Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Seminar With Roger Estep - Jon Smoker (1982)

Big Thanks to Bob Wildes for this article! 

More on Roger Estep's training here:

Bob Smolinski's World Gym in Dyer, Indiana  was the scene of another fine seminar, this time in the person of Roger Estep, 1979 World Powerlifting champion, the man who broke Pacifico's legendary total of 1935 at 198, and the unofficially acclaimed "best built man in powerlifting." 

While such a tit le is surely as subjective as any official title in bodybuilding, it is Roger's for now, with the likes of Frank Zane among his supporters, and the unqualified muscle density he has to back it up. And while some of his incredible physique must be credited to heredity, just as surely, part of it is because he is a student of the game who has pursued it like a science; dissecting all the latest information from many fields, sifting out the unfounded, and assembling the rest into a coherent, successful program. 

All this made for a most informative two hour seminar, which could, no doubt, be expanded into a semester course, such is the knowledge this man possesses. 

Roger began his discussion with a detailed look at the bench press; detailed because it is favorite lift, the one he feels most in tune with. 

 In fact, he is so confident on this lift that he has missed only one bench press in all his Senior National competitions, and, as he has remarked, he is "still waiting for the clap on that one." 

The first thing he stressed was control: The bar must descend at a slow, controlled pace, so that the lifter gets the bar into the exact position he wants for the start. But he also believes that the ascent should be slow and controlled too, because if the lifter explodes off the chest, expecting momentum to carry him through the sticking point, the top portion of the lift is not worked maximally. 

And he stated that lifters who bench this way invariably have trouble with a high sticking point. He said that recent computer analyses of the bench press have shown that superior bench pressers have a slow ascent.

 This book might interest you.
It's in sixteen parts and begins here:

 As an example of what he was talking about, he cited Mike Bridges, a phenomenal bench presser who has a slow, controlled ascent. In fact, this is one facet of his bench pressing where he feels he can still make improvement, because he thinks he still accelerates too fast coming off his chest. And to demonstrate this he knocked off some very fast benches with about 200 pounds and the momentum generated actually brought his back off the bench.

While discussing technique, he also stated the the more arch a lifter can develop, the better, because the leverages are improved. To make his point he stated that everyone handles more weight on decline benches than on inclines.

As for grip, he said that it an individual matter, although the wider one goes the more the pectorals are relied upon, and the narrower, triceps. He uses a medium grip, having found that a wider grip puts too much stress on his shoulders. He said that one should study their own anatomy in order to make a determination of what will work best for them. And also, if one is contemplating a change in grip, he advised them to change it a little bit at a time. Large changes in grip are potentially too much of a strain on the muscles not used to it and could invite an injury.

In talking about his training schedule, Roger emphasized again and again that one should "listen" to his body and train according to feel. To this end, he always benches on Monday and Friday, and only on Wednesday if he is feeling particularly energetic, and is not too close to a meet.

He always works singles, but only goes for maximum efforts when he feels he can make them. He begins with 135 and warms up each portion of the bench press separately with short, pumping movements. He feels this is essential to avoid injuries.

Then he jumps up in increments of 50 pounds until he hits 400, and then he goes 430, 465, and 490-500, all singles. He is a firm believer in the value of singles because he thinks one gets more work done from a heavy single, as all nerve endings are firing at once. 

He does not like heavy triples because not all nerve endings are firing at once; as one set of nerve endings fatigue, others take over. Plus he thinks there is a tendency to get sloppy in the positioning of the bar when doing repetitions

With singles one is also programming the mind to handle heavy weights. From repeatedly doing singles, he believes that neuro-muscular pathways are burned into the mind so that one begins to react instinctively to the feel of heavy weights. Or, in other words, practice makes perfect.

He always has a spotter, so that when he misses a heavy single, the spotter can give him just enough assistance to finish the lift. After he takes his heavy single he then drops the weight 100 to 150 pounds for one set of 6-10 reps. He takes this set fairly easy, as he thinks it is quite easy to fall into the trap of over-training. 

If he misses a single on Monday he will try it again on Friday, and if he misses it again he assumes that he is over-training. So when he goes to the gym the following Monday he will just kind of play with the weights, not hit it that hard, and almost always he finds that his bench will come around again that Friday. 

This all fits with his idea of listening to your body and responding to what it is telling you. And finally, he mentioned that if he has a meet on Sunday his last workout will be on Tuesday and he will work up pretty close to his opening single. 

For assistance work for the bench press, he likes to work his lats, triceps and biceps. If all these muscle groups are developed, it is like having on a bunch of wraps for the bench press. 

When someone asked what specific exercises he likes for areas, he responded as Dave Draper might, who popularized the idea of the free-form workout: Roger does what he feels like; there is no set program, no specific exercises. Again the concept of "play" came up: "I just play with the weights, have fun with it." 

He did mention, however, that lateral raises are pretty much of a constant in his routine for those cannonball deltoids of his, but that is about the only one. 

Too much assistance work can also lead to over-training, so sometimes when his bench is suffering he will eliminate all assistance work for a while. He also drops all assistance work a couple of weeks before a meet. And, someone asked him if he uses a cambered bar, and he said not, as it hurts his shoulders.

In discussing the squat, Roger emphasized the importance of BOX SQUATS in his routine. He feels that they are primarily responsible for the tremendous size in his quadriceps. To perform them one must have a heavy duty stool or box that will allow the squats to be done at least one inch above parallel, but no higher than a 3/4 squat. One must also have a capable spotter. 

To perform them the lifter should keep his feet close together (to isolate the quadriceps and take the glutes out of play) and literally sit down on the box, not just touching it, and then rock forward and up. The spotter should keep his hands on the bar to keep it from whipping because tremendous amounts of weight can be handled in this exercise. It is good, too, psychologically to have the spotter behind you when handling this kind of weight. 

Roger feels that he can usually do around 10 reps this way with a weight that he can do a regular squat with only once. He does his box squats on Monday, using increments of 90 pounds until he hits his top set for 10 repetitions. That set is so taxing on the cardiovascular system that it is futile to attempt any more beyond that.

On Wednesday Roger squats to practice his technique, and on Fridaay he does 3 to 4 singles. 

As for technique, he emphasized the need to conserve energy. This means not running around going wild and not doing a lot of needless walking around on the platform once you have the bar on your shoulders. "Why waste all that energy?" 

So he has it down to a science: he takes the bar from the rack and waits until it settles and stops whipping; then he takes only 3 steps backward, hitting exactly where he wants his foot spacing; and then he again waits for the bar to stop whipping before he begins his descent. He keeps his hands open for balance, because it is easier to roll the bar if he starts to go forward. As for positioning of the feet, he believes that they should be spaced so that the knees will be straight up and down; this being the position where one's leverages are optimal. 

He does not believe in putting knee wraps on so tightly as to cut off circulation and because this can also damage the patella. He demonstrated how he puts them on: 3 wraps above the knee, 3 wraps below the knee, and 2 wraps across the knee. They are just snug enough that he can put them on and leave them on. 

"Sometimes you see a lifter stomping his foot up and down before squatting. He isn't trying to get psyched up, he's trying to get circulation going so his foot doesn't fall asleep!" 

He also does not believe in putting his belt on super tight because the muscles can become cyanotic. 

For supplemental leg work Roger likes to do hamstring curls and calf raises.

Deadlifts are worked similar to squats in  that Wednesday technique is practiced and Friday Roger works up to singles, followed by a finishing off set. 

As already mentioned, he does assistance work for his lats, however, he does not do anything for the erectors as they take a beating both from squatting and deadlifting.

He also does some snatch pulls occasianally for his deadlift and demonstrated pretty good form with his elbows rotating and the bar in close to his body (perhaps he could master the Olympic lifts too). He also recommended shaving the legs for the deadlift so that the bar would slide up the thighs easier. 

As for training in general, Roger had the following comments: 

 - He does not have much use for negatives or isometrics because he does not know how much force he is exerting. He has used rack training but felt that one has to be careful with this type of training so as not to put too much stress on the joints.

 - He does not see stretching as being that important, and that the idea of being "musclebound" is greatly exaggerated. He cited Sergio Oliva as an example, who has as much muscle mass as anyone, but still only lost 2 to 3 percent of his movement in any given joint.

 - He cautioned against doing leg raises, since there have instances of people hyperextending their erectors from this exercise.

 - He sees no point in doing fast movements, for example in the squat, because "heavy weights move slowly."

Roger explained the difference between slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, stating that fast twitch are so called because they are used in explosive movements, contract in shorter periods of time, and thus fatigue faster. 

He related an experment he helped set up with mice in which two groups were given the same diet, were made periodically to swim, and one group had weight attached. Motivation was obviously not a problem. After a while, muscle biopsies were performed and the group with the weights had significantly more fast twitch fibers. 

To recuperate from injuries Roger recommended starting back slowly. One has to get well first, so the initial training after an injury should be therapeutic. Warming up thoroughly at this stage is extremely important. He said that after a recent knee operation he started back on squats with 135 x 10. He did not rush it, but four and a half months later he was back up to a 740 single.

As for diet, Roger confessed to being a real milk freak, consuming up to 3 quarts a day along with at least one 8 ounce serving of meat. He also said that drinking milk is the best way to take one's weight up. 

Roger addressed the subject of motivation, and said that it is easier to be over-motivated, which can lead to over-training. Americans in particular he feels are guilty of this. However, he does think it is important to contemplate workouts before doing them, just as though they were a meet. One should prepare mentally before going to the gym, picturing yourself doing the big lifts.

In conclusion, Roger made some comments about the wisdom of trying to combine bodybuilding and powerlifting, because he thinks that if one is going to excel in either sport they just cannot do both. In fact, one big physique promoter who has contacted Roger about changing to physique competition will not begin to have substantive talks with him unless he is convinced Roger has given up powerlifting. However, since growth comes from lifting heavy weights prior to dieting and cutting-up routines, this same promoter has speculated that in the future a great many physique champions may  may come from the ranks of powerlifters.



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