by Harry Paschall (1951)
Several important factors in training for strength have been so firmly proved by trial that they may now be accepted as axiomatic. There is no necessity for the current seeker of strength to make the mistakes others have had to make in the past.
The first axiom is:
If you desire strength you must be prepared to sweat and struggle with HEAVY weights. You cannot get strong with light weights.
You must cut down the repetitions when exercising for strength. Three to five reps are sufficient in almost any movement. Any time you go over five repetitions you are using too light a weight to force the muscles to their limit.
You must not over-exercise. Rest is very important between training sessions. You will also find that longer rest pauses between exercises are necessary and more productive.
The training of a man who is seeking strength will be considerably different from that of a man who is merely shaping a physique. In the latter case a great deal of attention is paid to individual muscles and to the FRONT of the body. The strength athlete is more concerned with the BACK of his body, because this is where power originates. He will also be interested in working large muscle groups rather than individual muscles.
There are three points toward which our efforts will be directed:
The ideal way to develop great strength in each of these regions is to work at least two of these sections together, and better still, to work all of them in unison.
We list the back first in importance because the lower back, particularly, is the weak spot in the human framework. It is also the key to the arch, and unless a man has a strong lower back he may as well give up all notion of being a strong man. Fortunately the back works in conjunction with the legs, and if simple exercises are adopted for the thighs, the back cannot help but grow stronger as hips and thighs develop. The upper back and shoulders also work together, so that it is hard to develop one without the other, providing that really heavy weights are employed.
Athletic trainers for many years have had a saying, “A man is only as good as his legs.” Actually, I feel that you are only as good as your lower back. The two work together so closely that sometimes you mistake the functions of one for the other. But if you doubt the superior importance of the back, all you need do is contract a slight strain in this region and then see how little your leg strength will serve you.
All the power that is generated by a runner, a jumper, a boxer or a football player is generated by his lower back and loins; the legs merely deliver it. And unfortunately too many ordinary athletes fail to develop the back to its limit, and find they are prove to injury in this region and that their very well-muscled legs fail to serve them. I cannot stress too strongly the importance of directing a great deal of your exercise toward the lower back. Perhaps we will have new records in jumping and sprinting when coaches recognize the importance of this region of the body.
In the ageing process the first sign of human weakness shows up in this region, although many an older person will tell you that his legs seem to be getting weaker. It is true that they grow unsteady in the limbs, but the trouble starts in the lower back. As Shakespeare pointed out in his Ages of Man, the infant crawls (because of lack of back strength) and in old age, the human being goes back to a similar condition, becoming more and more bent, and more and more feeble. You are not as “young as your legs”, but as young as your back!
Simply as a stimulant to vibrant health and vigor, exercise for the lower back is the most essential and rewarding labor any man can undertake, but for the strong man it is imperative that he consciously cultivate development of this region to the Nth power. Our present lifting records are still low because no one has yet fully developed the potential strength of this region. Several notables of strength, such as Goerner and Rigoulot, have gone far in this direction, but the perfect and ultimate back is still to come.
We need no reminder of the importance of leg strength, for our bodies are supported on legs, and without powerful legs we have no foundation from which to exert our strength. A word or two might be said about the importance of full development of the shoulders, however, since many embryo strong-men have the idea that arms do all the overhead lifting, and that an 18 inch arm automatically insures terrific strength.
The arms are merely connecting media, and as in the case we mentioned above regarding the legs being only as strong as the lower back, so too are the arms only as strong as the shoulders. Arm power originates here. The truly strong man will not be unduly concerned with the development of individual muscles of the arm, since the use of weights heavy enough to affect the shoulders and back will give the arms plenty to do.
Now that we have decided where to direct our strength-building efforts, let us consider some of the exercises particularly suited for the purpose. Think of a back exercise, and the first one that springs to mind is the well-known dead lift. To develop a muscle we naturally think of a bending and extending motion. Actually, your instinct is nearly right in this case, for some variation of the dead lift is certainly indicated if you are to develop the lower back to its limit. However, the back has certain natural weaknesses which sometimes are aggravated rather then improved by using the standard version of this exercise. We always like to avoid pain, and therefore we regretfully (or happily) scratch the regular dead lift right off our list. Let us instead go out in the back garden and dig us a hole eight inches deep (after the manner of William Boone, the American dead lift star) and then do our dead lifts comfortably on a bar with 18 inch discs. Or let us build up a revised version of Joe Hise’s hopper, with supporting blocks for the ends of the barbell which give us a similar height raise of the bar – so that it crosses our legs just an inch or two below the knees.
Now let us remember Axiom No. 2, and cut down our repetitions. Three to five are plenty, and take a good rest between each series. A good guide to how much rest is necessary is to wait until respiration returns to normal between sets. With some men this may take one minute, with others, as long as three.
Because of these rest pauses during a heavy strength workout, the session will take considerable time, usually from 1½ to as long as 2½ hours. Three times per week is the usual exercise schedule, but after you have entered the realm of the very strong and are striving for still more power, you may find twice-a-week workouts better, and some men have found three extremely hard workouts in two weeks resultful.
Occasional complete periods of rest are also necessary, and personally we have found that one week of rest after each six weeks of training is good insurance against staleness, and even enhances the amount of progress from our training. Heavy training requires extra rest for recuperative reasons.
Our object in all of our strength training is to use very heavy weights. By adopting the above revision of the dead lift, a lifter who could use 400 in the regular version will find 500 pounds possible in the lift from approximately knee height. This will give you a greater measure of bodily power, and will also avoid the danger zone where muscles and ligaments are stretched.
There are a number of other good lower back exercises. The heavy squat or deep knee bend affects this area, although it is usually used as a leg exercise, and so classified. The bend-over or good morning exercise is a very strenuous lower back movement, but some men find resting a heavy weight on the back of the neck very painful. We feel that the revised or shortened dead lift is probably the best of the lower back movements because of the possibility of using more weight. It is also the safest. There is always an element of danger of a strain in the good morning movement.
There is another approach to lower back exercise which has often been overlooked, and which we consider more likely to build a powerful muscular development in the lower back than even the dead lift. All you need to do to convince yourself of the effectiveness of this other type of back exercise is to take a barbell of moderate weight, snatch it to arms’ length overhead and then go down into a full squat while holding the bar overhead, and then arising to the erect position still holding the weight at arms’ length. All the way down you will find that the erector muscles are constantly at work holding the body in balance. Unless you are very strong in this region using any weight of consequence will be impossible.
This exercise has been utilized by some of our leading squat snatch lifters, and is unquestionably responsible for their rising records. It has the added value of teaching the whole muscle chain along the back and legs and arms and shoulders to coordinate to maintain balance. It promotes flexibility in the back – a muscular flexibility entirely different and better than that of the contortionist who does backbends. Because of these advantages we strongly advise the practice of this movement to both bodybuilders and lifters.
There is some danger incurred in the practice of this movement, but a great deal of the danger of overbalancing will be eliminated by wearing shoes with raised heels so the feet may rest solidly upon the floor at all stages of the exercise. We advise catchers when starting this practice, and also a very slow and cautious increase in the weight of the bar.
Another very simple movement which helps to round these lower back muscles is the side bend practiced with a bell in one hand at a time. The practice of this exercise serves as insurance against sprains and pulled ligaments by a slight twisting during practice of lifting. Purely as a protective measure the side bend should be included in all strength-building schedules.
Joseph Curtis Hise has been enthusiastic recently about another power-building exercise which also directly affects the back – the shoulder shrug movement with very heavy weights taken from a rack. He has used this as a chest building exercise, by breathing with a high costal breathing – three or more breaths between each lift – and shrugging the weight up and back with full lungs. When weights of 500 to 800 pounds are used, this limited movement exercise becomes pretty strenuous. In our strength-building regime we can use this movement under the heading of supporting exercises to accustom the body to handle larger weights.
Another of the supporting feats of great value in building bodily power is to have an overhead hitch to support a very heavy barbell so that it hangs down to about shoulder height where the lifter gets under it in the split or squat position with arms above the head as he does so. Several different heights will be necessary in whatever apparatus is used to suspend the barbell, and a number of different movements may be practiced, such as pressing out the weight from a point above head height, etc. John Grimek used this method in arriving at the point where he could support 800 pounds at arms’ length.
Leg power will be built in combination with these back exercises, but we must include several heavy leg movements if we are looking for harmonious development and the ultimate in all-round strength. First of all leg exercises is (you guessed it!) the squat or deep knee bend. Instead of doing this with weights which you can do for 15 or 20 repetitions, you will now concentrate on using really heavy weights and doing not over five counts. We have found that the full squat is best of all leg movements – with back kept straight and flat, a full breath taken in at the tip, a fast squat rebounding directly from the bottom when the biceps of the thighs strike firmly against the calves; the breath is blown out when you arise to the standing position and another breath inhaled. Sometimes you will find it necessary to take several panting breaths at the top if you are doing four or five repetitions. Never do over five squats continuously. We like to work up in weight from five to two to one and then go back down again after the highest possible weight is attained.
The leg press using a rack to secure the weight is also good, particularly if a large weight can be handled – 500 to 1,000 pounds. There is not the full range of movement in this lift that you find in the squat however, nor is it so athletic a feat. Of the two exercises, I would unquestionably pick the squat. The truly strong man cannot spend too much time lying on his back; and this goes for incline benches, flat benches, etc. I consider this type of apparatus more in the line of muscle-developing than as strength-building equipment.
For the weightlifter there is a particularly good leg exercise which employs the split technique used in cleaning, snatching or jerking a weight. You place the bar firmly on the shoulders behind the neck, using a pd, and hold down forcibly with the hands; then split rapidly fore and aft in the regular split position until your rear knee almost touches the floor. From this point you spring immediately into the air, reversing the feet, and come down again with the opposite knee almost touching ground. A very strenuous leg exercise, and one to be approached carefully, with gradual weight increases. One of our local men, Fraysher Ferguson, does this ten reps each leg (20 in all) in 20 seconds with 150 pounds on the bar.
We may learn a number of strength-building motions by observing successful weightlifters. Certainly the snatch, the clean, and the jerk are all rugged strength builders. The practice of the Egyptians in doing three reps on cleans and snatches, the first from the floor and the rest from the hang, are back and leg strength-builders. Personally we consider the habit of cleaning a weigh without moving the feet has added much to the strength of men like Stanko. Stanczyk and Davis. The regular high pull is along the line of these exercises, and is one of the best. To the man who is not interested in the Olympic lifts, it will serve as a very good substitute.
From the Viennese strongmen of the beer garden era we may derive some of our best shoulder strength-builders. The lifting of two heavy dumbbells builds a ruggedness in this region you can achieve in no other way. It is odd too, that this shoulder and back development seem to go together. At the 1950 weightlifting championships held in Philadelphia, Bob Peoples, a 185 pound man who holds the American dead lift record at 730 pounds, casually picked up and cleaned to the shoulders a pair of dumbbells weighing 107 and 108 pounds. He first pulled them to the shoulders all the way from the floor, and then repeated the clean five more times from the hang position. When we recall Joseph Manger, the pre-war German champion, had to try about a dozen times in Sig Klein’s New York Gym before he successfully cleaned two 100 pound dumbbell, the lesson is obvious.
Both the cleaning and pressing of heavy dumbbells, simultaneously and alternately, will build shoulders with all-round power, particularly the rear portion of the deltoid, which is commonly neglected in the bodybuilder. As we have mentioned previously, the use of dumbbells has helped Stan Stanczyk and Norbert Schemansky to get their military press up close to 300 pounds. And since both men are unparalleled as speed lifters, we cannot see that this added shoulder development and power has in any way injured their all-round lifting technique.
In applying these various strength exercises there are several types of routines we may use. The series programme where exercises are performed in series of three to five repetitions – and with three to five sets or more. The heavy and light system where a heavy weight is used first and then lighter weights are used for higher repetitions. The single effort – with very high poundages – with a one to three minute pause between efforts, and a total of ten to twelve lifts performed. The up and down system, where you start with a moderately heavy weight, repeat five times, and take a heavier weight for four reps, and go on up to a limit one rep effort, and then come down the same way.
There is merit in each of these systems, and since every individual has a different reaction, it would seem wise to try them all to see which type of programme best fits the exerciser.
Long but great read! Thanks BTB
Another great old timer
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