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Strength & Fitness

Exercise Regimen

Marty Gallagher
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, December 7, 2004; 12:00 PM

Are you trying to lose weight, build muscle, get stronger or excel in a given sport? Maybe you're just hoping to slow the aging process, which exercise and good health habits can surely help accomplish. But male or female, young or old -- where do you start and what do you do? And if you're already an experienced exerciser or athlete, how do you fight your way off a plateau or avoid going stale?

Over the past 20 years, Marty Gallagher has written more than 200 articles for such magazines as "Muscle and Fitness," "Flex" and "Powerlifting USA." He has interviewed hundreds of the world's top athletes, quizzing them on the training tactics they used to succeed.

Gallagher, a World Powerlifting Champion and fitness expert, takes your questions about every fitness topic under the sun.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Marty Gallagher: I woke up this morning it was drizzling rain,
Around the curve came a passenger train,
Heard somebody yodel in a hobo moan
‘Roy Orbison is dead Lord he's just now gone'

Waymore's Blues
Waylon Jennings

Iron Vic is just now gone. Wish I could've said goodbye. It was a bad week. I had two old friends die. One was 59 and died of liver cirrhosis, a closet alcoholic crushed by life and circumstance. Unable to deal with his existence of quiet desperation, he chose slow suicide, destroying his body an inch at a time and wondering about the unfairness of it all. The other was a firebrand and a rebel, railing against all things orthodox, bland and predictable…a fitness freak ultimately betrayed by the body he had molded and sculpted into near perfection. Vic Sussman was an odd combination of intellectual and athlete, equally at home discussing the subtleties of Emanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or sharing Aikido flow throws with a gathering of no-neck bruisers. Vic was a restless eclectic in the truest sense. He was funny as hell and once when I introduced him to a famous professional athlete of limited intellect (who had had a few too many cocktails) the jock asked in a tone designed to intimidate normal civilians, "So, what's your deal?" Vic didn't bat an eye and relied deadpan, "You sir, may call me the carefree psychotic." I knew the Dorothy Parker reference and burst out laughing, much to the confused consternation of the no-neck moron. That was Vic, always poking a stick in hornet nests.

I was introduced to Vic by one of my mentors, Dr. Len Schwartz, medical doctor, psychiatrist and inventor of Heavy Hands. Len, at age 70 could do 31 pull-ups while holding his legs at a 90-degree angle. "Hey, there's a sharp fellow in your area that you need to meet." Len said. Since the good doctor threw compliments around like they were manhole covers, I uncharacteristically made the call. Vic and I hit it off immediately; he liked my Irish attitude and always prodded me to relate stories and tales of things I'd seen and done and he loved my choice of women and friends. Soon he became a regular at our powerlifting training sessions. He had the right attitude and though he was a rookie power man he was accepted by the national and world champions that participated in our blood-on-the-floor, profane and profound training sessions. The Iron Brotherhood is a tough fraternity to crack but Iron Vic paid his dues and kept his mouth shut. After a year I told him I was entering him in a competition, his jaw hit the floor. He began to protest but I waved him into silence and said, "You've got ten weeks. Best get your ass in gear." He gulped and nodded.

A man only thinks he's training hard until someone enters him in a national competition. The mere thought of performing in front of steely-eyed coaches and blood brother peers is enough to cause a person to either fold or rise to the occasion. It was during the ten weeks leading up to the USPF national master powerlifting championships that Victor Sussman metamorphosed into Iron Vic Steel. Over the next ten weeks he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave our brutal, take-no-prisoner training sessions. We had a squad of seven lifters that would be traveling to compete and Iron Vic trained with a controlled fierceness that continually bumped up against the limits of his physical capacity and the limits of sanity. Finally the day arrived and nerves and travel began to eat at him. After we weighed in and ate, I did what I could to distract him from his impending personal Armageddon. At the competition he settled down and after eight lifts he had maneuvered himself into an outside shot at medal contention. I was extremely doubtful; in order to place third in his first national championship he would need to deadlift 400-pounds, fifty pounds more than he'd ever lifted. I thought it best that relax and be satisfied with 8th place - one hell of an accomplishment for a 60-year old man in his first national competition and with only eleven months of hardcore powerlifting under his belt. I told him as much and he blew a fuse…

"NO WAY! Load the damned bar and I'll lift it!"

It was the first and only time he'd ever yelled at me. I smiled a wry knowing smile and complied; it‘s your funeral, I thought. On the other hand he was confirming every positive instinct I'd ever had about the guy. As I told the meet expediter the lift Vic wanted on his third attempt, I had a brainstorm. We had about ten minutes before he would march onto that lifting platform and in front of three judges have to haul that weight to completion, from floor to lockout, in absolutely perfect fashion. The slightest bobble, hitch, hesitation or miscue and the judges would turn the lift down - that was assuming he could even break the weight from the platform at all. My idea was to enlist the services of one of my old protegees to fire up the firebrand: in attendance was Kirk Karwoski, six-time world champion, seven time national powerlifting champion and holder of multiple world records. I would get Kirk involved. Karwoski was the Lawrence Taylor of powerlifting and at 280-pounds was dense as a brick of gold bullion. He knew and liked Vic. Kirk was sitting in the audience surrounded by his usual gaggle of power sycophants, groupies and fans when I motioned him over for a pow-wow.

"Kirk, Vic has one deadlift left and if he makes it he can grab third place." Kirk asked how much. "400-pounds." He burst out laughing. He knew what Vic was realistically capable of.

"No freaking way he makes that!"

I shrugged my shoulders. "Okay - but so what - can you go over and give him a pep talk?"

Kirk thought for a second, "Nah! That'd be a total waste of time and I'm getting the inside track on taking Ms. Maryland back to my hotel room." He paused, looked over at a curvaceous blond. With a wolf grin he jiggled his fingers with a wave that dripped with sexual innuendo. She grinned back.

"KIRK! Snap out of it! This'll take five minutes!" I said.

"Alright…alright…let's do it…." He was temporarily compliant but clearly irritated. We made our way to the stage where the lifters sat waiting their turn to be called to the platform. I could see by the faraway look in Vic's eyes and the manic way he was bouncing on his legs that nerves were starting to eat him up. Something needed to be done quick or he would be in danger of self-destructing. Walking with Karwoski at a powerlifting competition was like walking with Ray Lewis into a Baltimore bar. All eyes followed us as we strode up to nondescript Vic. I was sure Karwoski would deliver the goods, an impassioned pitch like Knute Rockne invoking the Gipper or Leonidas addressing the 300 Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae…we came to a dramatic stop in front of Vic and after a long pregnant pause Karwoski began to sing while doing a slow rotational grind dance, complete with arm flails and suggestive hip bumps…

"VIC, VIC, HE'S OUR MAN, IF HE CAN'T DO IT…then we'll find somebody else who can!"

With that Kirk wheeled and walked away. I was slack-jawed stunned and the entire group of athletes in the general vicinity where likewise shocked stupid. You could have heard a proverbial pin drop. All of a sudden, Vic began to laugh. It was a deep belly laugh and it was contagious. I began to laugh, everyone began to laugh and Vic laughed so hard it bought tears to his eyes. His nerves evaporated and when his name was called a composed and determined Iron Vic strode onstage and pulled the poundage to completion in an eye-blink. That effort bought a tear to my eye and after he collected his third place trophy he told me that the whole experience had been as satisfying and gratifying as anything he'd ever experienced, excepting the birth of his children.

Modest to a fault, you had to pry information out of him. Once he and I happened to be watching TV together and Larry King came on with some guest who interested me. I watched and halfway through the show I said I thought King was letting the politico off the hook easy.

"Larry's okay." Vic said.

"Do you know him?" I asked.

"Yeah. I was on his show once."

Really? I wanted to know more.

"Yeah, I was on Larry King Live with Vice President Al Gore. It was a little weird; we were crammed together behind this little desk and every time Larry asked Gore a question the Vice President would start to jiggle his leg - his left leg was up against my right leg and it was distracting as hell."

Iron Vic crammed one hell of a lot of living into his 64 years. He was by fits and turns a juvenile delinquent, a Vermont goat farmer, a vegetarian, an author and writer who wrote like an angel after three bourbons, an internet guru, a public speaker so spellbinding he commanded $20,000 for a forty-five minute after-dinner speech - he flew all over the world to give these big buck corporate pep talks…Vic was a bon vivant, a martial artist, a powerlifter, a free-thinker, a friend of captains of industry and political movers and shakers, a live on-line innovator, an amazing magician, a champion of the underdog and destitute, a college professor and a Man with a capital M.

He'll be missed big time.

Marty Gallagher is the current AAU national and world powerliftng champion in his age and weight division


Zebulon, N.C.: Hey Marty,
I am now training for the N.C. State Championships -- masters level of course ... one day I will start entering these meets Open ...

Before the training, I maxed on all 3 to see where I am -- 390 on Bench, 405 on SQ and DL ... RAW, of course.

I am ready to begin another training cycle!

Just thought I'd check in with ya !
When is your meet in Vegas?

Marty Gallagher: Hey John - how are you doing? I coached Karwoski yesterday - he squatted 826 - benched 463 and deadlifted 771 - raw - weighed 241


Lorton, Va.: Thanks for the chats Marty!

Whenever I run or bike, I try to maintain a consistent rhythm or speed for a given time. However, there are times where I would increase the intensity for a few minutes at a time but only to get really tired afterwards. Is it more beneficial to keep a steady pace or have fluctuating high/low moments? I'm not training for anything and just like to stay in shape. Thanks again

Marty Gallagher: Hey there - the best way to increase aerobic intensity is to cut back the session length, establish a higher intensity (go faster) and then add back to the duration at the rate of one minute per session...for example - cut the session length back to 15-minutes but accelerate the pace; add one minute for each subsequent session while maintaining the increased pace. After 15 sessions you will have increased the session duration to 30-minutes while maintaining the increased pace. I am a big believer in 'creeping incrementalism.'


Silver Spring, Md.: I am a 33-year-old woman who exercises regularly. I do cardiovascular and weight lifting 3 days a week. I consider myself fit. My problem is that my "behind" is a little small and would love to hear from you.


Marty Gallagher: I think I can say with little fear of contradiction that you are in the distinct minority with this particular problem...the gluteus maximus are muscles like any other and will respond to progressive resistance exercises that target the glutes. Probably the best exercise for these muscles are deep, narrow stance squats. Start with no poundage; learn how to squat deep using a stance of 12-inches or less, staying flat footed. You may hang onto a pole or door frame for balance. Drop down as low as you can, pause for a beat, then arise consciously contracting the glutes as you rise up. You should feel the butt muscles contract as you arise. Start off with 3 sets of 15 and over time work this up to 3 sets of 25. Then switch and shoot for 1x50. Work that up to 1x100. Write back when you can do 100-reps super deep.


Utica, N.Y.: Hi Coach,

The high school football season is over and my son is moving on up to varsity. The lifting program schedule is good, but he has a lot left over in the tank after the workouts. Should he work to failure in the forth and final sets. Instead of stopping at ten, should he go on until he cannot do another rep, to make him stronger and give him feeling like he is working hard?


Marty Gallagher: What is his current routine? Going to failure is fraught with peril for any other than the experienced...I likely would go the other direction and have him do pause-rep bench presses and squats.....I prefer to make the lifts harder by stressing technical perfection, full range of motion and deadstops between all reps. This usually requires the trainee slash the poundage. Over time build the strength back up. This type of training (using basic barbell and dumbbell exercises) develops usable athletic strength - the kind of power that translates to the court or ballfield...


Arlington, Va.: Marty,
Thanks for your chats. A couple of friends of mine asked me to design a lifting program for them. They're pretty new to lifting, but are naturally strong guys. As far as goals, they're looking to just get stronger, fitter, and be better rugby players.
Here's what I'm thinking:

Deadlift 3x10
Flat bench 3x10
Incline bench w/ dumbbells 3x8
Arm extensions 3x8

Lat. pull down 3x8
Military press 3x8
Lateral raises 3x8
Forward raises 3x8
Some minor should rotating exercises to prevent rugby injuries

Squat 3x10
Romanian Deal lift (straight leg) 3x8
Leg extension and curl with low weight, super slow to build up knee stabilizing muscles
Calf raises 3x8

This would be for the first 4 weeks. The second 4 weeks we'd I'd drop the reps on the exercises calling for the 3x10 to 3x8, for the last 4 weeks I'd drop it to 3x5.

I was wondering if I missed something? Should I avoid having beginners do any deadlifting?

Thanks for all your input, I really get a lot out of your forum.

Marty Gallagher: 1. put all the leg exercises on one day and all the back exercises on a different day - then put leg and back at opposite ends of the training week. Leg and back exercises 'spillover' and use some of the same muscles. They need to be separated and put as far apart as possible within the training week to allow for full muscle recovery.

2. Other than that, it looks pretty good - take a look at my answer to the previous question about deads stop reps and full range of motion.

3. deadlifts are dangerous if done incorrectly and fantastic if done correctly - do you train with them? If so show them how to do it right and insist they do every single rep properly.


Washington, D.C.: Last week, you highly recommended having a protein shake after a workout. Doing some research, I've come across people saying that it's important to limit one's protein intake, because the body can only use so much at a time, and others who say there's no such thing as too much. Where do you stand?

Marty Gallagher: This is another irritating muscle myth...many 'experts' claim the body can only absorb 30-35 grams of protein at a time and anymore is wasteful or harmful.

What they don't take into account is size. So a 100-pound gymnast and a 300-pound offensive lineman are going to have the same protein assimilation rate?

Pleeeze! How ludicrous...


Hancock, Md. : Hello Marty,

You've often said that rest and recovery are vital to training.

When and how do you decide to suspend your weight training?

Marty Gallagher: A really experienced weight trainer will shock blast a muscle so hard and so intensely that it will take 3 to 7 days for that muscle to fully recover. Basting a muscle before it is recovered is counterproductive - big muscles (legs and back)take longer to recover than small muscles (biceps, triceps) - I will weight train 2-3 times a week leaving a day or two (or three) between each session. A split routine rotates muscles in such a way that muscles are trained often but always allowed plenty of rest - the stronger a person is the more recovery time is needed and the conversely a beginner using tiny poundage can often train a muscle twice a week.


Chinupsareha, RD: So, Marty, who's the best guitar player of all time?

Marty Gallagher: My personal all-time favorite is Hendrix - within 18 months he recorded "are you experienced" "axis" and "electric lady land." No one has ever topped that burst of guitar creativity. Has there ever been a better sonic explosion than 'Voodoo chile slight return?'

My second favorite is John McLaughlin - his nylon string acoustic stuff is unbelievable - 'good by pork pie hat' is without acoustic peer - his Mahavishnu phase is the last word in electric technique - I grew up listening to local legends Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton...so I was spoiled early on...now someone ask me about jazz pianists...


Arlington, Va.: What's your opinion of Pavel Tsatsouline's books, Power to the People and Naked Warrior?

I know you're a fan of his, so they'd probably be more arrows for that quiver, but what are the strengths of one over the other? Do you recommend one more?


Marty Gallagher: Pavel is a good friend - I call him 'little brother collective farmer' and he calls me 'grumpy old man' in profane Russian...

What are you looking for? One book is all about doing progressive resistance training without equipment and quite different than 'power to the people' which is a more eclectic mix...Pavel is a former spetnaz commando trainer who knows which way is up...he and I have vastly different approaches but many roads lead to rome...


Protein City, USA: OK, so back to that protein question ...

If I am 180 lbs., can I absorb more than 30-35 grams at a time? Could I actually take in 50 at a time and utilize it all?

P.S.: Who's the greatest guitar player of all time?

Marty Gallagher: 1. I weigh 200 to 220 and make it a point to take in 50-grams at shot - 30-40 for a 180-pounder would present no problem assuming you are training as hard and intensely as you're supposed to.

2. didn't I just answer the guitar question?


High Protein vs. High Carb - Cardio: Hi Marty

Question: Do you find it more difficult to do cardio when changing your diet to high protein? I find myself lacking energy to do my normal cardio and energy the rest of the day. Does this mean my body is 'addicted to carbs' -- less efficient? Or do I need to stick to a different plan?

I do cardio 5 days a week, various activities/intensities 30-45 mins.

Marty Gallagher: I never go 'zero carb' and eat lots of fibrous carbs...green beans, onions, salad greens and the like - fiber needs to be taken with protein otherwise you run the risk of developing bile problems...fiber is great because it dampens insulin spikes and does a rotor-roter job on intestines...


Westbury, N.Y.: I know you touched on your old powerlifting coach before (Hugh Cassidy), inspirational guy to read about. What was a typical program of Hugh's when preparing for a contest? I read that Hugh didn't vary his programs much. His only variation was additional weight to the bar.

Marty Gallagher: He was a savage trainer and for five straight years we would work up to a top set of 3 to 5 reps in the squat, bench press and deadlift then do 2-3 backdown sets of 8-10 reps - after that we would hit arms, biceps and triceps for 4-5 sets of some type of curl or pushdown...all in the same session - sessions would last 2-3 hours. He loved that little 'wheel of death' and had us doing 'wheelies' for 2-3 sets of 10-reps while wearing a weighted vest - he would wear up to 50-pounds. He also used to take 'lady' step aerobic classes wearing his weighted vest...


Followup from Hancock, Md.: Thanks, Marty, for answering my question about recovery. I hope you don't mind another, related one.

Presumably, you don't train with the same intensity every month of the year. When do you decide to stop all but the lightest training and take a break?

Marty Gallagher: I will take a full month off from weight training after a national or world competition - just power walks in the woods - I want to heal up and have my body forget all about weight training....that way when I recommence it has an impact.


Washington, D.C.: Marty,

I'm a mid-twenties woman looking for some good resources to start lifting again. I was a college thrower and am comfortable with a relatively wide range of exercises through that weight program (heavy focus on Olympic lifting and free weights). But that was years ago and now I I feel fat, slow and weak and want to feel better. I have a few of my old cycles, but frankly don't have the time or inclination to lift for 2 hours a day 3-5 times a week. Also, the workouts I am familiar with are sharply focused for throwing, while I am interested in all- around strength, fitness and FEELING BETTER. I will be doing cardio as well and am uncertain of the proper mix. Can you recommend any resources to get me started?

Marty Gallagher: write my e-mail for my phone number: mgso@supernet.com - we'll talk next week....


New York, N.Y.: I've got fairly severe carpal tunnel in both hands, and it's spreading all the way to the elbows. My orthopedic surgeon said that weight training might help, but to make sure to not lift too heavy and to use a full range of motion.

Can you recommend specific exercises to strengthen the wrists and elbows? Thanks.

Marty Gallagher: how about light wrist curls and reverse wrist curls using an exaggerated range of motion and light weight for high reps....

place your forearms on a bench letting the hands and wrists hang over the end of the bench...take light weight and let the bar roll way down the fingers, until the bar is just about to roll out of your grip; now curl the weight all the way up and hold it at the topmost position for a beat. Reverse wrist curls are identical except the hands are turned over. Two sets of 20-reps each will pump forearms to the max. Between sets stretch the fingers backward.


Rockville, Md.: Hey Marty,
Have any good workout routines to get the traps growing? Thanks!

Marty Gallagher: How about barbell or dumbbell shrugs? 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps will pump the traps up - power cleans are fantastic but tricky and deadlifts are the absolute king of back exercises....


Wrk-14-hours-a-day: Hi Marty,
I'm planning to start working out again. My immediate goal is to lose weight(20 lbs?) and get back in shape when I go home in Feb. After that I want to gain strength.
Problem is, I work two jobs and I don't get enough sleep. I wake up -- 4 a.m. and won't get home after 8 p.m. Usually go to bed -- 10 p.m. The only possible time for me to go to the gym is at lunch break but I'm usually very sleepy around 3 p.m. I want to work out as hard as I can, but I'm afraid to fall asleep at my desk afterwards.
Do you think I have a chance to succeed?
Male, 35, 183 lbs., high % body fat.
Thanks for your help!

Marty Gallagher: I used to be in a similar situation and could only work out on the weekends...

sat - legs, chest, shoulders, triceps
sunday - back, biceps, abs


Cubicle City, Washington, D.C.: Marty just wondering what you think of the Combat Conditioning Matt Furey material, if you have had a chance to see it (Hindu squats, etc.). I'm sure you've seen a banner ad or two ...

Marty Gallagher: I liked Matt's book and I like Pavel's naked warrior


Marty Gallagher: Okay folks - I am doing this remote from Las Vegas and have to jump off now - if you have a question leftover please redirect it to my e-mail, mgso@supernet.com and I will answer it in a few days...all your questions are important so please avail yourself - if you send me the question I will answer it and off-line I have a little more time than live on-line...best of luck and talk with you in a few weeks...


Marty Gallagher: PS - my e-mail address is MGSO@supernet.com


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