By Marty Gallagher

Heavyhands died of neglect. The biggest cardiovascular training aid of the 1980s went the way of the hula hoop, pet rock and Milli Vanilli. Tossed on the scrap heap with other faddist burnouts, its 15 minutes of fame exhausted.

The demise of Heavyhands, an amazingly effective system of cardiovascular fitness, was unfortunate. The training aid wasn't a fake or a fraud; its death was due to the faulty technique of its users. It deserves to be exhumed and dusted off. Utilized correctly, Heavyhands is one of the most intense, effective and time-efficient forms of aerobic training ever devised.

Heavyhands was the brainchild of Leonard Schwartz, MD. At the age of 50, Schwartz found himself with high blood pressure, chronic back problems, a two-pack-a-day habit and a lousy outlook. His midlife crisis revolved around physical deterioration and he decided to do something about it. Seven years later, Schwartz had accomplished a make-over so dramatic that his colleagues were astounded. Consider these statistics:

 Critical Success Factor



Your Own

Weight in pounds: 




Resting Pulse Rate: 




Peak Heart Rate




Two-Minute Recovery Rate




Bodyfat percentage: 




V02 Max: 




Running speed: 




Blood Pressure:




Cholesterol, Total





Schwartz attributed his physical resurgence to an aerobic exercise system that he conceived, developed and implemented. It involved the use of weights held in each hand. The trainee would pump and swing the weights to increase the cardiovascular training intensity. A variety of vigorous arm motions was done in conjunction with a variety of vigorous leg movements. Together, the combination was extremely productive, though very hard work. Schwartz dubbed his exercise system Heavyhands.

 He got the idea for his training aid in 1974 while reviewing a ratings compilation on the best V02 oxygen uptake statistics among athletes in different sports. V02 Max is the gold standard of aerobic training. It's a measure that allows different activities to be compared strictly on the aerobic demands of that activity. Inspiration hit Schwartz as he was pondering J.H. Wilmore's work on the comparative range of maximal oxygen consumption for athletes in various sports. "Gee," Doc Schwartz murmured, "the cross-country skiers kick V02 Max butt! I wonder why".


He found that the highest male and female oxygen uptakes ever posted were achieved by cross-country skiers. He deduced that the reason the cross-country skiers were the most aerobically capable group of athletes was that they used their arms continually as they pumped their ski poles in conjunction with their leg movements. Thus they used all four limbs - two arms, two legs - to propel themselves. Each limb is encountering significant resistance as it performs its athletic function.

 Schwartz asked himself: "How could I recreate this four-limbed resistance to obtain the aerobic benefits of a four-limbed phenomenon?"

 Running worked the legs very well, as evidenced by the excellent V02 rating of the long-distance runner - but the aerobic edge obtained by the skier was superior and a direct result of the arm involvement. Small weights, Schwartz was convinced, effectively recreated the requisite arm resistance. Extensive laboratory testing confirmed his belief; hand weights, used vigorously and combined with leg movements, produce a hybrid aerobic system that produced excellent results.

In 1982 Schwartz published his book Heavyhands. It created a commotion in the fitness world on a par with The Beatles arriving in America. Suddenly, everybody was jumping on the Heavyhands bandwagon. Celebs and Supreme Court justices, rock stars and housewives; everyone, it seemed, was running hither and yon, toting those funny little red hand weights with the curved handles. Heavyhands seemed on its way to being enshrined in the exercise hall of fame.


Then without warning, it died. Like Boy George, Disco and the Yugo, Heavyhands just dried up and blew away. The public, fickle and with a short attention span, declared Heavyhands ineffectual and passé.

The reasons for the plummet were many; but first and foremost, people weren't getting the results they had expected. The reason for the ineffectiveness could be summed up in one short phrase: insufficient exercise intensity!

It was not the fault of the system, it was the fault of the user. Folks simply did not train with enough intensity. We have all seen the typical Heavyhands jogger, running along with his two little dumbbells. But if you carry the weights and refuse to pump the weights, you're not going to get any results! Heavyhands became carryhands . . . and carryhands is a lame and ineffectual exercise system!

The public didn't like pumping the little weights - it was uncomfortable; it was hard; it made you sweat and feel bad. It was a lot easier to run around carrying these little-bitty weights and pretend you were doing the Heavyhands thing. Plus when you didn't pump them you could run along at a respectable pace and for a respectable distance - you start pumping the damned things and you'd be lucky to make it a block - how embarrassing!

After a month or two of carryhands, the Heavyhands dumbbells got tossed into the back of the closet along with the leisure suits, Deep Purple records and bell-bottoms. Carryhands was (deservedly) an unqualified failure as a exercise form. Sadly, Heavyhands, the baby, got tossed with carryhands, the bath water . . .

We need to rummage around in the closet, find those funny weights and use them as they were intended.


When properly performed, aerobic training increases endurance, reduces bodyfat, revitalizes internal organs and builds a heart that performs like a five-liter, V-12 Ferrari engine. This is a terrific list of desirable attributes; to achieve them, we need to find a good aerobic program. Heavyhands, when properly performed, is as efficient and effective as any aerobic endeavor yet devised.

 Schwartz has the ideal beginning Heavyhands strategy:

 "Thirty minutes of continuous exercise at least four times a week is the ideal goal for the beginning Heavyhander [a good format for any aerobic endeavor] . . . Knowledgeable exercise physiologists tell us we must elevate our heart rate to a target pulse [subtract your age from 220 and then determine 70% of that number - this is your target aerobic range] . . . We need to hold it there for 20 or more minutes to achieve gainful heart/lung training results. Try pump-and-walk first because it's the easiest to learn."

The pump and walk is just that; you walk and as you walk, you lift your little weights normally. Just move your arms in the same way you would on a fast-paced walk - only now you've got a little resistance in each hand. Don't change your normal walking style. Use weights small enough to allow this. Over time you can increase the weights and the arm motion. For the beginner the idea is to add a small amount of resistance to your normal walking.

After a few acclimatizing Heavyhands walks you can begin to pay more attention to the arm motions. The "pumps" (arm motions) are of three levels, the height to which you raise the weighted hand from its starting position (hanging straight down, mid-thigh).

Level I - 1 foot (hip-high)

Level II - 2 feet (shoulder-high)

Level III - 3 feet (head-high)

Start at Level I and go until you feel the first inkling of aerobic discomfort - when your oxygen transport system isn't quite making it - then reduce your workload by stopping your arm pumping. Keep walking until you're breathing normally.

Logic dictates that on your first Heavyhands sessions you pump and walk for a comfortable period and then quit! Make note of how long you lasted and on your next session try to add two minutes to the session length. Add two minutes per session and within three weeks (walking four times a week) you should be up to the optimal 30-minute session.

If you are diligent and pump those arms the prescribed distance, you should see concrete physical changes within a month. You should lean out considerably and double your pre-Heavyhands endurance level.

Keep in mind that Heavyhands without a sound diet will not give you the total physical transformation you seek. To effect a 100% physical transformation, we need to combine Heavyhands with sound nutrition habits and throw in some serious iron pumping. The athlete who knows (and uses) all three disciplines is the athlete on the cutting edge of athletic knowledge.

So dust off those funny red weights and pump those arms! Heavyhands is a great fat-burner!

For more Heavyhands information, see if you can find a copy of Schwartz's Heavyhands Walking Guide, published by Little, Brown & Co, 1990. This 278-page book is the aerobic training bible. The medical and scientific information alone is worth the purchase price.