Now shut up and read this . . .
I'm in my office up in the classroom building one day going through a stack of what Ken Leistner's mailman used to call "comic books" (glossy bodybuilding magazines), when the Big Kid from Houston eases in with a problem. Says he wants to lift in the Ark-La-Tex meet in the spring and train for football at the same time, as he plans to transfer to the four-year school at Nacogdoches in the fall.
He complained that he couldn't get a good workout in our wright room because the equipment was too old-fashioned. No pec-dec, no cable crossover, no leg sled, hack machine or seated calf raise; no nothing. All we had in the early days was a squat rack, a bench, a couple of Olympic sets, one power bar and a lot of loose dumbbell bars and plates. This guy had a build like a black panther and the sleekness of a seal. Weighed about 200 at 6'. Benched 280, squatted well but was behind on the deadlift and other big pulling movements. If he did them at all.
I explained the programs I had the Wampus Cat powerlifters and round-ballers on and suggested a few football-oriented changes.
"I know that stuff. I want to use modern methods and show up buff," he said.
I could see we had a little translation problem.
"Did you ever hear of Charles A. Smith?"
Lived down in Austin. Wrote for Joe Weider for years. He used to say, 'There is nothing new in weight training.'"
Note: do a search of this blog for Charles A. Smith. I spent a couple years and some dollars rounding up all the training articles of his I could. Well worth the effort. He's my all time favorite lifting author. Or keep reading and I'll give a link to some of his stuff on here.
The Houston Kid looked at me like I had just spoken to him in Chinese. He picked up one of the "comic books" and pointed out a picture of our current pro "Mr. Sensational" as his goal. Besides, he didn't care for squats that much as they hurt his shoulders. I caught on as to what I had here. Another young trainee who confused appearance with ability. (There is no true correlation between size and appearance with strength and ability.) Then he said he'd like to look so good when he got the college that the football coach would come up and ask him to try out.
"You must have been watchin' old Mickey Rooney college movies," says I. His expression was blank.
It is really sad that so many have no conception of what it means to be able to actually DO something, and what it takes to accomplish goals with reasonable expectations of success. These fantasies are encouraged by the tendency of some publishers and writers in the game to market image instead of the acquisition of competence.
Note: Ain't there just a lot of that going on now in every field you can come up with!
Miss a workout? Take a pill. Paint on some bottled suntan and buy a cantilevered shirt and go struttin' with your earphones on. Heck, I just wrote a song.
I told him that the first thing he was gonna do was go back to the dorm and write a letter to the coach and tell him that the Houston Kid wanted to play football for him, what position he wanted to try and ask what weight he should come in at. The second thing was to pay up his power club dues and I'd send off his entry for the spring contest four months hence. The Kid's expression slid over toward panic. The third thing was to meet me in the weight room at four o'clock. He made a sound like "homina-homina" and blurted out that he needed time to think about it.
Then I caught on. He was using me as a sounding board to find out if his dream had any plausibility. Maybe he would have been relieved if I'd told him to forget it. I don't know. I decided to act like a professional educator and molder of youth instead of a professional curmudgeon (see photo above).
"Look, you've been studying this. I think you've got a shot. It's a long time 'til fall. Come on down to the gym at four and we'll get started."
He stumbled out.
I sat there a few minutes longer and read in one of the "comic books" about a student at a Big Ten school who a Master's degree for proving that three sets of eight to ten reps with eight or nine basic exercises is a more effective way to train than one set each of twenty or so movements. Where did I first read that, Strength & Health in 1949? Peary Rader's Master Course?
Some Bob Hoffman stuff on this blog set up for nice and easy access
You guessed it. You can find a great listing of Charles A. Smith's stuff there too.
There might be some more recent posts not included.
There might be some more recent posts not included.
Then I saw in a coaches' mag that a kinesiology major had proved that excessive stretching before competition reduced power and performance. I had heard that from McAdoo Keaton, the famous SMU track coach, back in 1955. He helped Jack Adkisson (later known as pro wrestler Fritz Von Erich) to become the number two college discus thrower, and Forrest Gregg (later All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers) to throw the javelin from here to Fort Worth.
There was more. A 1992 study proved that vitamin-mineral and amino supplements were unnecessary for athletes if they ingested a well-balanced diet in sufficient quantities. Right. How about somebody developing a surefire program to guarantee that the athletes will eat such a diet. Good luck.
Another article quoted a Ph.D. strength coach as saying that trainees should not follow programs based on anecdotal evidence until they'd been tested under academic, scientific conditions. Translated, that means that 80 years of reports in non-academic books and magazines in the field are questionable. Yes, there has been a lot of baloney. But are methods that were proven or disproven in training or by trial in competition to be dismissed as anecdotal?
Certainly the game needs the benefit of sound research and new scientific exploration. However, it is my opinion that we are just reaching the point in growth of our game where we are beginning to understand what the questions are. Please remember that academic study of weight training did not really begin until the mid-fifties, and then in the face of hostile opposition, with the boom taking off in the '70s. And, in contrast, that the first realistic championship in weightlifting was in 1889.
Surely there were some valuable insights during the interim period.
May I suggest that before spending a lot of money and wasting students' time that the new breed of academics in weight training and competition familiarize themselves with the history of this activity, consult with the aging old-times still involved, and peruse the "anecdotal" literature? They could save themselves the risk and embarrassment of telling a lot of people what they already know.
Yeah, I know. Maybe I am a curmudgeon.
The Houston Kid wanted modern? I'd give him modern. I just had to get some "new" equipment. I went down to the campus shop and got a couple of tow chains. Then I drove over to Lope Delk's construction site and "borrowed" one of those big hooks they attach to crane cables to swing wrecking balls from. I couldn't get the wrecking ball in the car. Just as well.
I met the Kid in the weight room on time. He was wearing posing trunks and pretending he didn't see me while he did some alternate DB curls. I was supposed to be all agog at how "buffed" he was. He had done that peculiar psychological twist common to the young (and some older folks who are allegedly grown up) of challenging me to make him do what he wanted to do in the first place.
True, he did have an impressive visual physique. Sort of early gymnast: bulbous pecs, biceps like softballs, high lats and carved out humps above the knees. It was obvious he had trained up to that point: for the beach. He could carry pony kegs of beer pretty good.
The Kid pouts, "Okay, Coach. I'll try it your way. Now what's this super program I'm gonna do?"
I exhaled slowly, under control.
"First, throw these two chains over the rafters so the ends hang down on each side, then take that hook over to the parallel bars."
The Kid looks at me like I'm crazy. He takes care of it, nearly knocking himself silly when the chains whipped around. I admit I had mixed feelings just then.
Then I put him through a few tests. He couldn't deadlift much more than he could bench, which is far too common, didn't know what a hook grip was, and thought a shrug was a Padre Island shore bird. I worked him up on jerks off the rack and had him hold each one for a count of five. By the time he got to 185 lbs., he was shaking like that guy on the space roller coaster in the movie "2001."
"What we're gonna do, Kid, is work you in ways and from angles you never imagined. You'll end up with more overall strength and maybe some increase in athletic ability. You're also gonna have a back from the planet Mongo.
Here's the program, and it isn't modern."
1) Standing DB Presses - 1 x 8, 3 x 6:
Heels together. Improves pure pressing power while increasing control and balance.
2) Overhead Supports - 3 single reps, each held overhead for five seconds:
The bar is suspended in the chains (you can use a power rack) almost to full lockout over your head. Get under the bar and use your legs and arms to lock it out at full extension over your head, like finishing a jerk. Bring your feet in line. Stabilize under it and hold it for the count. Control the weight and work to your limit. I hope I'm not confusing anyone by mentioning the jerk. Weightlifting -- Olympic style -- remember?
3) Dips - when you can do 4 x 10 reps start using added weight and go for 6-8 reps:
Our hook is 50 lbs., when you can start hanging DB's on that, you're getting to be somebody. Perform these with the elbows held back at about 45 degrees and try to find a position that involves the delts, pecs, triceps, lats and serratus more or less equally. Dips have been called "the upper body squat," and are extremely useful in a limited program. They should be practiced regularly by anyone wanting strength along with development.
4) Power Cleans from the Floor - 4 x 5 reps:
Jerk the first rep of each set. With the bar on the floor, start the lift with the legs and then pull with the back and arms, rising to full body extension. Do not split the legs forward and back. Dip the knees slightly to get the shoulders under the bar as you rack it in. Get someone to show you if you don't know how. This very basic movement will do wonders for your pulling power and develop columns of muscle from your heels to the base of your skull. Do the first two sets with moderate loads and think speed, then add weight for the last two sets. Caution: Don't throw the bar; pull it up straight. Please treat this movement as an exercise and not a lift. Add small plates every workout if you can, and the poundages will mount over time.
After a warmup set or two, grind out 3 x 8 reps with a weight you can handle in good form, high-bar style. Then drop the weight down by a third and go for one set of maximum repetitions. The most important thing: On the first rep of every rep of every set, try to shrug the weight upwards with your shoulder girdle. This is the old Hise shrug and it will accustom you to heavy loads faster than anything I know about. Every two weeks or so, load the bar with about 95% of your best high-bar single and simply back out of the racks and set up. Try to shrug the bar a few times, and then put it back. Do this three times. Use spotters, or live -- maybe -- to regret it.
6) Kelso Shrugs - 3 x 10 reps:
Perform on a low-angle incline bench, under 45 degrees, lying face down. A curl grip on the bar, lifting straps until your grip catches up and big iron is the ticket. Shrug the bar up toward the chest, concentrating on a point in the middle of the upper back, not up toward ears. "Yeah, but ain't that modern," you ask? Maybe, maybe not. The shoulder girdle has been able to "shrug" to the rear since it was invented, and chances are, well, see Charles A. Smith reference earlier on here. Vary your hand spacing and grip set-to-set for different "feels."
Every third workout:
Do ONLY squat (competition style) and bench, 4 x 6-8, and deadlifts for 4 sets of 5; first and second sets with moderate weights, then two work sets. Alternate exercise: bent-arm pullover and press instead of dips. If splitting the routine, include it one day and do dips the other.
There's a reason for including the weightlifting moves. I love 'em. I started as an Olympic-style weightlifter way back when there was no such a thing as powerlifting.
Note: You might like this two-part article by Peary Rader -
"Powerlifting: How It All Started"
It is a terrific high to succeed with personal record overhead lifts, when everything is perfect and in the groove. I think every weight trainer should try a long cycle on the lifts at some point in the first several years of training. It'll help with whatever you decide to do with the iron in the future and make you strong and quick. But there's a danger . . . . you might get hooked!
For three months the Kid did each of these movements once or twice a week, splitting the program in several combination at first because it was just too much to do them all in one session when he began. Probably started too heavy, which was my fault, not his. Every third workout was competition-style squat, bench, and deadlift, nothing else, 4 x 6-8 (see above for deadlift reps). One month before the meet we went to lifts only, 3 sets of work sets of 3-5 reps, after a few warmup sets.
His personal record total jumped 100 lbs. at the contest. He came back to the "old fashioned" program after the Ark-La-Tex and gained fifteen pounds by the time football season rolled around. He made the team at the four-year school and earned a letter his senior year.
Is there a moral to this story?
How about this:
Dreams can be realized if you are willing to take the risk of failing.