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Proper strength training is the only system capable of satisfying all five potential benefits of exercise—an increase in strength, flexibility, cardiovascular condition, body-composition, and injury prevention. If You Like Exercise…Chances Are You’re Doing It Wrong: Proper Strength Training for Maximum Results, Gary Bannister (iUniverse, Inc, 2013)
Total Conditioning the Arthur Jones/Nautilus Way
(Gary Bannister Responds Below)
As a long-time observer and student of Arthur Jones and his training principles, my antenna went up when John Turner, aka Mr. Nautilus alerted me to a new Arthur Jones book by Gary Bannister. Both Turner and Bannister have written books about Arthur and his teachings. Turner, mentored by Jones, published The Path of Most Resistance in 2012. Bannister was a long-time associate of Jones and has an insider’s perspective. This is his second Jones book; the first was In Arthur’s Shadow, published in 2005.
The title of Bannister’s new book—If You Like Exercise…Chances Are You’re Doing It Wrong—is both provocative and telling. Bannister does an excellent job of explaining the what, why, and how of Arthur’s training principles. In so doing, however, he may also be underscoring the flaw—dare I say weakness—that turns fitness enthusiasts away.
Bannister is a good writer and storyteller. I enjoyed—and recommend—his book. The many Jones stories and pronouncements which populate the book throughout are easily worth the price of the book. (I’ll share a story or two with you that make a critical point.) Bannister has also afforded me the opportunity to assess once again where I stand on some of the most important Nautilus training principles. I’m onboard for the most part. Where I deviate, it’s not because I believe Arthur has it wrong, but because I believe his recommendations—demands—are unrealistic. No system is viable when even serious trainers are unwilling to comply over the long haul.
I’ll touch on a few basic tenets of “Proper Strength Training” with which I wholeheartedly agree—and elaborate on one that may be the Achilles heel.
1) Intensity is the cornerstone of Proper Strength Training. Each exercise must be continued to a point of momentary muscular failure. That’s overload; everyone agrees that it is the key stimulus to muscle growth. To make progress you must continually challenge your muscles. “Young man,” Jones told Bannister with a finger in his face, “if you perform ten repetitions of an exercise when you could have done twelve, you may as well stay in the parking lot. You’ll get the same result—nothing.”
2) “Train hard, train briefly, train infrequently,” Jones repeated over and over again. Not everyone agrees—most probably don’t—but I have followed that advice with great success for many years. The end result has been ~45-minute, one-set, whole-body weight workouts once or twice a week; split routines, according to Jones, make no more sense than eating or sleeping for a particular part of your body. (My current routine is described in the Postscript at the end of Take Charge.)
3) “Steady-state (aerobic) training is necessary for cardiovascular benefits and non-steady-state exercise (progressive resistance) is required for meaningful strength increases,” Jones wrote. “Both results can be produced from the same training program,” he proclaimed. The factor that makes that plausible, according to Bannister, is moving quickly from one exercise to the next; he calls it “the essence of Proper Strength Training.” That rings true (see why below), but I wonder how many people are willing—or able—to rush from exercise to exercise workout after workout?
Not many. Bannister confirms that compliance was a problem from the start.
In 1970, to prove the efficacy of his fledgling conditioning philosophy, Jones invited anyone and everyone to train under his guidance in Lake Helen, Florida. “The free offer was no bargain,” Bannister relates. “Of the many that showed, some vowed never to return; others believed—as they lay sprawled on the floor—that he was on to something.
Perhaps mindful of that experience, Arthur chose his main guinea pig very careful. I attended the 1970 Mr. America contest in California, where a prototype, perhaps two, of the Nautilus machines was on display. I looked them over—as I recall, one was called The Blue Monster—but had no inkling that Nautilus was soon to profoundly change the world of fitness. Moreover, I had no clue that Arthur was busy behind scenes recruiting 18-year-old Casey Viator to work and train under his guidance. Everyone noticed Viator, who made a spectacular first appearance, placing third. Arthur, however, saw more. His saw surreal genetic potential.
The following year, with Arthur overseeing virtually every training session, Casey won the Teenage Mr. America, Jr. Mr. America, and Mr. America, all at the age of 19, becoming the youngest person ever to do win the Mr. America contest. I also witnessed Casey's Mr. America win. But I didn’t foresee that he was to become the poster boy for Nautilus. (My main interest at that time was the U.S. National Weightlifting Championship held along with the Mr. America contest.)
Clearly, Jones’ bodybuilding system, the Nautilus system, worked. Still, as Bannister relates, the compliance problem remained: “Word got out: The new method worked but was ‘Hell on rubbery legs.’ No one but Viator could do it. In fact, no one could last more than a few minutes.”
To illustrate, Bannister brings Sergio Oliva and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the picture. Known to everyone in bodybuilding by their first names only, they traveled to Deland, Florida, to train under Arthur’s direction. Bannister tells about it using Ellington Darden’s eyewitness account in The Nautilus Bodybuilding Book (1982). He (Bannister) titles the section, “Difficult It Is.”
Casey began by performing 25 nonstop repetitions on a leg press machine with 460 pounds. Immediately he was hustled from the leg press to the leg extension where he did 22 repetitions with 200 pounds…Instantly, Jones raced Casey to the squat rack where a barbell was loaded with 400 pounds. Then, Viator ground our 17 continuous repetitions in the full squat.
‘Ok, Sergio, you’re up,’ said Jones, as Casey, unable to walk, slithered to the nearest hiding place.
Oliva reached the squat rack after 17 repetitions with 460 in the leg press and 16 repetitions in the leg extension with 200 pounds. When Sergio broke the lock in his knees for the squat with 400 pounds, he went to the floor as if he had been knocked in the head. After being helped to his feet, he tried it again—with the same result. One hundred pounds were removed from the bar, during which delay Sergio was afforded some rest, and then he performed seven repetitions with 300 pounds.
Arnold Schwarzenegger also went through a similar training session under Jones’ watchful eye and remarked. 'I’ve often experienced times during a workout where I had difficulty walking. But this is the first time that I’ve ever had difficulty lying down.'
* * *
As noted, Arthur Jones claimed that total conditioning—strength and endurance—could best be achieved with “Proper Strength Training.” Here's my simplified interpretation of how it works.
The basic idea is that the muscles, the heart, the lungs, and the circulatory system are all part of the same system. Muscular contraction produces movement and drives the entire system. “A contracting muscle requires oxygen,” Bannister explains, “and repeated contractions, more.” Contracting the muscles creates the need for oxygen, making the heart beat faster, and the lungs and the circulatory system work harder. When the system works harder it gets stronger.
Contract muscles to the point of momentary failure and do it repeatedly, moving quickly from one body part to another, covering the entire body—and you will build both strength and endurance. What’s more, you will do so more effectively and efficiently than traditional methods which attempt to train the muscles and the heart separately. “A strength-training program, properly designed, can elicit a cardiovascular response that equals or surpasses that achieved through traditional means,” Bannister declares.
In support, he cites a 2012 study discussed here in an article titled “No Such Thing As Cardio.” That review study, led by James Steele, suggested that resistance training to failure can produce cardiovascular fitness effects while simultaneously producing improvements in strength, power, and other health and fitness variables. They concluded that “intense muscular contraction” is the key to total conditioning. (For more details, go to http://www.cbass.com/NoCardio.htm )
The Steele study (and others) suggests that Arthur Jones was way ahead of his time. Jones, Turner, Bannister, Darden et al go further. They contend that the coup de grâce to traditional training was delivered 38 years ago.
In 1975, Arthur Jones went to the United States Military Academy at West Point to establish once and for all that Proper Strength Training is, in fact, the best way to build strength—and endurance. What happened there was reported by Captain James A. Peterson, Associate Professor of Physical Education, in a paper titled “Total Conditioning: A Case Study.” (Athletic Journal, Vol. 56 September, 1975)
Here are the key details, taken from Mr. Bannister’s book.
Jones sold a set of Nautilus machines to West Point and persuaded the Academy to study the effects of “a short duration, high intensity strength training program.” The study was called “Project Total Conditioning.” Importantly, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the father of aerobics, and his team were brought in to measure the cardiovascular fitness of the cadets, before and after the study intervention. Captain Peterson and his staff did the other testing, which included strength, flexibility, and body composition.
Fifty-three cadets (members of the football team) were divided into three groups: a Nautilus-Only group (21), a control group (16), and a neck-only group (16). During both a two-week trial period (to minimize the effect of motor learning) and a six-week study period, the Nautilus-Only group performed one set of 8 to 12 repetitions to muscular failure on ten Nautilus machines three times a week. The control group continued training with the rest of the football team, which was running two miles for time and performing an unsupervised circuit of strength training exercises three times a week. The neck-only group used a prototype neck machine. (I assume that football practice continued for all three groups.)
The Nautilus-Only group was supervised—and how. The training was brutal—cadets were pushed to muscular failure at every station and then rushed to the next station. “For all practical purposes,” Peterson reported, “the intensity of the workouts was so severe that it would have been impossible to appreciably extend them. During the first workouts a few subjects became nauseated, but after several weeks of training, not only had such negative reactions entirely disappeared, but average time to complete a comparable workout had been considerably shortened.”
Colonel Al Rushatz, second in command in the Department of Physical Education, joined in the training and commented after the fact, “I had never worked so hard, nor seen anyone worked to the level the cadets achieved.”
All measurements were taken without knowledge of who was in what group. The results were astounding.
After six weeks of training, the Nautilus-Only group increased the resistance used in their exercises by a minimum of 45% and maximum of 70%--for an average of 58.54%. At the same time the cadets decreased their training time per session by between 4.5 to 9 minutes, with the average workout lasting just short of 30 minutes.
Nautilus-Only group increased flexibility by 11%, compared to 0.85% in the control group.
With regard to body composition, the Nautilus-only group lost more fat than the control group.
Now we come to the pivotal changes in cardiovascular fitness. There were 60 physiological tests in all, and the Nautilus-Only group was superior to the control group in every test. In the three functional tests, the Nautilus-Only group performed in spectacular fashion. On the 2-mile run, Nautilus-Only group improved on average by 88 seconds, compared to 20 seconds for the control group. On the 40-yard dash, Nautilus-Only group improved by almost twice (1.89) as much as the controls. Finally, in the vertical jump, Nautilus-Only group improved more than four times (4.57) more than the control group.
In short, the Nautilus-Only group ran farther and faster and jumped higher than the control group training in traditional fashion.
Unbelievable? Dr. Cooper thought so. When presented with a summary of the results, he called them “impossible” and threw them in the trash can. At that time, of course, Cooper believed that strength training had little or no cardiovascular value.
Captain Peterson, however, backed Jones in his report summary: “The data suggests that some of these cardiovascular benefits apparently cannot be achieved by any other type of training.”
“The study made clear,” Peterson concluded, “that high-intensity (weight) training is the most efficient conditioning method known that simultaneously develops high degrees of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. It offers increases in size and strength, as well as cardiovascular improvement.”
Bannister adds that the results “stunned the field of exercise but failed to impress those who remained firm in their belief that Arthur was blowing smoke. Apparently he wasn’t.”
Perhaps not, but the question remains whether an appreciable number of people are willing—or able—to push themselves that hard without Arthur or the military driving them to the outer limits of effort, workout after workout. Proper Strength Training may be the most efficient way to build strength and endurance simultaneously—but what difference does it make if serious strength trainers are unwilling to keep doing it. Surely, it isn’t a viable approach for lifetime fitness.
* * *
I believe it makes more sense—and is more practical—to rest as long as necessary between sets to exert maximum effort on each strength movement—and then do brief, whole-body, high-intensity intervals or sprints to build and maintain cardiovascular fitness. You can combine the two forms of training or do them in separate workouts. That’s my approach. The details are in my book Take Charge.
I agree with Arthur Jones that intensity—not volume—is the key to achieving total fitness, strength and endurance, but I would approach it differently. How you do it is up to you.
Jones freely admitted that few people would train as he recommended without his hobnail boots urging them on. He never trained that way for very long.
Gary Bannister Responds
Dear Mr. Bass,
I was honored that you took the time to read my effort and were so thorough in your critique. You were right on.I remember Arthur spinning a tale about a prototype stand-up lumbar extension machine, one of many. It was the first to prevent pelvic rotation and it worked. The only problem was, according to Jones, "It took two people to put you in and three to drag you out." He compared it to a car with no doors, and may have done the same with his exercise system. It worked without question, but few could do it and even fewer would stay with it for any length of time - which, as you suggest, does not change the facts. In theory, Arthur's system of high intensity training was the most complete, effective and efficient method to get from A to B. It does, however, fly in the face of human nature.Despite the clear and obvious definition, most trainees define momentary muscle failure as the level of intensity they are willing to work to, and not beyond. Therefore, the only purpose and result that can be expected from Jones' lifetime effort (and from reading my book) is to encourage trainees to work harder at what they do, which in the end, may encourage brief, less frequent workouts. If my audience steers in that direction, I will have accomplished one goal.The second underlying purpose of writing the books I have to this point relates to the fact that the entire field of exercise has fallen prey (as it always has) to systems that are commercially oriented - nothing more than inferior, easier methods (often not based in sound physiology) that lull trainees into a sense that they are indeed doing something that they can call exercise. Most are not willing to put out the effort. Yet, obtaining a result is not the same as obtaining the best result. Commerce has far outweighed truth in this field - something not likely to change.Thanks, Mr. Bass, for being an advocate of truth over the years, and thanks for your kind words regarding my writing. I'm already working on my next book.Sincerely,Gary Bannister
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