Sunday, October 23, 2022

Quest for Simplicity in the 21st Century -- Ron Fernando (2010)


Perhaps one of the best cars I have ever driven was my old 1980 V-8 305cc Camaro Berlinetta. I remember when I first bought it, I told the salesman that all I really wanted was a car that looked good and rode fast. Really fast. 

Barely looking up from his magazine, he simply jabbed his finger toward the corner of the showroom, and there it sat. Easiest sale that particular salesman ever made. The Camaro fit the bill perfectly. It had a lot of muscle, sleek good looks, and was ridiculously easy to fix and maintain. 

Most importantly, it accomplished the two most critical things that I felt were important (at the time) -- looks and all-out speed. 

Now, just try buying a car today. Car sales, or putting it better, Motor Vehicle Consultation, has evolved into a true science, and the quest for even a performance-type car has become so complicated and inundated with so much scientific engineering information that you will invariably have a brain choke -- especially given the issues of aerodynamics, hybrids, built in navigation systems, fuel injection systems, electronics, DVD/sound theaters, backup cameras, computer controlled everything and a whole host of totally cool and really nice items that are also expensive, and hell on the wallet to repair when they go out (and they do go out). Add to this entire mess the wide array of online services that one can access, literally tons of information about whatever car you want. 

It can get pretty confusing, let me tell you. 

Where do you start? Who do you trust? 

Like the aforementioned search for the ultimate muscle car, powerlifting today has evolved into a true science, with well respected experts like Louie Simmons, Tudor Bompa, Yuri Verkhoshansky, A.S. Prilepin, Rick Hussey, Mark Verstegen and many other bonafide strength experts creating sense out of nonsense. 

Yet for every Simmons, Bompa and Prilepin, there are dozens or more "so caled" experts, all with their own slick (and very expensive) websites, auto responders and 1-800 customer service lines and double opt-in systems -- all experts at self-promotion and all simply trying to either grab your personal data (for endless emails), or just sell you something, anything. 

It too can get confusing. 

The real experts are way too modest (and way too busy ) to care one whit for self-aggrandizement like the web frauds do. Louie, for instance, has never bothered with anything so ridiculous as Google Adwords, search engine optimization or similar. Why? He doesn't need it. He knows people desiring the truth will eventually seek him out. 

The fakes, however, do spend a LOT of money on these techniques and manage to draw their fair share of business. Therein lies the meat of the problem, though. This proliferation of information -- good and bad, accurate and plain ridiculous -- from both respected teacher/guru and online huckster can be detrimental for any power athlete, but especially for the novice/intermediate lifter, many of whom become frustrated, confused and quit the sport, long before their true potential is reached. 

What a shame. 

Think about how someone new to the sport feels. Most of these folks simply want to get big and strong. What if you were a marginal D-1 linebacker or shot putter who needed a kickass but simple way to get strong fast so you could take your performance to the next level? What if you wanted a huge bench press, squat, or pull? And most importantly, what if you aren't one of the lucky few to be able to actually live in the same area and be blessed to train with Louie Simmons, Al Caslow, Brian Schwab or Rick Hussey? 

Who do you trust? 
Where do you start? 

Sometime during the last century, I penned an article for then-fledgling PLUSA entitled "The Quest for Simplicity." It was more of a rant than an actual article (ah-hem), as I was even in 1982 seeing a disturbing trend occurring in powerlifting and strength training of so-called experts trying to create complications where there were none, and to virtually drown the novice lifter with reams of psychobabble information that were (for the non-scientific type) impossible to decipher, difficult to implement given the rigors of everyday life and simply miserable to track. And once again, in an attempt to look exclusive and mysterious (and to make a sale) some of these "Secrets" were supposedly gleaned after a top secret "expedition" to the sports laboratories themselves, from the scientific bowels of Mother Russia herself. With all due respect to the original Dynamo Club of the Soviet Union, originators of today's very well received Conjugate Method of training, the key to strength for them and for us is and always has been simplicity. 

There was a time the Russians were thought to be training in pristine laboratories, stocked with white-coated technicians and the latest high tech "secret" gadgetry, when the reality was that they trained in dungeon gyms with junk equipment, using very simple programs. 

What set them apart, of course, was their iron will to succeed at all costs. Their absolute domination of the sport in the last decade has proven this fact. In those days, I espoused a detailed look back in time to the giants of yesteryear and how their simple, almost childlike routines were so effective in building muscle and superhuman strength. This was back in 1982. 

Today in the year 2010, this examination of the systems of the past is even more important in order to create some clarity and direction in our sport for the thousands entering it. These systems, like classic muscle cars, will never go out of date and in many cases will outperform anything touted as new, high tech or scientific today by those touting their expertise in training, when their true expertise lies in the area of internet marketing. 

I am now going to present three systems or templates from three distinct eras in history . . . each system and set of ideas can easily be incorporated into today's new millennium power training. 

100 Years Ago: The Gaslight Era

Hermann Goerner was a great German strongman, born in 1891. He was undoubtedly the greatest of the old time strongmen and some say the greatest strongman in history. His strength is such that some of the feats he performed almost 100 years ago have yet to be duplicated to this day by anyone. Goerner was an excellent all around athlete who also enjoyed running, boxing, shot putting and swimming. In his prime he stood 6'1" and weighed in t around 265-290 pounds. 

Goerner had the ability to grip and pull virtually anything. His most memorable lift was a deadlift made on a standard seven foot revolving Berg Olympic bar of 727 pounds with ONE HAND, and a two finger (each hand) deadlift of just under 600. 

Besides the deadlift he also excelled in all sorts of military style pressing, gripping feats and a variety of supporting feats and weird stunts, including supporting 24 men sitting on a plank with the soles of his feet (total weight over 4,000 pounds), and "wrestling" with a 1,500 pound baby elephant while on tour with the circus in South Africa. He was an proponent of instinctive/conjugate training, although I doubt he knew or cared about the terminology, and he always trained as the mood took him, varying his lifting to suit his energy and condition of the moment. 

He never forced himself to perform any workout when not feeling up to it. He did not have to follow what might be termed a "set" training program; he always varied his workouts and mixed his work so much that one could truthfully say that he never worked through exactly the same program twice. 

Normally he trained 5 days a week -- remember, at his peak he was a professional strongman and always began his workout with a kettlebell complex called "Die Kette" (the Chain), which may have been the real secret to his awesome deadlift. 

The Chain, and more on Goerner's training and feats, from Charles Smith: 

It is a known fact that Goerner trained with kettlebells from the age of 10 and was able to perform a one-handed swing from ground to overhead with approximately 110 pounds) at the tender age of 14. This last fact is astonishing as many of today's kettlebell experts would be hard pressed to do this. 

Basically, "Die Kette" was a complex of exercises with a series (or "chain) or 19 kettlebells (13 to 52.5 kg.) lined up in a row on the floor. Each complex was performed with 

one swing
one press
one curl, and 
one press with each hand 

before progressing to the next kettlebell. All of this was done with no rest. 

Sometimes, again as the mood suited him he would do only sets of swings either one or two handed with the kettlebells, again, with no rest. This warmup took around 40 minutes, and after a short rest Goerner sometimes repeated "Die Kette"  . . . with thick handled globe dumbbells! 

It was only after performing Die Kette that Goerner got into the meat of his training . . . military presses, cleans, snatches, squats, curls, deadlifts (both one and two hands). He squatted very rarely, and, again, as the mood hit him, but still managed a 600-plus rock bottom squat using no equipment, and a 500-plus front squat. 

His deadlift, and his ability to grip and hold heavy block weights, engines and other unwieldy items were helped by a generous use of this special warmup exercise. Eventually, Goerner performed a two-handed deadlift of 793 pounds with a standard barbell (using an overhand grip) over 80 years ago -- a lift that many of today's supers would kill for -- and of course the aforementioned one-handed pull of 722, a feat which boggles the imagination. 

Note: If you're interested, the rulings on a one hand deadlift during Goerner's era, the height it must be taken to, etc., are worth finding out. Go get 'em! 

As a matter of differentiation, Jon Pall Sigmarsson ws able to do a one-handed pull of 551 around 1980 or so which was then thought of as near impossible from those who had never heard of Goerner. This prodigious back and grip strength was in part developed from the consistent use of kettlebells. 

The use of kettlebells as a deadlift builder has been confirmed by Donny Thompson, current holder of the all time World Superheavyweight total. Witness a quote from Donnie: "We honestly have not seen anything that 100% transferred over to a sport like kettlebells. I mean, there is nothing about kettlebells that doesn't transfer over to powerlifting." [Even though he was likely paid by the campy fella who runs the Dragon Door KB website schtick!] This is a statement Hermann Goerner proved over and over again almost 100 years ago.      

Postwar Power: the Be-Bop 50s -- Triples, The Magic Number

Canadian strongman, considered the "Grandfather of Powerlifting," Douglas Ivan Hepburn was born, truly under a bad sign with the proverbial two strikes against him. He was both cross-eyed and club-footed from birth, and if that wasn't enough, suffered greatly from depression and also battled alcoholism for a time and came out in one piece. 

He was an indifferent student, though highly intelligent and a moody, depressed loner which severely affected his personal relationships and outlook on life. Hepburn never made a lot of money and in fact struggled financially for most of his life, often moving from one dive apartment to another, or simply living in the back of whatever gym he happened to be training at. 

Up until the end of his life, Hepburn was extraordinarily bitter [and rightly so] at the Canadian Sporting Authorities for his perceived lack of recognition and support despite his tremendous achievements. Remember, Canada in those days was hockey, hockey, and more hockey. Any elite athlete worth his salt was a hockey player. Anyone else was simply a second rate ham-and-egger who obviously didn't have what it took to make it in hockey, as Hepburn was perceived to be. 

Despite these obvious obstacles, weight lifting was one the one constant that kept him sane, focused and (I believe) kept him from prematurely ending his life when his mood swings tortured him. 

Hepburn used powerlifting movements and a simple routine emphasizing volume to become the 1953 Worlds heavyweight Olympic lifting champion and to set records, both official and unofficial in the two hands military press, two hands barbell strict curl, squat, and his pet lift -- the bench press. 

Hepburn literally transformed and popularized the bench press from an obscure bodybuilding exercise to the dizzying heights it enjoys today. He as able to bench press, over 50 years ago [make that 70-plus now], some huge weights, easily elevating 500, 525, 545, and 560, with a close miss at 600, all done on a flimsy bench with narrow uprights, and of course with no artificial aids of any sort. 

It is important to remember that Hepburn trained alone, and for practical purposes had no coach whatsoever. The heavyweight lifters in those days trained in a leisurely, almost lazy fashion, with little attention to detail, typically doing the three lifts, and little else.  

It was no wonder that American John Davis was able to defeat a horde of larger rivals because he was simply fitter and more explosive. 

Doug Hepburn (unwittingly so, it is believed) laid a foundation for Olympic lifting that combined a lot of powerlifting and bodybuilding movements such as the bench press, press from stands, and heavy squatting. [building up strength to counter his lack of two fully functioning legs, which of course limited his technique development, all the more impressive]. 

Remember, there was no organized powerlifting in those days, and a lot of his lifts were done as exhibitions, versus formal competitions. 

The conventional thinking of the day for bodybuilding espoused a set/rep scheme of 5 x 8 reps with a 3 minute rest between sets. Hepburn tinkered with this system and came up [with help from Charles A. Smith's vast knowledge and experience] with a simpler, more efficient version of this -- the still-used 10x3 approach where greater weights were used and gains were greatly accelerated. By doing this he pushed back and forever redefined the barriers of what was considered appropriate amounts of work and volume. He refined this further by adding several singles to this pattern. 

The gains came in bunches, especially on his press, which he set a world record in, and his two top assistance movements, the bench press and squat. 

Using 3 reps did not tap into lactic acid reserves and doing this for 10 sets meant that his body was becoming more and more accustomed to heavy loads. 

In the early '60s, Hepburn opened his own gym, and trained his members in the same fashion, some of which approached world class levels without the aid of any performance enhancing drugs. This simple routine works, especially for the big three, and is still valid today as it was in 1952. 

There's a fair amount of Hepburn stuff that can be found on this blog. Several variations of his approach. 

Hepburn used a variation of this routine to train for the 1953 World Weightlifting championships: 

Barbell Clean, 10x3
Bench Press, 1x5, 7-10x3
Barbell Curl, 3x6
Squat, 1x5, 7-10x3

Snatch, 10x3, sometimes 10x2, split style [no shit, with that leg]
Bench Press, 1-2x5, 7-10x3
Press From Rack, 10x3, alt with push press from rack
Handstand Pressups, 20-40 reps on large log [lifeguard job]
Squat, 1x5, 7-10x3

Press, 10x2, or 10x3
Bench Press, 1x5, 7-10x3
Barbell Curl, 3x5, 2-3 singles
Squat, 1x5, 7-10x3

Diet around 10,000 calories a day, normal foods, 5-6 meals, a lot of milk and bananas [money, eh], no supplements [other than his own line of protein powder]. 

This type of routine enabled him to win the Worlds, and set a Worlds record in the Press at 371-3/4 which gave him enough of a lead to beat John Davis in the total.

Notice he didn't practice the Jerk much. This was because the rules then allowed you to push press the weight instead of a formal Jerk -- both he and Paul Anderson used this style, and in any old picture of Anderson, you never saw him with his feet split in a traditional "fore and aft" Jerk.

Bell Bottom Blues -- 14 Days a Week -- Jon Cole

A week being seven days was, an "arbitrary aberration." Cole, for those of you who may not know was THE MAN in the early '70s. 

You can find more on Jon Cole on this blog. There's a three parter somewhere, and a couple others.

At a bodyweight of around 285, he squatted 901, benched 585 and deadlifted 885, and in a brief foray into Olympic lifting, pressed 430, snatched 340 and jerked 430 with the roughest style imaginable. He was also capable of a 500 pound press from the rack, 500-plus incline, and used over 300 in the standing triceps (French) press. And for you trivia buffs, he could throw a baseball almost 500 feet AND crack the same baseball open like an apple with his bare hands.

And yes, he performed all of his lifts in old fashioned coaches shorts, t-shirt, thin weight belt and Ace bandages. I had the pleasure of talking to Cole years ago over the phone after having seen him in person at a seminar at my old high school in Tucson. He didn't care if I was some 19 year old nobody -- he wanted to share his information with me, and what he told me in 1792 makes more sense today than ever . . . 

Remember, Cole was, in addition to being a world class lifter, also a world class track and field athlete and for quite a while he was the strength coach for Arizona State University -- when they had a real football team, not the sorry state of affairs they have now -- so his time was very limited. 

"I look at a training week as a 14 day period. I train 5 x per "week" (5 sessions in 14 days), and this affords me ample time for rest and recuperation, plus it gives me enough opportunity to throw the discus and shot and attend to my duties at ASU. 

This approach was unique and produced fabulous results. His exercise template was simple. He concentrated on the big three, plus paid ample attention to the biceps and triceps, inclines, power cleans and strangely enough a whole lot of toe raises.

Workouts 1 and 3 (done Tues and Sat - week one)

Squat and Bench, 10-14 sets, work up to a heavy double in each
Heavy BB Cheat Curls, 5x8, move weight up each set
Standing French Press, 5x8
Upright Row, 5x8
Toe Raises, 6x30, 2 sets toes in, 2 toes out, 2 straight ahead)

Workout 2 (done Thurs - week one)

Inclines, 5x8
Power Cleans, 5x8
Heavy BB Cheat Curls, 5x8, move weight up each set
Standing French Press, 5x8
Upright Row, 5x8
Toe Raises, same as above. 

Workout 4 (Tues -- week two)

Squat and Bench, 10-14 sets, up to a heavy double in each
Heavy BB Cheat Curls, 5x8, weight up each set
Standing French Press, 5x8
Upright Row, 5x8
Toe Raises, same as above.

Max Workout 5 (Saturday -- week two)

Bench Press, 8-10 sets, working up to a double
Squat, same 
Incline, 10 sets up to 3 doubles
Deadlift, 5-4-3-2-1 (sometimes sub chest level high pull)
Heavy BB Cheat Curls, 5x8, weight up each set
Standing French Press, 5x8
Toe Raises, same.

The result of this rather simple system -- one that you could have gotten off the container from a Sears 110 pound plastic covered weight set, was a 2,370 pound total, and a pair of 22" solid arms (personally witnessed, they were HUGE). 

Notice too that Cole was no one lift wonder. He was balanced in all three areas, and this great overall body power carried him to setting NCAA records in the discus, as well as having an Olympic total second only to Ken Patera, who outweighed Cole by almost 50 pounds. 

The key is not so much the exercise selection, nor the set/rep scheme, but the way the template was carefully layered out over a two week time frame. 

In 2010, the Camaro is poised to make its comeback, because the powers that be finally realized one thing -- 

something that worked THEN, 

Enjoy Your Lifting! 


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