TEST TO ARRIVE AT PEAK STRENGTH
by John McKean
Standing just over 5′, weighing 140 something, and wearing an Alpine hat that sported a huge ridiculous feather, the broadly grinning foreigner looked like an escaped circus dwarf. “Where”, whispered the famous weightlifting promoter to himself, “is the supposed world’s strongest man that I wired big money for?” Questioning his short-statured protege, Mr. Promoter was further distressed to learn that the newcomer rarely even trained with barbells, only ever so often to TEST his strength. When asked what he could jerk overhead, the little guy answered, “maybe 240 pounds on a good day.” His new boss was downtrodden, mentioning many in his land could do that much, and heavy guys a lot more. “Yes,” laughed the Bavarian elf, “but that’s with my right arm! With both arms, I can get 340 up!” He later became the famous Maxick (originally Max Sick – no name for a strongman!), certainly one of the first ever to continental and jerk over double bodyweight!Indeed, through exhibitions and challenges Max performed amazing one and two hand overhead lifts that defied even huge men of the time, and proved to be perhaps the best-built man in the world, around 1909 (or at any time, if only a natural physique is considered!)).And his amazing development and strength were largely attributed to his own body tension or “muscle control” system, along with some youthful gymnastics. Or was it? Maxick did the occasional “testing” with weights, remember, as well as obvious power building with record poundage, ’s during his performances. And, maybe not much of a coincidence, many of the great early weightlifters trained in a like manner that modern volume devotees would term “testing strength, rather than training for strength”. Always, the old timers looked much more rugged than today’s bloated pumpers, and could, if alive, still top just about anyone on their specialties in a drug-free contest!What I’d like to propose is that experienced trainees, especially the “masters” competitors, experiment with scaling back all the sets and reps, and discover what limits they can truly push consistently, without much unnecessary buildup work. After all, when over 40, we certainly don’t need all that much lighter “form work” -everyone knows how their particular structure will handle a deadlift, squat, press, or pull! Heck, if I could figure out the way to do one set of one on three different lifts per session I would do just that! In fact, one busy summer I almost got away with that scheme (did two singles per lift, one medium and one heavy) in training for that year’s USAWA nationals, as did my two sons -we had our best meet ever!Recently I’ve been training 3 lifts per workout, alternating with 3 others done after a day’s rest, with a much-abbreviated system. Taking the heaviest lift of that day, after a thorough general warms up, I do a medium single, then a medium heavy, finishing with a near limit. The second lift only requires two singles -medium heavy and real heavy. The last lift usually involves a timed hold with an overload poundage and is done for a single. It’s almost what you could term a 3 lift “ladder”, using the 3-2-1 countdown for reps among three lifts. It’s over very quickly (most of the time is the preparatory warmup!), and big weights come easy, both mentally and physically.Some of our older readers may have been lucky enough to watch the mighty Paul Anderson, still thought of as the strongest man of all time, perform his amazing strength exhibitions. What many did not realize is that they were not watching just a performance, but actually observing Paul’s actual WORKOUT! You see, Paul was so busy with his youth home and traveling that he had almost no time to train other than at his shows, maybe only once a week or once every several weeks. He’d go to one big heavy single, no warmup, and do unbelievable lifts with utmost ease. Though I saw him several times, the event most etched in my mind was when he calmly loaded 105 pounds on two chains, held both straight out to each side, and announced he wanted to break old-timer Louis Cyr’s muscle out the record! Paul’s normal beefy 24″ upper arms, all of a sudden, took on the appearance of a solid granite carving, from that week’s “one set of one” workout!