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Laszlo Thinks Outside the Box – Again
Our friend Laszlo Bencze has visited this page before. He told us about the inner drives and motivations of average lifters in his thought provoking "Competing with Ixtal" (Art. # 52). He introduced us to his eccentric friend, Bill Brian, a 9-time national masters lifting champion (Art. #67). He also dropped in for a kettlebell workout, as related on "What’s New 2." Now, he’s back to tell us why he changed his shirt – and why we all should. Laszlo is unique; he thinks outside the box. That’s a major reason why we like and admire him. Enjoy – and learn from -- his unique perspective.
So there I was in the gym squatting with 495 pounds on my back and feeling mighty uncomfortable as the bar slipped just a tad lower with each rep. It wasn't my legs that were bothered (these were high, power squats); it was my wrists. They were being bent backwards way beyond the point of comfort. Frankly, my wrists gave out before my legs did. When I racked the bar, my hands felt like dead crustaceans. It took a few minutes to shake out the deformity. Then my spotter asked a simple question that induced instant enlightenment, "Why don't you change your shirt?" Of course! My shirt was sopping wet when I started that set. The sweat must have helped the bar slip.
Putting on a fresh, dry T-shirt right before the final heavy set, just might make the problem disappear. So why in 37 years had I never thought of this? Simple: Changing shirts in the middle of a workout is just not done! If you put on a fresh shirt, it will get sweaty and then you will have two sweaty T shirts instead of one... and...terrible things will happen...and the universe won't work right...and... and...Come on! Who are we kidding? It's no big deal. We'll have two sweaty shirts to wash and that's it!
I'd like to finish this story by saying that I tried changing shirts the next workout and the problem disappeared. That's how these stories usually go after the build up. But I have to tell the truth and the truth is that putting on a fresh shirt really made very little difference. The bar still slipped down my back and bent my wrists. Oh well. The point is that I tried something different that might have worked, which is the principle I'm trying to pass on. Why keep doing the same thing over and over and receiving the same dismal results? Change your shirt, mentally.
So I got to thinking about what other truths "everybody knows" might have misled me. The biggest one of my lifting career was "everybody knows that you need to train at least three days a week." The three day a week regimen was "true" when I started lifting back in 1964 and as far as I can tell from looking around the gym, it's just as "true" today. Too bad, because lifting M/W/F like the personal trainers recommend just about guarantees mediocrity. I can vouch for that, because that's what I got from 20 years of it. Even when I cut back to twice a week for another 13 years, not much changed. Training hard with such frequency just doesn't give the body enough time to rebuild. It keeps it in a state of tiredness and partial recovery that leads to lengthy cycles of tiny gains followed by sudden injury and long slow recovery back to where you were.
It wasn't until I turned 50 and paid Mike Mentzer a $200 consultation fee that I heard about training once every four days. Frankly I couldn't believe what he was telling me because "everybody knows" that you can't make gains on such infrequent workouts; but since I had forked out the $200, I felt compelled to give it a shot. It was then that I made the most rapid gains of my life and six months later had gained about 30 muscular pounds and was stronger than I had ever been. At the age of 55, I can military press 200 lbs for reps; something I never approached during my prime competitive years. I now train hard with weights only once a week and the frequency is just right for making satisfying gains.
So the "change your shirt" philosophy definitely paid off on that one. Now if I tell you what I did a few weeks ago, you'll say I'm not only crazy but unprincipled: I did 18 supersets for arms spaced half an hour apart, for a total of 108 sets in the course of nine hours! I'll agree about being crazy; but let me explain about my principles. I saw this as another "change your shirt" opportunity. The workout itself appeared in the December 2001 issue of MuscleMag , which is a cross between Playboy magazine circa 1962, the National Enquirer, and a standard bodybuilder rag. The workout ran under the headline, "Only One Day Away From Bigger Arms" with the subhead, "If you were told you could gain up to one inch on your arms in only 24 hours, would you believe it?" So I thought, "Why not? I'll give a decent try to this high volume style of bodybuilding knowing that it goes against everything I believe just to see what happens." Since I have no intention of changing my routine long term, I thought this one day blitz would be the perfect test.
The routine itself cannot really be called training. It is actually an ordeal. Let me assure you that no matter how strong you are, you will not be able to finish the day with the weights you began, even though you are supposed to finish each set with power to spare. I started my arm curls with 8 x 115 imagining I'd end with that, but it wasn't long before I was reduced to curling 65 lbs and wondering if I could make the last rep. So what's the upshot of this crazy nine-hour routine? Well, two days after the workout my arms were up from 16 inches in the hanging, unflexed position to 16 3/4. In the flexed (unpumped) position they went up from 17 1/2 to 17 3/4. Not exactly an inch of gain, but not bad for a single workout. Perhaps I had been too quick to dismiss high volume training. Unfortunately, 11 days after the workout, my flexed arm was down to 17, right where I started.
So, was it foolish of me to have tried this freakish routine? I think not. I didn't think it would injure me and it didn't. I thought it might have a chance of producing some gain simply because my system was so unfamiliar with such training. That it didn't work as promised doesn't invalidate the principle: Try new things -- "change your shirt."
So this brings me to my latest recent experience with non-standard training: kettlebells. When I visited Clarence in Albuquerque, we did a kettlebell routine in his home gym. I have to admit it felt weird to snatch a weight that flips over in your hand at the top and smacks you on the arm when you catch it. It felt awkward in a useful sort of way, and I liked the feeling. I sensed that it would do things that standard "scientific" lifting with properly designed implements doesn't. So I ordered a 70 pounder for myself and started using it on aerobics day. Let me assure you that with high reps (I got up to 17 with each arm and a one minute rest between arms) it's very similar to sprinting a 440. You just can't stop gasping for breath. Unfortunately, such high reps made the exercise another ordeal. I decided to cut back to sets of 10 and perhaps do more sets, which is how I now use them.
So what effect has the kettlebell training had? I believe it has knit together my upper back more. It has made my upper pull better. It has also strengthened my side muscles even though these were very strong to begin with. Anytime a movement is as odd as what a kettlebell forces you to do, you will improve in some unexpected ways, which is the point. All in all, it's a very satisfying and very primitive lift. And you do get looked at when you try it in a gym. Although so far, no one has asked to try it.
So I "changed my shirt" four times (once literally) and came up with two winners. I'd say a 50% success rate is not bad. Keep open to new ideas. Try the ones that make some sense or that appeal to you for personal reasons. You may just stumble into a satisfying new movement or technique, maybe even a breakthrough.
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