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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

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Conversation with Leonard Schwartz, M.D.
By Parker Reed

When Clarence Bass recently posted a story on Dr. Schwartz’s new Heavyhands™ [Article 125], as a long time fan, I was thrilled to see this humble inventor making a comeback into the world of exercise. After all, inventors are that rare, elite breed of person who looks upon a hurdle or setback as an opportunity, not a barrier. Dr. Schwartz is unquestionably a member of this group, and I was honored to interview him and write a short piece about his background and new innovations for the Ripped website. 

On a personal note, I have used Dr. Schwartz’s methods since seeing him on TV in 1982 with the biceps of a bodybuilder, describing a new form of training called Panaerobics.  As a runner at the time, the Heavyhands multi-limb approach soon helped me lower my resting heart rate from the mid 40s to 30 and achieve new PRs at 5k and 10k races with no untoward impact on my joints.

Dr. Schwartz is an understated and humble man, especially considering his contributions to the field of exercise. What Nautilus brought to the world of efficient weight training in the early 1970s, Heavyhands brought to the world of aerobic training a decade later. People found, through Dr. Schwartz’s books and videos, the ability to develop what he calls “Longstrength,” the means to do aerobic-based strength workouts for extended periods of time through the use of small hand weights and a variety of hand and leg movements. This unique program reduced the risk of overuse by distributing the load throughout the body, arms and legs.

"It all goes back to Pittsburgh.  Born here in 1925 and was raised here," says Dr. Schwartz. One quickly realizes he’s always on top of his game as a psychiatrist: “And by the way, I was an only child. We’re a weird bunch! (laughs) I think being an only child affects everything you do including what you choose within the movement sphere.”

Both of his parents were active and involved from the beginning: "I was always playing softball or baseball.  And swimming was a favorite since my third year. My mom was a good swimmer and so was my dad. They saw to it that I swam." His father spent time playing baseball with him in the evenings: "My dad was the only one in the neighborhood who played catch with his kid--his only kid--in the summertime. And I would pitch to him for hours until darkness fell."

Dr. Schwartz went on to swim competitively in high school. Upon graduating he entered the University of Pittsburgh. While his first year in college was relatively uneventful, his advanced education was soon to take a turn. Like so many men of his generation, Dr. Schwartz left college to join the Navy for three years, serving from 1943 to 1946. During World War II, he was a member of the Seabees. "That was probably a good place for me because I’d already shown some interest in weight training. I spent three years on Saipan mostly unloading ships."

Upon his return from the Navy, Dr. Schwartz resumed his pre-med studies, graduated, and then began work towards his M.D. "After I got over my initial fear of flunking out of med school--doing something disgraceful--I was ok and very close to the top of the class at graduation, which happened in 1952."

Dr. Schwartz stops to note the high point of this period: "In 1946, I married Millie Bernstein who was to be my wife for 54 years. And that was, I think, a very good marriage! Made in heaven? I don’t know, but a pretty damned good marriage." 

After completing three years of residency at Western Psychiatric in Pittsburgh, he began a medical practice, which would extend for the next 38 years. He became Chief of Psychiatry at the Department of Medicine at Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh. During this time, the inventor inside was always trying to find an outlet: "I had a lot of ideas about different things I wanted to study."

While Dr. Schwartz rarely exercised in college or his first years in practice, before long he began exploring the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. "I started reading about fitness and decided that my genes weren’t too good nor were my wife’s. Everybody was talking exercise and Ken Cooper had written Aerobics [first published in 1968]. I read the book and thought I’d try something for myself. I bought a stationary bike, and Millie and I’d do long walks. I did that for a while and then began to run. I ran for about a year, found that a 65-70 resting heart rate was about the best I could do. But then, I developed a hamstring tear which became a real nuisance during my runs."

"I found a pair of rusty cast iron weights in the basement and thought I’d try walking while moving the weights, to lower the painful leg workload. And perhaps do some work with my deconditioned upper body so I’d be killing two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. That really got me excited."

From 1976 to 1985, Dr. Schwartz began experimenting, literally, from scratch. After all, where had comprehensive testing taken place on the benefits of multi-limbed exercise through the use of small hand weights? His experiments created a next step in the evolution of fitness training. "During the five years after the design of the Heavyhands program, I found that my [resting] heart rate which had remained at 65 or 70 while running dropped to 35–40 presumably through the use of whole body exercise. I also went around the city looking for hospital lab techs that would run various tests on me. We did various VO2 measurements. [A measure of maximal or sub maximal rates of oxygen consumption. It determines your capacity to generate the energy required for endurance activities.] Over that period, I usually went on Sundays because it was the only time they had to see me. I actually watched these parameters change over time. Gradually, to be sure, but one element or another continued to improve!"

Dr. Schwartz credits members of his research team: "Tom Auble was the head of research during these studies at Pitt. [Tom was featured in Dr. Schwartz’s second book, Heavyhands Walking, as well as a second book on weight assisted walking, and the first Heavyhands Training Video.] "Tom, an engineer by trade, decided to do graduate work in the field of exercise physiology where he graduated with a Ph.D. His thesis dealt with the physiology of combined exercise involving handweights. Tom is really an excellent researcher and good friend.  He is currently on the faculty of the University (Pitt) where he teaches medical research."  Another member of the Heavyhands team was Judy Shasek. Judy has been a longtime friend of the Schwartz family and continues to collaborate in spreading the Heavyhands gospel.   

How did Dr. Schwartz come up with the unique hand weight design we’ve come to associate with Heavyhands? "The weights I used initially weren’t satisfactory for the increasing number of moves I kept adding." Always seeking ways to overcome an obstacle, Schwartz persisted: "I went to a couple of people to help with the design because I wanted a weight that had a strap. Above all, I didn’t want to over grip. There is evidence that this tight gripping may be associated with elevation of blood pressure especially in vulnerable subjects. Ironically, a few ‘handers’ continue to over grip despite that strap, a fact that manages to keep me up nights! And the comfort issue was also important." 

Heavyhands has evolved, yet remains true to its foundations: "I believe concepts like Longstrength and Slowaerobics will prove increasingly useful as time goes on, accomplishing kinds of strength oriented fitness that are fundamentally separate from traditional forms of heavy lifting.  Indeed, we sometimes go slowly, maybe as few as 10, occasionally even fewer moves per minute.  But slow as we intend it is essentially long, basically, a series of qualifying aerobic intensities along with qualifying durations! What’s crucial to keep in mind here is the fact that various forms of Heavyhands training do not preclude conventional forms of strength training. As you might expect, we consider Heavyhands Longstrength the logical choice of cardio for the strength-oriented fitness trainees."

"The researchers at Pitt's Labs have identified three minutes as minimally necessary for collecting reasonable cardio response, but longer, of course, is welcome.  My own Longstrength stuff can go on for half an hour, but is frequently longer and typically totals around an hour per day." 

"Our notions of strength exercise aren’t the hard grunt sort.  I know that in many ways my own pure strength leaves much to be desired.  As I suggested, most people who guess at my fitness level quickly decide that I'm a heavy liftin' sonofagun and seem shocked to learn that I'm sorta ripped like a small guy resembling those who lift the standard lifts and number of reps by way of standard lifting gadgetry. I’m not! Being slightly ripped is fine and I must confess to enjoying it, but what I’m basically after are bodyfat, body-muscle ratios along with cardio training consistent with my needs and my health concerns." 

Checking out his photos over the years, I’m sure you’ll agree.

 In his 70s, Len Schwartz looks like a “heavy liftin’ sonofagun.” But he’s not.

What is Dr. Schwartz coming up with these days? Hoping to foster future generations of Heavyhanders, his creativity and work continues to deliver new combinations of aerobic fitness and strength. For example, he has developed a unique combination of aerobics and isometric exercise called ISOtonometrics. This efficient strength training technique, which originated in the early 1900s with Bernarr Macfadden and Charles Atlas, is cleverly done in conjunction with walking. While the results are preliminary, Dr. Schwartz’s research has shown there are benefits to both strength and fitness conditioning. ISOtonometrics will not create the next Arnold Schwarzenegger, but they do hold the promise of creating lean, strong and functional physiques along with powerful cardiorespiratory capacities! Or, as Dr. Schwartz hopes and expects, "Panaerobic Longstrength techniques will make it unnecessary for most fitness seekers to choose between the two!”

Dr. Schwartz and I talked on the phone for two hours. While he continually apologized for boring me, I apologized for taking undue advantage of free time with the doctor! Our conversation ranged through topics from diet to the ability to do daily work to running, swimming and bodybuilding. And we could’ve gone on, but that’s for later…perhaps over a cup of coffee in Dr. Schwartz’s beloved Pittsburgh.

(For more information on Dr. Schwartz and a link to the Heavyhands™ website, see article 125, New Heavyhands™; see also article 1, Heavyhands™ Revisited.)

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