Interview with Fred Fornicola, co-author of Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness

Dumbbell Training for Strength and FitnessFred Fornicola, B.A., is the President and exclusive personal trainer of Premiere Personal Fitness in Asbury Park, New Jersey. In addition, he serves as a fitness equipment consultant for schools and corporations for Fitness Lifestyles, Inc. as well as the fitness professional who oversees Newberry Fitness (also of Asbury Park). Fred has been involved in the field of strength and fitness for nearly 30 years. He has authored more than 75 articles on strength and fitness while maintaining several regular columns on nutrition and training for numerous Internet websites. Also, Fred is the Editor-in-Chief of the High Performance Training newsletter and has been published in periodicals such as Master Trainer and Hardgainer. In addition, he’s a contributing author of the book Get Fit New Jersey! Fred serves as a resource member of the New Jersey Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

Fred and Matt Brzycki recently wrote the book Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness, due to be released soon. Fred was gracious enough to take a few minutes out of his busy training and writing schedule to answer a few questions about the new book for

Drew Baye: Every time I visit a book store I check out their fitness section, and every time it’s more of the same crap – a small handful of good titles and a whole lot of faddish nonsense. I always pull out a couple of the good ones and place them over the featured titles hoping the next person that comes along checks out something sensible like Maximize Your Training or The New High Intensity Training instead of something ridiculous like Joe Weider’s Ultimate Bodybuilding or the recent Muscle Logic. Your’s and Matt’s book Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness is the kind of book I’ll pull out and put where people will see it. Why do you think common sense info on safe and productive training is so uncommon in the bookstores these days?

Fred Fornicola: First, I have to say “safe & productive” are subjective terms and viewed differently by many people so I don’t think those who publish or adhere to the recommeded information view their style of training to be unsafe or non-productive. With that said, there is a lot of information floating around these days based on the latest trends and fads with little thought to using practical applications to get stronger and more fit. I think most people just buy into these crazy ideas (I’m still trying to understand how standing on an unsecure object and trying to perform an exercise can be beneficial to anyone ) with the hopes of finding the elusive magic bullet. It’s still a very simple equation of working hard and choosing non-contraindicated exercises performed in a controlled manner on an infrequent basis.

Fred Fornicola, co-author of Dumbbell Training for Strength and FitnessDrew Baye: With so many informercials hyping “high-tech” exercise gadgets and various self-proclaimed fitness gurus concocting and promoting needlessly complex training methods, do you think people need to be reminded they can get great results with very basic equipment and routines?

Fred Fornicola: Absolutely. There’s no doubt the marketing whores out there are preying on unsuspecting, or slightly confused individuals who are coerced into buying useless gadgets and complicated programs with the hopes of obtaining some unrealistic goal.

Over my 30 years in the field of strength and fitness I have seen numerous gadgets, gurus and various training programs that only seem to make matters worse by preaching or selling something useless and dangerous. I tell my friends and clients all the time that I’ll never be rich from personal training because I have nothing exotic or off the wall to “sell”. I just take a straight forward approach of using basic exercises and hard work. That is why we wrote this book. We wanted to simplify the process and highlight the versatility and effectiveness of using dumbbells to become stronger and more fit. How much more basic can you get then using a set of dumbbells and a handful of muscle stimulating exercises with a straightforward approach? Don’t get me wrong, we have a few twists and turns to make training more productive and mentally stimulating but it’s all based on a solid foundation of safe, effective and efficient training.

Drew Baye: What kind of twists and turns?

Fred Fornicola: We actually have a chapter called “Workouts With A Twist” containing numerous workouts that involve a slight “twist” and are designed to place exceptionally high demands on your musculoskeletal and cardiorespiratory systems. The chapter has workouts for those who prefer to “split” their body parts or specialize in a body part or exercise as well. We also cover aspects of variety to help push past plateaus and avoid the doldrums that can be experienced in training. I have a workout in chapter 11 called The One-Weight Workout that is especially challenging on the cardiovascular system and grip so if you give it a shot, leave your ego checked at the door because it isn’t easy.

Drew Baye: I noticed Matt Brzycki’s 3×3 workout in there as well, which is also a serious challenge for even the best conditioned. In fact, there are quite a few workouts in the book from an impressive list of contributors. Are there any workouts in particular you’ve tried that really stand out?

Fred Fornicola: There’s a huge variety of workouts and all are challenging and productive in their own way. Matt’s 3×3’s (three by three) are always nasty to do and his two dumbbell versions are no less difficult. One particular workout submitted by Dr. Ken Leistner is a real bear. He jokingly advised that we should attach a warning label on it because it’s so brutal – and he wasn’t kidding. It was the first workout I tried and it’s an ass kicker for sure. There are other workouts from Coach Ken Mannie from MSU, Coach Tom Kelso from Saint Louis University, Jeff Friday from the Baltimore Ravens and some guy named Drew Baye even supplied a workout for us. What’s cool about the routines is none are the same and they range from full body workouts, splits, specialization programs, finisher routines and more. If memory serves me correctly there are 48 different routines to choose from.

Drew Baye: Considering the low cost and space requirements, dumbbell training is ideal for those who want to work out at home but don’t have the money or space for a lot of equipment. It’s also a great option for personal trainers who work with clients in their homes since they can easily travel with a set of Select Tech or Power Block adjustable dumbbells. Do you think interest in home training has increased over the past few years, and was that a factor in deciding to write Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness?

Fred Fornicola: Yes, I think you’re right that home training is becoming more and more popular and that was certainly a strong consideration in writing this book. People are so pressed for time now and gym memberships can be a bit costly as well, but I think the reason you’re finding more and more home dwellers is due to the environment in most health clubs and gyms.

Over the years, a lot of facilities have increasingly become over saturated with personal trainers, group classes, guys using the power racks to do curls and the notorious “I have 15 sets of benches, come back in an hour” kind of guys. For the most part, I think the people who gravitate to training at home aren’t worried about the latest and greatest technology in machines or taking a core class, they just want to workout. Matt had the foresight two years ago when he started working on his last book The Essential Guide To At Home Training to address the need to put something more formal together for those who opted to train at home in their basement, garage, living room, wherever. While he was writing “At Home” we discussed the concept of an all dumbbell book and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure there was enough we could write about and if there’d be enough interest in the topic. So I decided to take a look at my own training and spoke with my peers to get their perspective on the topic. The common theme was that we all like to train with a high level of intensity, prefer to move quickly through the workout, like to work hard, don’t want to be bothered while training and certainly don’t want to have to wait for a piece of equipment. After evaluating these aspects the ideas just started to flow and as Matt and I evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of using dumbbells (which we cover extensively in chapter 1) whether in the gym or at home, it just made perfect sense. It’s amazing when you break it down that an area of about an 8×8 room, a set of dumbbells and an adjustable bench can give you an awesome workout with a minimal investment.

Drew Baye: No doubt. I’ve been training in a small corner of the garage for the past couple months using just barbells and dumbbells and it’s been working very well. I just purchased a lighter set of dumbbells for Emma to train with to get back in shape after the birth of our son, and the space efficiency is a huge advantage since we barely have room to move with all the baby stuff here. We’re going to be using routines out of the book for her training. How about a sample workout for the readers?

Fred Fornicola: Sure Drew. Here’s one I recently used for one of my clients that isn’t in the book. All the exercises are done using dumbbells, of course, and were done to momentary muscular fatigue.

  1. Deadlift 1×20
  2. 60 Degree Incline Press 1×12
  3. 30 Degree Chest Supported Row 1×12
  4. 45 Degree Incline Press 1×12
  5. Romanian Deadlift 1×20
  6. Curl 1×12
  7. Deadlift 1×30
  8. Crunch 1×20

This workout took about 15 minutes to complete.

Dumbbell TrainingDrew Baye: Looks like a solid routine. I’ll have to work that into her routine rotation. Speaking of women and training, what are your thoughts on the increasing popularity of resistance training among women?

Fred Fornicola: First of all, I’m really glad to see more and more women implementing a serious resistance training program. For years men lifted weights and women just did machines to “tone up” or only performed cardiovascular activities, but now there are a greater number of women HITting the weights hard. I think a lot of women today realize the benefit of becoming stronger, whether it’s to support their athletic career, to becoming leaner, help prevent osteoporosis or just to improve overall health and a lot of these women are performing more free weight movements. The problem is some women feel intimidated going in to a crowded gym and taking up a squat rack or bench press and usually gravitate over to the unoccupied dumbbell section of the gym. Fortunately, manufacturers have developed very light dumbbells in small incremental increases to satisfy anyone’s strength level which is a big plus in my opinion. For those who prefer privacy, dumbbells can be purchased relatively cheaply and for those who don’t like commercial gyms or have a new baby at home and have little time to train. Most individuals can knock out a solid workout in 15 to 20 minutes in the privacy of their own home. My wife, Lori has been training in the garage with a handful of dumbbells an adjustable bench for about 8 years now. She likes the convenience (she trains at 6 AM) and the efficiency of training just with dumbbells.

Drew Baye: I receive a lot of e-mail from guys asking for advice on getting their girlfriends or wives to work out with them, and often their problem is overcoming misconceptions about how strength training will affect their bodies and how women should strength train. A lot of women still believe the myths about strength training making them bulky, or that they have to use very light weights and high reps for “toning” and other such nonsense. What advice would you give them?

Fred\'s daughter performing dumbbell deadliftsFred Fornicola: It’s amazing that in today’s day and age women still believe strength training will make them bulky. I tell all the women I train, “You have two choices, you can either have fat or muscle – so which would you like?” Usually they just stare at me for a moment as they let the comment seep in and most say “Well, I’d like to have muscle if those are my only two choices.” I also explain to them that if they were capable of gaining a large amount of muscle they’d already have the foundation for “overdeveloping” their muscles. That’s what most women are afraid of – you know, looking like one of those freaky chicks in the muscle magazines. As far as using high reps for toning, well, we know this to be wrong. I prefer using higher repetition ranges for most of my clients for many reasons, but if a set is taken to failure an individual can definately become stronger and more fit. That means the guys too.

Getting a wife or girlfriend to train is like getting anyone else to take a solid resistance training program. Explain the benefits, expel the myths and make the process enjoyable. I train my 11 year old daughter twice a week and she usually does three multi joint exercises. Standing dumbbell overhead presses, dumbbells deadlifts or modified Hindu squats and a bench supported dumbbell row or pulldown. A well rounded program with a minimum amount of work is a good way to introduce someone to training because it’s short, sweet and beneficial. At worst case most people can convince someone to muster up the energy to do three exercises a couple times per week.

Drew Baye: Fred, it seems your outlook on training has changed a bit since your earlier years, care to elaborate?

Fred Fornicola: An astute observation Drew. Over the last few years – and especially over the last 6 month’s, my thinking has been more and more geared towards overall health and fitness rather than purely focusing on aesthetics and how much pounding my body could take. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a better physique or working hard but a lot of times individuals who are striving for particular goals such as becoming stronger or muscularly larger can lose sight of the overall balance that is needed for ones health. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting a better body or setting new personal bests but when the scale becomes tilted to one side for too long then overall health can be compromised. I’m not suggesting someone go out and get fat or not have goals – quite the contrary, I’m suggesting they move toward a slightly different method that enables them to have a more well-rounded approach.

Drew Baye: Define “balance”…

Fred Fornicola: When I refer to balance I am speaking about not being one-sided in thinking and application and considering more things than just having a good squat or big arms. There are many trainees who will do anything to become stronger (and I don’t mean illegally with steroids). There are a lot of people who will focus so much on their quest that they miss out on other aspects of what a healthy, fit lifestyle offers. How many people have you met who won’t go out for a leisurely bike ride or go hiking or even go for a walk because tomorrow they’re training “legs” and they don’t want to fatigue themselves. Balance is about being physically fit – i.e. strong, flexible, cardiovascularly, mentally and emotionally healthy. Balancing your training puts balance in your life and that will take you a long, long way.

Drew Baye: In closing, is there any advice you’d give someone who’s read the book and is looking to pick up some equipment to start training at home?

Fred Fornicola: If you train at home, a big advantage of dumbbells is that they take up very little space. This is especially true of high-tech, self-contained systems such as the PowerBlock®, Stamina Versa-Bell™ and Bowflex® SelectTech™ Dumbbells. Consider this: One “set” of the PowerBlock can be adjusted from 5 – 45 pounds in five-pound increments. In effect, then, it has nine pairs of dumbbells that would provide a combined weight of 450 pounds. Yet, the set only takes up three square feet of space. Perhaps the best feature of all – at least for those who train in the comfort of their homes – is that dumbbells are quite affordable. The price of dumbbells can range anywhere from $0.30 per pound for used ones to about $1.50 per pound for new, depending on the style and brand. So for the most part, outfitting a home gym with a nice set of dumbbells can be done for a few hundred dollars. Along with a quality adjustable bench an individual can be on his or her way to becoming stronger and more fit.

Drew Baye: Fred, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview.

Fred Fornicola: Drew, thanks so much for the opportunity to do this interview. It was certainly a pleasure.

Click here to order Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness by Matt Brzycki and Fred Fornicola

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