The toughest work in the career of a weightlifting champion is not the sweat and grind of hundreds of training sessions along the path to a World title, but in maintaining his position and keeping his own crown once he has arrived at the top.
That is the lesson every Olympic weightliftng star learns as soon as he wins his championship. It is something that has been rammed down my throat right from the moment I was presented with my gold medal at the Stockholm World's Weightlifting meet.
It is easy to dismiss a man's success in any particular field by saying that he is a smooth operator, gifted by nature, lucky, or intelligent. But it cannot explain away a man's CONTINUED success of his continued improvement. Something more than mere luck or natural gifts are required.
I remember my coach, *Charles A. Smith* twlling me about a conversation he had with Louis Abele. "People don't realize," said Abele, how much harder it is to remain a champion, to increase your records, than it is to become a champion."
A champion's life is a constant search for new methods of training . . . new ways to bring the maximum results with as little expenditure of time and effort as possible. I am no exception. No matter by what method I manage to increase any one of the several weight lifting records I hold, I find that to make further advances I have to change my system of training . . . the old no longer brings any results.
Every champion weightlifter trains instinctively and throughout his career there come moments when a little warning bell sounds. "You are not making progress. Why?" is the message it conveys. The intelligent lifter, the man who has kept constant track of his training advances, knows immediately what to do. He does not flounder around from program to program, he doesn't wildly skip from exercise to exercise. He is able to adjust his training, and except for minor periods of staleness and setbacks, can forge ahead, fully realizing his physical potentials.
Most lifters thought I had hit my limit when I made a new world record Press of 360. Yet I managed to increase it to 366-3/4, then 372, then to 381, and unofficially to 395. The same opinion was expressed when I bench pressed 465, then 480, then 500. Few people thought I could go beyond that last mark. But by adjusting my training system, by following the advice of Charlie, I was able to shove my bench press up to 520, then 525, then 540, and finally, up to its latest mark, 560 pounds. And this was well within my limit, for I was capable of making 20 pounds more.
The same applied to my deep knee bend. Now, I perform this lift, in my humble opinion, more correctly than any of the so-called record holders. I don't go down to the position where the upper thighs are parallel to the floor, then recover immediately. I go all the way down, stay there for a count of "two" and then recover.
In late 1950 I could squat with 550 without warming up and at that time was probably capable of 600. I finally made 600 officially, then 630 and eventually 665. People thought I had gone as high as possible. But recently I have made 10 consecutive repetitions with 600 pounds, a single rep with 710 and my latest record with 760.
How was I able to make these steady increases?
There are, of course, basic exercises which must always be included in a program. But it is in choice of poundages and the combination of sets and repetitions, as well as determining the correct time when these must be altered that in my opinion, contributes a great deal to steady progress.
For instance, on several occasions I devoted myself to improving the world record in one lift or the other. Each time, the system of sets and reps which I used had to be altered. I would use sets of 5 reps during one period, altering finally to 8 sets of 3 reps and then 8 sets of 2's. I used this latest method in the Press and bench press and was rather surprised when my press reached a limit beyond which it was reluctant to go.
It was obvious that the amount of sets and repetitions were too high, a fault common to many lifters who, in company with myself, do not always realize what tremendous amounts of nervous and physical energy they are expending. The result is staleness.
I agree that high repetitions are fine for building defined muscle and bulk, and should be employed by all would be "Mr. Americas," or persons solely interested in proportionate development and not the building of maximum power.
But it is an established weight lifting rule now that high reps do not increase the power of a muscle, but tire it before any really heavy weights can be used. For example, in the deep knee bend, most men use sets of 10 to 15 reps. After two or three sets, the muscles of the back and thighs become so fatigued that it is impossible to handle near-limit poundages In the deep knee bend one must handle a weight not less than 40 pounds from his limit if he wants to develop maximum thigh power and maintain steady strength advances.
Even in my case, using a system of 8 repetitions, the workouts went easy because of the lighter poundage and my thighs pumped up. Naturally, I didn't confuse this feeling with strength, because I realized that the important tendons and ligaments were relatively unaffected, and these must be strengthened if maximum poundages re to be lifted. But the lesson was forcefully driven home to me when I tried a limit squat. Although I could perform more repetitions than before with a light weight, my squat limit poundage had receded 50 pounds.
It was at this time that I was advised to try a system of single repetitions with a heavier poundage . . . a weight closer to my limit than ever before. Naturally, I was a little skeptical that such a system could increase my strength and bulk. I asked myself, "How can a single rep with near limit poundage affect muscle growth, when we all know that high repetitions are required to pump up the muscles?"
The point of increased size in combination with increased power is important, since I am of the opinion that any great increases in power are not possible without corresponding increases in muscular bulk. The more muscle you have, so far as I am concerned, the stronger you should be.
So, I decided to give the single rep, heavy poundage system a try over a period of 8 weeks. The experiment was a resounding success. Not only did I progressively shove up my Clean & Press to a new world record, but I also broke the bench press record, the push-press record, and the overhead press from the shoulders.
And it is also interesting to note that my arms also increased in size using the one repetition principle. For some time I had been trying to enlarge my upper arms to 21 inches cold. I had performed innumerable sets of dumbbell and barbell curls, but my arms stubbornly refused to budge beyond a little over 20 inches. After eight weeks of concentrated training on the single repetition system, my arms taped a full 21 inches cold. This was sufficient proof that bulk can be gained by handling heavy weights in single repetitions.
The principle of the single repetition system can be applied to all lifts with great benefit, providing that strength is the basic need of the weight trainer. No matter if you are striving to increase your snatch, press, clean & jerk, squat, curl . . . any lift whatsoever . . . the single repetition system can help you build up your limit performance.
Naturally there are a few rules to be observed.
While there isn't the amount of nervous strain attached to the system, there is an enormous drain on the muscular energy. Therefore the lifter will need extra rest . . . despite the fact that the repetitions and time spent in training are less . . . but he'll also require a diet containing a greater protein content. I have found that additional milk, eggs, bananas, steak, together with protein supplements provided me with the essential material to help the body build up the tissue breakdown, the muscles recover quickly and thus replenish energy.
Now for the method I used to raise my bench press record from 500 to 560, the same incidentally that I used to build my squat up to 760, my push press to 470, and my clean & press to 395 . . .
I start off with a single bench press of 410, a weight sufficient to warm the arm and shoulder muscles up without too much energy expenditure. Next I jump to 460 for a single rep. Then I jump to 500 for a single. Next I take 520 and do four single repetitions, with a minimum of 5 minutes rest between each single. The rest period is important since it enables you to handle the maximum heavy poundage for the required amount of reps without tiring too quickly.
That constitutes the single rep system workout. You rest up two days and take another training period. Don't forget that although the amount of work so far as sets and reps are concerned may appear small, you are handling, except for the warm up poundages, weights very close to your limit. Hence the 5 minutes rest between each single and the two days rest between workouts.
Don't use the above system more than 8 to 10 weeks, otherwise you are certain to go stale. In fact, the best way is to follow your feelings and inclination. If you feel you are still gaining that's a pretty sure sign you are still physically able to undertake single rep workouts. If you experience a lack of enthusiasm, or, if you feel no pleasure in taking a workout, then that is a pretty good sign you are going mentally stale.
At this point, drop the single rep system and perform sets of 3 to 5 reps with a lighter poundage until the staleness departs. Then hit right back on the singles again.
I am confident that you experiences with the single repetition system will be the same as mine . . . It is superior to all others when it comes to developing maximum strength.
Enjoy Your Lifting!