by: Paul Leonard
My fellow Jailhouse strong devotees, I would like to give you the gift of information that has been shared with me by some of the best lifters of all time-solely in the spirit of the Christmas/New Year season. Starting off, I would suggest any serious strength athlete obtain a copy of John Kuc’s Kuc speaks on Powerlifting. This book has it all as far as training wisdom, of which I will share some gold that has worked for me. First, to maintain a strong lower back, do leg raises on the floor for a top set of high reps. John would do sets of 75 reps, had abs you could see through his singlet and conventionally pulled 870 at 242 in 1979, a world record that stood for over 30 years. For variety, you can occasionally do the leg raises on a grade like I do on my driveway. That angle really tractions my lower back and keeps it healthy.
Kuc provides a full 3 month pre-contest training journal with every set, rep, and exercise he did in building up to a world championship win. Two of Kuc’s stalwart assistance exercises were lat pull downs and seated cable rows for 4 sets of 10 reps each with pretty moderate weights as compared to todays selectorized machines, but I have seen pictures of John’s Pennsylvania based training lair and he worked with good old York plates that weighed their American made face value.
Kuc describes that aftermath of a deadlift workout, specifically that if your body does not ache and you were not exhausted after a deadlift session- then you wasted your fucking time. Reading Kuc’s description of the effort needed to be a world class deadlifter always makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
For back health, I have always hung from a pull up bar for up to a minute or two. Kuc recommends hanging, but I have known about it approximately 15 years before I read Kuc’s book when I had to hang to pass LAPD’s physical test in the summer of 1991. Once I built up to over 2 minutes straight of hanging, my shoulders were bullet proof for the next decade. My favorite TV show is College Gameday and a recent video segment on Alabama’s half a million dollar per year strength coach Scott Corcoran showed him making his football players/future millionaires hang from power racks for time. Those are primarily future NFL stars so I would say they are on to something. From 2004 to 2006, I trained with Josh while we prepped for the Atlantis Strongest Man in the U.S., with one of the events being a weighted pull up with a parallel grip. Josh won the whole show and did a pull up with 120lbs chained to his waist. I was able to do a pull-up with 75lbs attached to my waist, while I weighed 275lbs. My shoulders have never been stronger and due to the fact Josh military pressed 445 at that contest, I would say the same for him.
Another way in which I used to hang in training was when I was preparing to compete in the farmers walk. We would train in the street in front of the Freak Factory in Downey, California for various distances and with different weights per hand on one weekend day. Following event training my feet would ache and need rest for days, but my grip would be recovered by mid week. What we would do is hang from the power rack with a parallel grip to mimic the farmers walk but with heavy jump stretch bands over our shoulders that were attached to the base of the rack. The bands provided a great deal of resistance without placing more wear and tear on my lower body. I have seen a YouTube video of Donnie Thompson, a strength genius, who would traction his shoulders by placing heavy bands over his shoulders then lifting his arm to grab another band that was attached over head so he had bands pulling his shoulders in opposite directions simultaneously- yes!
Speaking of shoulder health, let’s talk about what we used to do at Yorba Barbell to let our shoulders heal and re-build following the Powerlifting season of meets such as the California States in April, the Senior Nationals in July, and a fall meet in October or November-such as the old Ironman meet in Northern California. After two balls to the wall meet peaking cycles in the spring and fall, our shoulders needed a break from benching, especially many reps with bands attached. Westside Barbell had posted pictures of pro bodybuilder Mike Francois training at Westside and doing power rack military presses. Another Westside published article described how their top benchers at that time such as Joe McCoy and Kenny Patterson would do seated military presses with their upper backs braced.
These type of workouts were a welcome change from long ass bench shirt workouts where you might have done 8 total reps/ attempts in 2 hours as you took bench shirts on and off. What a waste of time! We would do either full range of motion military presses from the power rack cups and if someone was really tore up with inflammation from heavy benching all fall, then we might do partial over head presses from some power rack pins, ala Anthony Ditillo.These workouts were also fun to do around the holidays because there was no pressure to hit pre-meet goals and every week your shoulders felt better doing these. Years later, when my good friend Mike Martin got to train with strength legend Jessie Kellum, Mike was told of the importance of doing your military presses the day after your heavy bench work. Mike has been able to bench over 400 lbs raw for 30 years so I would say he is on to something.
Have you walked the cooler aisle at your local convenience store lately? Enough energy drinks to choose from? Ever research pre-workout powders/concoctions at your local supplement store? I was fortunate enough to have trained in the 90s with Ultimate Orange, so you may understand why I am not impressed with today’s energy supplements. I advise you to follow the lead of Paul Anderson by beginning any training session by hanging upside down so that blood can rush to the head in order to fuel the brain naturally. Following that, train your neck in all four directions so your neck holds up and your CNS lights up. If you have seen Westside Vs the World you know that Louie wished he had trained his neck more as now neck damage causes him to black out under load. In addition to neck, you can do other small muscle groups to wake up before your main training-provided whatever you do does not limit what you can lift on your main movements for the session.
There is nothing like hearing ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas read by a powerful voice. For us lifters the closest thing we have is Donnie Thompson’s Instagram which is a very informative and introspective by a man who dedicated his life to hitting the biggest all time total, all while not taking his internet persona too serious. For a harsher, yet brilliant look at the mind of one of the hardest powerlifters of all time, Greg Panora’s Instagram is not to be missed. Greg, fellow Mass-hole, has been to hell and back to be the best of his time and he is a throat punch at a picnic to all the mainstream people who think they take Powerlifting serious. When the kids are in the car for those long trips over the holidays, Dave Tate’s Elite FTS Table Talk podcasts are great as is any content from Barbell Logic is great stuff. You never really get past the basics in heavy lifting if you want to be great, plus Matt Reynolds has elite strength credentials and will provide value to any level of strength athlete with his intelligent insight.
Last but not least is all of the free content from Jailhouse Strong. I know this time of year, Jailhouse supports the Original Metroflex Gym wild game feast meet charity. Brian Dobson gives strength to the community and lifters an end of the year opportunity to do the same while closing the year out with a PR or two. Now that is the spirit.
Enjoy your holidays all and prep your self for a great new year.