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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lessons From Nicu Vlad

Vlad snatching at the 1984 Olympics

This is a great article, also a chapter from the book "Bones of Iron" by Matt Foreman. We have featured article by Matt many times and plugged his book when it first came out. I would highly recommend it. First it is essential reading for any competitive weight lifter. Matt tells the truth about training drug free in a free market economy. Matt is not a world class lifter. He is a real grass roots guy who has lifted consistently at a high level over a long time period while living a regular life with a full time job. I would also recommend it for any athlete who aspires to high performance while working or going to school. You can purchase "Bones of Iron" at Catalyst Athletics or on Amazon.com.
This article relates some great insights about the attitude it takes to be a champion. It also tells the story of how the now common "Romanian Deadlift" or RDL was introduced and came to be a staple in many American programs, even though it is often not performed correctly. Great stuff.

Lessons from Romania: Nicu Vlad at the Olympic Training Center
Matt Foreman  |  Olympic Weightlifting  |  December 31 2008
Nicu Vlad is one of the greatest weightlifters of all time. The Romanian legend won the Olympic gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles games when he was only twenty-one years old, and that was only the beginning of his amazing career. Vlad went on to win the silver medal at the 1988 Olympics, the bronze at the 1996 Olympics (when he was thirty-three), and three world championships in 1984, 1986, and 1990. However, the accomplishment that Vlad is probably most famous for is his all-time world record snatch of 200.5 kilos in the old 100 kilo bodyweight class. He is the heaviest lifter in history to snatch double bodyweight, and many weightlifting experts believe that Vlad is one of the most technically perfect weightlifters of all time. His snatch technique has been the learning model for thousands of young weightlifters over the last two decades. So you can imagine how I felt when I found out that I was going to have the opportunity to train with Vlad for three weeks at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs during the summer of 1990.
Nicu and his coach, Dragomir Cioroslan, came to the United States in 1990 to spend the summer training at various locations around the country. They spent most of this visit in Colorado Springs, and the national junior squad training camp was held at the OTC during the same time. I was invited to train at this camp, which meant that I was going to be working out in the same gym with an athlete whose pictures I had taped up on the walls of the gym where I worked out at home. I was seventeen years old and Nicu Vlad had been my weightlifting idol long before I knew he was coming to the United States. This was literally the opportunity of a lifetime, and this article will examine just a fraction of the many lessons I learned during that memorable summer. 
First, the formal details of training…
I recall meeting Dragomir and Nicu for the first time. Dragomir, who was one of the friendliest people I had ever met in my life, smiled broadly and shook my hand with gusto as he looked me in the eye and exclaimed, “My name is Dragomir, how are you?!” After that, I was introduced to the big man, who shook my hand with his thick paw and growled, “Nicu Vlad,” as he glanced at me with the same interest he probably showed in his morning bowel movement. Nicu was polite and respectful, but he had a quiet intensity in his personality that was obvious. This man was a legend, and everybody knew it. You gave him a wide berth.
     Nicu usually trained twice a day, and his workouts were broken up into short segments. He generally performed the classic lifts along with front squats, back squats, and RDLs (more on that later). I never saw him spend any time doing supplemental exercises such as push presses, overhead squats, etc. He often performed his squats in the mornings and his competition lifts in the afternoons. In a typical afternoon session, he would train one of the competition lifts (snatch or clean and jerk) for around thirty minutes and then go outside the gym to lie down in the grass and relax for a while. After twenty or thirty minutes, he would come back in the gym to train again, often hitting the other competition lift. After this second session, he would sometimes go back outside to take another relaxation break before the next segment or sometimes he would go straight into a squatting or pulling movement, depending on which lifts he had trained that morning. Basically, Dragomir had him on a European-style program that combined many of the Russian and Bulgarian principles that we have all studied over the years. He was training around seven to nine times per week, with the morning sessions usually taking place around ten o’clock and the afternoon sessions around three or four. It’s important to note that Nicu was twenty-seven years old during this time, which is generally considered a little old for most hardcore European training systems. I believe his volume and exercise selection had been narrowed to accommodate his age.   
     Nicu was training to compete at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Washington at the end of the summer, so I was able to see him train when he was around six weeks out from a meet. The top lifts I saw him perform in training during this time are as follows: 185 snatch, 210 clean and jerk (he clean and jerked 210, brought the weight down to his shoulders, and jerked it a second time). Nicu’s all-time best official lifts are 200.5 in the snatch and 237.5 in the clean and jerk. But those lifts had been done in 1986; during the 1990 time period when I saw him, he was usually hitting around 190/220 in meets. Therefore, 185 and 210 were working pretty close to his top results at the time. In the supplemental lifts, I saw multiple sets of three in the back squats with 250-260, and RDL sets of three usually performed with 250-260. The squats and RDLs with 260 were, as far as the eye could tell, practically effortless. He did not squat with any of the massive weights that many Americans think the top European lifters handle on a daily basis. Also, the jerk was his weak spot and, because of this, he almost always lowered the weight to his shoulders and performed two reps of the jerk for every clean. 
     But despite the amazing work capacity and kilograms Nicu was capable of handling, the most phenomenal aspect of his training was definitely his technique. When I first became an Olympic weightlifter, a great coach told me that one of the elements of having perfect technique meant you could “make 50 kilos look exactly the same as 150 kilos.” Vlad was the best example of this rule that I have ever seen in my career. Every movement of his body from his back position to his foot placement to his acceleration in the second pull was identical, regardless of the weight on the bar. When he performed snatches and cleans, he would usually power snatch or power clean the light weights, catching them in a high receiving position. And, as the weight got progressively heavier, he would simply catch the bar gradually lower and lower until he was hitting his top weights and catching them near rock-bottom. Nicu jumped his feet forcefully off the platform when he was extending the second pull and going under the bar, producing a loud slap! when his feet hit the platform as he turned his wrists over and caught the weight. Not every great lifter has utilized the same “feet jumping” technique as Vlad, obviously. There are some great lifters who simply lift their feet just high enough to slide them out and re-position them as they receive the bar. But Vlad’s technique involved violent jumping of the feet and many lifters, including myself, formed their own technique from emulating him. Everything about his movements was a textbook combination of speed, tightness, precision, and strength. Any weightlifter who wants to be successful would be wise to study the technique of Nicu Vlad, as we all did during our summer of watching him train. 

A quick 185 snatch, then some RDLs…
One afternoon, many of the junior squad lifters were in the OTC game room playing pool and PacMan when Wes Barnett stuck his head in the door and told everybody, “Vlad’s going heavy in his workout.” We all ran out of the game room, across the hockey field, and down the hill to the gym so we could see some big weights. Nicu was warming up in the snatch at the time, and we all quietly took seats around the gym to watch the big show. After his normal warm up, snatching 70, 90, 110, 130, 140, 150, and 160 with ease, he put 170 on the bar. We were all shocked to see him miss the 170, but then he repeated the weight a few minutes later and made it easily. He jumped to 175 and missed the weight behind him twice, and then jumped to 180 and missed that weight twice as well. Most of us were wondering what in the hell was going on, as he was clearly in good shape and strong enough to make these weights. I will never forget what he did next.
     He loaded 185 on the bar. This time, as he stood in front of the bar preparing for the lift, he stood motionless, tilted his head back and closed his eyes in the famous Vlad-concentration pose we had all seen him strike on the platform at the Olympics and world championships. He had not done this before any of the other lifts of his workout, and the gym went completely silent. After ten seconds, he reached down, grabbed the bar, and nailed the easiest, strongest snatch of the day.
 I learned a lot about mental discipline as I watched this workout. After his missed snatch attempts, Nicu had no reaction whatsoever. He did not get visibly upset or discouraged in any way. His face remained stoic and he simply progressed to the next weight, confident that he would make any technical corrections that were needed. When he got to 185, which I later learned was the weight he had planned to hit that day, he just applied an extra level of concentration and focus. It was a big weight, he was having a bad workout, and he needed to tap into his extra reservoir of inner strength, mojo, or whatever you want to call it. Because he was a world champion, his mojo did not involve jumping around like a crackhead, punching himself in the face, or kicking the bar. His fire burned inside, and it burned hot. And after he made the 185, he simply went on with the rest of his workout. No celebration, actions of deep relief, or pissing and moaning because he hadn’t had a perfect workout. It was all just a day at the office for Nicu Vlad.
     Then he started performing an exercise we saw him do regularly. It looked a lot like a stiff-legged deadlift, only he bent his knees slightly and displaced his hips backwards as he lowered the bar. He would regularly do this exercise with 250 kilos or more, and he even did a personal record set of 300x3 at the end of the camp. Somebody in the gym asked Nicu and Dragomir what the exercise was called. They said that they did not have a special name for it, and so one of the American lifters suggested that it could be called a “Romanian Deadlift” or RDL. Now, here we are eighteen years later, and this exercise has become a common staple in workout routines all across this country. I’ve always considered it a privilege that I was present when the RDL was officially named.


The Nicu Vlad Charm School…
Vlad had a fairly quiet, reserved personality, probably due mostly to the fact that his English at the time was relatively limited. With the English that he was able to speak, he was always happy to engage in conversation and joke around. I recall one night in the OTC dorm when a tall swimmer was walking down the hall and accidentally bumped into Nicu, knocking him back a step. The swimmer apparently thought he was a tough guy, because he just glanced around and kept walking without excusing himself. Wes Barnett jokingly told Nicu to go give the guy a beating. Nicu looked at Wes and shook his head saying, “What?” because he didn’t understand. Wes pointed at the swimmer and punched his fist into his palm five or six times. Nicu understood, but he stopped Wes and said, “No.” Then he punched his own fist into his palm one time, looked at Wes and said, “Just one.” He was telling us that he could knock the guy out with one shot!
     Nicu also gave out a piece of advice that I now realize is probably the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned in weightlifting and life in general. This particular junior squad camp had several young athletes who would later go on to become great American lifters in the 1990s. Names like Barnett, Gough, McRae, Patao, and my dorm roommate Pete Kelley were all there. These individuals were hard working, driven, competitive animals who were hungry to move up in the national rankings. However, there were also several young athletes who had made the junior squad and earned their way to the camp, but showed some of the worst attitudes I have seen in my years as an athlete. These were spoiled brats who whined constantly about the gym being too small, the bars not spinning well enough, the dorms being too hot, the taste of the dining hall food, and every other free benefit that had been given to them. They did not train hard, complained incessantly, back-talked the coaches and OTC staff, and threw temper tantrums in the gym when they missed lifts. Not surprisingly, almost all of them quit the sport within the next few years.
     Nicu and Dragomir used to watch these kids silently and shake their heads in disgust. It was obvious what they were thinking. Then, USA Weightlifting magazine decided to do an interview with Vlad, so Dragomir acted as his interpreter to answer their questions. At one point, the reporter asked Nicu what he thought about training with our top young junior lifters. Although I’m not quoting him word-for-word, I remember his answer clearly and it was this: “In Romania, I train on a bar that is bent. My gym has bad lighting and very little heat in the winters. Here in America, you have everything you need to train. It’s not in the bar or the gym or the platform… it’s in you.”
     The message, which I consider almost a biblical principle, is that the strength you possess in your heart will be the deciding element in your weightlifting career. Adversity is the name of the game in this sport, and the only factor that can propel an athlete to success is sheer force of will. Physical talent is not enough. There are armies of physically talented athletes out there. The ones like Nicu Vlad, who refuse to allow anything to defeat them, will be the last ones standing. This attitude drove Nicu forward to victory at the World Championship that same year, and then eventually to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where, at the age of thirty-three, he snatched 197.5 in the 108 class, winning the third Olympic medal of his illustrious career.
    
I could write an entire book about all the other things I saw, heard, and learned during those weeks. Vlad told us that Yuri Zacharevich from the Soviet Union had rack jerked 300 kilos in training. Vlad told us that Naim Suleymanoglu owned eight houses in Turkey. Vlad told us that we were all idiots for spending our recovery time having chicken fights in the OTC pool instead of resting for our next workout. During his trip, somebody printed up some “Nicu Vlad Summer US Tour 1990” tank tops and sold them. I bought one and wore it as religiously as the stoners at my high school wore their Megadeth t-shirts. It was an exciting summer that marked the beginning of some great US lifting careers. I was lucky to be there. We all were.      

Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More Bruce Lee

He truly was an innovator far ahead of his time. Here is a humorous but still impressive look at some of his amazing skills. He left way too early, but 40 years later we still are in awe. Wonder what he would be like as a 70+ year old man.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Are Bodybuilders Athletes?

Yeah. He's an athlete alright! Granted he is not a real bodybuilder, but he represents the mind set.

I suppose that the answer to that question would be determined by the answer to this.......Is bodybuilding a sport? In turn, I suppose the answer to that would be determined by..... Are there physical movement skills required where one opponent can show superior skill in overcoming his/her competitors? Sorry, posing for judges doesn't meet the criteria in my opinion. It is a contest, but not a sport or athletic activity. It is no different than any other beauty contest or pageant. Contestants present an appearance that judges subjectively grade. Does bodybuilding take hard work and discipline? You bet. Can one be an athlete and a bodybuilder. Why not?If one competes in a real sport along with bodybuilding.  But to call someone who competes in bodybuilding competitions an athlete, solely on that basis, is about as misguided as calling a pig a cow. You can do it, but it doesn't change anything. Am I against bodybuilding? Nope. If one enjoys stripping down and stepping on stage to flex their muscles, go for it. Just don't try to tell me you are an athlete for doing it. It was, at one time, years ago, a healthy activity. But with the "look" that is required to be competitive nowadays, I don't think anyone really claims that it is healthy anymore. It requires distorted proportions and an unnatural and dangerous level of dehydration to obtain that temporary appearance, not to mention the other required "medicinal support" needed to keep up. If you ever had any doubts about the athleticism of bodybuilders, watch this humorous clip below. As you see these guys running, it will surely put to rest any ideas you may have had about these guys being anything but oafs. Danica Patrick does a pretty good job in her bodysuit though. lol


Monday, January 20, 2014

CrossFit Tragedy

This has been on the news for several days and most likely you've heard about it already. It is a real and unexpected tragedy. Definitely a freak accident. Not having been there, with only the video below as a reference, it's impossible to know how such a terrible accident happened. Personally, and I have said this before, many times, I do not like to see technically complex lifts, like the snatch, done for high reps or to fatigue. Although I do believe such practices can be dangerous and invite injury not to mention being counter productive, I would not attribute this particular injury solely to that. I know from experience that in spite of all we can do to be safe, stuff happens when we are pushing to the limits. I make no attempt to explain the cause of this tragic injury. On the positive side, the response has been amazing. Nothing but good on the CrossFit community for their fund raising efforts. We only hope and pray that this athlete can make a great recovery. Meanwhile, train hard and train smart. Never underestimate that lifting heavy weights can be dangerous under the best of conditions. I do believe that lifting to failure, or pushing for max reps when fatigued,  is far more dangerous than a one rep max done when fresh with proper preparation.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Individualizing Training

Mikhail Koklyaev snatching
All athletes have similarities and differences. Optimal training takes that into account.

We have long advocated the need for coaches to individualize training programs. The rationale is obvious, but the implementation can be rough when you are training large groups of athletes. Greg Everette of Catalyst Athletics gives a good strategy here. This is basically what I have been doing while training large groups for over a 30 years. I have a general philosophy that the athletes I am training need a basic foundation of strength that is best built with various squats, pulls, and presses. I use a general template that varies the sets, reps, and intensities according to the semesters of experience in training. Within that framework, I watch, observe, and vary workouts on a daily basis according to the current state of the athlete; considering health issues, injury (if that is an issue), energy level, and actual performance as the workout progresses. It means walking around and observing. I have never used a computer or calculator to determine specific volumes or intensities. Greg gives a sane and reasonable way to calculate with a spread sheet if that is appropriate in your situation. For sure, it takes some brains and experience to train athletes, but it's not as complicated as some like to make it either. While science certainly is involved, artful application of scientific principles is essential.

Training Tip: Individualized Weightlifting Programming

I had a conversation yesterday with a strength coach who stopped by the gym about how I individualize my lifters' programs. He asked how precise I got in terms of the volume of certain lifts within certain intensity ranges, if I consider the ratio of classic lifts to squats, and similar metrics.

I explained that primarily, I rely on experience with each lifter to determine what does and doesn't work for that individual. In other words, I don't usually go through a process of calculations, but rather create a program for a given individual that comes from the convergence of my many program templates (really programs I've written for lifters in the past and then have used as guides repeatedly), experience coaching the lifter and seeing what they respond to best, and the needs of that lifter at that time.

Yes, I consider the ratio of squats to classic lifts, but only in a vague sense - rarely do I get out a calculator and get to figuring. It's always fairly obvious if a lifter has a big disparity in squat strength relative to classic lift strength, and a divergence of a few percentage points from whatever I consider "good" is not going to be what convinces me to do one thing or another. If a lifter back squats 250 and cleans 140.... it's not hard to understand that he doesn't need to be doing a lot of squatting, and that I need to first determine why exactly his clean is so far behind and then next program to address those identified problems.

Each of my national-level lifters (about a dozen) has an individual program. At times, they can be very similar, all based on the same template, as they're all training toward the same basic goal: snatching and clean & jerking more in competition. And at times, they can be very different depending on what exactly that lifter needs to reach that goal. A few of my lifters are always doing something very different from everyone else; for example, Audra squats heavy every single day. In fact, she does everything heavy every single day, and she does a lot of volume. Why? Because with experimentation, I've found that's what she responds best to. That same approach does not work the same way for any of my other lifters, at least not long term. They nearly all train to max daily during certain periods (particulary the last 4 weeks before a major competition), but not the majority of the year.

I track and pay attention to daily and weekly volume and average intensity, and the intensity percentage of every major lift. I write my programs in an Excel template that calculates those things for me to make it a bit easier. From experience with them, I have a good idea of how much volume and intensity each of my lifters can manage, and it varies considerably. The volume I give a couple of them would kill a couple of the others. These numbers also make it easy for me to keep track of what has worked and what hasn't - the more information I have at my disposal, the better I can make decisions on future programs. But again, I'm generally not being incredibly precise with this, because these numbers describe only part of the picture - I have to take into account quite a few other factors, some of which have nothing to do with the training itself, and those things are largely subjective and unmeasurable, so there is a good deal of judgment involved on my part. I don't always get it right, and that's why I'm constantly taking notes and transferring them to those Excel programs I keep filed on my computer. I can refer back to those at any time and get a good sense of what was happening and why, and then use that information when creating new programs.

There is definitely a balance to be found that will best serve each coach. You need a certain amount of information to make good decisions, but too much information can actually beccome a burden and a limitation. It's possible to become so engrossed by figures that you forget that these numbers reflect the abilities, performances, and needs of a living human being, who is never that simple and formulaic. Combine the math and science with the every day experience and interaction and find the balance that works for you and your athletes: pay attention to the athletes, and you'll know what works and what doesn't without ever having to do a single calculation.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Some Health Tips for 2014

I couldn't resist posting this interview. I really think Richard Simmons is about as weird as a guy can be. What a character. My testosterone level drops just watching him. He makes it clear here that he really doesn't know a thing about physiology or nutrition, yet he gets a lot of people up and moving. He has certainly made a niche for  himself. He could be the spokesperson for Planet Fitness. Not something that interests me, but if someone else likes it, more power to them.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Want Big Arms?

Big arms from heavy basic lifts.


Below is a nice article by Christian Thibaudeau. Having coached teenagers for over 30 years, the boys, if left to their own devices, will spend hours working their arms with all kinds of weird and ineffective exercises. Why? They think girls like big arms. It isn't until much later in life that they realize what girls really like is big bank accounts. But even if you still want big arms anyway, spending hours on direct arm work is not the path to success. I like to use the tree analogy. You never see a skinny tree with large, thick branches. The trunk has to grow first, then the branches grow in proportion. You will never see 18 inch arms on a 135 lb. body. In spite of that logic, I still see tons of skinny teenage boys doing set after set of curls and triceps extensions instead of squats, pulls, and presses. Anyway, Christian, who looks the part of a  guy with big arms, puts it into perspective here.

Here's what you need to know...
• Competitive athletes can skip direct arm work. These athletes are already training extensively. Time spent hitting the arms directly is better spent recovering.
• New lifters should focus on getting stronger on the big, basic lifts before even considering direct arm work.
• Once a good strength base has been established but the arms are lagging and physique development is the goal, direct arm work should be added.
There's one issue among strength training gurus that seems to make tempers rise like no other: whether direct biceps and triceps work is necessary to build great guns.
According to the "anti-arm work" crowd, direct arm training isn't effective. How can you build more size curling 30-pound dumbbells or doing triceps extensions with a 40-pound barbell than you could by rowing 275 or benching 315?
A reasonable question, yet top bodybuilders frequently do 15-20 sets of direct biceps and triceps work and have huge arms. So what's the answer? Will direct arm work help you or is it a waste of time?

My Gun Show
I've lived both sides of the direct arm work argument. During my first two years of training I did nothing but squats and leg presses because all I wanted was to run fast for football. Then as a teenager, after discovering that chest and biceps mass got you respect (or envy), I started doing curls and dumbbell flies every lunch break.
Next I became the elitist Olympic lifter who made fun of guys who spent hours training their arms, followed by a stint as a bodybuilder who made fun of lifters who were strong but didn't look great naked. Finally, I became an adult and started to look at things objectively.

The Cons
There are some legitimate reasons why many experts don't prescribe direct arm work.
1. Training Economy: Most real experts (not internet tough guys) who skip direct arm work are strength coaches working with athletes. Football, hockey, baseball players, and MMA fighters already do so much specialized training (lifting, speed and agility work, mobility, conditioning, technical and tactical practices, etc.) that for them to recover and perform, they're forced to stick with only the best "bang for your buck" exercises. These movements are ideal for improving performance and preventing injuries.
So these strength coaches don't include direct arm work because their athletes will build the necessary arm strength from the big, basic exercises. Any additional gains in size that might come from direct work aren't worth the time and energy that could be spent on more important exercises for performance, or on rest and recovery.
2. Shoulder Pain: Doing a lot of direct arm work – specifically biceps work – on top of the big compound upper body lifts can inflame the biceps tendon, especially at the shoulder joint (coracoid process of the scapula and supraglenoid tubercule). The fact is, many "shoulder" injuries in serious lifters are really an inflammation of the biceps tendon, and it's most often seen during the bench press.
3. Compounds Cover It: You often hear experts say that "you'll build bigger arms by doing 315-pound bench presses than you will by doing 15-pound kickbacks." The argument makes sense. Rarely will a guy have small arms if he can bench 315+ for reps, row 275 with strict form for reps, or do chin-ups with 60-75 pounds of extra weight strapped to his waist.
Furthermore, if more beginners stopped doing endless sets of curls and focused on getting beastly strong in the bench press, deadlift, squat, and military press, we'd have a lot less "hardgainers" complaining about not being able to add size. A lack of arm size is often just a lack of overall growth.
4. Follow the Money: Another less glorious reason some personal trainers don't do direct arm work is that the client pays for one hour of training and the coach would rather spend this time doing exercises that have more effect on body composition.
The big compound lifts have a systemic impact on the body. Remember the line about how you'll stimulate your arms to grow by doing heavy squats and deadlifts? The theory is that these lifts, done heavy, have a greater effect on Testosterone levels.
More Testosterone will lead to more protein synthesis throughout the body, thus heavy squatting will stimulate a hormonal milieu that's conducive to whole body growth.
The Pros
There are also compelling arguments for including direct arm work into a strength training program.
1. No Weak Links: An early mentor once told me, while getting ready do a set of barbell curls, that "You can't have a weak muscle if you want to be really strong." He was an Olympic lifter who at one point held the Canadian record on the clean & jerk with 192.5 kilos at a bodyweight of 90 kilos, so seeing him do curls was quite a shock.
Furthermore, some Chinese Olympic lifters routinely do curls and triceps extensions. Former Bulgarian star lifter Zlatan Vanev did a lot of curls when he came back from an elbow dislocation to help make his elbow stronger.
2. Arm Work Works: Bodybuilders are proof that direct arm work builds big arms. Yes, there are sprinters and football players who look great without doing any biceps work, but the reality is that you will never see the arm development of top bodybuilders in athletes who don't do direct biceps work. That's not to say that athletes can't have great looking arms from doing only the basics, just not as huge as that of a high level bodybuilder.
Furthermore, just walk in any commercial gym on a Friday evening and you'll have proof that direct arm work can be effective – dozens of teenagers/young adults with toothpick legs, a flat back, yet big and muscular arms.
3. Beyond Basics: Due to leverages or muscle dominance, some people won't build strong biceps or triceps just by doing big basics. They'll get a huge chest and/or shoulders from bench pressing and a big back and traps from rowing and pull-ups, but very little upper arm size.
These people need direct arm work to make their biceps and triceps grow. If they're interested in getting very strong on the big basics, then making their weak links stronger is a sure way to improve performance. Sometimes you need to use isolation work to strengthen bodyparts that are preventing your big lifts from going up.
4. Heavy Isn't Everything: We used to think that muscle growth required tearing down muscle fibers and that you needed heavy weights to do that. Now we know that there are more processes involved in stimulating growth and that tearing down muscle tissue might not only be unnecessary but counterproductive.
There are three processes that can lead to muscle hypertrophy that don't require heavy lifting, and are actually more effective when performed with lighter loads and more targeted exercises:
1. Activation of the mTOR pathway
We know now that the mTOR pathway, especially TORC1, is the switch that starts protein synthesis. Studies have shown that mTOR is activated almost exclusively during eccentric actions, lending some credence to the practice of emphasizing the eccentric phase, but not for the reason once believed (muscle tearing).
However, what's more interesting is that you only need an external resistance equivalent to 60% of your maximum to optimally affect mTOR. This is best done by using 60-70% of 1RM and performing very slow eccentrics where you focus on feeling the muscle during every inch of the rep.
It's the act of stretching the muscle under load that's responsible for the effect. This type of eccentric isn't damaging and won't impair recovery, but will activate one of the main pathways involved in muscle growth.
2. Occlusion
This is the practice of depriving the muscle of oxygen while it's doing mechanical work. When a muscle is contracted, blood can't enter the muscle so oxygen isn't delivered. If a muscle never relaxes during a set, then blood will stay outside the muscle, and the muscle will go into an hypoxic state.
This hypoxic state has been shown to be anabolic as it increases the release of IGF-1, a very anabolic peptide hormone. Obviously, occlusion and constant tension training is more easily done during targeted or isolation exercises.
3. Nutrient Uptake
This occurs at the highest level when you do "pump work," or try to swell a muscle as much as possible. The mechanical contraction of the muscle pulls blood and nutrients into the muscle being trained. So if you're using Plazma™ pre- and intra-workout, you'll pull powerful di- and tri-peptides inside the muscle you're training, which means that you'll have all the material necessary to take advantage of the activated protein synthesis.

My Verdict
Here are the facts:
• Direct arm work builds muscle. Any form of resistance training works, so it would be silly to assume that working a muscle hard under load would have zero effect. Load a muscle and make it do mechanical work – adaptation will occur.
• The return for the investment of direct arm work is fairly low compared to big money exercises.There's no arguing that you'll get a greater overall effect from doing deadlifts, squats, pull-ups, and bench presses than from doing curls and triceps extensions.
• Lifting heavy will put on muscle but it's not the only way. There are several biochemical processes that stimulate hypertrophy that don't require heavy lifting.
• Some people will grow big arms simply by getting strong on the big basic lifts (typically those with shorter arms) while others will absolutely need direct arm work if they want their arms to grow (usually longer-armed folks).
Considering these facts, my verdict is:
Beginners should focus on getting a lot stronger and efficient on the big basic lifts as these will have the greatest effect on their physique. At this stage, direct arm work isn't necessary and shouldn't play a big role in the workout.
However, as the individual gets stronger and bigger but has yet to achieve his physique goals, he might find that he needs to devote time to direct biceps and triceps work.
Case closed.

High-Pull for the Power Look
Christian does the big basic lifts with heavy weights.

Of course if you don't want to lift heavy, you can always try this.....

Friday, January 3, 2014

14 Year Old Powerlifter

Jake Schellenschlager, age 14. (Getty Images)

Meet Jake Schellenschlager. He's 14 years old. And he can deadlift more than two times his body weight.
This article has been floating around various internet news sources. Personally I have no issues with someone who is 14 lifting max weights. However, I do think it is vital that technique development is priority number one. It's one thing to give a maximum effort through biomechanically correct positions and another to twist and grind through a lift. The picture and the short video clip look a little more like the latter to me, but not having seen more pictures or video and certainly not having seen him lift in person, I withhold judgement on that aspect. He is certainly a solidly built young man who looks to have a genetic predisposition to strength and muscular development. In my opinion lifting heavy at that age is no more dangerous than playing tackle football or pitching a baseball for 9 innings and there are tons of kids doing that. One thing for sure, in a few years we will know what becomes of him and if he is a future great or if he burns out physically or mentally. A lot depends  upon whether he is internally motivated and enjoying this or if he is just responding to the expectations of adults in his life. I hope he is doing it because he loves it. If so, more power to him.

A profile in The Washington Post spotlights Schellenschlager and the challenges inherent in his chosen sport. He's one of thousands of young powerlifters across the United States who are able to lift enormous weights far heavier than their own frame. (Powerlifters are not the same thing as bodybuilders, who focus more on appearance than on lifting for its own sake.)
Schellenschlager weighs only about 119 pounds, but can deadlift 300. He's been lifting for the past two years under a coach's supervision. The Post notes that children can begin competing in powerlifting competitions at 14, but that some children begin lifting at age 8 for fun.
The question for someone so young, of course, is whether lifting at such a young age can have detrimental effects later in life. "Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting sports are different because they usually are involving maximum lifts — the squat, bench press and the dead lift," Paul Stricker, a youth sports medicine specialist at the Scripps Health Clinic in San Diego, told the Post. "There is high risk to heavy maximal lifts or explosive lifts during their rapid growth phrase. That is our biggest caution. We just don’t recommend they do maximal lifts or explosive lifts until they have finished the majority of their growth spurt."
“He doesn’t feel he can be defeated," says his trainer, Mike Sarni. "It is that inner strength that tells him, ‘I can do this.’ Usually, you only get that in older, more mature people.”
Here's video of Jake lifting last summer:
So, your thoughts. Is 14 too young for this activity, or is it no more damaging than any of a half-dozen other sports kids could be playing?


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter.
Jake Schellenschlager. (Getty Images)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Euro Training?

A fun video clip to start the New Year.There is always something "new" and "improved" in the fitness industry. Maybe this will be the trend that will takeover 2014. Remember, sound training is simple, but hard. The industry will try to sell us complex and secretive products, (not to mention expensive) that promise fast and easy results. That has never been true and it won't be in 2014.