Longstrength, Peak Power: Warming Up Chapter 4

by John McKean

Chapter 4 – A Sample Program

Let’s have you sample a Longstrength warmup followed by a brief, intense barbell routine.  Prepare to be amazed at the ease and enjoyment of a truly efficient strength building system.  First, grab the lightest pair of barbell plates around for about 12 minutes of shadowboxing.  Start very light and easy, both weight-wise and time-wise, for your first session.  Don’t be static, but “get into it”—pretend you’re kung fu champion of the world defending against a large dreaded street gang, and wipe ‘em all out!  Then go to a bar sitting across, a squat rack and rapidly knock out about 60 squat pulls.  Finally, with still no rest, locate low dipping bars (or use the back of two chairs) and do a forward bend (also called a “good morning”) between them, pushing back up with combined effort from the arms and lower back.  Do these “sissy dips” for 60 reps, and your pre-lift preparation is complete.

Longstrength Squat Pulls

By now you should be warm and feeling really good about yourself—after all, you’ve just won a major war and set new personal records for pull-ups and dips!  So growl a little bit more, and take, say, 75% of what is estimated to be a “comfortable” best barbell press for this day.  Delight in the ease with which you single it up.  Rest briefly, then do a single with 85%, and a final lift with 95%.  Never missed all the lighter barbell sets, did you?  But if you desire some repetitions, now is the very best time for them anyway—back down to 70% and do what will be a very easy 5-8 reps. Follow the same procedure (don’t repeat the warmup, of course, as it will carry you right on through if your barbell workout is brief and intense, as it should be) with the high pull, then the squat.  Next workout, follow the same warmup (add half a minute to the shadowboxing and a few more squat pulls and good-morning dips) but do -three different lifts for more varied all-round work.

Your routine looks like this:

MONDAY

Longstrength

  • Shadow box: 12 minutes
  • Squat Pulls: 60 reps
  • Good-morning dips: 60 reps

Lifts

  • Press from rack: 1/75%, 1/85%, 1/95%, 6/70%
  • High Pull: 1/75%, 1/85%, 1/95%, 6/70%
  • Squat: 1/75%, 1/85%, 1/95%, 6/70%

THURSDAY

Longstrength

  • Shadowbox: 12 1/2 minutes
  • Squat Pulls: 65 reps
  • Good-morning dips: 65 reps

Lifts

  • One-arm dumbbell press: 1/75%, 1/85%, 1/95%, 6/70%
  • One-arm dumbbell row: 1/75%, 1/85%, 1/95%, 6, 70%
  • Deadlift: 1/75%, 1/85%, 1/95%, 6/70%

Longstrength Good-Morning Dips

A word about cycling, progression and the rep scheme.  As noted in my previous articles in HG, it’s best to base workout percentages on the peak lift for the day, but during the first week of the program this is never a top-ever, personal max.  More in the neighborhood of 85% of your very best, with small weekly progressions of 2-1/2 or 5 pounds throughout the cycle.  Yes, each cycle will guide you beyond your previous top weight, if you keep at the cycle long enough!

The back-down set

The 70%-rep set after heavy singles adds a degree of very satisfying muscle stimulation.  Emotionally, too, it serves as a tremendous “mild pump” because, following the intensity of heavy lifting, it can be performed with complete confidence due to an amazingly “light” feel to the body, and in the perfect form enforced by the just-previous concentration on limit attempts.

In my early powerlifting days, for instance, I always found it a “stroll in the park” to do the backdown set in my squat sessions with 405 pounds for 6-8 reps after singling up to 515-600 pounds.  Yet whenever I tried to just work up to that 405 weight and reps on its own (without heavier singles done first), it was an all-out strain and usually a mental and physical impossibility.  In retrospect, I suppose it was these down-sets which provided the unexpected result of supplying me nearly 27″ thighs at 5′3″ and about 170 pounds bodyweight—quite a bit overdone size wise, in my opinion, but muscular gains I’ll wager could never have been achieved on my small bone frame with a standard high-rep, high-set pyramid scheme.

Exercises

Keep the exercises basic, ‘breviated, varied and safe.  Those listed are fairly standard to most programs, but perhaps a few extra comments are in order.

The one-arm row has always given me the ultimate in lat exercise and is fairly safe compared to the two-arm version, if the non-exercising arm is braced on a bench.  Pull smoothly and in good form, yet a bit of extra body heave won’t hurt now and then when poundages get up there.  Likewise, the one-arm dumbbell press can recruit more of the body into action while permitting the arms to handle an increased weight (total) over what could be done with the two-arm variety.

The high pull is a total-body movement, starting as a quick deadlift, and accelerating into a high heave toward the chin from mid-thigh level (it’ll probably only reach a little above belly button level with really heavy weights).  Form is not super important here, just strive to keep the bar in close to the body, and relish the power you experience when almost all major muscle groups are working coordinately.

Longstrength details

Please don’t overlook your Longstrength progression, however.  Always add a few reps to the squat pull and good-morning dip each workout. You really want to get to the stage where minutes are being counted rather than reps.  Doctor Tom Auble, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, tested these movements extensively and determined that even at a relatively slow pace of 20-30 reps per minute, the workload on squat pulls, for example, done for time, exceeds that of almost all standard aerobic programs.  For the lifter, an eventual 6-12 minutes of each maneuver will add superb conditioning to the body along with an unmatched warmup.

Remember always to move from one Longstrength exercise to the next without resting, in contrast to the weight exercises which benefit from 3-5 minutes of rest between sets.  The desire is to achieve a steady (but accelerated) heart rate while exercising for a good length of time.  While growing familiar with these new applications of strength-orientated exercises (chins, dips, squats, good mornings) a trainee quickly builds into one consistent, steady endurance session.  As Dr. Schwartz recently explained to me, “Longstrength offers the enthusiastic trainee maximum torque (a relatively new term referring to mechanical work with subsequential oxygen uptake and calorie expenditure) per pound of bodyweight.”

More than likely, you’ll feel your actual weight lifting in this program is over before it begins, but I guarantee you’ll love the results.  Strength gains will come like never before, that nagging tiredness will be replaced with an inner glow, and the old body will display brand new bumps and cuts.

Put in a proper time frame, a really effective warmup will take an enjoyable 20 minutes or so, with perhaps a mere 4 minutes devoted to actually lifting (not counting rest between sets, of course).  Never get this 5 to 1 ratio backwards! You see, many of the keys to strength, fitness, and body development can be found in the warmup.

Longstrength, Peak Power: Warming Up Chapter 3

by John McKean

Chapter 3 – Longstrength

Longstrength Shadowboxing

Although I enjoy playing around with differing Heavyhands combinations from time to time, and like Heavyhands walking with my wife during off days (active rest for recuperation), my favorite training warmup is known as “shadowboxing.”

As the name implies, a free sparring session is done with weighed hands (2-1/2 pound plates work as well as anything).  Just stalk around the gym after an invisible adversary, punching quickly with all manner of improvised blows, body weaves, and footwork combinations.  Have fun with it, let your imagination and energy flow, and beat up the bad guy for 15-20 minutes.  After winning this match (it’s so easy when no one’s hitting back), you’ll feel mentally and physically aggressive enough to attack a heavy barbell immediately.  What formerly was a weight that required 5 sets to even think about, you’ll feel like biting in half.

After complete satisfaction for several years, I sure thought Heavyhands shadowboxing was the last word in preparation for weight training.  Then Dr. Schwartz exposed me to another dimension—an aerobic warmup that could actually add strength and muscularity.  Always interested in my application to weight training of his concepts, the good doctor regularly supplements my gym findings with related laboratory research and his own considerable knowledge of exercise and the body.  But I was left speechless the day he phoned to announce that he’d just completed 750 (not a misprint—seven hundred and fifty) chin-ups!  Now, I know his own daily Heavyhands workouts have given him superb conditioning and, despite being 68 years of age, the sleek, refined look of a “natural” physique contender (my wife calls him the ultimate hunk!)  But even this amazing aerobic athlete surely could not perform 75 times the number of chins most of us strain to do. Then he told me about Longstrength…

Before describing Longstrength, however, let’s take care of your curiosity as to exactly how this past-prime-time superman managed his “impossible” chin-ups.  By the way, since then, Schwartz has specialized on alternate one arm chins and recently hit a personal high of 2,000 (yes, two thousand!) performed continuously for 45 minutes.  What’s the trick?  Well, in his usual quest to employ as many muscles as possible during exercise, Schwartz simply combined a chin-up with a free squat.  That is, he set up a bar at about standing chin height, then squatted down until arms were extended fully, and pulled back up with combined bicep, lat and leg power.  (Often he pressed up while descending to also involve the delts and triceps.)  In this innovative maneuver, arm power “lightens” the body, enabling far more free squats than ever possible, while leg thrust during the up stroke allows chin-up repetitions previously capable only by the “Energizer Bunny”—it can keep on going, and going, and going…

Longstrength, then, seeks the integration of many muscle groups at once in unique combinations of pushes and pulls which involve one’s own artificially lightened bodyweight as resistance.  Its goal is to marry strength with endurance to, as Schwartz described, “lasso all your muscles and more in a loop of total fitness.”  Naturally, a Longstrength devotee will, in short order, hit hundreds of reps per exercise (better measured in minutes than by counting reps) to effectively engage the cardiovascular system.

To date, Dr. Schwartz has created over 100 Longstrength exercises, and a new book describing this astounding fitness strategy is due out in early 1994.  Careful experiments have flabbergasted researchers when subjects generated unexpected high levels of oxygen uptake (a prime measure of aerobic effectiveness) on these relatively slow-paced moves.  Yet due to “muscle loading”—a simultaneous involvement of most of the body’s musculature—subjects reported feeling far less of an effort than computer read-outs showed their workload to be.

During the past two years, Longstrength has become the core of my entire lifting program. It compliments my initial shadowboxing warmup (which Schwartz considers part of Longstrength anyway) by nudging the large muscle groups of the legs, hips and back into play without tiring me prior to lifting. Virtually every inch of my body is readied for applying peak power, with the new combined exercises also adding a unique means of building explosiveness safely and, by its very nature, offering some mild preparatory stretching. Surprisingly, I’ve noticed vastly improved muscularity in my arms, delts, lats and thighs. Most importantly though, since strength-orientated moves such as pull-ups, dips, squats and bend-overs are the basis of Schwartz’s new regimen, gains in my all-round competitive lifts have accelerated significantly.

A few words of caution.  While Longstrength offers us iron hefters two factors we’re very familiar with and always relish, namely, endless variety and limitless, rapid progression, please don’t ever stray from the muscle-loading concept—strive always to use as many muscles as possible in any unique combination which you’re sure to invent.  If you confuse this with any form of “circuit training,” where many muscle groups are attempted to be reached by moving from one isolation exercise to another, none of the benefits above will be achieved.  In fact, when carefully analyzed, the once highly-touted circuit training proved to do absolutely nothing toward increasing aerobic capacity—measured oxygen utilization actually was quite low despite all the huffing and puffing between stations. So, although circuits did hit a variety of exercises and created rapid heart rates, they were exposed as a complete bust for endurance, never produced much strength or development, and served just to tire trainees needlessly. Remember, we want to warm up without burning out.

Longstrength, Peak Power: Warming Up Chapter 2

by John McKean

Chapter 2 – Dr. Leonard Schwartz and Heavyhands

A while back I lucked into a fantastic book which taught me more about a really proper, thorough warmup system than had all previous years of training.  Titled Heavyhands, and written by Dr. Leonard Schwartz, who has since become a valued friend and teacher, the text revealed a unique aerobic training system involving many muscles working at one time.  Light dumbbells are curled, swung and pushed for the upper body while simultaneously running, dancing, bending or twisting.  Interesting combinations such as walking with forward raises, punching while bobbing and weaving, and overhead swings with forward bends are done for sessions of 12-40 minutes.  Unlike the ridiculous notion put forth by some that standard barbell moves can become “endurance” training after a paltry 10 or 20 reps, Heavy hands exercise is true aerobic work (sustained by relatively easy movement for long periods of time) and, from my experience, absolutely fantastic as a warmup routine.

If you’ve read my previous articles on all-round strength training (issues 23 and 25 of HG) you know I favor short sessions featuring only 3 or 4 progressively heavy singles per lift.  Many have asked, though, how it’s possible to do an initial attempt with 80% or more of a limit. Well, by simply following a few of Dr. Schwartz’s exercise guidelines, practically any reasonable opener is a breeze.  Heavyhanding for 20 minutes leaves my entire musculature warm and ready to go, creates an inner exhilaration from the increased oxygen uptake, and provides that wide-awake feeling so necessary for pinpoint concentration.  Additionally, in distributing this workload over many parts of the body at once, these warmups seem very easy and leave plenty of energy for the barbells.  In strict laboratory tests, Heavyhands exercise has proven superior to common calisthenics, jogging, rowing machines, rope skipping, cycling, and other endurance activities, without creating any of the common fatigue or boredom.

Longstrength, Peak Power: Warming Up Chapter 1

by John McKean

Chapter 1 – Introduction

“As usual, we missed seeing you in the warm up room yesterday!” teased my old lifting pal, Barry, during morning two of the recent US National All-Round Weightlifting Championships.

Laughing, I replied, “Hey, I did too stop in for a moment to beg some tips from Dennis Mitchell about his bent press techniques.”

Rolling his eyes, Barry , continued, “Some of the guys are still bewildered at how you can wave those tiny dumbbells around for a few minutes then just run out on the platform and start with humongous poundages.  C’mon now, we’re hip lifting today with thousands of pounds, aren’t you gonna get that old bod just a little bit tuned up?”

Flashing my best sheepish grin, I replied, “But, Barry, I’m already warm, wide awake, and full of energy—I just came back from a pleasant 20-minute Heavyhands walk through town with my wife and son!”

Based on considerable training experience, and competition in all branches of weight lifting,  I’ve determined that not only is the traditional warmup of “step-ladder” sets not necessary, but that substantially higher working poundages can be achieved without them. You see, sets of 5-10 reps with 135, 225, 315, etc., actually do very little to “warm” the body or even a specific muscle group, while the effort involved just robs energy from the all-important peak poundage set of any given lift. Yes, I’ve read all about the supposed necessity to carefully follow weight increments in order to recruit more and more muscle fibers, for “mental preparation” to reach top lifts, gradually cultivate neurological efficiency, etc., etc.  But in my book (and that’s a rather thick training log after 32 years!), all such reasoning and rituals are pure bunk.

Think about this for a second: If you would happen to be strolling along a railroad track and turned suddenly to discover a fast freight train on your ass, would there be need for any warmup to set a new personal long jump record? On the other hand, how much faith would you have in this leaping ability if said butt was draggin’ from just going through 5 sets of 5 progressively heavier squats?

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting the elimination of a warmup or downplay its importance. The purpose of this article is, in fact, to place priority on the most efficient preparation for achieving the best possible heavy workout.  I hope to convince you that a non-barbell warmup is actually the sensible way to go and that it rarely makes any sense to ever touch a bar which weighs much less than 70% of a max for any exercise.