Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Origins of the Power Rack . . . and Dianabol

Over on Starting Strength, Bill Starr published an article about power racks, functional isometrics, and dianabol. Bill Starr isn't an armchair coach; he's a (former?) competitive lifter, coach, and author of one of the most famous permutations of the 5 x 5 weight training regime.

The Ultimate Strength Exercise - Isotonic-Isometric Contraction by Bill Starr.

I brought this article up to a friend on Saturday when we were talking about anabolic steroids and food (basically, your need for kcals and what kind of food you can get away with eating would change if you were taking steroids). No, I wasn't recommending he use them or advocating their use, far from it. Just mentioning that you need to know all of the contributing factors behind someone's progress before you can reasonably expect to duplicate that progress using the same methods.

This article by Bill Starr was very timely, then. The elevator version of the article, as I understand it, is that power racks, the spike in popularity of isometric exercise, and dianabol have a shared history.

One of the things that I took away from this article is that when someone reports on progress, you have to ask, is that all that was changed? The athletes involved in showing the positive effects of isometric exercise also benefited from taking the then-newly invented anabolic steroid dianabol. It was legal (they didn't become controlled substances until decades after this), but it wasn't held out as one of the reasons for the success of the exercise program.

Dr. Ziegler reported that these guys made spectacular gains using functional isometrics. Now, it may in fact be a very good way to train, but that's not the only factor that influenced their gains. It was also the dianabol that he was parceling out to the athletes. Put aside any prejudices you may have about use or non-use of steroids and consider this - if someone changes two factors in their training, but only reports on one of them, you can't reliably expect to get the same results as them with only that factor.

It's an interesting story as well, and I'm looking forward to reading the follow-up articles about functional isometric exercise. But it's also a cautionary tale to me - the combination of dianabol and isometrics led to the reported gains, resulted in claims of "hoax" when this detail came out. It's also a warning that if some new method or training regime or supplement is "demonstrated" to result in big gains, it's worth asking - is that all that was changed in the lifter's regime?

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