Why would we want to listen to old timers when we have new supplements, gear, and cool looking machines? Because these guys new how to get strong and in an era before drugs were readily available. They displayed physiques that would make many modern lifters envious.
If you don't believe me, read some of these amazing feats these men of old achieved.
- Arthur Saxon performed a bent press of 370 pounds. For those unfamiliar, the bent press is a one arm barbell movement where the lifter bends away from the weight as it is pressed above the head!
- At 68 years old, Thomas Inch was still able to deadlift 540 pounds!
- Edward Aston would clean 250 pounds with one arm!
Many lifters forget that not being able to lift a weight is often a result of failure of the nervous system rather than the muscles. The nervous system is actually responsible for recruitment of muscles and "shutting down" the body when it feels it is in a dangerous situation. There are many tricks to manipulate the nervous system in not letting the body quit so early. A classic method is using heavy supports.
Supports involves holding more than maximal weight on a specific lift. For example, if you wanted to improve your overhead pressing strength you would set up a power rack so that all you had to do is get under the bar and lift about 2 inches off the rails. You would hold about 10-15% more than your maximal lift for about 10 seconds.
Doing this at the start of your set would trick the body in letting you use more weight. Performing this at the end would teach your body how to handle more weight and not shut down so early.
This is also a great way to build tendon and ligament strength that was a core principle in old time training, but has been lost over the years. Other exercises that heavy supports lend themselves to are squats, deadlifts, and bench press. However, you can become creative with other movements.
Another long time method of improving strength and size, rack work helps lifters dramatically increase their lifts through working their sticking points. For those unfamiliar, sticking points are the point in the lift where you are unable to move the weight or where movement appears dramatically weaker.
For example, you may find that your bench press is very weak coming off of your chest. One of many ways to solve this problem is to start your lifts from the bottom position. You would have to set up your rack so that the weight is at the bottom and you have to press from a dead stop every time.
You may also find that your deadlift stalls from above the knees to the end of the lift. Here you could set up a rack that has the safety bars set up right from this position. You can now overload this specific range of motion and overcome this sticking point.
One Arm Lifts
Performing one arm lifts is not the same as performing some sets of alternating curls. No, I am talking about heavy compound one arm movements. Whether you perform them with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell you will get some great improvements. The first thing you will notice is an increase in grip strength.
Sorry guys, but most lifters in the gym still have very weak hands. Yes, even though you wear straps you are still missing out on some great muscle development when you have weak hands. Legendary strength athlete George Jowett had almost 18 inch arms from primarily performing grip work. Not tons of sets of barbell curls, then preacher curls, and other curls. Rather he did heavy iron bending and lever lifts. Work your grip if you want better arms!
One arm lifts also help develop the abs and low back almost better than any sit-up, leg raise, or back extension could ever imagine. Performing lifts like a suitcase deadlift, dumbbell clean and press (Ex - Shown With Barbell), and many more variations you will find how hard your trunk has to work to stabilize the weight. You will notice that your rib cage gets thicker and your body becomes more dense. No more of this fluff muscle that I see in the gym all the time. Now you can be as strong as you look!
Some other variations you can use include:
- Overhead Press
- Side Press Ex - Shown Alternating.
- Suitcase Deadlift
- Conventional Deadlift
Do Something Different
Often people avoid using a specific technique or method because they are afraid of looking stupid. That is a shame because there are many ideas that are forgotten about that could help people speed up their results greatly. Trust me; most people in the gym don't have a much better idea of what to do than you!
For those that think these ideas are outdated I would ask you to think again about these concepts. Even with our modern advances we seem to have fallen way behind in the strength that was developed many years ago. Now, when everyone wants to blame genetics for their bad results I often wonder if they are simply not doing the right stuff. Take a chance on being different and seeing the amazing results you can achieve.
Josh Henkin is owner of Innovative Fitness Solutions (www.ifsstrength.com) in Scottsdale, Arizona. Coach Henkin has presented nationally in the field of fitness and sports enhancement. He is also the author of High Octane Sandbag Training manual and DVD (www.sandbagexercises.com). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.