Four years ago, on April 6, 2019, the Iron Game lost one of its finest people, with the passing of Dr. Ken Leistner. Quite often, when we lose someone special, the years that pass seem to play tricks on our sense of time. There are times when it seems like only yesterday when we received the sad news. Other times, is seems like it happened decades ago. Yet four years is not a long period of time. I think that the pandemic which began a year later kind of changed the way we all deal with the passage of time.
This year, perhaps due to the lifting of restrictions brought on by the covid pandemic, Kathy Leistner decided to hold a special challenge in an effort to honor the memory of one of the great figures in the world of strength, and additionally to raise money for the Dr. Ken Leistner Memorial Scholarship at Logan University. The challenge was called “46 in 6 Minutes,” and was developed by Kathy along with Steve Weiner. The idea was pretty simple: 46 reps of Trap Bar Deadlifts ( with bodyweight) to be completed within 6 minutes. “46” comes from the date of Dr. Ken’s passing ( 4/6) and the challenge was open from the beginning of the month until Sunday, April 9.
The idea of performing 46 reps in the trap-bar deadlift in less than six minutes is something that Dr. Ken would have wholeheartedly endorsed. High repetition deadlifts were something that was foreign to me until I joined Iron Island Gym in the Winter of 1992. As a competitive powerlifter, anything over 5 repetitions was considered “high reps.” It did not take long for me to realize that I was wrong. Wrong in my idea of what constituted high reps, and very wrong in not realizing the benefits of high rep Deadlifts and Squats. The popular saying “Live and learn” definitely applied to me because I soon learned to embrace the idea of training in a high-intensity fashion. It certainly helped to improve my powerlifting, as well as my overall strength and conditioning. And, of course, meeting and training with Drew Israel and Bob Whelan and reading The Steel Tip and Hardgainer magazine, certainly helped win me over to the idea of high reps on the basic movements.
Even though it’s been more than thirty years since I first trained at Iron Island, I still like to use high reps for my Deadlifts from time to time. At various times throughout the year, I will do multiple sets of ten reps, or more recently, one set of twenty. For a change of pace, I’ve been using my Farmer’s Walk implements to simulate dumbbell Deadlifts.
I distinctly remember reading an article in The Steel Tip about doing dumbbell Deadlifts for high reps. The increased range of motion, coupled with the high reps, make for a brutal exercise. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. And, since my Farmer’s Walk handles weigh in at 70kg each, they’re heavy enough to make for an effective workout. Since they’re heavy enough on their own, the fact that I don’t have to use plate makes for a very low starting point. I actually prefer the increased range of motion. I’ve often done Trap Bar Deadlifts off an elevated block as per the Finnish Deadlift routine, which I wrote about a couple of years ago. The Farmer’s Handle Deadlift provides a similar effect.
If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be this: Don’t cheat the reps by using a trap bar with raised handles. This has become something of an obsession with me. I see so many videos of people bragging about their deadlift, then you see them lift with a bar with raised handles. Obviously, the raised handles make the movement much easier. And incidentally, you are NOT performing a deadlift. You are doing a PARTIAL deadlift. Don’t cheat yourself by making the movement easier. Dr. Ken would often say that that which makes the exercise more difficult is more effective. Lift with a full range of motion. You will make better gains in strength as well as feel better about yourself.
Back to the “46 in 6” Challenge. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Kathy’s house to do the lift in person due to my work schedule, but I definitely wanted to honor Dr. Ken and participate. I chose to do in on April 6, and I was lucky that the weather cooperated and I was able to do it outside. Even though I weighed in at 225 Lbs., I decided to lift 231 Lbs for my challenge. Six pounds mean very little, but 231 is a significant number for me. Engine 231 is the company to which I am assigned as a Captain in the NY City Fire Dept., and I wanted to honor my company as well as Dr. Ken. So my goal was 231 Lbs for 46 reps in less than six minutes.
After a brief warm-up, I loaded my thick-handled trap bar and set my watch. I wanted to break the forty-six reps into segments depending on how I felt. I did 17 reps right away, and they felt pretty good. I then rested for about forty-five seconds and banged out another 16. I was still feeling pretty good, and I knew I would make the required number of reps, so I rested for another forty-five seconds or so. I did 14 reps to finish the challenge. By the time I checked my watch, it was just under five minutes. Challenge complete. Incidentally, I realize that the reps added up to 47. That was intentional, I wanted to do an extra rep for good measure ( lest anyone think that I don’t know how to count!).
There were a lot of participants in the “46 in 6” challenge, and some very impressive performances. Dr. Ken’s influence was so far-reaching that it is difficult to imagine just how many people he has inspired over the years. I know that I am still benefitting from his knowledge and wisdom. My collection of Hardgainers, Steel Tips, High Intensity Newsletters, MILO magazines, Powerlifting USA magazines will ensure that I have access to his words of wisdom for many years to come.
If you want to donate to a worthy cause, as well as honor one of the all-time strength figures, consider donating to the Logan University’s Dr. Ken Leistner Memorial Scholarship. The best way to honor Dr. Ken is to remain strong and commit ourselves to being the best we can possibly be, and to answer the call to excellence. And some high rep Deadlifts wouldn’t hurt!
Editor’s Note: Great article Jim!
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