Sunday, June 1, 2008

The King Of Lifts - Bob Hoffman

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The King Of Lifts
by Bob Hoffman (1937)

In International competition five lifts are the basis. One hand snatch, one hand clean and jerk, two hands press, two hands snatch and two hands clean and jerk. These five lifts, plus the bent-press, are the six lifts which we urge all barbell men to practice, at least occasionally. Owing to the unusual length of a lifting program consisting of the five international lifts, the Olympic three, two hands press, two hands snatch and two hands clean and jerk are commonly employed in competition the world over.

In England, forty-two lifts are recognized and at times used in competition. For a listing of the United States All-Round Weightlifting Lifts and Rules of performance go here –

Of this comparatively great number of lifts, three have been variously known as “The King of Lifts.” The bent press, with which most men can “put up” more weight with the one arm press than with two, in which the real experts have been able to press more than they could clean and jerk. For instance, Arthur Saxon, the great strongman of the early years of this century, who died right after the war, holds official records of 371 lbs. in the bent press and 350 in the clean and jerk. The strongest men in European countries were usually those who could elevate the greatest poundage in the two hands continental jerk. There was a club in Vienna which required for membership the ability to elevate to arm’s length more than three hundred pounds in the Continental jerk style. Turck, Steinbach, and then Swoboda pushed this record up near the 400 pound mark. After the weight was lifted to the shoulder, Swoboda jerked 448 pounds to arm’s length. It was a great lift and with that style the huge, heavy and usually corpulent strongmen of the last century could elevate the most weight. Usually, they could not bend enough to bent press nor could they bring much weight to the shoulder in one clean movement. There are many who think that this lift is “The King of Lifts.”

And others feel the same way about the two hands clean and jerk. In Russia there is a club where the requirement for membership is the official performance of a two hands clean and jerk with 300 pounds. Such a rule in our country would have meant a very exclusive club indeed, until the last year or two. Perhaps a score of men would be members with Bill Good of the York team the first and the man who has done it most frequently, and Anthony Terlazzo, the lightest man to succeed in this style, Johnny Terpak, who had done double bodyweight in the clean and jerk a number of times, Dick Bachtell who has the same feat to his credit, Dave Mayor, Weldon Bullock, the youngest man in the world to do it and a few other men would be members. The list grows. But it still would be the most exclusive club in America. I always have insisted that a really high class clean and jerk requires more physical qualities than any other lift. A greater combination of speed, skill, strength, coordination, balance and nervous energy than any other event in the entire line of games or athletics. There is first the terrific, fast effort of getting the weight to the shoulders, then almost immediately just as great, just as supreme an effort to get the weight overhead. Then holding it for the count and finally lowering it to the ground.

In spite of my liking for these three lifts – bent press, two hands clean and jerk, and two hands continental jerk, there is still another lift which I believe deserves to rank with these. The two hands snatch is the lift I make reference to. I often wonder if this one lift has not done more for weightlifting and humanity than any other one lift.

I say more for weightlifting, for it was this lift most of all which brought weightlifting from a sport in which ponderous pachyderms of men were supreme, to a fast, skillful sport, where speed and strength combined in the stars at this lift, to make the world’s most athletic men, to a sport which is interesting to thousands of spectators at important contests throughout the world.

I say has done more for humanity than any other lift because in my opinion the practice of this lift develops more desirable physical qualities than does any other exercise or lift. It is a lift which requires strength and the coordination of every muscle of the body. When practiced as a repetition exercise it stimulates the entire body, inside and out. As I mentioned in my article, Modern Physical Training versus Old Time Methods, this is a lift which provides great mental and physical stimulation. It is a lift which causes a change in the entire body, an exercise which improves metabolism and assimilation. Which makes real changes in a man’s entire body, so that he will be powerful, shapely, enduring and strong and have perfect working internal processes. A single attempt in the lift, as in competition, does not have the same value which is obtained through practice of the lift with repetitions up to ten.

A description of the lift sounds simple. “The bar bell shall be taken from the ground to outstretched arm’s length overhead in one continuous movement. In fixing the bell the legs may be bent to any extent, but to lock the arms by an obvious push shall be counted as cause for disqualification.”

It does sound simple, but there are many little points to remember and to execute which bridge for the lifter the gap between an ordinary performance and a personal record.

First, there are two definite styles. The split, which consists of stepping forward under the weight with one foot and back with the other. A style which apparently originated in England and France. And the squat, which is of German origin. There was a time when there was great argument concerning these two styles. When championships were held in Germany, all who did not squat were disqualified. And when held in France, the squatters were in turn disqualified.

There are many variations of both the squat and the split and the method which is best suited for each lifter is only determined after long and constant practice. Consider some of the styles:

1.) The dive, and pulling the weight directly up as high as possible, then an equal split to the front and rear. Feet held a comfortable distance apart, in the position in which the standing broad jump can most easily be performed. This is the style I prefer, a style which has been used so successfully by members of the York team, who hold all the American records in this style but one and have surpassed world’s records. Complete details later.

2.) The dive with a very wide grip and heels together, knees out. Pulling the bell well to the rear and looking up although stepping somewhat forward.

3.) The get set with a very wide grip, then pulling the weight far back, not moving the front foot at all. This was the style employed by national middleweight champion Stan Kratkowski.

4.) Others step forward entirely with the front foot to make sure of getting the weight back.

5.) At one time in Germany, those who were not really suited for the squat style of snatch and were not so constructed physically that they could squat on flat feet would squat while balanced on toes. This was the style which Henry Steinborn, now the strongest man in wrestling, used to set world’s records. It is an uncertain style in three-attempt competition, but for world’s record attempts in which ten lifts are permitted a record might result, as it did permit the lowering of the body to the extreme position.

6.) There is the style used by Bob Mitchell and Dick Bachtell, where the get set style is used; with the arms fairly wide apart, the lifter drops on his heels with flat feet. Bob set a world’s record with this style.

7.) There is the method used by Bill Good and Gord Venables. The feet are held somewhat wider apart, the knees turned out, the body leans well forward at the completion of the lift, the bar is held with arms wide apart and goes far to the rear at the completion of the lift.

8.) There are half squats in which the legs are split somewhat to the side as well as forward and back.

In fact, in this country there are almost as many lifting styles in the two hands snatch as there are lifters. For aside from the styles mentioned there are so many small points of difference in the styles leading use.

I have said that Bob Mitchell has the best style of all, but it is suited for the few. He held the world’s record at 235 in the lightweight class, and has narrowly missed 245 in practice, one arm straight, the other almost so. But I prefer the style with which Johnny Terpak lifts, and with which he has been having great success. it is the style I use myself and have urged al lifters to us for the years that I have been teaching lifting and weight training.

I have done a great deal of experimenting with lifting styles, especially in the two hands snatch. There was a time back in 1931 when the bar we still use regularly in our training was new, when I made a one hand snatch of 160 pounds and a two hands snatch of only 175. I used the full squat in the one hand snatch and a close grip in the two hands snatch with the split. This was the way the lift was taught years ago, until I learned from constant experimenting that there were better ways. With the close grip the weight in the case of my six foot three inch body had to be pulled so high into the air that a credible lift was not possible.

Next I used a style almost directly opposite. I never could squat, so all my lifting has been done with variations of the split. The widest possible grip, with the heels together and the knees well out. I found that I could do about the same in this style with the get set or the dead hang, and made a record for myself of 217 in the professional championships of 1933. This lifting was done with the dead hang style. This came at the end of my special twenty weeks training, during which I trained very hard and faithfully, so the irregular and often infrequent training of the ensuing years did not register such a gain in pounds, but did prove that other styles were easier for me. I used the dive style, very wide grip, heels together and again made 215. In 1935 at the December show I used the dive with the feet rather wide apart instead of heels together and still a wide grip. I succeeded with 220, narrowly missing 225 eight times. And in the December, 1936, lifting I used a grip of my first years of lifting, kept my feet in a comfortable position about a foot apart, and made my best life-time snatch, with the dead hang method, 222 ½. This had been a hectic year, with irregular training and this performance proved that my 1936 style is definitely superior to others for myself and for the majority.

Just before writing this story, Johnny Terpak, bodyweight 157 on this occasion, made a perfect snatch of 241. This is the highest lift ever made in America by a man of his weight. Joe Fiorito, national 118 pound champion, also of the York team, holder of the world’s record in that class, had been coming up with the same style and succeeded with 180. Art Levan, ten times national champion in the 126 pound class, in December was coming very close to a 215 pound snatch. Anthony Terlazzo uses almost the same identical style. As a featherweight, rather ounces over the featherweight limit, he exceeded the world’s record in that class while winning his world’s title in Berlin. In the 148 pound class the record is held by Bob Mitchell with the style as described. Stan Kratkowski made his national middleweight record in 1932 with the style also mentioned. Bill Good with his half squat holds the light heavy record at 259 and the heavyweight American record at 264.

The lifts of the smaller York champions are sensational with the style about to be described, and I feel that it is the world’s best style for most men.

Let’s watch John Terpak perform this lift. He is quick and athletic, possesses unusual nervous energy. He approaches the bar quickly and with a slight shifting of the feet prepares to go for the bar. He stands as close to the bar as he can without touching it when he dives for it. His feet are not more than six inches apart at the heel, the toes ever so slightly turned out. (The position of the feet that permits the best record in the standing broad jump is the one to use.) He stands with the legs slightly bent, the back arched in. He holds the hands as wide apart as he expects to grasp. His hands turned in slightly. He gazes at the bar as he prepares to go for it.

He takes two or three deep breaths in quick succession, then like a flash moves for the bar. But he finds it without looking at it, for keeping the head well up makes it easier to lower the buttocks, which in turn makes it possible to position closer to the bar. The back is curved well in and there should be as much slope as possible when grasping the bar. That is, the shoulders should be much higher than the buttocks.

The lift is started with the arms straight but not stiff, the legs and back start the bar moving. It is well not to grasp the bar too fast but to make sure of your grip and the position of the body. The arms serve as ropes with hooks on the end until the weight passes the knees. Then there is real speed, terrific effort, and a mighty second pull. The wrists have been turned in slightly during the progress of the lift, the weight is kept very close to chest and lifted straight up. As it reaches the highest possible point, the body is suddenly lowered, the hands are flipped backwards which throws the bell well behind the head, the head itself is thrust forward. This flip of the hands is most important, helps the body go into a very low position and prevents losing many an otherwise good snatch.

The lifter has stepped well forward, most of the weight is on the front foot, it bends so that the knee is in front of the foot. You might call the extreme low position sort of a one legged squat, for a very low position is reached.

This is as well as the written word can describe the movements. Johnny has to be seen in action to be appreciated. The lift is done apparently like a flash, in one rapidly coordinated movement. You see the weigh on the floor, and suddenly it is overhead in a perfect snatch. Speed and power are so necessary in this lift.

Constant practice, hard work, and repetitions, repetitions and repetitions are the way to skill on this lift. The repetitions are usually made with the hang style. as many as ten with lighter weights, then gradually reduced numbers as the heavier weights are approached. The Egyptians, even a man like Touni who holds the world’s record of 264 in the middleweight class would start as low as 154, performing repetitions in ten pound jumps until the maximum poundage for that training day was attained.

Strive to move the feet as fast as possible. Step forward with a bang, keep the weight on the front foot. Keep the back flat, pull the weight in close to the chest with the wrists bent in slightly, flip them back as the weight reaches the highest point. When you begin to tire you will go lower and lower, step farther forward and the body will naturally assume the position which permits the greatest poundage to be handled.

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