Monday, February 27, 2017

Lifting Thoughts and Plans from Duane Hansen

In case you may have missed any of this, I'm putting it here. Some great layouts, general plans and training thoughts included. I would say Duane is a direct descendant of Deszo Ban when it comes to the matter of volume and frequency. It's all laid out here for you, so . . . enjoy!

Duane Hansen Five Days Per Week

Squat three days a week, power clean twice. Press (in some variety) every time you lift. Keep the reps in the 3-5 range for as much weight as you can move. Plan on a 1 hour workout, with the first half spent on squats or power cleans and the second half spent on pressing. Substitute deadlifts for squats and cheat curls for power cleans on occasion. Plan on lifting every day of the week, except take Saturday and Sunday off. Eat, at a minimum, a dozen eggs, a pound of meat and a gallon of milk every day; doing this more than once in a day will make you a god. Avoid carbs until the weekend, then load up like there is a famine coming. Sleep 8-10 hours a night and try to get in a decent nap as often as possible. Brush your teeth and wear a seatbelt.


For pressing in particular (and being strong in general), I think that the best thing to do for the abs is Roman Chair Situps (RCS) for low reps and with a lot of weight. What I did was like this:

1) Do your RCS on something like a hyperextension or glute/ham apparatus. This will let you bend way back at the bottom of the movement and sit all of the way up at the top. When I do them I try to lower my torso far enough at the bottom to be able to look at the North (just to pick an arbitrary direction) wall in the gym and then look at the South wall when I am sitting up. Working through the extreme ends of your ROM could possibly be traumatic (especially if you are not used to it), so you will need to be careful. But the idea is to have the physical skills that you need in order to move your spine through flexion and extension without getting hurt.

2) Add weight (holding it on your chest or across your shoulders) to your RCS as often as you can. I worked up to being able to do 5x5 while holding two 20kg discs under my chin. When I could do that I was at my strongest. The actual amount of weight that you use is not nearly as important as the idea of getting stronger. The best way that I have found to get stronger in a movement like this is to approach it like any other strength movement: several sets of low reps (say, 5x5) and add weight as often as you can.

3) It also helps a lot if you stretch as much as you strengthen. Frog kicks (done in the style found in the old York courses) will both give the abs some more work and stretch the low back. I have spent a long time pondering the cause-and-effect relationship here, but there is a correlation: when I was strong enough to do a few sets of 10 reps in the frog kick at the end of my workout (and, in the process, stretch and relax the muscles in my low back), I was strong and injury-free.

4) Hanging leg raises (performed like a gymnast by hanging from a bar and then touching your feet to the bar) will help a lot, too. These are almost a stunt (rather than an exercise), since you need to be strong before you can even look like you are trying to do them, but if you can get to the point where you can try to do a few sets of a couple of reps you will be strong.

Beginner Olympic Program

An entry-level OL program will consist of Snatch, Clean & Jerk and Squats. Back Squats will be more forgiving of flexibility issues and Front Squats will highlight those issues and give you some specificity, too. Start with that program 3 days/week, alternating Front and Back squats each day.

For the next month or two (depending on your needs), lift on three days/week and work on the mobility issues on the other days. If you are busting ass on both lifting and stretching, it will only take 2-3 months before you should be ready to move up. Equal time on lifting AND stretching pays dividends if you pay attention to it at the start.

Once you can move the way that you need to move in the classical lifts and the squats (3 days/week), you can start to add work on another three days/week. Assuming you are doing the basic program on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, You can add some pressing and deadlifts on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I would suggest alternating bench press and standing press from day to day and deadlifting every day following the press. Presses should be fairly strict with the index fingers touching your shoulders at the start and the bench should be with the same grip as the press. Deadlifts should be done with a clean grip and a weight that will let you knock out 10 singles with a heavy weight, but not a weight so heavy that you couldn't do it again the next day.

If you work up to that point and decide that you need more work, let me know. This should be a plan that will make you stronger and move the calendar quite a few months forward. Every time you press (either overhead or on the bench), make sure that you stretch your pecs and shoulders. Working your abs every day would be a good thing, too.

You should not jump into the deep end of the pool right away. Work into it and add more as you can tolerate what you are doing now.

I would say that 3 days/week is a good starting point. I will usually have novice Olympic lifters start with snatches and a light weight. Do singles up to a heavy weight. For a novice, the weight is too heavy when they start making technical errors. At that point back off on the weight a bit and do a few more singles with an emphasis on correct technique. Do the same thing with the clean & jerk. Finish the workout with some squats; triples in the front squat or sets of five in the back squat are good. Use enough weight to make it work and do a few sets (maybe 3). All that would be good for a single workout.

Every workout you should try to lift as much weight as you can in the snatch and the clean & jerk in good form. The Olympic lifts are much more forgiving than the power lifts when it comes to recovery. Eventually you should get to the point where your limit in the Olympic lifts comes from the fact that the bar is too heavy and not that you made a technical error; this is the point where you are also no longer a novice.

After you have been working on the 3 days/week program for a couple of months, the amount of work that you are doing each day will become routine. It should take you about an hour to get through all of that (not counting warm-up and other stuff like abs or stretching you might do at the end). Once you get used to it, you should not feel worn out at the end (tired, yes, but not exhausted) and you might start to think that you could do two of those workouts on consecutive days. At this point you can start adding in the other workout (pressing + deadlift). Start by adding it one day/week and eventually add a second and later a third day.

The work load here does not need to be tremendous. Five sets x 2 reps with 80% of your max is a good, average workout. Five sets x 3 reps with 80-85% is some hard work, but not too hard. Often for the deadlift I will do 10 singles with 80% of my max and call it good. Certainly nothing earth-shattering there, but enough to call it work. A lot of the progress you make on this program will come from the cumulative effect of all of the work that you are doing. This is different from the HIT mindset, because few of the sets or reps in this program are significant by themselves (PR attempts are an obvious exception) but all of them add up over time and allow you to put more weight on the bar as you go along.

Clean & Press

It is hard to go wrong with the clean & press as your only exercise. There are a couple of things that can help to round out this program.

1. Ideally, you should be able to clean more than you press; it should also go without saying that the weights you could squat and deadlift are more than the weight you could clean. One way to take advantage of this is to C&P up to a heavy weight for the day, then do more cleans (without the press). If you are just doing power cleans, do more power cleans after you are done pressing; sets of 2-3 reps with the top weight that you power cleaned & pressed are good.

2. Power Clean and Front Squat is another good thing to do when you are done pressing. You should be able to power clean your top C&P weight for the day and then do several front squats with it.

3. Clean pulls or deadlifts are a good thing to do after you are done racking the bar on your shoulders. Several triples in the clean pull with your best weight in the power clean is a decent amount of useful work, especially if you pay attention to good technique. I like doing 3x3 in the clean pull with 100% of my best clean for the day, followed by 3 singles (adding 10kg to the bar each set). For deadlifts I will usually just add 40-60kg to the bar and do many, many singles.

4. Hanging leg raises (pulling your knees up to your chin) is a great way to finish. This is a great way to decompress the spine and get some ab work in, too.

4a. If you do have a bar to hang onto for the hanging leg raises, you might as well do some pull-ups every now and again. It works nicely to grab the bar with the same grip as your press and pull your body up to the same point where the bar sits at the start of your press.

Just some ideas. 

Deadlift Routine 

Deadlift every damn day of the week; squat every other day. Once a week try for a heavy deadlift. Eat, sleep, then repeat
My general answer is always the same, because it works. The application of the details is the fulcrum where things either work or they do not.

If a lifter wants to be able to deadlift a big weight in the near future, they will need to practice deadlifting. The best way to practice something is to do it often. Squatting three days/week is a proven way to get stronger.

Some of the nuances in this particular case might be:

1) The daily deadlifts should be done with 80% weights. This is not the place to kill yourself.
2) The squats might be best performed as box squats (in the classical Westside style: wide-stance, ass back, no higher than a bit below parallel).
3) If an athlete has trouble locking out a barbell that they have pulled up around their knees, it would not be a bad thing to do some partial deadlifts a couple days/week from just below the knees. The bar path here does not resemble the bar path of a real deadlift, but doing sets of three reps off of boxes with your knees pushed back, your ass up in the air and all the weight you can manage will fill in any gaps a lifter may have.

Missing a deadlift after the bar gets to the knees is sad, but it is much more fixable than the deadlift that hovers around your ankles.

80% is just a starting point. One thing that you could do is load a barbell to about 80% and leave it sitting there on the platform. Every day you could wander up to it, do your 10 singles and then wander off when you are done. The clever bit would be to add 1-2kg to the barbell before you wander off. That way you will be lifting more weight tomorrow than you did today. I started a program like this with 165kg on the barbell (my best DL at the time was in the 200kg-range) and eventually I got to the point where I was doing 10 singles every day with 195kg. My 1RM at that point (when I could be bothered to test it) was much more than 200kg.

The interesting thing I found about doing daily deadlifts starting with about 80% of my max is that I could very nearly always just walk up to the loaded barbell and start lifting. I would change into workout clothes and switch my mind into workout/lifting mode, of course, but I found that I didn't actually need to warm-up before performing the series of heavy singles (even after the barbell started approaching 90-95% of what I had been calling my 1RM).

Deadlifts are an interesting lift because you start the lift with all of the weight on the floor. Either you can lift the barbell or you cannot; with a lift like the squat, you have to support 100% of the weight before you can even begin to attempt it. I got good results from this approach: lift progressively heavier weights quite often, don't warm-up too much for the effort, and work on the weak links in the chain occasionally.  

Glute Ham Raise

I am just putting this out here for general consideration:
I used to do back extensions when I was younger; this is similar to a glute/ham raise on a GHR apparatus, more or less.

What I used was a sawhorse with some carpet on the top and my heels anchored under a 2x4 nailed to the studs in my garage (also padded with carpet). The sawhorse was low enough for me to put a barbell on my back and, as I added more carpet over time, it approached a round-enough shape so I could get my hamstring muscles into the movement at the top. In the beginning, however, it was just a low back + glute movement.

Several years later I had the opportunity to use one of the first actual glute/ham benches (this was in the early-90's). The actual apparatus that was designed for this type of movement was better than my old sawhorse & carpet rig, but I seriously doubt that it was $1000 better.

A couple of years ago I bought a used GHR apparatus for $100. I use it mainly for ab work (i.e., Roman Chair Situps). I have gone back to doing back extensions on a sawhorse and really heavy good mornings when I need to get stronger on the backside of my body.

This is just my experience; your mileage may vary.

Good Mornings 

I set up for the good mornings with the same stance and bar position that I would use for the back squat. Instead of squatting down I push my hips back and bend forwards. I keep my low back arched during the whole movement and my knees will bend passively. I am trying to bend as far forward as I can without falling forwards, so to keep the bar above my feet my hips need to move back and my knees have to bend a bit. The bottom of the movement depends on the amount of weight on the barbell; I can get lower with the lighter weights but a heavier barbell will tip me forward sooner. Once I get to the bottom, I stop and stand back up. The idea is to straighten back up just by extending the hips.

The good mornings put the greatest amount of stress on you when you are at your most bent over; the back extensions have the greatest amount of stress at the top of the movement where your hips are fully extended. The combination of these two movements allow you to stress the muscles on the back side of your body at both extremes. Interestingly, the heavy good mornings will often give me all of the ab work that I seem to need, too.

Hope I didn't pontificate too much here. 

Lower Back

When you hurt your back for the first time when you are lifting, you should probably go and see an MD just to rule out anything catastrophic. After your MD tells you that you just strained (or pulled; whatever) a muscle in your low back, you should get off your ass and fix the problem.

The best way to fix it (in my opinion) is to use ice, heat (wait at least a day after the injury to use heat), stretching, drugs (e.g., Tylenol) and lifting. My experience has shown that I can lift a lot of weight through a limited ROM very soon after injuring my low back muscles. I can usually work back up to at least 90% of my pre-injury weights in under a week, as long as I am paying attention to the things I was neglecting before the injury (usually stretching in the muscles around the low back).

If you injure a muscle in your low back once, you will probably do it again some time. But, the next time around you will not be as surprised and you should be able to fix it quicker.

Bentover Barbell Rowing 

The trick is to put enough weight on the barbell so you need to heave it up like that. I have seen some people perform a set of barbell rows that had a lot of heaving involved, except that they had the barbell loaded to somewhere between 95-135 pound. My take on the barbell row is that each rep should start on the floor and finish tucked into your waist (right about at the top of your pants).

The amount of weight that you use should be heavy and you should do sets and reps with it (3-5 x 3-5). As you get stronger, you should be able to pull the barbell back into your waist with less movement required from the upper body; if your reps start looking too pretty, it is probably time to add some more weight.

Another thing that I find to be very productive when doing barbell rows is to start the movement (with the barbell on the floor, of course) with my low back less-than-strongly arched. I am not saying that you should be pulling a huge weight off of the floor while you are bent over at the waist and you low back is rounded, but if you can start with a neutral back and move it into a strongly arched position by the end of the movement, this will make things more productive. Simply, the top of the muscles in your low back and the bottom of your lats have a common origin. If you can contract the muscles in your low back very hard at the start of the movement, this will contribute to the ability of the lats to contract (and it is the lats that are doing a lot of the work pulling the barbell in at the top of the movement).   

Bottom Position Squats

Doing squats like Dan John describes (starting at the sticking point and standing up; add weight as you can) is a surprisingly effective way to get stronger. I discovered that my sticking point in the squat (front squat, in this case) was just a bit above parallel. I also discovered that I could get under the bar and set up effectively several inches below this point. A sticking point, as I understand it, is the place where your leverage decreases to the point where your muscles are not strong enough to move the bar. On either side of this, however, you are apparently stronger (i.e., the bar keeps moving). What I did was set the barbell in the bottom position a few inches below the sticking point and load it up to enough weight so that I could get it off of the bottom but it would stall at the sticking point; I would keep grinding after it stopped. After a while I loaded the bar with a medium sized weight and added a lot of bands. This allowed me to move the weight off of the bottom, but as soon as I did the band tension would add up quickly and I would again have to grind where it was stuck.

The progression that I did (stand up from the bottom, then grind against a heavy barbell off of the bottom, then add bands and grind) gave me a lot of ability to stand up. It does take some tinkering to figure out heights and weights (especially if you throw bands into the equation), but it worked really well for me at the time. So well, in fact, that I have not done it since. I might have to try these again some day.

Starting Position for the Clean

The start of a clean is different than anything else, although the similarities can be deceptive. The first thing you need to do is figure out your grip. Essentially, get you hands as far apart as you can tolerate with the bar racked on your shoulders (elbows at least as high as the wrists and more than just your index finger on the bar, please). This is where your hands will be from beginning to end; remember this position.

Set the bar on the floor and walk away for a minute. Squat down and try to get as compact as you can. The idea is to make yourself as small as you can with your heels still on the floor. Look at the position of your feet and remember this; the critical part is the angle created between your heels and your toes.

Go back to the barbell now. Grab the bar with the correct grip and set your feet at the correct angle. Arch your back and pull your hips down as close to your ankles as you can. Rock back on your heels (you should be able to wiggle your toes) and take all of the slack out of your arms. Chances are you will have to move the hips up, but make sure you do this by moving back. If you think "up" you will go up on your toes and everything will fall apart. Keep moving your ass back with your chest up until your arms are as straight as you can get them without lifting the bar off of the floor. This should be relatively uncomfortable, so just lift the bar off the floor (keeping it close, of course) and clean the barbell.

Any resemblance to this and a deadlift start is purely coincidental and probably useful, unless you happen to be a powerlifter. 

Frequency of Training 

I have found that lifts like the deadlift and the press can be performed quite often with medium weights. What I did, practically, was to leave a barbell sitting on the platform loaded to about 80% of my best deadlift and a barbell sitting on the squat stands loaded to about 80% of my best press. Every day I would go out and do ten sets each in the deadlift and the press: always singles in the deadlift and usually doubles in the press. Over time I added a bit of weight to each barbell (1-2kg at a time), but never so much weight that I couldn't ever just go out and lift the weights.

At the same time I was working hard on cleans and power cleans, jerks, snatches and squats. This training was done about every other day, often with as much weight as I could handle in the particular lift. I considered these workouts and the press/deadlift workouts to be two separate things.

Over time I got a lot stronger in all of my lifts, especially the snatch, C&J and squats. Eventually I added a heavy training session for the deadlift on the weekend, basically working up to a max single and then doing several more singles with a bit less weight (probably in the 90-95% range). When I did this, my best deadlift improved quite a bit, too.

Heavy Overhead Squatting

Loading up your body with a heavy barbell will force you to find a new level of flexibility and mobility. The trick is to use the weight to force an adaptation without snapping your limbs in half. This is a brutal, blunt-force approach, but it does work. You can also use this concept to develop the mobility that you need to rack a barbell across your shoulders (like in a clean or a front squat).  


In the snatch and the C&J, 80% of your max is the low end for productive training; your best work will be done with 90% weights and higher.

I use 75-85% of my max in the deadlift for singles quite often; 10x1 is a good workout, especially if you do them on the clock. With squats, you will get good results from using 80-85% of your max for 5-6 sets x 2-3 reps.

This is what I have gathered from years of experience.

Round Back Lifting 

In my experience, injury to the low back has come from starting a lift with a strong arch and having the weight on the barbell pull my back into a rounded position. Starting without a strong arch (i.e., a neutral or rounded back) and then pulling my low back into an arched position at the sticking point has never giving me an acute injury. You will need to have a very strong low back to actually move a heavy weight from a rounded-back posture to an arched-back posture right at the sticking point.

Essentially, low-back injuries happen when you make the transition from flexed to extended. If you are strong enough to prevent this transition you should be OK. If you have the strength and skill to move from a rounded low back to an arched low back during a slow pull like a deadlift (without hurting yourself), even better.

But, when performing a quick lift like a snatch or clean you need to start and finish with an arched lower back. The combination of speed, weight and posture here requires a solid and fixed posture. 


Things that work for me:

1. Olympic shoes
2. Your feet can go wider than you think they can without turning the lift into a good morning, but you need to work on your mobility.
3. Aim to get your hips between your heels. They may not end up there, but you should try.
4. High bar vs. low bar is irrelevant; put the bar where it is comfortable.
5. Go as deep as you can, but do not worry about depth.
6. Getting deeper is a function of how much you can spread you feet and your knees.
7. Five sets x 3 reps should be your bread and butter workout. Five sets x 2 reps is easy (with the same weight) and 5-10 singles with 10-15% more weight is heavy.
8. You need to be able to squat six days a week or twice on three days/week. If you can't do that using weights 80% or more than your max, you have some remedial work to do.
9. PL squats and every day squats are two different lifts. Train them separately and keep records for each.  

More on Frequency 

The best way is to take it in steps. A beginner will typically train 3 days a week, just like 99% of the rest of the world. The purpose of training at this point is to learn how to do the lifts correctly. In general, a beginner will miss a lift because of a technical error, not because they lack the strength to move the barbell.

An intermediate lifter will have mastered the basics of the technique and they will start missing their limit lifts because they are not strong enough to lift the barbell. A lifter at this level has two priorities: first, they need to perfect their technique and second, they need to get stronger. The best way to accomplish this is to lift more often.

When I am training a beginning lifter, I will usually have them work up to the highest weight that they can lift on a day, then back off a bit and work on fixing what they are doing wrong. Since they are not lifting weights that are really taxing the limits of their strength, they can usually do this every time they train (taking a day or two between training sessions helps, too).

For intermediate lifters, I like to see them add a training day. If they have been training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, adding Saturday is a good choice. In this scheme, I would have them do multiple singles with 90% weights on Monday and Wednesday. The point is to be doing the lifts correctly (you should always be doing this) and working in the 90% range will make you stronger. Friday would be a lighter day, maybe 10 singles in each lift with 80% or so. On Saturday I would have them go up to limit lifts (100% or more, if they can), then back off about 10% for some more practice. The weights that they make on Saturday would be the basis for choosing 80% and 90% weights the following week.

Assistance exercises are considered anything that is not the snatch or clean & jerk. Squats are always a good choice, since the ability to stand up quickly with a heavy weight is never a bad thing. On heavy squat days, do triples in the front squat and sets of five in the back squat. Pressing and some variety of deadlift can be useful, too. The selection and loading of assistance exercises is another topic that would get me way off track if I said much more here and now.

Eventually (after the lifter has adapted to training four days a week), you can add a fifth training day. In the schedule I have been describing, Tuesday would be a good fit. Make this day similar to Friday (10 singles with 80% in each lift). Monday and Wednesday would still be heavy days, with Monday being a bit heavier (maybe in the 95% range).

When the lifter has developed more tolerance for the workload, you can start pushing harder on the heavy days. A useful scheme would be to chase PR's on Saturday, then try to duplicate those lifts on Monday for as many singles as possible. On Wednesday, try to work back up to the same weights again, but only for one single. Tuesday and Friday would stay in the 80% range; this is for the practice of perfect lifting technique and to build up the total workload for the week.

The other thing to keep in mind when you are building up the workload and pushing the heavy weight and total volume, backing off on occasion becomes important. Typically I will plan on two weeks with high volume and high intensity, followed by a lighter week. This three week pattern can be followed for quite a long time, as long as you do not let the back off weeks get to be to hard. 

Anything will work for six weeks, but only an idiot will do the same thing for six weeks in a row. Bust ass for two weeks, then take a week off. Repeat this cycle three times, then lift in a meet. After the meet, spend a week or two doing something different. At this point, go back to the beginning and do more of the things that work for you and fewer of the things that do not work. It is not easy (especially if you really learn what it means to 'bust ass'), but it is pretty simple.

Hope that helps.

On Warmups

Before I lift I do 5-10 presses behind the neck and 5-10 back squats, all with an empty bar. After that I get right into it. Most of the time I will start with lighter weights and work my way up; in my log I usually don't list much of the lighter stuff. Some other time during the day I will do some stretching and foam roller work just to stay loose enough and to help recovery a bit.  

Year Long Training Plan

When it comes to thinking about a year-long training plan, I usually keep this concept in the back of my mind:

1) Two weeks heavy + 1 week light = 3 weeks
2) Following this template four times in a row = 12 weeks
3) Four 12 week cycles add up to 48 weeks
4) This leaves 4 weeks during the year (52-48=4) to take a break.

Another approach would be:

1) Two weeks heavy + 1 week light = 3 weeks
2) Following this template three times in a row = 9 weeks
3) During week 10, take another easy week
4) This gives you 5 cycles of 10 weeks each, leaving you two weeks each year for a vacation.

Scheduling is always influenced by when the most important meets of the year fall on the calendar. Ideally you will be able to know those days well in advance and plan around them. Real life also has a way of influencing what you can get done in the gym; of course you have to work around those things, too.

My basic premise is to put together a simple plan of two weeks of hard training followed by an easier week. During the second similar three-week cycle, aim for higher performance as soon and as often as possible; back way off again during the easy week.

It is good to be able to work 3-4 of these 3-week schedules before a meet. After the meet, however, there needs to be some time for the athlete to rest and recover. Often the physical stress on the day of the meet is much less than any training day during the month leading up to the meet, but the accumulated mental stress from training added to the mental stress of competing will usually require the athlete to take some time off before they get back into serious training (and certainly before they compete again).

I have found two approaches that seem to work in this case: first, go back into the gym and do your regular training that you would do during a light or easy week. This usually means reduced total volume and weights not much heavier than 80% or so. This will keep the athlete "in the groove" when it comes to training. The second approach is to have the athlete do something completely different in their training for a while. This second approach can be difficult if the athlete wants to do something really different (like square dancing or slam poetry), but a week or two of bodybuilding-type stuff is not so bad.

In a nutshell, it helps to first learn how to train hard (and then back off) over a 3-week period. After that, learn how to work hard for a few months. After that, compete and relax for a little bit. Then start training hard again.

 Training the Press

There are a couple of ways to approach your training if you decide to specialize in the press. One constant, though, is that you need to press a lot of barbells overhead. Even if you are a naturally-strong presser and press very strictly, technique is important. You need to learn how to set up (so that your entire body is strong and ridged) and you need to learn the correct groove. The groove (or the bar path or your form; whatever) is arguably the most important for a lift like the press. When you press, you start with the barbell 4-5 feet away from your feet and there is no support (like a bench) in between. As the bar goes up, you increase the distance. What this means is that the barbell will feel heavier (because it is more unstable) as soon as you start moving it and it will feel increasingly heavier until you lock it out. The take-home lesson here is that you need to make your body strong before the bar leaves your shoulders.

After you have learned how to brace your body and push against the barbell, a good way to train is just to do a lot of singles with a heavy weight. You could do a lot worse than the 20-rep program that was stolen from Bill Starr:

Start with a light weight. Press it for 5 singles (rest about 1 minute between sets).

Add 10 pounds (or 5kg) to the bar and do another 5 singles.

Add 10 pounds (or 5kg) again and do 5 singles.

By now you have done 15 singles with some easy weight. Now,

Do several (4-6) singles; add 5-10 pounds (2.5-5 kg) to the barbell before each of these singles. By the end of this scheme, you will have done a lot of reps with medium weights and worked up to a fairly heavy single. The trick is that you should repeat this workout in a few days but start with a barbell that is 5 pounds (or 2.5kg) heavier. Over time you will start with a heavier weight and finish with a heavier weight, but you will also get a lot of practice with pressing heavy weights.

When you are working on pressing a heavier weight, you should also be working on the other things that make you strong. In general, this would be squats and deadlifts, plus power cleans and power snatches. If you can stronger with these lifts you will be stronger everywhere, including how much you can press.

I moved my press up from the 80-90kg range to 110kg in a few months. I am not naturally good at pressing, so I was pleased with this result.

My advice would be to use the 20 rep (singles) approach every other day. Practically, this means Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This is what I would do, because those are the best days to get into the gym. On the other days of the week, however, I did even more pressing. The barbell never got as heavy as the top singles on MWF, but I did do a lot of sets with a weight around 80-90% of what I had done the day before.

My thinking in training the press is:

1) the press can be trained every day (and more than once/day)
2) half of the time you should focus on just pressing the barbell (i.e., take it out of the rack, set up and press for a single rep).
3) the other half of the time it pays off to clean the barbell first, then press.
4) train the squat and the deadlift as often as you train the press. Very few of these workouts (squat & deadlift) will be really hard, but the volume adds up.

Some more ideas and experience about training the press :

a) I would leave a barbell weighing 60-70kg sitting on the squat stands in my garage; as often as I would wander past and have a few minutes to spare, I would do several singles in the press. This way I could add 50-100 more reps to the total amount of pressing that I was doing every week. This was a significant increase over the number of reps that I would do in my heavy workouts (70-90 reps). Adding the extra work with lighter weights did not seem to hinder my ability to push the heavy weights. The extra practice with pressing did seem to help.

b) It seemed to work well when I would clean & press the barbell on one day and press out of the rack on the other day. I started out by doing the 20 rep press schedule 3 days/week, followed by some decently heavy squats (usually 80-85% for several sets of 2-3 reps); the next day I would clean & press for singles, followed by power cleans for doubles and then deadlifts for singles. Over time I switched to power clean & press on the 20 singles days followed by deadlifts for singles. On the opposite days I pressed out of the rack and then squatted (maybe once/week I would work up to a heavy single in the squat, but the rest of the time it was still several sets of 2-3 reps with weights in the 80-85% range).

c) I also did power snatches several times during the week. The external rotation that you do when you snatch a barbell helped (I think) to balance all of the internal rotation that I was doing. You also can't really go wrong if you get a lot stronger in a lift like the power snatch.

d) The best assistance exercise that I found for the press was Floor Presses. This lift will make you stop at the bottom with your elbows at a 90 degree angle. If you pause at the and then press the weight back up it seems to transfer well to the press, since the sticking point in extending the arms will be when the elbows are around a 90 degree angle.

e) The next best assistance exercise that I discovered was standing incline presses.

f) If you want to press a big weight you will also need to have some seriously strong abs. I did heavy ab work every day.

To answer your last question, Nick, I would have to say that it depends. If you are pressing every day (alternating heavy and light, of course) you will probably have a pretty good idea how strong your are on any particular day. I would not plan on backing off every week, but I would certainly back off on the weight or volume as soon as I realized that this was not a day where I was able to lift that much. A scheme that will probably work is to work hard for two weeks (trying to add weight to the barbell as often as possible), then back off during the third week. This scheme is not written in stone, of course, but it does seem to help most lifters continue to make progress over the long term. 

A Program

Day 1: Squat and Bench Press
Work up to a max single in the squat, then do several more singles with 50-100 pounds less than you made. After that, work up to a max single in the bench press, followed by as many sets of doubles as you care to do with 50 pounds less than you made.

Day 2: Press and Deadlift
Work up to a max single in the press. After that, do 10 singles in the deadlift with about 80% of your max. After this, you can do all of the "other stuff" that you want to do.

Then, get back in the gym as soon as you can and repeat Day 1. Aim to lift more today than you did before. After that, repeat Day 2. Aim for a bigger weight in the press and add some weight to the barbell you are deadlifting.

Work this program hard for two weeks, then spend a week doing this:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
Squat - 135/2 reps x 10 sets
Bench - 135/2 x 10
Deadlift - 225/1 x 10
Press - 135/1 x 10

After that, jump right back into the original program and bust ass for another two weeks. Repeat the cycle of 2 weeks heavy/1 week light until you are strong enough.


I have found that pulling off of blocks and barbell rows are very productive things for me to do. When I pull off of blocks, I start at a height where the barbell is just below my knees. This is the position of least leverage for me, so working from here is a maximal effort at the start. Once I get the barbell above my knees, however, my leverage changes significantly: a weight I can barely move from below my kneecap to above my kneecap feels ridiculously light at the top of the lift. So what I do is grind through the first several inches of the lift and then accelerate the bar as much as I can. This results in what is essentially a power shrug at the top of the movement.

I pull off of blocks because this lets me lower (drop?) the barbell after the top of the pull. I like to use triples here, dropping the bar between reps and then resetting; straps are another useful tool here. Starting this partial lift at the position where I have the least leverage and then accelerating the barbell as the leverage improves seems to give me the best of both worlds: maximal strength and speed training. Avoiding the negative portion of the lift gives me the ability to do a lot more work without getting sore or risking injury.

I cheat like hell when I do barbell rows. The barbell starts on the floor and I use my legs and lower back to get it moving. Once it is moving I try to keep it close to my body and pull it into the crease between my torso and my thighs. If the weight is relatively light, my torso will stay more horizontal. When the weights get heavy I will finish in a nearly-standing posture. But, since I have already decided that these are rows done in a cheating style, I do not care; as long as I can pull the barbell into the crease of my hips, it is a good rep.

A good plan is to do partial deadlifts on one day and cheaty rows on the next day. I also try to do deadlifts from the floor every day, too. With these, however, I will start with a frog stance and just do many, many singles with 80-90%. The frog stance puts most of the effort on the quads (at least it does for me), so it is a good supplement for the other work that I mentioned. Following the heavy pulling with frog-style deadlifts seems to hit the yin and yang of the long-levered puller. Squatting once or twice every week (heavy and cheaty, as needed) helps, too.

The Joe Mills 20 20 

If I were going to set it up, this is how I would use the Joe Mills program (based on a 100kg lift):

75kg x 5 singles
80kg x 5 singles
85kg x 5 singles
90kg x 1
92.5kg x 1
95kg x 1
97.5kg x 1
100kg x 1
102.5kg x 1

In this example, you would be doing 10 singles in the 80-85% range and then work up to a limit lift. The important thing here is that the weight selection is not based on percentages as much as it is based progressive weight jumps. The key points here are getting in a lot of practice (10 singles, for instance) with medium weights (80-90% of your max) and then working with some heavy weights (90% and more).

If you consider a lift with a max of 80kg, 80% would be 64kg and 90% would be 72kg. A Joe Mills approach might look like this:

60kg x 5 singles
65kg x 5 singles
70kg x 5 singles
72.5kg x 1
75kg x 1
77.5kg x 1
80kg x 1
82.5kg x 1

Also, an easier day with this program would just be all of the work with the weights that you use for 5 singles; skip the progressively heavier singles at the end and the workload and intensity will automatically be adjusted downwards.

After training like this for a while, the first few weights up to 90% of your max will become routine and only the weights above 90% will be challenging. This is the result of practice and improved technical ability. At this point it becomes useful to put less emphasis on the lighter weights and concentrate on the heavier weights. In this case, your workout might look something like this (based on a max of 100kg):

50kg x a few singles
60kg x a couple singles
70kg x 1-2 singles
(all of the work up to this point is meant to get you warmed up and loosened up; it doesn't really count as productive work on it's own)

80kg x 1
85kg x 1
90kg x 1
(you should be able to work from 80% to 90% quickly and easily; missing a lift in this range should be rare)

97.5kg x 1
102.5kg x 1
(above 90%, you should be able to jump right to a weight near your limit; if you make it, try for a PR. Allow yourself a total of 3 misses or 2 in a row as a gauge of where your limit for the day actually is.)

After you have determined your top lift for the day, do some additional work with heavy weights. To keep the math simple, I plan on just subtracting a fixed amount from the top lift that I made. So, if I made 97.5kg, I would do more singles with 90kg. If I made 102.5kg I would use 95kg. 3-4 more singles in the snatch is a good number; 1-2 singles in the C&J is usually plenty.

The next time that I work up to a limit lift, it might look something like this (now based on a max of 102.5kg):

50kg, 60kg, 70kg
(again, just something to warm up)

80kg x 1
85kg x 1
90kg x 1
95kg x 1
(the last weight would be optional, depending on how you are feeling that day)

100kg x 1
105kg x 1
After that, the working weights would be 92.5kg or 97.5kg, depending on what you made.

The process would keep on going, each heavy workout based on the best you made the time before. You will not be able to set a PR every time, but you should be working close to that weight almost all of the time. Over the long run, the weights that you are using should follow a general upward trend. 

Misses and Limit Singles

A big part of the program is to know why you missed a weight. If you miss because you are doing something wrong, there is no point in trying again unless you can make the correction. Often it will be beneficial to take a lighter weight and practice doing it right; if everything is correct, then maybe you can work back up again.

Sometimes a weight is just too heavy on that day. It might take a couple of attempts to figure this out, but if it is then the best plan is to back off to the 90-95% range and do a few more singles with a weight that is manageable yet still sufficiently hard work to make you stronger.

There are also times where a lifter may be weak in a specific muscle or movement. This may appear to be a technical error, but the fix for it might not be drilling technique but rather some remedial strength work. The biggest culprits here are legs, ass (glute/ham area) and low back/abs. It will often take the eye of a decent caoch to see what is actually going on.

Another thing to keep in mind is that working up to a limit single for the day and then doing more work with a bit less weight are two different stimuli. Working up to your top weight is a skill that must be developed and the heavy weights that you handle will make you stronger, too. Working with sub-max weights (90-95%) for several singles are a strong stimulus for building strength. A good template (if you have the time) is to work up to a max single in the snatch and then work up to a max single in the C&J. After finding you max single in the C&J, do a few more singles in the 90-95% range. After this, break the bar back down and work back up to the 90-95% range in the snatch for a few singles. After this do some squats; the best stimulus I have found for making specific gains is doing as many sets of 2-3 reps in the front squat as you can manage. The second best is putting your max C&J weight on the bar and doing one set of as many reps as you can do in the back squat (10 is a good target). This basic plan can be repeated every day of the week, as long as you can recover from day to day and make progress over the long term. Most people cannot do this, so modifications must be made to make the workload manageable.  

More Deadlift Stuff

Just a thought here:

There are a couple of approaches a lifter could take here, based on the example Brian provided. The first would be to do a bunch of singles in the deadlift of the days following, perhaps something like this:

Tuesday: Deadlift 465 x 5-10 singles
Wednesday: Deadlift 415 x 10 singles

Thursday would either be a day off from deadlifting. On Friday, deadlift again, something like this:

335 x 3
425 x 1
475 x 1
500 x 1
525 x 1
540 x ?

Then on the following days, keep following the pattern:

Saturday: -50 pounds (475) x 5-10 singles
Sunday: -100 pounds (425) x 10 singles
Monday: no deadlifting. On Tuesday, aim for a top single with 530-535 pound. Wednesday and Thursday would be more singles with -50 and -100 pounds, respectively.

Another thought here; you could also do something like this:

Tuesday: Deadlift (off of blocks, starting just below the knee) - work up to a max triple. In my case, I could usually do a triple in this style with about 90% of my best deadlift from the floor; your mileage will vary, but over time you should be able to find an adequate amount of weight to take off of the bar (relative to your max DL) so that you can do some useful work.

Wednesday: Deadlift @ -100 pounds x 10 singles
Thursday: OFF (no deadlifting)
Friday: Deadlift @ -50 pounds x 5-10 singles
Saturday: Deadlift @ -100 pounds x 10 singles
Sunday: OFF (no deadlifting) 

On Monday you would repeat the cycle but this time you would aim for a top single at 525-540 pounds. 

More on Squatting

The Front Squat is an excellent lift to do, because it requires you to have enough mobility in all of your joints just to hit the positions. After that, you still need to be strong enough to squat down and stand up with a decent amount of weight on the barbell.

Back Squats are another excellent lift, for all of the reasons that everybody already knows. You still need enough mobility to hit the correct positions and maintain your posture, but it is more forgiving here than the Front Squat would be.

My personal opinion is that the lift people often call "Olympic Squats" are redundant and pretty much useless. As I understand it, an "Olympic" squat is performed like a back squat, except that the bar is placed higher on the upper back and the stance is relatively narrow. There is nothing automatically wrong with back squats performed like this, but most people will be a lot more comfortable with the bar a bit lower on their back and their feet placed wider. Squatting will always be the most productive when you move through the optimal groove for your body. If a high bar and narrow feet works for you, then do it. If you find that you have a better groove with the bar lower on your back and your feet spread out more on the platform, then do that. Find the optimal style for you and then work with it. There is nothing to be gained from trying to back squat from a posture that is uncomfortable and takes away from you best leverage. 


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reverse Grip Bench Press - Doug Daniels (1993)

Anthony Clark

There are a lot of assistance exercises available, some productive, some not so productive. One assistance exercise that may have benefits is the reverse grip bench press. Simply put, the reverse grip bench is a bench press with your grip going the opposite way - that is, knuckles facing your feet. I first heard of this exercise in Muscle & Fitness. There was a picture of the famous Paul Brothers, the Barbarians, doing reverse grips. 

They put on exhibitions and routinely reverse grip bench over 500 pounds. At first, I considered the exercise a novelty. Later, 275'er Bill Nichols told me in an interview that after Rick Weil suggested he add them to his bench training, his max bench went up when no other technique seemed to work. Lately, Anthony Clark has been benching massive weights in competition using a reverse grip. I am not suggesting using the reverse grip at a meet, but I am suggesting we may have something here. 

This exercise greatly changes the leverage as well as the involvement of the pressing muscles. The contribution of the pectorals is reduced and the triceps and delts increased. The stabilizing musculature is stressed in a different manner. I have always believed that in order to successfully lift a weight, you must first stabilize and control that weight. The increased stabilizing strength could flow over to your competition bench.

Before we look at how the reverse grip bench may be used in your training, let's first discuss its proper execution. As you can imagine, the feel of this lift is extremely different, and care should be taken before proceeding into heavy weights. 

First of all, spotters are absolutely necessary. If the weight falls, it tends to fall towards your head and neck area which could spell disaster. Have your spotter lift the weight for you. Another suggestion is to get close to the bench racks. For normal benches, this is not desirable, but for safety concerns, both during liftoff and actual lifting, it is desirable to get close to the rack. 

The trajectory of the lift tends to go straight up as opposed to the bar path of a normal bench which goes towards the head and rack. You will not bump the rack and it will be easier to get the bar both off the rack into position and back on the rack after. 

The most logical safety step is to start out light. You have to get used to the unique feel of the exercise. Confidence in controlling the weight must be built. As with all new exercises, if you start too heavy too soon, you risk injury as the muscles are not used to the demands. 

You can also do reverse benches inside a power rack for greater safety. Use the "with thumb" grip. The thumbless grip would create a greater risk of the bar falling out of your hand and onto your face.

There are many ways to integrate the reverse grip bench into your routine. I regard it as a substitute for close grip benches. Since both of these exercises decrease the pectoral involvement in favor of the delts and triceps, there is no need to perform both of these in the same workout. The exercise is great for lifters with triceps deficiencies. The triceps really get a workout, especially if you concentrate on keeping your elbows tucked into the body. 

You could do a few sets of reverses after your regular benches, or do reverses only on your second bench day to the exclusion of regular benches. If your bench press has stalled in a rut, try reverses as your assistance move of choice. You can also experiment with various grip widths. I would not go narrower than shoulder width grip or wider than your regular bench grip. 

The number of reps are up to you. Have them coincide with where you are in your cycle.

Chris Confessore once suggested a novel way of doing reverse grips on a machine. Eagle offers a seated bench machine that would enable the lifter to do a seated reverse grip bench with a higher degree of safety. Other manufacturers may offer similar stations for this variation. This is particularly valuable if you don't have a spotter or the confidence to do barbell reverse benches. I wouldn't suggest using dumbbells, as control of these may be too precarious. 

As with any assistance exercise, the end goal is to improve in the powerlift targeted. Also, don't go overboard and overtrain by doing too many sets of reverse grips and other assistance work. 

You may even find that, like Anthony Clark, you excel in reverse grips over regular benches and use this style in competition. Give reverse grips a try, but remember the cautions I outlined here.

Championship Bench Pressing Techniques - Ron Fernando (1983)

Out of the three contested powerlifts, none enjoys more popularity than the Bench Press. Indeed, if one were to wander into any local YMCA or college weight room, odds are (for you bookie types out there) that the bench pressing area will be heavily congested while the squat rack or situp boards will resemble the Gobi desert, renowned for its vast emptiness.

The love affair that the novice and advanced weight trainee has had with this lift probably began during the days of Marvin Eder. For those of you who think that the Bench begins and ends with such current superstars as Bridges, Kaz, Arcidi and MacDonald, try this one on: Eder (bodyweight 195) was able to push up in strict fashion 495 pounds and do Dips with well over 200 pounds of added weight. Big deal, you say, but remember, this was done in the mid-50s without the advanced 'supplements' available today. Photos of Eder show a tremendous pec-delt-triceps tie, which was the result of heavy benching.

Historically speaking, bench pressing didn't really come into its own until after World War II when commercially constructed benches as we know them were available to the general public. Before then, lifters resorted to all manner of exotic gyrations to get the weight on their chest, or simple stuck with dumbbells.

Easing into the recent era, Paul Anderson was reputedly capable of a 620 Bench Press (source: Guinness Book of Records) done in the early Sixties, but by then he had lost his amateur status so the records never counted.

Pat Casey was the first to officially do 600 pounds, and the standards he set have still only been matched by extremely few lifters.

Ronnie Ray came out as a relative unknown from Texas and rode the crest of his massive Bench at 198 to win a Senior National Title.

The point here is that we can all take a page out of the training logs of these giants of yesteryear to improve our own bench pressing. Al Oerter (4 time gold medalist in the discus) was quoted by the L.A. Times as saying, "If these guys (track athletes) thought that eating Brillo pads and stadium seats would improve their performance, they would do it." So it is with the bench press. There are literally many, many thousands of dollars spent each year by lifters on drugs and exotic new equipment, merely in pursuit of the elusive 'max'. I submit that the intelligent application of well-established theory (not to mention years of hard work) will garner excellent (and permanent) gains.

Ronnie Ray was the prototypical bench presser: short, thick arms, a deep chest, and fairly broad shoulders. Regardless of his structural advantages, he trained the bench as if it was a weakness. How about 30-second pauses with 405, or 20 sets of 10 in the pushdown with 200 pounds, supersetted with heavy dumbbell curls! Ronnie loved to work the bench under seemingly ridiculous constraints (long pauses, feet up in the air, etc.) The idea here was, of course, to make the contest single seem much easier to perform than a regular training lift. He performed anywhere from 15 to 20 sets of benches, twice per week. I sincerely believe that performance of the long (3-5 second) pauses will condition the motor pathways to the point that a standard contest pause will make you feel like you're cheating!

Heavy Dips with weight have long been considered by weight trainees as a number one assistance exercise for benches. Eder, as previously stated, could do full dips with well over 200 pounds. Pat Casey would do reps with 300 pounds AND he weighed over 300 himself! Once a year, Pat would 'test' himself on the dip by attempting to do 200 reps with bodyweight plus about 200 added pounds. He would start by doing 5-10 reps and continue with single reps until he completed the 200 total. He would take as long as seven hours to complete this marathon workout and would be sore for three weeks or so afterwards, but he claimed that this extreme effort did help bring his lift up to 617.

The Finnish Superman, Hannu Saarelainen (photo at top of article), depends heavily on weighted dips to develop the initial and finishing kick on his bench. This movement has, however, seen some injuries. Lou Paul, one of the early Muscle Beach lifters, totally blew out his pec while performing heavy weighted dips. His bench deteriorated from 400 in the early 60s to less than 200 today. It is not known if Lou gave immediate attention to his injury or not, however.

Many super benchers dip but do unheard of reps instead of massive weights to augment their benches. I know a lot of you have never heard of Bill Patze, but he was able to do a 370 officially at 148 and at a bulked up 170 managed to push up a strict 440 in the gym. All of these lifts were done in the early '70s in Arizona with no steroid or shirt use whatsoever. Bill was also a super gymnast, and his specialty was the still rings. To aid his performance on the rings, Bill would come home from high school and do 5 sets of 100 dips with bodyweight AFTER gymnastics practice. Four years of continuous dips (let's see now, that is approximately 730,000 dips over the course of his high school career!) made bench pressing seem relatively harmless.

No article on bench pressing would be complete without mention of the Black Bear of powerlifting, Jim Williams. Jim spent years building a Gibraltar-like foundation which he refined in his competitive dys to an eventual 675, done officially, and the famous 700 pound bench done in front of reliable witnesses at the York Gym. Jim favored low, and I mean low reps, usually no more than 21 per workout. His reasoning was twofold: first, he had spent many years on basic exercises such as heavy pullovers, front raises with a 100-lb. plate, and heavy dumbbell bench work, so he did not need any more assistance work. Second, and more important, was the fact that he wanted to save that precious energy for the heaviest lift. By using these principles, he was able to bench 4-6 days a week and knock off some gargantuan poundages.

A typical workout would be something like this:

315x8 | 405x5 | 475x1 | 525-550x1 | 600-700x1 |

At that time, Jim was training with John Kuc, and together they devised a method forced reps which moved John's bench from the mid 4's to an official 605. After the normal sets and reps were done, Jim and John would load on anywhere from 50-100 pounds over the top weight of the day. Then, forced rep benches would be done with equal emphasis on the negative, or eccentric, movement as well as a total effort on the part of the bencher to complete the lift..

About 10 years ago, Ken Leistner wrote a very fine article on bench pressing in Iron Man magazine, which dealt with this forced rep system. It, like Pat Casey's marathon dip sessions, will cause extreme soreness even for the most advanced lifter and should not be overdone.

Bill Ennis and his training partners came up with a 'new' twist to an old idea, namely using elbow wraps in training to "overload" in the bench press. Here again, the idea is to stress receptor conditioning, much like heavy box squats for the legs. The lifter would put on the wraps after his heaviest bench and in most cases would be able to push up 30-40 pounds more than his max. Bill, who had reportedly peaked out in the bench press at around 500, is now knocking on the door of 520-525 (with the wraps he was able to push 575). Again, this should be done only a few weeks out of the year.

As always, necessity was the mother of invention back then, just as it is now.         

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cycled Mass and Strength Building - Low Volume Version

This is a layout that uses four sets per exercise. It goes from a top set of 6 reps, over time, to a top set of 2. There is also a 'pump set' included after the top set. Work the work set AND the pump set hard.

Follow each of the three layouts for three weeks each.

The top set is the only real change (other than the weights used).
The exercises should remain constant.

You will be training four times per week, using two different sets of exercises.


Two Squat variations.
Two Hamstring exercises.
Two Upper Back exercises.
One Lower Back exercise.


Two Chest exercises
Two Shoulder exercises
Two Triceps exercises
Two Biceps exercises

Calves and Abs not listed. You know what works for you. 

First Rep Scheme:
10 (warmup)
8 (one rep left in the tank)
6 (hard work set)
15 (hard pump set)

Six Weeks Later - Second Rep Scheme:
10 (warmup)
6 (one rep left)
4 (hard work set)
15 (hard pump set)

Six Weeks Later - Third Rep Scheme:
10 (warmup)
5 (one rep left)
2 (hard work set)
15 (hard pump set)

The work set AND the pump set should be worked very hard.
Take breaths between the later reps of the pump sets in order to use bigger weights.
You might need more warmups. You know that works for you.

Use the 'big' movements for each body part group.
Squats, Presses, Barbell Curls, Deadlifts, Hi Pulls, Rows, etc.

Very straightforward. One hard work set and one hard pump set with basic exercises
gradually cycling to 2-rep work sets. 

Don Reinhoudt - From PLUSA May 1978

From This Issue


To overcome the fear of big weights one must lift big weights and get used to the feel of them. The greatest bench presser ever, Jim Williams, used to say this and it's so very true. You must conquer the fear and do it. Jim used to bench 600 pounds five days a week. He conquered the fear of the bench press by doing this. 

I did the same with my squats and deads. I would squat 900+ six to seven weeks for reps and deadlift 800+ six to seven weeks for reps to conquer the fear. My mind and body would always be ready and able to lift max contest lifts if I put it to the test. 

I think it's a breakthrough in one's thinking . . . you must believe in yourself. When I started out competing I wanted so badly to be the best powerlifter in the world. I made up my mind . . . that's what I want to do. I worked hard for 15 years on my goals and dreams. I'm sure I was never the greatest but I reached my dreams and won four World titles and set 24 World Records. 

You must have goals in lifting and lifts. You must pay the price to reach the top. We have all had our ups and downs on the lifting platform or in the gym with injuries or missing lifts and blowing our minds . . . but to be a real champion you must pick yourself up and keep moving ahead . . . setting new goals and dreams for for yourself. 

I reached my goal when I won my first World title in 1973. All my life I wanted to be a World Champion and my dreams came through God . . . but then I thought, well, anyone on a God given day could win one championship, so I wanted another crack at the title. I kept setting new goals every year for myself. I was very lucky . . . without God, my wife Cindy, my Mom and Dad and friends, all these goals never would have come true.


I usually try to plan my power meets at least 3 to 4 months in advance. This way I have plenty of time to make my training schedule work. I usually lift in just three meets a year as I usually like to compete in a meet for a warmup and then the Seniors and Worlds. 

I like 13 to 14 week progressive training cycles. I figure out what I would like to do on each lift, then I figure out what I'd have to rep in training to make that lift. Then I get out my calendar and backtrack. Say I want to squat 800 in a meet. I'll need 750 x 2 pretty easy in order to get it, so what I'll do is this:

Week 1 - 630 x 2
Week 2 - 640 x 2
Week 3 - 650 x 2
Week 4 - 660 x 2
Week 5 - 670 x 2
Week 6 - 680 x 2
Week 7 - 690 x 2
Week 8 - 700 x 2
Week 9 - 710 x 2
Week 10 - 720 x 2
Week 11 - 730 x 2
Week 12 - 750 x 2
Week 13 - I take 5 days off of all the lifts before the meet. 

Doubles seem to work best for me, but I have tried triples and even singles during my last year of lifting as a Super. I trained with a triples routine for my meet in Ohio when I did 2370 very easily (935-585-850), just missing a 905 deadlift at the top. 

For the Seniors I used a doubles routine and had much luck with it, breaking two Sr. National records with an 860 deadlift and 2995 total. After that I was getting worn out on reps so I thought for the Worlds I would use the singles. I did well, buy by far not my best. I did just miss a 904 deadlift at the top of my knees. Whether I'm using singles, doubles, or triples I always use the 12-13 week progressive cycle of adding weight.


My training is still basically the same as when I was a Super except that I'm doing more bodybuilding, because my leverage has changed somewhat by losing the bodyweight. I do more for my deadlifts and benches, but my squatting has stayed the same just by squatting. On the deads I work the trap area a lot more by doing cheat upright rows harder and by doing bent over rows.

I guess one of my biggest problems when I was a SHW is that I would tire so quickly and didn't have the energy to train as much as I do now. I used to spend a lot of time in the whirlpool after training trying to keep my back and groin loose, as I used to get so very tight. I don't have the bodyweight gains to help me gain strength now, so I have to train harder on my other areas than I ever did before.

I work my assistance exercises very hard, as when I make gains on them I will make gains on my powerlifts also. Bodybuilding is the basis for Powerlifting. I do a lot of triceps work and lat work plus much trap work. My arms and traps are close to what they were when I was a SHW and at 90 pounds less bodyweight.

Before I quit lifting at the 1976 Worlds my measurements while weighing 360 were:
Chest, 61
Arms, 22.5
Forearms, 18.5
Neck, 22
Thigh, 33.5
Waist, 51.5
Calf, 19.25

Now, at 281 pounds, I measure:
Chest, 56.25
Arms, 21
Forearms, 16.5
Neck, 18.5
Thigh, 29
Waist, 40
Calf, 18

So by bodybuilding real hard I have made pretty decent gains.


I have always started out my training cycle with weights I can handle with ease. I know my training cycle will be  long one so I want to start easy. Adding weight each week my training weights pick up and will, of course, get much harder for me. By the time the 6th week comes along I will be pushing some good lifts, but I don't go all out.

What I like to do is what I call master the weight with your mind and your body. I don't think I have ever singled out in training during my lifting years. I like to use weights that I have to work on but not peak on. I like to lift knowing that I have more reps left in me while still using good weights.


Monday . . . heavy benches
Tuesday . . . heavy squats
Wednesday . . . off
Thursday . . . off
Friday . . . light benches
Saturday . . . heavy deadlifts and very light squats (just working form)

Here's the routine that I have used in the past:

Bench Press
135 x 10
225 x 3
315 x 3
405 x 3
505 x 3
550 x 2

135 x 10
225 x 3
315 x 3
405 x 3
450 x 3
530 x 2

120 x 6
120 x 6
120 x 6

150 x 8
150 x 8
150 x 8

250 x 6
250 x 6
250 x 6

Triceps Extensions
135 x 10
205 x 3
255 x 3
300 x 3
315 x 3

245 x 6
445 x 3
645 x 3
750 x 2
830 x 2
905 x 2

245 x 6
445 x 2
645 x 2
730 x 2
805 x 2
855 x 2

Cheat Upright Rows
135 x 10
225 x 3
255 x 3
305 x 3
350 x 2

That's the kind of training I used to do weighing 355-365. I have lifted much more but these are what I could do most anytime.


It takes years and years to know oneself in lifting. You must know your body and mind to be a great lifter. The biggest thing you have to do is believe in yourself, be honest with yourself.

Train hard and be willing to put hours and hours into training until you know what works for you. So many guys train wrong and when they get to a meet they can't understand why they couldn't lift will or they bombed out.

Know yourself. Know your limits and conquer your mind. Try to find out what works for you by trying everything when you first start training. Then, with years of experience you can sift through ideas and put them to work for yourself.

I have tried probably every training idea and I finally one that worked for me. Ask questions, read, and study the form of good lifters.

Get to know your body and train it hard.  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Craig Tokarski Seminar - Jon Smoker (1993)

See Here for a 1992 Article on Mr. Tokarski in The Chicago Tribune

On May 8, 1993, in Elkhart, Indiana, Craig Tokarski gave a seminar was both rich in useful information and highly motivational. He began with a detailed explanation of his technique while he warmed up to a 600 and then 625; this is at the starting point of his cycle. 

The first thing that he stressed was the importance of taking the shirt off between attempts. He said that when you leave it on, it stretches the shirt out and gets it into a loose groove. Taking it off between attempts really helps to keep it tight. 

He sets up with a wrestler's bridge, really; back arched radically, feet tucked way under the bench, and then he brings the bar down to the highest point of his abs and tucks his elbows in against his sides.

He wants the bar to go up in a straight line, feeling that a stair-step technique is inefficient. For all the world, it looks like a close grip bench, kind of the mirror image of Anthony Clark's reverse grip style. It's a radical departure from his old Texas-T style and one of the things he credits with his rapid rise to success. 

The belt and wrist wraps are also important elements in his technique because when used properly, they help to maintain tightness. The main secret with the belt is to notch it again once you lay down on the bench because your stomach is flatter and you can get another notch or two, which will keep the shirt pulled down tight. The key with wrist wraps is to have them up on the bottom of the hand to create a cast-like effect, thereby adding a great deal of stability to the wrist. 

The last thing he emphasized was to get a huge breath of air at the start of the lift to stay tight, expand your rib cage and have plenty of oxygen.

The second most important thing he credited with his rapid rise to success was the employment of the cambered bar in his training. He started using it and changing his technique when he was benching 600, and a year later he was up to 700. He cautioned, like all the experts, not to go too heavy with it, because of the risk of injury. He goes around 315-365 for 4 sets of 5. This, of course, is mainly a pectoral exercise, and he also uses flyes and dumbbell benches to hit that muscle group, pausing at the bottom of both movements.

On Mondays he does the flyes, usually using very high reps, 16-20 with 50 pounds, as he does on most of his bodybuilding exercises, to keep his muscles tight and injury free, while not overworking them. He believes mass and strength are attained through adequate nutrition and heavy benching. Also on Mondays he does triceps pushdowns for 4 x 20 with 120. He also works the biceps because it's a stabilizer muscle, once again hitting 16 to 20 reps. 

For back work he goes a little heavier, going 12-16 reps for 8 sets. He prefers pulldowns with 210-225 pounds and a narrow, reverse grip, because it mimics his bench press style. 

For shoulder work he prefers side lateral movements because he feels that the front delts take enough of a beating from benching. He does some behind the neck pressing, but works it very light, never going over 225.

He believes squatting is essential since his legs really get into his big benches, but once again, he doesn't believe in going very heavy, usually settling for 4x5 with 365-405 on Wednesdays. He doesn't go real heavy because it takes too much out of his shoulders. He also does leg curls in the 16-20 rep range with around 180 pounds. 

In general, regarding bodybuilding movements, he tends to do more of it right after a contest, and then he gradually eliminates it as he goes through a cycle, dropping all assistance work when he's 4 weeks out from a meet.

When training for a contest, he likes to start concentrating on a cycle about 12 weeks out. For the first 4 weeks, he does sets of 5, which he, along with Ed Coan and a lot of other experts, thinks are just about perfect for developing size and strength. He usually does 3 to 5 sets on Monday, his heavy bench day for the week. 

Eight weeks out he goes to triples. 

The final four weeks he uses doubles and a few 95% singles to finish off his preparation, hitting his last heavy workout two Mondays before the meet. 

He also takes a lot of time between sets when training heavy, waiting up to 10 minutes between sets so that he can handle more weight. Anything less and he feels you're getting close to bodybuilding training again.

Friday is his light day and he sticks with 365 for 4x5 the entire cycle. Anything more doesn't allow him to recuperate enough and he comes back still sore somewhat on Monday.

For supplementation he takes vitamins and minerals to hit anything his diet might be deficient in [read that Tribune article link just to get a clearer picture of this whole 'diet' thing]. He also takes a weight gain powder when he's trying to gain weight, partly because he's lactose intolerant. He believes one should have adequate food intake so that you're just over your weight limit, so you don't get in a position where you have to eat like a bodybuilder. He also likes to eat just before he works out, because an empty stomach is a distraction. Other than that, he believes in getting plenty of rest and taking it easy on weekends, if powerlifting is your main interest. 

The two main points Tokarski emphasized when addressing the subject of motivation, were to surround yourself with positive people and to never put limitations on yourself. If someone he comes in contact with at the gym or out tries to say something negative about his lifting, like it's a useless endeavor or he could never hit a certain lift, he'll turn a deaf ear to them and no longer associate with them. Psychologically he thinks it's of utmost importance to have positive influences in your life and positive thoughts in your head. "Never say to yourself 'I could never lift X amount of weight'," he stressed. With time, dedication and a sound training program there's no telling what you might do. He said that if he had said to himself early on, "that I could never lift 700 pounds" that it would have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And too, to maintain a positive state of mind, he said you should not carry daily stresses into the gym: "A part of life is that we all have problems, but park them at the door." He concluded his seminar by saying that the most positive influence that anyone can tune into is God, from whom all strength comes.            

Monday, February 20, 2017

That Cadillac Guy - Jan Dellinger (2017)

That Cadillac Guy
by Jan Dellinger (2017)

Back in the day, bodybuilding superstar Bill Pearl referred to 1964 AAU Mr. America winner Val Vasilef by he nickname "That Cadillac Guy."

For decades, the label "Cadillac" has symbolized the ultimate top-of-the-line quality, elegance, style and, frankly, affluence! Hence, Pearl hit the nail right on the head when he hung this esoteric handle on Val, whose life post-bodybuilding exemplifies what is synonymous with the vaunted luxury automobile.

While on the subject of monikers I have always looked upon Val as "The Comet!" My reasoning stems from the fact that when he won his Mr. America crown, I was in junior high school and just starting to read York muscle magazines in which he was prominent. However, by the time I reached high school, Val had vanished from these publications. And now you know one of my motivations for re-examining Val.

All of this brings up an interesting but seldom-addressed-point germane to amateur bodybuilding in the 1960s: what did these prominent Mr. Winners do after they walked off with the big titles back then? I'll touch on that issue directly by contrasting the post-Mr America life path Val went down against that of another titlist of that same period.

For now, let's just say that Val Vasilef was one muscleman who ultimately did quite well for himself after he stepped off the posing dais. How well, you ask? Hes beyond-opulent abode in south Florida, which features Mediterranean Moorish Mythical design themes while also encompassing hints of Spanish-Italian influences, is regular cover material for every upscale real estate industry publication far and wide.

While the later chapters of Val's life speak volumes of his accomplishments, his early years portray the absolute antithesis of a Cadillac lifestyle. Frankly, the description "struggle" doesn't do his young years justice as he and his family were mired in abject poverty. When Val was approximately eight years old, his father suffered a severely crippling accident and in not time flat the Vasilef's were homeless and literally out on the street.

Click Pics to ENLARGE

In short order, they became wards of the state of New Jersey, who relocated them to a "place to live" (note the quotes) in the general vicinity of the town of Glassboro. This formerly abandoned residence was w-a-y out of town, situated well beyond where the paved roads ended. Additionally, foremost among the deficiencies of this 'shelter" was the complete lack of electricity, refrigeration, and indoor plumbing.

To this day, Val credits the ingenuity and tenacity of his mother for keeping the family together and eking out a sustainable existence in these sub-standard circumstances. On the plus side, although in the wilderness, this property had sufficiently rich earth to grow vegetables and other life-giving crops, as well as to proliferate "agri-currency" in the form of raising chickens. Fortunately, there was also an abundance of trees available on the land, which provided the only reliable heat source during the winter months. Of course, this required that Val and his brother constantly saw and chop wood. Talk about an old school workout!

Clearly, there was nothing easy or encouraging about their circumstances. Nevertheless, through collective grit, self-reliance, along with an early tendency toward very basic entrepreneurialism, the Vasilefs honed a finely tuned survival instinct. 

Nearly two years later, the state of New Jersey "upgraded" the Vasilefs to a just-slightly-less dilapidated "fixer upper" in that it featured very basic electrical wiring, but Val and his brother Bob had to hand-dig the cesspool for the house, and eventually were able to put the bathroom indoors. Recognize that for a lot of Americans, the hard scrabble day-to-day of the Great Depression did not start reversing until after the cessation of World War II. 

 Val was personally molded and matured by these regular hardships. Plus, he innately possessed a couple of other attributes which served him well: Among them was a transcendent, indomitable spirit, which incorporated an incredible degree of self-determination to strive and rise above his bleak situation. Hence, earning money was a high priority to Val. At the same time, he was the type of individual who was not content working for someone else. So, at age 17, he, his brother Bob and a friend, also teenagers,went into the professional roofing/siding business in the Turnersville, NJ area. Thanks to Val's tremendous energy and hustle, they successfully competed on even terms with more established businesses in the same field who were owned and operated by adults.

Of course, there are different standards of success among businessmen, even the younger ones! After earning enough to start pulling the Vasilef brood out of the economic mire, Val and his brother had amassed sufficient dollars to purchase a . . . green Cadillac convertible. Perhaps Bill Pearl is psychic!

Okay, what would you expect of two teenage boys from a financially indigent background who had money for the first time! Their sporty set of wheels caught the eye of many of those cute 1950s Jersey girls in saddle shoes and poodle skirts. As Val has summed it up in his autobiography, " . . . could life be any better? Not for two teenage boys who were just a few years before at the bottom of the barrel."

The Caddy and pocket money were not the only lures in attracting the chick-a-dees as the handsome Vasilef brothers were also adept at showing off physically. Two of their specialties were acrobatic handbalancing on various sections of the Caddy, as well as other odd and precarious objects, and free style open somersaults. A bit of a daredevil, Val, in particular, was exceptional at handstand presses on his motorcycle, eventually after a number of spills, being able to hold one while the motorcycle was moving! Pictorial documentation of the aforementioned is on display in his autobiography, "My Journey to Mr. America."

By the way, Val retained this incomprehensible ability at handbalancing even as a full-fledged muscleman weighing well over 200 pounds. In fact there is an iconic picture of Val doing a handstand on top of fellow training partner/competitor Bill St. John. Note should also be taken that the latter is holding a rigid plank with only his feet and back of his head supported.

Reference to his motorcycle, points to another chapter in Val's young (pre-bodybuilding) life. As a form of economic transportation, the motorcycle began gaining wide usage in post World War II America. Val locked into the chopper craze, acquiring a very used one before he could legally drive a car and upgraded from there. 

The prevalence of motorcycles on America's highways gave rise to the formation of motorcycle "clubs." And there was a mixed image that went with bike life in many quarters by the dawning of the 1950s. Some clubs were nothing more than a group of friends or acquaintances bonded together by the love of riding the open road in their free moments.

At the same time, clubs featuring members who also loved riding the open road but who also didn't mind living outside the law to various degrees also sprang up. Typically, these kinds of bikers were classified by law enforcement as gangs. Typically, these assemblages not only flaunted authority, but maintained criminal enterprises to subsidize their adventurous lifestyle.

Reflectively, it is stunning how contemporary history views our culture in the rear view mirror. Typically, the 1960s are remembered as the decade of upheaval and discontent. But because art mirrors culture, there were signs even in the early 1950s that more than a little nonconformity was headed mainstream America's way. For example, the 1953 movie, "The Wild One", which featured renowned actor Marlon Brando as troubled tough Johnny Strabler, was the first film to explore outlaw biker life. As a work of filmdom, Brando and this movie have attained a near-immortal/iconic status. 

Then there was the dark, brooding personality - young girls often seem attracted to this moody kind of bad boy - of James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause".

And then there was the emergence of an unprecedented and enduring cultural force who was distasteful to older generations at first -- "The King of Rock and Roll" - Elvis Presley flashed the good looks, charisma, sensuality and tons of energy on the stage, exuding the ultimate in Alpha Male "IT".        

In movie roles, Elvis was, of course, the romantic lead, who sometimes rode a Harley with compatriots, and when threatened, triumphantly beat down unruly antagonists. Basically, the boy-next-door with minor tinges of acceptable adult male hostility to his character in order to entice females who loved the Bad Boys, as well as the good ones! 

The aforementioned trio to a large extent defined young American males and youthful rebellion from an image standpoint when Val was a teenager. So where on this sliding scale of '50s male role models would Val, who was an avid and unabashed motorcycle enthusiast who led his own club (The Cats) slot in? Clearly, closer to the Elvis profile than Brando's persona, but make no mistake about it, Val was the uncontested leader of his biker crowd and was not shy about defending his throne! 

Like Elvis, Val was, and remains, very much a child of the 1950s. One of the living areas contained within that fabulous mansion of his which I mentioned early on features a full-to-scale malt shop/diner (replete with a counter, soda fountain, booths, stools, iconic period posters and other wall art . . . the whole nine yards!). And he has been known to impersonate Elvis - hair, attire, glittered jump suit, etc. - expertly for the entertainment of party go-ers and friends. 

And like Elvis, Val had his own brand of Alpha Male "IT", and lots of it, even as a teenager. His level of ambition, and especially when challenged or told he couldn't do something, was incredible. And as one admirer who recalled his initial citing of Val back in the day phrased it, "There was nothing like him. He just looked different from everyone else and exuded an aura of supreme confidence about him." 

Before I reveal the identity of the person I just quoted - it's a name bodybuilders of a certain age will recognize - I would like to offer more of his background thoughts, expressly concerning his first view of weights and Val: "I was a 14-year old walking past a yard where a group of older guys were lifting weights, which at that time was a rare sight because the activity was discouraged by coaches of all sports at all levels, even the pros.

"Because I was so enamored with the Superman serials at the Saturday movie matinees when I was younger, watching these guys that day provided the inspiration for my lifelong involvement in weightlifting.

"One of the boys participating was a high school senior and very accomplished athlete. This captain of the local school football and baseball teams, cleaned and jerked 185 pounds. I thought, 'Wow!' . . . figuring that was the best effort I was going to see.

"Then I caught sight of someone in the group who just looked different from anyone I'd ever seen before. He complimented the sports hero on his impressive lift, saying in a tongue-in-cheek manner that he doubted he could equal cleaning and jerking the 185. But he said he wanted to try it nevertheless.

"The upshot of the story is that this very intriguing individual cleaned the 185 and pressed it . . . with one arm! 

"Just as quickly, Mystery Guy climbed on his motorcycle and sped off! My first thought was, 'Who the hell was this guy, and what did I just witness?'

"At my age I only got to see him infrequently when he came around, but when he did, his presence always created a stir. Finally, I learned that he was Val Vasilef!" 

The above are the first impression recollections of Bill St. John, who grew up to be a very high caliber bodybuilder and individual in his own right. Moreover, those of you who lived thru the bodybuilding history of the middle-late 1960s thru early ''70s, will know that Bill and Val were by that point lifelong friends and training partners.

Actually, very substantial facts and background details for this article were furnished by Bill, and as such should be considered the real author of this Vasilef profile. 

However, returning to Val and his exploits chronicled thus far, I'm guessing a lot of readers raised an eyebrow when a 185-pound One-Arm Press was attributed to the former Mr. America. As with every great muscleman or strongman, Val literally oozed genetic potential, most directly traceable to his mother's brother John, who was a touring professional strongman for decades with prominent circuses in his native Russia. 

This does not mean that he enjoyed his physical blessing without working to improve upon it. As previously mentioned, he innately possessed gymnastic abilities, which he began cultivating at a rather young age. Moreover, he also wanted to emulate his uncle's great capacity for strength and power. Hence, he and his brother, who had no money for barbells, per se, became the consummate "odd object lifters", testing their burgeoning muscle against rocks or just about any cumbersome object they could find.

As his shouldering and overhead pressing with two hands began outstripping the weights they had, Val began pressing things with one arm.

Coincidentally, Val's bodyweight and age at the time of the backyard lift-off St. John recounted was 170 pounds at 20 years of age. 

As you might expect, Val's growing reputation for boundless physicality and swagger also attracted a few envious skeptics. The only competitive lifter in the area where Val lived, inveigled him and his brother Bob into entering an actual Olympic lifting contest in Wilmington, Delaware, despite the fact that neither had ever seen an Olympic barbell prior.

In the warmup area, the Vasilef brothers were getting acquainted with a York Barbell set and turning heads with a combination of crude strength display and outright showing off. Bob, for instance, was more interested in cranking out dozens of handstand pushups. By the time it was their turn to go out for their opening Press attempts, the warmup had lapsed into a full-scale workout, and they both failed noticeably in their three attempts.

Bob could have cared less, but Val's ego had sustained some deflation, and he stormed out of the venue. However, he did not get very far before he was flagged down by Jim Messer, long viewed as a venerate lifting official here in the Middle Atlantic District.  

Val's very misguided warmup room antics notwithstanding, old Jim recognized raw "diamond in the rough" talent when he saw it. And to his credit, Val calmed enough to contemplate Jim's sage advice about proper warmup procedures and a few other coaching tips.

Jim also informed Val that his Holy Savior Club in Norristown, PA would be holding another Olympic lifting meet in the coming weeks and that he should get focused and enter. Determined not to be thought of as unprepared or incapable of competing with the area's best lifters, Val followed Jim's advice and entered. 

Despite his inauspicious platform start, Val's ability and attitude had created a lot of positive buzz. To give readers some idea, the day Jim Messer learned that Val had, in fact, entered the Holy Savior lifting meet, coincidentally he also saw Bob Hoffman at the monthly AAU meeting in Philadelphia, where he talked Val up profusely.

Wanting to see this brash young find firsthand, Bob and York Barbell's most prominent lifter, Bill March, attended the lifting on the appointed day. And a much more disciplined and controlled Val did not disappoint, successfully pressing 265, snatching 245 and clean and jerking 320 (at a bodyweight of 174), all of which was done while wearing a pair of what Hoffman described as "desert (suede) boots". This, and the Best Lifter accolade, vindicated Val in his own mind. 

And Bob certainly liked what he saw as he began a relationship with Val which thrived up to and for quite awhile after the latter's Mr. America win. Typically, this arrangement included many competitive and other manners of public appearances on behalf of York Barbell Company/Club. Certain of these were quite high profile exposure, as when Val gave a quick lifting exhibition in front of 50,000 spectators at a Philadelphia Eagles football game. 

 Strength moreso than posing was Val's signature at most of these exhibitions. It could be expressed via exceedingly difficult gymnastic feats, or as in the case of the above demonstration, elevating big weights for reps. NFL fans on this occasion got to see him clean and repetition jerk a 310-pound Olympic bar 10 times.

Val's brand of power and posing was very much in the York Barbell tradition forged by John Grimek and Steve Stanko in earlier times. 

Coming back to a topic I brought up early on which seldom if ever was addressed in any bodybuilding magazine . . . what did an accomplished bodybuilder do career-wise after he won the big titles. What, exactly did he move on to. There were Mr. Americas or Mr. USA winners who merely exited bodybuilding altogether and focused on their job and family.

Stop and think about it: there was that option, or pro contests in the IFBB or NABBA, neither of which paid well enough to make turning pro into a sustainable moneymaker. 

Then again, there were some very ambitious types with big dreams who won the Mr. America title. The two cases-in-point I would like to juxtapose would be Val and his predecessor, 1963 Mr. America Vern Weaver. The latter thought the brass ring he most wanted to grab lay in the acting profession, specifically on the silver screen at some point. It might sound far-fetched now, but Muscledom's Steve Reeves was able to make a successful transition. And in the early-mid 1960s. Hollywood seemed enamored with beach-oriented theme productions, which featured young, athletic - sometimes pure musclemen - and attractive types.

Vern put in the necessary prep work for this profession, acting classes and the like, but the best he could ultimately achieve was building sets for one of the major motion picture studios.

Val, likewise, had no shortage of ambition, but he was open to a wider range of options and summoned up enough patience to explore those fully and carefully that came his way. In those times there was a seemingly tailor-made body worship counterpart to the male bodybuilding scene: the regional and national beauty pageant circuit. From a promotional and advertising standpoint, the perfect accompaniment to the striking visage of a prestigious Miss title winner would be a striking example of masculinity and power. Who better than a top male bodybuilder to create this stellar blend. 

So, for a time, Val hobnobbed with the most lovely and charming Miss titlists of the era. Not only did this open up a whole new world of contacts to Val among the high profile promoters of productions like the Miss America extravaganza, but it also opened up a whole new dating pool for him.

A point of history here, Val was, and may still be, the only Mr. America title winner ever invited to appear at the one and only Miss America pageant held in Atlantic city. That special night he performed his hallmark acrobatics and danced with some of the beauties. 

Perhaps because of Jack LaLanne's wild success in attracting a massive female audience nationwide, many TV stations in major markets attempted to develop their own offshoot exercise programs catering to their female audiences. Suddenly, Val was squarely in the entertainment business (South New Jersey-Philadelphia markets) with his own weekday "Slim N Trim" televised exercise program. The figure conscious females of the Delaware Valley and adjacent climes got the two things that struck their fancy: productive tips for watching their weight while keeping their waistlines in check, and  . . . a daily ration of beefcake! 

Often in life, one thing leads to another and so it did for Val, who was starting to get noticed by impresarios of other entertainment mediums in some of these major markets. Nearby Philadelphia was a literal hotbed of rock and roll music thanks to Dick Clark's exceedingly popular "Bandstand" TV dance parties for the young teens, burgeoning local record labels signing talented singers and songwriters, the make-or-break power of disk jockeys at the mega radio stations to introduce up-and-coming tunes which got the kids flocking to the record stores, as well as the venture capital money guys who recognized the "bull market" for rock and roll and fought to get a piece of the action.

All of this began coalescing around Val until it dragged him into the music business, most notably when promoter/talent scout/manager/investor Henry Colt signed him to a contract. Val was not his first acquisition among recording artists as he had also had a working relationship with Chubby Checker (remember a dance called "The Twist") and Dee Dee Sharp, who beginning in 1962 reeled off an impressive string of chart-topping hits from "Mash Potato Time", "The Bird", "Ride" and many others.

In short order, Val had cut a "platter" (slang for record) titled, "What You Got Baby" and then his life was nonstop appearances at concerts, TV teen dance parties, music fairs, interviews, you name it. But alas, while his song charted pretty well for a new performer, it was a tough grind and nowhere near as glamorous as the media makes it out to be. Besides, staying power in that merciless industry is only garnered by being lucky enough to crank out a string of hits, which is something very, very few are able to pull off.

Like most entrepreneurial types, Val was always on the lookout for new opportunities, and you never know where inspiration may strike. Maybe even at one of those appearances on behalf of York Barbell! 

In 1965, Bob Hoffman asked Val and Bill St. John to represent his supplement products at a major food/nutrition industry show in New York City. While there, the Jersey musclemen had the chance to link up with the late Leroy Colbert, who at that point was a known commodity in the Weider publications.

Colbert, who had also worked for Joe Weider and presumably had picked up an enhanced working knowledge of the supplement business and its potentials along the way, had himself branched out into the sale of vitamins, minerals and protein products. And this business was ripe for the eager go-getter according to Leroy.

Val liked what he heard and gradually took wing from there. Thanks to a partnership with former manager Henry Colt, a natural frozen foods enterprise under the brand name "Health is Wealth" was born. In a sense, Colt and Vasilef had become poultry potentates of sorts in that chicken nuggets and other chicken-related (or "convenience" types of nutritional edibles) products were their signature items at the outset. 

Recognize that this kind of venture had a major strike or two against it when they went in: Existing competition was fierce, by comparison they were under-capitalized, the failure rate in this market was high, and they had the added obstacle of convincing existing natural food stores and supplement shops of the era to incur the extra expense of installing freezers (heretofore such businesses didn't recognize cold storage) in order to carry their line.

In order to give the more established health/performance-oriented vitamin markets of the time a Vasilef-inspired "supplement experience", he more of less concurrently introduced his Vitol brand.      

An array of products continued to flow from both sides of Val's "house". One particular innovation he was especially proud of at its launch was a family of vitamin-infused cold coffee drinks, perhaps the ultimate in convenience for the morning (noon or night) java drinker who often forgot to take his daily vitamins. It was sold under the name "Nutriccino".  

And then there was a more classic Vasilef introduction which bodybuilders of a certain age may remember - Russian Bear Weight Gainer, which was clearly an o mage to his ancestral strongman Uncle John. 

Lesser known are his more recent research ventures into the anti-aging market to afford him another promising dimension to his successful (with a capital "S") scenario.

But accomplishments are much more enjoyable if you can have some fun with them along the way. And the Val Vasilef Health Entertainment TV Show (produced at Channel 17 in Philadelphia) gave him that outlet. Plus, it offered a forum to not only tout the benefits of an overall healthy lifestyle - along with promoting his various food-supplement products - but bring a touch of Hollywood to the Philly-Jersey viewing audiences when celebrities came to the area. Val has sat down with such big names as Mike Love of the famed Beach Boys, decorated Olympic ice skater Eric Heiden, Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Linus Pauling, Lou Ferrigno and many others.  

Much more than just dry, boring talking heads, Val's shows exuded virtually nonstop energy and excitement beginning with the in-house Health Cats Jazz Dancers, participatory aerobic breaks during commercials, live music, dazzling, informative guests . . . and in and out of the studio coverage of every health and longevity expression known to man - Polar Bear plunges in the Atlantic to lumberjack exhibitions and beyond.

In bringing off this television show, Val's versatility and creativity got tested and honed in other ways. For instance, his artistic horizons expanded by producing his own commercials featuring the aforementioned products. Characteristically, they were campy with understated tones of humorousness, and themes - "Rambo", "Val Tracy gangster', "Robin Hood", "Elvis", "Caveman", "Dracula", "Betty Boop" and many others, which were typically shot in his garage or other low-key locations. By the way, some of them are still viewable on YouTube.

Granted, this has been a l-e-n-g-t-h-y recitation of Vasilef triumphs, all of which explain and underscore this former muscleman's uplifting rags to riches American Dream story. If making money off of your reputation for muscles is a bona fide barometer - as in the case of Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider - then Val is at least right there at the top of the heap. 

Having brought up Bob's name, he and Val have a lot in common: Both were clearly the rugged individualist kind, with each believing that regardless of the situation he was his own best available asset. Put another way, the first inclination of both men was to bet on themselves.

One more historical linkage of the pair: Val appeared on the cover of Bob's "Strength & Health" magazine 10 times, if memory serves. The former's passions and exploits brought the words "strength" and "health" to real life in the fullest. 

Author's Update

When Val learned that I was doing a "life and times of" piece about him for publication, he contacted me to say he appreciated my efforts on his behalf. Also, and I have to admit I found this quite flattering, he acknowledged remembering me from the days I shared an office with John Grimek.

As we caught up, it became clear that more chapters continue to be written by Val regarding his life, especially in regard to his intertwining personal and business interests. Hence, I decided to expand on what I originally offered by way of this addendum.

Despite having reached 80 years of age, and certainly being well off, retirement holds no attraction to Val. Rather, he finds the excitement of the creative process much more alluring than sitting in a comfortable EZ chair and putting his feet up. He continues to fine tune his existing Vitol supplement products, always on the lookout for new discoveries to upgrade the formulas, as well as create new and enhanced offerings. 

Beyond this, which keeps him hopping, Val derives tremendous levels of stimulation and satisfaction from writing, filming and producing commercials for his various products on the market . . . even though at this point he could easily afford to pay others to do this for him. By the way, those of you who follow Instagram can view considerable promotional info and commercials for Val's products there.

Perhaps of even greater personal interest is his protracted fascination with the latest findings and introductions in the exploding field of anti-aging research. Clearly his curiosity and passion are entrenched in a quest to unlock the keys of human longevity. 

Here are a few tidbits I picked up from our conversation: Val views aging as a disease. A malady, which in his opinion based on the strides he's observed medical research make toward combating it in recent times, will be greatly slowed, if not totally reversible, within the coming 20 years! 

Currently, much ballyhoo is made of the power of antioxidants. Val contends that progress in the battle against the scourge of aging is well beyond antioxidants. To him, the key areas of concentration are in understanding and altering the genetic code, more specifically decoding individual DNA strands, finding those mechanisms therein capable of overriding these engrained programs and controlling them. Yes, Val gave specific names to some of those mechanisms, but my understanding of all that he expressed is so limited that I am incapable of offering more explanation.

But you can take my word for it, he is completely and wholly plugged into all facets of the anti-aging puzzle. Val also credited his interviews with Dr. Linus Pauling as really offering a push in the longevity direction.

One final personal observation regarding Val and his quest to comprehend and defy the aging process: He admits to engaging in a certain amount of self-experimentation, and my takeaway from our conversation is that it certainly seems to be working. For one thing, whether it was because he never had to search for words despite discussing very complicated and in-depth subject matter, or the fact that his voice quality was full and solid, I never had the slightest inkling that I was talking to an 80-year old man! 

Tapping into the contemporary buzz phrase, "60 is the new 50!", what would "the new" be for 80? 70? I don't know, but Val is revising that number downward!        

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