Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thick Handled Weights - Norman Thompson


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Fred Lowe


Thick Handled Weights
by Norman Thompson


Your man-power can only be expressed through your grip, as you cannot move what you cannot grab, push or punch. all “fair” self-defense boils down to hand-power usually, and the strong man is strong in any situation. He can lift the new hot water tank packed in its bulky case, he can carry hundred-weight sacks of cement with ease, can lift planks, move stoves, refrigerators, sofas and small cars for his grip on life is strong and sure because he has trained along correct lines. How often we find the man with impressive development failing to measure up when put to the test, made to feel inadequate by the real strength of the trucker, delivery man or laborer. True, he has worked long and hard with the weights and by certain standards is quite strong, but he has not developed strength which is functional in daily life. How puny his wrists compare with the thick, steely bands of the plumber; how almost feminine his hands and forearms beside those of the trucker and day-laborer. Certainly our man envies those blessed with mighty hands, wrists and forearms, but he argues that his training routine is too full already; that he simply cannot fit such exercises into his schedule. Well, it is to this problem that I dedicate my article, so that any of us in the iron game can kill two birds with one stone. That is, develop strength as useful in the street or home as it is in the gym, without sacrificing body building gains in general.

For any queries in our field, I always turn first to the example and writings of my friend, Mr. George F. Jowett, and work from there. Also at the outset I would like to thank one of his best friends and contemporaries, Mr. Ottley R. Coulter, for the very valuable reminiscences he gave me to season this article with. He told me that Alan Calvert called Jowett the most powerfully built man of his height (5’4 ½”) in the world. George often wrote that as a child his parents had expected him to die before the age of fifteen from a stomach accident in infancy, but that after a series of operations he took up research and home weight training and recovered. Certainly he trained correctly, for the fearless, indomitable wrestler’s body he moulded packed the awesome power to carry him undefeated to more records than any strength athlete, including the world’s wrist-turning trophy, and the reputation of having the strongest arms of any man alive. All of this was achieved, I firmly believe, because George was always more interested in how Saxon, Marx, Pedly, Sandow and others developed their mighty gripping powers and massive hands, wrists and forearms than he was in any other kind of feat.

Starting with but a normal bone structure when he commenced heavy exercise, probably around the year 1900, he had but a seven-inch wrist; however, in a few years he had added a full inch and by the time shortly before World War One it was at least 8 ½”. Ottley Coulter mentioned reading that when George Greenwood measured Jowett’s wrist in England, he found it to be absolutely the largest (9 1/2”) he had ever measured, surpassing such immortals as Arthur Saxon, Louis Cyr and our contemporary, the great Paul Anderson. And if we consider that George Jowett averaged about 200 lbs. and that Cyr was at his best at 315 and Paul Anderson at 350, we can better understand just how remarkable Jowett’s arms were for his size. Even in 1930 his forearms were 16”, his biceps 18 ½, and as far as I know nobody ever lifted his “unliftable dumbell” from the floor, although he could toy with it a one would with a slipper.

How did he do it? Certainly he specialized at feats of gripping strength, but what was his mainstay, his essential secret? I would say, if forced to oversimplify, that it lies in this: he usually trained with thick handled dumbells – massive weights. Happily, any home-trainee can adopt this secret and use HEAVY, THICK HANDLED BARBELLS AND DUMBELLS, with the emphasis on the latter. Absolutely nothing else will do. They will develop the grip while the hand is grasping an object in the extreme-opened condition. A tremendous grip is created for all occasions and upon all objects to be grasped. Not only will you be able to lift awkward objects that others can only roll or slide, but also as you become accustomed to lifting with the open hand, not squeezing the weight, only gripping it strongly enough to balance it, you will find that your overhead lifting will improve enormously as well, for your gripping muscles which would pull down will not resist your lift; gradually you will handle more and more weight and your arms from wrist to shoulder will grow proportionately.


You can perform all standard barbell and dumbell exercises with your thick handled weights; indeed, you must if you want to be strong both in and out of the gym. It does not matter whether your hands are large or small; the man with small hands can develop fingers like steel pincers, and need never again fear competition or comparison with his better-endowed competitors; able to wrest bulky objects from the floor with one and two hands pulsating with power, never again will he feel his body building to be futile, his muscles of no practical use.


All one has to do is to obtain pipes long enough to reach from collar to collar on your barbell and dumbell bars. (You will dispense with the revolving sleeves). I have found that it helps to have barbells and dumbells of various weights already loaded, and you will gradually accumulate a variety of these different-weighted “challenge” barbells and dumbells in your gym. But pipe from the plumber about 2 ½ inches in outside diameter at least or they will not sufficiently tax your grip. Probably 2 ½ inches is enough if you are small-handed. You might wrap the bar in cloth and then slide it in the pipe or wrap friction tape around the dumbell handle as packing because you must not have the bar slipping around, and you want it centered or you will get a dead point which would defeat your object. Using this kind of weight enabled Thomas Inch (with only six inch wrists and hands upon which he could wear a woman’s ring on any finger) to develop a 15” forearm and the strongest grip George Jowett “ever saw.” If you don’t want to bother with the pipe, just wrap friction tape around your bars, but it will take a lot of it, for those handles must be thick. Assuming that you have equipped yourself, here is the way to genuine strength:

1. Swan-neck dumbell (kettlebell even better) curl from floor.
2. Endways (thumb-up) dumbell curl.
3. Reverse dumbell curl with wrist down one set, wrist up for the other.
4 and 5. Hand-open curl with fingers in line with hand, curling wrist only and not bending elbow. Open hand held straight, palm bent forward as high as possible. This wrist curl should also be performed with the back of the hand up, but hand will have to be closed. Use a kettlebell for the first one. Various handles can be used, and try opening your hand toward the end of these movements and resting the weight mainly on the thumb.
6. One and two-handed deadlifts with barbell; use large and ordinary-sized handles from time to time.
7. One and two-handed deadlifts with dumbells of various-sized handles.
8 Deadlifting with kettlebells.
9. One-finger lifting using each finger. Have a ring with a hook on it made to fit your middle finger. Practice with each of the fingers.
10. Cleaning barbells and dumbells of various-sized handles using only two fingers.
11. Heavy snatches, presses, jerks, bent-presses, swings, and tossing from hand-to-hand mostly with thick handled dumbells.
12. Curling dumbells of various-sized handles with palm up, palm down, and thumb up.

The above routine can be alternated with twirling barbell bars, lifting loaded (at one end) dumbell bars across the legs whilst seated on the floor, pinch-gripping barbell plates, wrist-twisting, finger-pulling (these daily if possible), the bending and twisting of iron, spikes and horseshoes, the tearing of cards and thick newspapers, working with grippers and all manner of grip machines, practicing handstands (start against wall), use of thick wrist-rollers, chinning a thick bar, rafter or bar with wood blocks attached (varying hand spacings, and facings – one palm toward you, one palm away from you; cross handed chinning), and, if you are really ambitious, obtain a wooden barrel and a keg. The water filled barrel (filled with varying amounts) is lifted by the chines (edges) and later managed from ground to knee to shoulder with one hand. The keg is a great teacher of open-handed lifting and can, of course, be made as heavy as you are capable of lifting.


In all exercises use low (3 to 5) reps and increase resistance as fast as your strength allows. Use more weight, thicker handles, or a combination of both. For the iron bending and card tearing increase the diameter of the iron or the number of cards.


Vary the exercises used, movements and positions, from time to time, as well as the size of the grips, and remember to stress plenty of curls and one-arm deadlifts, both with oversize handles. The one-arm deadlift is best because you don’t need so much weight so that your legs and back won’t give out. Your grip will become enormously strong as you will be using your legs and back and only one hand; also, one strong hand cannot help a weaker one. But also practice two-arm deadlifting sometimes.


When single-finger lifting, work each finger 2 to 5 reps for maximum weight, but go easy at first especially if using a tight fitting ring so as to avoid pulling a tendon, and always increase poundage gradually. George Jowett wrote that his boyhood ideal, John Marx, performed about eight of these large-handled movements daily, and twisted wrists and pulled fingers at every opportunity. You might start off by cleaning and jerking, pressing, curling, and swinging thick-handled dumbells from 20 to 25 lbs., depending on your strength, gradually working into weights of 90 lbs. and more in jerks and swings with one hand. You will like this work for by the time you can clean and jerk the 90-pounder single-handedly, you will find that most others will fail when attempting it – they won’t like the thick handle. They won’t have your gripping power. The inch or more which you pack on your forearms will flow into a thicker wrist and your grip will express the might existing in both. And in my opinion you will, in the long run, get a better biceps from this work; especially around the elbow. But most important of all, you will have a pair of arms that not only look good but are much stronger even then they look, and will not fail you, whatever the test.

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