Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chins, Part Two - David Willoughby

Kenneth Ferguson of Victoria, Australia, supporting a man of his own weight (180 lbs.) whole holding the flag position.

Frank Merrill (Otto Poll) a former National Champion on the Roman rings, was the fifth man to play the role of Tarzan. This was in 1928. Although Merrill's arms measured only 16 3/8 inches, he was one of the best rope climbers ever seen.

Chins – Part Two

by David Willoughby (1979)

Further to the previous discussion of records in chinning, or pullups,

it should be of interest to see how certain other feats related, in their “poundage possibilities” to such pullups. These other feats, or exercises, will be ones that use the chinning muscles, mainly those muscle groups that flex the arms (biceps, etc.), depress the arms (latissimus, etc.), and bring the arms forward and downward (pectoralis, etc.). The exercises or lifts that bring the foregoing muscles into action are, respectively, the two arm curl, lateral raise lying, pull-over at arms’ length, crucifix on rings, and rope climb. Since various weight trainees have made outstanding performances in one or more of these exercises, yet may not have attempted to do the same in chinning, it should be both interesting and appropriate to estimate what such performers could probably have done in chinning if they had given to it the same amount of practice they gave to their other feats. These estimated capabilities can bee made by applying the typical ratios (respective poundage-possibilities) prevailing between various lifts or exercises.

Let us start by considering some of the outstanding lifts that have been made in the two arm military curl with barbell, and see what these lifts, compared with the bodyweights of the performers, indicate as equivalent performances in one and two arm chinning. It is being assumed that all the curling performances here rated were made using straight barbell handles. If a cambered bar is used, about 5% more weight can be lifted. For example, if a performer curls 150 lbs. on a cambered bar, but neglects to state that such a bar was used, it means that if he had used a straight bar he would have curled only 142 or 143 lbs. Yet it is characteristic of many strongmen and weightlifters to state only the amounts of weight that they lifted, without adding various essential details such as the thickness of the barbell or dumbell handles, whether the body was held erect or bent backward, whether (as in various straight-arm lifts) the elbows were completely straightened, and so on. Yet many lifts have been claimed as records, without full details of their performance having been given. To repeat, therefore, in all the lifts or feats herein cited it is assumed that correct techniques have been employed.

In the two arm curl, we may well start with the records made by the Canadian superheavyweight Olympic and Power Lifter, Doug Hepburn, of Vancouver,

1.) At a bodyweight of about 300 lbs. (height 69”), Hepburn in 1956, at “Muscle Beach,” California, made a two arm curl of 135 lbs., 35 times in succession. Assuming that 33 of these repetitions were made in the stated “good style,” they were equivalent to a single curl of at least 260 lbs., which latter weight Hepburn also accomplished on another occasion. A curl of 260 lbs. is equivalent to a two arm chin or pullup with a total poundage, including bodyweight, of 505 lbs. This, in turn, is equivalent to a single one arm chin at a bodyweight of 60% of 505 lbs. or 303 lbs. Thus, on the basis of his curling power, Hepburn was – or theoretically should have been – capable of chinning, at a bodyweight of 300 lbs., once with one arm or 24 or 25 times with both arms. These presumed capabilities would have given him a rating of 1017 points, and would therefore have placed him as No. 7 in the previous table of chinning records.

2.) Another great superheavyweight curler was Al Berger, of Philadelphia. Starting out in 1939 as a championship-class performer at a bodyweight of 190 lbs. or so (height 71.5”), Berger by 1947 had increased his weight to 248 lbs. while carrying little or no excess fat. At the latter bodyweight he performed a correct two arm military curl with 240 lbs. This lift was equivalent to a two arm chin with a total weight (i.e. including bodyweight) or 457 lbs. And the latter two arm chin, or pullup, is equivalent to a one arm chin with a total (including bodyweight) of 274 lbs.; a one arm chin without extra weight, 3 or 4 times in succession; or 38 consecutive chins free two arm chins. The rating is 959 points.

3.) Hermann Goerner, the famous German professional strongman, on September 1, 1932, at Leipzig, performed a correct two arm military curl with a barbell weighing 100 kilos or 220½ lbs. His bodyweight at the time must have been about 270 lbs. This lift was equivalent to a two-arm chin with a total weight of 415 lbs. (i.e. about 145 lbs. in addition to his bodyweight). However, it was also equivalent to only 17 consecutive two arm free chins. But at 270 lbs., Goerner carried about 25 lbs. of extra weight. at 245 lbs. (and the same strength) he should have been capable of about 23 free two arm chins, and so possibly of a single one arm chin. He also did a military curl with a 110¼ lb. kettleweight in each hand. But it is evident that Goerner’s feats of “gymnastic” strength did not equal his wonderful capabilities in grip-strength and deadweight lifting. It may also be that he did not apply his maximum strength in making some of his reputed “best” lifts. His biceps strength, for example, was shown in his feat of lifting a man weighing 336 lbs. off the ground simply by grasping him by the elbows, both men facing in the same direction. Another “curling” feat was, while sitting at a table, to raise a smooth steel ball weighing 100 kilos (220½ lbs.) from the table and to arms’ length overhead simply by pressing his hands against the ball, which had no hand-grips. Goerner was also adept at dropping a heavy barbell from arms’ length overhead and catching it on his bent arms near the elbows. His most mind-boggling feat of this kind was, it is said, to catch a 330 lb. barbell in the crook of one arm! He could also catch the same amount of weight on the back of his neck, which impact immediately turned the straight bar into a cambered one! As a result of the latter feat performed over a period of years, Goerner developed a huge “bump” at the base of his neck, this being the enlarged spinal process of the seventh cervical vertebra.

4.) Turning now to consider a professional gymnast who was highly capable at curling, there was Cliff Byers, of Los Angeles, who was rated No. 9 in the previous list of chinning records for his fine feat of 10 chins with either arm at a bodyweight of 150 lbs. At the same weight, and about the same date (1940) he performed a military curl of 143 lbs. three times in succession. This repetition lift was equivalent to curling 155 lbs. once. However, this curl, fine as it was, has a rating of “only” 850 points, as compared with the 971 points awarded his 10 one arm chins.

5.) Some of the most meritorious performances in curling have naturally been made by men of small size, in whom the cross-sectional real of the muscles relative to bodyweight is greater than in larger men. two such small-sized “curling” experts were Robert Herrick (118 lbs.) and Charles Vinci (123 lbs.). Both men made their records in 1955.

Herrick is credited with a curl of 150 lbs., which has a rating of 1023 points. This lift was fully equivalent to 14 chins with either arm, or to 103 chins with both arms. It should be noted that these estimated capabilities in chinning, which are proportionate to Herrick’s curl of 150 lbs., and which are of extraordinary merit, nevertheless fall considerable short of the 27 right hand chins and 17 left hand chins credited in some quarters to the 95 lb. woman gymnast, Lillian Lietzel, who in the 1920s performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Applying similar methods of comparison, it is found that if Lietzel even equaled Herrick’s rating, it would have been equivalent to her performing a barbell curl with the unlikely amount of 150-118 x 95, or 120 lbs. The point here is that the merit of unfamiliar feats of strength, speed, or any other athletic attribute, in order to be properly evaluated, should be compared with some feat in which the possibilities are definitely known.

6.) To evaluate now the two arm curl of 155 lbs. by Charles Vinci, it has a rating of 1014 points and is equivalent to 83 free two arm chins or very nearly 14 chins with either arm. Like Herrick, therefore, Vinci was a phenomenal curler. Too, both men were proportionately strong in pressing. Lying supine on the floor, Herrick pressed 315 lbs., while in the bench press, Vinci raised 325 lbs. Herrick’s press has a rating of 1022 points, this being almost exactly equal to his rating in the curl. Vinci’s press, with a rating of 1005 points, is only 9 points less than his curl. How interesting it would be if only Herrick and Vinci had practiced chinning to the extent that they had practiced weightlifting.

7.) Another lift, or exercise, that employs some of the muscles used in chinning, is the lateral raise lying. Back in 1929, Frank Merrill (who then played the part of Tarzan in the movies), at a bodyweight of 165 lbs., thus raised together a pair of 48 lb. dumbells 16 times in succession. This repetition lift was equivalent to raising a pair of 70 pound dumbells once, and has the high rating of 1014 points. Although Merrill (whose real name was Otto Poll) was a capable all-around gymnast-athlete, his specialty was the Roman Rings, and he had the typical top-heavy build of a performer on that apparatus. Indeed, for several years, before becoming a motion picture actor, he was National Champion on the rings. As to how capable he was at chinning, and especially the rope climb (which latter two feats are discussed later), he should have been capable of about 70 consecutive two arm chins or 8 or 9 one arm chins with either arm.

8.) Even earlier than “Tarzan” Frank Merrill, there was a heavyweight lifter named Elmer James (74 ins., 240-255 lbs.), who pressed 250 lbs. lying flat on the floor the first time he ever lifted a barbell. Later, he raised the poundage in this lift to 399½. In the lateral raise lying he worked up to 20 consecutive repetitions with a pair of 50 lb. dumbells, which was equivalent to raising 79.4 lbs. in each hand once. Owing, however, to James’ much greater size, the latter lift does not have as high a rating as Merrill’s estimated 70 lbs. in each hand; yet it gains a respectable 895 points.

With reference to present-day record-holders in the bench press, it would seem that any lifter who can thus press 500 lbs. should, to have proportionate straight-arm strength, be able to perform a single lift in the lateral raise lying with a 79 lb. dumbell in each hand. And if he can do this while weighing in the 198 lb. division, his lift will have a rating of 1000 points. Similarly, a superheavyweight who can bench press 600 lbs. should be expected to perform a lateral raise lying with a 93 lb. dumbell in each hand. However, nowadays few lifters perform the lateral raise lying with straight arms. Rather, they have been taught to do bent-arm raises, or “flys,” on a bench, because by that means they can use heavier poundages. But there is no officially recognized competitive lift in which the lateral raise, either lying or standing, is to be performed with the arms partially bent.

9.) In the pullover at arms’ length – another movement that involves many of the muscles used in chinning – Al Berger, at a bodyweight of 248 lbs., made a highly meritorious lift of 212½ lbs. (1947). This was equivalent to a two arm chin with a total of 453 lbs. Again, at about the same date, he did a reverse curl with 202½ lbs. The latter lift, although a world record, was 1½ lbs. of being proportionate to (i.e. 85% of) his splendid two arm regular curl. Berger’s pullover has a rating of 907 points.

10.) A straight-arm pullover of 210 lbs. was performed by Marvin Eder. In 1953, at a bodyweight of only 197 lbs. This phenomenal lift, which has a rating of 1054 points, was equivalent to a two arm chin with a total of 447 lbs. In turn, the latter poundage was equivalent to 11 chins with either arm or to 84 free two arm chins. Thus, while not quite the equal of Eder’s 80 consecutive wide arm chins, it substantiates the latter feat, which is No. 2 in the previous table to ratings in chinning.

11.) Perhaps next to Eder in relative merit in the pullover at arms’ length was Reuben Martin, the well-known professional strength athlete of London. At a bodyweight of 197 lbs. (the same as Eder’s), Martin in 1950 did a pullover with 200 lbs. This lift, compared with that by Eder of 210 lbs., accordingly had a rating of 200-210 x 1054, or 1004 points. If Martin was as capable in chinning the bar as in the pullover with straight arms, he should have been able to chin 8 or 9 times with either arm or about 69 times with both arms.

12.) Among superheavyweight gymnasts, certainly one of the strongest must have been Bert Assirati, who was also a weightlifter and a professional wrestler. Weighing anywhere from 236 to 266 lbs. at a height of only 66 inches, it can be estimated that his strictly muscular weight was about 220 lbs. In London in 1938, Assirati did a pullover at arms’ length of 200 lbs. If we base his rating on a muscular weight of 220 lbs. this pullover has a rating of 935 points. This is the same rating Assirati gained in performing 3 one arm chins at an actual bodyweight of 240 lbs.

13.) An “endurance” performance in the straight arm pullover was made about 1925 by the English physical culturist and muscular phenomenon Alan P. Mead (182 lbs.). He raised a 70 lb. barbell 70 times in succession. Regrettably, I have no information on what Mead could do either in chinning or dipping, although he doubtless practiced both these exercises in his well-equipped public gymnasium in London. Like Joe Nordquest, Mead had lost one of his lower legs below the knee, and this loss of 10 or 12 lbs. made it easier for him in some exercises where he lifted his own weight. Too, in instances like those of Mead and Nordquest, the performer’s lifts should be related not to the actual bodyweight, but to what that weight would probably be if the missing portion of the limb or limbs were restored.

14.) Another type of pullover is where the lift is performed with bent arms while lying on a narrow bench. However this lift, unlike that performed with straight arms, has never been adopted for official competition. One reason for this, perhaps, is because so few lifters have attempted to set records in pulling over a barbell with the arms bent. Back about 1943, Steve Stanko (220 lbs.), who had been National heavyweight champion in the three Olympic lifts in 1938, 1939, and 1940, could perform repetition lifts in the bent arm pullover with a barbell of 300 lbs. Possibly in a single effort he could have raised 350 lbs.

15.) Far surpassing Stanko’s pullover, however, was one made by Dave Hannah in 1970. Hannah’s bodyweight was not stated, but it was evidently well over 200 lbs. His lifts in this manner were performed on a bench 16 inches high. He would start with the barbell handle on his chest, and would then lower it backward until the plates almost touched the floor. From there he would pull the weight over his face and back onto his chest. So heavy was the weight that Hannah generally used straps to aid his grip.

16.) A purely gymnastic feat that test the down-pulling (depressing) power of the arms is the crucifix, or “iron cross,” as performed with straight arms on the Roman rings. To perform this feat with one’s bodyweight alone is equivalent to supporting .623, or about 5/8, of the total weight raised in a two arm chin. Reciprocally, the equivalent weight in the two arm chin is 1.605 times that supported momentarily in the crucifix position. Accordingly, in order to do the crucifix, a performer weighting say, 150 lbs., must be able to do a two arm chin with about 240 lbs. – that is with about 90 lbs. in addition to his own weight.

One of the best performances in the crucifix on record was that of “Tarzan” Frank Merrill, who (about 1928) held the position while supporting 60 lbs. in addition to his own 165 lbs. This feat has a rating of 981 points. Another fine performance in the crucifix, so far as my records go, was that of Jack Delinger, who about 1956, at a bodyweight of 195 lbs., held the position while carrying 45 lbs. extra, a total of 240 lbs. This performance has a rating of 924 points. Remarkably, Bert Assirati could do a crucifix when weighing no less than 266 lbs. If, as was done in rating his pullover at arms’ length, we assume that his strictly muscular bodyweight (the basis for comparison) was no more than 220 lbs., Assirati’s crucifix, which was performed at an actual bodyweight of 266 lbs., has a rating of 935 points. One more record in this specialized gymnastic feat must here suffice. This was a crucifix with 60 lbs. in addition to his own 148 lbs., by Jim Payne, in 1956. The rating for this remarkable feat is 984 points, or slightly higher than that for Frank Merrill. It should be noted that while a number of records in chinning have ratings higher than 1000 points, none of those cited here for the crucifix have reached that level. Possibly this is because more practice has been given to the more common feat or exercise of “chinning.”

It may be added that one never sees a woman gymnast performing the crucifix. The reason for this is that in order to do so she would have to be able to perform a one arm chin, or 24 consecutive two arm chins; and very few women – ever the strongest gymnasts – have the arm and upper body strength required in such a feat. If the women’s record for one arm chins or pullups is 6 times in succession – and if we assume that the performer of that number weighed, say, 120 lbs., she would be capable of doing the crucifix while carrying about 24 or 25 lbs. of extra weight.

17.) Perhaps the feat or exercise that comes closest to chinning is the rope climb, as performed without using the legs. This is a strenuous test of arm and grip strength, especially if the height climbed is greater than the customary (gymnasium) 20 feet. The present world record for the 20-ft. rope climb, starting from a sitting position on the floor, is 2.8 seconds. For 25-ft. it is 4.7 seconds; and for 45-ft. it is 16 seconds. Assuming equal merit (i.e. a rating of 1000 points) for each of these records, to derive the approximate number of chins, or pullups, from the time taken to climb 20 feet on a rope, the number of chins equals 100 - (7.34 x time, seconds). Lastly, an approximate rating (number of points) in the 20 foot rope climb equals 1005 - .265 (time, seconds)to third power. In this simplified formula, bodyweight is ignored, since practically all meritorious records in rope climbing are made by performers having a typical gymnast’s body build (i.e. powerful arms and upper body, and light legs.). In contrast to the record time of 2.8 seconds for a rope climb of 20 feet, the average time recorded by freshman college students is 12.4 seconds. The record time of 2.8 seconds was made by Don Perry, at Champaign, Illinois, on April 3, 1954. That of 16 seconds for 45 feet, by Otto Poll (later, Frank Merrill), sometime in the early 1920s.

18.) Various other feats involving the chinning muscles of the arms and upper back could be cited, but I shall conclude with a brief discussion of “flags” and of the front planche or front lever on the Roman rings. As most readers probably know, to perform a “flag” is to grasp a vertical pole, and keeping both arms straight, hold the body and legs stretched out horizontally, parallel with the ground. In a gymnasium, the same position may be taken by grasping two of the separate horizontal rungs on the stall bars. The muscles brought into action in performing a flag are mainly the depressors or the arms (latissimus, etc.), although the muscles of the side waist (external oblique) and the front (straight) abdominals are also involved, depending upon whether the legs are held one atop the other, or twisted so that the fronts of both thighs are uppermost.

A difficulty with this feat, however, when extra weight is supported, is that no accurate estimate can be made of the resulting stress, because of the variations in leverage. For example, while in the accompanying photograph of Kenneth Ferguson, of Australia, he is shown supporting a man of his own weight (180 lbs.), and the man is seated as close to Ferguson’s upper armpit as he could get. If the weight had been supported, instead, on Ferguson’s lower abdomen, 80 or 90 lbs. would have proven as difficult to support as 180 lbs. in the position shown. And, of course, if the weight were suspended from the performer’s ankles, a relatively light poundage would be sufficient. Although ratings therefore cannot be given to performances in the flag, so far as stress is concerned, the feat obviously is a difficult one and is well adapted for exhibition purposes.

A few performers have even been able to “chin” on a vertical bar while holding the flag position. Possibly the most capable exponent of this feat was Bill Trumbo (72.8”, 225 lbs.). At Muscle Beach in Venice, California, sometime in 1948, Trumbo performed 13 successive “chins” in this manner. No wonder he had a muscular chest of 51 inches!

19.) Just as in rating the flag when carrying extra weight it is likewise difficult to evaluate performances in the front planche or lever when repetitions of the movement are made. To start with, it is evident that to perform a front planche is somewhat less difficult than to chin with one arm. From what limited data I have on the planche, it would appear to be equivalent to chinning about 20 times consecutively with both arms. Tony Terlazzo, a former national and Olympic weightlifting champion in the lightweight class, could, on a horizontal bar, raise his body from a full hang into a front planche 10 times in succession. (York, Pa., 1945). Theoretically, this would be equivalent to doing the planche once at a bodyweight of about 197 lbs., or to chinning the bar 20 times in succession at the same 197 lb. bodyweight. This, in turn, would be equivalent to chinning 24 times at a weight of 185 lbs., or once at that weight with either arm. The rating would be 909 points. For comparison of Terlazzo’s performance, there is that of Larry Pacifico, a current (1978) powerlifting champion, who did 22 repetitions while weighing 213 lbs. This (on the basis of Terlazzo’s performance) was equivalent to Pacifico doing no fewer than 127 two arm chins, or 18 chins with either arm. But actually, the highest number of two arm chins Pacifico has done is 29, which were accomplished in 1977 at a bodyweight of 208 lbs. He also chinned 16 times while carrying 50 lbs. extra. Both of the performances have the same rating, namely 877 points. In contrast, Pacifico’s 22 consecutive front planches have the fantastic rating of 1248 points! Hence, either Pacifico is a phenomenon at the front planche, or his repetitions of this feat were performed in a less difficult style than those done by Terlazzo.

20.) One of the most extraordinary feats of gymnastic strength I ever heard of was one on which I shall not even attempt to give a rating. It was performed regularly about the turn of the century by a Swedish professional who called himself (and probably rightly!) “The Great Arnson.” He would pull up (chin) with one hand onto a pedestal, and from there continue by pressing into a one hand stand! I believe that this gymnast’s real name was Alfred Arnessen, and that he was one of the two performers ever to do a one hand balance on a swinging slack wire as a regular part of his act (the other performer being the famous Gilbert Neville, whom I have mentioned previously in connection with handstand pressing).

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