Lessons from the Greats

I recently visited the Stark Museum in Austin, Texas. If you love fitness and strength, this would be our shrine. Jan and Terry Todd had the tools used by the greats of our past, archival photos and practically every book, magazine and scrap of paper ever written on the subject.


After visiting the museum, I walked down to my own library and started pulling out books. One thing continued to leap off the page to me: the greats tended to natural flow between two kinds of workouts: Hypertrophy (bodybuilding) and Strength Training (preparing for a contest whether powerlifting, Olympic lifting or a strongman show).


It’s still great advice today. For eight weeks, focus on the Push (both horizontal and vertical), the Pull (both horizontal and vertical) and get those squats done. Keep the reps in that 8 to 12 range and try to fill out all of your short sleeve shirts. You can curl all you want after your squats.


Then, shift gears. There are two families of movements that tend to support increased performance in most sports: the hinge and the loaded carries.


When I first turned off my ego and tried Farmer Walks, my vote for the King of the Loaded Carries, I frankly didn’t notice much at first. But, my friends in both the Highland Games and the discus throw began asking questions. My performances were really improving and I was getting that “nod and wink” from competitors when they think you are juicing more than just kale.


“I swear to you…it’s the walks!”


Gray Cook, noted therapist and movement specialist, notes that the loaded carry family not only develop work capacity, the lifeline of performance improvement, but they also are brilliant at measuring work capacity. I use a Trap Bar for testing and the following weights:


Under 135 pounds, 135 total on the bar.

136-185 pounds, 185

186-205, 205

Over 205, 225.


Every so often, we load the bar up and walk away. Measure the distance and note if it is improving. If not, why not? High rep squat programs improve the test, Olympic lifting improves the test and traditional hard training improves the test.


I also use the Standing Long Jump, a hinge with acceleration, to test the athlete or client. If both the SLJ and the FW go up, good things are happening!


Training the hinge can be done with the deadlift and the snatch and clean family with heavy loads. On the other extreme, the hinge can be trained with lots of explosive Kettlebell swings. Strangely, either approach improves the SLJ. Both the heavy, blood vessel bursting deadlift and the snappy, sweat inducing swing help the jump.


Many of my sports performance cycles focus JUST on the hinge and loaded carry. We keep a touch of push, pull and squat in these programs to hold on to the muscle gains and give an opportunity to stay symmetrical throughout the body.


Try a six week program of just the Olympic lifts and Farmer Walks for a challenge and change up even if you don’t keep. Try what we do at the Hercules Barbell Club:


Snatch: 8 sets of 2

Clean and Jerk: 8 sets of 1

Farmer Walks


The Farmer Walks are done in what we call the “Great Eight.” Pick a load (you can vary this on every move) and go “down and back” four times. That is eight lengths and it works out just about right. Train like this three days a week for a while and get your lifts up to some respectable numbers. Compete, if you can.


Then, get back to hypertrophy.


This is what the greats of our past have always done and it still works wonders today.

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