Friday, August 31, 2012

Conditioning Routines for Powerlifters - Charles A. Smith

Conditioning Routines for Powerlifters
Charles A. Smith (1968)

I remember a statement made several years ago by a well-known Olympic lifter, to the effect that the best way to build up strength in the press was to press. This makes a good deal of sense -- as far as it goes. Concentrating on the movement to improve the movement is a sound philosophy, but it's far from being the answer to the development and maintenance of great power. So many times we think of a move containing the force of specific muscle groups. We fail to realize that behind every move a whole series of coordinated events had to take place.

Certainly, one of the most important requisites to success in the field of athletics is the proper mental attitude. The nerve force generated by a controlled mental stimulus can exert a power that is almost beyond our imagination. How many times have you seen a lifter "psyching up" before an attempt. He literally forces strength into his muscles. He consciously controls the nerve forces in his body until all the electricity is turned on "go." Now as he grips the bar the "thing" becomes a contemptible adversary that has challenged his right to lift it. It is like the old saying that "faith can move mountains." 

I firmly believe that a man whose mind is disciplined through study, or just plain use, will have a greater opportunity of succeeding in projects where that mind will be needed. Too many people think of lifting as a purely physical endeavor, but I can't swallow that. The strong back and weak mind cliche has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese. 

A good example of what I mean is Terry Todd, or "Big T" as he's known down Texas way. By any standard he's a giant of a man. Standing next to him is an overpowering experience. This massive man has carved out such lifts as a 500-lb. bench press, 760-lb. deadlift, 715-lb. squat, and a 225-lb. strict curl. He had also done 5 seated behind the neck presses with 300 lbs., cleaned and pressed 400 lbs., power snatched 300 lbs., and power cleaned 400 lbs. It's obvious that Terry Todd is a strong man in many directions.

To the casual observer, Terry Todd is just a big strong man with little else than lifting records to his credit. If that casual observer bothered to do some research he might discover that the muscles of Todd's brain are every bit as strong as the ones you see hanging on his frame. Recently, he earned his Ph.D. in physical education. I can safely say that when you see Todd lift, you are seeing the whole man in action -- and just look at the results.

This doesn't mean that I recommend you earn a doctorate in order to become a successful lifter, but it does mean that I feel that a strong, disciplined mind helps in any enterprise and that includes lifting. This, of course, is the emotional side of competition. The physical is something that is a little easier for us to comprehend. As I had stated earlier, very few moves are ever done without the help of several coordinated activities.

Training to reach and then keep in top physical condition is just as important as training for physical power. In fact the two are inseparable. On cannot exist in the full without the other. Tip-top condition is the sharp edge to the physical razor. It's the ability to react with maximum efficiency and give your finest possible performance at any time; that, to me, constitutes real power. I'll bet if someone asked you to define "top physical condition" you'd get about as many answers as there are people. Sure it takes such things as rest and proper nutrition, but it also takes joint flexibility, muscle elasticity, a strong heart and lungs and improved respiratory function. While power lifting builds raw strength, it doesn't give you the physical conditioning necessary for being the complete strongman. For better conditioning it is necessary to do "assistance exercises."

Yeah, sure, but, it's not right and I know stuff, eh.

The first time I came in contact with what are now called assistance exercises was during the period from December 1940 to February 1941. I was serving on a cruiser which had been badly damaged at the beginning of the battle for the island of Crete.


We had to be towed to the nearest port for repairs. That port happened to be Alexandria, Egypt. While there, I joined the famous Tramway Sports Club on a very "temporary" membership. For the few months I was there I received the reward of seeing one of the finest Olympic lifters in the world. Some of you man not be aware of it, but it wasn't too many years ago that the Egyptian lifters were just about the best in the world. Most of the lifters in the club were, or had been, world champions or record holders. Such men as Shams, Hussein, Ibrahim, Nosseir and El Touni would train there for all to see. It was a great thrill for a young strength fan like myself to witness firsthand the training of these amazing athletes.

Outside the Tramway Sports Club

I had always heard that they trained exclusively on the three Olympic lifts, so you can imagine how surprised I was when I found out differently. A substantial portion of the workouts would consist of free-hand movements such as turning, bending, rotating the trunk and the arms and legs shoulders. They didn't explain to me how they got their tremendous endurance. These men could go for hours and seem as fresh at the end as they were at the beginning of their training sessions. One day I found out the secret.

I arrived at the gym at a time when all the men were out on a nearby soccer field, so I went over to watch what they were doing. I might say that it was as hot as blazes, which made just walking a task, much less training. I was shocked by what I saw. One by one the lifters would take a light bar and snatch it, step forward, put it down and snatch it immediately again in a continuous set of reps. He would do this until he had worked himself the full length of the field and back.

Now it seems almost commonplace to read articles about the Russians and Japanese and so many others doing all types of conditioning training. They have found that by having endurance they can train longer and by having flexibility they can lift better. But, you might ask, to what degree does the powerlifter need these requisites? Just the same as the Olympic lifter. This is because he handles even heavier poundages, placing a greater strain on the joints and ligaments which, in turn, requires an even greater amount of energy.

Because a powerlifter needs far greater staying power than the Olympic man, and because speed is not as important in powerlifting as it is in Olympic lifting, the exercises a powerlifter must concentrate on must necessarily be different. The power man has to concentrate on those exercises that improve elasticity and flexibility and that build stamina and increase joint and tendon resistance to injury or strain. Here are some examples:

The Two Hands Swing:
This movement was a great favorite of such strongmen as Hermann Goerner, Ron Walker and Charles Rigoulot. Don't worry about style. The important thing for out purposes in this one is that you breathe deeply and heavily. It is also one of the finest exercises for the lower back and the entire shoulder girdle. First you take a fairly long dumbbell so that the plates won't cut into your wrists. Load it with enough weight to get out 10 repetitions. Now place the weight between your legs, which should be about 18" apart. With fingers interlaced around the bar, swing the weight overhead, breathing in at the same time time. Without a pause swing the dumbbell back to the starting position as you exhale. After you have completed the 10 repetitions immediately do the following ----

Door Frame Swings:
Stand about 18" in front of a door frame. Place your hands on the top or sides of the door frame -- depending on your height. With your body rigid and your knees locked, sway forward, inhaling deeply and your head thrust back. Push back to the starting position and do this for 10 repetitions or until the heavy breathing from the swings has returned to normal.

Power Cleans:
Most people think of this one strictly as a power builder, not as a great endurance builder. How wrong they are! First choose a weight that will cause you to breathe very heavily after 10 reps. Dip and clean the weight to the shoulders. Without a pause put the bar back to the starting position and clean it again, using only the lower back and arms and keeping the knees locked. Don't 'go under' the bar with a knee bend when the going gets tough and the breathing becomes heavy. Do 10 reps this way then go immediately to the following exercises ----

Straight-Arm Breathing Pullovers:
Lie on an exercise bench with the head relaxed over one end. RAISE THE KNEES -- this is important -- place your feet on the bench, flattening your entire trunk. In this instance you are not to arch your back. Keep your body glued to the bench in this position. Weight is not as important as correct performance and breathing. Grasp a barbell about shoulder width and lower it from an arms-locked-over-the-chest position until it is behind your head, level with the bench. While moving to that position it is important that you inhale deeply. As you bring the weight back to the starting position, exhale forcefully. Repeat for 10 repetitions.

Power Jerks:
Take a barbell loaded with your best pressing poundage. Now jerk the weight overhead by just dipping at the knees. As soon as the weight is overhead, drop it back to the shoulders and repeat until you are breathing very heavily, then immediately do the following ----

Bent Arm Breathing Pullovers:
This is the same as the straight-arm pullovers except that the arms are bent and the weight is lowered all the way to the floor. The minute it touches ground pull it back up to the chest, keeping the arms bent. Remember that while you are lowering the weight you must FORCE air into your lungs; as you bring the weight back over your chest you exhale vigorously.

Trunk Swaying:
Trunk swaying is designed to add flexibility and elasticity to the hip, lower back and leg muscles. Stand erect between the uprights of the power rack and grasp one post in each hand. Sink down into the maximum depth split, allowing your hands to stay at shoulder height. Now comes the best part. Sway the body back and forth as far as you can. After a few repetitions change the position of the legs so that the one that was forward is now behind and the one that was behind is now forward. Repeat the swaying moves. Remember that the object of the exercise is to move slowly and without jerking.

Full Body Circles With a Bar (Dislocates):
Take a 6' empty bar and grasp it as far apart as you can, so that it clears the top of your head. Standing upright with the bar held in front, raise it up over your head and behind your back. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10 to 15 reps. Nothing beats this one for keeping the shoulder girdle supple.

If a layoff from your regular training is indicated by a feeling of staleness, or a prolonged weariness from your last workout, or if stiffness repeatedly remains overly long in a worked muscle group, use conditioning exercises exclusively for a couple of weeks. Start off with a single set for each exercise and work up to three. Then take two or three days off and rest before you return to your regular power program.

If you would like to incorporate a few of these exercises into your regular power workouts, then perform them at the end of each workout -- start off performing only one set per exercise, and gradually work up to three.

Whether you completely substitute these exercises for your regular workouts for a short period of time, or perform a few each regular workout, you'll find that your lifting will improve, you'll experience less soreness or injury, and you'll be a more enduring strongman of supple might and sinew instead of a pile of pain-racked tissue.    

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