Sunday, September 19, 2010

Experiments in Strength Building - Harry Paschall

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Experiments in Strength Building
by Harry Paschall (1951)

Just previous to the last War, Roger Eells lived next door to me in Columbus, Ohio. Both of us were avid barbell men and we had an outdoor gymnasium in my backyard which came to contain many weird and outlandish pieces of muscle and power building apparatus. We constructed a lifting platform of 2” x 10” planks, which suffered such vigorous assaults in the interest of lifting science that it had to be recovered several times, and when I finally had it dug up and carted away, the planks were four thick.

To this backyard came visitors from all around the country, and we have many memories of happy afternoons spent puffing, tugging and perspiring to our heart’s content under a broiling summer sun in company with some of the finest fellows we have ever been privileged to know. Among our visitors were two eminent scientists of the W/L world, Joseph Curtis Hise and Chris Dinkelaker, whose fertile brains were responsible for man of the accessory gadgets we constructed to help build bigger muscles and lift more weight.

Both of these geniuses were typical of the inventive type. They were basically opposed to hard physical labor, and their mental efforts were devoted to taking the “pain” out of bodybuilding and weightlifting. To Mr. Hise belongs the credit for one of our “strength-making machines” which soon became anathema to all the long-suffering neighbors living within a half-mile radius of our home. This was the now-celebrated “Hopper” for performing bouncing dead lifts.

This was a platform constructed of heavy wooden planks (hard wood), two planks on each side, spaced so the discs of the bar would fall upon them when the bell was lowered. These planks were bolted at each end to four-inch blocks, so they had a four inch open space beneath them along their whole length. Thus when a weight “dropped” to these boards they would bend and “bounce”, thus imparting an upward impetus to the barbell, and start it on its way without subjecting the lifter to the “pain” of a dead starting pull.

I will never forget our first trial with this piece of weightlifting skullduggery. Our first rebounding plank was constructed of a rather thin piece of hickory, selected for its toughness (as boys we made bows from this wood to practice archery) and springiness. On the auspicious day we finished construction and loaded up a barbell to try out the new apparatus, one of the smaller fellows loaded up a weight of 250 pounds, and did a set of four or five dead lifts. The bell hit the hopper with a resounding “thud” that brought neighbors’ heads out of windows all up and down the block. As the lifter continued to bend forward and back and bounce the weight on the platform, the resulting “bong, bong, bong” made in contact sounded as if a flight of bombers were dropping a series of A-bombs and making direct hits.

We were too thrilled and excited with the joys of accomplishment and the pursuit of science to pay any attention to the now vocal protests of the neighbors. The first user of the apparatus stepped down and we asked him how it worked. “Fine,” he replied. “It certainly makes it easier to do dead lifts – you can’t feel a thing in the small of the back after the first rep.” Anxious to get in on the act we shoved the smaller fellow off the precious platform and grabbed the weight ourselves. The thought flashed fleeting through our pulsing cerebellum, “Ah! Weightlifting history is being made!” Seizing the bar in eager hands we straightened up, then, eager to get a really authentic response from the hopper, we hurled the bar down with all the power in our overwrought body . . . WHAM!

The next thing we knew we were pulling the weight down into our shoulders from a high clean! The 250 pound bar had bounded so high that any sort of deadlift was entirely out of the question. Besides this there was a twang of splitting wood, and just about the time we pulled in the barbell, two broken pieces of hickory whizzed by our ears! It was something like the medical joke, “The operation was successful but the patient died.”

Later we secured a heavier plank and attached it to the hopper, and it worked fine thereafter, but we were forced to discontinue our practice with it for several reasons, the only one which matters here being that there happened to be local laws dealing with noise-making and creating a neighborhood disturbance. However, we found that by placing a solid 4x4 plank on the sides of the hopper instead of a plank with air space beneath it, and covering this with a section of rubber, that we got all the benefit of a hopper without the noise. A trick which William Boone, the Tennessee strength star who does 725 lb. deadlifts, duplicated by digging a hole in the ground so that the strain is eliminated. The hard part of a dead lift is the first six or eight inches, and by simply putting your 18” disc bell up on blocks 6 to 8” high, you eliminate this difficult and dangerous stage.

Little John Terry, the 132 lb. American star of the pre-war York team, was barely five feet tall, and he made a dead lift of 610 lbs. Because there was such a short distance from the ground to his knees, the ordinary 18” barbell constituted for him about the same apparatus as our revised hopper. He liked to do dead lifts (as who wouldn’t if they were painless) and this paid off to the extent that he was able to do a 220 lb. snatch.

Joe Hise once came to Columbus dragging with him a pair of strangely twisted kettlebell handles which he claimed made it possible to do see-saw presses (alternate dumbell presses) without pain. We tried them, and noted no effect whatever, because our shoulders were so constructed that ordinary handles are not at all painful to us. The same thing proved true of the recently invented “curl-bar” which is claimed to give better leverage to the average exerciser. In these cases it is a case of “one man’s meat being another man’s poison”, because to many weight men these inventions have proved satisfactory.

In these hallowed precincts several of the leading theories regarding breathing were born. Roger Eells, possibly because of his long bout with tuberculosis, was strong for scientific breath control, and experiments on breathing in from 3 to 20 times between each squat were constantly in progress, again to the marked distress of non-combatants in the vicinity. One chap came around the corner of the house one day and said that from the front lawn it sounded like a school of porpoises blowing. Tales often circulated among the neighbors that we were torturing boys in the backyard. We did prove several things to our own satisfaction; one, that you could press better with full lungs; two, that curls were easier if the air was blown out on the way up; three, that fast squats were better done on full lungs, with the air taken in before dipping and after coming erect.

The contributions of our other sage, Mr. Chris Dinkelaker, were mainly concerned with how to lift more weight . . .

to be continued

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