Forged Passion - Dr. Len Schwartz Inventor of HeavyHands
Renaissance Man role model
As a training writer for Muscle & Fitness magazine back in the roaring 90s, before the internet torpedoed the magazine business, I interviewed a lot of interesting people. I had two bosses, well, three if you count Joe Weider. Bob Wolff was the boss of M&F and Tom Deters was the big boss of all the magazines. At our peak, I believe the Weider publishing empire had fourteen magazines going at once.
I was a USFF national and IPF world masters champion powerlifter and versed and immersed in all types of training: Olympic lifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, I became the go-to guy for training articles. They used me a lot. In one issue of M&F they ran five of my articles, including one ghosted for Tom and another ghosted for Joe. My boss Bob said they were going to change the magazine title to Marty& Fitness.
A new trend was emerging in bodybuilding: the inclusion of aerobics into the bodybuilding template. When the aerobic craze hit in the 80s, bodybuilders avoided cardio like typhoid. This was the era of female step-aerobic classes and Richard Simmons’ Dancing to the Oldies and guys did not embrace “girlish” cardio. Bodybuilders were doing it different and Bob wanted an article that separated fact from fiction. Dr. Jim Wright, longtime science editor at Flex, suggested Len Schwartz. “He’s smarter than everyone else put together.”
Bob Wolff wanted an article on how and why cardio had gotten such widespread traction in elite bodybuilding circles. I wanted to get some hard science on what constituted cardio in the highest best sense, not the Jane Fonda sense or the Buns of Steel sense. In the world of bodybuilding, everything was guesswork and supposition. I wanted to talk with a sport scientist on how best to do cardio, what were the pertinent cardio benchmarks, and if there were any new and exciting tools or protocols.
Leonard Schwartz was a medical doctor, psychiatrist, sport scientist, inventor of HeavyHands and “long strength” philosopher. I had read and favorably reviewed his book on HeavyHands in the past and when we finally talked, we immediately hit it off. We began an ongoing dialogue about how best to improve human performance and how best to improve the physique. “Well that depends how you define ‘physique.’” He would always say.
We debated on optimal body type. He wanted everyone to be built lean and lithe. He felt that past a certain point, muscle was superfluous. “Well I guess that depends how you define superfluous.” I would counter. Alpha males wanted more muscle, much more, then he felt necessary. He thought the ideal body should be like that of an elite tennis star or soccer player. My people wanted a powered-up body, like that of the fearsome linebacker Ray Lewis.
Len (naturally) foresaw the kettlebell revolution. He told me of the incredible VO2 max’s that would be generated “…in the future by really strong and really fit people hoisting really heavy hand weights for extended periods.” He envisioned creating “really heavy HeavyHands” as a way in which to tax seriously strong people in their quest to build low-end torque, exemplified by the ability to grind, to power and move massive poundage for protracted periods. Does this not sound eerily like the yet-to-be invented kettlebell protocols?
Len told me he sought to build “hybrid muscle fiber,” muscle fiber loaded with mitochondria. The stresses associated with this new type of training would cause the construction of new mitochondria, cellular blast furnaces. Sedate, obese people have a paucity of mitochondria; active athletes have muscles loaded with mitochondria. Len told me that cardio exercise of a certain intensity done for protracted periods created the aerobic equivalent of the hypertrophy: a cardio version of the adaptive response.
Instead of stresses that build muscle, these stresses caused the body to create more mitochondria. Len cautioned me that the conversion from regular muscle fiber into hybrid muscle fiber only occurs in the working muscles, i.e. if you ride a stationary bike like you have hellhounds on your trail, and do so consistently, you will create new mitochondria – but only in the legs.
Len was the best example of his own methods. He was a tiny guy: he stood 5-5 and weighted a ripped 140. At age 70, he could knock off 15 perfect pullups and 20 dips. His aerobic feats were legend and he walked around vibrant and electric, packing a 4% body fat percentile. Best of all, he was no micro-biotic food zealot existing on 800-calories of tofu, soy, almond milk and rainbows. He ate steak. Because his metabolism raged, he ate like a horse and stayed ripped.
Len was an artist that connected fitness with science. He went into the sport-science game late in life and had no allegiance to any exercise mode or method. He sought to create a new exercise protocol to renovate his own out of shape physique. He had full access to the University of Pittsburg’s sport medicine lab and made the most of it. He set out to devise an exercise system strictly for his own unique needs.
In his research he was quite taken with the fact that the highest ever recorded VO2 max efforts (in all of sport) were generated by cross country skiers. Why was that? He mused and pondered and concluded that the skiers were “loading” all four limbs. Whereas the vast majority of aerobic exercise is leg-only, cross-country skiers pushed as hard with their arms (proportionally speaking) as with their legs. This was his light-bulb moment.
Stressing all four limbs made exercise far more efficient and effective. By altering the hand weight payloads, varying intensities could be generated. Weighted hand exercises were not locked into frozen motor-pathways and allowed for an unlimited number of potential exercise movements. Cardio on a stationary bike, cardio on a treadmill or stair-stepper locks the user into a rigid motor-pathway that uses legs alone to generate 100% of the cardio effort. Load the hands and create varied and innovative motor-pathways, this make cardio exercise interesting.
As a psychiatrist he sought to engage the exercisers brain – pedaling on a machine allows the exerciser to “space out.” Len spoke about how conscious engagement compressed time. I learned a wide range of things from him, both physical and psychological. We talked a lot about optimal mindset for improved performance. When I bounced my eastern ‘no-mind’ philosophies off him, he would offer up Rene Descartes, “I think therefore I am” as exemplary of his Yungian approach.
I wrote several articles on him and his ideas and we hit it off. For many years he and I would talk every week, usually for the best part of an hour. We had lots to talk about. He was interested in my “short strength,” as he termed it. How did I train to become maximally strong? He considered a powerlifter’s high intensity/minimal volume approach the Yang to his low intensity/maximum volume “sustained strength” Yin approach.
He was eager to share his “long strength” protocols and I was eager to have private tutorials from this professorial and intensely humorous mental giant. I visited him on occasion. He was Pittsburg royalty. His estate sat across the street from the home of Art Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburg Steelers. On entering the great room, there sat a well-used (then) $100,000 Steinway grand piano. Len was an excellent nylon-string acoustic guitar player, versed in flamenco, jazz and classical. He introduced me to Julian Bream and Glenn Gould and I steered him to the fusion jazz of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report.
At one point we planned a book together. “We’ll call it, ‘The Long and Short of it.”’ He laughed at this title and liked the idea of a “Yin/Yang long-strength/short-strength” compare-and-contrast book – could this thesis/antithesis produce a synthesis? It never came together.
HeavyHands was a huge hit in the fitness world for about five years before its commercial potential flamed-out and faded. I met him after the HH craze was over. I thought the rhythmic dance format Len selected as a way to present the tool to the general public was too feminine. He would score his own videos and lead a class in a series of dance steps all the while maneuvering HeavyHands.
It left me cold, it was too much Arthur Murray Dance School, too much ‘one, two, cha-cha-cha’ for real guys. I suggested he do a HH martial arts video, katas, but holding hand weights. I would hold HeavyHands while doing rapid-fire Hsing I links and found it incredibly exhausting and great cardio. And there was nothing cha-cha-cha about it. Nothing ever came to fruition, by this time he had sold HeavyHands to some fitness conglomerate.
He mentored me and took the time to get me straight insofar as cardiovascular science, aerobic exercise and overarching goals. He was big on health and function, stuff doable by the unfit, these were important considerations for him. Not so much for me. His quad-limb approach was genius: spread the effort and in doing so you are doing more - but it feels like less. Use legs and arms to generate the desired physiological effect. He was clear on the goal: he sought to improve the human machinery, improve organ capacities and function, increase strength, reduce body fat.
His particular brand of Forged Passion was his lack of allegiance to any exercise orthodoxy that came before him. He was his own crash test dummy. He followed progress wherever it led him. Len was already a fully formed man before he turned his full time and attention towards health, fitness and exercise. He was a true intellectual, a man that combined scientific precision with artistic vision. Simultaneously he was scientific yet passionate, two usually opposing personality types; he was a sophisticate that never lost his intense curiosity.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.