Stressing 'sensible" exercise for women
Reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer
Roger Schwab offers fitness advice that's both provocative and sound.
Once upon a time, Roger Schwab was a macho stud. He lifted heavy weights and had big muscles. In 1964 weighing a mere 180 pounds, he won a state power-lifting title by squatting with 424 pounds. Women ogled him. Other men admired him. And why not? He was a Manly Man.
He also was an Idiot. "What I was doing was crazy, absolutely stupid," he says today. "But at the time I didn't know better."
By age 21, Schwab had wrecked his back. Several disks in his spine were compressed and herniated from trying to heave such herculean loads.
Some people make mistakes and forget. Others make mistakes and learn. Schwab is among the latter. He's still a fervent believer in the power of weight training to make the body more beautiful and mighty. But his passion-and that's the word, passion-is not sculpted physiques. His passion today is spreading the word about what he calls "safe, sensible exercise."
"In the field of strength training, common sense is anything but common," laments Schwab, owner and operator of Main Line Health & Fitness in Bryn Mawr. "The fitness field is ruled by charlatans. And no one is getting ripped off worse than women."
To rectify this, Schwab has written Strength of a Woman, which, as its subtitle proclaims, tells "the truth about training the female body."
The book is like Schwab-opinionated, insistent and passionate. It's a lucid explanation of his philosophy of fitness, and it fairly sings with "Rogerisms," pet phrases and mantes. To wit. "Proper exercise stimulates the body to respond. Rest allows the response." You won't confuse the writing with Fitzgerald or Hemingway (how much could they squat?), but you'll be impressed by the author. He comes across as earnest and conscientious, presents logical, rational arguments, and ultimately manages to persuade and convince-even if you're a grunting, ballistic, barbell thrusting barbarian like me.
There's something else you should know about Schwab. As much as it pains me to say this, beneath all that muscle (and at age 52, he still has plenty) is a sweet, sensitive guy (he writes poetry and listens to Joan Baez). His book is a proclamation of his respect for women and a call to females of all ages to forget the "misinformation" peddled by fluff magazines, to abandon the video aerobics classes, and to achieve real physical empowerment by building strength through intelligent resistance exercise.
"I want to give women a shot at becoming first class citizens," Schwab told me the other day. "They shouldn't be relegated to being pretty in pink, sitting on the floor doing mindless tummy tucks or juggling beach balls with their legs. They shouldn't let a male dominated society dictate what they should be or how they should look.
"Exercise should not be about narcissism or diet guilt or compulsiveness. It's not about losing weight or looking good. It's about putting on your game face and building strength and enhancing the structural integrity of the body. It's about increasing functional ability so you can go out and bike and hike, and play tennis and golf and volleyball, and enjoy a richer, fuller life."
Who could argue with that?
In the preface, Schwab writes that the principles set forth in his book might well be "the most important physiological ideals ever presented to the women of the 21st century." (Schwab is a first-time author, so he can be forgiven a bit of hyperbole.) Nevertheless, his advice is medically and scientifically sound (the book is plastered with raves from M.D s). It's also unconventionally provocative and, in the context of what passes for wisdom in the weight room (whose muscleheaded denizens are usually more interested in demonstrating strength than building it), revolutionary.
For starters, Schwab has just two words for you gym rats: Get out. "Fun fitness" is an oxymoron, he says. Fitness should not be fun; it's hard, serious work, a means to an end. The gym is not a singles bar or social club. It's a place to work out, with the emphasis on work. You get in, and get out- fast. You get stronger in the gym so you can enjoy a high-quality life outside. In exercise, less is more, and more is quite often less, says Schwab. In other words, if you overtrain, your body will rebel. Rather than becoming stronger, it may become weaker and, even worse, injured - "the worst sin" that can occur while training.
This is another lesson Schwab learned from experience. By dint of his power-lifting prowess, he was named strength coach of Penn State's football team in the early '60s. He had the players pumping iron six days a week, doing split workouts (exercising different parts of the body on different days), all in accordance with standard practice. After six weeks, most of the players had made little or no progress. With one exception: a pre-med student who, because of his academic schedule, could train only two days a week. Says Roger "God may have needed only one day of rest, but not the Penn State football team."
The core of Schwab's exercise program is circuit strength training. He recommends a dozen exercises, beginning with the large, powerful muscles of the lower body and progressing to the smaller muscles of the upper body. Ideally, these exercises should be performed on machines. Schwab loves machines- specifically, MedX machines, which were invented by his mentor, Nautilus founder Arthur Jones - because he believes they're safer, more efficient and more effective. Well-designed machines, he argues, provide resistance through the full range of motion. Perform a curl with a barbell, for instance, and your biceps muscles are working hard only in the midrange position when your forearms are parallel to the ground. At the bottom of the movement (when your arms are extended) and top of the movement (when they're fully contracted), there's little resistance and they're hardly taxed at all.
Schwab's circuit-training workout is designed to last only 20 to 25 minutes. As he says, "Brevity is the soul of strength." Instead of performing two or three sets of each exercise you perform only one set of 10 to 12 repetitions. But there's a hitch: You must work at maximum intensity. In other words, you must do each exercise to momentary muscle failure - the point at which you can no longer complete a rep with perfect form. Says Schwab: "The key to getting stronger is intensity and quality, not quantity."
That's not all. You must hustle to the next machine for the next exercise with little or no pause or break. The aim is to keep your heart pounding at or near target rate. This is the circuit part of the training, and it's why Schwab contends that his regimen provides a total workout-fortifying the heart and lungs, building muscular strength and power, and improving flexibility in the joints and connective tissue by working through a full range of movement.
The idea is to perform each repetition perfectly and slowly; but to proceed from exercise to exercise quickly. In a half hour, you can be done and outta there, blading or rock-climbing or heading to the river to paddle a dragon boat. In other words, train smarter, harder and shorter.
What's more, Schwab doesn't want to see your face again for at least two or three days. That's because you should lift only twice a week at most, he advises. Why? Because that's how much time your body needs to rest and recover. Everybody, all together now: "Proper exercise stimulates the body to respond. Rest allows the response." Schwab himself does the circuit only three times every two weeks, if his strength gains plateau, he'll switch to only once a week.
Does it work? I can only judge by the physical evidence: Schwab himself , who pulled up his shirt to show me his washboard abs; his lovely wife, Elanna, star of the video version of the book (smartly produced by NFL Films) and sporting a babe's bod (even though she's over 40 and the mother of three)- and two personal trainers at the club, Marci Hine and Gretchen Rice, who vividly demonstrated how circuit strength training has made their bodies as strong as they are lean, supple and shapely.
In keeping with custom, I tried it myself, of course. With Schwab supervising and cheerleading ("Concentrate on the rep! Make it perfect! Now stick it!"), I pushed myself to the max on several machines. A bum shoulder (thanks to a recent tumble on in-line skates) prevented me from savoring the total experience, but I enjoyed enough of a burn, especially after the concentration curls and assisted chin-ups, to feel no need to pump iron when I got home.
Yes, it's safe, sound and sensible. But there's a rub: If you dislike heath clubs and lack the 30 grand to stock your basement with the appropriate MedX machines, you're a non-starter. Thankfully, Schwab's book includes a free-weight workout based on the same principles.
Schwab gets frustrated with me. Gamely, he presents tons of proof why machines are superior to free weights and I nod my head in agreement and still go back to my beloved barbells. It's chemistry, I explained to him, blind infatuation. Give me a choice between a new Porsche and an old flat-fender Jeep and there is no choice. To me, Jeeps and barbells have an irresistible charm, romance and mystique.
Nevertheless, I respect Schwab his book and what he's trying to do. In fact, he inspired me. After my circuit-training session, I drove to the Sports Authority and bought an official Joe Weider weightstack machine - for my son.
Medx Rehabilitative Exercise and Fitness
Office 732-671-1430 Cell 917-701-6066