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Dr. Leonard Schwartz, Inventor of Heavyhands™, Gone at 84
Leonard Schwartz, MD
Len Schwartz and I never met in person, but we were long-distance friends for many years. He was a dear man and a creative genius.
I first learned of Dr. Schwartz by reading his ground-breaking book Heavyhands™ The Ultimate Exercise, published in 1982. That book opened my eyes to the value of whole body aerobics. His basic contention was that four limbs are better than two for expending calories and burning fat, that you can continue exercising longer at the same intensity than you can using only the legs.
"Heavyhands brings strength plus endurance to all the muscles," he wrote in introducing the concept. "The Heavyhander can become as strong as most lifters, as swift as most runners, and outwork both on smaller investment of time and with far fewer injuries."
As if that wasn't enticement enough, the book was filled with photos of Dr. Schwartz looking lean and fit as a race horse at 57 years of age. I was hooked.
I ran down to our favorite sporting goods store and purchased a set of his patented-handle dumbbells, which allowed you to do the many movements he described, while holding the weights comfortably--no death grip required.
His book taught me that arms and legs should be trained together to develop total body fitness. The benefits of aerobic exercise are at least half in the muscles themselves; muscles left unused do not benefit. This revelation led me to appreciate the advantages of the Airdyne stationary cycle, which includes a push-pull arm action, and later the Concept 2 Rower.
My first direct contact with Len came in February 1995 when he called me out of the blue. The soft-spoken caller said, "You may or may not remember me; this is Len Schwartz." With only a moment's hesitation I responded, "Sure, I remember you; you're Dr. Schwartz, the Heavyhands man.
He wanted to talk about “gaining strength—admittedly a different species of it—during aerobic sessions” and send me a copy of his second volume, The Heavyhands Walking Book!.
This delightful first contact with Dr. Schwartz gave rise to the very first article on this website: Heavyhands Revisited.
I don’t remember how many times we talked, corresponded, or emailed after that. What I do remember is what a gentle man he was; he always wanted to sell me on one notion or another that his fertile mind had conjured up. He was never pushy; he’d just dangle the idea out there and see if I’d bite. We never quite saw eye to eye on the merits on combining strength and endurance into one exercise modality, but we developed an abiding friendship and respect.
Len introduced me to Pavel Tsatsouline—another exercise trendsetter—triggering another meaningful and lasting friendship.
Len was one of the “Five Fascinating People Who Love a Challenge” featured in my book Challenge Yourself. He provided an insightful statement on the value of self challenge, which we used to end the book. It reads in part, “My late career change, a rather abrupt shift from my psychiatric practice to full time dealing with the theory and practice of exercise, has taught me a few things. For one, it has become clear that becoming a consistent self-challenger is important if not crucial in human development…There is a lot of literature and clinical experience suggesting powerfully that good bodies make their hosts smarter in some ways! Wise physique management can’t be far away from other forms of wisdom, and all the brain power in the world seems somehow diluted when the host’s body has been chronically ignored. I continue to believe that lifelong exercise is the premier wellness strategy, better than all the others because it tends to mobilize them, too!”
History will remember Dr. Leonard Schwartz fondly and favorably. As will those of us who knew and loved him.
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Parker Reed was privileged to be in frequent contact with Dr. Schwartz during the last few years of his life. We asked him to share his thoughts and memories.
Parker Reed Remembers His Friend
Dr. Len Schwarz was truly a “Renaissance Man.” He was a doctor and a researcher. He was an inventor and an author, a guitarist and an artist. He was an athlete and a sailor. And, he was a proud father and grandfather.
Following my initial interview for Clarence Bass’ site several years ago (link below), Dr. Schwartz and I had many more conversations where we’d plan to talk about his new and ongoing fitness projects, such as books and videos, Pan-X and other activities. But things rarely turned out as planned. Instead, our calls would soon wander off; we’d end up discussing music, art, “play,” or, on a couple of occasions, poetry.
We also talked about other fitness authors—Clarence Bass, Pavel Tsatsouline, Gin Miller and many, many more. In particular, I recall one conversation regarding Dr. George Sheehan. I remember the chuckle after I asked if he’d read anything by the person considered “the philosopher of running.” While Dr. Schwartz wasn’t fond of running (that jogging stuff just ain’t right), he said, “Old George, he sure could write in ways few can ever match. The man was a rare talent.”
That, I came to learn, was Dr. Schwartz—always humble and complimentary. He would always dismiss his success or fame and, instead, praise others, seeking to learn from them. But I'll share this: he was tickled when, during a spring vacation in Florida two college aged men came sprinting across the beach to ask him "where did you get those guns?" I could tell he enjoyed laughing more at the moment than the “props” he received. He was just that kind of guy.
After I learned of Dr. Schwartz’ love of the classical guitar, our calls quickly turned into an opportunity to exchange ideas on artists and recordings—fitness and Heavyhands quickly took a backseat. From Christopher Parkening to Eliot Fisk, we never seemed to run out of favorite CDs, artists or performances. As was his nature, Dr. Schwartz would regularly encourage me to pick up my own guitar and continue to play whenever possible. “My boy, there will come a time when you can’t play. And you’ll look back on those years wondering why you didn’t use your talents.” While I’m not a virtuoso and no one will mistake me for one, Dr. Schwartz’ advice rang true.
He would gently apply that same advice when we talked about other aspects of our lives including family. Dr. Schwartz could never say enough wonderful things about his family and you could hear the joy in his voice whenever he shared a story about them.
One more thing I believe was true about Dr. Schwartz: he was constantly striving to learn new ideas and find new tools with which he could create. He was always asking how he could do something better or improve on an idea or concept, and when he could try out a new discovery. That, I found, was what made Dr. Len Schwartz—like so many of his generation—so unique and probably what drew so many to this quiet, understated individual.
Dr. Schwartz will be missed by millions of friends around the world…many he met, and many he never got to know.
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Parker’s earlier piece on Dr. Schwartz appears in the “Personalities” section of this website: http://cbass.com/SchwartzInterview.htm
You’ll also want to read the fact-filled obituary which appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Len’s hometown newspaper.
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