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The Sea Point Promenade outdoor gym in Cape Town seems to be reserved for kids, but its Ukrainian counterpart, on an island in Kiev’s Dnieper river, is a real temple to testosterone, built on sweat and scrap metal.
True to its Soviet heritage, the Hydropark gym is raw and utilitarian, echoing a time when men were men and women were extremely adept at throwing the shotput.
Moving between the immense hulks of metal that jut from the sandy floor, similarly gargantuan slabs of Ukrainian men bear testament to the power of the back-to-basics sweat and sinew-straining toil. In every picture there’s a lesson you can use to add more strength, power and lean muscle. Take Exhibit A, aka the dead lift (previous page). “This is one of the finest moves for building strength and size,” says Phil Learney, strength trainer at The Third Space gym and a World Powerlifting Championship contender. “The dead lift works your body’s adaptation response because it involves so much muscle tissue to perform the movement. It’s a risky exercise, which puts a lot of people off.” With his three-step plan, you’re no longer one of them.
The regulars at Kiev’s “Muscle Beach” hone bodies of steel on equipment thrown together from scrap metal (watch them sweat it out in the video Strong Like Russia). Here’s how their old-school training techniques can revolutionise your work- out, putting the means of muscle production firmly in your hands.
EASTERN PROMISE 1:
RAISE THE DEAD
Step One in bringing the dead lift into your workout is a quick test: “Make sure that you can stretch your hamstring to 90 degrees under tension,” says Learney. “If not, dead lift off blocks, or out of a rack, until you can.”
Step Two, “The aim is to exert maximal force. A simple equation: Mass (the weight on the bar) x Acceleration (the speed you pull it),” says Learney. “And you should lift as fast as possible, or you end up with a sticking point.”
Step Three is passing that sticking point. There’s another lesson from Kiev here: in the heavy chains attaching their weights to the ground. “Attaching chains (or bands in more modern gyms) increases the load at the top of the move,” says Learney. “As you raise the bar, the links come off the floor to add weight. This allows you to work on speed at a weight that allows acceleration, then as the bar goes, it slows you down with additional weight. It’s the key to powering you past the sticking point.”
EASTERN PROMISE 2:
Not a reference to the dubious endocrinology of those shot-putters, this is a point our man in the squat rack (previous page) makes eloquently: these guys lift big. And, chemically speaking, bigger is definitely better. “Lift heavy and your testosterone and growth hormone will surge, powering the muscle-building process,” says strength and conditioning coach Jamie Sawyer.
There’s no better heavy lift to spark your internal chemistry set than the squat. “If you’re new to them, don’t jump into a one-rep max test,” says Sawyer. “Start with bodyweight and high reps to perfect technique. Build the weight and lower the reps over six weeks.”
Getting low is the key to
effective squats. “The old maxim of stopping at 90
degrees at the knee is rubbish,” says Sawyer. “It’s one of the worst positions for the knee
to decelerate a heavy load and then accelerate it again.
Your body should fall between your legs, which should be slightly wider than shoulder-width, chest up and stomach braced. “Hold the bar tight onto your upper back, keep your weight on your heels and hips back, then squat. When you’re at the bottom, drive your heels into the floor and accelerate the bar up,” says Sawyer. A few Ukrainian expletives won’t do any harm, either.
EASTERN PROMISE 3:
The human flag is a signal that you’ve developed true strength. “It also shows excellent ‘pillar strength’ through your spine and pelvis that provides a solid foundation for athletic activity,” says performance conditioning coach Gareth Cole.” It’s a great goal to work towards, but it’ll take work.
“Step One is getting your relative strength (what you can lift compared to your bodyweight) up to 1:1,” says Cole. “Work with your body weight on push-ups, dips, chins and planks. Step Two is to push your relative strength beyond 1:1, by adding external loads to overhead squats, wide-grip chins wearing a weight belt and dead lifts using a thick bar to develop your grip strength,” says Cole. “Step Three is about the skill set of the flag itself.” Start by getting in the side-on position but keeping your entire body close to the pole. Progress to hugging with your upper body and extending your legs, then push your torso into the flag hold but keep your legs tucked in, and finally go for the full flag.” You will be rewarded with power and control over your body.
EASTERN PROMISE 4:
THE POWER OF CABLES
Next time you’re at the gym, note that cable machine gathering dust in the corner. As our cable-clutching comrade (right) demonstrates, it’s all you need: “The cable crossover is the most versatile machine in the gym,” says Alexis Antonopoulos, director of NKD Ambition personal training.
There’s more power in these cables, too: “Constant tension increases muscle-fibre recruitment,” he says. “Cable exercises also recruit your smaller stabilising muscles. Plus, they’re perfect for powering up sports-specific movements like your golf swing, or tennis backhand.” Use Antonopoulos’ workout (below) to build lean muscle or increase mass.
The Perfect Upper Body Cable Workout
Repeat the circuit 2-3 times with 30 sec rest between exercises and 2 mins between circuits. Target 12-16 reps for lean muscle tone or 8-10 reps to increase muscle mass
EASTERN PROMISE 5:
THINK SMALL, GET BIG
Our man in the photograph below may not look like he’s using his head in the cerebral sense, but training your smaller muscles is solid thinking. “It helps the bigger muscles do their job, so you can lift heavier,” says Sawyer. Neck strength is key in many sports and Sawyer prescribes the front bridge to get yours up to par. “In a push-up position, place your forehead on a soft mat,” he says. “Work your hands away from your head until you can take them off the floor, and hold the position, with only your feet and forehead touching the floor.”
And learn Ukrainian motivation: these boys may not have cutting-edge equipment, but the results displayed here speak for themselves. And the old-school training principles that got them could be the key to building the body you’re after. The iron curtain may have come down, but this is still revolutionary thinking.
– Joe Mackie