Tuesday, March 31, 2009
A Strength Legend
by Paul Kelso
The Iron Game has had its share of odd happenings and unique characters. A fellow could probably get a Ph.D. in Folklore if he collected some of the legends and tales that can be heard when the oldtimers get together to talk about unofficial lifts, spur of the moment contests and hometown strongmen.
When I took a degree years ago in American Culture studies, a guy I knew got a Master’s for analyzing the slogans found on satin pillows sold at 19th Century fairs and carnivals. One of the pillows carried a silk-screened depiction of Eugen Sandow lifting an elephant off the ground with a hip-harness. I have long thought that a study of strongman artifacts might tell us something about the American fascination with great feats of strength in relation to our national character. Are such accomplishments becoming less important in out high-tech world? Is there still a place for these lone and solitary giants in our society?
When I lived in that part of the world where the Cedar River makes its bend southward and heads for its junction with the Mississippi, east of Cedar Rapids and west of Davenport, I heard stories from the greybeards about one Jim Jicha. He was a farmer of Czech descent whose family had settled in Iowa at roughly the same time that Abe Lincoln and the Illinois militia were chasing Black Hawk. Jicha died thirty years or so ago, but here were and are many who swore he was the ‘stoutest man I ever seen’, as in the words of one old railroader.
All the great strongmen clichés were attached to his name: he could pick up an anvil by the horn with one hand and hold it straight out in front of him, bend horseshoes with his hands, swing on a spike with a nine-pound maul in each hand and drop an ox with his fist. These are 19th Century workingman’s stories; they’ve been around. One way they stay around is when people find themselves faced with a similar situation, and someone challenges another to see if he can recreate the myth. But, sometimes one an or woman in a generation will come along and do something that others cannot hope to duplicate or even understand.
The day Jim’s reputation was made was reconstructed from the barber shop, memories and tavern ramblings of a half-a-dozen men I talked to over a five year period. They all swore they were there. As the poet said, ‘I know not what the truth may be, I say the tale was told to me.’
One day Jim hitched up the Belgian horses and drove his wagon into town. He had a truck, but the old ways suited him on occasion. Besides, money for gasoline was rare during the Depression. He tied up at the railroad siding to pick up a load of begged seed and barrels of flour and molasses. While others watched, Jim off-loaded his goods from the box car himself to save the fee. 100 lb. seed bags, maybe thirty of them, and then the barrels. Now these were barrels in the old sense, not beer or pony or nail kegs as we know them today, but barrels!
He took them off the box car by hand, and without using rolling planks, set them into the wagon. One fell out of the wagon to the ground. It did not break. Such were barrels in those day. Jicha seized it by the rims and hoisted it back on the wagon. Set it up on end.
This is something for all to ponder. Whether ‘Mr. Wonderful’ of a six-time, 275 pound world champion powerlifter can pinch grip a fifty gallon barrel of molasses high enough to set it in a farm wagon, on end, is worth considering. Jim then got up on the seat and clucked off down the Sutliff road toward home. The Belgians, strong as they were, had a tough time pulling through the muck of the spring-thawed road.
It was four miles out of town, some say six, when the right rear wheel hub shattered. Several local farmers came out to help. One went back to his place for another wheel. The story varies at this point. Some say Jim deadlifted the corner of the wagon high enough for the men to get the new wheel on; others claim he got under the wagon bed and back-lifted it out of the mud so the helpers could brace the bed with logs and boards. How much does a wagon bed, thirty 100 lb. seed sacks and six barrels weigh?
Jim set out again, urging the big maroon horses through the mud, but after a hundred yards the bed of the wagon splintered down the middle and dumped the load into the ditch. Jim asked the other men to watch the load and strode through the fields to his barn where he had a new bed stored, unused.
A wagon bed of that type weighed about 400 lbs., according to those storytellers and farmers old enough to know. Jicha shouldered the bed, or maybe hitched it up on his back, and lugged it the two miles, some say four, to where the men and the broken wagon waited. After the new bed was in place, the men helped Jim haul the sacks and barrels out of the ditch and reload. Jim had to heave ALL SIX BARRELS from the road into the wagon. It was well after dark when he got home. He unloaded the wagon by himself. All in all, he put in a fair day’s work.
I’ve seen an old photo of the man. Looked about six feet tall and weighed 240 lbs., if my eye is any good. There are arguments in the feed stores and barber shops and taverns about when Jim did one thing or another, but woe be to the outsider who voices doubts out loud about any of the Jicha stories. The few oldtimers who knew him, and they are very few now, are as proud of having known him as they are of their Czech heritage.
It Jicha had lived in an earlier time, or been involved in an incident dramatic enough to have made the newspapers, he might have become a folk hero like a Paul Bunyan or Mike Fink. There is no evidence I know of that he ever touched a barbell. But in that Valhalla for strongmen where dwell the Sandows, Jowetts and Cyrs, I’d like to think Jim Jicha would be welcome.
They would recognize each other.
Monday, March 30, 2009
The GOOD MORNING Exercise –
“Wake up With a Smile”
by Roy J. Ebner
Have you been struggling with your deadlift and getting little or no improvement? How about your squat? Well, let me tell you about one movement that has the potential to send both those big lifts through the roof – THE GOOD MORNING.
The Good Morning exercise has unfortunately become somewhat of a relic and I believe that the major reason for this is that the movement is poorly understood and often seen as unnecessarily dangerous. When done correctly, the Good Morning exercise is safe and extremely effective at overloading the spinal erectors, hamstrings and glutes. The tremendous stimulation of the spinal erectors in particular makes this movement uniquely beneficial to the powerlifter.
For those who need a refresher or for those not familiar with the Good Morning, I’d like to review its basic execution. Then I’ll recommend how to incorporate this movement into your overall strength program.
The Good Morning exercise begins with the lifter standing upright with the bar positioned across the shoulders much like the squat. Experimentation will determine the best bar and foot placement, but I suggest at least starting from your basic squat stance. From the upright start position, the lifter descends into a ¼ to ½ squat position. From this point on, the legs are locked as the lifter flexes forward at the waist while keeping the head up. Descend until you reach near horizontal or 90 degrees. From the bottom position, keep the head up. lead with the back extending up and finish with the natural straightening of the legs. Remember to take a deep breath before the initial descent and hold it until you reach the last half of the ascent. This is extremely important to maintain stability. I have also found it very helpful to apply a downward force on the bar throughout the movement to keep the bar “locked in.” Don’t get too hung up if you can’t reach 90 degrees because this is most likely due to tight hamstrings or lower back muscles. Post workout stretching for these areas and practice will allow you to eventually attain a fuller range of motion.
It is important to note that this is not a Good Morning as is commonly performed by many bodybuilders and Olympic lifters. Their version is one in which the only movement is at the waist with the knees in a fixed, often hyperextended position. This may sound more effective because the lower back is isolated better, but in reality, the “power style” Good Morning is more effective and safer for working the glutes, hamstrings and the spinal erectors as they work together throughout the motion. This “power style” Good Morning in many ways looks like a poorly done squat, but don’t be misled into thinking that the movement involves too much of the legs and too little of the lower back. I can guarantee that after performing a properly executed set you won’t worry about the lower back getting enough work!
As a competitive powerlifter for the past fourteen years, I – as many others, have tried just about every movement there is to improve my lifts. The reason I recommend the Good Morning is that I have yet to use a motion that so completely works the spinal erectors through the whole length of the vertebral column as well as overloading the hips. After deadlifting, or back extensions, the stress is generally very concentrated in the lowermost area of the spinal erectors. However, after performing Good Mornings, you feel the spinal erectors stimulated through the entire length of the back.
Realize that the many layers that make up the spinal erectors run from the lower back region all the way up to the skull! the area we are all most familiar with is the broad, thick lumbar or low-back region, but this is only one segment. The bottom line is that for great the whole muscle must be worked! Top to Bottom.
Give the Good Morning a try as an alternate to the other low back motions you do, or in conjunction with them. Start very light and perform 3 sets of 6 reps once a week. I suggest they be performed after squats or on your deadlift day. But they should only be done once per week. I have found that pyramiding the weight for the three sets is the best way to warm the lower back and handle the heavier sets. An example might e 135x5, 165x3, followed by 185 for 3 sets of 6. NEVER take this exercise to failure. Specifically, choose a weight that you can complete knowing that you have a few more in you. This is a movement where we want excellent form at all times. Always use spotters positioned at each side of the bar or work within a power rack.
Be patient. I started two years ago with about 95 lbs. and recently completed 500x3 to a 90 degree position. In the beginning, the motion will feel very unusual, but like all new motions this will get better with time. I truly believe that anyone who puts some time in with this movement will make outstanding overall gains. Lastly, remember these key points:
1.) Perform this movement slowly – not explosively. Descend only as far as you feel comfortable (the range will come) and keep your head up as much as possible.
2.) Don’t ever go to failure. Pyramid up to your work sets and always finish knowing you could do a few more. I prefer sets of 6.
3.) Work on flexibility of the lower back and hamstrings after your workout.
4.) Always use spotters or work within the rack.
5.) Take a deep breath before your descend and hold it until you are out of the hole.
The Rader Isometronic Power and Muscle Development Course
Power Simplified No. 2
by Peary Rader
A new system of training that is giving most amazing results in both POWER AND DEVELOPMENT OF MUSCLE SIZE. A system for the new trainee and for the most advanced lifter, bodybuilder and for men seeking to improve their abilities in any line of athletic endeavor.
This course has been developed and prepared by Peary Rader, leading authority on physical training for the past 25 years, and editor and publisher of Iron Man magazine and Lifting News magazine and other publications, books and courses. This system has been used and proven by top athletes, lifters and bodybuilders, and the pupil can have full confidence in the effectiveness of this system when properly applied.
Special equipment for the most efficient application of this system can be bought from Body Culture Equipment Co., Alliance, Nebraska, or you may, if you wish, make your own equipment as illustrated. To make this rack you simply drill ¼ inch holes every three inches in two 2x8 planks the proper length to reach solidly from the floor to the ceiling of the building in which they will be set up. Now take a saw and cut out the wood between every other hole, thus leaving a slot of about 3 ½ inches in which to put the bar as shown in the illustration. Anchor these two planks, about 3 feet apart, to the floor and ceiling, as shown, and you are ready to start to work. The use of this wooden rack cannot be as rough as it can be with a metal rack or you will run a chance of breaking out the blocks of wood between the holes. If you wish a stronger rack you can make it of 4x6 pieces. You may wish to drill the holes 4 inches apart for greater movement. Don’t make it more that 4 inches, however.
We also show two other types of racks which you may wish to build or have built: one of wood and illustrated by the late Harry Paschall and which has four uprights made of 4x4 wood with holes drilled through to hold a supporting crossbar on which the weight is loaded. The other is a similar metal rack built by Bob Mitchell some years ago. The latter is rugged and long lasting. These two racks were made for power work but not exactly the Isometronic power work we are about to describe, for Isometronic exercise is an exercise of limited movement.
WHAT IS ISOMETRONIC EXERCISE?
As stated in the last paragraph, Isometronic Exercise is a limited movement exercise. It is a combination of Isometric Exercises (exercises in which the strength is pitted against an immovable object), and Isotonic Exercise (exercise in which there is both movement of the muscle and of the object being lifted). Strictly speaking, there is no limit to this movement and it operates over the full range of the muscle being worked. Isometronic exercise, on the other hand, operates over only a small part of the full range of possible movement of the muscle and therefore is a combination of Isometric Exercise and Isotonic Exercise, hence the name, Isometronic. Isometronic exercise possesses the good qualities of both types of exercise and hence has proven itself superior to either of the others in all around gains of muscle size developed and strength acquired. Because of the limited movement you may at first find this a little frustrating if you have been using Isotonic exercise with full range of movement permitted, but when you see the results you are obtaining with this system you will be very enthusiastic about it.
We would not suggest that this is a system to completely supplant the Isotonic or the Isometric systems, but that it is a very valuable addition to your training program. You can use it with either of the other types of training with great benefit.
HOW OFTEN TO WORK OUT?
This system is a very rugged training method and it may be easy for some of you to overtrain. You should adjust your frequency to your energy reserves. Some men may be able to thrive on four workouts per week and a few on even five, but the majority will find that three workouts per week will be more than ample. If worked properly you will find that this program gives you one of the most terrific workouts you have ever had, hence its great value. Some men will even find that two workouts per week will be more productive of results.
There are other systems you may wish to use to change the schedule and avoid staleness and monotony. For instance you may wish to use two workouts with this Isometronic system and one workout with the regular Isometric system, or you may wish two workouts with this system and one workout with the regular full movement Isotonic system. Possibly you may wish to use this system for only one workout per week and the other two with either the Isometric system or with the full movement Isotonic system. You can change the program around to suit your desires and needs. Try to stay on one schedule for at least a month at a time, however, if you expect to get results. We suggest that for specialized power and muscle building with this system, you use it exclusively for periods of at least two to three months.
Incidentally, the same power rack you build for this Isometronic system is also suitable for Isometric exercise. In order to have wider range of positions for the Isometric system you should build a platform of 2 inch pieces to put on the floor between the uprights for some of your exercises. Since your slot holes will be several inches apart this will act as a filler piece and give you more positions. You can work the Isometric system with or without the fuller piece as needed. You can also use the filler platform to give greater range for this course of Isometronic exercise if desired.
HOW MANY SETS – HOW MANY REPETITIONS?
By its very nature the Isometronic system becomes a set system. You usually will use three sets per exercise but each set will be in a different position. You can, of course, use more than three sets for each exercise by doing more than one set for a position.
Let us illustrate what we mean by position by taking the press for an example. Your first position would be about the lockout position of the arms. You would do one set in this position, then lower the bar to about the height of the forehead and do another set there, then lower it again to shoulder height and do a set there. This is three sets for the press, each done in a different position. Now, if you wanted to specialize in one certain position, for instance a forehead position, you could do another set or so in that position. The number of sets you use depends on your energy reserves and your desires.
Most exercises will normally have these three positions, a beginning position, a midway position and a finish position. This can be reduced to just one position it that is your desire. You can build this program to suit yourself, keeping in mind that you will not make progress if your overwork. See elsewhere in our discussion of specialization on this system.
Repetition: Here again it depends on your desires. If you wish to build power then we suggest you keep the repetitions below 5. Some men will find 3 repetitions will be ample but others will find that for power they will do better with five repetitions per set.
For muscle building you should generally go to 8 to 12 repetitions on this system. Here again some men gain best on low reps. You will have found how you gain best from past training experience. If you cut your repetitions down to fewer than 8 for muscle building, then you would want to use more sets. Quite frequently we find some men who work well and gain well on a bulk program when doing about 6 sets of 6 repetitions. You will find that you will gain well on any system of repetitions but that certain ones will fit your body and temperament best.
Since this is a rather rugged program we suggest that you start out with higher repetitions and lighter weights at first, then adjust your program to your best interests later. This may help avoid pulled muscles at first from using such heavy weights. Later you may increase the poundages and reduce the repetitions.
POUNDAGES TO USE
As stated above we suggest that you start out with lighter weights and higher repetitions. The reason for this is that we wish you to avoid pulled muscles, for in some of the positions you will be able to use enormous poundages and there is no use in pulling a muscle and having this hinder your training.
Therefore, start out with a poundage that will tax your power in about 12 repetitions. We are assuming, of course, that you are a barbell man with 6 months or more of training experience and that you are in fair condition. If you’re a beginner then you ought to start with poundages that will be rather easy for 12 repetitions and gradually add weight until it becomes quite strenuous.
If you’re strictly interested in power then you will want to use poundages that will permit 3 to 5 repetitions. In such exercises as the squat, press and bench press this can reach rather high poundages, as for instance in the quarter squat position many men will go far in excess of 1,000 lbs. Paul Anderson, the strongest man who ever lived, would probably go as high as 5,000 or 6,000 lbs. in this exercise. Of course, the new man may find that very light poundages will tax him until he breaks into this system. The limiting of the movement may seem a little awkward at first, and you may feel a little frustrated by this limit of movement but it is very important.
If you are using the type of power rack where you insert supporting bolts to hold the weight then it is important that you also insert a limiting bolt above the weight so that your movement is limited to 4 inches or less. You will understand the reason for this later in the course.
You will not be able to determine the exact poundages the first workout or so, but you should soon adjust to the poundages that will just barely permit you to do the number of reps desired.
With such high poundages you will find that each repetition is a struggle, from the first to the last, and your feeling after a workout will be different from what you feel with the full movement Isotonic method or from the non-moving Isometric system.
We are not giving a detailed description or illustration of each exercise since there are hundreds of exercises that can be used. Almost any exercise that can be performed with a barbell can be used on this system. The only difference is that you use a rack for the correct position and the movements are limited or restricted. There is no possibility of cheating on movements with this power rack. Every move must be made with pure brute muscle strength.
We have the basic movements which we recommend for every trainee, especially when starting. At a later date you may want to use certain favorites.
Except for reducing programs we do not recommend too many exercises; 10 exercises are enough and fewer are better for most programs. For muscle building programs you may want to go as high as 12 or 15 exercises. Here again your needs, energy reserve and recuperative abilities will determine the number to use.
Here are the recommended exercises for power and bulk building which we suggest you start with:
Two arm press
with 3 positions for all.
For a general overall bodybuilding program you would want a few more, such as the two arm curl, side raise for deltoids, calf raise, side bend for sides of waist, situp and possible two or three more of your choice for neck, forearms, grip; or for other body parts you might wish additional work. You can also use this system for the overhead pulley weight exercises. This will require a special power rack and pulley weight combination. Or you may prefer to perform your pulley weight exercises as described later in this course under the heading of “Isometronic Exercises Without A Power Rack.”
BASIC TRAINING ROUTINE
The procedure in the Isometronic system is opposite of that in the Isometric system. In the Isometric system you usually start at the bottom of the rack and work upward, but on this Isometronic system we start at the top and work down. This is because you usually use lighter poundages overhead than you do overhead than you do in the lower exercises so we start out in the press and work down, and as we go down we add poundages in most exercises until we reach the bench press, deadlift and squat, where we use a great deal more weight.
TWO ARM PRESS
This is out first exercise, and as stated before we start with the bar loaded up on the lower rack pin in a position just short of the lockout position of the arms. This should allow the bar to move about 3 inches to lockout position of the arms and for the bar to reach the top pin solidly.
Stand under the bar in the correct pressing position and press to the top pin. As you reach the top pin, press very hard against the bar. Put forth the maximum of effort. The first part of this exercise is Isotonic, or movement, while the last part is Isometric, or maximum pressure against an immovable object. Thus you are using a combination of Isotonic and Isometric exercises in one exercise.
You can vary the application of the exercise. By this we mean that by using lighter weights you can make it more Isometric, in that the movement part (Isotonic) will be the easier part while the unmoving part (Isometric) will be the harder part.
You can also, by loading the bar to the maximum you can use, make the movement part of the exercise the harder, so that the exercise is predominantly Isotonic and the finish or last part will be minor since you won’t be able to push much more against the top pin than you did to get the heavy poundage up there.
We do not tell you to use either method exclusively, but urge you to try all systems and find out which you like best and which gives you the best results.
We have given you the first position in the press. Now lower the bar to the second position or about forehead or eyebrow height, and do another set of repetitions here. Now lower the bar to just off the shoulders and do another set here. Use the same procedure of lifting to the top pin, then put on still more pressure against it for each repetition.
As you lower the bar to a new position it would be best to remove the outside plates to lighten the poundage in order to have more control of it as you lower it.
Of course, any hand spacing can be used that you feel is advantageous or necessary in any of these exercises.
This is an excellent exercise for this system for it works the arms and shoulders in a very beneficial manner. It is fine for developing the deltoids of the shoulder, the trapezius, the biceps and muscles of the forearms. It is excellent for bodybuilders and an absolute necessity for lifters.
Bring the bar to the first position of about pectoral height. This is a difficult position but one where most men are weak and so it is needed. Don’t forget that as you pull up to the top pin you must pull hard against this top pin.
Bring the bar down to just below belt height and do another set, the lower to the bottom pins to straight arms’ height and do another set from there. In this position you should soon work up to very heavy poundages. The upright rowing is an exercise that some men find easy to receive pulled muscles from so use some caution in performing it if you are on of these fellows.
The bench press is one of the best bodybuilding and power building exercises and in this system you can learn to use enormous and unbelievable poundages and because of these huge poundages you will soon develop power you never believed possible.
Start the bench press from the high position so that you can just lock out the arms against the top pin with pressure. After you reach the pin put on all the pressure you can. Do this each repetition.
For the bench press you can use a bench of any height or you may lie on the floor and do the upper parts of the press.
Lower the bar to a midway position and do another set, then to the chest and do another sets. This low position will find your weak spot and you may find difficulty using very much weight, but this is the position where you need the work the most.
The regular deadlift is a very important exercise on this power building system. You can use a lot of weight and it will build power in the whole body.
Your first position will be the high position, so that as you finish the lift to the top of the pins you will find you’re standing erect and pulling hard against the top pin. Such great poundages can be used in this exercise that you will find it necessary to use the reverse grip to keep the bar from sliding from the hands. This grip consists of one hand palm-front and the other palm facing back. Some men tie their hands to the bar with straps in order to exert full body power without their hands slipping from the bar. Straps with hooks fastened to them are also used. Anderson used a similar method and other top strongmen have likewise. It goes without saying that this exercise will greatly increase your gripping power, but few men are able to grip enough to prevent their hands from slipping in this position.
Keep the back flat and the head up in this exercise. Now lower the bar to a midway position of the deadlift. Most men find this position rather awkward at first. It is a weak position and it just seems you can’t pull as much as you first think you ought to. The fact that you can’t get up momentum when using the rack makes it more difficult. Continued practice will enable you to exert tremendous power in this position too. You should not have so much trouble with the hands slipping from the bar but you will most likely still need to use the reverse grip.
Now down to the low position of the deadlift. Again this may seem like a weak position, another indication that you need a lot of work in this position. The deadlift gives you quite a heavy workout.
SQUAT OR DEEP KNEE BEND
The greatest single exercise in existence – that is the squat. By doing it this Isometronic way you can greatly increase its value. If you had no time to do any other exercise but the squat, you could, by it alone, become an enormously strong man. This was almost the only exercise used Paul Anderson in the first two years of his training and he developed unbelievable power, and built the foundation for his great triumphs or record breaking. Don’t neglect this exercise.
You will start with the high position, or from a position where, by a slight straightening the legs you will bring the bar hard against the top pin. As stated before you may soon be able to use 1,000 lbs. or more in this position.
Now lower the bar so that you are in what we call a half squat (the first position would be termed a quarter squat). You will be surprised at how weak you may feel when you first begin using this position. Keep working at it and you will soon fees strong here and your regular squat poundage will increase as a result.
Lower the bar again until you’re just below parallel squat position; that is, with the tops of the thighs just below the parallel position. This, again, is a position where you feel helpless. Don’t let this discourage you, tho. Some lifters refuse to do this because they don’t think they can accomplish anything in this position. You feel weak here, and that is the reason why you need work here so badly. You will be surprised how strong you begin to get after working in this position for a while. Keep right on working at it and fight the weight. This is where most men fail on their regular squat – in the low position. This is where most lifters are weakest – in the low position.
This exercise is the final one in the basic course of power, bulk and muscle building. It is a very important one for it works the huge muscles across the upper back in a manner that nothing else can. The large trapezius and latissimus muscles as well as the rear part of the deltoid get heavy work from this exercise. It also works the biceps and forearms. The lower back and hamstrings come in for a large share of work too.
Start in the high position with the bar about 4 inches from the chest when you are bent over at right angles to the floor. Now pull the bar up until it almost touches the chest and is tight against the top pin, where you pull very hard against it. It may be a little difficult to work this at first but practice will enable you to do a good job.
Now drop to the middle position for another set, then on down o the bottom position for the final set.
The above workout will be more than ample for the average lifter. As stated before, you can use as many sets as you wish or any number of repetitions as needed for what you wish to accomplish. Read this course over carefully then use your mind to work out your own problems. The information you need is here but you need to use it yourself.
OTHER POWER EXERCISES
Weightlifters especially will find certain other power exercises a MUST with this system. The support at chest will give them great power for the jerk and press. Loading the rack up to as much weight as you can take at the shoulders and lift off racks with power of the legs will build great sustaining power, particularly when the sustained pressure is applied to the top pin. Weight should be loaded to a poundage that you can just lift the 3 or 4 inches off the pin by bending the knees, by taking the weight in hands at shoulders and then lifting with the legs. So not attempt to lift with the arms, or move the weight off the shoulders.
Another important lift is the support in the split position. Load the weight to a heavy poundage and at a height that you can get under in the low split of the snatch or jerk with arms slightly bent; then while holding this position, lock out the arms. Another exercise in the same position is to start with the arms locked and then raise the weight to the top pin with the power of the legs only. This will give you great sustaining power in the low position of the snatch and jerk.
You can use the same method in the squat style to build extra power.
THE ONE ARM LIFTS AND EXERCISES can also be used within this system, such as the one arm press, the one arm curl, one arm rowing, one arm deadlift, one arm upright rowing, finger lifting and dozens of other similar lifts and exercises.
Almost any exercise that you can do with a barbell can be done within the rack from various positions. You will find that you can use your flat bench and incline bench for many exercises in the rack and by properly positioning a pulley you can do limited movement, cable exercises as well.
CHECKING YOUR PROGRESS
The isometronic system allows you to check on the progress you are making because you use weights to train with, thus you can see yourself making progress as you gradually increase the poundages you are using. You cannot do this with the Isometric system since no weights are used. This charting of personal progression is greatly encouraging to a power builder.
Many bodybuilders and lifters will want to use this system for certain specialization. For instance, the lifter may wish to develop power in his legs. For this he may wish to specialize on the squats in different positions, doing a great many sets in low reps in different positions. While specializing thus, he may not care to do any of the other Isometronic exercises so that he can give more time and energy to his specialization. Or he may wish to perfect his arm lock, in which case he will use the press in the high position to train his arms to lock out under heavy poundages, and he can also practice this lockout in the low split or squat positions. Perhaps he will to improve his press at the sticking position which is usually about forehead height. In this instance he will do specialized work in this position.
Thus you can see that this system of power training is almost a necessity for the weight lifter on either the Olympic lifts or the powerlifts.
The bodybuilder may wish to specialize on some body part. He may wish to increase his deltoid development. The curl could be used to the biceps in various positions for either one or both arms.
He can do triceps presses either standing or seated and in the various positions for triceps development. The triceps kickback could be used in various positions with either one or both arms.
Specialized leg and back work can be done in the same way. He would, of course, use several sets of 10 to 12 repetitions when specializing and again he may want to devote most of his energy to this specialized part while doing a minimum of work for the rest of the body.
We would not recommend that this specialized work be done for the whole body, as such an intensive program for the whole body is almost sure to cause you to go stale and your progress will cease or you will actually lose.
ISOMETRONIC TRAINING WITHOUT A POWER RACK
If you do not have a power rack and do not wish to buy or make one, then you can still do these exercises without such a rack, tho it might not be quite as easy or convenient.
Shall we take the curl for an example? You may start in the low position. With the bar in the hands and the arms straight, you curl the weight and make sure that you do not move the bar itself over 4 inches, then lower it to the original position, and repeat the curl as many times as needed for the results you expect, whether it be bodybuilding with several sets of 10 to 12 reps or power building with several sets of 3 to 5 reps.
Now take a poundage for the middle position. This will be somewhat lighter. Bring the bar to just below where your forearms are parallel to the floor and then curl the bar 4 inches, which will bring the forearms to just above parallel, then lower to the slightly below parallel position and thus continue the short range curl until you have finished the required number of repetitions.
Now take a poundage suitable for the high position. Start this one from a position about a foot in front of the chin and move the bar about 4 inches or clear to the shoulders if you wish (The latter part of the curl is without much resistance when bringing it completely to the shoulders and so isn’t worth much as a developer). Lower the bar back and continue for the required number of reps.
This would complete the curl with this system. Some men prefer this method for the curl to the use of the rack. Obviously this method requires deep mental concentration to make it effective. It will, when used properly, do a tremendous job of developing the chosen body part.
Holding the bar at the top of the 4 inch movement can also be used.
If you can do several sets in each position, try going through the entire routine above several times. That is, do the three positions then start at the bottom and do all three positions again and repeat this procedure for as many sets as you wish. When finished, you will find that your biceps, or whatever muscle group you are focusing on, will have received a tremendous workout.
It is easy to apply this same system to any other exercise and without the power rack. Just be careful to keep the movements short – about 4 inches.
In the squat you would do the full squat with short movements, but be sure you do not bounce, but use the muscles. This will mean that you will have to do them slowly and methodically. When you are finished and wish to stand erect, your legs will be too tired to straighten up without help. Release one hand from the bar and push against the legs to assist in coming erect. This technique will take some practice, but can be mastered. You will have no such problems in the half and quarter squat positions.
You will probably find it necessary to use lots of sets for efficient bodybuilding with this system. If you wish to use the system without the rack for power gains you will use lower repetitions but many, many sets. In working for power be sure that you don’t cheat too much. It is important with these short movements that you use strict style and do not allow the body to swing or sway or you will remove the strain from the muscle you’re trying to develop.
Along with proper diet, rest and sleep, this gives you the information you need for a successful program of power and muscle building with Isometronic exercise.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
by Randall Strossen
John McCallum’s “Keys To Progress” is available from IronMind
Any self-respecting student of John McCallum emerged with a number of basic principles, which ranged from squatting until your eyes bulged to achieving an overall balance in your life. The true ‘McCallumite’ knew that he certainly better not be a mirror athlete, nor should he limit himself to just being strong, flexible and having loads of endurance coupled with brimming good health. No, he should recognize that he had a brain, and he should put it to use, cultivating additional interest and activities.
So the great paradox was that the McCallumite was out to chase and capture pounds and inches with unparalleled zeal and success, but this was only the beginning – he would also end up becoming a well-rounded person in more than the literal sense. Maurice Jones was one of the principal characters in McCallum’s articles, and it’s no accident that he stands as a model of this whole-man concept.
Since Maurice Jones never sought the spotlight, articles on him were few, and largely confined to rare issues of older muscle magazines. In fact, were it not for John McCallum’s writing the larger world might never have had a chance to benefit from Maurice Jones’s example. Being a rabid McCallum ran back in the 1960s, and never reluctant to seek out someone of interest, I managed to reach Maurice Jones on the telephone, and he patiently answered all the questions a teenaged lifting nut could think to present. I’d also had the advantage then of buying a handful of photos of Maurice Jones from the venerable collector Angelo Iuspa. Recently, nearly 30 years later, I had the great fortune and privilege to once again talk at length with Maurice Jones.
Maurice Jones started lifting weights when he was about 17 years old. “As a kid I was sickly. I can remember the awful colds I used to have. I wasn’t that healthy, so that’s what made me embark on some kind of training regimen, and one thing led to another.” What it led to was the emergence of a true Hercules – a massively muscled man who was unquestionably among the strongest in the world, and whose muscular and cardio-vascular endurance could sustain labors of heroic proportions.
If we turn back the clock to the 1930s, we see a 5’9” 150-pound Maurice Jones beginning to lift weights. Although his eventual success might not have been predicted by any, his tenacity should have signaled that good things, amazing things, were to follow: If you want to understand what it means to train consistently, just remember that in his first 5 ½ years of training, Maurice Jones never missed a single workout. In the intervening decades, this dedication has never wavered. “I wasn’t away from them (the weights) for very lengthy periods. I valued it greatly. I always felt so much better when I would have a good workout. I stayed with it,” explains Jones. “I held a certain amount of self-pride, I was going to stick with it till the end. You know, that attitude, and I’m still doing that. I do lots of situps and press-ups between two chairs at times when weights aren’t available.”
As we go to press (1997), Maurice is about to turn 85, and he reports, “I’m training. I’m very active physically.” And while he laughs at the weights he uses, consider this: He still does presses and curls with 50-lb. dumbells! “That’s nothing compared to what I once handled,” he says apologetically, but if those weights don’t speak to his fortitude, consider that Maurice Jones also continues with his “outdoor activities – cycling and trail hiking.” Mountains have long been his passion so it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that there have been some accidents along the way, which have led to a string of surgeries on his back, neck, and both knees. “I’m an avid alpinist, and that’s when most of the injuries occurred,” explains Jones. “I can’t blame it on the weights,” he says with a laugh.
Currently weighing “a stable 185,” Jones say the most he ever weighed was 225, although he generally weighed 200. “I didn’t stay up at that heavy weight for a great length of time. I was quite comfortable at 200 pounds.”
Once when I was talking to Doug Hepburn, I told him that when people asked me about Maurice Jones, I’d say, “Well, picture a cross between Doug Hepburn and John Grimek.” Doug thought about that for a minute and then said, “That’s not a bad description.”
Considering that he emerged as such a formidable physical specimen, Maurice Jones’ training program should be of great interest. “I’d work out for sometimes two hours – that was when I was younger, up until probably 40 or 45 or something. That would be three times [per week], two hours,” said Jones, and when asked for an authentic workout, here’s what Jones said:
“I’d do a bit of a warmup at the beginning, before I’d start: calisthenics, bending, arm waving, that sort of thing. I’d always start with situps on the steep board. Then I’d do my presses: Press, curl, press, curl. Rest a minute and then do another press and another curl. Three sets altogether. That was the military press. I didn’t do those leaning back presses. They called them military presses at that time. Then I’d do three sets of rowing motions; I’d do my bench presses in between (row, bench press, row, bench press, row, bench press). Three sets of bench presses.
“Now the squat. One set of heavy squats up around 400 pounds – about a dozen repetitions. At that time I was still doing hiking on weekends so I got plenty of legwork there, and I’d have 30 or 40 pounds on my back in my rucksack. 400 pounds sometimes and if I’d drop the weight, I’d increase the reps.
“In between sets, I’d rest a minute – I wouldn’t sit down. I know some fellows who used to train a gym I worked at a couple of times would sit down and read a magazine in between exercises,” Jones said with a smile.
A cardinal principle in Maurice Jones training was strict style: “I always tried to adhere to good form. I couldn’t stand these guys that would come in and be curling and it would be a back exercise as well. That didn’t go over well with me at all. I wanted to see a straight body, and the arms working as they should.” Considering his immaculate form, it was remarkable that Maurice Jones used to do presses behind the neck with 200 pounds for 12 reps and dumbell curls 70 lbs. x 12 well before World War II – figure what that’s worth in today’s terms, and your jaw should hit the floor.
Asked about his squatting, Maurice Jones said “I got up into the very heavy stuff – it used to frighten me before the act. How it all came about was with Milo Steinborn: I read that he had created a world record in the deep knee bend, which I was bound and determined to break, but nobody knew anything about it. And I did get up there over 500. My memory doesn’t serve me as well as it used to, but it was around 525 pounds.” Not one to brag, Maury doesn’t bother to mention that this lift put him among the foremost squatters of the day.
Perhaps even more prodigious were his performances in the stiff legged deadlift, where he did 425 for 15 repetitions in ultra-strict style: standing on a bench, lowering each rep to the tops of his feet. If the 425 x 15 isn’t already impressive enough, consider that Jones allows that “it [the poundage] may have wandered a little higher from time to time.”
While running was not as central to his training program as was weight training, it wasn’t uncommon for him to include running a couple of times a week.” Maurice attributes his high level of muscular and cardiovascular endurance to a combination of his weight training, running and his mountain hiking. Asked if the stories of him putting rocks in his rucksack before taking off up a mountain were true, he said they were. “I used to be crazy,” he laughed. “I still do that, as a matter of fact. I put in at least 30 pounds, just to get a little additional benefit.”
It’s tempting to think that this dedication to training means that somehow training hard came easy to Maurice Jones, but that’s not the case. “I’ve put up with a lot of pain over the years, years I suffered, but I never avoided my training. You can’t do it for the best part of your life and just forget it. The way I’m built, I have to continue, obviously not as strenuously as before, but I never forget it. I guess there are a lot of weight trainers and people who have done over a period of years and are still doing it.”
Asked about his diet, Maurice said it “was just very plain. I’m afraid that I just qualify as a meat and potatoes man.”
It has been reported that Maury disliked Olympic-style weightlifting, but he said that isn’t true. “I never went in for weightlifting myself because I didn’t have the time, mainly.” Nonetheless, the first time he tried a clean and jerk it was with 300 pounds on an exercise bar, and Jones says, “It was easy for me. I couldn’t believe it, you know, once I got those legs in action. That was when they did a split, not a squat. One chap came up from California, and that was the first time I saw a squat clean, and the snatch the same way. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t fall over when he did a snatch!”
Although Maurice worked as a graphic artist and retired as a director of the YMCA, earlier in his life he wrestled professionally in England and on the Continent. Even though this quite a while ago, some things never change because when asked about it, Jones said, with distaste, it was “as phony as anything could be.” Pro-wrestling seems out of character for Jones, but he explained, “It was a means to an end for me. I wanted to continue with my schooling, and my father was very ill at the time. I had to keep the household going.”
Asked what he’d say if a young kid came up to him and said, “Mr. Jones, do you think I should take drugs to get bigger muscles or to get stronger?”: “I would say, don’t become a fanatic, although I must have appeared that way to a lot of people. If you get fanatical about something, it spoils it. You have to recognize the line – that’s the trouble.”
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Push & Pull Power
by Jim Murray
Assistance Exercises For Power
The term “Power assistance exercises” refers to movements that closely resemble the three lifts, in which the muscles are used similarly, but in which heavier poundages are usually employed either in partial moves or in positions that provide more favorable leverage. The power clean is an exception because it is a full movement – from floor to chest – in which less weight can be used that when good split or squat cleaning technique is employed. Its value lies in the fact that the lifter concentrates on the necessary all-out, complete pull that must be developed to handle heavy weights in the snatch and clean. Despite what you may read elsewhere, by people who ought to know better, weights must be pulled above belt height to be cleaned by the majority of lifters. Although a lifter will drop in the low position, especially in the squat style, to a point where he has the bar on his chest at belt height or even lower, he must pull it higher than this in order to get down into the squat – and especially the split – and catch it before it begins to drop back down toward the floor. Practice of heavy power cleans is one of the best ways to develop the complete, above-the-belt pull that is needed.
PULLING ASSISTANCE EXERCISES
Power Clean – Performance
The lifter stands with his toes well under the bar, ankles brushing it, and then crouches and grasps the bar with a comfortable spacing of the hands (slightly wider than the shoulders; knuckles front). His feet should be spaced a comfortable distance apart. Despite the example of champions with huge legs – Paul Anderson and Dave Ashman – most men will place their feet about a foot apart so that their arms will be outside their knees. Before making the actual pull from the floor, the back should be flattened and the hips lowered, with head up, so that the shoulders are higher than the hips and much of the initial lift comes from straightening of the legs. The arms need not be held forcibly straight at the start, since their pull is begun as soon as the weight leaves the floor; care should be taken, however, not to pull hard against the RESTING barbell with the arms, or some lifting efficiency will be lost. It is just about impossible to separate the components of pulling upward from the floor into (1) legs action, (2) back action, and (3) arm and shoulder action, since it is a coordinated effort. We might say, however, that MOST of the initial lift to knee height should come from the legs, with the back and arm action coming into play to accelerate the barbell after it has started upward. As the weight passes the knees, the lifter should concentrate on pulling close to his thighs and body, and on pulling FASTER; he should try to make the barbell gain speed with the idea of pulling it up to a point somewhere near his nose. Without his thinking about it, by concentrating on this high pull, the lifter will employ a vigorous straightening of the legs and back, with a strong kick up on toes at the height of the pull . . . then he must whip his hands over and thrust his elbows forward to hold the barbell at his chest. Foot movement should be kept to a minimum in this exercise, though with limit weights the lifter may automatically jump slightly, often with a slight sideways shuffle of the feet.
There has been considerable controversy about the “straight line” versus the “S-curve” pull. If the lifter will concentrate on pulling strongly, close to his legs and body, this will probably resolve itself. In all likelihood, the amount of pull back, or “S”, is dependant on the lifter’s structure, though why anyone should deny the evidence before his eyes that champions pull back is more than I can understand.
Incidentally, many – perhaps most men – will find that their best power clean will not exceed their best press by many pounds. It is of great benefit to the press, as well as to the quick lifts, to practice power cleans as described; when a controlled, “solid” clean is made, the press always seems easier. Strong pressers often fail when a sloppy clean causes them to move around unnecessarily, draining both strength and confidence.
When training on power cleans, as in other power exercises, low repetitions (3-2) and single efforts will produce best results. Assuming a top press of 200 lbs. and a clean and jerk of 250 in split or squat style, a lifter might work up as follows: 175-3, 185-3, 195-2, 205-1 or 2, and then do singles in 10- and 5-lb. jumps until he reaches his limit. If the man has good lifting technique, his power clean limit may be about 215-220. If he has trouble with 205, he definitely needs more power work, and if he can get up over 230 with a properly performed power clean, he probably can increase his clean and jerk by more attention to lifting technique.
High Pulls (The High Deadlift)
After reaching a limit power clean, it is a good idea to go on with power pulling in partial movements. At one time, this exercise was called the “high dead lift” and lifters usually selected weights they could pull to belt height. Belt height is still a good reference point, since the transfer value of the exercise is probably slight when the weight can’t be pulled to this point. Lighter weights, but more weight than the lifter can power clean, should be pulled HIGHER.
The high pullup is performed like the power clean, with the exception that the lifter does not (can not) catch the weight at his chest. Instead, he keeps his elbows up and simply touches the bar to the front of his body as high as possible. A weight 10-20 lbs. heavier than a limit power clean should be pulled high enough to touch the bottom of the pectoral muscles. The lifter should then continue to add weight in 10-lb. jumps, pulling as high as possible in sets of 2’s and singles. When he can no longer get the bar to belt height, he may well move on to another exercise; a man who can clean 250 lbs. ought to be finishing this exercise with 300 lbs. or more.
Pulling Assistance Exercises, Summary
An effective assistance exercise routine to gain strength for weightlifting is to work up to a limit single power clean from sets of 3 and 2 repetitions with lighter weights; then continue to add weight in 10-lb. jumps and perform partial high pulls until the weight gets so heavy it cannot be pulled to belt height.
PRESSING ASSISTANCE EXERCISES
Believe it or not, there are still a few competing weightlifters who tend to sneer at “bodybuilding” exercises to build pressing power. If these men would put to the test a period of training during which heavy supine and inclined pressing supplemented their regular overhead press, they would soon find that these assistance moves are valuable. I doubt that an exact amount can be assigned to expectation of improvement after, say, a month of heavy work on the flat and inclined benches, but if any of the topnotch pressers fail t make use of one or both of these exercises – with results that speak for themselves – I’m not aware of it. Again, the greatest benefit will come from working in sets of 3 and 2 repetitions up to heavy singles. Higher repetitions may add more to the tissue mass of the arms, shoulders, and pectorals, but it is doubtful if they contribute as well to the explosive drive needed to move heavy weights.
A man pressing 200 lbs. probably could start with about 185 lbs. for 3 reps and work up to about 230-250, at least, in the flat bench press. When working muscles on an incline, he is very unlikely at first to be able to handle as much weight as he can press standing. Once he learns to find the groove comfortably, however, he will soon be able to press more against the back rest than in the free standing position. Obviously, a steep angle is an advantage in transfer value to regular pressing, for once a an works up to substantially beyond his best regular press at 45 degrees or more, he is bound to improve in the competitive lift. The angle – despite what the rules say – is very near to that assumed by national and world champions as they heave, push, and bend during contests!
Pressing Assistance Exercises, Summary
Heavy, low-rep barbell pressing, on flat and inclined benches, is a valuable supplement to build power for the standing press. Not only do these assistance exercises accustom the muscles to working against heavier weights than can be pressed standing, but they have a beneficial psychological effect in making heavier weights feel “light.”
SQUATS AND PARTIAL BENDS
Most weightlifters consider the squat a “must” assistance exercise. The value of doing low rep squats – again no more than 5 repetitions and preferably 2 to 3 – with a weight heavier than a lifter’s best clean is evident. The transfer value of doing this exercise with the weight held at the chest in front of the neck is especially obvious in the case of squat-style lifters. There is a question, however, of how much weight should be handled over the lifter’s best clean; possibly a margin of 20-50 lbs. may be adequate. It’s likely many lifters work to greater poundages in squats than they need for maximum competitive efficiency.
Another valuable squatting type assistance exercise is the partial squat – about ¼ knee bend – with heavy weights both in front and back of the neck. Short dips in sets of 5 reps with a weight 20 to as much as 100 lbs. more than the lifter can jerk will develop jerking power and a psychological felling that heavy weights are “light.”
The assistance exercises described above are not intended as a complete, exclusive list of power moves for use by weightlifters – there are other good ones, such as dumbell presses and flip snatches to mention only two – but they are among the best and can be used in the manner and order described. There are others that should be employed to correct specific deficiencies, but these are subjects for other articles. Because of time and energy limitations, many lifters today practice the press and snatch in one workout, and the press and the clean and jerk in another. Power presses, squats, and partial squats can be practiced, in that order, after a workout on the specific lifts. When these exercises are practiced intensively, less weight need be employed in the competitive lifts, where more attention can be given to form, speed, and timing. If the full routine or power moves is too exhausting or time-consuming, they can be broken up into different training sessions. One way of doing this is as follows:
Press, Snatch, High Pull, Squat, Bench Press
Press, Power Clean, Clean, Quarter Squat, Incline Press
Press, Snatch, Clean & Jerk, High Pull, Bench Press
Any lifter can work out similar programs, emphasizing the power moves he need most to improve his competitive performance.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Olympic Lifting for Powerlifters
by J. V. Askem
Looking at things from the other side of the fence, where if one were a powerlifter and decided to try Olympic lifting, what considerations would need to be addressed? First, the question arises; can an individual train and compete effectively for both power and Olympic meets? The key word in this question is the word “effectively.” This makes the answer to the question “no.” A person should, for the most part, choose one sport and stick with it.
Recently, in a lifting publication, a powerlifter with no Olympic training experience wrote a letter to a prominent Olympic lifting coach. The powerlifter sought advice on whether it was feasible to become an Olympic lifter. The man listed some respectable powerlift poundages which if done by an experienced Olympic lifter would have assisted on some respectable Olympic lifts.
The Olympic lifting coach’s reply was rather discouraging to the powerlifter. He stated that powerlifts did not translate at all to Olympic lifts because of the explosive nature with which Olympic lifts are done. This is not entirely true. Olympic lifting, although it requires more athleticism than powerlifting, is still a strength sport and in most cases the strongest person usually wins.
It becomes obvious at times that some members of the Olympic lifting community are prejudiced in a negative way to powerlifting. A lot of this is due to ignorance because of a lack of serious exposure to powerlifting. Also, the powerlifting community is somewhat to blame for these prejudices by making a sham out of their own sport with all the ridiculous wraps and support gear. This, combined with several organizations claiming jurisdiction over powerlifting, has greatly compromised its credibility with a lot of Iron Game purists. It has now unfortunately gotten to the point where some members of each sport are practicing a form of athletic snobbery towards each other.
One thing certain about a powerlifter becoming an Olympic lifter is the fact that a lot of patience and perseverance will be required. As discussed in my previous article, discontinuing bench pressing and adding a lot of flexibility work are a must. However, the biggest change will be in how the muscles are developed above the belt.
If a powerlifter expects to become a successful Olympic lifter, a psychological change will have to take place in the muscles surrounding the scapulothoracic joint (See Figure 3). In powerlifting, mainly in the bench press, the muscles around the scapulas (shoulder blades) travel in an anterior to posterior direction (back and forth). In Olympic lifting these muscles travel in an inferior to superior direction (down and up). These muscles around the scapulas, the rhomboid minor and major, the levator scapulae, the serratus anterior, along with the trapezius, plus the long head of the triceps (Figure 4), in powerlifting never move or stabilize weights. If one were to look closely at Figures 3 & 4, one would see that the levator scapulae, the rhomboids, and the long head of the tricep are connected directly to the scapulas.
If an individual moves weights over a long period of time, let’s say in anterior direction from the body, then suddenly changes to a movement in a superior direction, the muscles around the scapulas will take some time to adapt to the new movement. Most powerlifters who have been powerlifting for a long time will not have the patience to wait until their bodies adapt to doing Olympic movements comfortably.
Bench pressing puts very little developmental stress on the rhomboids and levator scapulae, and it puts a much different type of stress on the long head of the triceps than an overhead lift. An antagonistic movement to bench pressing like bent barbell rows or seated cable rows will indirectly build size in some of these muscles, but will not develop the vertical prime mover and stabilizing capabilities in them.
The only thing that will accomplish this is overhead lifting, free standing, in essence by doing whole Olympic lifts or a part thereof. It wouldn’t hurt powerlifters at the beginning of their lifting careers to do some form of overhead lifting. Basic movements like freestanding military presses and push presses give the upper body a much better foundation of basic power than the usual horizontal champ movements.
Also, some explosive movements like high pulls or power cleans could very well help a powerlifter out of a training rut. I remember my old friend George Frenn did a lot of power cleans. George knew that some explosive movements in his training would help him in his hammer throw. I also believe this transferred over to some of George’s super powerlifts, which included one of the first official 800-lb. deadlifts.
Many powerlifters can deadlift huge poundages, which translates to a fantastic first pull for a snatch or clean. However, it usually ends there, at about 16 to 18 inches of vertical movement from the floor. In a snatch or clean, the movement doesn’t end there. To effectively clean a weight, a second pull sometimes equal to the distance of the first pull (deadlift) is needed again, and in the snatch at least two times more vertical height of distance is needed. Also, to get this extra vertical height requires an explosive movement rather than a static movement.
In powerlifting, lifters use simple compound static (slow and deliberate) movements in their lifts. Years of this type of movement by the muscles could make it more difficult to move weights in an explosive manner.
As an example, a little over 20 years ago I had the privilege of training with one of the more proficient powerlifters of that time, Marv Philips. Marv was a rather fun guy who was game to try anything new that could help his lifting. He was a tremendously strong man with a very imposing physique.
During this particular workout that comes to mind, Marv asked if I had any suggestions on how to improve his deadlift. I suggested that he try to improve his second pull like Olympic lifters do. One exercise I recommended was the power clean from the hang (above the knee). So we loaded 205 lbs. on the bar for some light cleans. I pointed out that it was imperative that he deep the bar close to the body in this exercise. I said, “Shrug with the traps in an explosive manner to accelerate the bar in a vertical position.”
Well, Marv proceeded and the results were rather ugly but at the same time awesome. He proceeded to shrug the barbell upwards. When it reached the height of his sternum his natural instinct was to try and pull the bar the rest of the way with arm power. However, because of his tremendous arm girth, the bar just stopped. I said, “Try another rep, if you can’t shrug the bar high enough to rack it on the shoulders, dip down into a quarter front squat and whip your elbows under the bar.” Well, this was easier said than done. Once again, Marv’s monstrous arms, arms that most bodybuilders would have given their eyeteeth for, got in the way.
After half a dozen futile tries, Marv was getting a little PO’d. What he did next knocked me over with amazement. He displayed on of the most impressive demonstrations of pure arm strength I have ever seen. He literally did a reverse curl with 205 lbs. His bodyweight at that time was between 215 and 220 lbs.
Muscling up Olympic lifts with raw power is not new. A lot of the oldtimers years ago had atrocious technique compared to today’s standards. However, to be successful today in Olympic lifting, one must develop an efficient technique. Having large muscular girths in the deltoid and arm area does not mean a lifter can’t develop sufficient flexibility to snatch and c&j big weights.
I am not convinced that my friend Marv could not have eventually mastered doing power cleans. Others have done it and been successful. An example is bodybuilding legend Sergio Oliva. Some might remember that the former Mr. Olympia was an accomplished Olympic lifter. When I first saw Sergio in the 1965 Mr. America contest, the announcer said he had done lifts that had totaled 1000 lbs. including around a 400-lb. clean and jerk. Sergio proved some of his stuff a year later by easily placing in the AAU Junior Nationals with a total of over 900 lbs.
Another power bodybuilder with impressive girths who later became a prominent Olympic lifter was Phil Grippaldi. Before he retired from Olympic lifting, Phil clean and jerked over 450 lbs. at 198 lbs. bodyweight.
Back in the old days, prior to 1972, the press was the king of the lifts in American Olympic lifting. It was not uncommon for some Olympic lifters to spend as much as 50% of their training on pressing movements. any of these press-oriented lifters cross trained simultaneously for both Olympic and power meets. The presence of some of these power-oriented lifters sometimes made for some very interesting Olympic lifting competitions. Invariably what would happen was the pressers would take an early lead. Then the quick lifters, the snatch and c&j specialists, would have to play catch up. This made for some very interesting cat and mouse games that added more to the drama in Olympic lifting.
Olympic lifting and powerlifting used to be joined at the hip. When the press was discontinued, American Olympic lifting suffered immensely. Many lifters switched to powerlifting exclusively. Also since that time, Olympic lifters do little or no concentric (positive resistance) pressing movements. In fact Olympic lifters don’t even get any eccentric (negative resistance) pressing work due to their inherent habit of dropping the barbell. This had made Olympic lifters rotator cuffs more supple than before and widened the gap between Olympic lifting and powerlifting. This gap did not have to be widened, and it is the bench press that is the big wedge in this gap.
In the early days of powerlifting in the 1960’s, a number of lifters competed in both sports. at times it was hard to tell which sport was their primary forte. Former 148-lb national champion Larry Mintz was also a national champion in powerlifting. Homer Branum in the 165-lb class did likewise. However, to really encourage any powerlifters who may have the inclination to delve into Olympic lifting, one can’t leave out the story of Ernie Pickett (sometimes known as George Pickett).
Ernie was responsible for probably the biggest upset in U.S. Olympic lifting history. In 1967 Ernie was a nationally ranked superheavy in powerlifting. In 1968 he decided to concentrate most of his efforts on Olympic lifting. The results of Ernie’s efforts were catastrophic for one particular heavyweight, Bob Bednarski.
At the Senior National Olympic Lifting Championships, American heavyweight, Bob Bednarski shattered the American record in the total. He also clean and jerked a world record of over 480 lbs. At that point Bob was touted as the only heavyweight in the world who was capable of challenging the big Russian, Leonid Zhabotinsky, for an Olympic gold medal at the Mexico City games.
Well, as fate would have it, Bednarski stumbled at the Olympic trials several weeks later. Bob had an off day and Ernie Pickett had the best lifting day of his life. The results were, Ernie went to the Olympics and Bob stayed home. This would not have happened if Ernie had just been satisfied to sit back on his laurels as a nationally ranked powerlifter.
The defeat by Ernie Pickett in 1968 took a lot of the fight out of Bob Bednarski and was the beginning of the end of his lifting career. Even though Bob won the World’s Championships a year later in the then-new 242-lb. class, he never reached the level of excellence he showed at the 1968 Senior Nationals.
Powerlifters can become proficient in Olympic lifting if they have the desire. Coaching on modern lifting technique should be sought. With the right attitude and handling, who knows, maybe there is another Pickett out there among the great stable of American powerlifters.
Powerlifting for Olympic Lifters
by J. V. Askem
If you are an Olympic lifter, and the weights feel heavy coming off the floor or you have difficulty ascending from your squat cleans, considering some of a powerlifter’s routine warrants your attention. In short, there is probably something in your training that power movements may be able to correct.
Regarding the first pull off the floor: The first pull of a snatch or clean is nothing more than a deadlift. A weak first pull, even if you succeed, will many times put you in a position to ineffectively negotiate a smooth second pull. If the weight is out of the groove when you shift gears, failure can occur at the racked position in the clean or overhead in the snatch.
Nowadays a preferred method of training deadlifts by powerlifters is to accelerate the barbell as soon as it leaves the floor. The intent is to lift the weight as fast as possible and apply 100% effort even if you are lifting a lower percentage of a maximum single. This is a good way to train a deadlift whether you are an Olympic lifter or a powerlifter. However, if you are an Olympic lifter you should be careful not to do certain things that powerlifters do.
First, Olympic lifters should stay away from the sumo deadlift. It is imperative that you deadlift exactly as if you were pulling a clean. Second, use your regular hook clean grip. Part of the reason for doing deadlifts is to build up your gripping strength. If you can get capable of doing 200 to 300 lbs. over your clean in the deadlift, then you will gain an extra psychological edge when the weights are dropped down to cleaning poundages. Also, a big deadlift gives you more deliberate control off of the floor with your snatches and cleans.
THIRD, AND MOST IMPORTANT, when doing deadlifts you should maintain the same hips to the rear, back flat, shoulders ahead of the barbell position as if you were going to do a clean. If your snatch is also weak coming off the floor, then the same practice should be applied except with a wider, snatch grip.
One popular method used by powerlifters is to deadlift 70 to 80% of a maximum single, doing 10 to 15 singles with only 45 to 60 seconds rest between sets. I used a similar routine in 1972 when I twice broke the California state deadlift record. I personally never deadlifted over 85% of my maximum in training.
In issues of “Milo” powerlifter Louis Simmons has been advocating that Olympic lifting could be improved if American Olympic lifters trained with some of his training principles. Mr. Simmons’ articles do warrant some attention. In fact, a lot of the training principles that his lifters use were adopted from Eastern European Olympic lifters who developed these principles from the mid-1960’s to mid-1970’s.
It’s ironic, but a small group of powerlifters in mid-America continue to win championships and set records using Olympic training principles, yet American Olympic lifting seems to be slipping further into oblivion. Mr. Simmons and his Westside Barbell Club have found that doing just 60% of maximum on squats, bench presses and deadlifts, and then pushing to 100% max’s on assistance exercises for these lifts, gets the best results.
However, Olympic lifting is a bit different. Deadlifting in powerlifting is a whole competitive lift, whereas in Olympic lifting it is an assistance exercise that works just a portion of a lift. Training all the time at 60% on Olympic lifts would be too light. The reason is, Olympic lifts are multiple compound movements or several different exercises run together into one lift. What might be 60% on one part of a lift might drop to only 30% on another part.
Doing 70 to 90 % on snatches and clean and jerks and even close to 100% just prior to a contest is more in line with what the top Olympic lifters are doing today. However, if an Olympic lifter were several months out from a competition, snatching and clean and jerking at a lighter weight and pushing max’s on assistance exercises that work a portion of Olympic movements would probably be more warranted.
The assistance exercises that an individual chooses are up to the individual. For example, working up to maximum on explosive assistance movements like snatch pulls or power cleans off of blocks should strengthen the second pull. Pulling a max on a flat back deadlift with a shrug should build up the first pull. Also, limit attempts on drop snatches and jerk recoveries should strengthen the overhead position.
It has also been recommended by Mr. Simmons that assistance exercises be changed every three weeks to avoid staleness. This shows a lot of common sense. However it doesn’t hurt to stick with something a little longer. All individuals are different. A quick rotation on exercises every few weeks may work for some but not for others. Give your training routine a chance to work.
When doing non-explosive movements like good mornings, back raises, stiff-legged deadlifts, hack squats, etc., it would probably be better to work to maximum with repetition sets rather than singles. It is important to circulate a lot of blood into exercised areas. Doing low reps too often could have a negative effect in the long run. One does not want to end up like some old-time lifters with osteoarthritis.
Regarding bench pressing for Olympic lifters: Since the clean and press was discontinued in 1972, bench pressing for Olympic lifters is virtually useless. Prior to 1972, bench pressing with a shoulder width or close grip was helpful for the Olympic press. However even back then there were negative effects. Bench pressing overworks the anterior deltoids and pectoralis muscles. This develops tightness in the shoulder area and could force your overhead position in the snatch and jerk forward. Bench press lockouts are done by some Olympic lifters but lockout done with the body in a vertical position betters simulates Olympic lifting.
When analyzing the squat one might ask, does training the squat like a powerlifter work for Olympic lifters? The answer is yes, but there are some dangerous shortcomings that need to be addressed. The main reason that an Olympic lifter works on squats is to make ascending from snatches and cleans easier. This secondarily works the first pull and also makes jerking easier.
In 1971, I started a high box/low box squat routine developed by Bill “Peanuts” West and George Frenn at the original Westside Barbell Club in Culver City, California. George Frenn at that time was one of the best powerlifters in the world. He held the American record and unofficial world record of 853 lbs. in the 242-lb. class. In fact, at the time he set this record, it was higher than the super-heavy’s record. Under George’s supervision, I made immediate gains in my squat. These gains, although not linear, transferred over to my front squat. This high box/low box routine is still used by powerlifters today and has even been improved upon, namely by Louis Simmons and his Ohio Westside Barbell Club.
If Olympic lifters use a powerlifter’s squat routine they should use extreme caution. The reason is, when one hits a low squat clean or squat snatch, one’s hip rotators (See Figure 1) get stretched to their maximum. These hip rotators (priformus, gemelli, obturators, and quadratus) do not get stretched or used in this way in a powerlift squat.
Many powerlifters use a wide stance that locks their hips at a parallel squat position. Other powerlifters who use a closer stance rely on wraps and support gear to assist the hip and leg muscles in stopping at parallel. This parallel squat position that powerlifters use can be as much as six inches or more above the depth that an Olympic lifter hits in a low squat clean.
The problem with doing parallel or box squats is that the hip rotators and even the glutes (Figure 2) can get accustomed to doing these shorter distance movements. These shorter movements shorten the developing muscle fibers, and they become more susceptible to injury when stretched.
Another factor an Olympic lifter needs to take into consideration when doing powerlifter squats is the change in the center of gravity of the barbell. Muscles in the lower back and hips that are usually used as stabilizers now come more into play as prime movers. Olympic lifters do all their lifting from the front side of their bodies. When doing a back-sided squat, the normal center of gravity changes. Long trunked/short legged individuals when doing back-sided squats generally can maintain a relatively upright position. These individuals can usually stimulate working the same muscles in the same way needed to ascend from a squat clean.
However, short trunked/long legged individuals generally have to lean forward when backside squatting. This throws stress in the backside muscles (glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors). These muscles, particularly the spinal erectors, now take on a role as prime movers more than stabilizers. Too much backside squatting in this manner can throw the squat clean racked position forward.
Using a wide powerlifter’s stance can assist an individual in maintaining a more upright position. However, the negative side of this is that you won’t be able to get into the normal low position you’d be used to in a squat clean.
To maintain a good degree of muscle flexibility to avoid injuries, an Olympic lifter should do at least 50% of all his squats as low as he would go in a limit squat clean or snatch. Doing higher short distance squats up to about 25% of the time is fine for an occasional overload to get your body accustomed to heavier weights, but done too often like a powerlifter will impede your flexibility and could lead to an injury. I say this from personal experience.
In 1972 while pulling a power snatch, I injured my left piriformus muscle. My hip rotators had been stretched to their maximum during a squat clean workout a few days before. I had some residual soreness from that workout and ignored it. Many lifters have felt the same way I did figuring they could work out the soreness.
Well, it wasn’t to be, and I got an injury that took me a year to recover from. It also took me two more years to get back to where I was before in my lifting. No athlete can afford to lose three years. I feel this mishap was a direct result of box and parallel squatting. In retrospect had I done more stretching, and hip and back care work, I might have averted this injury.
However, also in retrospect, I feel I really didn’t need all of this extra squatting. Adding 100 to 200 lbs. to your squat will not necessarily increase your snatch or c&j. I remember George Frenn never lifted any more on his Olympic lifts when he did a 700-lb. squat as opposed to an 853-lb. squat. My own c&j went up only eight lbs. when my squat went from 400 to 500 lbs. In fact, George could out-squat me by 200 to 300 lbs. anytime, yet our c&j’s were usually no more than about five to 10 lbs. apart. There is such a thing as a saturation point in squatting power for Olympic lifters.
If you can squat 10 to 15% over your best c&j for five reps, then you have nothing to worry about. A failure in a lift will not be because of a lack of squatting power. Another good comparison is a front squat of five reps equal to your best c&j. Front squats should be done in the same position and depth as your squat clean.
Another good indicator of squatting power for cleans is the no-hand front squat. This exercise will train you to sit upright while squatting. Bumper plates or spotters are recommended when doing this exercise. If you cheat even a little, the barbell will end up on the floor.
No-hand front squats are an excellent lower quad builder. Doing these in sets of two to five reps works well. You will probably handle a lot less weight in this than a hands-on front squat. However, don’t let that discourage you. If you can handle one repetition in a no-hands front squat with the same weight you can clean, you could probably spend more time on another weak point in your training and less time on squatting.
No matter how you are built of how deep you squat, everyone needs to stretch before commencing his training. A good exercise to stretch the hip rotators is to lie on the floor and pull each leg one at a time to your chest. Hold each position on each leg 10 to 30 seconds about five times on each leg. Side lunges held for five to 10 seconds are also a good pre-workout stretching exercise.
Regarding post, hack machine, Smith machine and sissy squats where the feet are in a position out ahead of the rest of the body: These, with the exception of post squats, are popular with bodybuilders and the yuppie pump-artist set. This is because there is less glute involvement in these movements. The vanity of some people prevents them from doing conventional squatting. To put it bluntly, they think they are going to get a big ass. Also, a machine can be a crutch for maintaining balance. Too much machine work or movements foreign to Olympic movements should be avoided.
As a final overview of Olympic lifters doing powerlift movements: Whether you are an Olympic lifter or a powerlifter, a common sense approach to training is to work on your weaknesses. Olympic lifting and powerlifting have evolved into two different ball games and the overlap in training is marginal. However, they are still strength sports and some of the training principle of one can be applied to the other.
For more by J. V. Askem -
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- Powerlifting For Olympic Lifters - J. V. Askem
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