THE TWO HANDS CURL
by Doug Hepburn (1952)
Among the half-dozen of so exercises in which I have always been particularly interested, is the two hands curl. I have always maintained that there is a basic movement which can determine the strength of any given section of the physique. For instance, the deep knee bend or squat is a pretty accurate means of measuring the strength of the hips and thighs;
the dead lift with one or two hands determines the back strength; while the two hands slow curl gives you a good idea of the power of the arms in one of the two basic movements governed by them.
It is true that I have used a wide variety of exercises in my various curling routines during the past few years, but these were merely for the purpose of change, to provide the necessary stimulation and keep my workouts from becoming monotonous, thereby halting progress. Personal experience has convinced me that to attain maximum power in the biceps of the arms, the two hands slow curl with barbell is the most effective and efficient exercise, not only from the amount of energy expended, but from the standpoint of time in which the maximum results can be obtained. All exercises apart from the actual lift are, as some people call them, “assistance movements,” and only the practice of the curl is important if you are going to break your records in it. If you want to improve the press, you press . . . the dead lift, then dead lift and the curl, then simply work hard, faithfully and with determination, using the two hands slow curl exclusively.
Outstanding ability and power in curling dumbbells, barbells and all kinds of awkward block weights has been the trademark of all the strong men of the past and present eras.
I am of course referring to those possessed not merely of “specialized” strength by virtue of certain favorable leverage of skeletal factors, but of an “all round basic Power.” The men who come most readily into my mind are these . . . John Davis . . . Arthur Saxon . . . Maurice Jones . . . Louis Cyr . . . Louis “Apollon” Uni . . Al Berger . . . You will notice, that it is if are fully acquainted with the power of these men, that not only did they possess extremely powerful arms, but they also had immensely strong backs and thighs, thus proving that the true foundations of strength lies in those regions.
Of them all, perhaps four stand out as the most powerful in the curl, in my opinion that is. I exclude Louis Cyr because I fell that romance has played a large part in certain of his feats and there is, so far as I can ascertain, no existing proof that some of his lifts were actually performed. John Davis, Al Berger, Maurice Jones and Herman Goerner are to me the greatest curlers we have seen. All these men have curled 200 pounds or over
with Herman Goerner heading the list with a two hands slow curl of 222 pounds. It is this record which I have personally worked to equal and then substantially surpass. I came close to doing so at the recent Mr. Eastern America show held by Joe Weider. I feel now that that if I had curled first, instead of having broken records in the deep knee bend, I would have made a 230 curl with little or no trouble. You see, I firmly believe that leg and back strength play just as important a part in the two hands slow curl, as power in the biceps. But I feel confident that if I continue to train along my present lines, utilizing the methods and theories I am submitting to you, I will be more than capable of exceeding Herman Goerner’s great record in the very near future.
At the very beginning of my weight training career, I had absolutely no idea that I was in possession of great power potentials, and I have often wondered how many men there might be, going around with greater potentials for strength than I have recently displayed. I used the regular bodybuilding movements in my training routines, the two hands curl included among them, and I had no thought of training for power, for maximum poundages or record breaking. I just wanted to build myself up, getting what strength I could from these regular movements. But suddenly I realized that I would never be noted for a beauty of physical development. I knew that I would be unable to obtain a proportionate physique such as physical excellence contestants possess, and I then determined that I would go all out for strength. It was at that moment that I formed my personal philosophy of exercise and power and I have kept to it since!
Just as with Goerner the Great, the curl has always been one of my favorite exercises, and as I found the realization growing stronger that I could never own a Mr. America physique, so I found too that I took more readily to a combination of sets, repetitions and poundages that produced strength rather than size, shape, definition and endurance. I was fully aware even then that strenuous efforts in concentrating on the development of maximum power would give me the most gratifying results and this, as I have since found, has proved to be true.
So I changed completely my former methods in which I was concerned only with bodybuilding qualities, to those that would give me the greatest strength in the minimum of time, while wasting as little energy in so doing. I adopted a high-weight low-repetition principle as contrasted to a medium-poundage high-repetition combination. This is, I feel, the first important rule in training for greater strength.
What I call the “Power Principle” is most effective in eliminating a buildup of fatigue products in the blood stream, through eliminating the factor of endurance movements that are part of most bodybuilding programs. Thus the would-be record holder, though he sacrifices some endurance, gains greater returns in strength. This principle, isolating the desired result – in this instance POWER – can be applied effectively to any other form of weight training activity. It is, in fact, used by the world’s champion John Davis. John uses a combination of heavy poundages with few repetitions, repeated for six to eight sets.
Most bodybuilders and weight trainers do not fully appreciate the fact that endurance and strength are two separate qualities, which simply cannot be FULLY obtained by using any one exercise in with one single system of sets and repetitions. It has been my personal experience in barbell training that an exercise, and sets and repetitions combination that effectively produces, say, endurance, does so only by sacrificing power. And the reverse is also true. If you train for power and desire to reap the greatest results, you can only do so by neglecting endurance.
In order to make this opinion a little clearer, I can do so by pointing out it is a popular misconception that to build great size is also to build great power. Most bodybuilding courses are laid out along these lines. They may give you a lot of size in a comparatively short period of time, but they fail to give you a corresponding degree of strength. Most bodybuilding authorities now recognize that great muscle size can be obtained by using high repetitions and sets in combination with a moderate poundage.
One gains both size and a certain amount of endurance but no appreciable degree of power, because the high-rep, moderate poundage principle simply cannot be applied to building power qualities. To gain great power one must constantly handle heavy poundage . . . poundages that are close to the limit of individual strength, repeated constantly with adequate rest periods in between. The normal bodybuilding program concentrates on saturating the muscle fibers with blood, thus maintaining a constant demand for greater size of volume in the individual muscle fibers in order to accommodate this repeated “pumping” up of the muscles.
Now, I have no quarrel with this training method. Nor do I seek to turn weight trainers away from it. If mere size is what you want, then the high repetitions and sets combined with a moderate poundage will give you size. On the other hand, Strength is obtained most effectively not through a bloating of the muscle tissue with seven, eight or nine sets of fifteen reps, but mainly through a strengthening of the ligaments and tendons as well as the fivers of the muscle, and this can be gained only with the use of a very heavy weight, LOW reps and the strictest style possible
Why the strictest style? Because there are rules to keep when you wish to break, and it is best that you get used to competition methods in your training. Then, when you are actually lifting to break a record, you lift tranquilly and at complete ease, knowing that it will be only be a poundage well above your limit that will gain you disqualification. With this strict style factor, I will deal more fully in the next chapter of this article.
So you see there are very definite reasons why the questions of repetitions, poundages and sets are so important to the man who is seeking power, or endurance or size. Summing up all the foregoing mass of words – one can say that to gain size, one should use high reps and moderate weight, while those who wish to build up strength, whether in the curl or any other movement, must keep strictly to a heavy poundage combined with low reps. Perhaps the greatest and most pleasing combination of both characteristics could be achieved by alternating these tow principles in one’s routine periodically, thus putting each one into effect for not less than the period of one month and not more than three months at the longest. This plan would have the profound effect of supplying the very necessary rest or change of routine, which is, in itself, essential to continued progress in both directions.
Now that I have explained my reasons for the use of the Power Principle in my training, I suggest you give it a try in your workout programme. It will not make any great alteration in your type of development or appearance. If you are inclined to muscular definement, it might possibly give you a little more muscularity, but nothing too noticeable. If you are, as I am, inclined to a smooth, fleshy type of musculature, you will remain the same outwardly, but the muscles will harden a great deal. In my next article, I’ll give you some training schedules together with some important tips that will help you bring your curl poundage up and aid you in maintaining correct posture, thus gaining greater success during actual curling attempts.