid."

Path Finder added some  private emphasis to his last statement by pausing just long enough to give The Kid a curious stare from under his heavy brows.

With this last comment, The Kid was no longer suspicious. He was sure! Even paranoids have enemies. Trouble lay ahead. The land had become ominous in itself, as if to match his guide's mood. The gullies had progressively grown into larger and deeper courses until a yawning canyon fell away just before them.

What The Kid saw made the pit of his stomach go cold. Some desperate fool had strung a rope from his side of the canyon to the far, opposite side. Each end seemed to be guarded at its base by huge beasts. On one side reared a mighty bull with a crescent moon suspended between its spreading horns. On the opposing bank crouched the figure of a great lion.

After an initial shock, The Kid could see that the beasts anchored the rope rather than guarded it. They were monumental statues, left by the ancients.

Now Path Finder's voice intruded.

"I hope you're ready for this," the guide conveyed with more than a hint of a doubt. Pressing on, he said, "What we are about to do requires strict attention. In the 5th Dimension balance is crucial."

In the shadow of the great bull, Path Finder seemingly stepped off into space. Actually, with his first step, he tested the rope's tension. Finding it acceptable, he proceeded . . .

"Whoa," called the distressed Kid. "Please!"

The old guide paused, one foot resting on the rope, and turned with a practiced calm. "Yes"" he inquired, raising one eyebrow.

"Do these," as The Kid spoke he indicated himself, "do these," he repeated, "look like the feet of a circus performer?"

Path Finder closed his eyes. He fought back a smile. Finally he spoke, measuring each word. "Have you paid no notice? Am I mistaken, or have we had several recent lessons?"

Tilting his head and squinting one eye, The Kid urged his memory into action.

"Well," he whined, "we have had some odd encounters. I'll grant you that much."

"Splendid," intoned Path Finder gravely, "now that your life depends upon it, please pay attention."

With this last comment, Path Finder continued to step onto the rope.

"To begin with you must compose yourself," he called over his shoulder. "To do this, take several deep, slow breaths," which he proceeded to demonstrate with elaborate, flourishing gestures. "Now," he said and flexed his knees several times, causing the rope to oscillate up and down slightly, "place your awareness here," and he patted his lower abdomen, "in the Hara." Turning to face The Kid he asked, "is this clear so far?"

Dumbly, The Kid nodded. It took all this strength.

"Excellent! Now, you must focus your attention on your feet. The soles, to be precise. Feel the even distribution of rope along the bottom surface. Now, visualize the flow of Ki originating in the Hara and streaming down, through your legs and along this rope." He emphasized the last word, "rope," with another bounce. "Considering the pressing nature of the circumstances, I suggest you remember the Power Glide." Again Path Finder glanced back to assure himself that his student was listening. The old guide took The Kid's fixed stare as confirmation. "Good, then let's proceed."

As The Kid watched the old man glide, one foot sliding in front of the other, he was reminded of a proverb. "While the boys throw stones at frogs in jest, the frogs die in earnest." This rope looked very earnest!

Now, on the far rim, Path Finder stood at the lion's feet and gestured for him to follow.

"Trapped!" he thought. With that in mind, he stepped to the canyon's rim and began to breathe deeply, from the diaphragm, as Path Finder had advised. Next, he placed his hands on his belly and tried to feel the pull of gravity against his center.

"So far so good," he allowed himself.

Slowly, he eased one foot out on the rope, which was thicker and more solid than he expected. Reluctantly, his other foot followed.

"Trapped and committed!" he stewed. With all his might The Kid focused his attention of the soles of his feet and tried to experience the pull of Ki energy. Again, as with the incident at the crumbled bridge, urgency worked its special magic on The Kid's consciousness.

"That cunning old fox," he thought with sudden insight, "he knew what he was talking about, after all."

The "balancing act" of The Kid works on two levels. First, the physical act of walking the rope required the esoteric skills previously encountered. The Hara, pranayama and the flow of Ki. Each of these skills are essential to performing exercises in the 5th Dimension. Secondly, the tight rope image acts as a metaphor for the more abstract concept of balance itself, which directed my thinking as I formulated my exercise routine.

The Path

My understanding of Taoism and its emphasis on harmony led me to create a split routine for lifting weights on consecutive days. The ancient Chinese mystics identified a fundamental principle form which the Universe could never deviate. They called it the Tao. After what I've said about world views, it shouldn't be too hard to grasp why translating words from ancient Chinese into English can give scholars headaches. For our purposes we'll say that the Tao is the Path of Nature (the Natural Way). The Taoist philosophers observed that the Path always seemed to be expressed as a combination of two properties.

These properties are known as Yin and Yang. The original imagery for Yin and Yang was "the dark and sunny side of the hill." The following list explores some of the attributes of each principle:


In a very simplified form, Taoism is a search for balance between these two principles of Yin and Yang.

A Split Routine

I wondered if I couldn't construct a lifting routine founded on this ancient concept of balance. Most experienced lifters are familiar with the idea of antagonistic muscle groups. In this scheme, the muscles are categorized as either flexors or extensors and operate in antagonistic pairs, such and the biceps and triceps muscles of the upper arm. In this example, the triceps extend the forearm as it contracts, while the biceps draws the forearm forward, as it contracts. Thus, a grouping exists such that two muscles with opposing functions work to complement one another's action. 

The Yin/Yang model seemed a natural for this balancing activity of opposing muscle groups. The two actions could be characterized as pushing (extension) and pulling (flexion). The act of pushing seemed to fit naturally among the attributes of the Yang principle, while the pulling seemed to have the receptive qualities of the Yin principle. Thus was born a balanced routine based upon the principles of Yin/Yang.

An experienced lifter knows he doesn't regularly want to hit the same bodypart two days in a row. Consequently, some people find it expedient to work their whole body three non-consecutive days a week. If you're really an iron-head, however, three days a week is just not enough, hence, split routines - - for example, chest, back, shoulders/arms legs; or upper body/lower body. I decided to try and differentiate between pushing and pulling movements, with the following results:

Pulling *Yin*/ Pushing *Yang*
1.) Clean/Bench Press
2) Deadlift/Centers
3) Bent Rowing/Squat
4) Upright Rowing/Press Behind Neck
5) Shrug/Dip
6) Curl/Calf Raise

Curiously, the routine almost made a distinction between the dorsal (back) and the ventral (front) processes of the body.

The principles of Yin and Yang apply to each repetition of each exercise, so that the concept of balance is central to each form. In any given exercise there is an active (yang) and passive (yin) phase. For example, in the bench press when one draws the bar to the chest the movement is receptive and accepting. This Yin phase is followed by the explosive, thrusting movement or Yang phase, as the bar is pressed off the chest and the arms extended. Dips, squats, rowing or whatever, it is easy to analyze the two phases of each form and see the intrinsic balance. In recent years negative reps (Yin phase) have received considerable attention. Given a basic feel for he Tao of lifting, such a "discovery" seems self-evident. Of course both phases are important, otherwise there would be an imbalance, a lack of harmony between Yin and Yang.

The Forms

The Yin Routine (Pulling)

1.) Cleans: This whole routine flows, and it begins with my favorite lift. The Clean will get your blood going, sweat flowing and heart pounding. You are going to get the bar to shoulder height, where you and it can rest. Don't accomplish this with a long, slow pull. Once you finish the first pull Blast It Up There! Timing is crucial, each movement critical (though of no great import), each muscle group must do its part in turn. If at first you feel clumsy and awkward, don't quit and don't give up. Over time you'll improve, and at some point in the near future there will come a workout where everything clicks in the correct order. Once this happens you'll get it, and will never forget it. 

How to:
- Plant your feet about shoulder width apart, toes out slightly.
- Grip the bar a little wider than your shoulders.
- Head up, back straight and flat, HIPS DOWN and close to the bar.
- Take up the slack and begin to accelerate slowly. I like to rock my weight back and forth a bit and wiggle my toes, feeling the pressure of the large part of my feet on the ground before I begin. 
- Once you complete the initial pull, accelerate, increase speed, get up on your toes shrugging and just before you reach peak of the upward vector give a final pull before diving under the bar and snapping your forearms. 

There are so many in depth tutorials on how to physically perform these movements. We'll just stick to what they don't deal with too much from here on in.

Meta-Movements (Clean):
 - Standing before the bar, bring your attention to your breathing. Feel the source and destination of breath as the Hara. 
- With feet planted; become aware of the pressure against the soles. This is your interface with gravity. Feel the solidarity of your center, the Hara.
- Dropping the Hara in close to the bar, visualize Ki energy flowing into the Hara.
- Wait for the pressure of Ki to grow. Feel the pressure mount.
- Focus: Bring your awareness to a single point in time/space. This is a moment of incredible intensity. When you FEEL it, let go! Always remember to exhale when you exert effort during the active (yang) phase, and inhale on the more passive (yin) phase. 

2.) Deadlift: This one can kill you! Then resurrect you from the dead. In many ways it is the embodiment of the Clean's antithesis. Where the Clean is a coordinated explosion, the Deadlift is a primal, slow simmer, bulging and brimming with energy filled bubbles most scintillating. A limit dead is slow poetry, seen from the inside by who but the few? Horton, that's who. Not Nick, but the beloved character of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Rosetta Stone,  co-creator of wartime's Private Snafu and known to those who knew and loved him as Dr. Seuss.

- Pranayama: begin deep breathing from the diaphragm.
- Feel your connectedness with the Earth through the soles of your feet. This sense of connectedness is felt in the Hara as the Earth's pull on your center. Drop the Hara as you grasp the bar.
- Ki energy, surging through your legs, originates in the Hara. Feel it press against the soles of your feet.
- Focus your attention on the equal distribution of power over the soles of the feet and slowly flow upwards with the Ki. 

3.) Bent Rowing: Each time you bent row you'll explore new territory. You learn new limits. You discover that you're not the same each day . . . each moment. You see that you are not alone, oh no, not you and the bar that becomes you, more and more with each and every rep. Sure, you can never step into the same exercise twice, Bra. Go get 'em and go with Christ. Buddha. All belief in the betterment of mankind that was, will be, and is at this very moment waiting to join your energy.

- Begin Pranayama before gripping the bar.
- Balance is very important, so focus special attention on the soles of the feet. Inhabit them!
- In this movement Ki flows to the Hara along natural lines of power. You should be able to feel the side by side positioning of your body mass (Hara) and that of the iron. In the Yin phase you will feel a continuous pull from the heels, though the hamstrings, across the bridge of your back and down to the bar.
- Rows can be performed dynamically with great power, or slowly with great control. Varying is not a no-no, isn't a negative thing, don't be afraid to be unafraid of being playful with the style you perform any given exercise in. Enjoy the pleasures of choice. There is more to what you are doing than simply succeeding in lifting the bar. Certainly, any child can ingest dirt from the Earth; it takes a man to understand the metaphor.
- Visualize Ki surging through your limbs during the active phase of each repetition. Since this is a pulling motion, feel the energy as it is drawn to the Hara. The key isn't whether or not energy pulses from the Hara, but that it pulses TO the Hara. Moving from your center is what counts.

4.) Upright Rowing: Slowly we are moving the emphasis in this routine, from the broadest, most inclusive forms, we have become more specialized and specific with this exercise. It is particularly suited to fantasy . . . the Viking ship you now row across uncharted waters . . . a moment in time repeating as the Sword is removed from that grip of the icy-fingered Stone . . . lifting those long-passed friends below from the darkness of death and the other side . . .

- Begin with Pranayama
- Focus on the soles of the feet, sensing the stability of your pose. Feel the Hara's pull against the Earth.
- Visualize the vertical flow of Ki, streaming upward through your body into the unimaginable distance. You will enter that flow as you exhale.
- As you raise the bar feel the Hara contract. Actually tense the abdominals. When the bar descends, let the Hara relax.
- Again, visualize Ki sweeping upwards through your limbs with the active phase of each rep.

5.) Shrugs: Shrugs are simple. A basic pulling move. And like all basic pulling moves they have the power to do so much in so many ways. Squeezing tension right out of the body and very soul are only two of the not-few this many-headed beast of pain and pleasure delivery can bring. Consider the 'bar-distance-traveled'/'feeling of extreme well being and vital aliveness' ratio with shrugs. That bar is only moving a few inches, remember. Yet those few inches, if the move is performed properly, can give and take so much. Quite simply put, shrugs are a miracle, a gift given only to lifters, to men and women all growed up enough to realize gifts given and welcome them. Long time no see, my good friend. Please do come on in, and by all means feel free to give your pal Trap Bar a call.

- This form is so pure it's a good opportunity for deep concentration. But then, what's not? You will breathe deeply through the movement.
- Pay particular attention to the power line which seems to extend from the bar to the center of the Earth. The bar and the Hara occupy the same time/space. Feel the pull through the soles of the feet as gravity draws your center toward the Earth's center.
- Visualize the vertical flow of Ki, rising above and beyond you with each contraction.
- As you exhale, feel the bar rising from the center of the Earth, not just from your hands. Realize from time to time just how hard you strive to believe your energy is not intimately interconnected with all things past, present and future. Ouch. I'm not just deluded, I'm a delusion of my own off-center making.

6.) Curl: This exercise seems to enjoy great popularity with everyone but me. Are you familiar with putting calf raises or ab work last in a workout, then deciding you've run out of steam by then and completely neglecting them? That's what curls are to me. A necessary evil tacked on at day's end much like brushing teeth before bed and the sweetness of dreams in other worlds. A tiny muscle group overwhelmed and bloated with its own popularity among the young and near-uninitiated. Great hidden areas of big-muscle-group involvement most certainly bring more satisfying rewards than any curl ever could. Chicks dig guys on the cusp of ascendance. Not biceps. Really. The scene is tragic, a blue day in our most favorite bestest woman's world following the sudden and unexpected death of a close friend. Do you make a muscle, flex your swollen biceps . . . or do you translate the flow, the striving, and the overcoming of pain only big movement lifting can bring to this situation? I rest my alienated and primal-naive case. And apologize to the original author of this work of genius for being so silly and intrusive.

- Breathe deeply and quiet your mind.
- Locate the Hara and its union with the Earth, through the soles of your feet.
- Visualize the rising flow of Ki.
- Focus on the instant.
- Let it go. As you exhale, contract the Hara.
- Visualize the roar of Ki energy coursing through your arms. It bursts from your fists on a flight into infinity. The streaming "water" causes your arms to raise and the bar travels unnoticed. (Get the idea?)
- Repeat the image with each rep. Try to bring as many senses to bear as possible, hear the roar, feel the surge, see the bursting stream.
- Apply what you learn through doing curls to your real exercise movements. 

Next ---- The Yang Routine (pushing)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Charlie Richards, Rocky Mountain Superman - Peary Rader

Charlie Richards
John Davis

 Yacos Gym, Detroit, 1945
 Click Pics to ENLARGE


Charlies Richards - Superman -
by Peary Rader (1946)

Here is the story of the man we spoke of earlier this year. We have received many requests for more information on him and here it is. Perhaps you have found an unknown superman who should be given publicity. Let us know about it, won't you?

Earlier this year we mentioned a fellow we had met in Denver while on business who performed some very herculean feats. We promised more about this athlete and some photos for this issue. We happened to be in Denver on Sunday when we could transact no business and so we decided to visit some of the lifters there. Our old friend, Hugh Turner, a longtime barbell man lives there so we called him up and he invited us down to watch some of the boys train. He came around to our hotel and took us out to 331 Fox St. where we were introduced to a fine muscular group of fellows training in an old brick garage in an alley. The garage had a dirt floor but they had spread an old rug on the floor to keep down the dust. Nevertheless, when a weight was dropped on this rug a hole was punched in the ground but the rug springs back up creating quite a hidden footing hazard. The day we were there it was cold and sleeting outside but the boys were all stripped down working out with the big double doors wide open. It was here that we met Charlie Richards about whom we are writing this article. It was at his home the boys were training. We were amazed that these fellows could do so well under such circumstances. There was no lifting platform nor was there an international lifting set - just a standard exercise set commonly referred to by J.C. Hise as a "club" as far as lifting is concerned.
 In a short while Orville Wertzbaugher the West Coast former lightweight champion appeared with his attractive wife. The boys had been training for some time when we arrived. Some of them were pressing, some did a few snatches and clean & jerks and bent presses but most of their exercise period was taken up with squatting, dead lifting, pressing, supine pressing, curling and a few other exercises. The boys worked up from light weights, each taking a weight when their own desired poundage was on the bar. We asked Charlie how long he worked out and he replied about two or three hours. He takes the most terrific workout you can imagine. However, he does not use a lot of exercises but specializes on a few doing many sets of each exercise.

He starts with about 200 pounds in the press doing as many reps as he can and working up to his best poundage which that day was 3 reps with 280. When I saw him do this I could hardly believe the bar weighed that much. He cleaned the weight with a sort of backhand curl motion. Then held the bar at the chest so long that I had decided he wasn't going to press but was I was fooled. He took a deep breath and started his press very, very slowly and strictly. I had never seen anyone press that much for even one rep with such a slow start or wait so long before starting. The weight slowly, slowly up and overhead to straight arms with very little back bend. Then another repetition in the same manner . . . and still another. Even this last one did not seem like his limit but he lowered it to the floor. He mentioned that he was off form that day and that he had wanted to do 290x3 for me. Imagine this kind of lifting after he had already been pressing for about 45 minutes beforehand, working up with the other fellow. He performed at least 10 presses with 300 pounds in the supine position on the bench after this. Then he started on the jerk.

Charlie loaded the weight up on standards. Then he took the bar off the stands and backed up and did his jerks. He did a lot of repetitions and finished up with 350 for 3. Each repetition was easier than the previous one. He had worked up to 380 like this in the workout before, but he wanted to do some squats for me so he loaded the bar up to 405 and began doing just that.

He did 12 repetitions with this weight and to me they all looked easy. Certainly he didn't have to fight the weight at all like I have had to in my squatting experience. He did a few other lifts and exercises while I was there that I won't detail. It was rather late and we had to leave so I don't know how much longer he continued working out.

Since then I have written Charlie for more information about his training and lifts. The following is some of that information we received.

It might be thought that such a powerful man would be conceited and overbearing. Such is not the case with Charlie Richards. He is exceedingly shy and retiring. He has never lifted in any heavy competition but says he does better in competition than in training. His only contests are are a few district meets that were held in Denver while Charlie was still a middleweight. We had hoped that Charlie would come to the Nationals as he would have been almost sure of second place. The experience would have been of great value to him. However, he didn't feel he could make the trip this year. Next year we will do our best to get him there.

Charlie tells us that he started training with the weights 11 years ago. He started out with a pair of light 15 pound dumbbells. At that time he weighed 140 pounds at a height of 5'10" which is his present height. In spite of the fact that the dumbbells were quite light he worked very hard with them and gained in bodyweight to 165 pounds in only 6 months. Two years later his father bought him a set of heavier plate loading dumbbells totaling 75 pounds. He didn't gain any more in weight with these but he gained a great deal in strength.

In 1939 he hitchhiked to Denver for his first weight lifting meet. Ed Shepherd, who has long been the District Lifting Chairman, showed him how to perform the lifts before the meet started. Up to this time Charlie had never tried them. With no more training than a trial on the lifts and weighing in at 166 pounds he won the light-heavy class with a 180 press, 180 snatch and a 210 clean & jerk. This success inspired him to get his first set of barbells. So it was at this time (1939) that he had his first real introduction to barbells. He did nothing but the three lifts for some time and finally reached a total of 775 as a light-heavyweight. He pressed 235, snatched 220 and clean & jerked 280. His bodyweight ranged from 165 to 185 during this time. Of course these were training lifts without the stimulus of a contest as he stated he always trained alone.

In 1941 he became dissatisfied with the progress he was making, still using nothing but the three Olympic lifts, and decided to try a squat program. I quote Charlie as follows:

"It was in the fall of 1943 that I started doing nothing but squats and supine presses (he does most of his supine pressing on a bench). At that time my bodyweight was 170. I had a buddy to train with who weighed 175. I could squat with 270 pounds for 10 repetitions at that time and supine press 230 for 5 or 6 reps on a bench. I trained two or three times per week and used from 5 to 6 sets of the squats for 10 reps each. Following are about what I used at first -- 270 pounds for 10 reps; 250x10, 260x10, 260x10 and 250x10. If my legs weren't shaking too badly I would do another set. I did so many squats some afternoons that I could hardly climb the steps out of the YMCA where I was training at the time. I was working nights then so all I did in my spare time was work out, eat and sleep. I also drank from 2 to 3 quarts of whole milk per day and ate plenty of plain, wholesome food. A fellow could almost see himself grow on this program, Peary. The gains I made surprised me. I had gone from 170 to a pretty solid 215 in 6 months. My strength seemed to come up right alongside my weight gain. At the end of 3 months I was deep squatting with 300 pounds for 10 reps for all my sets, and supine pressing with 230 for 10 or 12 reps on the bench.

I then tried myself out on the three lifts and altho I had not practiced them at all during that time I did the following: Press 265, Snatch 235, Clean & Jerk 300. Since that time I have added other exercises and have been training very irregular -- anywhere between 1 and 3 times per week. I have, however, brought my bodyweight up to 230 pounds."   

Charlie gives the following as his best lifts and states that he can perform any of them at any time. He further belittles his lifting by saying they are not much but the best he can do at this time. What a man!

Press - 205 x 15 continuous reps, 250 x 8, 260 x 6, 270 x 4, 280 x 3, 290 x 1.
He says, "I have never tried any more than the 290 but believe I can handle more."

I might say here that the snatch and clean & jerk are his weakest lifts and he has no form to speak of on them. He just pulls them up with arm power, then a little kicking apart of his feet. With a little tough coaching and some tough competition he would soon learn to get clear down and these lifts would come up to match his jerk and press. His jerk likewise is just a heave and press out with a shallow split. Don't ask me how he does it. All I know is that I saw him do it. He has snatched 250 but could do 280 easily with a lower split and making more use of his back and legs. He has done snatched 200 pounds for 9 continuous repetitions without setting the bar down - in other words - dead hang, and this is with next to no dip under the weight, basically it is all upper body power. Likewise he has cleaned 330 in this way but it appears he could easily do 350 easily even with his current rough form.

In jerks from the shoulders he has done 300 x 9 continuous reps, 330 x 5, 340 x 4, 350 x 3 and 380 x 1.

In the supine press on a bench he has done 300 x 10 and 347.5 x 1, but doesn't push this exercise too hard.

In the squat Charlie has done 400 x 15 deep reps and 450 x 10. He states that he has never tried over 450 and doesn't really know what he could do for one repetition.

He has performed 13 bent arm pullovers on a bench 15" high, allowing the bar to go low each repetition [here Mr. Rader neglected to mention the poundage so we can only make a guess according to his other exercise poundages].

Given some proper coaching I believe Charlie could far exceed these poundage in a short time.

The above is about the workout (using the repetitions and weights stated for each set) that he was doing when I saw him some time ago. Since that time we have persuaded him to start a program of snatches, cleans, presses, bent arm pullovers and squats. He does 5 or 6 sets of 5 to 10 reps with heavy weights in each exercise.

Charlie wants to reach his 400 pound jerk and exceed a 300 pound press soon. We know that he can do it.

He tries to get from 7 to 9 hours sleep each night and eat lots of wholesome food. He does not eat pastries and the like but drinks lots of milk at all times of the day.

There you have the story of a very strong man. it is not he end of this story, because we know that he will go on to greater things in the future. He is only 29 years old and is still very enthusiastic about lifting and exercising. Charlie is married to a beautiful young lady and they both have bicycles, are very fond of riding them whenever the whim takes them, and enjoy several other forms of physical leisure activities.

P.S. At the latest report Charlie is doing 12 squats with 450 pounds and should soon be squatting with 500 for 10 reps soon.

Ten days later I received word from Orville Wertzbaugher that he talked Charlie into squatting with his limit, and he took 500 pounds with ease and then did the same with 520, then apologized for missing a second rep with the 520. The editor now has Charlie on a special program to develop more power for his clean and snatch. We plan a contest for Denver shortly where he should make some real records.   

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dynamic Abdominal Health, Part Four - E.M. Orlick

Dynamic Abdominal Health, Part Four
E.M. Orlick (1944)

Exercises for Strength and Power

The following exercises are of a strenuous nature and should be performed only by those who are already quite advanced in their training. Where number of repetitions are not given, repeat exercise until you have to strain and at this point stop and rest. Do this three or four times in succession with each exercise. In this way your body will act as its own barometer telling you pretty well what you can and what you cannot do. As the abdominal muscles grow stronger you will naturally be able to do more repetitions and at no time will you be forcing yourself beyond sensible physiological limits.

(1) Lie on back on a bench or low table with buttocks near one end. Let heels rest on floor or as close to it as possible. Raise legs SLOWLY until overhead and then lower slowly to original position. If you have an abdominal board, start with a slight incline, lie on back, head up and feet down. Slowly raise legs and slowly lower as above. As you get stronger increase incline and increase number of repetitions.

(2) Sit on bench or low table. Hook feet under belt or strap. Lower body from waist until head touches floor and then come SLOWLY up to a sitting position again. If you have an abdominal board, start with slight incline, lie on back, feet up and head down. Raise upper body to sitting position and slowly lower again. Repeat as condition and need warrants. To make exercise more strenuous increase the incline and the number of repetitions.

(3) Stand with feet astride. Grasp dumbbell in left hand. Bend forward at trunk until left hand almost touches right foot. Swing arm with dumbbell away from body as shown, turning the trunk in the same direction, and looking at the dumbbell. Change dumbbell to right hand and repeat exercise by dipping and swinging to the opposite side. Repeat exercise 16 times with each hand. Not 15 and not 17, okay? Right.

(4) Place two chairs back to back and about 18" apart. Stand between the chairs, place hands on the backs and support weight of body on the arms. Keeping the legs straight raise them slowly until they are parallel to the floor and you are in a sitting position. Hold this position for as long as possible and then lower the legs slowly. Rest for a moment and repeat as advised. Use dipping bars if available and put the chairs back around the table. Is dinner ready yet? My dish keeps falling off the dipping bars!

(5) Stand upright with feet apart. Grasp two dumbbells, one in each hand. Bend forward and touch them on the floor in from of the left leg. Swing arms from floor up overhead as shown. Repeat by bending and touching in front of the right leg. Continue as suggested in the instructions preceding these exercises.

(6) Sit on floor. Bemoan state of world. Raise barbell overhead and lower it behind head until it is resting across the neck and shoulders. Lower upper part of body until barbell is resting on floor. Raise trunk to sitting position and be thankful you're even alive. Repeat until strain is felt. Rest and repeat again. As weight becomes easy to handle increase number of repetitions or increase weight of barbell. Hook feet if necessary.

(7) Place loaded bar on floor. Lie down on back with head near the bar, grasp barbell with hands at shoulder width. Keeping body straight raise it slowly into the front lever position shown. HOLD THIS AS LONG AS POSSIBLE and lower slowly. Rest and repeat. Continue as advised.

(8) Sit on table, feet hooked under strap or belt, buttocks near one end. Clasp hands behind the neck. Lower trunk and at the same time turn it towards the left. Raise trunk to sitting position turning as you come up so that you will face forward again. Repeat process towards the right.

(9) Attach iron boots or weights to your feet. Lie on floor on back. Place hands under buttocks. Stop that! Raise legs up and overhead keeping them straight as shown. Lower legs slowly to original position.

(10) Stand upright with feet astride. Grasping two dumbbells raise them overhead. Bend trunk from side to side as shown. Variations: Trunk bending forward and back. Trunk circling.

(11) Grasping two dumbbells lie on the back with arms outstretched out overhead. Come up to a sitting position keeping the arms straight. Lower arms to feet as shown. Raise dumbbells overhead again and keeping the arms straight lower the body to the original position. If necessary hook the feet under solid bench or bar. Repeat this exercise as advised.

(12) Lie on table with buttocks near the end. Hook feet under strap or belt. Grasp barbell and press overhead. Lower trunk holding bar overhead until strong stretch is felt in back. Raise trunk slowly to original position. Rest and repeat. Start with a weight you can handle easily and gradually increase it. Increase the number of repetitions as you progress. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Power Mindfulness - Ken O'Neill

The Way of Bodhibuilding
by Ken O'Neill

Certain societies have for long made knowing yourself the greatest of all heresies. Religious and political dictatorships don't really want you to know who you are. Instead, they mandate the nature of reality, the nature of yourself: you are who and what you are told you are. In Western culture, that taboo was so great that psychology, the study of mind and emotion, was taken seriously. And when psychology first started only slightly more than a century ago, its chief interest was in mental illness, sexual perversion, and how rats and worms learned to run mazes. Until very recently psychology ignored dormant potentialities and powers within us all. Even now, the psychologies interested in our hidden nature are not in the mainstream: your health insurance will not support such a program.

Bhodibuilding takes off where psychology currently ends. It is a new science and art of educating you about all the dimensions and skills needed for success in lifelong fitness and health. Bodhibuilding means literally to build the wisdom body along with the physical body.

Mindfulness is the high art of balancing being fully present in the moment together with working within a training program. It charges your workouts with power, intensity, and effectiveness. Power mindfulness has another benefit: it can make your workouts briefer because of their effectiveness.

Bodybuilding publications are filled with training routines but none of them take up training a championship mind. Mindfulness reshapes your workouts from a routine into some dynamic that keeps on bringing results.

You won't find books on Power Mindfulness. It's a key to bodhibuilding. You will find it in the traditional martial arts as well as the fine and performing arts throughout Asia and parts of the Middle East. But when martial arts are imported to the West, power mindfulness is often discarded. Our culture's dogged insistence on separating mind from matter results in a "mind over matter" orientation. The 'mind' of mind over matter isn't mindfulness -- it's ruthless brute force, like a wild horse in need of taming . . . brute force content to break its way through any obstacle, so drunk on its own power that profound injuries are a sure bet.

I'm using the term mindfulness instead of meditation. Meditation means so many different things that that there is not a clear, single meaning for the word. And it brings to mind religious associations of monks and nuns cloistered away from the world, eschewing power in favor of submission. Mindfulness has clear and unwavering meaning. Mindfulness is a natural skill just like muscle or strength building, and is something anyone can master through regular, disciplined training. Those of us who do weight work can easily pick out others who do the same. And those of us who do mindfulness training can see it in others.

Mindfulness training starts with taking responsibility for your states of mind and emotions. The average person has little self-control, their states of mind being like unconscious knee-jerk reactions to their environment. Instead of self-control, the average person reacts to life. In recent decades the debilitating role of stress in the lives of average people has gained wide acceptance, resulting in all kinds of "stress reduction" and "stress management" programs. Power Mindfulness recognizes the role of stress in life, but instead of "reducing" or "managing" stress, it focuses on outgrowing any influence by stressors.

Most of us are creatures of habit. We like stability. Change requires a lot of energy -- energy invested in adapting, energy invested in creating new stability. Change breaks down our habits, discomforting us with adaptation. We don't even like to think of change -- in fact, most of us find difficulty in imagining big differences or changes in our way of life. That same habit of mind applies to how we train and what we get out of training. Oh, we may change the order in which we train, the number of sets, the number of reps, but the very idea of making radical changes in training demands thinking outside of the box. Just look at training routines: most are variations on a theme. Gyms are pretty much organized around that theme. Supersets are a case in point: the layout of the average gym makes doing supersets, say of back and chest, pretty difficult. Instead gyms are organized as neat little compartments or categories: chest equipment here, back equipment there, leg equipment somewhere else. And that makes doing anything differently rather difficult.

Power Mindfulness aims at creating the very stress needed to make gains. Not the stress that disrupts making gains. Power Mindfulness takes the power away from the world outside of your mind and emotions, bringing that power home where it belongs. Bring back the power.

Bodhibuilding development consists of three major steps in training:

(1) Developing skills in breaking out of the normal waking trance, or disengaging yourself from what's going on outside of you. In meditation and stress management training, you learn techniques of sitting quietly. They depend on learning to turn off the incessant inner mental chatter and removing yourself from the distractions outside of you. That brings about some independence and freedom from stress. As you get good at this, your experience shifts to quiet and peace. As you get real good, that peace and quiet follows you around.

(2) Insight or understanding is the second stage. Learning to turn off inner and outer unsettling distractions will, in time, reveal a big difference. That difference between peace and stress gives you a choice to make: which matter most. As you vote for peace and quiet, stress drops including overproduction of catabolic (tissue destroying) hormones, better sleep and overall relaxation follow. You note that your training progresses more easily you grow bigger and stronger. Insight deepens understanding of how destructive noisy, stressful living can be. Insight votes for deepening peace, quiet, and gaining wisdom about what's best and healthiest in living.

(3) Power Mindfulness. As you get better and better with peace, quiet and insight, you reach a point where you don't have to sit somewhere to get that state of mind. Instead, you increasingly cultivate that state of mind: it becomes dominant. You change. You don't get pulled into things unhealthy for you, you don't get suckered into destructive behaviors.

Power Mindfulness is a step well beyond ordinary consciousness. Because of that, it's difficult to write about. We can talk about it as autonomy, independence, in a "flow" state and other terms. But if you haven't experienced those things, they mean nothing.

Everybody's had workouts that stand out in memory. Workouts in which the weights you used suddenly went up, the pump flowed, where everything fell together and went right. Those workouts are like magic. And everybody's had workouts from hell -- ones where nothing went right, you just couldn't get close to normal poundages and reps, and had no pump. What makes on different from the other?

The first thing to keep in mind is that if both kinds of workouts "just seemed to happen," you better tell yourself your mindfulness fitness is real low. Maybe lower than real low. The point of Power Mindfulness in particular, and bodhibuilding, in general, is to make every workout a memorable best one.

I recommend an experiment. Add a section to your training journal. Along with sets and reps, keep track of all the distractions -- inner and outer -- that fill a workout. Do you go to the gym full of energy and enthusiasm, or are you thrown off by the events of the day? Track what's going on with every set. Do you approach the set with notions of how many reps you'll do -- or how few you'll likely get? Is your mind off in fantasies about what you're going to do or have to do after you train? Or is it back at work, at home, or someplace else? You write it all down for now -- be honest with yourself about what your mind is really doing. That way you'll find out that weight, sets and reps aren't all you're doing in the gym -- you'll find out where there are disconnects and distractions between training and your mind. That's food for step one training: quieting the mind, entering peace.

Power Mindfulness is like one of those best ever workouts only better. Best ever workouts seemed to happen that day; Power Mindfulness sessions are created by you, and you have the power to create more and more of them as you progress.

What happens in a Power Mindfulness based session? Weight and reps increase. Sticking points aren't as hard. Workouts become filled with personal records. If the weight is feeling heavy for a given workout, you're not stuck with having to repeat the last workout: you can adapt by using less poundage, sets, or reps. But you won't want to curse that "off" workout.

A vital key for bodybuilders is that of asking, "What don't I know?" Not that you'll know what you don't know, but that question will focus your mind. Your mind will be focused on being a walking question mark in search of hidden truths . . .

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lifting in the 5th Dimension, Part Eight - Thomas Foote

A short story Bruce Lee used often:

A highly educated man went to a zen teacher to ask and acquire knowledge about zen. As the zen teacher began to explain his teachings, the man would continuously interrupt with his own ideas or to agree/disagree.

Finally the zen teacher stopped talking, and offered the man some tea. He poured tea into the cup until it was full, and then kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the floor. The man shouted “Enough! No more can go into the cup!”

“Yes, indeed I see,” said the zen teacher. “Just like your cup, you are full. Full of your own ideas and opinions. If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”

The Mad Plumber

After a warm parting from Gravity, Path Finder led The Kid out of the forest of rock pillars. At first the land was level and Path Finder set a vigorous pace. The approaching horizon was rugged with jutting cliffs, though the intervening distance rose gently. As the two of them hiked across the rising plane, they chatted amiably.

"Where are we going now?" said The Kid.

"Toward that escarpment," answered Path Finder, and he pointed with one gnarled old finger at the glowing cliffs.

"I can see that for myself," replied The Kid, who was beginning to pant a little as the ground rose. "What I meant was, what have you got in store for me now?"

"How suspicious you have become," his guide answered, feigning insult. "I wouldn't take you anywhere you didn't need to go."

"That's what I was afraid of," he said under his breath.

Now the cliffs were close enough to reveal some unexplained detail. The rough rock surface, which rose in red layer upon red layer, like tiers of a great blood-drenched cake, was criss-crossed with a spidery web of geometric lines. The oddly metallic lines seemed to have grown irregularly from a single locus. They radiated from the singular black mouth of a cave set high among the tiers of the red cliff's face.

"Path Finder," The Kid said, his voice revealing obvious concern, "I think I know where we're headed."

At this the old guide looked over his shoulder and cast him an amusing glance, but didn't stop walking.

"We're going to that cave up there, aren't we?" The Kid demanded.

"You guessed it," Path Finder shot back. "That's the cave of the Mad Plumber, the Keeper of the Third Eye."

"The Mad Plumber!" he gasped. "What could someone with a name like that have to offer?"

"A key," was all Path Finder said.

Now that they had arrived at the base of the cliffs, The Kid could see what the strange criss-crossing lines were -- plumbing! Great irregular complexes of piping twisted across the cliff's face. Some of the heavy conduits plunged into the rocky ground at their feet, though all of it seemed to terminate at the cave above them. It was toward this point that they began to climb. By using the network of pipe to gain ground, the ascent was surprisingly easy. Even so, The Kid was sweaty, smudged, and puffing like a small steam engine as he pulled himself onto the final ledge from which the piping fled.

Before him the black mystery of the cave's entrance yawned around a mouth full of protruding iron pipes of all sizes. Around the entrance was a carved rock which only served to increase The Kid's sense of discomfort. For above the dark hole, a strange piercing eye held him in its stony gaze. It resembled a hieroglyph and had presumably been wrought by the same hands which carved the oddly tomb-like entrance to the cave.

All this so preoccupied his attention that he was slow to see the even stranger hairy visage that swung above him. Above one of the great pipes, which exited the cave to rise and bend out of sight over the rugged cliff, the Mad Plumber scampered toward he ledge with the sureness of a spider in his own web. In one hand he grasped a very business-like pipe wrench.

At first The Kid was so shocked by the wild man's sudden appearance that he thought three eyes stared back at him from an angular face, framed by a wiry halo of unkempt hair and beard. Upon closer inspection, the third eye, which occupied the Plumber's forehead, was a duplicate of the hieroglyph which stared from above the cave entrance. This eye was nothing but a subtle design worked into a headband, which failed miserably to contain the woolly main of hair. Before The Kid could gather his wits enough to seek Path Finder's aid, the Plumber spoke.

"We have company, I think," he said in an unused voice. "It looks frightened, doesn't it? Well, we must not frighten our company, must we?" And with that he began to polish the surface of a low lying pipe and indicate that his young guest should sit down.

"It looks tired, poor company," the Plumber rasped in his dusty old throat. "And it has brought a friend!"

At the point Path Finder, who had carefully held back, looked for a drink. Logically in a cave full of plumbing there would be water. With his ear to the nearest pipe he began rapping with his knuckles to seek some hint of the contents. His ear met with only a hollow ring. Somewhat perplexed, he wrinkled his brow and made for the next pipe. He followed this one just inside the cave where he found a valve, which he anxiously opened. Nothing came out. Now his tongue felt swollen and stuck to the roof of his mouth. The more he looked unsuccessfully for water, the greater his thirst became. Finally, in exasperation, he burst from the cave and shouted at the two men, who sat in quiet conversation.

"These pipes are empty," his dry voice croaked.

The two men only stared back in perplexed silence.

"The pipes," he pleaded and pointed wildly about him. "There's no water."

A light seemed to go on behind the Mad Plumber's face.

"Of course there's no water; do you think I'm a fool?" the old hermit said with relief. Then he turned back to Path Finder.

"You're mad," screamed The Kid.

"Of course," said the Plumber, at which the old men chuckled.

"These pipes are empty," said The Kid.

At which Path Finder and the Plumber positively whooped with laughter and slapped each other on the back.

What could he do? He was alone in the desert with two madmen who shrieked with laughter, while he died of thirst. Discouraged, he sank down on the floor of the rocky ledge and let out a sigh of resignation.

Finally taking pity on his thoroughly miserable guest, the Plumber composed himself and went over to comfort him.

"I'm dying," said bleak-eyed Kid stated simply.

"Now, now," consoled the Plumber, "it's going to be fine, it will see."

"You're mad," said The Kid.

"Of course," said the Plumber. "Now, by company must focus its eyes on my pretty headband.

The Kid complied. He stared at the greasy old headband with its strange third eye symbol. As he stared into the hieroglyph, the mad host's voice took on a hypnotic quality. The Plumber explained that the pipes were far from empty, instead they were quite full to the bursting with vital energy. Dreamlike, The Kid began to hear the rush and flow of something streaming within the network of piping which surrounded them. These pipes, the Plumber explained, carried the very life force itself, which was essential to the vitality of the entire 5th Dimension. It was his chosen life's work, the Plumber explained in the same chanting tones, to maintain the vast network of plumbing which originated right here in his cave.

As his head lolled forward on his chest, The Kid jerked his eyes open with a start. It was as if he had momentarily fallen asleep and dreamed of water, coursing out of huge pipes and spilling all around and over him. He got to his feet slowly and beat at some of the dust and dirt that clung to his shorts and shirt. He was still standing on the same ledge in the same desert. Path Finder and the Plumber were still quietly engrossed in conversation. What wasn't still the same was his thirst. It was gone. He felt refreshed and rather invigorated.

"Hey, Path Finder," he called.

The guide looked up from his conversation, with just a hint of the previous mirth still showing on his lips.

"What was that about coming here for a key?" he asked.

Dusting himself off, Path Finder got to his feet. "I think we found what we were lacking," he said.

With poorly suppressed glee the Mad Plumber leaped to his feet and began shouting farewells.

"It has to go, doesn't it?" he chuckled. "It got what it came for, didn't it, and I have my work to do, don't I?

With that he grabbed the forgotten pipe wrench and began to scamper up the closest pipe. Before disappearing he turned and, catching Path Finder's eye, arranged his face in an exaggerated stage wink. Then he was gone.

"That was abrupt," The Kid stammered, wondering if he should feel slighted .

"It's okay," Path Finder consoled, "he's quite mad."

With that the old guide began to slide over the edge of the cliff's lip. The Kid followed, but with a strange reluctance. Before leaving, he took one last look in the direction the Plumber had vanished. Then he looked into the black mouth of the Plumber's cave with its protruding pipe work. Oddly, he thought he could feel the pipes silently pulsing.

The Magic Key

This next step into the 5th Dimension is difficult to write about.

"What's the problem?" you might ask.

"Well . . . you see . . ." stalling for time, I stand before you like a naughty child, "it has to do with . . . magic!"

"Magic!" you gasp and roll your eyes.

"I was afraid that would be your reaction," I say apologetically while ducking an imaginary blow.

Recall the keys promised by the Mad Plumber. Keys are great symbols. In the absence of the locks for which they are intended, they represent "potential." A key promises access. Access to the 5th Dimension is limited to those few who possess the key. Early in the Journey, Path Finder found a huge key with the curious proportions of an Olympic barbell. Without that prodigious key the 5th Dimension would have remained locked. But we both know, with Path Finder leading the way, that you ventured inside. If what you have encountered up to this point seemed "strange", we may have to invent a new word for what you are about to discover.

Back in the Dojo

"Come, I want to test you," the roshi announced. He stood with his feet well apart, one hand on his hip, and the other poised at shoulder height with elbow cocked so that his fist pointed toward the sky.

"Take hold of my arm," indicating a vantage point just below the shoulder, "and place your other hand on the wrist. Now, vice-like, try to close my arm and I will resist with all my muscle."

Obediently, I began to apply pressure, forcing the arm to close as that the hand would touch the shoulder. Visibly the teacher's face reflected effort. The muscles of his arm bunched and knotted while a light mist of perspiration appeared on his brow.

I was becoming exhausted. The sputtering sounds of my effort would have reduced a lesser teacher to spasms of laughter. To both our credit, the roshi maintained a straight face. I did budge the locked arm, but just barely.

"Did you see that?" I chortled. "Your arm moved!"

Grimly, the roshi said, "Again." He held out the other arm cocked in challenge. This time I was eager to please. With relish I took hold of tghe arm, which seemed strangely relaxed, and began to battle it closed. Soon I began to tremble with the unaccustomed effort, yet he remained calm.

"You really must try," encouraged the roshi in an easy voice. "We can't be passing too much time in silly contests." As he continued in conversational tones, I was locked in a futile struggle. The arm of the roshi simply did not move. Furthermore, the rascal remained as calm as the mirror surface of a deep pond. Of course I quit.

"What's up," I panted, sinking to my knees.

"You simply lack the Ki," he explained.

"What key?" I said.

"Not key," he corrected. "Ki."

Now we're going to get down to business. The choice of the word "key" as a symbol was no accident. It is a straightforward pun on the Japanese term "Ki".

"That's really enlightenting," you say. "What's Ki?"

Good question! For now we'll call it a form of energy. In the Eastern world the knowledge of this energy is very old. In ancient China it was known as "Chi". It's my conviction that it is the same vital energy which flows between the Earth and your Hara. Like the Hara it is a powerful tool. Also, like the Hara, I first encountered Ki in my study of Aikido. As we proceed you will understand why it is magic. The roshi often violated my commonsense notions of physics with demonstrations of Ki. On one occasion I had a really weird physical response to what I observed. I was sitting in the back of the dimly lit dojo, where I was being allowed to observe some of the more advanced students work out. It was bending the rules to let me watch what was going on that night. Though I was the youngest member of the school, I had such unbounded curiosity that the roshi was making an exception. Just what I saw I can't recall nearly as well as I can how I felt. There was something trance-like about the experience. My mind and body seemed to grow out of synchrony with each other. Sitting calmly in the back of that barre old room, I began to sweat and grow dizzy. Sensing my condition, the roshi approached me to ask how I was feeling. I remember how I struggled to explain the strangeness that had overcome me. I also remember how understanding he was as he helped me to my feet and guided me outside to the fresh air.

To my surprise, my reaction was not unique. The roshi explained that what I had been watching probably violated the way I thought physical laws worked. Remember that stuff about world views in Chapter IV when when we first discussed gravity and the Hara. My teacher could have said that the demonstration I witnessed had violated my world view. Only I wouldn't have known what he was talking about. What I hope you can see is that shifting world views can be a risky proposition. Because I was unable to reconcile the reality I had observed with my assumptions of what was supposed to be possible, my mind and body were at odds. The result was a mild vertigo that would pass. It did. The memory of that experience didn't.


Back in the dojo we used to gather before class or at breaks to speculate on what was going on. Whatever we were being taught worked, but continued to baffle us. We had only a few "facts" to work with:

1.) the use of Ki seemed to impart unexpected strength; and
2.) when it worked, the user remained calm and relaxed.

Both points were weird, but the second point violated common sense. When one successfully performed a feat employing Ki, the practitioner was mentally and physically relaxed. Didn't greater effort require hard, tense muscles and a brow wrinkled by effort and much grunting?

So we speculated. One theory that we had (many of these men were engineers) was that our muscle systems were being trained to operate more efficiently. When one "normally" tensed an arm to resist movement, antagonistic muscles also came into play. In the arm bending test the tricep would resist closure, while the tense bicep would actually work against you by fighting the tricep. We reasoned that, with Ki, the tricep muscle operated in more efficient isolation. Further, we figured that somehow greater numbers of muscle fibers fired in unison. These engineers played with various explanations. Once they compared the arm to a conduit filled with electrical wiring, in which greater numbers of wires carried the current under the influence of Ki. Also, as mentioned, the wires carried their message with greater "specificity" so that no unnecessary work was conducted.

Well, all that stuff sounded pretty good and to a 15-year old boy it was convincing. Probably of greater importance to me was the simple fact t hat a bunch of grown men would stand around and intelligently debate the subject at all. Looking back, I can see several things which eluded me then. First off, I know that those guys were only building "models". They were only trying to describe what they were experiencing in terms of familiar experience. Being scientists and engineers they came up with all this stuff like wiring diagrams out of their own world views. Secondly, what we were doing with Ki strongly resembled what we Westerners call "hypnosis". Since those days I have researched hypnosis thoroughly, and I can tell you one thing for sure -- it is controversial! Some of the really logical-type psychologists become almost rabid at the mention of it. What's their problem? Hypnosis, like Ki, isn't something you can see. Also, like Ki, it is difficult to explain. It also works!

There is something of a lesson for us here. It is important to look behind the big words and appearances. When a "professional" confronts us in a white smock and rattles on about the power of suggestion, we tend to nod our heads in agreement as if what what he said explained something. In contrast, if you accidentally met a ragged bum under a bridge and he whispered to you of a magic Ki, you would probably assume he had consumed too much antifreeze. In more ways than many would like to admit, there isn't much difference. I'm reminded or the children's story about the Emperor's new clothes. Only the children could see that he was naked and they were quickly shushed if they dared to mention it. In many cases we really don't know what is going on. But the test of the pudding should be in the tasting. I've seen Ki work!

The Third Eye

So, how does it work? The Mad Plumber held the (dare I say it) "Key". Ki is mastered through the hydraulics of magic and the use of the Third Eye. Weren't you wondering when that third eye stuff from the chapter lead-in would come into play? Some people interpret the third eye as a symbolic representation of psychic power. I think the "third eye" is a symbol, but not for anything more supernatural or extrasensory than your imagination -- as if it weren't fantastic enough. I figure those old guru dudes started carving third eyes into the rock foreheads of statues a a visual metaphor for "inner sight". How better could one portray the capacity to close your eyes and visualize anything you wanted? If you're like me, you have never seen a movie that compared to the novel. Hollywood simply can't compete with my imagination.

So that's what the "third eye" was all about -- visualization. And if you don't think your internal vision is magical, perhaps you should visit the Mad Plumber.

Water Power

In the dojo we learned to visualize Ki as water surging through our limbs, as if they were high pressure hoses. Let me show you what I mean. Let's go back to the arm bending contest between the roshi and me, only reverse the roles.

"Hold you arm out to the side, roughly at shoulder height," he instructed. "Now relax and imagine that your arm is a hollow conduit through which water is streaming. The water has such force that it leaves the end of your arm and diminishes into infinity along that trajectory."

You have to understand how much I trusted this man. Again the similarity to clinical hypnosis seems apparent. Just as you have learned to trust the dentist or doctor who induces hypnosis within the comfortable limits of his office, I had grown to believe in my roshi. Within the comfortable limits of the dojo, I had come to expect the inexplicable.

So I relaxed, as he had instructed. Breathing deeply, I settled into the Hara and felt the familiar stability of my Center. Then I extended my arm at shoulder height with the elbow slightly cocked so the arm formed a gentle curve. The hand was open, palm up, the fingers relaxed. Then I imagined water under high pressure pouring through my arm, bursting from the extended hand and diminishing through the wall into infinity.

With that hydraulic image in my mind, I was able to withstand the roshi's efforts to close my arm. Moreover, the feat seemed to require no effort! After much practice, we learned to combine such "visualization exercises" with movement. The results were astounding.

So, how do you apply it to weightlifting?

Well, one of the reasons the 5th Dimension is a frontier is that it has never been thoroughly been explored. Lifting in the 5th Dimension is new, though the concepts are ancient. I know that Ki can be adapted to any activity and I know it means great strength. So, I've tried to employ it as a lifter. The techniques follow in the "Meta-movement instructions" in Chapter 1 of the Hard Stuff.

Lifting With Ki

In any given exercise there are obvious lines along which effort must flow. A Karate student who discussed this with me called them Power Lines. For example, in an overhead press your effort is expended against the floor and toward the ceiling. The Power Lines travel the length of your body. So I envision a stream of surging energy, which flows through the Hara from the floor, to disappear through the ceiling on a flight into infinity. You become a column of energy. While pressing the bar overhead, keep the dynamic picture of water flowing through your limbs.

There is a clear continuity between this chapter and the last one on the Hara. The energy I speak of isn't imaginary. Practicing the Hara you have learned to feel it travel through your legs. It is only a matter of reinterpreting your experience in light of a new world view. The sensation is there. You must learn to pay attention to it.

Now, from the Hara, we are going to direct the flow of energy along our limbs.

Of course learning to use Ki takes practice. So do all new skills. Begin with the static arm exercise that the roshi showed me. Have your training partner attempt to bend your arm as you resist with muscle alone. Then follow the visualization exercises and apply Ki. Once you are comfortable with this exercise, try something more dynamic. Grab a dumbbell and perform a straight-arm forward lateral raise. This time you will perform it with a new twist. Imagine water traveling the length of your arm. Under high pressure the water forces the arm to raise, effortlessly. The water explodes from your hand into the distance. Try it. You'll like it!

We've already discussed the need to pay attention. You must learn to disect your own moment-by-moment experience. You must learn to take each lift apart and discover its Power Lines. Then you must risk experimentation and learn to apply Ki to each exercise. In the Meta-movement instructions of the next section, the Hard Schtuff, I have tried to provide directions. Ultimately, however, the real laboratory where you will make the crucial discoveries is your own experience -- not mine. So, like Huxley's birds said: "Attention, boys, Attention!" ("Island" [1962] by Aldous Huxley)


For some lifts, where you perform MAXIMUM SINGLES, there is a variation on the use of Ki. Call it Focus. Let's look at the Power Clean as it was described in an earlier chapter. The successful performance of this exercise requires an EXPLOSIVE use of Ki, as opposed to its continuous flow. This is easy to achieve, though it again requires the use of visualization. Imagination. The Third Eye. Conception. Creativity. Dozen eggs. Quart of milk. Scrambled. Lighten up. This is weight lifting, eh.

The Meta-techniques of the 5th Dimension don't involve the use of powers like Ki in isolation. Pranayama, the Hara, Ki and Focus are all employed together. This is because they are related phenomenon. Focus is another use of the mind that evades everyday experience.

With focus you stop time. A common story among the literature on meditation tells of sitting beside a babbling creek and stopping the sound. Not stropping time in this case, stopping time. Like most such illustrations in Eastern thought, this one has several applications. On one hand it may refer to the process of stilling a noisy mind which "babbles" like a brook (remember the drunken monkeys earlier). There is also a more concrete application. It is possible with Pranayama to bring the faculty of attention to a single point temporarily. This is when you pass the Gateless Barrier. Each moment becomes a distinct experience. This practice is akin to what Westerners refer to as concentration. Concentration, like muscular effort, usually conjures visions of someone applying great effort to a task. Again, the brow furrows, the eyes squeeze shut, perspiration beads the forehead and the subject forces his attention to stay put -- at great cost. Focusing Ki isn't like that. You don't have to get tense about it. Oddly, in fact, this form of concentration is only achieved by a relaxed body/mind. Let's use it:

Before you make a lift, you bring all your awareness into the present by following your breath. Don't worry about whether or not you will be successful, and don't think about what just happened in the gym. Calmly inhabit the only space in which anything is really happening, the moment of Power. In this charged space you can become aware of your breathing, the balance of the Hara, and the flow of Ki. Now, instead of visualizing Ki flowing through your arms, feel it pouring into the Hara where it is building up pressure. Energy continues to pour from the Earth. Follow its path. It enters the soles of your feet and is drawn through your legs to your center -- to the Hara. The pressure mounts. In this space you have entered, you are alive one moment at a time. In this space you will FEEL when it is right to let go and LIFT! When the moment is perfect all the pent up pressure in the Hara is released in a single instant. Energy explodes through you. WHAM! You just cleaned your max.

That's focus.

Entering the 5th Dimension - Step #3

The 3rd Eye:

I. Ki - consecutive reps:

1.) Pranayama - induce relaxation.
2.) Hara - bring your awareness into your center.
3.) Visualization -
(a) Feel energy surge from the Hara like water through your limbs, along the necessary power lines.
(b) See the water leave your hands with such force that it disappears into the infinite distance.
(c) Repeat this image during the active phase of each repetition, e.g., with each push in a series of presses.

II. Focus - singles

1. ) Pranayama - slow time and wait for the perfect moment.
2.) Hara - feel flow of energy enter through your legs.
3.) Visualization:
(a) Feel the energy build pressure in the Hara.
(b) Release Ki through the power lines in a single BURST.

Hint: Apply as much imagination power as you can to these exercises. When we say that Ki will flow like water through your limbs, see it, feel it and hear it! If you are storing it in your Hara for a big single, feel the growing weight and pressure within you! GET INTO IT!!! FEEL THE HEAT GROW AND SEE THE COLOR GLOW . . .

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