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Load Up the Manta Ray

Mr. America Dave Draper and bodybuilding photographer Chris Lund

Squats. This October has been leg priority month on IronOnline. Favorite leg workouts have been outlined and posted by members to intrigue and impel IOL participants. The workouts are diverse, ranging from mass builders to lean and fit conditioners. Very good stuff, now for your review in our IOL archives.

Next month we will concentrate on chest, finish the year with back, shoulders in January and bis and tris in February and March, respectively. In April it's time to attend our lean body mass and get ripped as we welcome the Spring of '00. We are determined not to fade with '99 and stumble into 2000. Don't you just love common sense in action and the momentum of support?

I have a feeling this kind of communication will sustain us as we slug away at getting in shape and staying shape. This, to some of us, means dropping 20 pounds of fat and gaining 10 pounds of muscle; to others it's pumping a 20 inch arm and squatting 500 for reps. For all of us it means training regularly, smartly, with enthusiasm and our own intensity - from now 'till the robins return. Which, I'm occasionally reminded, do not exist in sizzling tropical Southern India.

Throughout this month, squats have been a topic of conversation and bestowed with the "best exercise" award and granted the titles, "king," "major," "chief," "grandfather," "superior," "big-daddy," and "supreme." Exclamations from weight lifting history declare squats to be "the best single exercise to comprehensively work the entire body." Or, they go on, "if you do only one exercise, do squats." And, squats put hair on your head. These comments, though driven by affection, are worthy and I don't deny them. Lately I've been hopeful that the latter is more than just a cute reference. Keep you informed.

Mid-Spring, my squat workouts reached a peak, my PR, form and regularity, sets and reps, were outstanding. And then, like overnight, I hit the wall and the entire squat mechanical system failed. Lower back seemed to compress, shoulder cage slumped and ached and the knees became tender. Hips, ankles and feet shortly fell in line.

Conclusion? Overload. Get out from under the bar, back off and pace yourself. Exact from the leg press all you can, benefiting from the different quad and glute demand and low-back saving advantage. The smart, inevitable solution.

I'm good for three restless weeks before the cravings return and take over. I observed as I had in the past that, without the big "SQ," my bodyweight dropped a few dense pounds, my jeans bagged out slightly, vascularity diminished a tad and my sense of being an unrelenting, hardcore pro faltered. I saw my image as "The Bomber" fade and blur like a late-night black and white Bogart movie. Cold sweats, tightening in the chest, the shakes. Relax, breathe deeply, relax.

The next morning I nixed my arm routine, set up my favorite slightly bent Oly bar and reinstalled my trusty old squat blasting routine. Baloney. The bar itself felt like a slightly bent high rise "I" beam. Several sets of grouchy reps spoke loudly of something I barely consciously whispered to myself, "Your squatting days are over, son."

Not wanting to indict my insecurities and egotism further, I pretend to admit this as true. No problem, I'm getting older, I can handle it, why risk it, who needs another injury, nerve impingement, total muscle separation? With a casual shrug, I nobly retreat to my office before breaking down. In shock, I am on auto-pilot. Life without squats? Staring, muttering, rummaging.

What's this? Amongst a chalky tangle of belts, wraps and straps, I pull out the MantaRay. With Windex, I clean it off and bring it to a shine. Back to the bar, I squeezed the blue, hard rubber rig in place, settling myself into position, padded with a thick towel. I stand, wobble and perform my first precarious squat. Ugh. Very funky. Awkward. My second set with 135 feels better, yet worse. Off balance, too far forward, too far back, the bar feels like a see-saw and is surely going to slide off my shoulders; everyone's looking.

By the end of the set I'm breathing and gaining focus, willing to accept the struggle with the puny weight 'cuz, I rationalize, the application is new, requiring practice and observation. In spite of its instability, I noticed that the MantaRay forces a repositioning of the body as I squat. Flatter back, more upright torso with less forward lean over the knees. The device distributes the harsh pressure of the bar over a wider shoulder, back and trap area. A welcome relief.

I plod on. 225 feels like 325 and the quads and hams and glutes are smokn'. But, the shoulder cage, low back and knees are cool. I'm unsteady, unsure with each rep, yet they haul me into a positive, piston-like movement and I'm pumping. The muscle action is accurate. The aggravating, abusive pain, the squat negating hurt, is gone. Five sets of ten reps with *&^% pounds restores my love for mankind and hope for the future of the world. Successive workouts with the 'Ray have me convinced that my structure is safer and the action more specific for developing the thighs and glutes. Perhaps I can periodically return to the unmasked original for my bare back "one rep max."

Meanwhile, I'm loading the bar big time, with a smile.

Click here to see the Manta Ray

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