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My friend Laszlo is not your run of the mill guy. To say that he thinks about training differently--more deeply--than most people would be a gross understatement. He’s charming, well read, smart, a genius with a camera, and if you see him in the gym, he may be doing some things you’ve never seen before, oddball stuff. That’s what this article is about. Laszlo tells how he gets a kick out of doing “weird” stuff. You’ll enjoy what he has to say and how he says it—I did. BUT if you try any of it, go slow and please be very careful. For more about and from Laszlo, check out his previous articles on this website: http://www.cbass.com/Bencze.htm , http://www.cbass.com/TrainingAway.htm , http://www.cbass.com/ChangeByLazlo.htm , http://www.cbass.com/dangers_heavy_lifting.htm , http://www.cbass.com/BillBrian.htm , and http://www.cbass.com/Laszlo'sLetter.htm .
Get Weird and Get Wired
by Laszlo Bencze
As the calendar speeds up, you slow down. Maybe you’ve been training for ten years or maybe like me for over forty. Your knees use vulgar language when you go heavy on squats. Your shoulders turn into sullen teenagers when you push too hard. Barbells that used to be baby weights are now monuments. Hey, this is discouraging. How can you keep your spirits up?
You ask and are answered, “Reduce the demands you place upon your body, increase downtime between workouts, and avoid exercises that strain your tender joints.” This advice is obviously sound--and discouraging. Who really wants to go through a program of “regressive resistance training” reducing the weight a little bit each week until you end up at nothing? All that reduction and down-sizing and pulling back sucks the juice out of workouts.
So now what? Well try this: Pick some oddball, minor league exercise that fits into the category of “peculiar” and get good at it. In most cases, “getting good” will be a very slow process, but in almost all cases it will be a sure thing. And this will be true regardless of your age.
Soon you will not only have a track record of making steady gains, you’ll be getting curious glances from the younger guys. You may even experience the pleasure of seeing them fail at something you can do with ease. (The Germans call this delectable emotion “Schadenfreude.” In English it works out as, “Oh what a shame you couldn’t handle that weight. But don’t be discouraged pal; if you stick with it you’ll get strong,” this being spoken to some hulk twice your size and half your age.)
Let us begin.
I read about this one in a bodybuilding magazine years ago. It said, “Take a light dumbbell in each hand. Lie down on a bench on your back. Let your arms drop to your sides and slowly move your outstretched arms around and back towards your head. Raise the weight and repeat.” Sounds simple? At the time I could bench 300, squat well over 400 and clean and jerk 250. So I figured I’d warm up with a light ten pounds in each hand. I began the movement, felt an intense pull in my shoulders and dropped the weights. Holy cow! A measly ten pounds was way too heavy. All my heavy lifting had not developed whatever muscles were involved in this exercise. So I picked up a pair of pathetic five pounders (at least they weren’t pink) and it was many months before I worked my way back to the tens.
Windmills will stretch the shoulder girdle and develop strength in some of those tiny unused stabilizing muscles that only surgeons know about. I’m now up to using 20 to 25 pounders (after careful warm-up) and let me assure you that very few strongmen who have never tried it will be able to match that. Plus it’s been fun working up to these heavier weights over the past ten years! (That’s what I mean by “slow.”)
P. S. I have, on a couple of occasions, tried 30s in this exercise but it was difficult in a way that made me feel as if I were treading close to serious injury. Be careful! There are limits.
This is an Olde Tyme exercise which you will encounter in books from the 1920s and '30s illustrated by guys in caveman outfits. In my forty plus years of training I have observed precisely one other person doing these. It’s an uncomfortable exercise and, like any lower-back-specific exercise, rattlesnake dangerous. Execution is straightforward: Place a barbell on the shoulders as if you were going to squat. Then by moving your hips backwards, lean forward until your torso is parallel to the ground. No you will not fall over because your center of gravity will stay centered over your feet. You will notice pressure and stress in your lower back (of course) as well as in your hamstrings.So why am I recommending a dangerous exercise? Simple. I’m expecting you to use good sense and start at a baby weight and, once again, work up slowly. The body will respond to this stress. You will develop a very strong back. Odds are high that if you’re afflicted with back pains, they will cease after a few months. Also you will be able to put grocery bags into the trunk of your car with ease.
If you begin with a light weight (just a bare 45 lb. Olympic bar would be fine for most men, less for women) You will not be in danger but you will be stretching and using those spinal erector muscles that are so important to strength and health. Unlike more normal exercises like squats or pressing moves in which you expect to be adding a bit of weight every week or so, with good mornings you should stick to your light weight for a very long time. The reason for this is that this exercise is not just about muscle strength which does develop rapidly but also about stretching tendons and ligaments and this happens with glacial slowness. At some point you will certainly feel capable of handling more weight, but do not! Let the feeling of the movement settle in. Let your spine accommodate to the unusual stress. Stick with the light weight for months, maybe even a year. Even a light weight will do you good. Then, when you are completely comfortable, start adding some extra weight a few pounds at a time. [Ed: If in doubt, start with a broom stick to get the feel of the movement.]
When you hit certain benchmarks like 135 lbs., plateau out for a while. Just stay with that weight for another few months before moving on. Obviously I’m talking about a multi-year program of advancement. Also, give yourself time off from this exercise. There’s no harm at all in abandoning it for a couple of months and doing something else and then returning to it refreshed and capable.
I’m currently almost 62 and can handle 275 for reps. There are precious few 25-year-olds who can match that, not even college football linemen. Going from 135 to 275 took me about four years. (As for pro football players, sure, this would be a piece of cake for them. That’s why they’re pros. But wouldn’t it be a hoot to know you could match a pro on at least one significant exercise?) [Ed: Even a pro football player or any other kind of pro would not (or should not) try 275 without plenty of practice.]
Tip: Other than for very light warm-up weights, do not attempt to do the full movement on your first rep or two. As I said, the exercise will always feel uncomfortable and every single time I do it I always feel the weight is much too heavy and I’m not going to be able to finish. My first rep might be nothing more than a slight tipping forward. However, with each rep I go a tad bit lower until I’m working the full, parallel-to-the-floor movement. And it makes no difference how much you have warmed up: the first rep of a heavy weight should not be a full movement.
One-Arm Shoulder Stretcher
I have no idea what this movement is called. I made the name up. Here’s how it’s done. Lie down on a bench crossway so your upper back is supported and your butt and head are hanging in air. You're lying on the bench with your shoulders supported. (Remember you're laying crossway, not in the normal position.) Your elbow extends out from your torso lying on the bench, in the same plane as your shoulder. Your hand pivots back (toward your head) off the bench towards the ground. Your elbow doesn't move it just pivots as if it were a hinge. Your hand moves down 90 degrees and back up again. If you were standing up, it would be the same motion you would use to throw a baseball. Repeat with the other arm, of course.
This exercise is often suggested as a shoulder rehabilitation movement for people who have an injured shoulder. But I say, why not do the exercise before you’re injured so you never get whatever injury this is intended to cure? Again the key here is to increase the weight very slowly, because it is a weird exercise and affects some miniscule muscle groups. [Ed: Rotator cuff] I’m presently able to handle a 55-pound dumbbell without strain but believe me it took a very long time to get here. I well remember how difficult it was the first time I tried it, with a small dumbbell, and how I stuck with a light weight for a year. I think I’m going to try 60 at my next workout which will be a personal record. I can hardly wait! [Ed: Laszlo succeeded with 60 for 8 reps and was jazzed about it. Most people would be on the way to the ER.]
I put this last because this is the most “sure thing” of all. It’s well known that forearms not only retain the strength of youth but keep improving longer than any other muscle group. There are plenty of 83-year-old codgers with vise-like grips. If you’ve ever shaken hands with one of them, you know what I mean. First you yelp like a girl. Then you shake your hand around attempting to restore circulation. Finally, you gasp something like “Holy Cow! You’ve got a grip of iron,” which of course was the point the codger was trying to make. Yeah, it’s really annoying.
Anyway, if you have a weak grip like me, you can build it up. The Iron Mind company sells grip developers, devices, apparatus, gimmicks, gadgets, and gizmos varied and complex beyond imagination. Trust me, they’ve figured out a way to exercise every finger and every combination of fingers. Or you can just try the old reliable forearm curl, both supinated and pronated. Grab a dumbbell and hang your hand off the edge of a bench and move. There’s no finesse to this. Any movement you can manage will work something. Get the weight heavy enough and eventually you’ll be that annoying codger with the iron grip. That’s what I’m shooting for.
The best thing about forearm work is that it’s nigh impossible to injure yourself. I’ve never heard of a pulled forearm muscle or forearm tendonitis. When you can’t take it anymore, the dumbbell just drops out of your hand and you know you’re finished.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, try one of these exercises. Or get Bill Pearl’s massive volume Keys to the Inner Universe which depicts every exercise known to man (and several unknowns) and pick an odd one that suits your fancy, work the tar out of it for the next few years, and become the Master of Double Reverse Zottman Curls. Men will whistle, women swoon, and teenagers will open car doors for you.
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