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Heavy Hands Training-Dr. Len Schwartz

heavy hand training

Leonard Schwartz was a medical doctor, psychiatrist, exercise researcher and inventor of Heavyhands. We have all seen joggers running along carrying little red hand weights. Those are Heavyhands and Len Schwartz invented these devices as adjuncts to his unique cardiovascular exercise system.


If you were to watch the Heavyhand jogger, invariably they use the hand weighs incorrectly. The hand weighs weren't meant to be Carry Hands, the hand weights were meant to be raised to different levels on each and every stride stroke. The hand weights have behind them a system that is both radical and revolutionary. Len became interested in cardiovascular exercise in his fifties. An overweight smoker with high blood pressure and chronic back problems, Dr. Len was decidedly unfit and decided to do something about his own health and fitness. He became a jogger and found that wanting. He then immersed himself in various fitness theories and strategies of the day and came away decidedly unimpressed. Being a medical doctor, he began accessing available research.


One day the proverbial light bulb went off over his head as he was investigating athletic VO2 maximums.The highest VO2 maximums ever recorded by a group of athletes were not registered by endurance runners, which is what he had logically presupposed before his investigations, but rather by Russian and Norwegian cross-country skiers. Why was this? He wondered. It didn't take long for him to come up with the answer: the skiers generated propulsion using all four limbs. The runners used only their legs.

heavy hands training

The cross-country skiers were registering Maximal Oxygen Consumption rates, per kilogram of bodyweight per minute, of 94. The long distance runners were topping out at 85. Rowers cam in at 75, bicyclists at 70 and speed skaters 65. Everyone registered substantially below the skiers. The skiers propelled their bodies across the landscape using the legs and the arms on every single stride. While the majority of the aerobic world used two limbs, the legs, in their respective modes, the skiers were using four limbs to power locomotion. A cursory examination of the other sports and cardio activities revealed that most disciplines required only two limbs to generate propulsive movement.

Len wondered how he could recreate the quad-limb exercise form and reap the amazing cardiovascular benefits and endurance capacity of a cross-country skier. He began experimenting, imitating cross-country skiers "double pole action" by pumping small dumbbells while walking. The aerobic apple fell on the cardio Newton's head: Len was amazed at the aerobic effect of double-ski poling with dumbbells and soon envisioned a whole series of moves and patterns where he lifted light dumbbells to varying heights while walking, jogging, duck-walking, hopping or squatting.


The key was to force four limbs to "share" the aerobic workload. When legs alone were used to elevate the heart rate, the legs had to work considerably harder to attain, retain and sustain the target heart rate. How much easier it was to hit the same target heart rate when legs and arms were used in conjunction with one another. The athlete could generate an elevated heart rate quicker and maintain it longer when the workload was spread among four limbs.The work didn't seem as hard. While it might take considerable physical effort to reach a heart rate of 150 beats per minute running, it took far less effort to achieve the same heart rate jogging while simultaneously pumping light hand weights.


Len took his suspicions and suppositions to the University of Pittsburg sport laboratory where he was able to confirm scientifically everything he had suspected intellectually. He then went into the woodshed and developed a system - using hand weights in a series of freestyle movement patterns that would replicate the huge VO2 maximums that cross-country skiers were attaining. He codified and birthed an entirely new exercise system. This system would be efficient and deliver a multiplicity of results. It would teach Heavyhanders  how to use varied movement patterns; these patterns done with certain poundage would have radically different results using increased or decreased poundage. Results would also be impacted by the session duration and frequency. The freestyle movement pattern possibilities were limitless. The poundage possibilities were limitless. A person moving a pair of 20 pound dumbbells short distances for 10 minutes would net far different results than a jogger throwing 2 pound hand weights head high for 60 minutes. Old and young, beginner and elite, fit and unfit, all could tailor custom routines that suited their needs goals, capacity and degree of fitness. The possible combinations were limitless and the advanced user once understood the fundamentals of the system, would be able to devise their own workouts.

heavy hands training

Heavyhands required no machine or device that locked the used into a specific pathway. The type of motion used could be altered in every single workout. Sessions could be conducted indoors standing in place, outdoors over sidewalks or trails. You might use a short session with heavy weights, long session with light weights, short motions, exaggerated motions ... the endless variety would eliminate boredom and the chance of a repetitive motion injury. Heavyhands could inject a psychological aspect into exercise: Fun! After all, Leonard Schwartz was not only a medical doctor, but also a clinical psychiatrist.

Birth and Death of an Exercise Craze

In 1982 Len published the best book on aerobic exercise every written: Heavyhands, The Ultimate Exercise. He began selling customized Heavyhand weights. These were clever and needed: the handles kept the hand weights from slipping out of the user's grip, the padding kept seat from messing up the grip and the adjustable weights allowed the user to start off using 1 pound weights and work upwards. For a while Heavyhands was a bona fide exercise craze and swept the country. The problem was subtle: though lots of people bought the hand weights, few read the book.

heavy hands training

In order to make the Heavyhand system work, the user needed to raise their arms to varying heights in order to elicit the desired cardio result. Len devised three height levels and the trainee was instructed to achieve a target height with every step. What happened was that people would buy the Heavyhands and carry them around. While Heavyhands was an extremely effective exercise system, Carry Hands was lame and ineffectual. People claimed that they weren't getting results and the craze petered out - which was too bad because a lot of people really needed what Heavyhands offered. It was a classical case of a very effective system dying because people refused to adhere to the ground rules.


Len's own transformation was mind-blowing and pointed out how effective the studies use of quad-limbed cardio exercise could be ...

heavy hands training

No cardio weakling at age 71 I saw Len do 36 pull ups while holding his legs in the V position!

Len Sets Me Straight

heavy hands training

I began conversing regularly with Len in the mid-nineties after I had interviewed him for several magazines. His medical background, the fact that he was a psychiatrist and exercise research scientist, gave us much to talk about. And talk we did, for years, several times a week, sometimes for hours. He was fascinated by my "short strength," my weightlifting and powerlifting prowess. He was genuinely interested in how my tpe of power was developed. In turn I quizzed him like a CIA interrogator working on a Guantanamo Detainee. I had cardio questions galore. He spun my head around. He took me to school and I was a willing student.


My motivation was to determine if athletes who did supplemental cardio training would benefit by substituting Heavyhands for classical aerobic modes. He taught me about oxygen pulse and how pulse accurately represents the effectiveness of heart and skeletal muscle working together in consort. METs (an abbreviation for metabolism) would tell us how much work was being done compared to resting. Oxygen pulse would tell us how efficiently oxygen was being transported at a variety of workloads. Cardiac output was one aspect of oxygen pulse - the other aspect was the rate at which muscles were able to consume oxygen.

"The artery that feeds the muscle contains blood richer in oxygen than the vein that leads the same blood away from that muscle. If you measured arterial and venous blood for their respective oxygen content, you arrive at what is called the A-V Oxygen difference . Pump output and the A-VO2 difference determine oxygen pulse."

He clued me into Heart-Skeletal Muscle Duets: what, he would ask, limits an individual's oxygen consumption ability, i.e., is the limiting factor the ability of the heart to deliver oxygen? Or is it the ability of the muscles to receive the oxygen? The answer varies person to person: with some individuals the "senders" - the lungs, heart, blood vessel and blood that feed the muscles - might be inadequate. While for other individuals the "receivers" might be deficient and the capacity of the senders would exceed the capacity of the receivers.

"The elite marathoner runs at approximately 75% of his maximum workload capacity. A Heavyhand user can generate 50% of leg capacity, 50% of arm capacity and exceed the marathon runner's 75% of maximum capacity using legs only. This is why Heavyhands feels easier. Lots of units, each doing less, add up to more."

Len pointed out that "First and foremost, Heavyhands is the heart conditioner." He drew attention to heart rate contractions and the effectiveness of those contractions at pumping oxygen-laden blood throughout the body. He also noted that by placing the arms under stress, measured as per unit of muscle weight and volume, arms can "out do" legs. Arms "have greater training potential; while leg endurance might be upped 10% to 25%, arm endurance can be increased by 100% or more through the use of Heavyhands. Arms are more freer to move than legs and capable of swifter, more complex and less "grooved motion."

Being a psychiatrist he felt Heavyhand training could even improve intelligence. "The hands enjoy a denser network of connections with our brains than do the feet or legs. Hand work thus feeds into human intelligence more than less imaginative leg work." Len was the first to alert me that prolonged use of Heavyhands could literally reconfigure muscle tissue, morphing the actual composition of the working muscle by infusing it with additional mitochondria.

The trick to muscle fiber transformation was infusing the cardiovascular activity with an element of resistance. 

What if there was a type of strength, long strength, (he called it) that could develop significant power output and sustain this strength output for an extended period?

Would this not, over time, result in the creation of muscle fiber that would have the anaerobic capability of a weightlifter and the aerobic capacity of a long distance runner?

Heavyhands could split the difference. Training in this way can reconfigure existing muscle fiber, creating a new type of muscle fiber. Len Schwartz is a cardiovascular exercise genius by any yardstick or measurement you care to apply. Len devised a positively revolutionary system. It dies an undeserved death brought on by misuse and misunderstanding.

Muscle tissue is muscle tissue. A few minutes daily redirected towards cardio activity would quickly convert their (bodybuilders/powerlifters) muscle enzyme capabilities from 'one shot' to sustained performance. And give their hearts a steadied-out ride in the bargain.

- Dr. Len Schwartz

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