This article is part of a series on physical fitness and physical culture that I’m working on. To see a convenient summary and listing of my previous articles, please click here.
As mentioned in previous articles in the Physical Culture series of articles, I’m not heavily into weights or other such equipment. I much prefer bodyweight, self resistance, DVRs (dynamic visualized resistance), and similar modalities. Part of this has to do with my own likes and dislikes, part of it with my goals. I am not a super-athlete or a bodybuilder. And I don’t want my fitness routine to be the main focus of my life. But fitness is important to me, and I am pleased with the success I’ve had in looking and feeling vigorous and healthy, especially at my age. I like the emphasis that systems like Transformetrics puts on directing the mind to focus on the sensation of the muscles working under great tension instead of numbers of kilograms, pounds, and repetition.
However, I have learned much from people into weight lifting and bodybuilding that is of value to me in achieving my more personal fitness goals, and I do use very light 2-pound and 3-pound dumbbells aerobically in something called Heavyhands. I also recently have started using the Sierra Exercise Equipment’s “The Hook,” which is a resistance band set-up. (If you click that link, it’s about a third of the way down) At a later point, I’ll probably review The Hook.
I first did HeavyHands in the 1980s. A medical doctor, Leonard Schwartz, invented this system, which for a while became somewhat of a popular fancy. Although this modality became trendy, it was not just a fad. Unlike a common fad, Heavyhands as a system has much of value, but only if used properly.
Here’s how Dr. Schwartz came to develop HeavyHands.
The doctor became concerned about his high blood pressure, overweight status, and poor conditioning sometime in his 50s. As a youth, he had been athletic, but in middle age, he had a 2-pack-per-day cigarette habit and felt unhealthy. Being a medical doctor, he knew where this was heading, and so he decided to do something about it.
Dr. Ken Cooper had started his aerobics center and was gaining some renown. So, inspired by Dr. Cooper’s work, Dr. Schwartz decided to try to increase his aerobic fitness. He did not especially want to run, but he wanted to work his heart and cardiovascular system. He also wanted to condition all his skeletal muscles.
He decided that key to aerobic and overall fitness was to work all the muscle groups in his body together at the same time. So he began walking while swinging a baseball bat. That got his heart going, and it felt good. His muscles felt like they were getting a workout, and his pulse and breathing were elevated. Then he started using small weights.
About that time, in his reading, he discovered that the athletes with the best aerobic fitness were cross-country skiers (not downhill) and theorized it was because they used their arms working the ski poles as well as their legs for long periods of continuous effort. This working of all four limbs also placed demands on the core. So cross-country skiing seemed to be working all the muscles in the body.
Aerobic exercise traditionally has been about moving the large muscles rhythmically over a relatively long period of time, say 20 or more minutes, at far less than maximum intensity. Done correctly, under ideal circumstances, this brings the heart rate up to about 80% of your maximum capacity. The heart, lungs, and circulatory systems become accustomed to delivering large amounts of oxygen to your muscles, and these systems become much more efficient. Overall, that seems to correlate with better cardiovascular health.
The large muscle groups used in aerobics have traditionally emphasized the very large lower body muscle groups, especially the leg muscles. But most aerobics activities tend to neglect the upper body especially and the core to some lesser extent. Additionally, aerobics mostly entailed high-impact activities such as running, jogging, etc, although some aerobic activities, such as basketball and continuous martial arts play, may gave a more rounded workout. But they required partners.
And most aerobics activities can be hard on the joints. So, to help minimize bone-jarring, high-impact aspect of aerobics, some people engage in water sports like swimming, but this is not always practical. Others learn special “low-impact” aerobics. However, more conditioned people may find these activities inadequate to give a sufficiently aerobic workout.
What Dr. Schwartz discovered in his experimentation is that the arms can also be a motor for aerobic exercise, especially if they are elevated at or above the shoulders or even the head during their movement, a principle he calls verticality. Working the arms in this fashion while working the legs provide more aerobic exercise while minimizing the impact of jogging or running. HeavyHands does not require running, thus avoiding strain to knee joints and ankle joints, and it brings a lot of muscles into action. His reasoning was that the more muscles involved in aerobic activity, the more effective the exercise becomes. He calls this muscle loading.
Dr. Schwartz designed a dumbbell that had a handle which minimizes the need to grip it, and to which light weights could be attached. The picture shows the 1-pound version. Heavier weights can be screwed on, and the handle can be adjusted to up to around 10 pounds each.
His books became best sellers and his Heavyhands handles sold like the proverbial hotcakes. Then, this practice just seemed to disappear from popular consciousness.
Marty Gallagher, a well-known power-lifter, describes how HeavyHands seemed to drop out of public awareness here, and I agree with much of what he says about how and why that happened.
It used to be one could see lots of people in the parks during the 1980s carrying Heavyhands handles, sometimes with 10 or more pounds on them. But these people were not pumping them. And just carrying the weights did not do much good beyond just the simple walk or jog these people were doing.
Suddenly, this modality fell out of favor because it seemed to folks not much good came of it. People began carrying weights that were too heavy and not pumping them. The problem was lack of technique, not the approach, which I think is a really super exercise modality.
I use much lighter weights, but I pump them. Today, I went around a track at our local park with my bitty 2-pound weights, pumping them to head height, doing ski poling moves, martial arts punches and blocks, lateral raises, etc, while walking, interspersing that with brief wind sprints. That’s more the kind of routine that Dr. Schwartz would recommend.
For many people, doing such things might make them feel somewhat self conscious or even faintly ridiculous. But I’m an old guy with white hair and a white beard out vigorously exercising in the park, so, I already look slightly unusual. So adding the HeavyHands weights does not make me feel at all self conscious.
I’m at a stage of life where a bit of gawking does not particularly disturb me. Younger, more beautiful or handsome folks might be a bit less eager to subject themselves to that.
Here’s a New York Times article, based on interviews, from 1988 describing Dr. Schwartz’s frustration with people who just carry the HeavyHands weights and do not use them properly, and here’s an article from my friend Pierini’s blog describing his Heavyhands routine. Pierini, a man I respect, is a devoted fan of HeavyHands.
Training With Weights
I’m not that much into weights, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere. But some people are, and if you’re interested in weights, I’ve got a couple of resources to recommend.
And even if you’re not into weights and only interested in general fitness and exercise information, there is plenty of value to learn from the following resources.
Scooby’s Workshop and Forum
Scooby is a bodybuilder with good common sense, unfortunately something many bodybuilders seem not to have. He’s not a gym rat or a meathead. He’s a really sensible and rational guy, and he maintains a site with a lot of practical advice.
Scooby does not make money from his site and he does not want to sell you anything. This is all free advice, hardheaded realistic advice, strictly for the love of it. Scooby is a natural teacher.
Check out his statement of his philosophy, and you’ll see what a down-to-earth guy he is.
Scooby focuses on bodybuilding the natural way, without gimmicks, without drugs, and without spending loads of money on fancy machines, expensive newsletters, or whiz-bang expensive gizmos. And he takes on a lot of myths about exercise and body building. If you’re into weights and bodybuilding, Scooby is one of the must-go-to sites.
Along with his site, Scooby also maintains a well-managed and well-moderated web forum. Until a few weeks ago, that forum was hosted on a GoDaddy server, and it oftentimes was frustratingly slow.
But it now is hosted on another dedicated server, and accessing the forum has become zippy fast. It is very easily accessible and navigable. So if you went there before and were discouraged by the slow response, give it another look.
This is a very active forum with members from all over Europe, Asia, the Americas, and many other places. Many of the members are young people, teenagers and young adults. They have many questions about puberty and growing up, exercise, bodybuilding, diet etc.
One of the strongest assets of this site is the collection of moderators. The moderators are extremely kind, knowledgeable, and supportive of these members and never tire of explaining the basics in a nonjudgmental and an educational fashion. This really is one of the best moderated forums for people interested in physical fitness, weight lifting, or body building, and I have learned much from visiting it.
Clarence Bass is another very sensible man, probably the good-sense grandfather of weight lifting. He’s been lifting weights since high school, and he was born in 1937. He’s won any number of awards over the years.
When you look at his picture, you don’t see a big huge hulking hunk of muscles. But what you do see is remarkable, nevertheless, especially considering that he is around 73 years of age. His body looks well muscled, proportional, and he looks to be in better shape than many high-school athletes. Clarence does not have that hideous juiced-up look about him either. His muscles are well defined, and he is renowned for being “ripped” all year around instead of just before a contest.
Clarence does not have a web forum. But he’s been writing magazine articles and books on fitness since the 1960s or 1970s, full of solid, practical, science-based advice.
And one of the things I have always noticed about Clarence is not just that he always seemed extremely knowledgeable, rational, but that he is a gentleman. One cannot picture him being crude, arrogant, or pushy in the unfortunate manner of so many denizens of the weight-lifting crowd.
Clarence maintains a very informative website that has many of his articles. His articles are always scholarly and well written. And, most important, he is quite willing to revise his opinion and recommendation in light of new research. One can also find links to purchase his books, but these are not the main focus of his site. His site is refreshing in that it is not heavy into graphics or pushy. It reflects Clarence’s characteristic modesty.
Clarence does research into things before he starts writing about stuff, too. He does not go in for the pseudoscience so typical of today’s fitness industry. Instead, he consults academic journals, paying attention to medical research and the best academics in the field of exercise physiology.
Clarence has literally hundreds of well-research, well-written articles on every aspect of exercise, fitness, and diet going back decades. One can spend many profitable hours studying the contents of this site. And, in a way, it reflects how our understanding of exercise physiology has developed over the course of the last 40 or more years.
When I was writing this article, I phoned the contact number listed on his site for permission to use the graphic of him that appears in this article. I spoke with his long-term wife. She sounded like a lovely and cultured woman who was still great friends with Clarence after many years. The pride in being associated with him and respect for him shone through in her voice. It is gratifying and inspiring to see evidence of such a longterm friendship. Later on, Clarence wrote me and was eager to assist me in any way he could.
Although Clarence has a much different outlook on politics than is reflected on this site, he showed himself to be very respectful, every inch a gentleman. He had no hesitancy in having an article about him published in this very left-wing site and gave me every encouragement.
Yes, Clarence is a true gentleman, one who understands that intelligent people can see things differently, that we all can learn from each other. I place a very high importance on being a gentleman.
The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living – Socrates
Some Sites Mentioned:
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I discovered that a fellow, Michael Senoff, in California is making heavyhand style dumbbell sets with a few new wrinkles. You might like to check out his website by clicking here. When I went to his page, his setup looked impressive to me. I called the number listed to see if this was something that started up some time ago and now is abandoned. I spoke to Michael for a bit, and he seemed quite keen and is definitely selling these. I get the feeling they’re not exactly cheap, but I also get the feeling they’re definitely worth what he charges. If you want, you can check it out and if interested, check out his website and contact him.