“Fear paralyzes; curiosity empowers. Be more interested than afraid.”
– Patricia Alexander
Having spent 17+ years in the pharmaceutical industry leaves me somewhat reluctant to jump wholesale on the bash-the-pharmaceutical-bastards bandwagon. Drug companies do provide lifesaving drugs for millions, and having been a part of that legacy is something that I can be (and am!) proud of. There is a darkside, of course, and that darkside has everything to do with the Wall Street mentality of putting corporate profits before public good. The sad fact of the matter is that from a purely profit-driven standpoint, it makes little sense for the industry to “cure” and even less sense to promote a holistic/natural-remedy approach; forget about promoting resistance training coupled with adequate physical activity. I dunno, maybe it is poetic justice that the shareholders of these companies are being just as bamboozled by Big Pharma as the rest of society. Hell, it’s gotten to the point now where the industry will simply “invent” a new malady, then fund “non-biased” research into the treatment of said malady which inevitably leads to — shock of all shocks — not a cure for the malady in question, but a life-long treatment regimen. High cholesterol, anyone? Diabetes?
I wonder what ol’ Vince would think about the wholesale handing over control of your health to “the establishment”, to Big Pharma, to allowing government to run roughshod over your right to seek and obtain unadulterated, un-processed, un-fracked-with, un-“value-added” food. Oh…yeah…probably a little something along these lines 🙂
Heh, tell us how you really feel, Vince 🙂
More on the Physical Culturalists against the machine theme: so if you haven’t yet seen the clip below, be sure to check it out. Walter Bortz tells it like it is (though not in quite as “direct” a manner as our friend above). Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex — Here, Bortz highlights what I predict will become known as the Pharma-Medical Research University complex. Not nearly as catchy, but hey…Of course, it’s your birthright to just opt-out of this ugly scene by taking seriously your own genetic endowment. Not easy, mind you — but possible. Easy is the path that leads to Big Pharma.
Now if I could just figure out a way to opt out of the economy 😉 Capitalism 2.0 (or 3.0?), here I come 🙂
My good buddy (and practically my next door neighbor — in Texas terms), Ken O’Neil, recently had the enviable opportunity to meet and talk with another native Texan, the venerable Tommy Suggs. Ken was kind enough to send me the following piece in reference to that visit.
A visit with Tommy Suggs
Recently re-discovering Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength website mandated some catching up: it’s loaded with videos now. They include interviews with Tommy Suggs and Dan John along with some Olympic lifting coaching by Suggs. Add to that quite a collection of articles by Suggs, Bill Starr, and others — quite a collection of otherwise impossible to find lifting wisdom all in one place.
Tommy Suggs? Back in the 1950s and 60s, Suggs and Terry Todd were both known to train at the legendary Texas Athletic Club — back when Mike Graham ran operations. Suggs and Todd both graduated from University of Texas, and both ended up working for and training with Bob “The Father of American Weightlifting” Hoffman and his York Barbell Club. From the 1930s well into the 1970s York was The Barbell Capitol of America, and it’s teams were close to being the whole American Olympic team. Hoffman frequently funded overseas competition by American teams from his own pocket. Aside from the weight equipment company, York maintains an impressive museum and archival collection from the Hoffman era.
Todd, then later Suggs, were recruited to work for Hoffman — having roles in production of monthly magazines. In those days all aspects of the iron game were sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), which along with the US Olympic Committee upheld strict standards of amateurism — you couldn’t make money from sport, including being paid to train. So Hoffman employed his lifters and bodybuilders for about 20 hours a week, leaving ample time for training at world class level of achievement.
Today Terry Todd, along with wife Jan, are faculty members of UT Austin’s Department of Kinesiology, co-creators of the Todd-McLean Physical Culture archives (over 300,000 items making it the largest such collection in the world) and Terry is Executive Director of the Stark Center.
Suggs was at York for 6 years, during which time he recruited Bill Starr. Starr’s a living legend as probably the first NFL strength coach: his last position was with Johns Hopkins. His book Built to Survive remains the classic work in strength coaching for football. His monthly articles in Iron Man Magazine are just cause for collecting that periodical.
Suggs went on to other professional callings after leaving York, including a stint running a gym in the Houston area as well as a term as strength coach for the Oilers. At 74, he’s retired now, spending time between San Antonio, West Texas and Arkansas. We met up in New Braunfels, Texas, then made a trip to his Central Texas location.
If you watch Tommy’s coaching videos on Rip’s website, what you’ll see is how many of us used to learn to train from mutual coaching. Tommy calls that Factor-X, the energy or element in a robust gym that makes it a community. We didn’t have videos in the 50s and 60s, nor did we have coaches. Books showed only the start and finish of a lift, NOT how to move the weight. York was where the masters met and got better at mastery — and coaching each other. That develops an eye for all the subtleties in making an explosive, in the zone lift that gets three green lights from the judges. What you’ll see Tommy doing is something many of us learned back then. And it’s a lot more precise and powerful than videos because a lot of custom fitting is involved: lifting is being refined for that particular lifter’s unique body.
Factor-X? It exists. Any gym with Factor-X is the best place to train: you feel it the minute you walk in the door. Joe Gold’s original Gold’s in Santa Monica felt that way; so did his World Gym in Venice, as did Bill Pearl’s and Vince Gironda’s. Mike Graham’s Old Texas Barbell Company in Lockhart, Texas has that mystique. Big box chain and franchise gyms don’t — they’re too squeaky clean and have next to no coaching know-how.
Tommy’s opened a new chapter in strength coaching. Every summer he’s out in the Dakotas, running training camps for Native American youth. When he found that teen agers there — like everywhere — are too ‘cool’ to train, he offered it to the younger kids. Summer after summer they came back in growing numbers. When they turned teen, they started asking for special permission to keep on training. Those are kids who won’t have type II diabetes or obesity challenges.
We talked training rhythm. Tommy was one of a handful of pioneers training on the first York power racks. Those racks were real small footprint size in comparison to today’s monster cages. Upright vertical columns were spaced around 8 inches apart, while they were made of heavy duty channel iron or pipe. Strength gains were phenomenal on them.
In the early 1970s, Arthur Jones’ Nautilus machines were heralded as a break through due to their rotary cam design replacing pulleys in earlier machines. Each cam was said to be unique, each based on the strength curve of the individual exercise. Cams were to provide what Jones called omni-directional resistance, meaning the cam kept resistance optimal throughout the range of movement by changing relative resistance in accord with stronger and weaker positions. As we gained experience with Nautilus in the 70s, many of us discovered the fatal flaw in Jones’ design: one size doesn’t fit all. The cams were statistical means — averages, if you will — artificial: they didn’t take varying bone lengths, constellations of bone lengths, length of muscle bellies and insertion points into consideration, much less variations due to height.
The rack harkened back a decade earlier. It, too, aimed at increasing intensity for developing strength and hypertrophy. Like the cam, rack training is based on recognition of relative stronger and weaker power zones within an exercise. With the rack, you’re always going to be working with your unique power zones — not some statistical average.
Rack training divided a lift into three zones: the stronger start of a lift, the difficult mid- or sticking point, and the lockout or completion. In those days we worked out on Mondays-Wednesdays-Fridays, with Saturday for lift practice. Taking the press as an example, on Mondays we’d work starting point, Wednesdays sticking point, Fridays just short of lockout. We’d set up pins to rest the bar on for our starting point, then another set of pins six inches higher: press from low to high for 5-8 reps, last rep being an isometric hold at the top for as long as you can, then resist back to the start. It only took one or two sets of those spread over 6-8 exercises. We spend more time in the gym loading, unloading and setting up the bar than lifting.
Rack training fell out of favor due to confusion, maybe annoyance, and certainly due to drugs. Dr. John Zeigler introduced the rack as well as working with CIBA to develop Dianobol, the first oral anabolic steroid. Some lifters made remarkable progress using both. 50 years ago most everyone thought steroids were a new food supplement! When word got out that some people’s progress included steroids, some ditched the rack in favor of drugs.
What a treat it was visiting Tommy’s garage gym in Central Texas. For the first time ever I got the hands on experience of the York home model power rack. Now I know how to build one! And old fashion York globe style dumbbells. Fifty pound plates all over the place from famous manufacturers long out of business. A mix between a home gym and antique collection!
Tommy showed me how he squats these days: foot up on a tall box between 3-4 feet tall from the ground, he simply stands up. Pretty difficult movement, but all the more amazing when he told me he’d had both knees replaced. I found I bore certain assumptions about knee replacement surgeries based on people I’ve known that had them: loss of mobility, loss of flexibility, a ‘can’t do list’, and complaining.
There’s a new breed of aging people: one’s who ignored the expert warning of coaches about getting muscle bound if you lift weights. Ones who kept on lifting throughout life. Their hair may be gray — for many of us, what’s left of hair — their size somewhat shifted, but that gait remains steady, exuding power, carrying broad shoulders, wide backs and a vice like grip through life.
Talk of training systems. Conclusion? They all work. Sticking to the same routine forever doesn’t work — due to no challenge, boredom, etc.
Nice work, Ken. I’d also say that the anabolic continuum has much to do with the nature of what works for whom…and when. Also, check-out master Tommy’s advice on rack work for the Olympic press here. This kind of coaching is just friggin’ priceless. And in my opinion, this is the press that ought to be considered in the NFL combine, as I think it is much more indicative of functional pressing strength than the flat bench is.
A few things about Ken; he’s undoubtedly the Godfather of Physical Culture knowledge, and in my opinion ought to be made PC’s honorary historian. He knows (or knew before they passed) everybody who was/is somebody in the iron game, and has some wonderful, never-heard-before anecdotes, asides and commentary about these characters — and he possesses the most awesome Physical Culture man-cave that I have ever seen in my life! Jealous? Hell yeah I am! An entire ground floor/basement, half the space of which is devoted to a fully-equipped gym (we’re talking power racks and black-iron here, buddy!) and the other half devoted to a full-fledged library of Physical Culture research. More from Ken in the coming months, I can assure you! And maybe I can cut a video tour of his most awesome lair of Physical Culture.
And speaking of Physical Culture…many folks have asked me to define just what the term Physical Culture entails, and I must confess to rather clumsy attempts at best to encapsulate just what this idea entails. But how’s this, from the Stark Center website:
Physical Culture is a term used to describe the various activities people have employed over the centuries to strengthen their bodies, enhance their physiques, increase their endurance, enhance their health, fight against aging, and become better athletes.
On the workout front –
Just a sampling of the workouts I performed over the last week or so:
Wednesday, 1/19/11 –
(A1) Xccentric flat press: +50 lbs x 13 rest-pause singles (80×0 tempo)
(A2) Xccentric flat press: assisted negatives, +90 lbs x 4, 8 second negative singles (rest-pause)
(A3) Nautilus pec dec: 95 x ~12 (40×0 tempo)
(B1) Xccentric dual bicep curl: (0 added weight), 3 sets of 15. Think regular Oly bar curl here, but with a truly unique range of motion arc.
Thursday, 1/20/11 –
(A1) T-Bar swings: 125 x 25, 25, 25, 25
(A2) weighted pull-ups: 45 x 7, 7, 6, 6
Friday, 1/21/11 –
“Clustered” sets of power cleans and power snatches; approximately 15 seconds between sets and about 15 minutes between the clean round and the snatch round.
PCs: 135 x 10, 155 x 6, 175 x 3, 185 x 2
PSs: 135 x 5, 5, 4, 5
Saturday, 1/21/11 –
(A1) CZT-V neutral-grip deadlift: 5 hyper-reps
(A2) Nautilus Nitro leg press: 420 x 21 reps (to positive failure)
(B1) CZT-V Dips: 5 hyper-reps
(B2) Blast strap flyes: BW x 23 (to positive failure)
(C1) CVT-V Pull Down (fully pronated grip): 5 hyper-reps
(C2) Trap bar Bent over rows: 155 x 13 (to positive failure)
And finally: Rest in Peace, Jack LaLanne. You demonstrated to us all what *is* possible; you defined what the consummate Physical Culturalist ought to be. Thank you, sir, for your gift. We at Efficient Exercise will do all that we can to carry the flame.