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Dave Draper's Iron Online

Weight Training - Bodybuilding - Nutrition - Motivation

A Frontier to Explore
February 12, 2003

Do you realize this newsletter represents the first of the fifth year of letters going to you through davedraper.com? Ha. And I’m not a year older, as some of you might expect. I feel, in fact, that the clock has reversed, a mystery attributed to science, voodoo and illusion. Whatever. You can include, no doubt, supersets and Bomber Blend on that list of probable causes.

I want to reassure those of you who are growing older by the minute and aging on a regular basis that I’m keeping my eye on the day-by-day process of “time accumulation,” as we call it here in Santa Cruz. I heard someplace recently that the average life expectancy of the healthy male is 85 years. That gives me another quarter of a century to perform rollovers and tailspins in the wild blue horizons as I chase down the enemy.

In 20 years with science hard at work, another 10 may be added, followed by another five at the end of that and so on. I’m thinking this may never end and we’re here for good.

In my duel with aging I have kept a sharp point on the sword and am continuously aware of my posture and stance. Take heed: Maintain intensity, do not slouch and be ready to lunge; work hard and stay busy with your affairs, but bring attention and intention to the gym. A well-fed and well-rested body can do wonderful things with eagerness and endurance among its inventory. These iridescent qualities are, of course, gained through and perpetuated by diligent exercise.

Beware of fatigue. An unconditioned body, tired and low on resistance will perform poorly and succumb to injury and illness. You will age before your eyes.

Lately, my interest in my training has peaked by the miniature threat of its diminishing with age, and by my association with you iron-conscious muscle-makers who wonder as I do. I have doubled and tripled my focus on specific features of exercise and working out. What I study is this: injuries, how to approach them, work around and through them; invented and improvised movements to cleverly accomplish muscle and strength-building objectives when certain muscles do not cooperate; body positioning and redefining the groove; which exercises or muscles to work that have not been exhausted, abused or over-used; how to get the most out of each performance, rep by rep; rest between sets, how many reps and sets; what exercises allow the use of and respond to heavy weight.

These dimensions of scrutiny are assessed collectively as I proceed through my workout. Not a dink or kink is experienced without an appropriate adjustment; a superior groove does not go unrecorded for future repetition, and if there is an indication of improved bounty in the modification of an exercise, it is determined and seized.

I have scrawled a list of adaptations and developments I’ve observed since last summer, as my training took on different shades to match the seasons of the year and my growing understanding. I expect these observations will keep us busy for a few weeks. Don’t go away.

One of my favorite movements is the bent-over barbell row for its sheer power and big back development. In recent pre-IOL years due to shoulder and hand limitation, I removed the demanding exercise from my repertoire. One-arm dumbbell rows are a fine alternative, but I missed the big pull and its benefits. The exercise is large and heavy and thus provokes a total system response calling a majority of muscles into action -- upper back, lower back, midsection, glutes, thighs and hamstrings, biceps and grip, placing a great demand on the heart and lungs and stimulating hormonal support as well. Bang. Bam. Boom.

What can I say? Privately and in a whisper, while curled up in a fetal position under my blanket at 3 AM, I said, “This won’t do, Bomber. Things hurt, but I don’t believe they are insurmountable. Try to open a pathway for the execution of the exercise with light weights and build the muscles in the vicinity of the damaged areas. Explore the action and probe the recruited muscles and develop a working groove that pierces the pain and possibly promotes rehabilitation and re-enables performance -- strong performance.” That is a more literal twist and expansion to the one-liner, “Just do it!” Sometimes just doing it is like holding a stun gun to your head and pulling the trigger. The body quivers, seizes up and falls to the floor as pulp.

There is good news for all of us, young and not so young. Much of the wreck can be restored with the loving and patient application of basic, old-fashioned care and common sense. Those treasures, love, patience, care and common sense -- lost in the now-or-I’ll-scream age -- are close at hand and in your control, if only you will find them, apply them and trust them. Go through your pockets.

As I write this I’m inspired and then think, “Does anyone really care?” We do, brothers and sisters, but the vast majority hasn’t a clue, another topic for another time. Let’s do what we can do, which is more than we think, and rejoice. Perhaps they’ll see us in action and wonder, admiration, need and desire will super-blend and become their teacher. God’s speed.

Got off on a tangent as usual… where was I? Ah, yes, bent-over rows. Might I say this briefly and emphatically? With cunning persistence I approached the exercise as if it were novel and not doing it were not an option. I proceeded with a light bar, yet heavy enough to provide groove-resistance, and searched for a track of motion that impacted the broad back area without scalding the wrist with unthinkable pain. Warming up, trial and error, loss of heart, disappointment, yipping pain, anger and near-negative conclusions led me to grasp the bar with a tight, full grip two inches short of the collars.

There, with the bar sitting high on my palms above the callous line in deference to a shallow over-grip with only the fingers at work, I found the place I could exert power and attack the back with reasonable comfort. The pull starts from full extension, the muscles in the arms and back doing the work with light to moderate body thrust. The end point for the bar is high on the chest, elbows out and arms parallel to the bar; touch and go with maximum muscle intensity administered throughout the action -- concentric contraction, peak-contraction and eccentric extension. Repeat the movement with utmost focus on every contracting muscle, especially the painful and limited rascals. They rudder the ship.

Throughout the adapting and perfecting of the tenuous and imperfect movement, the support players are positioned for maximum effect and structural allowance: the footing, the bend in the legs, the bend at the hips, the arch in the back, the position of the head and the focus of the eyes.

The point is this: For those who are experiencing limitations, there might be ways of accomplishing satisfactory movement through the insistence and focus indicated in the scenario above. I am using the row once again, aggressively and with the original fulfillment and effectiveness. Strength in grip is improving and hip and trunk conditioning is returning while the back from the ground up is growing hard and strong. So what if it’s my imagination.

I’m counting on the fact that some of you are a little off balance, as am I. There is pain and I get used to it providing I control it and it is not damaging. It’s a frontier to explore. Were the enemy in charge of the pain, I’d talk.

Introducing my recent training discoveries has gobbled up all my space and time. I hear snoring in the bleachers and a number of you have left the complex. I’ll continue next week with the thick-bar bench press, farmer’s walks, thick-bar wrist curl, incline flies and the leg press, an alternate to squat-overload.

I’m re-discovering old yet fertile ground, abandoned pasture I thought had gone barren. Bending low and plowing the field is praiseworthy exercise in itself.

Bombers, young and otherwise, carry on… I’m off to the gym to work, train legs and give the Top Squat gizmo another go. DD

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