Try DIGGING into a heavy workout!

by John McKean

" Winning one of Al's Dumbbell Walk Handles helped crafty ole John to develop an enjoyable new fitness movement! Can ya DIG it?!"

Before we started dating, my future wife, Marilyn, told me I couldn’t touch her with a 10′ pole. So I got an 11′ pole – it musta worked as we’ll be married for 45 years this September!

Seriously, the long pole has figured its way into my training regimen ever since I studied and practiced Chinese long pole FORMS over 20 years ago in Wing Chun Kung Fu. In addition to use as a self defense tactic, this leverage form of resistance has been terrific for both cardio training, when done for a sufficient length of time, and is fantastic for a warmup to an all-round lifting program. A long pole’s smooth flow and circular motions, when done in precise martial arts patterns, really activates and awakens every muscle of the body.

However, while playing around with training tools this past winter, it occurred to me that the long pole, with one of Al’s homemade “Dumbbell Walk Handles” slid down and positioned on one end would yield a lot more resistance from the pole’s other far side. This would yield a heavier, rep oriented, leverage-weighted exercise, that maybe wouldn’t require a half hour of work, for use as a pre workout warmup. I recalled how my old friend, the late Dr. Len Schwartz, in his original “Heavyhands” text had advocated a digging type movement with the small dumbbells that he employed for aerobic training. Dr. Len was very high on all the benefits of his shoveling motion, but couldn’t convince many to attempt it, as this particular exercise seemed awkward to maneuver with 2 dumbbells. Later, however, as Schwartz formulated awesome “Longstrength” programs – which were much shorter duration than standard aerobic sessions, with slightly heavier fitness movements – shoveling fit right in. He even devised a screw-in 6″ dumbbell connector which welded two dumbbells into one solid unit.

Now my LONG lever “shovel” makes this exercise quite a bit more hardy than did Dr. Schwartz’ tool. With added barbell plates and collars it can be loaded heavy enough, if desired, to produce an actual one rep maximum lift ! Yet I still keep it unloaded as pictured here to go through wide arc front circles, back circles, and realistic over the head shoveling. Hitting both left and right sides, I find that about 35 reps for these 6 maneuvers instills a robust feeling that just begs the ole bod to attack some serious heavy barbell work!

Of course, there is plenty of room for much further exploration, and many other digging style exercises to be discovered. From my initial experimentation I can assure that besides a superb warmup, my forearms, biceps, and obliques are becoming seriously toned from this fun activity! Even Marilyn must see the positive benefits – I’m now allowed a mere 7′ pole around her and for workouts!

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.