Thursday, December 11, 2014

Training Considerations and The Old Cowboys

I get asked alot about considerations for an older lifter. Maybe it should be more "What I Have Learned After Training for 30+ Years.", because there are so many individual considerations when it comes to training.

Of course, I believe in the basics, but there are basics that may change because of injuries over the years. For instance, I squat exclusively with the Safety Squat bar because after back surgery, the straight bar irritates my Sciatic Nerve. So I am squatting but with a twist.And I made a decision to squat instead of deadlift. If I deadlift, my back gets fired up. Of course, when I have deadlifted, I always go too heavy instead of just stopping at 315. Stupid stuff. Still learning.

I think that the key is to consistently change your training. Meaning that sometimes you focus on low reps and hitting an all time best set of 1-3. And then 6 weeks later you change to doing 5 sets of 12 with 30 seconds rest of each exercise and 10-15 sets a bodypart. Another time during the year, you focus on boxing or prowler work or running stadiums and just hit one or 2 exercises for 5x5  and only train with weights 2-3 days a week. ALSO, go outside and do kettlebells or chop wood and then sprint. Press dumbells to failure and then do a minute straight of kettlebell swings. Squat your bodyweight for a minute and then run hills. Being outside and training is the BEST. One of the best workouts I had last summer was when my son and I and the dogs were staying in a cabin and I brought my kettlebell and did a mess of swings every morning then went fishing.Then you can fish and drink beer, You earned the right because you got your swings done first.

I think many injuries occur because people are doing the same old things with the same range of motion and the same exercises over and over. Both physically and mentally it can start to wear you down .A friend of mine has squatted every Monday for 30 years and now when he squats, he gets hurt all the time. Hell, I told him why! Switch it up. Front squats, sled drags, RDL, then do his squats. It would force him to lighten up also. Put his ego away. But he would still be training. And that's the key. The action of training. And then sometimes, have no plan at all, but go by feel. Which I reckon is a plan in itself, but it is liberating. You have to have some fun doing the damn thing.

Just read this book, Empire of the Summer Moon. What a great book. The Comanches and the Settlers, and the wars and the kidnappings and the brutality from both side. And especially how tough ALL of them were back then, even the children. The Comanche children riding horses at age 6, the settlers constantly fearing slavery and kidnappings, the scalping, the torture, the horse stealing, the buffalo. The being burned alive. The little kids that were kidnapped and became part of the tribe and took on the lifestyle of the Tribe, even marrying into the tribe.Also,  I couldnt believe all the uses for the whole buffalo that the Indians had, including the brains, hide, bones, intestines....nothing was wasted.  Great book.

A Football Life on the NFL Network has some of the best profiles around. The other night they had one on Roger Staubach. Bad ass show all around.

ROGER FREAKIN' STAUBACH.  Watching that show took me back to my days as a Cowboy fan.

Huge, huge Cowboy fan when I was growing up. My whole family was, especially when the Colts were run by Irsay and man, we all disliked the Redskins in my house. Although I did like some of the Redskin players. Russ Grimm was one of my favorites. But Theismann, what a jerk. Im sure he was an okay guy, but not to my family. Hotdog.

We were such huge fans because of Randy White, local Maryland boy made good. More than good. One of my earliest football memories was in 1974 and the Terps were playing Tennessee in the Liberty Bowl and all I heard at the "Bowl" party that my parents were having was Randy White did this, Randy White did that. I was 7 years old. And he knew my dad who was a professor at Maryland, and he hustled his butt off and bench pressed a house.

So he gets drafted and we become fans. Every meal was delayed if the Cowboys were playing. Especially Thanksgiving. Eat before or after the game. Never during. My cousins would be over at the house and they were Skins fans and if they were playing the Cowboys and even made one little comment, it made me nuts. I held it in, but I would be fuming inside. My Cowboys.

And I watched every play. I studied Randy White and read everything that I could get my hands on about him. The head Athletic Trainer at Maryland used to get the Dallas Cowboy's Weekly and would save a bunch of them up for me. His wife would then drop them off in the mailbox at my house. Seeing her pull up at the top of the road made my heart race. Id sprint up the steps and grab those things and read them from cover to cover. And if something was in there about Randy White, it really made it special. In 1977 my dad and I went see the Cowboys and Redskins play at RFK Stadium. Damn  it was cold. I remember these towering punts by Danny White and I remember what a thrill it was to actually see Randy White in person. And Roger Staubach. And Drew Pearson. And Harvey Martin(23 sacks that year). Tom Landry. I remember looking over and seeing Landry and he actually had that hat on and everything just like when he is on TV. And Dallas won 14-7 when Roger sneaked over for a touchdown. And then they won the Super Bowl that year and all was great. Until Roger retired after 1979. then it was a long time before they made it again. Not until Jimmy Johnson. But back then? I was a super fan, memorizing stats and player's hometowns and dying to just know about the Cowboys and how that all worked out there man, glimmering building and ranches and Larry Hagman and it seemed like a magical place to live and to play.

1978: Dad comes home one day and he says that he has a surprise for me. Randy White is coming to Maryland for a recruiting weekend. He was Defensive MVP that year, 1978. My father was great friends with the head coach at Maryland, Jerry Claiborne. Randy walks in, comes right over to me and we begin talking. He spent so much time with me that my dad had to let him go eventually. He would have stayed and talked all day, and my dad started to feel bad about us keeping him. It was some magical stuff.
Fast forward many years and I actually had the chance to interview him for, and the other day, we talked on the phone about martial arts training. Ain't that some stuff!

Monday, December 1, 2014


Every training session should have, at the start, a main lift. And really the first, main lift,  is what really matters. A typical work out may be set up like this:

leg curls

But sometimes I think it's best do just perform the main lift and just leave.

Back in the old days, circa 1989, my training partner and I, Jimmy Anderson, would squat and leave all the time. 

In fact, I can't recall ever doing anything else on squat day. Oh yeah, we always listened to Charlie Daniel's while we trained and ate biscuits and gravy at Hardee's immediately afterward.

I used to like to just squat and not even take the weights off of the bar. And leave them like that for awhile. I am not sure why. I'd always go back and take them off later.

(On another note, I have always admired minimalists. No phone, cable, no frills. And from the 1800's, the Mountain Men, recluses.)

So I was thinking that when you do that, just perform the main lift, that you are reaching your minimum for the session. Like you had to at least do that, and then you have given yourself permission to end the workout. I also have a rule regarding minimums when it comes to running the hill near my house. You have to do ten in order for it to count, for it to be a real training session. Any less,  and it was just a warmup.

And I have to admit that I have pretty much always just done the main lift. Damn, most of the other stuff is just so damn boring. C'mon, man! Lat pulls, pushdowns, extensions, blah, blah. Now bent over rows are great, and one arm rows and some shrugs. After that? Just pull, squat, press. Fun!

You can do it with reps also. I have to get at LEAST 5 on this set, you decide. And then any reps after that are just bonus.

It's like writing a book (I have to get a certain amount of words in each day)or daily tasks to be done (I have to do these three things at least).

And if you feel like crap- sick, way under the weather, done, just say to yourself that you can do a few sets of benches and you are finished. Anyone can do one exercise, right?

Monday, November 24, 2014


Thinking about training. Thinking about age. Thinking that my mentor Rich Salke told me, "Jimmy, everyone has 20 hard years of training in them and then they start to break down". And I can't seem to find anyone for whom that doesn't ring true.

The only way that you wont get hurt is to sit on the couch.  But you'll die miserable on the damn thing. Nobody I know that pushed their bodies to the limit comes out unscathed. I'm talking high level fighting, lifting, bodybuilding. It's not about health when you are lifting or competing that hard and heavy.
Sign at doctor's office.
And so you switch it up, switch templates, programs, times that you train, and you still get banged up.

And you venture into your 40's and you actually have people ask you why you still squat and press and push.

And I am thinking,

What other choice is there? Sit around and wither away? Became a Lazy- Boy sitting critic? NO! Do not go so softly. Not training? Can't imagine it, can never ever  even see it. 

And getting hurt? It is gonna happen. Accept it and work on something else. You can do something, always just a little something. Pretty soon, just by attrition, the number of exercises you may be able to do gets smaller and smaller. Just focus on those and be happy that you are training. 

It is a sickness, I believe, this yearning to train with weights, and this addiction happens pretty much when one touches a weight for the first time. You know if it is right for you and if you feel this connection with the weights or not. When you feel the connection, it stays with you through every damn thing. But at its most addictive, other parts of life will suffer for sure. Because the

Workout Always Comes First

And there are not a whole lot of girlfriends or boyfriends and wives or husbands that get it . Social lives will suffer, mealtimes will suffer. (I did skip Thanksgiving dinner at my Mom's house, cancelling at the last minute, because of dieting. Ooooh she was pissed.) 

But, really. Get over it. They just do not understand, man..Its training and it sets up the day, it is therapy for the cluttered, messed up, foggy brain. 

You get done squatting until your body is shaking and , it's amazing, you either don't care about what was bothering you before, or you know how to fix it. It's a psychiatrist's office but with chalk and sweat.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Getting Stronger

If you are struggling to get stronger, there are some ways to get your lifts moving again.

First off, you can not and will not always make progress in every lift all of the time. Everyone has problem lifts. For myself, it was always the bench press. For some reason, it was a lift that I didn't feel comfortable doing, maybe just because I wasn't good at it right away.

I eventually did 505 in competition, but it was a long road to get there.

Like most beginners, when I started struggling with the bench press, I did more and more until my biceps tendonitis was throbbing nonstop.

It wasn't until I met Kirk Karwoski and Rob Wagner that my bench press really started to improve. I learned to tuck my elbows in, how to properly set my rib cage, and how to drive with my legs. Those tips alone helped immensely. And instead of just working up to a heavy set of 3 or 5, I began training with Sheiko's bench program. It worked wonders for me because it forced me to improve on my technique in the 75%-85% zone without killing myself and my joints in the process. When you are constantly setting up and performing your lifts like Sheiko has you do, and never going to failure, but constantly greasing the groove with decently heavy weight, you don't have a choice but to improve. But I really had to put my ego in my pocket and accept the fact that my bench was gonna get weaker before it got stronger. When I first started tucking my elbows in and forcing them to stay there, my weights went down. Hell, my triceps were weak! But eventually, the weights slowly began to creep up and my triceps got stronger and bigger and no shoulder pain or tendonitis.

Patience, no ego, perfect form.

How else can you get your lifts moving again? You can gain weight. Read about Hugh Cassidy sometime. His quote was "Eat your way through sticking points." and for sure that works. If you pump the calories in you, and you do it consistently, you will get stronger. I did it before. I went from 240 to 280 and eventually to 312 in the span of a year. I got  a lot stronger but I felt like crap, My belly was huge and I couldn't breath and it was really no fun. The smarter way  would have been to just make sure that I was eating enough protein every single day no matter what, and do it consistently.

What else? Dedication. And really, it is what it all comes down to. Leave nothing to chance. If you want to get as strong as you can, you must put all other activities aside. Lift , eat, sleep. Gear every damn waking moment to getting stronger. Aerobics? Running? Nope. Anything else? Nope. Lift, eat, sleep. Zumba? C'mon. Now if your lifts are moving fine and right along and you are little Mister/Miss activity, great. But if you are struggling and you want to be super strong, then lift, eat , sleep. If you don't and you profess to wanting to get stronger, you really don't know what it takes.

And on the subject of the whole knowing -what -it takes -thing, it is not supposed to be easy to get stronger. Folks need to be told this.

You will be sore, you will be banged up, your head will feel like it will explode during squats and deadlifts, your belt will leave marks on you, you will have to wrap your groin and hamstrings sometimes, you will have to get massages (A.R.T. is imperative), you will have trouble getting out of the car after a heavy squat or deadlift day sometimes, you will have to decline invitations to stuff the night before a heavy training session, you will have to gear your life, or most of it to getting stronger. Not half assed either. If you sit down and ask yourself, Have I done everything that I could to succeed? To make my weights go up? Or did I skip a meal, did I stay out too late? Did I visualize myself dominating the weights? Did I do every, every, everything humanly possible to put myself in a position to get stronger? If you didn't, don't say a word, just fill in the gaps. And methinks that most of the time, the issue is dedication. You may think you are dedicated, but how bad do you want it? I have coached kids in the past who stated to me that they wanted to "get to the next level"  and then they skip exercises or don't do their mobility work, or half ass it when they think nobody is watching. The next level?  What does that take? Watch James Harrison of the Steeler's on his Instagram. The day after the game he is trap bar deadlifting 6 plates on either side! Do you think he is beat up and sore? Uh, yeah. Do you just like the idea of being strong, but you make excuses and skip sessions because you are a little "tight" or have other commitments? Do you constantly switch programs because you say that they "just don't work for me" but deep, deep down inside you really don't want to succeed that badly because , well, because it is no fun being so dedicated and uncomfortable all of the time.

Its like my friend who owns a farm. He is dedicated to that farm.  No matter how he feels, he has to do certain things. Check on the goats, feed the goats. Check on the chickens, feed the chickens. He has to do it everyday if he wants his animals to thrive.

I remember one time in high school and we were  between two-a-day practices in Maryland and we were eating lunch and one of the guys said, "I wish I was in Ocean City right now." And my buddy Billy Henson (who was an All Metropolitan player) said, " Not me, I am right where I want to be." And that has always stuck with me. Screw the beach, man! Billy had worked all year for this, and now he was right were he wanted to be.  His mind had left the beach long ago and he was so dedicated and he just immersed himself in the whole thing, never allowing his mind to drift elsewhere. And of course, with that mindset, he succeeded. And the important thing was that he put himself, because of his attitude and extreme dedication, in a position to succeed.

Just some ideas and thoughts here, nothing earth shattering. It is common sense, right? It all comes down to doing the little things, and doing them all of the time, that add up ,over the long haul,to getting you where you want to be strength -wise.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mirror Thoughts

It rings in my head
smiling, frowning, lunging for the ringing phone
Learning so much, soak it up like a sponge and then hope to forget it all
My god... the distant Warrior
simple plan
secrets and denial
If the greatest of all is mortal
has the end of the circle reconstructed itself?
round and round...
it all goes.
And the smoke leaves the hole that once held a deep heart
new, new, new
Feel the crunch of bone on bone
the euphoria of a death shot
the wilting of the halo
if one knows it all means nothing
I reckon we are truly all free
Define exactly the important parts of your disjointed machinery
Dark New Jersey streets
the fan whips my curtains and the leftover toys of a joyous summer of hugs and love
is gone along with the innocent voices and laughter. C'mon, it is the end of it is too much...
come back and be here every morning...I can't tolerate the pictures in my mind...
Why do the pictures never tell the story?
I have seen those sad eyes before
learn to say goodbye, amazing how the human being can adapt
to separation.
So sad for the forgotten one
We are all in different houses in different places crying the same lonely tears
Reconstructing the best times
But I picture the wires circling him
keeping him breathing
screaming my name above all others
Holding the soft hands in the middle of the night as they unknowingly sqeeze my fingers
by reflex.
gotta move, gotta keep moving
standing still makes my mind work overtime
dont think, just punch
dont think just roll and throw
Monsters under the bed, not just a child's scary nightmare
Monsters in my mind
demons in the web
that is my brain
look under there
It is my warrior calling
He has found me, I was right here the whole time
And then after the 5th hour
running to him, please dont cry so much, I cant get there any faster, churning legs, pumping arms, wait I am here, Your face is swollen, you will be fine, I will not let you NOT be fine
I will WILL it to happen, to make you better
My life is not mine
Put the cast on me
Put the scars on me
You don't even know you have them,that they exist
Each one represents my punishment
I would wear each one proudly
Float to me, scars of pain...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Stuff and Bench Press Program Ideas

I was thinking about it the other day; If you can help it, don't take time off  from training. Do 15 minutes of something. Squat and leave, press and leave, deadlift and leave. "Getting back into it," is a pain and sometimes it never happens. I have a doctor friend who is as busy as anyone that I have ever known, travelling to Africa, writing grants, but he gets it done; short intense workouts. You have time, you big baby.

Everybody wants to "Go lighter and work on form." But the problem is that form is totally different with heavier weights. So the answer is to keep the reps low and the sets high in number. Do 10 sets of 3-5, not 3-5 sets of 10. And you can then train in the 75%-85% range and learn more effectively. In the Clean, do a bunch of singles. Everyone can squat perfectly straight up and down with 135, while doing it with 635 is a different matter.

Training with weights is damn fun. It's so rewarding. When someone gets really strong, no task is too much for them to undertake. Man, to be strong is what it is all about! Picking up stuff, carrying stuff, having confidence, elevating confidence, the feeling after a great work out, you just feel different. It is the best.

When trying to get your bench press up, it seems that alternating Marathon days with heavy days of doubles and triples and even sometimes singles works real well. So a typical Monday/Thursday would look like this here(in percentages)- Day 1- 60x5 70x4 75x4 80 2x3 85 2x2 80x3 75x4 70x5 65x8 60x10 55x12-15  Day 2- 80x2 85x2 90x1, and go back through that 3 times. Then you change up the % some, but just give it some variation- like this- Day 1- 60x6 65x6 70 2x4 75 3x4 80 5x2 70x7  Day 2- 85% 5x3. And you go to 90-95% every once in awhile, and then hit a new max in 6-8 weeks. I believe that if you have never done that type of routine, then you can hit a significantly new max in 4 weeks.

Also- on one of the days add close grips in for 75-80% for 6x4 or 4x6. On the other day, work up to a heavy triple or set of 5 on the barbell incline. Seated press or seated behind the neck press is great also, and a few sets of triceps extension and/or dips should round the program off nicely.

And don't forget to vary your training- it doesn't have to be exercise changes, but it should be intensity(percentages). Some days go in there and do 10x10 at 50-60% and some days go in there and do 20x2 at 80%.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mind/Psyche


I have been weight training for many, many years. Thirty something years. So what? So I have seen a bunch of stuff in weight room during that time.

One thing that I have noticed, without fail, is that people who talk a whole bunch when they train with weights don't make as much progress as those who don't. No I am not talking about the people who are lifting weights discussing the next set or next exercise. I am talking about the guy doing pushdowns who is gabbing about his night on the town, or the new car he bought or something totally unrelated to training. And damn, he is talking during a set. Sacrilege. Arnold had it right about the mind muscle connection. And elite powerlifters surely can not get ready for a huge set whilst discussing the Cowboys vs. Redskins game.

Fired Up Or Not?

Have you ever wondered just how fired up or psyched up one needs to be for a particular sport or skill? I first learned of Joseph Oxendine from Fred Hatfield's excellent book, Power.

Basically Oxendine states that highly aroused athletes did better at "easy" tasks, and not getting too aroused was better for optimal success at complex tasks. So when squatting, get in a blind range, but when putting in golf stay relatively calm.

Oxendine (1970) suggests different levels of optimal arousal for different sports: 

1. [Slight arousal] Archery, bowling, basketball free throw, golf (putting) 

2. Baseball (pitching & batting), fencing, tennis, golf (driving) 

3. Basketball, boxing, high jump, gymnastics, soccer 

4. Running long jump, middle/long-distance running, swimming, judo 

5. [Extreme excitation] Rugby tackle & scrum, sprint, weight-lifting

Cool stuff, huh? Hatfield also talks about getting fired up too early. This can exhaust the athlete. Better to sit calmly and visualize yourself doing great things than getting tense and too excited too far out from the activity.

Not the fired up I was talking about

                                                               That's what I am talking about

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a's for life. Whether its training or your family or your doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.