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I’m Done and I Crawl Home
September 30, 2003

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It all started four weeks ago when I addressed the subject of muscularity. It was my intention to outline a simple exercise routine and nutritional format to achieve the goal, while underlining the toughness, the passion, hard work and devotion required. This is the fifth dissertation on the subject and wanting to wrap it up I had to go back to the beginning (late August) to recall my simple, easy-to-follow, no-frills approach.

Crazy. Since I forgot I figured you had as well. I called it the “Secret 14-Day Muscularizing Routine and Eating Plan.” Ring a bell? I went on to say in my pushy, hot-shot manner, “You eat lots of protein and train like crazy till the job is done. It's logic, good old common sense, and persistence. It's resourcefulness and guts. It's glorious hard work.”

That does wrap it up, but it doesn’t make for good reading and it does lack detail. So I went on and on for four weeks to summarize a two-week plan. The shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line, evidently, and I went in arcs, circles and loops as proof.

Sure you don’t want to go back to your old Atlas Dynamic Tension course and fast food diet? Doesn’t work, but at least you’d know where you were goin’ and what you were doin’.

I might be wrong (impossible), but I think we’ve covered the upper body and we’re heading for legs. It’s not necessary to correct me. What good would it do?

Legs, of course, include calves. Now, I’m a big fan of the muscle group, though there is personally little substantiation of my appreciation. The poor saplings look half-starved and tortured. How many of you have found yourself walking across a crowded mall or airport terminal and there, out of nowhere, is the perfect set of diamond-shaped calf muscles, striated and flexing beneath a pair of plaid Bermuda shorts filled to the max by an ordinary fellow with limp shoulders and a bouncing belly? He’s just bopping along, right? And how many of you want to tweak his nose, cast curses upon him, stomp and scream and in other ways make a fool of yourself? Yeah, me too. Relieves the frustration, but does nothing to solve calf-dystrophy.

So, what to do? The best single exercise for mass, shape and fullness is the donkey calf raise. You know the one -- you situate your feet on a stable block, lean forward with your elbows and forearms resting on a waist-high platform and execute your up-and-down calf movement. To make the exercise most effective, increase the resistance upon the muscles by having your training partner sit upon your lower back and hip region. He or she can clutch a 25- or 45-pound plate in hand to augment load. The position is comfortable, the action is pure, the burn serious and the results are forthcoming. With a hard-working partner go back and forth until you’ve completed 10 sets of 15 to 25 reps, three days a week. If you’re both nuts, you can engage in 25-set challenges occasionally to make a real difference.

I must admit I don’t see many donkeys around these days, and certainly not in Club Fit or 24 Hour. Not the trend, I guess.

Apart from the mule-team, it’s the standing and seated calf machines for mixed reps, high (25) and low (8-10), with lots full extensions -- stretching -- and tight contractions followed by a handful of burning half movements. Supersetting the two can be entertaining and effective as well. 8, 10, or 12 sets, three days a week for the bound and determined, less for the wus. A tearful experience. Do your calves when you feel like doing them; before or after your thigh workout, at another time or on another day. Just do them.

Did I mention squats, yet? I’ll get to them in a few minutes… remind me.

I like to do a little ab work before I hit the thighs to ready the torso for the workload ahead. You want to do five minutes on the bike to warm yourself up, knock yourself out, but no more were I you. Don’t want tired quads or loose knees before strong leg work. Save your aerobics for another day. Rest, replenish and rebuild after your leg work, or else.

I suggest you prepare your thighs for your squatting or leg pressing by doing three moderate sets of 12 reps of leg extensions and leg curls. Get the knees and various muscles and leg mechanics warmed up, elastic and bound with supportive blood. Complete your extension and curl training after your heavy leg work, or do as I do, all of it with intensity up front. Doesn’t seem to fatigue the quads or hams or interfere with a good heavy session. Got me.

That done and your pain level appropriately stimulated, it’s time for either squats or leg presses, whichever you’re willing to do, or, as in my case, squats followed by leg presses.

They are both terrific movements and both should be done throughout your training schemes. How you do that is your choice. Squats outshine leg presses, but the leg press recruits the variety of leg muscles somewhat differently ‘cuz of the torso-thigh relative positioning, the no-fear slowness and depth attainable with the controlled movement and the heavier weights being attempted with the back essentially out of play. The leg press serves as a nice replacement for squats when the back and knees are sore or fatigued from redundant bar-on-back full squats.

Being realistic and having worked in a variety of gyms for a bunch of years and recalling my own early training days, I know squats are not everyone’s choice of leg developers. The exercise looks dangerous; it looks an awful lot like hard work, it looks troublesome, precarious, tricky, stupid, frightening, crushing, painful, death-defying, old-fashioned and bloodcurdling. You got it, except they are not dangerous. Wrong and wrong. They are good for you, they are fun and they are user-friendly. Trust me. You’ve just got to get to know them is all. They’re like gorillas. Be nice to them and they’ll be nice to you.

My point made (feebly), let’s start with leg presses. Some thoughts: The effectiveness of the leg press as an exercise depends on the leg press machine, its mechanics, slope, load-to-resistance translation, platform size and angle, seating arrangement and comfort, and on the character seated beneath the loaded platform. Proper foot placement needs to be individually sought to assure maximum thigh engagement without excessive burden on the knees. Trial and error, execution and attention… you’re in the driver’s seat. Usually, the knees are under unhealthy stress when feet are positioned too low on the platform or toed out or in (knees out of natural tracking) to effect specific muscle isolation. Don’t do anything fancy, just press.

I recommend at least three sets of any exercise performed to achieve a worthwhile muscle- and strength-building overload. Four’s better and, personally, I’m hooked on five. With the leg press, it’s pure pushing and your ability to push with the legs is extraordinary. There’s no balancing the bar on the back comfortably and correctly, stepping backwards into position while regarding the force on the shoulders and lower back, lowering yourself into a full squat -- plus returning, again and again -- as the cumbersome weight is subject to 360 degrees of gravitational pull and finally you have to replace the bar (after a short stumble) with certain accuracy.

The legs can handle the reps with great mass, strength and muscularity benefits. Three to five sets of 25, 20, 15, 12 and 10 with increasing weight as the reps decrease is not a bad scheme, And just when you think you can’t do another rep, hold the platform in place, take three deep breaths and push out another two to three reps, and again, and again. Go as deep as you can without rounding the lower back (just past 90 degrees or a right angle, thigh bone to calf bone) to attain a complete range of motion and some serious thigh biceps and buttock action. Brave and focused repetitions with no bouncing. Get up and add weight; no loitering.

Real bodybuilders squat. Some folks cannot ‘cuz they have a real injury. My heart goes out to them. Others don’t because they are prudent. I understand. Too many fail to squat because they think they have an injury or pretend they have an injury. Who’s to say? A lot of lifters don’t and should and plan to but never do. They lose. Re-read my notes. They lose -- and I’ll tell you why. First of all, squats practiced properly are very safe. They’re the best single exercise for building the body from head to toe, and that includes the heart and lungs and venal system and all the muscles in between, as they are interconnected and interacting. Squats beat bouncing aerobics for lung capacity and leg function and fat loss and muscularity and energy under labor, to say nothing of challenge and interest. They stimulate the production of growth hormone for health and longevity and muscle growth. They keep the lower back strong and that alone should be enough… to an ailing, complaining people protecting their back rather than using and building it. Hello.

I like five to seven sets of the bloodthirsty exercise, the first two sets to get the rhythm and groove in good working order. My scheme goes something like this: 5-7 x 15, 12, 10, 10, 8, 6 and 4, each set increasing with the appropriate weight. Singles and doubles come once a month. I’ll finish off with four or five sets of 15 repetitions of close-foot leg presses of a moderate weight for a special quad effect.

I’m done and I crawl home. That is, after polishing the mirrors and mopping the floors to cool down and display my ingenious Functional Aerobic Technique or FAT.

Final truth: My squatting power has improved considerably and with no back or knee pain and with more comfort and control and fun since using the Top Squat. Without the TS I would not be able to squat at all, my shoulders no longer having the range of motion to support an Olympic bar.

The sky’s the limit, bombers. Let’s get our tails in the air.

God’s speed… Draper

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