Muscles of Iron

High Voltage Bodybuilding and Heavy Lifting

Lifting Heavy Iron is My Madness

November 25, 2015

More so than any other form of physical training, heavy lifting was responsible for the remarkable development and athletic prowess achieved by John Davis, former World Champion and “World’s Strongest Man”.

These days it seems like more and more exercise enthusiasts are moving away from heavy weight training and pursuing non-apparatus methods of building muscle and health. The internet is going crazy with bodyweight training, and claims are abound that free-hand exercise is safer and more productive than pushing big iron plates.

Let me be clear that I too appreciate bodyweight training, and I have discussed the merits of such exercise many times on my blog. However, the bodyweight runaway that is sweeping the globe is doing little to part me with my barbells. Handling heaps of iron remains my favorite way to build strength, muscle, and power. Moving a loaded bar gets me excited, fills my head with passion , and makes me feel good. Simply said, lifting heavy iron is my madness and therapy for my soul. For me, nothing tops progressive barbell training for building both the mind and body. Nothing. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

Again, please understand that I value many forms of non-apparatus training, and I often employ bodyweight exercises during my workouts. However, it’s time to set the record straight. There are a sickening number of self-declared “gurus” out there knocking weights with all their might. They tell you how lifting a heavy barbell will make you a physical wreck – ruined shoulders, destroyed knees, loss of athletic prowess, loss of energy, ad nauseam. I won’t waste my time dwelling on such stupid and misleading claims. Just consider that in nearly every case the weight-training knockers make a handsome living by promoting bodyweight training and selling books, videos, and courses based on their way-exaggerated claims. Many “bodyweight” guys even secretly hit the weights when nobody is looking. When progress then comes at a record pace, they attribute it all to whatever bodyweight method of training they are selling and profiting financially from. Enough about this topic already; I can’t stand to write about it any longer.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Reeves Power Rack

November 23, 2015

Here’s another concept for a homemade power rack. I call this one the Reeves Power Rack, named after Steve Reeves, a former Mr. Universe and movie star. The original sketch for this power rack was made at the Chemical Engineering Laboratory at Youngstown State University while I was a student there. It was made using a Compaq Deskpro 386, a machine that the company’s chief executive once called “the most powerful personal computer in the world.” At the time of its release, around 30 years ago, this electronic device retailed for a whopping $6,000 to $8,000, depending upon hardware features. For my thesis project, I was granted special privileges to use this state-of-the-art machine to develop sophisticated computer programs for mathematical modeling, but obviously my mind was on other things from time to time.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Reeves Power Rack offers a rugged design that is easy to build and light on the wallet. Drawing and design by Rob Drucker. All rights reserved.

The Muscle Builder

June 12, 2014

Here’s a couple more drawings from my Youngstown State University archive folder. Both illustrations are versions of “The Muscle Builder,” and I only wish I would have built a variant of this apparatus when I was younger. Anyway, anybody with a bit of imagination can find endless ways to build strength, muscle, and power with these machines, especially when add-ons are considered. Note, for example, the calf machine add-on depicted in the top illustration. With this set-up, you hold onto the barbell with your hands while you do calf raises. You end up with monster forearms, a powerful grip, a back of steel, and super-sized calves all in one shot. Super chin-up apparatus and back builder, too.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Drawing by Bob Drucker. All rights reserved.

Drawing by Bob Drucker. All rights reserved.

How Paul Anderson Was Outsmarted by a High School Student

June 5, 2014

Paul Anderson performing one of his “specialty” lifts.

I have but very little time for writing a post today, so I’m going to tell you a short story – one about how the “The World’s Strongest Man” was once verbally out-dueled by a high-school student.

First a little background….

Back in the 1950s when Paul Anderson was setting world records in weightlifting on a regular basis, the big fellow from Toccoa, Georgia became an outspoken advocate of the American free enterprise system. It was his belief that only through this political system do individuals in America have freedom to succeed. Anderson, however, became greatly alarmed when scientific polls, research studies, and surveys indicated that many Americans were losing faith in capitalism and the free enterprise system. The numbers from these studies, for instance, showed that over half of the college students in America believed that free market and big business were responsible for creating evil and hardship in their country.

With support for free enterprise in America declining, Anderson feared that liberty was at stake. It was his opinion that the freedom that he enjoyed — that all Americans enjoyed — could become seriously threatened if significant efforts were not made to educate the young people in the United States about the vital role that capitalism plays in the American way of life. Anderson especially sought to teach young Americans that it was only through the political doctrine that their country was founded on that they had the right to competitively market their services for profit with minimal restriction from the government.

To rally support for his cause, in the 1960s Anderson and some of his friends started a non-profit organization called Save American Free Enterprise (SAFE). Through SAFE, they worked diligently to teach the facts about capitalism and to enlighten ill-informed individuals about political significance behind free enterprise.

As part of his SAFE activities, Anderson regularly visited many schools and other institutions across the United States to promote the virtues of the free system. He once visited 11 different high schools and one junior high in Charlottesville, Virginia — all on the same day! Such was his commitment to teach the youth of America about the freedoms that they enjoy and which they should cherish and protect. Anderson was a big hit with the school kids, in part because of his titanic strength and popularity, but in bigger part because he knew how to relate to them and hold their attention.

Now the story….

One day Paul Anderson visited a school where he gave a lifting demonstration followed by a speech to a group of junior high and high school students. Needless to say, Paul left the students spellbound with his incredible strength. Paul’s speech, apparently, also managed to persuade the students.

After Anderson’s talk at the school, the students lined up to receive a photograph of the “World’s Strongest Man,” each one personally signed by the strongman himself. At one point, the huge weightlifter noticed that one of the boys was in line a second time, possibly a third. When the reappearing student finally made his way back to the signature desk, Paul placed his mighty grip on the boy’s shoulder, held him firmly, and loudly exclaimed, “What are you doing son?” The boy declared, “Oh, I believe what you said about free enterprise, Mr. Anderson.” “What do you mean,” asked the big fellow. The boy then verbally knocked-out the mighty giant with a most powerful declaration: “I’m selling your photographs,” the young one replied. With such a logical explanation, the only thing Anderson could do was sign another photograph for the ambitious boy and encourage him to go make a profit.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Building a Heavy-Duty Weight Bench in Eight Easy Steps

May 13, 2014

The sequence of photos below depict one of dozens of weight bench designs that have found their way into my storage cabinet. I call it the Murray bench. It is named after Jim Murray, a former editor of Strength & Health magazine. Glance through his book Weight Lifting and Progressive Resistance Exercise, and you’ll likely see in a couple of photos a wooden weight bench that resembles this one, albeit with a bit less elegance.

I don’t go into detail here with dimensions and building instructions; that’s for another day. This is just something to get the creative juices flowing and the concept across.

Yours in Strength and Health,
Rob Drucker


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 7: Add rubber padding to the top of the bench.

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 8: Finish up by adding a vinyl cover and securing it underneath with staples.

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Underside View of Bench

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Harry Paschall’s Power Training Apparatus

May 10, 2014

A recreation of the power rack built and used by Harry Paschall. CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Back in the day when some muscle magazines were actually worth reading, Harry Paschall penned a wonderful article for Iron Man entitled, “A Simple Apparatus for Power Training.” In this feature, Paschall described a very basic safety rack that he once constructed in his attic. It cost him just a few bucks to build (circa 1940s), and construction of the apparatus required only minimal tools, effort, and carpentry skill. That’s a pretty darn good combination.

Shown above is a CAD drawing of a power-building apparatus that is very similar to the one that Paschall built. Note that the rack is not equipped with barbell uprights. Rather, the barbell is supported by the two safety bars prior to use. This forces the trainee to take the barbell from the LOW position upon the commencement of the lift. The advantage here, as explained by Paschall, is: “You actually lift the weight instead of ‘bouncing’ with it.” Yep, you gotta use brute strength to get the bar moving upwards, but that extra effort will go a long way towards building strength, muscle, and power.

A most important feature of Paschall’s apparatus is that it allows the lone strength athlete to train the heavy power lifts in complete safety. The importance of this cannot be understated. Every year, more than a handful of strength enthusiasts suffocate to death after getting pinned by their barbell while performing the bench press. So, please don’t take a chance; whenever you bench alone, ALWAYS use a safety rack, such as the one featured here. Doing so may save your life.

Although less serious, a number of floors get beat to hell the result of lifters getting pinned at the bottom position of the squat and having no choice but to drop the heavy weight behind them. I once had to do this while working out in an old rented room, and I can tell you that the outcome was not pretty.

By positioning the catch bars to the desired height, the Paschall apparatus also allows you to perform heavy partial lifts in complete safety. The use of heavy partials was one of the secret weapons of many old-time greats for building tremendous muscle and ligament strength. They would pile on the plates and do half, quarter, and/or lock-out movements in key compound exercises, such as the press, the squat, and the deadlift. John Grimek, for example, did press lockouts with over 800 pounds, and he gave this exercise much credit for helping him acquire world-class pushing strength.

As mentioned above, building the Paschall rack is relatively easy, and procuring the required materials won’t take but a small bite out of your wallet. The posts are cut to length from four-by-four timber so that the affixed end plates mate firmly to the floor and ceiling. Holes are drilled in the posts at desired positions, each 1 1/8 or 1 1/4-inch diameter. I recommend spacing these holes four inches apart. Posts are positioned relative to one another so that the safety bars align approximately 42 inches apart (for a seven foot barbell) and so that the barbell has about eight inches of play, needed for natural arc movement.

Wood screws should be used to secure the end plates to the posts, and each of the four end plates can be made from a 20-inch length of 2×8 lumber. The top end plates should be supported or braced firmly to the ceiling support structure with appropriate hardware, and the bottom end plates should be supported or braced appropriately to the floor. Finish things off by inserting two catch bars, each at the desired position. Paschall used very long one-inch bolts for the catch bars, and he secured these with nuts. However, the budget-minded individual may prefer to use schedule 40 3/4-inch nominal pipe, 24-inch length each, as depicted in the drawing above. Of course, if you decide to build your own Paschall power training apparatus, it is easy to tailor its construction to match your own training needs and gym requirements.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Weight Plate Holder

May 2, 2014

A weight plate holder not only can improve the appearance of your home gym, this apparatus can also help you have more productive workouts. CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Although often overlooked in the strength community, I consider the plate holder to be an essential tool for any weight gym. Owning one or two holders can go a long way to keeping your weights well organized, accessible, and off of the gym floor when you are finished with them. Sure, you can pile your iron all over your training area and forget the plate holder, but I have found that a well organized gym is more functional, more efficient, and more psychologically pleasing than a messy lifting facility. For these reasons, owning a quality plate-holding apparatus can help you have more productive and more enjoyable workouts, even though its effect is indirect.

The drawing above shows a typical standard weight plate holder, and its construct usually allows 300 to 500 pounds to be held safely. Note how the plates are positioned so that they can be gripped and removed from the rack without excessive back bend and with minimal effort. In contrast, lifting heavy plates off of the floor each time you want to load your barbell not only wastes valuable energy, doing so also can lead to back strain and in a bad way.

A new and quality standard weight plate holder can be bought for $50 to $75 (plus shipping costs, if ordered for delivery), although I would suspect that units for Olympic-style plates may hit your bank account a little harder.

I bought my plate holder at a second-hand sporting goods store for relatively little cash, and I suspect that you can do the same if you are willing to shop around. You can also search various online services and, perhaps, find a great plate holder for just a few bucks. Of course, if you can weld and work with metal, or have a friend who can, then this gives you even more good options.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Short Barbell Stands

April 27, 2014

No lifting gym is complete without a set of short barbell stands. Shown above is a rugged wooden design that can be built easily, quickly, and on a tight budget.

Many lifters own a set of barbell stands, but more often than not they are too tall for barbell curls, shrugs, seated presses, benches, and other exercises where the “lift off” is relatively low from the ground. The solution is to build custom stands that can hit a lower range. Featured in the drawing above is a pair of short stands that I built several years ago, and they have proven to be rugged, durable, and very useful. My stands offer five barbell height positions: 28, 31, 34, 37, and 40 inches – a perfect range for the exercises mentioned above, at least for the lifter of average height. Materials needed for their construction, mainly short sections of two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, and plywood, can be had at rock-bottom cost, or even found for free in a scrap pile. Assembly is also super easy, requiring only basic shop skills.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Blast from the Past Pulley Machine

April 23, 2014

Go into any gym today, and much of what you see can be traced back to the late Dr. Sargent. Illustration in the public domain.

Check out this dual pulley machine, designed by the famous Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent around 1880. Note that the weights are held in two boxes, each which is prevented from swaying sideways by guide rods, B. A Rubber pad is also placed under each weight box to soften the impact with the floor and keep things quiet. Now you ought to have a pretty good idea who invented the apparatus commonly referred today as the “lat machine”.

Unfortunately, it is very hard for me to type at the moment, so I’m going to cut this tidbit short. You see, I just finished up doing chins on my clamped-to-the-joist two-by-four (see post from April 13 below), and my arms are throbbing like crazy. Folks, this exercise really torches the fingers and forearms to the absolute limit. To perform it, do chin-ups as usual, except hold on to the top edge of a two-by-four by the tips of your fingers only; they are not curled into a circle as is done with a round bar. In my setup, you can’t curl your fingers around the board anyway because of the wide joist behind it. Super effective exercise.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The World’s Smallest Lifting Gym Comes Alive

April 13, 2014

Here’s the short version of the story:

A few months ago my wife asked me if I would be willing for us to sell our dream home in Fisherville, Kentucky and move closer to Louisville mainstream. I readily agreed to do so thinking that our house would not sell for at least two years. I was wrong; it sold more like in two weeks leaving us in dire straits to find another house in record time.

Bottom line, we sold our dream home (custom built in 2001) and bought a new house (actually, 83 years old) on the same weekend with no time to spare. Our new home is located in a prime spot of town, but it is much smaller than the one we had in Fisherville. We went from two garages to one; the new lot is 1/25th the size of the former; and the new basement is 1/3 the size of the one we had, at best. Additionally, my previous garage had 100 amps of electrical service; the new one has a mere 15 amps – just enough power to run a circular saw if you are willing to use a flashlight to see rather than turn on the two available light bulbs.

For weeks after we moved into our new home, I couldn’t free up enough room to put together a gym of any size. This forced me to destroy my home-made power rack of 25 years; it was just too tall and too bulky for the new location. I will build a smaller rack later – likely the Davis Power Rack recently featured on this site.

Finally, I created enough open space in our new basement to establish what must be the world’s smallest lifting gym. Sadly, soon after the world’s smallest gym was established it had to be cut in half to make room for the world’s smallest wood shop. Things are not all bad at the new pad, however; we have seven pizza places and three ice cream shops within walking distance of where we now live. Yummy. There are also two nice parks close by for extra walking activity so that those additional calories can be burned off.

After many weeks without a gym, I’m finally getting back to hard training. During today’s workout, I did deadsquats, one-arm Jowett push-ups, barbell neck curls, and heavy shrugs. Yep, things in the world’s smallest gym are coming alive, and a new stage of development is being planned for the long overdue Operation Home Gym Overhaul.

Below are some photos my “world’s smallest lifting gym.” I took them today just prior to and during my workout. Perhaps seeing them will help you see that good things really can come in small packages.

This is how the the world’s smallest gym looked just minutes before today’s training session; there’s hardly a hint of the high-voltage workout to come. Note gin wheel on wall; this was a gift from Sticks, and it will be used when I finally get around to building the Grimek lat machine that he recently featured on MOI. Also, note how the weight bench is stored under the table for space economy.

Now we’re talking – the deadsquat apparatus is set-up quickly with a pair of clamps. With this baby, you don’t need a power rack to safely build hugely strong legs and an even stronger back. Nor do you need an expensive trap bar. It functions as a good calf-raise board too. By the way, that’s my dad’s custom built and prized stereo cabinet against the back wall; he would roll over in his grave if he knew it ended up in a bodybuilding gym.

My hand-made bench is placed in preparation for one-arm Jowett push-ups. This exercise will torch your pecs and triceps beyond what you can imagine. The table at left, which also functions well as a sturdy workbench and as a work desk, is conveniently used to rest my feet on and to elevate my body while I press up against the bench.

The seven-foot-high ceiling is too low to attach a traditional chinning bar. No problem: here is something far superior for building muscular might – a two-by-four clamped to a ceiling joist. No need to drill holes either. Do your chins on this setup and you will not only build a barn-wide back, you will build vise-like finger strength and super strong arms in no time.

The gym is quickly set up for one finishing set of heavy barbell shrugs to strengthen the back of the neck. The home-made adjustable barbell stands come in handy for this exercise, and for many others as well. I think they look rather cool too, and I refer to them as the twin towers.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Davis Power Rack

April 9, 2014

Here’s a drawing of a simple but rugged power rack I recently designed called the Davis Power Rack. It is named after John Davis, the former American Olympic weightlifting champion. In the near future, I will provide detailed instructions complete with tons of 3D illustrations to show its proper construction. I also hope to build this rack soon for my new home gym.

Yours in strength and health,Rob Drucker

The Davis Power Rack is a simple, inexpensive, and very powerful muscle builder that just about anybody with basic wood-working skills and tools can build.

Better Bodybuilding Through Olympic-Style Weightlifting

February 13, 2014

Can bodybuilders benefit from including Olympic-style weightlifting in their training routines?

If you are a bodybuilder looking to gain greater muscular balance, functional strength, and physical power, the inclusion of Olympic-style lifting into your training routine will likely induce the improvements that you are seeking. Unlike “pure” bodybuilding exercises, Olympic-style movements work the body explosively, and they require nearly all of the body’s muscles to work together in near-perfect harmony. For these two reasons and others I have not mentioned, it is my contention that the physique specialist can greatly benefit by practicing at least some form of Olympic weightlifting. Learning how to quickly move heavy weights from ground level to the overhead position can bring new life to a training program, spark new growth, and generate a renewed enthusiasm for the love of lifting iron.

In years past, many of the top bodybuilders were also weightlifters. John Grimek had been a champion lifter before he won the first Mr. America contest, and he was a member of the USA Olympic weightlifting team in 1936. Steve Stanko also had been both a lifting and a bodybuilding champion. Roy Hilligenn placed second to Norbert Schemansky in the 198 pound class in the Nationals the day before he won the 1951 Mr. America. And, Armand Tanny, who took first place in the 1949 Pro Mr. America event, placed second in the Junior Nationals as a heavyweight a few years before he became a bodybuilding star.

Other old-time physique stars who practiced some form of Olympic lifting during their training careers included Reg Park, Alan Stephan, Malcolm Brenner, George Eiferman, John Farbotnik, Melvin Wells, Otto Arco, Clarence Ross, and Siegmund Klein to name just a few. And, many of the world’s best weightlifters, both in the past and the present, achieved a remarkable level of physical development by hoisting heavy weights overhead. Consider the build of Yuri Vlasov, Petrov Alexei, Ronald Walker, John Davis, and Norbert Schemansky when these world-class lifters were in their prime. Their muscles were incredibly round, full, and highly developed. Vlasov, in particular, was well known for his extraordinary leg development; and Walker’s back may have been the thickest and more powerful in the world during his competition years.

Bob Hoffman, who published Strength and Health, in particular held the view that the bodybuilder would greatly benefit by including weightlifting movements in his routine. In the August, 1952 issue of his famous magazine, he observed,

“There is something about the man who combines bodybuilding and weight lifting that cannot be matched by bodybuilding exercises alone. More and more bodybuilders have seen the light and are now practicing weight lifting. Some of them enter competition, some do not. But, whether the bodybuilder becomes a weight lifting competitor or not, his physique will be noticeably improved by weight lifting.”

It is a sad fact that the majority of bodybuilders and other strength athletes in the United States today know little or nothing about Olympic style lifting. Ask the average gym member how to correctly perform a snatch, or how to do high pulls, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. Lack of knowledge, misinformation, unfounded beliefs, and lack of exposure have kept many a physique person from reaping the many benefits that weightlifting can provide. Nonetheless, it is my hope that bodybuilders around the world will eventually catch on to the value of competitive-style lifting. If this were to happen, I have no doubt that physique specialists would become bigger, stronger, and much more powerful.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

15 Golden Rules of Successful Bodybuilding for Hard Gainers

February 11, 2014
  1. Train no more than two or three times per week.
  2. Limit each workout to no more than one hour.
  3. Emphasize basic compound exercises in your workouts, especially squats, benches, presses, and deadlifts.
  4. Use a split schedule so that each body part is trained only once every six to 10 days.
  5. Immediately before and during training, a little nervousness and inner tension can be a good thing. Done properly, this will activate the stress response and better prepare your body for a top performance.
  6. After a workout, maintain a tranquil mind to maximize recovery and the growth process.
  7. Avoid chronic sleep deficiency. Persistent lack of sleep will weaken your system, strain your health, and impede muscle recovery and growth.
  8. Train safely and avoid injury. My advice is to pyramid your exercises, starting lightly and increasing the weight with each succeeding set.
  9. Push yourself to get stronger and use heavier weights. Simply put, to get bigger you must first get stronger.
  10. Eat lots of wholesome foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fish. Minimize consumption of saturated fats, trans fats, processed foods, and sugary products.
  11. Supplement your bodybuilding workouts with regular bouts of walking, swimming, or other desired aerobic/cardiovascular activities. You only need to do this, however, if you want to live a long, healthy, and productive life.
  12. Set training goals that are within your reach. I prefer to focus on small, short-term goals, such as adding five pounds to my squat.
  13. Don’t compare yourself with other lifters. Remember, achievement is relative, and a small gain that you make may be more note-worthy than a large gain that somebody else makes.
  14. Seek to become your own trainer. Nobody else, no matter what they may claim, can figure out how to build your body better than you can.
  15. Be patient and keep at it. Bodybuilding should be a life-long journey, not a means to an end.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Training Progress and the Stress Response

February 8, 2014

In just about any reputable book or course about muscle building the author will emphasize the importance of training productively, eating nutritiously, and getting plenty of rest. Thus, it is well established in strength-training circles that if any one component of this triad is sub-par, progress in the gym will be compromised. However, there is a fourth factor that is equally important for building muscle, strength, and health and, sadly, it is completely overlooked and misunderstood by the vast majority of fitness advisers and enthusiasts. I’m talking about the stress response, or how your body mobilizes its internal forces in preparation to fight or to flee from a perceived danger.

When understood and regulated properly, the stress response can be put to productive use to boost muscular gains, improve cognitive functioning and mood, build health, improve recovery, and strengthen the immune system. Poorly regulated, however, chronic stress can lead to reduced memory and cognitive function, reduced athletic performance, adult onset diabetes, infertility, obesity, heart attack, strokes, depression, and numerous other health disorders. Think I’m exaggerating? Consider this: Dr. Herbert Benson, the famed cardiologist at the Harvard Medical School, has estimated that stress-related disorders account for 60 to 90% of all visits to primary-care physicians in the United States. This is a staggering conclusion and one of paramount importance. It means that uncontrolled and prolonged stress can destroy your health and well-being, even kill you. For strength enthusiasts, it also means that run-away levels of stress will inevitably stifle recovery and the muscle-building process. Thus, how you live outside of the gym is just as important as how you live inside of the gym with regards to muscle building.

Despite the many ill effects potentially brought on by stress, this physiologic response is a vital part of our lives and we can’t live without it. Motivation, drive, excitement, determination, and will are only possible with activation of the stress response. Only when we experience stress are various body systems stimulated to help protect us and prepare us for productive action. In particular, when we are under stress the nervous system, the circulatory system, the endocrine system, and the immune system work in concert to boost the body’s defenses against a perceived threat. Without this stress response, survival would not be possible.

So how can it be that stress is both essential for our survival and can kill us? To understand this dichotomy we have to go back to the evolution of the stress response. Thousands of years ago our ancestors developed this mechanism to allow them to fight or flee in the face of short-term danger, taking down an antelope with a spear or running from a hungry bear, for example. The problem is that in modern times running from a bear is no longer the driving force behind the stress response. Instead, most of our stress is now psychological in nature, such as worrying about one’s career, trying to figure out how to make a house payment, or driving to work on congested highways. The body, however, — and this is key — cannot tell the difference between a real physical threat and a perceived one. In either case, the stress response is activated for fight or flight. Sometimes, this is a good thing because when controlled properly the stress response, as mentioned above, can temporarily increase our physical and mental abilities far beyond baseline levels. Thus, the right kind of stress can help you score higher on an exam, lift more weight in the gym, or even fight off an infectious disease.

All goes bad, however, if stress becomes long-term. Chronic worry, mental fatigue, depression, anger, and nervousness — all too common in today’s fast-paced industrial world — force the body’s response system to work in overdrive mode, thus preventing the mechanism from being turned off. From an evolutionary perspective, the response system is not designed to work this way. Long-term activation actually causes the body to break down, weaken, and become vulnerable to a wide variety of illnesses and diseases. Sadly, many mental and health-care practitioners do not understand this fact, and often their patients are given more pills while the root cause of their ills (chronic stress) remains undiagnosed.

Not only is the stress response often overlooked in the medical community, the same is true in the bodybuilding world. Lack of training progress is often linked to how an athlete trains or eats when in reality poor regulation of the stress response is the limiting factor. Learn how to make stress work for you rather than against you and your gains in the gym can skyrocket. I can attest to this fact from personal experience.

In the near future I will provide more details about the stress response so that you can gain a better understanding of how it works and learn how to regulate it to great advantage. The key to making stress work for you, as we shall see soon, is knowing how to make the transition from acute stress stimulation to recovery. Do this right and you will strengthen your body, build your health, and put yourself in a much better position to make progress in the gym.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Muscle Loss and Age

February 2, 2014

Can exercise prevent muscle and strength loss as we age?

Generally speaking, peak muscle strength is reached in both females and males around the late 20s. After age 30, most people face a decline in muscle size and strength that accelerates with time. Studies show that the average person will lose 33% of their strength between age 50 and 70, for example. Much of this strength loss is the result of a decrease in both muscle fiber number and size as we age. This loss is especially pronounced in Type II muscles, the kind associated with the generation of speed, power, and maximum strength output. Power, which is a function of both speed and strength, tends to decline faster than pure strength with age, especially if one does not regularly engage in resistance exercise. Interestingly, a 20 year old will typically use only 20% of his or her strength to get out of a chair, while the average 80 year old person will have to exert 80% of their maximum effort to do the same.

How much muscle, strength, and flexibility a person will lose as they age depends on many factors. Some of these factors are beyond one’s control, such as genetic make-up and intrinsic body & cellular structural changes that naturally occur as part of the aging process. For this reason, even if you keep training as hard as you can, inevitably you will reach a point in your life where your athletic prowess and physical strength will decline. That is the bad news. However, here is some good news. By regularly engaging in physical activity, especially high-resistance training, it is possible to preserve your muscle strength and maintain a high quality of life well into advanced age. In other words, how you live tomorrow will depend to a large extent on how you live today. So keep exercising.

As a final note, I should point out that I know many individuals who have built strength and muscle well past the age of 50 through high-intensity exercise. Want more encouragement? Think about this: Olga Kotlelko is 94 years old and she is still considered one the best track and field athletes in the world in Masters competition. Olga holds a whopping 26 world records, and she remains on par with many athletes one-third her age. Incidentally, Olga’s favorite event is the hammer throw, and she’s pretty darn good at it.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Hot Blooded

January 31, 2014

Hot Blooded is the lead track on Foreigner’s classic Double Vision album. A quick play of this record is a great way to get mentally prepared for a high-voltage workout.

I was 15 years old when Foreigner’s Double Vision album was released. Hot Blooded immediately became my favorite track on the LP, and this song played a key role in many of my early “Heavy-Duty” workouts. With its distinctive guitar riff and provocative lyrics, this rocker never failed to heat things up in the gym with a fire of fury. Such was the power of the song, and the emotional response it generated within me made personal training records fall like dominoes.

Just yesterday, I left work incredibly motivated for a High Voltage workout. The plan was basically simple: Leave work at 4:00; arrive home at 4:45; be in the gym by 5:00; be done training with two new training records under my belt by 5:30; be in the shower by 5:35; get dressed and be with the family shortly afterwards.

Well, all went according to plan until the train that always comes at 4:30 showed up early, and I lost 15 minutes waiting for that sucker to haul its 150 fully-loaded cars past the crossing. All I could do during the lost time was look at the graffiti “art” on the cars as they crawled by, all the while wondering why graffiti artists these days can’t spell worth a darn.

Once that long train got out of the way, it was smooth sailing on the highway and I managed to make it home in record time. As fate would have it, when I was just about one mile from my neighborhood I turned on the radio hoping to rev up my internal forces with just the right song. And what happened? You guessed it. As soon as I pushed the on button, Foreigner’s Hot Blooded came screeching out of the speakers with a sudden and dynamic boost of energy. It was a very dramatic way to arrive home for a hard workout. And, by the time I finished training, I certainly felt like I had a fever of a hundred and three.

I’ve got time for one more quick story about Hot Blooded, and then I’m going to get out of here. During my sophomore year of high school (1978), I was bused to an inner-city school as part of a desegregation plan. John was one of the fellows who rode my bus, and he was considered to be a step above everybody else in intelligence, social status, maturity, attitude, appearance, manners, . . . , you get the idea – Mr. Perfect. At this time, Hot Blooded was a top hit, and nearly each day we would hear it on WQHI Hi95, a now defunct radio station that our bus driver always played. Well, evidently John didn’t appreciate Foreigner’s mega hit, and one day I overheard him telling the person sitting next to him on the bus that the song was “pure trash.” John then explained that he preferred listening to classical music, particularly Beethoven compositions, and I about got sick to my stomach. Now, every time I hear Hot Blooded on the radio, I recall the day that the song took a bashing from Mr. Perfect. But, it sure as heck is a great training song.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Special Workout Worthy of Review

January 25, 2014

The graph above shows how my training weights have sky-rocketed in the seated calf raise exercise since implementing High Voltage Training. Never before have I made such rapid progress. Note rapidity of strength re-gain following a lengthy lay-off. Leg workouts were spaced approximately 7 to 10 days apart, and each consisted of just one set for the calves.

Yesterday evening I had the most spectacular workout of my training career, and my legs are throbbing so badly right now I can barely walk. The training session was one for the ages, and I am utterly astonished on how it all happened.

You see, I really didn’t want to train yesterday, especially knowing that I heavy squats and seated calf raises were on the agenda. It had been a hard day at work, I got little sleep the night before, and quite frankly my mind was on other things. With all the tension, I figured that failure in the gym was unavoidable, and maybe I should just postpone the workout.

Guilt got the best of me though, so I devised plan B. My alternate plan was based on an old psychological trick that has worked for me many times in the past. This strategy calls for setting the stakes so high that failure is expected and totally understandable. Regardless of the outcome, it is easy on the ego because if you do fail you’ve got a perfectly good excuse for it. In short, all sense of pressure is off, and you really have nothing to lose.

Let me explain my technique more concretely. Miss a lift with a relatively light weight and you are going to feel pathetic. Your confidence may also plummet, and this may possibly trigger a training plateau — the last thing you want when you are trying to build muscle and strength. In contrast, attempt to lift a heavier and seemingly impossible weight and if you fail it’s no big deal. You might even feel a sense of accomplishment if the barbell budges a little bit. Key here is to attempt a weight that is just outside your perceived ability. Don’t attempt to set a world record; we are not talking about doing totally insane things here. Just as importantly, reserve this technique for emergencies only. That is, use it only occasionally and only when you really need it. If you implement this technique too often its power will diminish.

Okay, getting back to my leg workout, my strategy tonight was to go ridiculously heavy for my current strength level and take a “who cares” attitude. For my squats, I figured that increasing the training weight by 10 pounds over my personal record would do the trick; ditto for the calf-raise exercise. The idea was to give it my all during both movements and regardless of the outcome walk away from the gym feeling good about things. It was an unorthodox approach, but I have found that if I come out of the gym feeling dejected in the least my mood can spark a rather bad psychological/physiological response and trigger a training rut that is very difficult to get out of. In contrast, if I end a workout with an emotional high, then chances are good my next workout is going to be even better.

Anyway, with my no-pressure plan in place I managed to overcome my internal resistance last night and get myself into my garage for a training session. Once in the gym, the first thing I did was turn on my boom box, insert the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers CD, and set the song to Can You Hear Me Knocking. I don’t know whether Keith Richards or Mick Taylor played lead guitar on that number, but every time I hear the strings bend on that song it gets me going.

With the Stones at full force, the warrior within me started to perk up surprisingly fast. The pressure was off, I had nothing to lose, and the troubles of the day vanished into thin air as if by magic. Suddenly, the stage was set for yet another battle between me and the iron plates that stood motionless on the frigid gym floor. Incidentally, my garage thermometer read 24 degrees Fahrenheit (-4.5 degrees Celsius), so I didn’t have to worry about any of my neighbors complaining about the loud music; they were all indoors resting comfortably in their nice heated homes.

Now, I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but by the time Bobby Keys’ brilliant sax solo on Can You Hear Me Knocking came rolling in, I was struck by an inner metamorphosis of great power. No, I didn’t turn into the Incredible Hulk and burst out of my clothes, but my mind felt sharp, alert, and ready for the battle at hand. It was an incredible feeling, and the emotional high was just what I needed to pull off a training miracle.

Driven by an inexplicable inner force, I launched into my warm-up sets of squats with an army of self-confidence. My training spirit was back and in stable equilibrium, and the time was right once again for yet another personal record to fall. Heck, for two personal records to fall.

Whether due to nerve, grit, grip, or pluck, when the moment came for my final set of squats I wasn’t the slightest bit worried about the record weight. To my eager eyes the barbell looked rather puny and defeatable. I saw it as nothing but a harmless pile of steel made strong by gravity, and I figured that I was well prepared to lick gravity. Such was the improved mood.

When I got underneath the cold bar for my final and heaviest set of squats, it felt like I was lifting the world. The barbell dug hard into my upper back, and the pressure from the big plates radiated down my entire body. With full concentration at work, awareness of my surroundings faded away as conquest of the heavy weight dominated my every thought. The battle had begun, and with nothing to lose I went for it with a full force of conviction.

The final squat set was hard; it was intense; and it sure as hell wasn’t fun. But, when my squat workout was all over, a new personal record stood. It was a great feeling and a personal triumph of the highest magnitude. I had done the impossible, or at least the seemingly impossible. I had also proven to myself, once again, that no matter how lackluster I may feel before training, I can have a record-breaking workout if I just get myself into the gym. Getting started is the hardest part, but once you are over the hump motivation and drive accelerate, sometimes to unprecedented heights.

After setting a new personal record in the squat, I faced the most grueling part of the workout – one final set of High Voltage seated calf raises with 460 pounds. My previous best, done 10 days ago, had been 450 pounds. A note in my training diary described that set as “a near death experience.” That’s another story, but I will tell you that right after that record-shattering set was over I wasn’t sure if I was still on Earth or if I had moved on to the afterlife. I kid you not.

Despite my rather unpleasant “afterlife” experience 10 days ago, last night I plowed straight ahead in this exercise with a renewed source of energy and with even greater strength. The heavy barbell was conquered, and now my training record on this lift stands at 460 pounds. It was a very satisfying personal victory, and my now aching calves remind me that nothing worthwhile in bodybuilding comes easy. I should also point out that other than one brief warm-up set with bodyweight, my calf training last night took just under two minutes to complete, each second crammed into one ultra-intense high-voltage set. But, don’t be fooled. It was two minutes of utter agony — far more brutal than 20 conventional sets.

The success of my workout last night is testament that (1) High Voltage training is incredibly effective for stimulating the muscle growth process; (2) it really is possible for a drug-free athlete over 50 to grow bigger and stronger; (3) all it takes is one properly executed set to trigger a growth response; (4) training less frequently can be more effective than training more frequently; and (5) the most important part of a successful workout is getting started.

A Note About High Voltage Training

As mentioned, the implementation of High Voltage has had a profound effect of my workout progress. This method involves intense, brief, and infrequent training, much like Mentzer’s Heavy-Duty System, but its form is radically different. As an example of its efficacy, the chart above shows how well I have progressed in the seated calf raise over the last several weeks using High Voltage. The progress has been utterly phenomenal, far greater than during previous years when I followed a more traditional training approach. The gap in the center of the graph is the result of an extended lay-off from training I took to complete a very involved physics course. During this time I lost a considerable amount of muscle and strength, but as you can see I regained top form very quickly upon returning to the gym and training High Voltage style. The High Voltage method is still in the rudimentary stages of development, so I don’t yet want to discuss its details. In due time, however, I will release a full book or two about this remarkable system of training, and doing so I think will open the strength world to a whole new perspective of muscle building.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Building Muscle with the Jowett Pushup

January 19, 2014

MOI editor Robert Drucker is shown here performing the Jowett pushup. A brief pause at the top of the movement while firmly contracting the muscles of the chest, arms, back, core, buttocks, and legs makes this exercise more intense and more productive. Photograph by MOI staff.

A lot of readers ask me whether weight training or bodyweight exercise is better for building the body. In the near future, I’m going to address this important question in great depth. For now, however, let me just say that both camps of training are equally good, although each has advantages and disadvantages.

One bodyweight exercise that I particularly like is the Jowett pushup. This bodyweight exercise does a tremendous job stimulating the pectoral muscles, the deltoids, the triceps of the upper arms, and even the muscles of the core and back. And, when done “fingertip” style, practice of the Jowett pushup will build finger strength to a remarkable degree.

In the old days, the jowett pushup was utilized extensively by bodybuilders and other strength athletes to build total body power and thick chest muscles. Then came the invention of the modern-day bench-press apparatus, and the publishers of the muscle magazines went wild with it. Realizing that they could sell the bench apparatus for a rather sizable profit, much publicity was given to this new piece of equipment and the jowett pushup was pushed aside. This is a sad fact to bring up because the Jowett pushup offers some big advantages. I find that this movement is (1) more enjoyable to perform than the bench press, (2) safer to perform than the bench press, and (3) more versatile than the bench press.

The legs and back should be kept straight and inline with each other while performing the Jowett pushup for best results. This practice also greatly strengthens the core muscles. At the bottom position, be sure to stretch vigorously, and once again contract your muscles firmly to drive up the intensity. Photograph by MOI staff.

Regarding safety, the Jowett pushup, when performed in near-perfect style, places considerably less stress on the shoulder joints and elbows than do heavy bench presses. Do heavy bench presses long enough, and you are almost guaranteed to wreck your shoulders and elbows. Not so with the Jowett pushup. In addition, the Jowett pushup can be performed safely without use of a safety rack or a need to have a spotter present.

As for versatility, the Jowett pushup is hard to beat. This movement can be done just about anywhere with no special equipment. All you need is a few chairs to rest your hands on and something to rest your feet on and you are in business. For this reason, the Jowett pushup is an ideal exercise to practice while traveling; no gym required.

As you might expect, there are many variations of the Jowett pushup. This movement can be done with the hands and feet resting at equal height (flat style), with the hands resting higher than the feet (incline style), or with the hands resting lower than the feet (decline style). In addition, various different objects (chairs, boards, exercise balls, etc.) can be utilized to support your hands and feet. There are many fine bodyweight training books available that show in detail such variations.

To get the most benefit from practice of the Jowett pushup, this movement should be performed with near perfect style. The back and legs should be kept flat and inline with the torso; the head should be held slightly upwards; and, the torso, chest, and legs should be be kept tight with firm muscular contractions.

Performing the Jowett pushup fingertip style is one of the best exercises you can do to build strong fingers and a powerful grip. This exercise is very brutal, and beginners are advised to begin with an incline style (hands resting higher than the legs). As your fingers become stronger, you can gradually shift to a decline position, as shown here, to increase the effective resistance. Always warm up your fingers thoroughly before performing fingertip pushups. Photograph by MOI staff.

Work each repetition deliberately and slowly, and aim for a deep “feel” rather than impressive numbers. Remember, sloppy reps don’t count; go for quality over quantity.

If you are not an experienced strength athlete, I recommend that you begin with the incline version of the Jowett pushup (hands higher than feet). Progression can be made by increasing the number of reps performed and/or by gradually reducing the incline angle.

Once you can perform 15 to 20 perfect reps with your hands and feet resting at the same height (flat style), then you can advance to a decline style, beginning with your hands resting just a few inches lower than your legs. As you become stronger, gradually make the work angle steeper. There is a limit, however, to how extreme you can make the decline angle before this exercise becomes more of a shoulder exercise than a chest exercise. But, not to worry, there are other progression methods that can utilized to keep progress going. Such techniques are discussed in length in just about any good book about bodyweight training.

So there you have it – a short primer on the Jowett pushup. Work this exercise hard once or twice per week, and you can expect to beef up security across your entire body.

More super tips for building muscle with push-ups can be found in my article, Building Muscular Might with the Close-Grip Pushup. You may want to check it out.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Building Muscle with the Bodyweight Calf Raise

January 18, 2014

MOI editor Robert Drucker is shown here performing the one-leg toe raise. At the top position, the calf muscle should be contracted vigorously. Then, SLOWLY lower your toes and feel the calf muscle work every inch down. Photograph by MOI staff.

If you’re looking for a great way to build your calves that doesn’t require a calf machine and a bunch of weight plates, you might want to consider practicing toe raises with just your bodyweight. Six months ago I would not have given you this advice; I used to think that a calf machine was essential for building the lower legs. Now, I know that this is not the case.

After recently reading Paul Wade’s Convict Conditioning 2, I decided to give bodyweight toe raises a try, starting with double-leg calf raises off of a step. I was shocked to discover that by performing this movement as Wade prescribes, my calves were torched within minutes. And, after my first session with bodyweight toe raises (just two sets), my calves were extremely sore for nearly a week!

Once at the bottom position, go for a full stretch and briefly hold. Then, rise SLOWLY on your toes and feel the calf muscle work every inch up. The rise upward should be smooth and without jerks. Photograph by MOI staff.

As I write this sentence, I can feel a deep ache in both of my growing calves. You see, I performed bodyweight toe raises yesterday morning, one leg at a time. These were done strictly, slowly, with a full range of motion, with a full stretch at the bottom position, with a hard peak contraction at the top position, and for plenty of reps. Talk about brutal. My calves squirmed with each rep until I literally fell off the two-by-sixes I was using to perform the movement.

What is really great about bodyweight toe raises is that they can be performed about anywhere. All you need is something about five or six inches off the ground to step onto. A staircase step works great for this task, or simply use a few pieces of lumber.

The bodyweight toe raise is a terrific calf builder. This was a surprise to MOI editor Robert Drucker, who watched his calves grow after incorporating this exercise into his training program. Photograph by MOI staff.

Now, a few people have told me that they cannot see how bodyweight toe raises can rival calf-machine training, least alone be better. Well, here is my answer to these skeptics. Most people load the calf machine with way too much weight. If you watch these machine folks train their calves, you will see that they handle plenty of weight, but they only knock out short and choppy reps! In other words, they are kidding themselves by thinking that they are working their calves hard simply because they place a heavy load across their shoulders. If these same machine-minded folks would put their weights away and aim for form, feel, a full range of motion, and hard muscular contractions, they would find the bodyweight toe raise incredibly effective and challenging.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Building Muscle with the Bodyweight Row Exercise

January 18, 2014

The bodyweight row exercise is a tremendous back and arm builder. It also significantly strengthens the abdominal and core muscles. Each rep should start with a full stretch, and the back should be kept inline with the body at all times. After stretching at the bottom position for a one or two count, slowly pull yourself upward until your chest comes into contact with the holding bar or board, or until you can go no higher. MOI editor Robert Drucker is shown here performing the bodyweight row exercise while gripping a 2×6, one that is securely clamped across the safety boards of a power rack. Photograph by MOI staff.

This evening after work I went into my garage and trained 100% bodyweight style to stir things up a bit. I did just four movements, the row, the jowett pushup, the bent-leg hold, and the one-legged calf raise. It was a one great workout, and one that was fun too.

The bodyweight row exercise is a favorite of mine. I find this movement to be safer and more effective than it’s barbell counter part, the bent-over row. The barbell version of the row inevitably puts undesirable strain on the lower back, especially when practiced by older folks like me. The bent-over position also encourages sloppy form. If you watch the average bodybuilder perform the barbell row, you will see what I mean. In contrast, the bodyweight row puts no strain on the lower back, and I find it relatively easy to maintain good form while performing it.

At the top position, contract your back and arm muscles vigorously for a one or two count. Then, slowly lower yourself while keeping your back straight and inline with your legs. Photograph by MOI staff.

The bodyweight row exercise is best practiced with a medium grip, one that is comfortable for you. I prefer to use a grip just slightly wider than shoulder width. Each repetition should begin with a full stretch at the bottom position, and conclude with a one or two second hold once the fully contracted position is reached (chest brought into contact with the holding bar or board, or at least as high as possible). After holding a second or two in the fully-contracted position, you should then slowly lower your body and repeat the sequence for as many repetitions as you can comfortably do. Remember to keep your back straight and inline with your legs at all times. Doing so will greatly increase the effectiveness of the exercise, particularly in regards to strengthening the abdominal and core muscles.

The bodyweight row exercise can be performed by holding onto a pipe or barbell, but I find that gripping a wooden board, such as a 2×6, to be superior for building a strong grip. Holding onto a board really taxes your fingers and forearms to a much greater extent than can be realized with a round pipe or barbell, unless perhaps a rather large bar is used. The feel of wood also is quite pleasant, something that can’t be said for an iron or steel bar during cold weather.

For variation, you can perform the bodyweight row exercise with a reverse grip (palms facing you). Training with a reverse grip will stimulate the arm and back muscles somewhat differently, providing more balanced development. And for building big biceps, I doubt that there is a better exercise than the bodyweight row done with a reverse grip.

In an upcoming posts, I’ll cover the jowett pushup, the bent-leg hold, the one-legged calf raise, and a few other favorite bodyweight movements. In the mean time, you may want to give the bodyweight row exercise a try. I’m betting that if you do you will really like it.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

York Barbells and Sumners Hardware Store

January 11, 2014

The sole surviving weight plate from the York Barbell set I purchased at Sumners Hardware store over 30 years ago. Photograph by Robert Drucker

Many years ago, before a flood of giant home-improvement retail chains swept across the nation, there existed a rather inconspicuous but fantastic hardware store on Dixie Highway in Louisville, Kentucky. It was called Sumners Hardware, and man did I love that place. Sumners offered great service, and they had a huge selection of hardware gadgets and specialty items to choose from. But, what really did it for me is that the hardware store sold all sorts of York Barbell products. You read that right; in the middle of the store was a huge muscle-building aisle, and the centerpiece of attraction was a complete stocking of York barbell sets, benches, squat stands, steel cable sets, and numerous other training novelties. Sumners even sold issues of Strength and Health magazine and Bob Hoffman’s infamous HI-PROTEEN food products. It was quite a place, and it was an absolute paradise for the weightlifter who also loved working with tools.

When I was a high school, I worked part-time in a neighborhood grocery store. I earned about $70 a week stocking food items and carrying groceries to customers’ cars, a pretty good chunk of change for a teenager back in those days. My parents didn’t force me to work while I was in school, but I kept at the job for some time anyway because I wanted to save enough money to stock my home gym with a complete line of York Barbell products. My goal was realized when I was about 17 years old. One day, with about $300 stashed in my wallet, I drove to Sumners Hardware and I purchased a 340-pound York barbell set, an extra barbell, a pair of York squat stands, a York multi-purpose weight bench, a pair of York iron boots, and a few muscle magazines to keep my motivation flame white hot. Heck, I even bought a few of Hoffman’s HI-PROTEEN bars to make sure that I kept my nutrition level super charged before taking my new training equipment home.

For a few years, my York training equipment rested comfortably in my parent’s basement where I had set up a small gym. Having a genuine York-stocked gym at home was really awesome. Every time I picked up a York barbell to train I figured that I was using the same equipment that built the likes of John Grimek, Steve Stanko, Johnny Terpak, and other famous members of the York strength team. It was a great psychological boost, and I was in full agreement when Jim Park declared in a magazine advertisement that “For the best in bodybuilding equipment – buy York.”

Eventually, I brought my hard-earned York training equipment to Youngstown, Ohio when I went there to attend engineering school. I rented a large room in an old house on Illinois Avenue, and there my weights became scattered all over the floor. All went well until the middle of my senior year of college. I was running very low on cash, and about four months before graduation I could no longer pay the rent; I was flat broke. So my landlord gave me a choice, either face eviction or pay the rent with my York barbell equipment. I chose the latter option, and by the time of my graduation I had only one York plate that remained in my possession, a small 1 1/4-pounder. Incidentally, this plate only survived my financial disaster because I had inadvertently left it at my parent’s house before coming to Youngstown. Even today, it is the only York barbell plate that I own, and I cherish greatly.

Now, you may wonder why my landlord may have been interested in my York barbell equipment. Well, he was a strength athlete himself, and he was a darn good boxer. One day he had a disagreement with one of the girl tenants in the house. The next thing I know is that the girl’s older and huge brother comes storming into the house, and he tries to pick a fight with the landlord. The brother is screaming threats and telling the landlord that they need to settle things “like men.” During his screaming tirade, the guy also claimed to be wrestler, and to be fair he certainly did look like one. But, my landlord held his ground, and he remained calm and self-assured, as if he didn’t have a worry in the world.

Finally, when pressed by the wrestler to “step outside,” my landlord rationally explained to him that he was prepared to defend himself if he was attacked. He then calmly asked the wrestler which hospital he would prefer to go to should a fight break out. Wisely, the wrestler backed down and the two men parted ways peacefully. Oh, what great memories.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Squats – Are They Bad for the Knees?

January 1, 2014

Done correctly, arguably the barbell squat is the most productive body-building exercise in existence. Photograph by Rob Drucker.

This is one of the most common questions I get from readers, and I thought it would be good to take a look at this concern in some depth. Please understand that I give my opinion here based only on my own experiences, and your situation may be different from mine. If you are experiencing knee pain, I strongly urge you to seek medical evaluation, and be sure to follow the advice of your doctor.

Generally speaking, squats are not bad for your knees if they are done correctly. In fact, when performed properly barbell squats actually stabilize the knee joint and reduce vulnerability to injury by strengthening surrounding muscles and tendons.

To perform the squat properly, keep your feet straight out and about shoulder-width apart, your back reasonably straight, and maintain your head and line of vision slightly upwards. Most importantly, during the descent of the movement always maintain control of the weight and never bounce at the bottom.

Recoiling at the bottom position of the squat subjects the ligaments and cartridge of the knee joint to substantial stress, a result which can be severe strain or even a tear. I have known more than a handful of lifters over the years who had to have surgery to repair knee damage caused by this practice. Don’t do it.

Some lifters work the squat correctly, but, nonetheless, they develop knee pain of some sort eventually. Sometimes the cause of knee pain is over-training, simply not giving yourself enough rest between squat sessions to allow the knee joints to recover properly and strengthen. This happened to me when I was in my late thirties. Finally, when I couldn’t stand my knee pain any longer, I cut my squat sessions from twice a week to once a week and also reduced the number of sets performed. I ended up getting much stronger, and today I have no knee pain whatsoever at age 50. And, yes, I still squat heavy – much heavier now than I ever did in year’s past.

In summary, when performed correctly most strength athletes can perform heavy full squats without issue. But, age, one’s general condition, and genetic factors all play a role in this equation. For some folks, regular barbell squats can cause or aggravate knee problems. If regular squats are bad for you, as an alternative for leg building you may want to consider performing front squats, the trap bar deadlift, seated leg presses, or squats with lighter weights for higher repetitions. In any case, take care of your joints. Doing so is the key to enduring lifting success.

Yours in Strength,
Rob Drucker

P.S. Do you want to develop powerful and muscular legs? Here is how:
Prescription for Building Mighty Legs

Concentrated Energy

December 30, 2013

When you possess concentrated energy, you don’t need elaborate training equipment to build a terrific physique. Shown here is my seated-calf “machine” as it looked just before my workout this morning. It ain’t pretty and it ain’t fancy, but it sure is effective for building mighty calves. Photograph by Rob Drucker.

In about 10 minutes I’m going to head to my garage for a super session of heavy squats, presses off rack, and seated calf raises. What matters here, however, is not the exercises of selection, rather that they be performed with a state of mind which Orison Swett Marden called concentrated energy.

In Pushing to the Front, author Orison Swett Marden gives a quote from Fowel, and I would like to repeat here because it outlines the meaning of concentrated energy most succinctly. In the words of Fowel,

“The longer I live, the more deeply am I convinced that which makes the difference between one man [or woman] and another — between the weak and the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is energy — invincible determination — a purpose once formed, and then death or victory.”

The wise lifter will memorize and live by these words uttered by Fowel, for they will very much give you a competitive advantage both in life and in the gym. Stated another way, these words hold the secret to success in any chosen endeavor, including muscle building. I have found no other formula of success as powerful as Fowel’s.

Well, we could engage in a deep philosophical discussion all morning, but doing so would not build an ounce of muscle. Thus, it’s time to end this post and head to the gym for another fully concentrated, record-smashing workout. The triumph of promptness demands this.

Happy New Year, and may 2014 be a great one for you.
Rob Drucker

A Lesson Learned

December 27, 2013

Home-built equipment is great because you can quickly adapt things to make your workouts extra hard and productive. Here, my “scrap-wood” power rack is converted on the fly to a high-voltage chinning apparatus with some C-clamps. At left is a 1.25 inch nominal pipe (1.660 inch outer diameter) and at right the chin “bar” is a massive four-by-four. Chinning while holding onto this baby with 80 pounds strapped around your waist will have you praying for mercy in no time, but it will also toughen your grip like nothing else can. Try it and see, if you dare. Photograph by Rob Drucker.

I just got done with a high-voltage workout, and I’m still shaking. I did but one hard set of incline presses and one hard set of chins, but I cannot begin to explain fierce intensity that took place during those two most incredible sets. In all, it was 20 minutes of light warm-ups followed by 46 seconds of utter agony . . . thought the world was going to end. Now, the aftermath is kicking in . . . feels like I’ve been run over by a truck – no a 200-ton locomotive!

It’s hard to type; my forearms are throbbing; they took the worst punishment of the workout. Luckily, my grip held during the chin session with a thick bar. Within a few seconds, I just wanted to let go. Thank goodness the warrior within me refused to abort the mission until the records at hand were shattered. Next workout will be even worse; the expectations will be raised even higher.

Three months ago I quit training. For some insane reason I got tired of bodybuilding, and I decided that I wanted to do something else. I filled the void in part by studying physics. But, without high-voltage training I wasn’t the same person. I can’t really explain it in words; I can only say that I came to realize that I must always be a lifter – whether I like it or not. The orders are carved into my DNA, and there is nothing I can do to change this.

I finally got to the point where I could stand my sedentary lifestyle no longer, and I dragged my pathetic looking body back into the gym on November 29. My first “comeback” workout was a total joke; I could barely lift an unweighted barbell, least alone one with a few plates slapped on each end. The demonstration of my weakness brought out a most miserable feeling; I never want to experience that feeling again.

Since getting back to the gym I have been steadily regaining my form, and I’m now back on the record-breaking track. And, this whole ordeal has taught me a most valuable lesson, one which I will never forget. It is this: physical training makes me feel better inside, and my enthusiasm for life is higher when I am lifting heavy and hard. Go to the gym and you too will likely draw this conclusion.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Basement Muscle Builder

December 22, 2013

A power rack need not be complicated or expensive to be useful and effective. This “simple” muscle-building apparatus is ideal for strength athletes who train in an unfinished basement or in a garage with exposed rafters. Design and drawing by Robert Drucker.

If you train in an unfinished basement it is a simple matter to construct a multipurpose power rack for just a few dollars. An illustration of one such apparatus is depicted at right. This rack is made primarily from two-by-four lumber, and it is secured to two exposed ceiling joists with wood screws, bolts, or c-clamps. I prefer to use c-clamps because they allow you to secure and move the rack easily with no damage to the joists.

It is not necessary to secure this rack to your basement floor. Just make sure that the rack is pressed firmly against the floor before securing it tightly at the ceiling joists. So long as the bottom of the rack is held firmly against the floor, the structure will not be able to rotate out of place under ordinary use. Of course, if you want be absolutely certain that your rack won’t move under load you can fasten its bottom plates to the basement floor with hardened nails driven by a stud gun. Alternatively, you can use concrete screws, first boring into the floor through the plates with a hammer drill.

Note that the “Basement Muscle Builder” features adjustable safety boards and an adjustable chinning bar; thus, it is quite a versatile device. The chinning bar is secured in a V-notch, and this design allows a bar of any desired diameter (within reason) to be used. It also allows the chinning bar to be quickly removed or attached, a rather convenient feature.

I should add that the apparatus depicted above is only a conceptual drawing. Its construction may need to be altered somewhat to meet your personal needs and strength levels. I present a fairly light-duty model here, but it can be made stronger, wider, etc. without significantly altering building or cost requirements.

As you have seen, this muscle-building apparatus is very simple in design, and it can be built by just about anybody who has at least a rudimentary knowledge of tools. However, don’t be fooled; this power rack may be simple in form, but it is complex in capability. It can be used for all sorts of exercises, and it serves well as a safety cage for squats and bench presses. And, with a little bit of imagination and effort, many “attachments” can be built for this apparatus to make it even more functional. Think calf machine, lat machine, incline-bench board, incline sit-up board, etc.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Kansas City Muscle, 1953

December 15, 2013

Business card advertising the Kansas City Physique and Strength Show of 1953. On the back of the card and referring to the physique competition, Bill Rasdall wrote, “Jack Cress, 1st; Bill Rasdall, 2nd, Bill Wells 3rd.” Photograph by Robert Drucker.

On May 30, 1953 a big event took place at the Resident Theatre on 1600 E. Linwood to the delight of a packed audience. The big occasion was the Kansas City Physique and Strength Show, and it featured a Mr. Kansas City physique contest, a Mr. High School physique contest, a bench press contest, a squat contest, and a variety of strength and athletic demonstrations. In addition, James Schwertley, a Mr. Nebraska, Mr. Midwest, and Mr. New Mexico winner, guest posed.

Page two of The 1953 Kansas City Physique and Strength Show program booklet. Note that a number of athletic events were held, including a trampoline act and a balancing act. Those were the days! Photograph by Robert Drucker.

One of the contestants in the big show was Bill Rasdall. He placed second in the physique contest, and he acquired a “nice” trophy for his efforts.

Bill trained at the Mid America Studio at 1313 E. 46th Street in Kansas City (Missouri side) under the guidance of Vern Beckel, owner of the gym and an established muscle man who had been featured in Iron Man magazine. Bill regarded Vern as a “swell guy,” and described his gym as “one of the best.”

Vern sold a protein powder at his gym which he called “Super Protein.” The cost of his product was $2.50 per pound (a 10-day supply), a great deal of money back in those days. But, Vern promised that his protein would yield “faster improvement, more definition, and greater power.”

Page three of the program booklet. You can see that the bench press competition was 40 pounds over body weight for limit repetitions and that the squat competition was 100 pounds over body weight for limit repetitions. Note that Art Leonard squatted 260 pounds 36 consecutive times in the squat competition. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

Bill seemed to support Vern’s point of view, indicating in a letter to a friend that “Vern’s protein is terrific and it is proven.”

Bill also indicated in his letter that Vern had a special training program that really worked wonders for building muscle. Due to my skepticism, I have never tried Vern’s unique program. However, Bill did and in his letter he gave it very high praise. Here is what he wrote,

“[On Vern’s program] you only train one day a week. On that day you train for ten hours straight and you eat every two hours. You specialize on one muscle group at a time. One of the guys that I know has put on 30 pounds in two ten-hour workouts, and he was an advanced body builder to begin with. One of the other guys had put an inch on his arms in one ten-hour workout and it has stayed. Vern said that he was going to put his own arm up to 18½ inches when he got back. Also, at the end of one of those ten-hour workouts Vern says that you are stronger. He’s proven that to himself.”

Page four of The 1953 Kansas City Physique and Strength Show program booklet. Check out the ads for Vern Bickel’s Mid America Studio and Super Protein. The “CLOTHIER” ad at top left is also pretty cool. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

So does Vern Beckel’s 10-hour workout program work? I don’t have the time to find out, but if you decide to give it a try please let me know the results.

Incidentally, just weeks before the 1953 Kansas City Physique and Strength show, Bill Rasdall had attended the Mr. America contest where he witnessed the mighty Bill Pearl win the event. Also, Rasdall mentioned in his letter that he had seen Vern Beckel at the big show “talking to Park.” I don’t know if he was referring to former Mr. Universe Reg Park or to 1952 Mr. America winner, Jim Park. Either way, it sounds like Bill had a great time and met some super champs.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

How to Become a Member of the Muscle-Success Club – Part 2

September 15, 2013

Philippe Combes from France designed and made this Harvey Maxime Bar himself. It’s a terrific piece of hand-built training equipment and a big enhancement to his home gym. Photograph courtesy of Philippe Combes.

In the old days of bodybuilding, it was not unusual for a young lifter to make his own training equipment. Craftsmanship of a muscle-building apparatus was done with pride, and the personal satisfaction that was derived from such work cannot be appreciated by the majority of people today who know only how to have their credit card swiped or how to click on an internet order form.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that marketers of strength equipment NEVER want you to know. It is this: In the majority of cases, you are FAR better off building even a crude muscle-building apparatus than spending your hard-earned money on a fancy commercial unit. I can tell you from personal experience that a training apparatus you didn’t build will never give you the full range of benefits that even a modest hand-built effort will deliver. Sure, throwing your money around can bring the fanciest and strongest training equipment to your door step at the click of a button; but, following this path will limit your creative growth, rob you of skill and experience, and increase the odds that you will become just another brainwashed muscle-seeking robot.

The use of caster wheels makes Philippe’s machine easy to move from place to place. Photograph courtesy of Philippe Combes.

Here is something else you should know: strength equipment that you build with your own hands, however simple, can do you more good in the gym than anything you can buy. Sure, that $700 power rack may be able to support a gazillion pounds and impress your friends with its fancy array of features and gadgets, but that is where it stops. It doesn’t deliver the imagination, the learning experiences, the confidence, and the personal satisfaction that your hand-built rack will. Why? Because acquiring something simply by opening your wallet is no substitute for the expression of your own individuality and sincere output of personal effort. If either of these two components is missing from your muscle-building formula, your gains in the gym are cut short.

Here’s a close-up of the bar-support mechanism Philippe used on his Harvey Maxime Bar. Photograph courtesy of Philippe Combes.

During my college years I was so poor I could only dream of buying “good” training equipment. How jealous I was of the people who could afford to go to a commercial gym and use all that fancy high-tech equipment. One day, however, I quit feeling sorry for myself, and I built a very rudimentary power rack made from scrap wood that I managed to salvage from a garbage pickup site. Now, over 25 years later, that same “rudimentary” power rack is still the center of my home gym, and I am the better for it. Every time I put this rack to use I recall the difficult circumstances which led to its creation. This reflection never fails to bring to me a level of muscle-building motivation that the majority of high-tech gadget users probably never experience. I can’t really explain it in words, but, in retrospect, I am so very thankful that my college days were filled with financial and personal struggle. Sometimes, poverty and difficulty provide lessons and opportunity that no amount of money can buy. If you understand this, you can go far in life regardless of your current situation.

Chris “Sticks” Bostick is both an excellent artist and an innovative strength-equipment builder. Displayed here is an illustration of an easy-to-build barbell-support rack he designed and constructed. Chris’s use of Kee-Klamp fittings allows the user of this rack to adjust the barbell supports to any desired height within the machine’s range of motion quickly and easily with a simple Allen wrench. Drawing by and courtesy of Chris Bostick.

This morning, I received an email from Chris Bostick. I would like to share with you what he wrote for his message reveals tremendous insight about muscle-building success:


Good luck with your e-book offering. Many years ago I visited Deland, Florida and Nautilus sports industries and met Arthur Jones. During one of his seminars he made maybe one of the last honest statements I’ve ever heard from a strength-gear manufacturer. He said, “If you don’t have access to any of my new equipment don’t sweat it. Enormous gains in size and strength can be had with a plate-loading barbell as your only tool.”

Arthur was correct as usual, but it wasn’t until I built my own equipment that I was truly satisfied with my training. He wanted (sincerely) to provide the equipment and methods to help guys like me build a world class physique and put up elite strength numbers. Although I wanted those too, I also wanted the feeling Mr. Jones had when he designed and built his own equipment. That, ultimately, is what I found the most satisfying about the whole training experience. Like cartoonist Robert Crumb once said, “music self played is happiness self made!”


In recent months, I have written two posts about the Harvey Maxime Bar. Both of these posts seem to have stimulated quite a bit of interest in this apparatus, and I have received much email regarding its construction and use. A few weeks ago Philippe Combes was kind enough to send me several photographs of his own version of the Harvey Maxime bar. He also granted me permission to post them on MOI as a contribution to the “world of home-built equipment.” Philippe is among the relatively few who experience the thrill and many benefits of building things yourself. Wise would be the strength athlete who follows his lead.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

How to Become a Member of the Muscle-Success Club – Part 1

August 31, 2013

If you want to succeed in bodybuilding, it is of the utmost importance that you follow through with your training even when you just don’t feel like visiting the gym. We all have stressful and lazy days, but when it is time to train you’ve got to show up in the workout room and take care of business. If you don’t force this habit then very likely you will never live up to your full strength potential. Worse, lack of progress, an inevitable result of not training regularly, may permanently crumble your motivation and encourage you to hang up your training gloves forever. Sound familiar?

I acknowledge that finding the time and energy to train on a regular basis can be a constant battle. Work, family, financial, and social responsibilities often leave little left over for gym visits, and the common advice in bodybuilding circles to sleep eight to 10 hours a night, get plenty of rest throughout the day, eat five to six meals per day, and train multiple times per week is utterly ridiculous for the majority of us who have real responsibilities in life.

However, it is a rare fellow who cannot spare two or three hours per week to workout, and luckily this is all the time that is required to make good gains – if one trains productively and consistently. But, experience has taught me that time is not really the issue here; rather, it is energy. Toil can take a lot out of a person, and making it to the weight room after a long day at the job site or school can weaken the training will of even the most ambitious of strength athletes. Add in family, social or other responsibilities and the odds of showing up in the gym become even less.

Energy drain can become a very serious issue for those who are overworked, either mentally or physically. When the body’s energy level reaches a certain low point, training progress will cease regardless of activity. This is a physiological law, and it cannot be circumvented by will power or anything else. Thus, it is critical that the bodybuilder learn to monitor his/her energy levels. Forcing yourself to train when your energy reserve is excessively drained is not only counterproductive, doing so can lead to many adverse effects, including loss of muscle, strength and general health.

Excessive energy drain is usually manifested by long-lasting fatigue, prolonged lack of motivation, and/or unexplained feelings of depression. Thus, if you experience any of these three symptoms for more than a few days, it would be wise to investigate the energy dynamics of your life and make necessary adjustments. Training too hard or too often in the gym is sometimes the root cause of chronic energy drain, but very often it is external factors, the stresses of life, that underlie the “over-trained” syndrome.

Fortunately, most of us are able to balance our energy levels by living and training sensibly. Nonetheless, from time to time we all have our bad days, and the temptation to miss a scheduled workout arises. But, unless you are actually in an energy depleted state, such a temptation must be overruled by your rational mind if you want to be become a member of the Muscle-Success Club. Waiting until you feel like visiting the gym will not provide enough training consistency to accomplish anything worthwhile.

So when you are feeling lazy or recovering from a hard day at work, how do you get yourself into the gym for a productive workout? This is a highly individualistic question, and I will make no attempt to give a general answer. Rather, I will describe a method that usually works well for me, and I’ll leave it up to you to find your own path to training success.

Let me begin by stating that I rarely look forward to any workout, especially after a hard day of work. The idea of coming home to a heavy set of ball-busting squats never appeals to me, and if it wasn’t for my rational command center upstairs my workouts would consist of nothing more than pushing the buttons on my television remote. I kid you not!

But, I find that if I just get into the gym, 99% of the battle is over. I just walk into my garage, take a look at the weights, and I tell myself “just do a little today, don’t worry about training very hard.” This approach puts me at ease and at least gets me going. Then, almost every time, a rather strange and most powerful phenomenon occurs. As I progress across my warm-up sets, my energy level starts to rise, I become more alive, and my expectations start to climb. Before long, I forget all about my troubles at the office and I become engaged in an all-out war to break personal lifting records. This process is assisted by listening to my favorite rock bands crank out notes of power from my boom box. I gradually increase the music intensity, perhaps starting with The Beatles and working up to AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, or Metallica. By the time guitar blasts can be heard echoing across the gym walls, my training motivation hits 88 miles per hour, and serious stuff begins to happen. I enter a fourth training dimension, I gain a massive adrenalin rush, and I acquire the energy of a raging bull. The next thing I know is that I’m having the best workout of my life, and I’m breaking personal records left and right. I then leave the gym ecstatic and feeling terrific. It’s an emotional high that few other things in life can provide, and the process really triggers the muscle-growth process.

In summary, to become a member of the Muscle-Success Club:

  1. Avoid overtraining in all its forms; train and live sensibly.
  2. Get into the gym and let momentum take over.
  3. Be consistent; eventually, persistence will take you far.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

High Voltage Bodybuilding Part 2

August 25, 2013

As a pioneer of High Voltage Bodybuilding, my view of productive strength training is continually undergoing change. In fact, my thinking has expanded so significantly over the last several months it is likely that the new direction at MOI will be understood and appreciated only by a minority within the muscle world.

My concern is not a criticism of the intelligence of the average person. Nearly all gym members have plenty of grey matter upstairs. However, the typical physique enthusiast uses his/her brain hardly at all relative to its true power. And, this is why there are so many unscrupulous marketers making fortunes in the strength field. Just “Google” bodybuilding and you will see exactly what I’m talking about. It’s 99.9% intellectual garbage out there, and the relative ease of making money from a gullible and susceptible public is the driving force at work. It is such a sad reality.

I used to fall hook, line, and sinker to the constant bombardment of bodybuilding propaganda and sales pitches. I could write an entire book about all the worthless products I purchased in quest of muscle. But, now I know better. And, never mind how Mr. Everything trains. I have found from years of experience that what he does is almost always irrelevant with regards to the average trainee. This is a key statement and worthy of your critical evaluation.

Since modern times, marketers have literally produced thousands of books, courses, and supplements “guaranteed” to build you many pounds of rippling muscles. Ads for these products usually show large and powerful-looking men, often world champions, and the message portrayed is that you too can look just like the guys (or gals) in the photos if you buy what they are selling. As just one of many possible examples, one famous strength athlete once declared in a series of ads featured in a popular magazine:

“Follow the simple instructions of my course – only minutes a day and you can build your body as I have built mine. You can win trophies as I have won them and be in the limelight – in sports, social events, etc. Act NOW!”

This claim was made by one of the strongest men in history, and to my knowledge not a single one of his students ever came close to bringing truth to his assertion.

For decades, we have been brainwashed by so-called “authorities of strength,” either inadvertently or deliberately. Either way, the result has been that we have been saturated with a training paradigm that has us locked in a single-dimensional world of muscle. It’s a bodybuilding flatland and virtually nobody is looking up or down. Worse, few individuals even realize that there is an up-and-down plane.

High Voltage Bodybuilding is a result of my desire to break from muscle flatland and to explore higher dimensions of strength-training phenomena. It is not restricted by accepted folklore, and it is independent of what seems to be true at the surface.

To understand the High Voltage model a strength enthusiast must quit thinking in ordinary terms and free oneself from deeply ingrained biases and preconceived pictures of the world. The High Voltage method is much more than just sets, reps, exercise selection, and heavy training; it’s a full integration of one’s physical, mental, and environmental makeup, and it brings a whole new significance to muscle building. It’s a holistic approach that can enrich your life in every aspect, not just in the gym. However, even the “muscle side” of High Voltage offers the trainee new vision, one with tremendous power and capability (within genetic restraints, of course).

High Voltage Bodybuilding is a fairly complex subject, and I will make no attempt to tell you in a single post everything that it entails. Rather, through multiple future posts and articles I will slowly introduce some of its basic concepts, just enough to whet your appetite, challenge your paradigms, and get you thinking about other possibilities. But, for the full story you will need to purchase my future e-book. Why so after all the talk about marketing? I can think of five very good reasons: (1) People rarely appreciate what is free (sad, but very true); (2) in terms of time and money, developing and marketing a quality e-book requires considerable expense; (3) I want to present High Voltage Bodybuilding as a unified system, and this cannot be done in short articles or posts; (4) charging a few bucks for the book will weed out the less-than-serious folks; and, most importantly, (5) the quality of the High Voltage book, at least in terms of valuable information, will be second to none. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of time and effort I have invested into the development of my new system, and many more hours (perhaps months) of hard work will surely follow. The High Voltage book will be based on true heart and soul, and I will never release it until all standards of my work ethic are fully met.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

Why Do You Train?

July 24, 2013

A good question every student of strength should ask themselves is, “Why do I train?” Do you do so for the mere sake of building bigger muscles or to impress people with your strength or physique? I hope not, because if this is your primary reason for training, you are not experiencing anywhere near the full power, joy, and profits that a proper body-building program can provide.

Before I go on, I want to say a bit more about training to impress. BIG MISTAKE. No goal will ever bring you happiness and self-fulfillment if the main driving force behind it is to gain attention from other people or to show off. Furthermore, if you think that merely adding muscle mass to your frame will increase your self-esteem and bring you respect, you are sadly mistaken. Larger muscles, in and of themselves, provide you with extra physical strength and size, nothing else. True character comes from the inner soul, and if your training is not based on this truth your workouts will give you little or nothing worthwhile.

From a personal perspective, heavy lifting in the gym does much more for me than merely strengthen my muscles; it is my ultimate therapy and confidence builder. Pushing big iron plates has taught me how to systematically solve life’s toughest problems, focus my attention on a task at hand with laser-like precision, and strategically overcome seemingly impossible odds. Hard physical training has also ingrained within me an iron will to succeed and filled my spirit with a persistent drive, one that keeps me going even when success seems light years away.

Another benefit of hard training is that it fills my soul with a “concentrated” energy, an almost magical substance that stimulates my mind and expands my view of the world like nothing else I have experienced. This is why I do my best thinking after a hard workout.

I could go on and on about the benefits that intense physical exercise provides me, but space does not permit this because my list is practically endless. However, I will add in closing that, above all, training makes me happier, and this is why I say that lifting heavy in the gym is my ultimate therapy. And by “lifting”, I don’t mean just the physical portion of it. I enjoy the whole training process — the planning, the strategizing, the analyzing, and the revising of the approach included. I guess you could say that it’s the journey that I most enjoy and benefit from, not the end product. Large and strong muscles are just secondary benefits, by-products of a higher, more important and intelligent process.

Perhaps you should now ask yourself why you train. An honest self reflection will reveal much about yourself, and doing this exercise may help bring a higher awareness of your true goals in life and bring greater meaning to your workouts.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

Brooks Kubik – Master Coach of Strength

July 2, 2013

Legacy of Iron is one of many books authored by Brooks Kubik that I have read to expand my strength-training knowledge. The cover photo features Brooks’ arm securing an 80-pound York globe dumbbell in his garage – a perfect cover for a book about the York weightlifting scene during the 1930s. Photograph courtesy of Brooks Kubik.

Learning from master coaches of strength should be a habit of any serious seeker of muscle and might. Seeking instruction from individuals who have a deep insight and understanding of productive physical training can not only save you years of wasted effort, doing so will help you establish a solid knowledge base from which your strength education can be customized to best effect.

Last weekend I spent some time reflecting upon the people who have most influenced the development of my training philosophy. This great exercise helped me to better understand my current thinking patterns, and it did much to shed light on the prime factors that broadened my perspective of physical exercise.

One gentleman who particularly influenced my muscle-building education was Brooks Kubik, and he continues to do so today. Through his many books and courses, Brooks elevated my strength training to a new and higher dimension, and along the way he helped me establish a new bodybuilding paradigm – one which has greatly helped me gain muscle mass and strength.

I am fortunate to have had a few close encounters with Brooks over the years. He is indeed a master coach of strength, and his teachings have played a prominent role not only in my strength education, but in my professional development as well.

During my reflection exercise last weekend, I captured some fond recollections about Brooks on paper, and the result was a new article about the Dino Man from a personal perspective. This is an article that I particularly enjoyed writing, and I hope that you will enjoy reading it. Here is the link:

Close Encounters with Brooks Kubik.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

Henry Holtgrewe – Was He the World’s Strongest Man?

June 18, 2013

The man whom other strongmen feared – Henry Holtgrewe of Cincinnati, Ohio.

At the turn of the twentieth century, strength giants such as “Apollon”, Louis Cyr, Horace Barre, Eugen Sandow, and John Marx were among those being billed as the strongest man in the world. Not so in Cincinnati, though.

As the nineteenth century came to a close, Henry Holtgrewe, a rather quiet and modest immigrant from Germany, was quickly gaining recognition among Cincinnatians as a powerhouse of most magnificent proportions. And, if you have never heard of this guy, it’s about time that you do.

Henry Holtgrewe was born in Osnabruck, Prussia in 1872. Physical strength was abundant in his family line, and as a boy growing up in Germany Holtgrewe was said to be three times stronger than his classmates.

At the age of 21, Holtgrewe migrated to the United States and took up residence in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the Queen City, the strong fellow opened a saloon, and he quickly gained a reputation among local patrons as being a man of stupendous strength. In his saloon, Holtgrewe had been seen single-handedly carrying heavy furniture and lounges with such ease that witnesses couldn’t believe their eyes. Never before had they seen somebody demonstrate such natural strength.

Holtgrewe knew little about weight lifting and strength exhibitions until a public spat between Eugen Sandow and Irving Montgomery drew the big fellow’s attention. Later, after meeting Sandow, Holtgrewe set up a training room in the back of his saloon, and he began to practice many of the same movements that the handsome strongman was famous for performing. Within two years of formal strength training, Holtgrewe became the champion of Ohio for heavy lifting, and Sandow himself gave the German immigrant a gold medal for his feats of strength.

At first, Sandow had urged the mighty Cincinnatian to defend his awarded gold metal against all challengers, but as time progressed the muscular vaudeville performer had grown to fear that the saloon keeper would publically challenge and embarrass him. In fact, after realizing that Holtgrewe had surpassed him in his own lifts, Sandow arranged for police officers to bar Henry from his strength shows whenever he visited Cincinnati.

Sandow was not the only famous strongman who was intimidated by Holtgrewe. Another fear-struck performer was Sandow’s rival, “Sampson”. When in Cincinnati to perform a strength exhibition, Sampson arranged ahead of time to keep the Cincinnati saloon keeper away from the show. However, fearing that Holtgrewe might crash his exhibition, Sampson and the manager of the house devised a plan to ensure, so they thought, that the big Cincinnatian would be made a fool of. One afternoon, after Sampson completed his act, he had his heaviest show barbell nailed down to the stage floor. Soon afterwards, Holtgrewe showed up with a small crowd of supporters, and the big fellow stormed his way to the stage. Holtgrewe wasted little time going right to Apollo’s heavy barbell, and after taking a grip upon it, he gave it a sudden pull. The secured weight didn’t budge, so the mighty man tugged at it again. Still nothing happened, and a few scoffers in the audience broke out in laughter.

Prior to a third attempt, Holtgrewe saw that the barbell was nailed down, and this infuriated him. Suddenly, the sound of splitting wood roared across the auditorium, and Holtgrewe stood in triumph before the crowd holding the big bell overhead with a two-feet-by-three-feet section of the stage accompanying it. The promoters of the show were terrified, and they quickly drew the curtains to quiet the stunned crowd.

As Holtgrewe gained a reputation in Cincinnati for being “the most powerful man in the world,” promoters of strength shows grew more paranoid that the local favorite would unseat their stars. One promoter even went so far as to hire a crew of six boxers from out of town to take down the strongman. Waiting until Holtgrewe was alone in his saloon, the six pugilists launched at the muscle man in a surprise attack. One guy aimed a revolver at the monstrous man; another hit him on his head. But, seconds later, Holtgrewe was the only guy of the seven still standing. The fighting sextet had failed miserably in their assignment, and each of them ended up on the ground curled up in pain. Finally, a patrol wagon showed up at the scene, and the leading officer was awestruck when he saw the six defeated men on the pavement moaning in agony. The officer asked the strongman if he wanted to press charges against his attackers, but Holtgrewe figured the thrashing he gave his adversaries was more than sufficient punishment, and no charges were filed.

Although Holtgrewe possessed legendary strength, outside of Cincinnati he was little known. The German immigrant was a relatively quiet fellow, and he had no desire to be famous or wealthy. As such, Holtgrewe shied away from the press, and he rarely sought publicity. At five feet nine inches in height and nearly 300 pounds, Holtgrewe rivaled the strongest men of his day, including Louis Cyr and Horace Barre. Many Cincinnatians, in fact, regarded Holtgrewe as the strongest man who ever lived. Shortly after his death on January 1, 1917, the following was written about the Ohio strongman in a sports magazine:

There died in Cincinnati, not long ago, a quiet, modest German, little known to fame outside the precincts of the Ohio city, and yet well qualified for winning vast renown and mammoth fortune had he but felt the promptings of ambition. Henry Holtgrewe, Cincinnati saloon-keeper and plain, ordinary citizen, was perhaps the strongest man that ever lived – unquestionably the mightiest athlete that the world has known in modern times. None of the professional ‘strong men’ of Europe or America could compare with Henry Holtgrewe: it is doubtful if the legendary giants of olden times were half-way his equal — and yet he lived with little reputation and died comparatively poor.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Prescription for Record-Breaking Lifting – Part 4

June 15, 2013

It is a sad fact that the majority of experienced lifting enthusiasts gain very little in the form of muscle and strength from year to year. Stick around any commercial gym long enough and you will undoubtedly observe that the vast majority of muscle seekers do the same exercises, perform the same combination of sets and reps, and use the same weights over and over again. You will also likely experience this common rut firsthand if you do not take the right steps to advance your training techniques and mental powers as you become stronger.

Not long ago, I made the realization that I too was among the majority of lifters who year after year look the same and repeat the same. Careful analysis of my training log revealed a most alarming three-part trend. Each triad consisted of (1) a brief period of progress, one which lasted until I reached my previous best; (2) a long period of plateau where little or no progress was made; and (3) a lengthy period of layoff, one taken in frustration and demotivation. Sound familiar?

In short, physically I was always ending up at the same point despite much investment of effort and time in the gym. To make matters worse, my age was starting to catch up with me, and my 49-year-old body was starting to show subtle signs of regress. I just knew that if I didn’t bring my training philosophy forward with a quantum leap, I would be lucky to maintain my strength, least alone set new personal records on a routine basis. In other words, continuation of the same training path and more of the same thinking would inevitably spell D-O-O-M, just as surely as the sun will continue to rise and settle.

The thought that my best training days could forever remain behind me filled my mind with a most inflicting fear, one which, in retrospect, revitalized not only my training career, but my entire life. Call it a middle-age crisis if you will, but my training forecast sent me into a crisis mode so intense I experienced a level of thinking that hitherto had been completely foreign to me. Powered by a sense of urgency, I began to work hours a day to establish a new method of training, one which would renew muscular growth and ascend my enthusiasm back to cloud nine.

Asking tough questions is vital for advancement in any endeavor, but seeking answers to your questions by thinking upon them with clear concentration and focus is even more powerful. Such was the approach I used to set my wheels of muscle growth into motion once again; such is the approach I continue to use to keep my wheels of progress turning.

Here is a small sampling of the kind of questions I am talking about.

For months I pondered upon these thought-provoking questions (and many others) through Newton’s Law of Success. This approach brought my training philosophy to whole new frontier, and my progress wheels are not only spinning once again, they are rotating at record speed. You can do the same, perhaps to a greater degree, if you too ask some tough questions and think upon them until the answers unfold before your very eyes.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

Prescription for Record-Breaking Lifting – Part 3

June 5, 2013

Here’s another personal letter I received that explains how to keep the record lifts coming. What is written here is far more valuable than what you’ll read in a typical training article; this, I can assure you. The photography needs some improvement, but the messages delivered are extremely powerful. The final thought is one that will particularly bring forth great power to those who take the time to grasp its full meaning and significance.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

Prescription for Record-Breaking Lifting – Part 2

June 2, 2013

I received this letter today from a very close friend. The message is very personal, but I share it with you because it reveals a great deal about the psychology of successful lifting. Perhaps you can benefit from it too.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

Prescription for a Record-Breaking Lifting – Part 1

May 31, 2013

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

One Bad Workbench

May 27, 2013

Here is the new workbench for Operation Home Gym Overhaul. This is one super-duty bench, and it’s perfect for constructing strength-building equipment. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

It’s so awesome, it’s bad. I’m talking about the new super-duty workbench built for Operation Home Gym Overhaul. This workbench took me just a few weekends to make, but for many weeks prior to its construction the bench was designed, planned, mathematically modeled, and simulated using advanced computer-aided technology. During the process, literally hundreds of variations of the bench were critiqued, and every building step was analyzed and perfected in exquisite detail.

During the construction of the workbench, I took well over 600 photographs to capture the building steps. The best of these photos, as well as several construction drawings, will be added to a new e-book in the works. This electronic booklet will show you how to make your own workbench step-by-step. And, you’ll also get to see, exactly, the methods I used to build my own bench. To my knowledge, there has never before been a booklet about workbench building so crammed with details, tips, drawings, and photographs. Nothing is left out, and its step-by-step approach makes building a first-class workbench as easy as possible.

Here is a drawing from a new e-book in the works that details the building steps of the featured workbench. This e-book will be made available at MOI later this year. Drawing by Robert Drucker.

I expect my new workbench e-book to be available here at MOI later this year. I actually used a first draft to build my own bench, and it was incredibly helpful. The booklet showed me exactly what to do. As a result, virtually nothing went wrong during the building process.

Following the completion of the workbench e-book, I will start using my new bench to make some incredible strength-building equipment. I’ll be sure to show the action on MOI, and you will get the details in powerful muscle-building e-books to come. Just wait until you see what is around the corner – I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

The Passing of a Great Man

May 16, 2013

Ralph Cameron (1926 – 2013) lived life to its fullest, and he will be missed. Photograph circa 1948.

Today I am mourning the passing of Ralph Cameron; he was a most wonderful human being and a very special friend.

I first met Ralph when I was 12 years old. I still remember the day vividly. I had gone to a friend’s house for the first time, and there I was greeted by his father as I entered their breezeway. My friend’s father told me that his name was Ralph, and he was painting a wall in the room when he introduced himself. I couldn’t help but notice that he was a tall and muscular man, and his arms were really huge.

As Ralph painted away, his biceps looked like they were carved from granite, and I stood there in front of him in total awe. “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a pair of 17-inch arms before,” the big man joked.

A few minutes later I was in the Cameron’s basement, and my friend showed me his father’s gym. It was stocked with York barbells, globe dumbbells, several hand-made benches, a lat machine, squat stands, a dipping station made from pipe, and an assortment of other training gadgets. I had never seen anything like it before, and almost instantly I became hooked on bodybuilding.

Just days before being drafted into the U.S. Army, Ralph placed third in the 1949 Mr. Louisville contest. Thirty two years later he proudly watched me win the Teenage Mr. Kentuckiana (Kentucky and Southern Indiana) physique contest at Bellarmine College in Louisville. I was most fortunate that he believed in me. His encouragement made all the difference.

Perhaps not fully realizing how fortunate I was to have Ralph as a friend, following my high school graduation I did not see the weightlifter for over 28 years. When I decided to contact him in 2009, I wasn’t sure if he would remember me. But, my concerns were totally unwarranted; Ralph greeted me with open arms when I appeared at his doorstep.

After my reemergence, I saw Ralph many times, and we often talked about old-time bodybuilding. He also shared with me many stories from his youth, and they continue to bring a smile to my face.

Well into his 80s, Ralph possessed a phenomenal memory, and he could recite long poems that he hadn’t seen since his school days. He also was a highly intelligent person, and his interests ranged from stamp collecting to listening to Swing and other forms of Jazz. Ralph also was an avid reader, and he once bragged that he read every page of the Encyclopedia of Jazz.

Ralph loved people, and I have never known a more genuine and caring person. He thought nothing of loaning me his personal belongings, and his enthusiasm for life was very contagious. Ralph taught me, above all else, that happy people transfer their happiness to other people.

As things turned out, I saw Ralph for the last time about five months ago. I had gone to his house to help him fix his turntable before his winter stay down south. I ended up taking his turntable home with me, and I told my oldest friend that I would bring it back to him ready to play upon his return to the Louisville area. But fate had things turn out differently. On May 15, I received a most devastating email from Ralph’s grandson. He told me that his grandfather had passed away earlier that day. I’m greatly saddened by the news, but I find comfort knowing that Ralph lived life to its fullest and made this world a better place. He truly was a remarkable person. I am so lucky to have known him. May Ralph forever rest in peace.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Farewell to Joe Weider

March 25, 2013

Joe Weider was a paramount figure in the worlds of physical culture and business, and he will be dearly missed.

I am greatly saddened by the news that Joe Weider, bodybuilding pioneer and publishing icon, died of heart failure on March 23, 2013. He was 93 years old.

Weider was one of my first mentors, and I practically worshiped him while growing up. His writings helped me escape from a slump when I was about 13 years old, and much of what I learned from him continues to influence me in a most positive way – not only in bodybuilding, but in life.

Weider faced unfathomable hardship as a boy, but he climbed above his misfortunes through sheer hard work, perseverance, and intelligent thinking. In fact, anybody interested in overcoming their own obstacles would do well to study the life of this remarkable man; I certainly did, and doing so brought me an education far more valuable than anything I learned in the classroom.

A few years ago I wrote a two-part article about Mr. Weider. At the time, I was heavily criticized by a few misled souls for my praise of the man. I didn’t mind the criticism personally, but I felt sorry for the folks who could not see the good that my bodybuilding idol brought to the world.

For those of you who may have missed my earlier article about Joe Weider, I’ve brought its two parts back to the forefront. Here are the links:

The Incredible Joe Weider – Part 1.
The Incredible Joe Weider – Part 2.

May the “Master Blaster” rest in peace.

Rob Drucker

The Truth About Body-Building – Part 2

October 13, 2012

The first large-scale cast of The Thinker was completed in Paris, France in 1904 with the approval of sculptor Auguste Rodin. After its casting, Rodin sent this sculpture to the 1904 World’s Fair which was held in St. Louis, Missouri. Today, it rests in front of Grawemeyer Hall at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

An individual must be a thinker if he or she is to excel in a chosen endeavor, including strength building. In fact, the ability to think for oneself is perhaps the most valuable trait a person can possess to develop the skill and ability required to make good things happen. Creativity, ingenuity, innovation, and advancement come only to the person who takes charge of his or her own thinking. In contrast, people who make it a habit to ask what it is they should do almost invariable become locked in a life of mediocrity.

In the world of strength, there is no shortage of “experts” who claim to know best how you should train. Through various promotions, they portray themselves as all-knowing giants of intellect willing to give us mere mortals the “secrets” of building strength and might — if we will just purchase their various books and courses. And, if we are too stupid to think for ourselves, they’ll gladly help us out again and again by rolling more and more products off of their assembly line — provided we keep padding their bank accounts.

Now, please let me clarify a few things. I am not saying that we should not learn from bona fide experts of strength. Nor am I suggesting that a capitalistic adventure is necessarily a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with making a living by offering helpful goods at a fair price, and I support many businesses that supply and promote quality strength-building products. But, and here is the point I wish to emphasize, if you are to realize your full potential as a strength athlete, you must become your own trainer. Said another way, learn from others, but determine for yourself what works best for you through your own studies, hypotheses, experiments, and conclusions. Use and develop your reasoning ability, and in time you will become the best training coach you can possibly have. That’s right: approach body-building as a thinker, and before long you will know more about what works in your world of strength than any other human being possibly can.

One day when I was an engineering student at Youngstown State University, I got stuck while trying to decipher a book-reading assignment. I lackadaisically read the assigned chapter a couple of times, concluded I couldn’t figure things out on my own, and went to get help from my instructor. “Dr. Lim,” I said, “could you explain to me what this stuff is all about? I don’t get it.” Along with a stare from hell, the professor replied sharply, “Mr. Drucker, it seems to me that you’re not doing enough thinking. Now, get out of here and go figure things out for yourself!”

Dr. Lim’s comment sounded harsh to me at the time he said it, but in retrospect I can see that what he told me did much to propel my engineering career. In fact, the “go figure things out” part was probably the most important collegiate lesson ever ingrained within me. Dr. Lim was essentially telling me that I couldn’t rely on “hand feeding” to gain knowledge. That is, being told how to do something does not bring forth near the success than does figuring out how to do something on your own. The first way is passive, shallow, and short lived; the second way is active, deep, and permanent.

The same is true in strength training. Nobody other than yourself can tell you how best to train. Merely following some guru’s advice on building muscle will get you nowhere. To reach the zenith of your physical potential, you must take charge of your own training destiny and gain knowledge in an active, deep, and permanent way. This approach requires discipline, hard work, trial-and-error, and intense thinking. But, it also produces results, builds self-confidence, and helps you become a better problem solver. So the choice is yours — either let some “expert” tell you what is right, or think for yourself. I have no doubt which path Paul Anderson, Doug Hepburn, John Davis, and other champions of strength took.

Rob Drucker

The Truth About Body-Building – Part 1

October 9, 2012

For decades, sellers of muscle books and courses have promised to turn weaklings into supermen through catchy advertisements. This one, from the early 1920s, implies that the buyer of the referenced apparatus and course can become up to TEN TIMES as strong as the average man! Unfortunately, equally absurd and misleading ads are still prevalent today. Photograph in public domain.

Since the inception of Muscles of Iron a few years ago, my goal has been to craft the website into a prime resource for the enlightenment of people interested in building strength, muscle, and might. From the beginning, my interest has been to provide a body-building publication for individuals of high energy and intellect. I seek to attract independent thinkers, creative minds, and strength tinkerers who are looking for something other than the garbage that is promoted by the vast majority of commercial enterprises. Sadly, members of this elite group are in the minority; most people would rather spend endless hours surfing Facebook or YouTube than expand their physical and mental horizons. This is one key reason why so many Americans today are intellectually bankrupt and living a life with little joy and self-fulfillment.

The continual attainment of intellectual growth is an absolute requirement for the achievement and maintenance of happiness and personal satisfaction. People who live stagnant and monotonous lives rarely find the high degree of enjoyment that seekers of knowledge and new ideas do. This is why many bodybuilders after acquiring large muscles still suffer from low self-esteem and depression. After months of physical devotion, they can do little more than strike a concealing pose or lift a chunk of metal off of the ground. Not exactly a situation that brings a sense of accomplishment to the forefront.

It is a sad fact that the strength world is plagued by money seekers who promote physical culture in the worst possible way. Their goal is not to promote a proper treatment of body-building, but to thicken their wallets as fast as possible and at your expense. We are fed outlandish claims, empty promises, and even egregious lies. And, the last thing these unscrupulous folks want is for us to think for ourselves or to question things.

So prevalent is the money making side of body-building, each day literally thousands of strength devotees are sucked in by an onslaught of advertisements cleverly designed to lower intellectual defenses and to get “victims” to surrender their hard-earned money. You see such promotions across the web, in muscle magazines, on television — practically everywhere. The plethora of such promotions is darn right disgusting, and it degrades the world of physical culture in a most insidious way.

It’s amazing to me how many people believe that an advertisement that features a big-time lifter or physique star must be legitimate. One famous bodybuilder once convinced thousands of gullible individuals that, by purchasing and following his courses, they could gain 100 pounds of muscle. Not only was his claim an insult to the thinking man or woman, many “victims” of his sales pitch surely felt the sting of letdown. I wonder how many of these folks became discouraged and gave up training as a result.

Via Muscles of Iron, I will continue to promote body-building the way it should and ought to be. The strength world needs a model that is based on truth, realism, and development of both the mind and body, and promoting such a model is my cause. Hopefully, it is your cause too. If so, you are among a small community of enlightened individuals that understands how wonderful physical training can be when applied with independent, balanced, and powerful thinking.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Big Get-together with Two State Champs

October 4, 2012

Two great weightlifting champions: Allan Nickell (left) and Jim Carr (right). Photograph by Robert Drucker.

One of my favorite pastimes is to discuss Olympic weightlifting with people who really understand and appreciate the sport. Inspiring stories almost always emerge from such discussions, and I never fail to learn a few new things about effective training.

Talking face to face with an accomplished strength athlete is the best way I know of to gain training knowledge. Reading books and magazine articles can certainly be helpful, but nothing compares with having an actual conversation with a strength master who is willing share information. Such an interaction allows you to observe first hand the champ’s mannerisms, thinking pattern, vocal tones, and body language, each of which can reveal much more than can mere words. And, of course, participating in a “real” conversation gives you an opportunity to ask questions, guide the direction of topics, and to verify your understanding of discussed concepts.

Yesterday, I got a good reminder of just how valuable a good old-fashioned conversation with a strength master (or two, in this case) can be. I met up with Allan Nickell and Jim Carr in Madison, Indiana for lunch, and we had a long and terrific discussion about the iron game.

During the 1950s, Allan was one of the most accomplished weightlifters in Kentucky, and he set numerous state records, some which held for many years. He was also a training partner of Ron “Speck” Lacy, a former Mr. America and Mr. Universe. Jim was a protege of Allan, and during the 1960s he won three state championships and three Ohio Valley Championships, and he set 16 state records (Indiana and Kentucky).

I learned a great deal about Olympic weightlifting from Allan and Jim yesterday, and our conversation really got me thinking about strength building from a new perspective. I also heard some mind-blowing lifting stories from both champs, and I’ll be sure to include them in an upcoming book I’m writing about oldtime strength heroes.

Thanks Allan and Jim for sharing your wisdom with me yesterday, and I look forward to our next meeting in Madison.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Mike Mentzer and Classical Music

September 23, 2012

My record “library” is stocked with hundreds of masterpiece recordings of classical music, opera, jazz, rock, bluegrass, and Broadway musicals. While growing up, both my father and Mike Mentzer had a strong influence on my musical interests. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

My exposure to classical music began shortly after I was born. My dad owned an elaborate collection of classical recordings, and I grew up hearing the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Wagner, Haydn, Stravinsky, Dvořák, Greig, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel, Ravel, Mauler, Strauss, Britten, and numerous other famous composers of orchestral music.

Despite my dad’s influence, until I was about 17 years old I disliked classical music, and I despised opera. I can remember telling my friends that I would never like the kind of “crappy” music that my dad listened to. Heck, I was into Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Who, Pink Floyd, and Boston. Those bands at the time were the ultimate music makers for me; Mozart and Beethoven couldn’t compare with them – so I thought.

When HEAVY DUTY™ hit the scene in the late 1970s, I immediately became a big fan of Mike Mentzer. I read every course, every book, and every article of his that I could get my hands on. Interestingly, though, it wasn’t Mentzer’s training philosophy that hadn’t the biggest influence on me; rather, it was his interest in classical music and opera.

Mentzer was particularly fond of Richard Wagner, and he often trained to the music of the master composer. Wagner became famous after composing some of the greatest operas in history, including Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, and The Ring Cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung).

Last week, after a hard day’s night at work, I arrived home and my wife surprised me with this Dual 1019 turntable. She said, “Here, this ought to make you feel better.” And, it certainly did. It took four hours of intense surgery to get the old machine to work to my satisfaction; but, now it sounds fantastic. Isn’t it a beauty! By the way, the first record (shown in the photo) I played on this marvelous turntable was Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; this was one of Mike Mentzer’s favorite operas. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

Since Mike Mentzer was my hero during my teenage years, one day during my senior year in high school I decided that, I too, should listen to classical music. I asked my dad if he could suggest an introductory classical piece for me to borrow and play on my Pioneer PL-400 turntable. He went to his massive collection of records, and then he pulled out a recording of Antonín Dvořák’s The Slavonic Dances and handed it to me for a listen. I loved it, and that piece was my first real introduction to the classics.

When I was a freshman student at the University of Kentucky in 1981, I discovered that their music library was crammed with records of all kinds, including a vast collection of classical and operatic recordings. The library also had an assortment of record players and headsets for listening to selected pieces. I can remember first pulling from the huge shelves of records a copy of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). The music captured on that record was played by the Berliner Phiharmoniker and conducted by Karl Böhm. Operatic singers included Evelyn Lear, Roberta Peters, Lisa Otto, Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Franz Crass, each of whom was a huge star at the time the recording was made. I still remember these names because I must have listened to this particular Mozart album 100 times while I was a student at Kentucky, and each time I read about the performers behind the recording in the commentary notes on the back of the record cover.

Inspired by Mentzer’s love of orchestral and operatic music, today I have a huge personal collection of classical records – perhaps, one of the largest in Louisville. John Grimek, John Davis, and many other oldtime great lifters also owned extensive collections of classical recordings. So, I guess I’m in good company.

In conclusion, I must admit that I was wrong some years ago when I stated that I would never listen to that “crappy” music my dad played. It seems that Mike Mentzer helped me to open my ears, and now I’m a true lover of the classics.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Adversity is No Match for Determination

September 9, 2012

Despite losing a leg in a childhood accident, Joe Nordquest became one of the strongest men who ever lived.

In the February, 1947 issue of Muscle Power there is a wonderful short article about Joe Nordquest entitled, With Only One Leg — He Became One of America’s Greatest Lifters. This piece was penned by Dan Lurie, and it illustrates well the power of the human mind when it is controlled by a relentless determination to succeed.

While he was a boy growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio, Joe Nordquest lost a leg in an accident. But, as Dan Lurie explained in his article, the loss of a leg did not stop this determined boy from becoming a strongman. You see, Nordquest’s handicap was more than compensated for by his iron will to bring his dream to fruition. This man so desired to become a record holder in strength, not even the loss of a leg could stop him. Success came his way because he worked with what he had to the fullest, and he refused to surrender to his limitations.

If anybody ever had a good excuse to forget about building strength and might, it was Nordquest. But, not in his mind. To his way of thinking, the Ohioan saw no reason why he could not realize his goal of becoming big and strong, and he acted accordingly. In other words, mediocrity and a meager existence were not part of Nordquest’s plans – even though he had only one leg to stand on. And, instead of feeling sorry for himself, this determined man focused his attention on hard and productive training. The result was that he became one of the strongest men who ever lived.

Case in point: for many years the record in the a two-arm “pull-over and push” was 361 pounds and held by George Hackenschmidt. But, Nordquest saw no reason why he couldn’t break this record – so he did by pressing 363 1/2 pounds. And, even Arthur Saxon’s record 386-pound shoulder press (precursor to the bench press) did not intimidate Nordquest. The one-legged strongman broke this record too by pressing 388 pounds. Additionally, Nordquest became a record holder in the one-arm bent press.

The strength accomplishments that Nordquest made despite his “handicap” should serve as an example to all of us that adversity is no match for a determined mind. A sudden loss or a temporary defeat may hand you a terrible blow; but, if you regroup and focus on making the most of what you can control, your future can shine bright.

To conclude this post, I share with you below a touching email I received this afternoon from Eddie, a reader of MOI. What Eddie wrote I hope will provide encouragement to any spirit who may currently be paralyzed by trauma or adversity. Thanks Eddie for your story, and I find your courage very uplifting.

Email from Eddie:

“Mr. Drucker:
I want you to know I have [been] reading the articles on your website and they have helped me stay on track with both my weightlifting and car sales career. I am coming back from several dark years where I was unemployed, lost my beautiful mother to cancer, and wondered if I could ever mount a comeback. Through the writings of Napolean Hill and Brian Tracy I began writing down my goals, writing down plans to achieve those goals and taking action. I am once again working, earning good money and training with weights. Your website really ‘fits in’ with what I am doing. I wish you the best.”

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

What is the Best Muscle-Building Book?

July 14, 2012

My office shelves are crammed with all sorts of muscle-building books, magazines, and courses. I like to read about strength, and doing so never fails to bring added motivation and know-how to my training. This is why I treasure every book in my collection. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

For building strength, muscle, and health, I am often asked, “What is the best book.” Well, my answer is always the same: there is no single book that stands above all others. All I can say is that every strength book in my large collection has contributed to my knowledge of physical culture, and each has helped me to come up with new ideas to better my training.

Another truth about strength books is that not a single one of them can possibly tell you how you should train unless, perhaps, you are the author. This is because you are the only person who can determine what type of training most benefits your unique situation. However, by studying the works of strength “authorities,” you will broaden your perspective of physical training and gain exposure to a wider variety of muscle-building ideas. These two benefits, in turn, can help you determine — through your own experiments and thought processes — how to adjust your own training program to achieve optimal results.

A strength book should be judged more so by how it stimulates your thinking than by whether or not you agree with the author’s basic assertions. I say this because some of the body-building books that I have benefited the most from, I believe, contain flaws in logic or approach. This may sound like a contradiction; but, it is not. These books, despite their inherent flaws, did much to trigger the idea generator inside of my head, and the net result of reading them was an increase of muscular size and strength. It took my own thinking to bring about these positive gains, but the catalyst behind my brain activity came from reading these “flawed” books.

Happy reading, and keep in mind that if a training book helps you generate even one good idea, the true worth of the book may be many times over the purchase cost.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Stanislaus Zbyszko

June 17, 2012

In 1909, Stanislaus Zbyszko moved to America and began what would become a stellar wrestling career. He won his first World Heavyweight title by defeating Ed “Strangler” Lewis on May 6, 1921. During a rematch on March 3, 1922, Lewis recaptured his title by defeating Zbyszko. Lewis would then lose his recaptured title to Wayne Munn in a bout that took place in Kansas City, Missouri on January 8, 1925. Then, on April 15, 1925, Zbyszko became a World champ for a second time by out-dueling Wayne Munn. Public domain photograph.

Billed as one of the greatest authentic wrestlers of all time, Stanislaus Zbyskzo had a brilliant career in the ring during the first three decades of the twentieth century. He first earned the World Heavyweight Championship in 1921 by defeating Ed “Strangler” Lewis, and four years later he regained the world professional wrestling title by pinning Wayne Munn. Retirement from the ring would then follow in 1928 after the strongman met Ghulam Muhammad, The Great Gama. Their match, which took place in India, was one of the most anticipated in wrestling history, drawing a reported 60,000 fans. It was also one of the shortest in history; The Great Gama won the bout in just 30 seconds! However, Eighteen years beforehand, when both men were in their physical prime, the two mighty fighters had battled for three hours in the finals of the John Bull World Championships in London before their match ended in a draw.

Although he was born in Poland in 1881, Zbyszko grew up in Vienna, Austria. His birth name was Stanislaw Cyganiewicz, but after demonstrating bravery and courage in his youth his friends started calling him “Zbyszko”, the name of a fearless fictional knight featured in “Krzyżacy”, a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz. This nickname stuck, and, as his wrestling career began to blossom, Cyganiewicz changed his name to Stanislaus Zbyszko after being urged to do so by a promoter of the sport.

Zbyszko was once one of the most muscular and strongest men in the world. During the pinnacle of his fighting career, the mighty wrestler was a “hard” 260 pounds at a height of five feet, eight inches, and his reported measurements were as follows: chest, 55 inches; waist 42 inches; arm 22 inches; thigh 31 inches; and calf 18 1/2 inches. Judging by his large numbers, there is little doubt that the huge wrestler could have been another Doug Hepburn had he specialized in weightlifting, and I wonder what “record” lifts he would have made had he done so.

I found this photo of Zbyszko in an old Ohio newspaper, circa 1910. As can be seen, he had an incredible build and quite an intimidating appearance. Public domain photograph.

Although packed with mountains of muscle, Zbyszko was no musclehead. In fact, so great were his intellectual achievements, the strongman was once referred to in The Polish Biographical Dictionary as “one of the most cultured sportsmen who ever lived.” Zbyszko was fluent in 11 languages, a graduate of the University of Vienna, and a lawyer by profession. He also was a skilled musician, philosopher, and poet. In addition, the former champ was granted a patent in 1964 for his invention of the tilt-top table, a unique exercise apparatus.

A sports writer once described Zbyszko as “all energy and ambition.” The strongman devoted much time to athletic training, and during his competitive years he typically ran 10 to 15 miles each day, in addition to his wrestling practice! You may want to reflect upon this the next time you feel like you don’t have time for a 20 or 30-minute exercise session.

In 1967, at the age of 88, Stanislaus Zbyszko died in St. Joseph, Missouri of a heart attack. And, although it has been 45 years since his passing, the Polish strongman remains a legend of the wrestling game. He indeed had been an “eighth wonder of the world,” as was claimed by his many fans during his victory years.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Some People Just Don’t Get It

February 26, 2012

To those who get it, building strength equipment is a fun and rewarding activity. For best results, a project should begin with a conceptual drawing. Building details can then be added and evaluated. Here, a proposed “lat machine” is shown – still in the infant stages of design. Eventually, this machine will be built as part of Operation Home Gym Overhaul, a series coming to MOI this spring.

Recently, I received an email from a fellow who asked me, “Why would anybody want to build his own strength equipment?” And after asking this leading question, he proceeded to tell me a zillion reasons why hand-built training gear couldn’t possibly be as good or as safe as the store-bought stuff. But, his main complaint was that making something from scratch requires time and effort. And, besides, he pointed out, “Who has the tools needed to build something?”

The saddest part is that this negative email did not stand unique in my inbox. I regularly receive feedback from people who seem to go out of their way to tell me what an idiot I am for recommending that something be built rather than bought. I am informed that the type of hand-made structures that I promote are “time wasters”, “dangerous”, “stupid looking”, “inferior”, “weird”, “nothing so great”, “nothing to brag about”, “garbage”, “impractical”, “unstable”, “a piece of junk”, and — my favorite — “okay for amateurs.” I also receive plenty of criticism colored with some rather choice words, but I’ll spare you from the boring details.

Speaking of criticism, let’s divert for a second to talk about this so often hated judgment of merit. I’ll then get back to the main purpose of this post. It is not bad to be criticized; in fact, criticism should be desired. Why? Because, criticism and success go hand and hand. Success requires fresh ideas and unorthodox solutions to “unsolvable” problems, both factors which are guaranteed to draw criticism and tons of negative remarks from traditionalists and jealous distractors. This is why you should always check your criticism barometer. If it is reading high, this is a good indication that you are doing things right. But, if it is reading low, you may want to question if you are living up to your true potential as a creative force.

So why build anything, strength equipment or otherwise? This is a good question; but, if you don’t already know the answer chances are that you just don’t get it and never will. Nevertheless, I provide 10 good reasons to build your own strength equipment below just in case you are one of those rare individuals who have a mind open enough to consider something outside of the norm. Here they are:

10 Good Reasons to Build Something

  1. It is fun;
  2. It stimulates and preserves your intellectual capacity;
  3. It provides you with new knowledge and skills;
  4. You end up with something that you can be proud of;
  5. It allows you to express and develop your creative and artistic abilities;
  6. It is challenging and mentally rewarding;
  7. It captures your unique personality into the final product;
  8. It gives you something unique, something which only you possess;
  9. Only hand-crafted work can be tailored to meet your unique and specific needs;
  10. It adds variety and new spice to your life.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Thinking for Muscle-Building Success Part 4

February 20, 2012

Shown in this photograph is Richard Wagner, the famous German composer of the late Romantic era of music. Wagner was a titan of opera, and it was said by a famous musicologist that he also was a “obnoxious megalomaniac.” In any case, Mike Mentzer was very fond of Wagner’s compositions, and he often would listen to his great overtures, preludes, or orchestra interludes prior to a Heavy Duty training session. The extreme intensity of Wagner’s music really had Mike up in arms and ready to tear the weights apart by the time he visited the gym. Public domain photograph.

When I was in high school back in the late 1970s, Mike Mentzer had emerged as one of the best bodybuilders in the world, and through his many writings he had me questioning nearly everything I thought I knew about productive exercise. I can vividly remember the unparalleled thrill I experienced each month upon receiving a new issue of Muscle Builder in the mail. Back then, writings from Mike were featured in nearly every issue of the magazine, and I always anticipated his articles with great excitement. For an intellectual high, there simply was nothing quite like reading about Mentzer’s latest training ideas or thought-provoking analyses of bodybuilding tradition.

Through his writings, Mike taught me and thousands of other strength athletes not to accept broad generalizations, traditional beliefs, and dogma uncritically. He taught that truth can be determined only through sound reason and logic, and that many “established” practices in bodybuilding (and in all other fields) are based on unwarranted assumptions, false premises, and erroneous conclusions.

Mentzer stated that a person can never reach his or her full potential in any endeavor without first becoming intellectually self-sufficient. Only by learning how to judge and think independently, he emphasized, can a person learn to distinguish truth from falsehood and reach the zenith of his or her potential.

Central to Mike’s bodybuilding success was his broad scope of integrated knowledge. By conceptually molding, relating, and codifying key ideas from many seemingly unrelated fields of thought, he released the world of bodybuilding from the grip of the traditionalists with the establishment of his Heavy Duty training system. This system was nothing short of a muscle-building milestone, and it revolutionized our understanding of productive exercise.

The development of the Heavy Duty training system would not have been possible had it not been for Mike’s profound love of knowledge. He treasured nothing more than his enriching his mind with new ideas and gaining a deeper understanding of the world. Even his commitment to bodybuilding was a manifestation of his general quest to find truth and to broaden his conceptual range.

Mentzer was a prolific writer, and he was a master of the English language. I can think of no other author who has been able to match his clear, concise, and enthralling style of teaching exercise science. Be warned though, Mike possessed a prodigious vocabulary, and this is very apparent in his writings. For this reason, I strongly recommend that you have a good dictionary at hand before delving into any of his books or articles. I used to joke that Mentzer should have supplied a “Heavy Duty” dictionary as a companion guide to his training books.

Given that Mike Mentzer possessed a wide breath of knowledge, it should come as no surprise that he also possessed a deep and varied vocabulary. Words are the tools which allow us to express ourselves and gain an understanding of the world. And, as such, the attainment of knowledge requires that our vocabulary be enlarged and strengthened. This is why the most successful men and women almost always possess an unusual grasp of the meanings of words.

I will have more to say about Mike Mentzer and what he stood for in an upcoming article. In the meantime, this post should provide a glimpse of why he achieved such extraordinary success – not only in muscle building, but in life.

Rob Drucker

Mike Mentzer and What He Stood For

February 14, 2012

During his competitive years, Mike Mentzer was greatly influenced by the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (shown here), a 19th-century German philosopher. Mentzer later become a devotee of Ayn Rand and her brand of Objectivism. Public domain photograph.

Upon his untimely death in 2001, the world lost one of the most knowledgeable, logical, and controversial proponents of muscle building ever to walk the planet. Of course, I am talking about Mike Mentzer, a man whose convictions and teachings revolutionized how we think about bodybuilding and productive strength training.

Mentzer emphasized that bodybuilding is most meaningful only when it is understood and practiced within a broad philosophical and scientific context. He believed that only by using an “intellectual method,” one derived from metaphysics (a fundamental branch of philosophy that deals with the establishment of reality and man’s nature) and from epistemology (a fundamental branch of philosophy that deals with the structure of knowledge and how it is acquired and verified), could a student of bodybuilding make optimum progress, build self confidence, and acquire happiness.

Beginning in his teens, Mentzer sought to find a philosophy that would help him to gain an “integrated view of existence,” guide him to successful action, and bring forth happiness. He studied the works of many famous philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche. But, it wasn’t until he discovered the writings of Ayn Rand, a novelist and leading proponent of Objectivism, did he find the manual of life he was seeking.

In 1996, Mentzer wrote and published Heavy Duty II: Strength and Body, one of the most important, enlightening, and provocative body-building books ever written. This masterpiece was a radical departure from the traditional strength book and, in the author’s words, “it includes all of the relevant philosophical principles required to achieve an understanding of any science [including bodybuilding], at least in terms of broad fundamentals.”

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Thinking for Muscle-Building Success Part 3

February 2, 2012

Arthur Saxon once failed to pass the physical test in the German Army. But, by seizing every training opportunity he had, Saxon became one of the strongest men in history. Public domain photograph.

When I was 16 years old, I worked part time in a neighborhood grocery store. On one occasion there my supervisor asked me to stock new cartons of eggs. I obliged, but none too aggressively. My supervisor had walked away, and I rationalized that because I was only getting paid minimum wage there was no reason to work at full speed.

So, there I was stocking eggs at a snail pace and taking it rather easy. In due time, however, my supervisor caught on to my poor work ethic, and she gave me a life-changing lecture. In a heart-filled tone she told me,

“Bob, I can see that you are not working to your full capability. I am not angry with you, but I want to tell you something very important. If you don’t put forth your greatest effort, you will only cheat yourself. You will be giving up golden opportunities to learn new skills, build self-esteem, establish productive work habits, and increase your value to prospective employers. These are opportunities that will be lost forever if they are not seized in the moment.”

Although her approach was a soft one, my supervisor’s words pierced through me like a sharp arrow. In less than 30 seconds, she had taught me a very important lesson, and one which I now live by. And, looking back, I can see that what my supervisor told me probably kept me from venturing onto a dead-end street.

My supervisor probably didn’t know very much about physical training, but what she said relates directly to muscle-building success. Like an employee in a grocery store, as a strength athlete you are continually given opportunities to better yourself. But, these opportunities must be seized with full force if you want to achieve prosperity in your training life.

Every training day you have an opportunity to do your best in the gym and to realize your dream of building a super physique. And, if you take advantage of each opportunity that arises, you will be on your way to muscle-building success. However, it you don’t consistently train your level best, then you will never realize your full potential. Think about this the next time you are doing a press, a squat, or any other exercise. Before you put the barbell down, ask yourself, “Can I grind out another rep?” If you can, keep your muscles going until you know in your heart that you have given it your all. And, if you fail to do your best, you only cheat yourself.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Thinking for Muscle-Building Success Part 2

January 30, 2012

George Georgantas from Greece became the “Throwing of the Stone” Champion on April 27, 1906 at the Olympic Games in Athens. He threw the stone a whopping 19.94 meters (65 ft, 4.2 inches) with his enormous strength. The key to Georgantas’ success was an unyielding inner force which drove him to train relentlessly, with full intensity, and with total passion. The Greek strongman loved what he did, and he never swayed on his commitment to become a master thrower. Public domain photograph.

In my recent post, The Greatest Force of Success, we saw that possessing a burning drive is critical for attaining any worthwhile goal. Simply put, success rarely comes to anybody without relentless passion, a definiteness of purpose, and an unyielding obsession to attain what is desired.

In the context that I use the word, success is defined as “the progressive realization of a goal that brings forth personal satisfaction.” I like this definition, for it reveals that success is attained through a progressive process, not merely by a final outcome. And, this definition also underscores that success can only be measured relative to how a person feels inside, not by external means. Thus, the acquisition of wealth, a big house, or a high position in society does not necessarily indicate success. What matters is that you progressively achieve that which you seek and that which brings you happiness. Thus, if you aim to become a first-rate school teacher and you do so, you are successful. Likewise, if you aim to become a terrific parent and you do so, you are a success. But if you become a doctor for the wrong reasons, you will not achieve success no matter how much money you may earn.

A muscle-building ambition is not exempt from my definition of success. If you build your muscles for the wrong reasons, you will inevitably find nothing but failure in your quest, even if you become the greatest bodybuilder of all time. But, if physical training boosts your inner self, gives you more spark, and gives you greater happiness and peace of mind, regular visits to the gym will bring you continued success.

Drive and success go hand in hand; it is virtually impossible to have one without the other. And, to succeed in the gym, you must really want with all your heart to acquire bigger and stronger muscles. If you have any doubt about the worthiness of such an ambition you will fail. So strong must be your drive to build a stronger physique, there can be no question about the criticalness of achieving your goal. And armed with an unwavering commitment to train with full intensity and to indulge in a lifestyle conducive to building a more powerful body, you will inevitably find success as a strength athlete.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Truly Good Reason for Missing a Workout

January 29, 2012

A very special card my daughter made for me.

This is a post I wrote a few days ago, and it is my answer to all the diehards out there who state one should “never miss a workout.” Dedication to your training is critical if you want to reach the zenith of your physical potential. However, there are times when training should take a back seat to what is really important in life, and what I present here is one such example. And, as it turned out, missing a day of training did me no harm whatsoever. I made up for my missed workout the following day in a most spectacular fashion.

Original Post

Another very special card my daughter made for me.

Today was ready to do battle in the gym with full force. I was never more ready for a personal-best performance, and I couldn’t wait to get home after work so I could toss my heavy iron plates around like toys. The stage was set for my all-time best workout, and nothing, I thought, could possibly stop it from happening.

As my Honda rolled into our driveway, Shadow, the neighborhood’s strongest dog, was there waiting for me. After first checking to see if I had any food for her, she gave me a warm greeting with lots of wet licks to my face, as she usually does. Then, after this greeting ritual, I made it clear to her that some big things were about to happen in the garage and that she better be ready for the action. I also gave her a stern warning not to cause any more trouble. During my last workout, Shadow just couldn’t resist jumping right on top of me while I was doing fingertip pushups, and it was 100 pounds of added resistance and flattened fingers in a flash. This time, around, I was prepared to give her a temporary eviction notice from the garage if she pulled such a stunt again. And, I think she got the message.

The Story of Pinky was written last year when my daughter was six years old, and it got high praise from Jim Carr, a former Indiana State Weightlifting Champion. My daughter wrote this story so I would understand why “Pinky is much stronger than Paul Anderson and Doug Hepburn.”

After my little “talk” with Shadow, I went into our house to greet my wife and kids, grab a Metallica CD, and change my clothes. The plan from there was then to return to the garage and shatter all personal records in the barbell press and follow up with record performances in an array of bodyweight exercises. And, I couldn’t have been more ready to carry out the plan of action, at least so I thought.

When I walked into our house, my seven-year-old daughter ran up to me and excitedly said, “Daddy can you come with us to the horse place? ” I told her that I would be glad to take her to the “horse place” as soon as I was done training. “You don’t understand Daddy,” she moaned. “We have to go now. They are having open house in just a few minutes at the horse place, and I want to take riding lessons. This can’t wait. Come on. ”

This sample page shows just how strong “Pinky” is.

So here I was, faced with a choice. Do I go ahead with my training as planned and follow the “never miss a workout” philosophy, or do I share an important moment with my daughter and wife. One look at my daughter’s beautiful and excited face immediately told me the answer, and my “record-breaking” workout was postponed for an INFINITELY more important cause. Parents will undoubtedly understand what I am talking about, and maybe some of you who do not have children will also understand.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Thinking for Muscle-Building Success Part 1

January 28, 2012

Louis Cyr is regarded as one the strongest men who ever lived. But, merely copying how he trained is not likely to bring forth the muscular gains you are capable of. Only if you become an independent thinker can you reach your full potential as a strength athlete. This is why you will find no two champions who train exactly alike. Public domain photograph.

I once observed a famous bodybuilder become disturbed during a gym workout after a gentleman, who probably weighed no more than 150 pounds, criticized how the champion performed bench presses. Rather than politely listen to what the stranger had to say and possibly learn something, the established physique contender became irate and lashed out, “You have some nerve to question me. My chest is 55 inches; how big is yours? Who the hell are you to question my training methods?”

Although I felt rather bad for the poor soul after he got a tongue lashing from the big muscle man, I admired him for being an independent thinker and for being bold enough to question the champion. All too often a strength enthusiast just accepts things on blind faith simply because some “expert” tells him what must be true or best. And, numerous members of physical culture world fall into this trap. An “authority” of strength writes a book, and his or her disciples immediately accept what the author states as gospel with no questioning or thought analysis whatsoever. This is a sad fact and, to be fair, this problem is not limited to physical culture; it takes place in every field of endeavor.

No one person, whether a strength “authority” or not, knows everything there is to know about effective physical training. And, regardless of what some “expert” may claim or believe, he does not have the final word on effective physical training. This is true whether a person has twenty-inch arms or ten-inch arms. Yet, there are numerous “gurus” out there that will try to convince you that they know best and that their system of training is the only one fit for “serious” strength athletes. This portrayal is both a cut down to your intelligence and an insult to your character.

Truth be told, you have the right and the ability to decide for yourself what training method works best for you. However, this is not to say that you should function in a vacuum. It is almost always helpful to learn from other established thinkers — so long as you analyze what they teach critically and supplement the knowledge you acquire from them with your own thoughts and experiences. Albert Einstein once stated, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is a good quote to keep in mind if you want to advance your knowledge of effective strength training, or of anything else.

To close Part 1 of this new post series, I present below a sampling of bad predictions from leading “experts.” These predictions are laughable in retrospect, but keep in mind that at the time they were made only a handful of people questioned them. And, because of those few people who did so, human progress took a leap forward.

Bad Predictions

Note: I firmly agree with Jim Murray that weight training does wonders for building strength, fitness, and conditioning, but I don’t agree that there is any one “most effective” way.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Harvey Maxime Bar

January 23, 2012

The original Harvey Maxime Bar proved to be too expensive for practical use. This drawing shows a modified and more affordable “pipe-based” version of the apparatus. Like the original version, it allows the user to “lock” the lifting bar at a desired height before use. Drawing and conceptual design by Robert Drucker.

During the late 1940s, Harvey Roosevelt developed a unique apparatus that would allow a lifter to perform a variety of heavy barbell exercises in complete safety and without need for a spotter. This device, which became known as the Harvey Maxime Bar, was a precursor to the power rack. And with its advent, many new doors to gaining strength and might were opened.

A few years after its introduction, Charles A. Smith, arguably the most prolific strength writer in the history of physical culture, gave much praise to the Harvey Maxime Bar. In one of his MANY outstanding articles, Smith wrote the following about Roosevelt’s apparatus:

“Few people realized the enormous potentials it contained … they are simply immense and I personally regard the Harvey Maxime Bar as one of the greatest advances ever made in the Science of Weight Training. The terrific scope of this apparatus will one day be marked as historic. It is a great pity that the originator never was given the acclaim that was justly and rightfully his, and Weider Publications is PROUD to do so via the medium of this article.”

The Harvey Maxime Bar, as developed by Roosevelt Harvey, consisted of two solid support bars, each which stood upright and was welded to a steel base plate at the floor end. On each of the two bases, weight plates could be fitted at each end to provide a desired resistance. A cross bar, which functioned as a “lifting” bar, could be moved along the two vertical support bars. And, once the cross bar was brought to a desired height, it could be locked in place. The lifter would then use the cross bar like a barbell, lifting the entire apparatus, along with its weight load, off of the ground. After completion of an exercise, the apparatus was then lowered back to the floor in complete safety.

There are many good ways to build and use a Harvey Maxime apparatus. This illustration depicts a wooden unit specifically designed for performing heavy standing presses. Drawing and design by Robert Drucker.

The main objection to the original Harvey Maxime Bar was its cost of construction. As such, Charles Smith presented a modified design of Harvey’s apparatus, one which could be constructed on a budget by using chains, shackles, collars, and a regular barbell. In 13-Secret Exercises of Physique Champions, author Dennis B. Weis details the construction of the “Chain Modified” Harvey-Maxime Bar apparatus, and he also provides much history about the device. Dennis’ e-Report is both interesting and informative, and it is available for free as a PDF file on the internet. Just do a Google search and you should have no problem finding it.

As an alternative to the “Chain Modified” Harvey Maxime Bar, a pipe-based construction can be considered as a feasible and affordable option. One idea based on this approach is illustrated by the conceptual drawing shown above. In this presented design, four vertical supports are made from schedule 40 3/4-inch nominal pipe (1.05 inch actual outer diameter); the cross-bar is made from schedule 40 1-inch nominal pipe (1.315 inch actual outer diameter) or from a 3/4-inch solid steel bar; the four weight-holding uprights are made from 3/4-inch nominal schedule 40 pipe; and each of the two bases is made from four-by-four lumber (actual size 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches). Two grade eight 5/16-inch-diameter bolts are used to secure the cross bar to the four support pipes, and each of the four weight-holding uprights is held in place with a 5/16-inch-diameter bolt passed through its base. Holes in each of the four vertical supports are spaced two inches apart.

Down the road, we’ll look at how the Harvey Maxime Bar can be used to build enormous strength and power. And when we do, it will be crystal clear why Charles A. Smith, referring to this remarkable apparatus, stated that, “No gymnasium should be without it.”

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Build a Mighty Grip with the Finger Tip Pushup

January 19, 2012

One of the most powerful demonstrations of finger strength I have ever seen: Robert L. Jones of Pine Bluff, Arkansas doing a truly mind-blowing stunt, circa 1927. Public Domain Photograph.

I have found the finger-tip pushup to be second to none as a hand, wrist, and forearm builder. Since introducing this exercise into my training routine, my forearms are noticeably more muscular, and my grip strength has magnified immensely. I just can’t explain in words the power this exercise builds; the finger-tip pushup is an exercise you must try for yourself to fully appreciate and understand its power.

During my workout tonight, I performed the finger-tip pushup with my feet elevated approximately 36 inches (just shy of a meter) above the horizontal plane. Elevating my feet in this fashion directed a greater proportion of my body weight on my fingers and arms, and the force upon them was utterly TREMENDOUS. It took white-hot concentration to keep my fingers from buckling under the load, and if I hadn’t kept my forearms fully contracted at ALL times as I performed the movement, I think my fingers would have snapped!

It is a goal of mine to keep increasing the elevation of my legs until I can do full hand-stand pushups on my finger tips. I am sure that this goal is beyond my strength level at the current time, but I get inspiration from Robert L. Jones, an oldtime hand-balancing master. Check out the photo of him above performing a truly amazing strength stunt. I doubt that more than one person out of a million can duplicate this difficult move. What incredible finger and arm strength Robert Jones had.

By the way, if you are the person out of a million who can perform a strength stunt similar to the one demonstrated by Robert Jones above, send me a photo of yourself doing it, and I’ll be glad to post it right here on MOI and give you the recognition you deserve.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Muscle-Building Dream

January 18, 2012

This is the apparatus that was “featured” in my muscle-building dream last night. The four upright two-by-fours are lap jointed with the side base boards for extra strength. In addition, the calf board is bolted to the unit at a desired position, and it can be removed when not needed. Drawing and copyright by Robert Drucker.

Although I regularly have vivid and detailed dreams, I don’t ordinarily dream about about muscle building. But, last night things were a bit different than usual. A few hours after drifting off into a deep sleep, I found myself in an unknown gym training my calves hard and heavy with a rather interesting power-building apparatus. This apparatus allowed for placement of a barbell at any desired position like a power rack, but the barbell was sandwiched between two pairs of two-by-fours. In addition, a small-diameter pipe (quarter inch nominal) was secured to the barbell-end of each two-by-four with metal clips. The muscle-building apparatus was also wood screwed securely to a thick plywood base. This design utilizes the weight of the lifter to keep the apparatus from moving as the barbell is pushed upwards.

The two-by-four pipes, which were lightly oiled on the outside to minimize friction, served to “guide” the barbell by allowing up and down movement only. This arrangement proved invaluable for calf training, and I did three different exercises for this muscle group. First, I performed calf raises on a mounted calf board while holding the barbell with my hands. This exercise not only gave my calves a tremendous beating, it torched my forearms and grip to the limit. It even had my back muscles pleading for mercy.

Second for my lower legs, I performed traditional calf raises with the guided barbell resting across my shoulders. I found this movement to be a VERY effective muscle builder because the force of the barbell was 100% direct on the calves, and the resistance was 100% steady. Most commercial calf machines, in contrast, do not provide a direct and steady force because the angle of pull varies throughout the range of motion.

My third movement for the lower legs was the seated calf raise. I did this movement by adjusting the barbell height, sitting on a bench, placing a padded board across my knees, getting my knees and the padded board underneath the barbell, lifting up the barbell from the bolted support boards by raising my toes on an attached calf board, and then removing the barbell support boards so that a full range of motion could be achieved. And, at the termination of a set, I would push up the barbell with my toes just a bit and replace the support boards before lowering and securing the barbell. This procedure worked great, and the seated calf raise done on this special apparatus gave further growth encouragement to my aching calves. So much for the idea that a bodybuilder needs both a seated calf machine and a standing calf machine; the “dream” machine can do it all!

With my calves on fire during my unconscious adventure, I awakened after my second set of seated calf raises. And upon awakening, I rushed to draw what the “dream” machine looked like before it vanished from my memory.

Now, looking at my drawing a day later, I can see plenty of room for improvement, and many details must be added before I can say that the design is complete. Nonetheless, the “dream” machine seems like it would be a great piece of equipment to have in a home gym. It would be relatively inexpensive to build, and it would offer a lot of bang for the buck. In addition to calf raises of all sorts, this nifty unit could be used to perform leg presses, press lockouts, pullups and chin-ups, hanging leg raises, quarter squats, and many other muscle-building exercises.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The True Power of Bodybuilding

January 17, 2012

Studying and listening to great works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and other famous musical composers brought forth a better understanding of body-building. Public domain image.

There is nothing wrong with wanting bigger muscles. But, if the acquisition of more muscle mass is all that you seek from a bodybuilding program, you will likely find nothing but disappointment from your training.

The reason for this is that muscles in and of themselves do not enhance a person’s psyche and intellect. Nor does the sole build-up of muscle tissue charge the human spirit with fulfillment and a sense of mastery. In short, going from A to B provides a person with little if the journey along the way fails to stimulate the mind, establish discipline, and provide a rewarding endeavor in and of itself.

It is only within the context of intellectual achievement that the true power of bodybuilding can be realized and understood. And, those who view strength training as nothing more than physical promotion cannot see nor realize the vastness of efficacy that a more complete approach to muscle building can provide.

However, strength athletes who approach bodybuilding as a life journey filled with opportunities to learn, to set and conquer goals, to problem solve, and to enjoy the process will obtain much more than just bigger muscles. They will procure many new skills and a heightened self-esteem, acquisitions which will last long after their acquired big muscles inevitably fade away with older age.

Perhaps you have noticed that on Muscles of Iron we do not solely publish “muscle-building” articles. And, it may appear that some of the articles and posts have nothing to do with strength training. However, if you are willing to take a deeper look, you will likely see that nearly all of the writings on this site serve to promote bodybuilding at a level of greater reverence than a mere emphasis on physical training could possibly achieve. That is, we aim to bring the world of physical culture something much more meaningful than just another repeat of how some star athlete built his huge arms or his massive chest.

I am a firm believer that to benefit the most from a bodybuilding program – in all contexts, not just in terms of muscle growth – the student of strength must expose him or herself to a variety of ideas, both within the world of physical culture and outside of it. Exposure to new ideas brings forth a higher understanding of phenomenon, a greater sense of pleasure, a heightened sense of awareness, and a more exciting life. In fact, to get the most from anything, you must first understand it. And, often times when we don’t like or benefit from something, it is because we don’t understand it.

Some years ago, I hated opera and I thought that rock ‘n roll was the only form of music that mattered. But, one day I had a lengthy discussion with a musician whom I highly respect, and he told me that I would probably enjoy listening to a chosen opera if only I would take the time to learn something about it through books, librettos, and other means. I vividly remember him telling me, “No appreciation of an opera can be complete if the story is unclear to the listener.”

My “teacher” also taught me that the more I learned about an opera in relationship to other forms of culture (including the life and times of the composer), the more benefit and fulfillment I would derive from listening to it. And, he was absolutely right. With just a little bit of self-study, I soon acquired a taste for opera and for other forms of music outside of the rock ‘n roll genre. In fact, as I am writing this post, playing on my turntable is The Barber of Seville, a terrific opera which was composed by Gioacchino Antonio Rossini.

Now, I hope that I did not bore you with my diversion to music. My point is that bodybuilding is much like an opera: You must understand it before you can derive the most pleasure and benefit from it. And, like an opera, the more you integrate bodybuilding with its culture and history, the more meaning and fulfillment it will bring to your life. Thus, the true power of bodybuilding can be unleashed only when something much greater in magnitude is sought than just larger muscles.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Truth About Big Muscles and Health

January 11, 2012

WARNING – A muscular and fit body does not ensure good health. Public domain photograph.

A common misconception among strength athletes is that a high level of fitness and big muscles bring forth sound health. But, the reality is lifestyle plays a greater role than does exercise in regulating the vital functions of the human body. Furthermore, although a modest amount of physical activity can aid health, studies show that after a certain point doing more exercise increases fitness but does not significantly promote additional health gains. Thus, health and fitness are not the same, nor do they necessarily follow each other.

In simple terms, fitness is a measure of your body’s ability to engage in, endure, and recover from an activity, such as jogging, weight training, or a yoga session. This said, a person can possess a great deal of fitness with regard to one activity, but not with regards to another. A bodybuilder, for example, may be supremely fit in the weight room, but gasp for breath during a first-time boxing match.

Although the level of fitness a person possesses is relative to a specific activity, there does exist a general component of physical ability. Running specialists, for example, are generally conditioned to perform well in a variety of aerobic activities, not just in their primary sport. Likewise, weightlifters are usually well conditioned for performing a variety of strength activities, both inside and outside of the gym. And folks, who regularly endure in both stamina-based and strength-based activities, typically possess a “wide-spectrum” of fitness.

Because fitness is related to physical capability, it is easy to understand why many people believe that a “fit” person must also be healthy. But consider that many a “fit” athlete over the years have died far before their time due to poor health. Jim Fixx, the famous athlete who popularized the sport of running, was one such person. Although he ran 10 miles each day as part of his training regime, he died at age 52 of a heart attack brought on by blockage in his coronary arteries. John Kelly, Junior was another such person. Despite being a champion oarsman and an Olympic medal winner, at age 58 he too died of a heart attack brought on by coronary disease. Reggie Lewis, a former star with the Boston Celtics basketball team, was yet another “fit” person who met an early death. He died of sudden cardiac arrest at age 27, during the prime of his career.

Now, my purpose here is not to portray that exercise is useless or does not promote health. I am a firm believer in daily exercise, and when done rationally a good workout does much to stimulate both the mind and body. However, no amount of exercise can overcome bad living habits. Health is by far most influenced by what we consume, by our state of mind, by how much rest and relaxation we get, and by other factors which have a direct effect upon the organs of the body. And, poor eating habits coupled with a high-stress lifestyle is a recipe for disaster, no matter how much you exercise or how great of an athlete you may be.

Unfortunately, many strength athletes believe that they are immune to heart disease and other ills of health because they look good on the outside. Nonetheless, no matter how terrific a person may look on the outside, their health depends primarily upon what is going on inside of their body.

I know a bodybuilder who once looked like a perfect specimen – good looks, tanned, rippling abs – you get the picture. In his prime, he appeared to be in perfect health, but his looks were deceiving. Shortly after this handsome guy underwent a medical checkup as a condition of employment, he was told by his physician that he was on collision course with death. His medical evaluation had revealed that he suffered from high blood pressure, and lab results indicated that his LDL blood cholesterol level was dangerously high. To make matters worse, upon further testing doctors discovered that this young man had partial blockage in a major artery of his heart. The physique specialist was utterly stunned with the finding. “I thought I was healthy as a horse,” he later told me.

Fortunately, my bodybuilding acquaintance received medical treatment for his ailments, and he has since improved his health through dietary and other lifestyle changes. But, he could have met an early death had he continued to believe that he was invulnerable to the evils of well-being by virtue of his well-developed muscles. So, let this serve as a warning. And remember, for good health what really counts is how you live, not how you train.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Secret Passage to Body-Building Success

January 10, 2012

Ralph Rose of San Francisco was a world’s shotput record holder back in 1908. However, his training “success” was not solely due to his many victories on the field. Public domain photograph.

When I was a senior in college, I took a drafting class as a requirement for my field of study. Today, over two decades later, I remember little about the drafting lessons that my professor had desperately tried to pound into my head. But, I do remember an important life lesson that I picked up from him during one particularly special lecture.

One of the students in my drafting class had mentioned to the professor that she worked after school hours, and she proceeded to request that an upcoming test be postponed for a few days so that she would have adequate time to prepare for it. Upon hearing the student’s request, the professor asked her, “What kind of work do you do?” The girl hesitated to answer. Then, after lowering her head as if to save herself from disgrace, she softly mumbled in a condescending tone, “I’m just a waitress.”

I caught nothing wrong with the girl’s answer, but my wise professor most certainly did. He looked sternly at the student, and he told her, “Young lady, you are not just a waitress; you are a waitress.”

The professor then paused briefly, looked across directly at his students as if he had something really important to say (which he did), and then in continuation of his life lesson he remarked, “It’s not what kind of job you have that’s important; it’s how well you perform the job you have that counts.”.

Years later, I still reflect upon this important “life lesson” that was brought forth by my drafting professor. And, from it, I have derived an important corollary – one directed at the world of strength. Here it is:

It doesn’t matter if you are the strongest, the biggest, the most victorious, or the most popular strength athlete around. And, it doesn’t matter what school of strength you belong to. What matters is that you enjoy your training and that you work the best you can to realize your full potential, whatever that potential may be. Only by understanding this truth will you arrive at the secret passage, the one that leads to a meaningful, rewarding, and successful body-building career.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

What Would Mike Mentzer Advise?

January 8, 2012

Through his writings, Napoleon Hill taught me to ask myself what my mentors would advise to solve a problem or to make something better. Public domain photograph.

A few weeks ago or so, I wrote a post about the one-leg toe raise. In this post I stressed the importance of performing this exercise strictly, with a full range of motion, and with a brief pause and both the top and the bottom position.

Typically, I perform each set of the one-leg toe raise until I can no longer move upward with my toes without assistance. Then I switch to my other leg and carry on. However, this morning I did something a bit different – something that dramatically increased the intensity and the brutality of my calf training. It all came about when I was thinking about what Mike Mentzer would tell me if he were still alive and coaching me while I performed the one-leg toe raise. And this is what happened:

When I could no longer perform another repetition of the one-leg toe raise with my left leg, I “heard” Mentzer tell me to continue the exercise by using both feet on the upward portion of the movement and then SLOWLY lower myself using my left leg only. Then, after a full stretch at the bottom position was achieved and held for a two-second count, Mentzer “instructed” me to again use my right leg just enough so that I could raise back up to the top position. Then, I was “ordered” to very slowly lower myself again and repeat the sequence until my left calf reached 100% total failure. In all, I performed six extra reps under Mentzer’s “directives,” and by the time I was done with the first set my left calf was on “fire.”

With the left leg completely torched, I immediately moved on to my right calf and gave it the same “Mentzer” treatment. I then took a brief rest and went back to the left leg and repeated the approach. In all, I did three sets of toe raises with each leg – each to total failure, and that was plenty to stimulate new growth.

The “assisted” approach I mention here should work well with any one-arm or one-leg movement. For example, I can envision this method being used to increase the intensity and effectiveness of the dumbbell press, the one-arm row, the one-leg squat, one-arm pushups, and so forth. A warning though – the “assist” method described above DRAMATICALLY increases the exercise intensity, and use of it should be restricted to ensure that over-training does not occur.

By the way, it can often be a productive mental exercise to ask yourself what your mentor or an established personality would do to solve a problem you are facing. Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich, used this powerful technique quite a bit to stimulate his thinking. He would hold imaginary meetings with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, John D. Rockefeller, and other influential people of his day to “help” him come up with a solution to a problem which he could not seem to lick by himself. Hill claimed that this approach did wonders for him. And, thinking about what Mike Mentzer would advise me to do to improve the toe-raise exercise certainly did wonders for my training.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Lillian Bearle Remembered

January 7, 2012

Lillian Bearle, “the most perfect woman in the world,” as she posed for a series of articles on physical culture, circa 1912. Public domain photograph.

During the early 20th century, Professor Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard went on a quest to find “the most perfect woman in the world” for a series of magazine articles on physical culture. After taking measurements of thousands of women, he selected a swimmer by the name of Lillian Bearle as his top choice. Lillian was 23 years old at the time she was chosen by the professor, and she was from Boston, Massachusetts where she was born.

Lillian, whose stage name was La Diva, attributed her marvelous build to swimming. During an interview she once stated, “I took up swimming for my health. And, let me tell you swimming is the best exercise in the world to develop the body. If a woman wants to reduce or build up, let her learn to swim and work hard at it. Nature will do the rest.”

Lillian was one of nine sisters, all of whom took up swimming in the Atlantic ocean near the family home. Lillian once stated that the sisters had a tradition of swimming each morning in the Atlantic every since the oldest took to the water and propelled herself “dog fashion.”

Although all of the Bearle sisters became accomplished swimmers, Lillian was the best among them. As a competitor, she won numerous metals and cups, and she once swam a mile in 35 minutes during a race. She also had been acknowledged by John F. Conroy, a former swimming teacher and Carnegie medal winner, to be a quick study in the water. Conroy discovered this when he was teaching Lillian how to dive. She picked up the skill so quickly and with such consummate skill that the two of them were given a vaudeville offer. This offer marked the beginning of what would become a successful stage career for the talented young lady.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Lesson in Strength

December 31, 2011

Performing lots of old-fashioned hard work can help build strength and stamina greater than can be attained by exercise alone. Public domain image.

There is something about productive manual labor that brings out strength and stamina to a degree very difficult to duplicate with exercise alone. I have observed this phenomenon many times over my training career, at times even to the destruction of my ego.

My first lesson about “real” strength came on October 2, 1977, when I was fourteen years old.  It was the day after a tornado had swept through the neighborhood, one during which my family and I watched from a basement window two very large trees in our back yard get “sucked” out of the ground and thrown like toys.   And, we were lucky; our next door neighbor lost nine large trees!

The morning after the tornado, my dad and I went outside to assess the damage and begin the much dreaded cleanup job.  Luckily, there was no damage to the house, but the entire yard was littered with hundreds of branches and sticks and, of course, the two big trees that had been toppled. Looking at the big mess, my dad directed his attention at me and said, “Bob, if you do a good job cleaning up the yard, I’ll take you to see Pumping Iron.” This was quite an offer, especially considering that my dad hated bodybuilding and everything that it represented. The thought of him going to see a new bodybuilding documentary with me, one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Robby Robinson, Franco Columbu, Ken Waller, and other big physique winners, seemed nothing short of bizarre.  But, my dad’s offer sure was a huge incentive to get to work – and fast!

So there I was, out in the back yard picking up one stick after another, cutting small branches with a handsaw, and raking up debris of all kinds.  And, to be fair, my dad was also out there working hard to get things back in order.

After about four hours of toil, our entire yard was clean, save the two big trees which had fallen.  My dad and I could only look at the two wooden monsters and wonder how on earth we were going to get rid of them.  Then, a near miracle took place; a strong-looking man showed up in our yard with a big chain saw and a wheelbarrow.

The approaching man introduced himself as the brother of one of our next door neighbors, and he offered to help us “cut up” and remove the two fallen trees.  And, when asked how much payment he expected for his services, the muscular man replied, “A thank you will be payment enough.”

Soon after extending his generosity, our neighbor’s brother started his chain saw and cut each of the fallen trees into a large collection of fire wood.  He and I then began picking up the logs and throwing them into a wheelbarrow, one by one.

When the wheel barrow was filled with the first load of logs, I offered to roll it across the yard and to his truck, which was parked in our driveway.  Being a “weightlifter”, I figured that moving the loaded barrow would be no problem for me.  But, when I attempted to move the bulky apparatus by its handles, it wouldn’t budge an inch.

After watching me strain and give up, the generous man snickered a bit and said, “Here, let me get that.  But, before I move it to the truck let’s put a few more logs on it.  I think it can hold at least two more.”  He then threw THREE more logs on top of the load, lifted the barrow by its handles, and proceeded to push it through the thick grass and to his truck with apparent ease!  I could only gasp in disbelief, and even my dad was impressed.   “He is the strongest man I have ever seen,” my father declared.

Wanting to know his “secrets” of strength, after the cleanup job was complete I asked the generous stranger, “How did you get so strong.  Do you lift weights?”  He replied, “Through hard and productive physical work, son.  That is how I earned my strength.  There is no substitute.”

Thirty four years later I still think about the man who paid my father and me a visit during a time of need.  Not only did he generously help us clean up after the tornado of ’77, he taught me a very valuable lesson.  The lesson I learned was this:  It takes more than lifting a barbell to build super strength, enduring stamina, and overall body power; doing plenty of “old-fashioned” hard work in the “real” world is also necessary.

Happy New Year and, yes – my dad did take me to see Pumping Iron.  He was miserably bored throughout the movie, but I loved it.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Caroline Bauman Remembered

December 21, 2011

During her illustrious life, Caroline Bauman transformed her body through resistance training, became one of the strongest women in the world, and established a very successful career as a physical trainer. Her efforts helped hundreds of women improve their figures and their self esteem. Public domain photograph.

Sometime around 1910 a rather plump little girl and her parents moved from a small city in Austria to Chicago, the second largest city in the United States at the time. The little girl’s name was Caroline Bauman, and for years she struggled to control her weight.

By the time Caroline had graduated from high school, she had become quite despondent due to her weight problem, and she feared that her physical condition would limit her career options. She even pictured herself limited to “working as a fat girl in a museum.”

As a last effort to lose weight and gain fitness, at the age of 18 Caroline sought help from Attila, a veteran gymnast and the trainer of many top athletes and strongmen, including Eugen Sandow.

Attila lived and worked in Chicago, and Caroline would visit him frequently for training guidance. Under Attila’s instruction, the girl from Austria made remarkable progress. Soon she was no longer plump, and her muscles gained tone and shape.

After a year of training under Attila, the great strength coach declared that Caroline was the most wonderful of the thousands of pupils whom he trained during his fifty years’ work among athletes. Caroline’s weight had dropped to 135 pounds, and she had increased her strength remarkably. In fact, Caroline had become so strong she was able to lift a huge dumbbell that had previously been reserved for Sandow!

Caroline’s success in transforming her body encouraged her to help other women improve their physical proportions. Driven by this encouragement, she became a physical instructor and started her own training business.

As a physical instructor, Caroline demonstrated considerable skill and devotion. Throughout her career as a trainer, she helped hundreds of pupils gain fitness, vitality, and a high level of self confidence. Some of her students were as young as 10 years old; others were past 80 years old.

Caroline believed that the attainment of strength is key for women to gain beauty. She once exclaimed, “Women should be giants of strength if they wish to be not only man’s equal, but Helens in beauty and charm. In reality, strength is the foundation and permanent sustainer of beauty.”

The physical instructor also believed that added strength was a valuable asset for women who engage in strenuous activities. In her own words, “Dancers, singers, clubwomen and suffragists are among my pupils, for women are beginning to realize that if they want to live the strenuous life they must have the physical strength to stand the great strain that is put upon their vitality.”

As her training career progressed, Caroline Bauman gained a reputation for being one of the strongest women in the world. However, she rarely performed on stage, despite receiving many offers from promoters and managers to participate in strength shows. Her main focus was teaching her students how to better themselves, not lifting before a crowd. Nonetheless, Caroline was often seen playing with 120-pound cannon balls and lifting 130-pound dumbbells in her gymnasium.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Eerie Coincidence or Divine Interaction?

December 17, 2011

Hank Darnell was a remarkable man, and his story is one of the most breathtaking and noble that I have come across. Photograph courtesy of Ralph Cameron.

A few years ago I wrote an article for the Dinosaur Files about Ralph Cameron, a former bodybuilder who had placed third in the 1949 Mr. Louisville contest just a few days before he was drafted into the US Army. During my interviews with Mr. Cameron in preparation for this article, on numerous occasions he referred to a fellow named Hank Darnell. Hank owned and operated the Darnell Physical Culture Studio in Louisville, Kentucky, a training facility that was located at 19th Street and Broadway during the late 1940s. Many of the Louisville’s best built men had trained there, including Ralph Cameron.

Not far from his studio, Hank owned a used car lot at 901 West Broadway Street. His motto was, “Trade Well with Darnell.” But, this motto was not just a sales pitch, as one might suspect. Hank was a man who possessed an unusually high standard of ethics, and he always tried to make sure that his customers got a fair and honest deal. This is one reason why he was so highly respected by the people who knew him.

Hank Darnell passed away on November 16, 1996 at the age of 79. I was very saddened to learn this when I was working to track him down for an interview last year. Fortunately, however, last summer I learned that Hank had a son and that he was a lawyer in Louisville. I contacted Hank’s son through his office and arranged to meet with him and his wife for an interview. The interview took place last May, and it lasted nearly five hours. Out of this interview came well over 20 pages of hand written notes and some of the most incredible stories I have ever heard. In due time, these stories, among many others, will be published in a book that I must write. And, this leads to the topic of this post.

Ralph Cameron learned how to build his muscles from his mentor Hank Darnell. Photograph courtesy of Ralph Cameron.

Yesterday morning I went to visit my doctor before heading to work. Going to the doctor’s office altered my usual driving path, and upon leaving I wasn’t sure which road I should take to minimize my driving time to my place of employment. After a bit of quick thinking, I came up with a plan to get onto the Watterson Expressway and head West. I figured this path would provide the shortest and easiest route to get to work. My plan failed, however, when I inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended up lost and guessing my way back to familiar areas. After a bit of guess work, I managed to get onto 9th Street just a few miles away from where I worked. I was back in familiar territory and feeling comfortable once again.

As I drove up 9th Street, I was forced to stop at a red light right smack at the corner of Broadway Street. In front of me on Broadway Street just to my right was the historic L&N Office Building, once the headquarters of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, and one of the largest commercial buildings of Beaux Arts style still standing.

Across the street from the mammoth L&N office building appeared a little white building with a small parking lot. It was dwarfed by its neighboring structure and barely noticeable. Wondering what the small building was, my eyes gazed across a sign in front of it. It read, Occupational Physician Services, 901 West Broadway Street. I was stunned. Here I sat at a red light looking at the same building where customers once traded well with Darnell. Only now it is a medical facility.

When the traffic light turned green, I proceeded onward towards work. And during my last few miles of driving, all I could think about was how I was going to get into the building I had just seen at 901 West Broadway Street. I thought to myself, “I must see for myself the very offices that were once occupied by Hank Darnell and his sales staff.”

Shortly after delving into deep thought about the little white building I had just seen on Broadway Street, I arrived at work and went into my office. I shut my door, and then I sat down at my desk and got ready to read through my emails. However, before I could get my computer booted up, my telephone rang. I could see from the LED display on the phone that it was my boss calling.

I picked up the phone and uttered, “Hi, this is Rob.” On the other end of the line, my boss replied, “Rob, you need to go to Occupational Physicians Services located at 901 West Broadway. Please get there within 15 minutes. You’ve been randomly selected for a company drug test.”

Fifteen minutes later I was back at 901 West Broadway Street, this time inside the little white building that had once been occupied by Hank Darnell and his sales force. I wondered if the current staff at Occupational Physicians Services had any clue of the building’s history and of the many incredible events that had taken place inside this dwelling during Darnell’s reign. Probably not. I also wondered if my orders for a drug test at 901 West Broadway Street, the first that I received in over 20 years of employment, was just an eerie coincidence or the result of divine interaction. I’m not sure, but my instinct tells me that I better quit procrastinating and get back to working on my book rather quickly.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Cigar Boxes and Physical Culture

December 14, 2011

This is the wooden cigar box given to me by Cousin Leslie. It is a Padilla 1932 Sig Doble Liga Churchill model. I rather like it! Photograph courtesy of MOI staff.

I received the following email from my cousin Leslie yesterday. I am reprinting it here with his permission:

Hi Bob.

I sent you a wood cigar box in the mail yesterday. It’s in a bigger cardboard box that I shipped it in. Inside the cigar box there is hidden in the packing a case utility knife.

Here is a nice shot of the box with it open. Photograph courtesy of MOI staff.

The knife is small but practical and make from surgical steel. It’s a working knife not a collectors item. Very functional.

The cigar box is a classic. Every guy needs a wood cigar box. I use mine like a jewelry box. I covered the bottom with some green felt cloth and throw my jewelry in. Works great. Some guys throw stamps or pictures, whatever.

Hope you’re feeling better. Saw your mum Saturday.

Take care Bob,

Cousin Les

The magnificent Eugen Sandow produced and promoted cigars. Shown here is the image displayed on the original Sandow cigar-box label. Public Domain Photograph.

Well today, one day after receiving the email reprinted above, I received the wooden cigar box and the knife Cousin Leslie sent me. The cigar box led me to think about Eugen Sandow and Dr. Dudley A. Sargent, both of whom were body-building pioneers. I know that this is an odd connection, but please let me explain.

Eugen Sandow invented the commercial business of bodybuilding, and he was once one of the strongest and best developed men in the world (circa 1900). Despite his success, however, Sandow erroneously believed that smoking cigarettes could help a person burn off fat. For this reason he promoted smoking as a means of staying fit. The strongman even produced and sold his own brand of cigars under the brand name, Sandow Cigars. Remember, back in Sandow’s day, the link between smoking and disease had not yet been irrefutably established by the medical community.

Dr. Dudley A. Sargent was one of the greatest innovators and teachers in the history of physical education. He invented many kinds of exercise equipment still in use today, and he advanced fitness and body-building through his scientific research. The professor also established many performance evaluation tests, including the Sargent Jump Test, more popularly known as the vertical jump test. Dr. Sargent was the Director of the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard from 1879 to 1919. Under his direction, this gymnasium became arguably the most advanced in the world. Public Domain Photograph.

Dr. Dudley A. Sargent was a professor at Harvard University, and he was appointed Director of the Hemenway Gymnasium in 1879. The professor devoted more than a half of century to the study and promotion of physical training, and he promoted the belief that modern conveniences and technology was turning our citizens into weaklings. He also promoted the belief that military training in the USA had become too soft to build powerful men and women, those capable of enduring battle. In addition, he was one of the first authorities to assert that women have the same capability as do men to become physically fit and capable of notable military service.

Dr. Sargent promoted that heavy and intense training with weights and pulley devices was key to building a powerful physique. His ideas, along with his invention of various kinds of exercise equipment (many which are still in use today), helped turn the the Hemenway Gymnasium into the most advanced exercise facility in the nation.

The success of the Hemenway Gymnasium brought Dr. Sargent much fame, and he became known as the leading authority in the muscle-building world. As the professor’s fame reached a zenith, he was “honored” when a manufacturing company introduced the “Professor D.A. Sargent” line of cigars. The doctor’s name and face appeared on the cigar box label, something I find ironic because Sargent was one among the first health authorities to warn the public about the dangers of cigarette smoking. His warnings were based on his observation that heart disease was much common among students who smoked regularly than among students who did not light up.

As a final note, I would also like to point out that over the years many a cigar box have been used in weightlifting competition as a chalk holder. As an example of this, take a look at the cover of The Legacy of Iron – The 1,000 Pound Total by Brooks Kubik. Depicted on the book’s cover is a photograph of Steve Stanko lifting in competition, circa 1941. At the lower left corner of this photo you will see, with a bit of eye strain, a small box. It is actually a cigar box, and it was used to hold the chalk that the weightlifters used during this competition.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Don’t Be a Muscle Head

December 8, 2011

Hardcore muscle fanatics often have a picture like this one running around in their heads. However, such a mental image portrays nothing but a fantasy; in reality, few people admire somebody who is a muscle head. Public domain photograph.

Not too long ago, I was taken aback with a deep sympathy when I heard a young bodybuilder exclaim, “Nothing is more important to me than building big muscles.” Unfortunately, this poor fellow is held hostage by the same delusion that scores of lifters suffer from – the false belief that the mere acquisition of bigger and stronger muscles will bring about happiness and self fulfillment.

Over the years, I have sadly watched many a bodybuilder throw his or her life down the drain as a result their excessive dedication to achieving perfection of the physical body. Extreme devotion to training has wrecked marriages, severed bonds with friends, ruined careers, and hindered intellectual and personal development.

Muscle heads rarely achieve long-term personal fulfillment. Their extreme devotion to getting bigger and stronger militates against fulfillment in the aspects of life that count most – love, family, friendship, good health, a sense of security, and intellectual stimulation.

Extreme muscle seekers often believe that bigger and stronger muscles will provide them with an additional layer of security. In a small way there is some truth to this belief. After all, a strong person is typically better able to defend him or herself against a physical assault than is a weak person. And, looking strong and athletic can make an attacker think twice before stirring up a challenge. Furthermore, having a high degree of strength will generally give a fellow an advantage when heavy objects must be handled. However, people who build muscles primarily because they want to impress others will not develop the real type of confidence, thought structure, and disposition required to achieve a high level of inner security, peace of mind, and personal fulfillment. I can tell you this not only from personal experience, but from years of observations of literally hundreds of strength seekers.

Please do not get the impression that I am against building bigger and stronger muscles. This is not the case. I am devoted to physical culture and this is why I run this website. However, I firmly believe that gaining strength and developing muscles should always be accompanied with intellectual growth and with a realization of what really is important in life. If you neglect the most important things that the world has to offer you just to gain a few pounds of muscle, then you are heading for ruins. The same is true if your sole aim in life is simply to acquire money. You may build a fortune, but such a fortune alone won’t bring you happiness and personal fulfillment.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Famous Fight in New Orleans, 1891

December 6, 2011

Jack “Nonpariel” Dempsey, born John Edward Kelly, was the reining world middle-weight boxing champion before he was defeated by Bob Fitzsimmons. During the 1880s, Dempsey was a well known fighter in America; only John L. Sullivan, the great heavyweight champion, was more popular. Public domain illustration.

On January 15, 1891 Bob Fitzsimmons of New Zealand came face to face for the first time with the middleweight champion of the world, Jack “Nonpariell” Dempsey of the United States (not to be confused with William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey, the popular world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926.) The event, which was held in a vast amphitheater in New Orleans, was one of the most anticipated matches in the history of boxing, and scores of people from many towns across the country came to witness it.

The two mighty boxing men did not enter the ring until nine o’clock in the evening, but by five o’clock a horde of wild boxing fans clashed with a large force of police in a grand rush to enter the amphitheater. The police held their ground, withstanding the rowdy crowd until at last it was time to open the doors. And, not long after the first fan was allowed to enter the big arena, not a single empty seat could be found.

Bob Fitzsimmons was a tall, muscular, and explosive puncher who often walked away from his boxing matches with barely a scratch. He became the middleweight boxing champion of the world in 1891 after knocking out Jack “Nonpariell” Dempsey. After six years as a middleweight champion, Fitzsimmons would go on to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world (1897-1899) and the light-heavyweight boxing champion (1903-1905). David Willoughby, the author of Super Athletes, credited Fitzsimmons as having “… perhaps the hardest punch ever possessed by a boxer of his size.” Public domain illustration.

Through several rounds of action, Dempsey and Fitzsimmons slugged at each other, each impacting a series of blows to his opponent. But it was the challenger who delivered the most vicious assaults. During the 11th round, Fitzsimmons landed two big lefts on Dempsey’s tired and battered body, causing the reining champion to fall against the ropes. The American tried his best to regain his composure, but Fitzsimmons knocked the wind out of him again with a powerful right followed by a punishing left.

More severe punishment came Dempsey’s way during the twelfth round. Fitzsimmons delivered one body blow after another to the worn out champion. Dempsey tried his best to retaliate by throwing a few hard punches of his own. But, just when the boxer from the USA was gaining a bit of ground, he was hit solid in the jaw by the tall and muscular challenger from New Zealand. The delivered blow was so forceful, it knocked Dempsey flat on his back.

Dempsey staggered into the 13th and final round of the fight, barely able to stand on his feet. Soon after the final round was underway, Fitzsimmons pleaded with his weakened and battered opponent to quit before he became seriously hurt. Not one to give up, Dempsey refused to surrender. His determination was to no avail, however. When Fitzsimmons barely touched his opponent with a slight push, “Nonpariel” fell to the ground like a dog in agony. A few moments later, time was called after Dempsey was unable to respond. Fitzsimmons was subsequently declared the new middleweight boxing champion of the world as an enthralled audience cheered wildly with approval. They were thrilled to have witnessed one of the most anticipated boxing matches in history and to have seen the emergence of one of the most spectacular boxing champions of all time.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

As Strong as Sandow

November 26, 2011

Sebastian Miller was a stupendous wrestler and strongman. He often crushed his opponents like tin cans, and he could “man handle” a full barrel of beer with ease. Public domain photograph.

“HE IS AS STRONG AS SANDOW” read a headline in the Los Angeles Herald, dated February 8, 1894. The reference was to Sebastian Miller, a strongman wrestler and heavyweight lifter.

Miller was born in January, 1862, and he demonstrated exceptional strength even as a young lad. In fact, it was reported that at 12 years of age he could “. . . lift and carry as much as any grown man.”

Still a teenager, Miller took a job in a brewery, and his new associates could only watch in awe while the big boy tossed 500-pound barrels of beer as if they were toys. And, while working at the brewery, Miller would first realize just how great his strength was. This encouraged him to perform public strength-feat exhibitions in small towns across Switzerland. The strongman would later visit Paris, and during 1887 he made his way to America. Interestingly, William Muldoon, who was then the top dog of wrestling and weightlifting in the States, had urged Miller to visit America and become a member of his strongmen exhibition team.

In 1889, roughly three years after starting his employment with Muldoon, the upcoming strongman defeated his boss in a well-publicized Greco-Roman wrestling match. Previously, Miller had defeated August Schmide in New York to earn his first victory in America.

Miller would go on to defeat other big names in wrestling, including Ernest Rober, a top champion. Miller’s victory over Rober occurred at Tarepa Hall in New York, and the match was “won in a short time.” For his victory, Miller collected $500, a huge sum at the time.

A group of professors at the Pennsylvania hospital were so impressed by Miller’s strength and athletic skills, during 1889 they issued him a gold metal and badge and declared him to be “the strongest living man.”

According to Miller, Eugen Sandow had refused to meet him twice after being challenged to engage in a strongman contest. Sandow declined to face Sebastian Miller (allegedly) despite the big man’s offer to pay anybody who could out lift him a whopping $10,000!

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

No Olympic Barbell Set – No Problem!

June 28, 2011

Since my recent post titled Snatches, Squats, and New Progress, I have been asked by a number of MOI readers if it is possible to practice the snatch and the clean-and-jerk with just a standard barbell set. The answer is ABSOLUTELY!

A standard barbell is elevated to regulation height by resting it on scrap wood

Scrap wood is used to elevate a standard barbell to regulation or desired height. Although not shown here, a couple sheets of plywood should be used to protect the floor. Photograph taken by Robert Drucker.

It is true that a high-quality Olympic barbell offers many advantages over the standard barbell, especially for practice of the quick lifts. Some of these advantages include:

  1. Only the Olympic-style barbell has revolving sleeves, and this facilitates movement of the bar when it pulled;
  2. When fitted with 45-pound Olympic plates, an Olympic barbell will rest at regulation height when directly resting on the floor. Standard plates are generally smaller and, when used, some provision must be implemented to raise the barbell to regulation or desired height;
  3. A quality Olympic bar is typically stronger and less prone to permanent distortion (bend) than a standard bar;
  4. Quality “bumper” plates are available for Olympic bars, and such an outfit can be dropped with minimal impact forces transmitted to the floor;
  5. The grip-section diameter of the Olympic barbell is slightly larger than the diameter of the standard barbell. The larger size of the Olympic bar makes it easier to grip and hold onto;
  6. The Olympic barbell is typically 2.2 m (7.22 feet) in length, while the length of a standard bar is usually five or six feet, although seven-feet-long standard bars are available. A longer bar allows a lifter to use a wider grip, often a necessity for effective snatching.

However, despite the advantages of the Olympic barbell, purchase of a quality Olympic set can be relatively expensive. And, if you are not ready or unable to invest in an Olympic set, some creative provisions will need to be made to commence an effective Olympic-lifting program – but they can be made with great success.

Several weeks ago, I embarked on a major study of Olympic-style weightlifting. After reading several books on the subject, I decided to give this form of training a try – and, I’m sure glad I did! However, I do not own an Olympic barbell set, and I don’t want to purchase one until I’m ready to do so. So, here is what I did: I found a relatively inexpensive 7-foot standard barbell so that a good snatch grip could be achieved. Purchase of a long 7/8-inch diameter round steel bar from a scrap yard would also have worked nicely. Next, I found a couple of scrap wood structures and I used these to elevate the barbell to standard height (about 8.5 inches from the floor to the center of the barbell). Next, I collected a couple pieces of plywood to protect the floor in case the barbell is dropped too hard. That was it. This simple setup is now in use, and I am very successfully learning the art of Olympic lifting and making great progress with nothing more than a standard barbell set.

By the way, more than a few strength champions got their start in Olympic lifting with nothing more than a standard barbell set. One such person was former world weightlifting champion, John Davis. So, it certainly is possible to practice the snatch and the clean-and-jerk with just an ordinary weight set. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Lifting Champ Gives Credit to Bodyweight Training

June 21, 2011
Allan Nickell completing in a weightlifting competition.

Allan Nickell represents the University of Kentucky Wildcat Barbell Club in a local weightlifting competition, circa 1957. Allan is one of the most accomplished lifters in Kentucky history. He built the foundation for his success with a series of bodyweight exercises. Photograph courtesy of Allan Nickell.

Earlier this year, I met up with Allan Nickell, a former Kentucky Weightlifting Champion who was never defeated in state competition. During his college years, Allan was a training partner of Ron “Speck” Lacy, a former Mr. Kentucky, Mr. America, Mr. Universe, and State Weightlifting Champion. Both Allan and “Spec” used to train together at the University of Kentucky Wildcat Barbell Club.

Nickell was arguably the most successful weightlifter in Kentucky during his four years of competition. His records in his weight class stood for years until they finally fell to Jim Carr, a student of his!

When I asked Allan how it was that he became one of strongest men in the Bluegrass State, the muscle man said that he built his foundation with bodyweight training. As a youngster, long before he heard of a barbell, Allan and a relative of his picked out the tallest tree on his parent’s property, climbed it, and attached a rope atop of it. Then, every morning before he went to school, the youngster would do chin-ups and push-ups, and he would climb that rope to the top of the tree and then back down. After this workout, Allan would then walk two miles to school, and he would walk two more miles back home after school! He followed this routine faithfully, rarely missing school or a workout.

As a boy, Allan also built his strength by working on his parent’s farm. In his own words,

“When I was six years old, I was working. It was my job to run through the fields, get the cows, and bring them in to milk. For fun, my friends and I also climbed tall hills, pushed whole worn-out tires to the top of steep hills, and chased cows and horses. We also had chores to do, like chopping and carrying wood, working in the tobacco fields, the corn fields, and in the garden. I also walked to school, four or five miles round trip. All these things helped to make me a future weightlifting champion.”

Today, Allan is 77 years old, a veteran of the US Navy, and an established soil scientist for the US Department of Agriculture. He is in excellent shape, and he maintains his stamina and vitality with a combination of weight training, bodyweight training, hiking, biking, hill climbing, and hard work in the field. Nickell says that he never had it easy, but he credits this fact for his long-term success in strength and health. Many younger guys have fallen victim trying to keep up with Allan. If you’re not convinced of this, take a bike ride with him some day. But, be prepared to ride up steep hills for several miles without a bit of rest – if you dare!

Rob Drucker

Hiking and the Breathing Squat

June 12, 2011

The breathing squat is undoubtedly one of the finest exercises a strength athlete can practice. This exercise involves squatting with a light or moderate weight for high repetitions, generally 15 to 30, or even more. Emphasis is placed on deep breathing and near-perfect exercise form. Done in this fashion, your heart, lung, and muscular systems are greatly stimulated, and generally the condition of your cardiovascular system determines how far and how long you can take this movement.

Photograph of group hiking in the Red River Gorge, Kentucky

Hiking can dramatically improve body-building gains, improve cardiovascular fitness, and provide mental tranquility. Photograph taken at the Red River Gorge, Kentucky by Robert Drucker.

Super fit athletes (those who possess a high level of cardio fitness) are able to utilize the breathing squat to achieve extraordinary leg development, build a larger chest (rib box), and acquire a level of strength endurance unmatched by ordinary lifters. Regular practice of the breathing squat, itself, will lead to these results, including improved cardio fitness. However, there is a relatively simple way to speed up and magnify the gain process considerably – implement a walking or hiking program! If you do this, you will likely find that the condition of your cardiovascular system will take on new life, and your ability to “keep the reps going” while performing the breathing squat exercise will magnify significantly. Such improvement, in turn, will allow you to build more muscular legs and a deeper chest!

The key to reaping maximum benefit from the breathing squat is to practice this exercise at least once per week, and to engage in fitness walking and / or hiking at least two to three times per week. Walking and hiking will improve your body’s ability to deliver and utilize oxygen, enhance recovery of torn-down muscles, and help to reduce or control body fat. There are also a variety of mental benefits that walking and hiking provide, and these benefits also can greatly contribute to a more successful muscle-building program.

There are many details that need to be discussed to fully understand how to incorporate walking and hiking to optimally improve your body-building gains. Don’t worry though; these details will be provided in future articles and courses – right here at MOI. In the mean time, however, I hope that this post has got you excited about the idea of going for a walk or a hike. You will discover here later that there are many more benefits to be gained by walking regularly than are mentioned in this post.

Rob Drucker