Thursday, August 25, 2011
Foot Spacing and Balance
by Charles A. Smith (1952)
In an earlier chapter of this series on pressing, we saw how the width of hand spacing affects a man’s pressing poundage, and how he must determine the correct distance between the hands as they grip the bar, the one that will enable him to get the most out of his physical pressing equipment. As each of these chapters succeeds the previous one, there will be created a clearer picture of the overall requirements that make for an efficient press . . . in other words an ideal lift in which all the favorable factors are used to the greatest advantage, with every handicap overcome by an adjustment in pressing style to one suited to the lifter’s particular type of physique and skeletal structure. So, slowly, are the basic requirements for good pressing taking shape, and with this latest chapter on foot spacing and balance, two exceedingly important qualities, the picture becomes a little clearer. I would strongly urge you to save each chapter of this series. They are specially prepared so that you will experience little difficulty in learning how to press a barbell overhead, and get the utmost out of yourself.
You have been shown in other articles how more poundage in the press can be elevated, even tho you are handicapped by poor leverage and unfavorable skeletal structure, by taking a wide hand spacing with a downward-inward inclination of the forearms while using a thumbless grip. You have also been shown how good pressers use a wide grip with the forearms vertical, lats contracted and the upper arms supported on them, together with a thumbs-around-the-bar grip. Even though you know the “hand spacing laws” you must understand that there is no universal application. Each case rests on its individual merits. It should be understood that between the “naturally” endowed presser and the man who has a very hard struggle to press within 10 pounds of his own bodyweight are thousands of physical types, divided and subdivided and the man who plans his training intelligently will have to conduct experiments, apply the lessons he learns from his training, until he hits a style, a perfect personally suited pressing method.
Now we have arrived at another of those innumerable factors that go to help a man become a good presser . . . the question of foot spacing and balance . . . and both of these are directly tied up with another one – Balance of any object is directly in proportion to the width of the base and therefore the position of the object’s center of gravity. (However, don’t forget that in the pressing rules there is a limit on width of foot spacing – approximately 15¾ inches). The wider the base of an object, the lower the center of gravity, and the harder the object is to push over. A low center of gravity makes for good balance.
The width of the foot spacing is also affected by the actual size of the foot. The man with the small foot covers less “base area” and overcomes this handicap by taking a wide stance. The man with a big foot covers more base area and therefore need not take so wide a leg spread, unless he is of exceptional height. The width of the base can be increased by turning the toes out (see illustration 1).
I have previously mentioned elsewhere the theory back of the German press position. Used by practically every Teutonic lifter, its praises were sung by Rudy Ismayr and Joe Manger. Ismayr claimed that the feet together, contracted thighs and buttocks position (illustration 2) made for a much more correct pressing stance and a firm platform from which to press the weight. With this contention I heartily disagree.
To understand why the Germans used this stance, let us consider the two hands MILITARY press and its origin. The origin of the slow military type of press was in Austria, according to Professor Joseph Szalay, and it was introduced into England by Eugen Sandow who had practiced it in his native Germany. The weight was pressed from the chest in the strict parade ground stance. And as we have seen from a previous article, the weight had to be pressed slightly forward and around the face, and this often caused lifters to raise the heels or thrust the weight back to compensate for forward motion, which in turn led to other rule infractions.
As you will see from illustration 3, the body was held rigidly BUT the weight DID NOT travel along a straight line. In illustration 4, the modern pressing style, the entire body is set in a slight curve that starts from the heels, reaches the greatest part of its forward thrust at the hips and slightly above, and curves gently backwards to the top of the head. THIS STANCE WAS MADE POSSIBLE ONLY BECAUSE OF THE FACT THAT LIFTERS WERE ABLE TO PLACE THEIR FEET APART.
Just try it for yourself. Take up a feet-together position and see how far you can lean back. Then, while you are still in this position, allow the feet to spread, and you will at once see that there is MORE HIP FLEXIBILITY. And you will also observe that there is a greater difficulty in keeping a steady balance with the feet together than there is with them spread apart . . . because of the narrower base.
When you press a barbell overhead, you must remember that your center of gravity is gaining in height. While you are crouched over the bar for the clean, your “c of g” is at its lowest point. With the barbell held at the shoulders it shifts from the region of the hips to somewhere near the center of the chest and at this point you can be “shoved” very easily. As soon as you press the barbell, the center shifts up again to around the neck. The narrower the base covered by the feet, the less sure the balance of the entire body because of the higher center of gravity. Immediately a wider leg spread is assumed, the center of gravity is lowered, and the balance is more firm because of the wider base area covered.
As you well know, throughout the entire press, the barbell is constantly on the move, except for a brief pause at the shoulders while waiting for the referee’s signal to commence the press proper. Right from the moment you start the clean until you get the barbell pressed to arms’ length overhead, the problem of maintaining balance and saving time is involved; therefore it is important to see that all conditions are good . . . all the requirements for a GOOD steady press are observed BEFORE you start the lift, and you clean that weight and ram it overhead as quickly as the rules will allow.
When you get set for the clean, assume the foot spacing you will use during the press. In other words, once you stand in front of the bar for the clean, the width of leg stance should be the same that is used as the weight is pressed overhead. In the chapter concerned with cleaning the weight to the shoulders for the press, I mentioned that a short step back could be used when approaching a limit press poundage. If you use this step back for the clean, bring the foot splitting to the rear into position immediately the weight arrives into pressing position.
The very moment when the bar comes into position across the shoulders, you should be all ready to press . . . correct hand spacing and grip . . . feet in position . . . correct angle to forearms and upper arms . . . comfortable feel of the bar across the clavicles. If you have to worry about these factors AFTER you have the bar across the clavicles you are going to lower your chances of making a god press. Too much unnecessary movement after the bar has been cleaned in an attempt to settle it into pressing position is WASTED TIME, MOTION AND ENERGY, and as your pressing poundages approach your limit, so your chances lessen.
Too much shifting around when the weight has been cleaned to pressing position constantly alters the center of gravity of the lifter and makes maintenance of balance difficult. It is during this period that the lifter is liable to violate that part of the press rules that make a clean to the shoulders in one motion mandatory. And it is possible that the lifter will merit disqualification by shifting the position of the bar or hands AFTER pressing position has been assumed.
Furthermore, if a bad press position has been assumed, when the weight is pressed overhead the lifter, voluntarily or otherwise, attempts to adjust his balance (as instanced in illustration 3 where the weight is pressed forward and then back), and from this attempt to get a better or more firm position DURING THE PRESS, the heels can be raised, or the toes, and thus the lifter finds himself disqualified.
The center of gravity of the average man is in the middle of the hips around the top of the pelvic arch when he is standing upright. But a man with heavy legs and a torso that travels straight up and down is likely to have a lower center of gravity than the man who has a slim waist and very broad shoulders and chest. Thus the lifter should examine himself, impartially, appraisingly and from what his mirror tells him. He should determine the width of foot spacing and the pressing stance he will adopt for himself. A considerable change can be made by the “top heavy” athlete with the adoption of a leg spacing to the limit of the rules. Further advantage can be gained by the toes being turned out as in Illustration 1.
And do you will see that the vital question of pressing stability rests on a BROAD BASE and the position of your center of gravity. The lower your “c of g” is, the better your chances for a good, firm press. The barbell should travel along ONE STRAIGHT LINE during the press proper . . . a line that runs through the hips and the head in a gentle, slight curve, and STRAIGHT overhead from the shoulders. It is along this straight, shoulder to overhead line your bar must move.
There is greater mechanical efficiency in exercising control over the bar as it travels along this line, by BODY adjustment, than by actual movement of the BAR itself for, as previously pointed out, the higher the bar goes above the head, the higher your center of gravity becomes; and the more top-heavy you are the easier it will be to lose balance and the more difficult for you to maintain it.
If you take a top-heavy object and push it by its base, it is hard for you to turn it over onto its side. But the higher you place your hand to push, the easier it becomes to upset it, and when you get to the top of the object, that is introduce motion to the spot where it is top heavy . . . over it goes (illustration 5). THE BROADER THE BASE, THE MORE SECURE YOUR PRESS.
Monday, August 22, 2011
The Two Dumbbell Clean & Press
by Charles A. Smith (1952)
The mellowing influence of a glass of beer and a Symphony of Beethoven, coupled with the contentment a comfortable easy chair, your own home, and a wife and two kids can bring are the factors that help your mind to wander unchecked in a garden of pleasant thoughts. With these, the contented man has a salve that soothes the wounds inflicted by the problems of daily living. He can view things in their proper perspective. Ideas come easily, smoothly, and the understanding of what is past and what might come is no longer elusive. Some fellows get the same effect smoking a pipe and listening to be-bop, but with me it’s a glass of beer and Beethoven.
A week ago, I arrived home and found a bundle of British mags waiting for me, and after supper I settled myself down for a pleasant perusal of the weight lifting journals from across the Atlantic. I had everything set for an enjoyable evening . . . radio turned on softly . . . Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony . . . the customary cup that cheers, a soft armchair and slippers and . . . my thoughts. “I see where Reg Park has broken the dumbbell press record,” I remarked to the wife, and she, not listening as usual, replied, “Yes, dear.”
Dumbbells . . . the equipment of those human powerhouses of 30 years ago . . . the implements of strength . . . the instruments that moulded mighty arms and shoulders and packed the entire physique with an overall power seldom seen these days. Into my mind came pictures . . . Steinbach . . . Grafl . . . Swoboda . . . Turck . . . Hackenschmidt . . . Tandler . . . Schneider . . . and Kryloff. And I reached across to the conveniently placed bookshelf, grabbed an old, dog-eared volume and relived for the thousandth time, the glories of a past strength era.
I visualized that day, August 29th, 1899 when Turck pressed 279¼ pounds . . . 140 in the right hand and 139¼ in the left . . . how in 1897, Schneider pressed two 100-pound dumbbells 12 times in military style . . . and in 1901 on July 30th, Turck again pressed a terrific weight overhead . . . dumbbells that had a total weight of 286 pounds. Then Josef Steinbach made a continental press with dumbbells with the colossal poundage of 314, while Louis Vasseur made a dumbbell military press . . . two dumbbells clean & press with 224¾ pounds . . . Reg Park, according to my British magazine, had easily pressed 235 pounds with dumbbells. In front of one of the strictest officials in England, he had held the weight at the shoulders for many seconds, lowering them into the position required by the referee. And he still handled that great poundage easily. John Davis has clean & pressed two 142½ pound dumbbells . . . 285 pounds . . . a terrific feat of arm and shoulder power and full evidence of the fact that we have ‘em today every bit as good as yesterday. What Doug Hepburn could do in dumbbell pressing is anyone’s guess, only his trouble would be cleaning the weights. It is quite within the realm of possibility that he would press 310 and make a two-dumbbell continental press with 330.
The use of dumbbells for building great power in the arms and shoulders is unsurpassed. And a wonderful byproduct stemming from this use is the added strength of torso and thigh. In dumbbell exercise, the arms are entirely on their own. They work separately as do he muscles of the shoulders and back . . . that is each group of muscles on each side of the body work independently. In lifting a barbell, they work in concert. Just as an experiment, try the following. Say your top press is 180 pounds with a barbell. Try cleaning and pressing two 90 pound dumbbells . . . see how far you get them away from the shoulders. Or try it with a training partner for a bet and be sure your money is safe . . . I have never once seen a weightlifter or bodybuilder equal his barbell press poundage with an equal dumbbell weight.
Dumbbell pressing has always been practiced in America, altho it has never enjoyed any widespread popularity until recently. Years ago, the alternate, or see-saw press, and the one-hand military press were used fairly widely, but it was not until the introduction of flan and incline exercise benches that dumbbell exercise and lifting started to come into general favor. Now, every famous physical excellence model has made use of dumbbell pressing in one of its many forms, to obtain that magnificent tie-in of triceps, deltoid and pectoral development . . . such as you can see on all the top stars. The favorite exercise of Clancy Ross, Reg Park, Alan Stephan and a host of other champions is the Dumbbell Press on the incline bench . . . an exercise that brings terrific results . . . bulk . . . power . . . shape.
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that a course of dumbbell training will add immeasurably to the strength of any weight trainer, but since we are concerned with a specific lift in this article, I can only say that the use of the two hands dumbbell clean & press and the assistance exercises that go with it will give you a pair of arms and a breadth of shoulder that will stand comparison with the best there are. I am not trying to create the impression that a few months training will see you looking like Grimek or Ross about the arms and shoulders. Development such as these men have comes only with years of hard work. But what I am telling you is that there is no reason why you should not, in time, have a musculature that will not be disgraced by any other. Now let’s take a look at the rules for the two hands dumbbell clean & press.
“The dumbbells shall be taken clean to the shoulders in one continuous movement. The recovery from the pull in, preparatory for the press, must be speedy and continuous. At the commencement of the press the dumbbell rods shall not be held higher than the sternum where the collarbones meet, and the feet, if separated, must be on a plane parallel with the lifter’s front, with the heels not wider than 15¾ inches, with knees firmly braced, and the body and head held in an upright position, the eyes looking directly in front. This position shall be held for two seconds, the conclusion of which shall be indicated by the referee by a sharp clap with both hands. During the press from the shoulders, no sagging or turning of the trunk, movement of the feet or bending of the legs shall be permitted, and the movement must be a steady press to arms’ length with the shoulders kept level throughout.”
As you will see, the method of pressing two dumbbells overhead is a strict one. Apply for the most part the rules of the old MILITARY PRESS to the above and you more or less will see what you are allowed to do, and what you can get ruled out for. The lift itself is of course not a medium of competition in America. But the widespread popularity of dumbbell pressing is such that in gymnasiums all over the country, impromptu competitions are held among bodybuilders to see who can press the most with dumbbells, whether in a standing position or on the incline bench. Here are the assistance exercises for the two hands dumbbell press. You can use them as an arm and shoulder specialization course in conjunction with other basic exercises such as the curl, the upright rowing or high pull movement, the deep knee bend and the dead lift. Should you desire to increase your dumbbell press poundage, then it is advisable to spend considerable time practicing the actual lift, and then when finished, go on to the assistance exercises given. Stay on this course for three months, then take a ten-day layoff and start in again. Pay attention to the details of each movement and work hard, for that is the only way you will get success from your programs.
No training schedule is complete without one exercise that closely resembles the lift you are working to improve. So, the first movement of this routine is the actual lift itself . . . the two hands clean & press with dumbbells. Start off with a poundage you can comfortably handle for 3 sets of 4 reps. Clean the dumbbells to the shoulders, press them overhead, lower the weights to the ground, and repeat the whole movement. Pause only as long as it takes you to breathe deeply two or three times between each repetition. Work up to 3 sets of 8 reps before increasing the exercise poundage and then only a 1¼ pound plate to each dumbbell.
Incline bench side presses. The task of getting dumbbells away from the shoulders belongs to the deltoid muscles. but getting the weight past the sticking point and carrying it to arms’ length . . . this the triceps are responsible for. Here is an excellent movement to put power into the arm. Lie on an incline board on your SIDE. The feet can be placed one in front of the other for better balance and comfort. Hold a dumbbell in one hand and rest the upper arm along the side of the body. The upper arm should be allowed to drop back slightly below the side (see illustration 2). From this position press the weight to arm’s length, lower, and repeat. Lower the weight as slowly as possible and concentrate throughout the movement on the action of the triceps . . . straightening the arm. Start off with a weight you can handle comfortably for 3 sets of 6 reps and work up to 3 sets of 12 reps before increasing exercise poundage. Because one arm rests while the other exercises, don’t take much rest between sets.
Many famous weightlifters have managed to increase their pressing poundage by adopting a more rigid form when training than that allowed in competition. John Davis himself sometimes gets tired of using standing presses with a barbell and performs his presses while seated on a bench. A similar method can be used in the dumbbell press. Clean the dumbbells to the shoulders and sit down on the end of an exercise bench with no back, or a box. Press the bells to arms’ length making every effort to stretch the arms as high as possible. When you lower the dumbbells, take them as low down as you can. As in the other exercises, the standard to use with regard to starting poundages is one that can be handled comfortably, in this case, for 4 reps. Use 3 sets to commence, working up to 3 sets of 10 reps before increasing the weight of the dumbbells.
No schedule os compete without one of the power movements . . . the exercises that get you used to handling heavy weights and learning to control them. The “Jerk Push Press” is great for accustoming the shoulders to stand the stress of poundages more than those usually handled. Performed with dumbbells and in the manner described below, this movement makes use of two types of muscle action, producing a much more efficiently working muscle. Clean a pair of dumbbells to the shoulders. Bend the legs slightly and jerk the dumbbells to top of the head level. Don’t stop here, but continue the motion of the bells to arms’ length with a press out. When you lower them, do so as slowly as possible, controlling the descent of the weights down every inch of the way. Start off with a poundage 10 pounds under your limit, using 3 sets of 3 reps, working up to 3 sets of 6 reps before adding to the weight of the dumbbells.
Here is another power movement, and one that will give you more powerful anterior deltoids, triceps and pectoral muscles. Set your incline board or bench at its steepest angle. Lie down on it and get your training partners to hand you the dumbbells. The commencing position should be where the UPPER arms are LEVEL with the shoulders. From here, press the weight to arms’ length and as in the previous movement, lower the dumbbells as slowly as possible. As soon as the upper arms reach horizontal position, press the weights to arms’ length again. In using this pressing style the forearms will be upright . . . forming right angles to the upper arms (illustration 5). Use a poundage you can get 3 sets of 5 reps from and steadily work up to 3 sets of 10 reps before increasing the dumbbell poundage.
The program of assistance exercises for the Two Hands Clean & Press with dumbbells is a tough one and it is not advisable to use it more than three times a week. At the same time, don’t skimp on your output of energy. When you are lifting, give it all you’ve got. When it comes to your non-training days, forget such things as barbells exist.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Using the Arms to Best Advantage in the Snatch
by Charles A. Smith (1954)
I was once asked why I call this series “The ABC’s of Lifting”. My companion was a famous international authority, and he was of the opinion that the title was a little over the heads of my readers. “Smithy,” he said, “I doubt whether 20% of the men who read your articles will appreciate the reason, the real meaning I should say, behind that heading. Why have you used it when something more to the point and less obscure would have served the purpose just as well?”
My reply was to the effect that the title was entirely in line, that the articles were written not for advanced men but for beginners, fellows who had to learn to lift step by step. When we start school, take our first English lesson, we don’t have Webster’s dictionary, Roget’s thesaurus and a volume of synonyms and antonyms thrown at us. Instead, we are first taught the alphabet, then simple three-letter words, the simple rules of grammar and so on, stage by stage.
We learn that words are not single things in themselves but are made up of letters and syllables. And, later on, if we become weight lifters, we soon find out that there are more things to the Iron Game than grabbing hold of a bar, picking it up, and putting it down. We learn that every action, every single movement COUNTS, that a press or a snatch is made up of a hundred and one things, each of which in its own way influences the lift as a whole.
I do not agree that the title is above the heads of my readers. I feel that all who read these articles will appreciate why it was chosen above a more catchy phrase. It has been said that knowledge is power. The more we know about a subject the more thoroughly will we understand it. The more we know about the basic, simple things, the better will we be able to understand the more difficult phases. It is impossible for us to READ if we cannot learn the alphabet. It is impossible for us to lift efficiently and make the most of our strength in a particular lift unless we thoroughly understand what effects our actions have on that lift, why we are guilty of certain faults, and how these faults can be corrected.
It is impossible for any man to know too much about lifting. And it is impossible for any man to know everything there is to know about the game. Unfortunately, there ARE certain individuals who CLAIM personally they are the greatest coaches of Olympic lifting in the world. Rather should the attitude of these individuals be . . . “The more I learn, the more I realize how LITTLE I know.” There are some fortunate lifters who are athletes by birth and instinct. To these men, the three Olympics come as natural as breathing. But the vast majority of us have to work very, very hard for what we want, and every pound gained on a total represents long hours of tough training, lifting grinds and sweat. It is to these men that this series is dedicated, not to the man who has every natural advantage.
You must forgive me if I constantly harp on the same old theme, but I believe it is most essential to hammer home the point that CLOSEST ATTENTION TO SMALLEST DETAILS IS WHAT MAKES A MAN A SUCCESS IN ANY FIELD OF ENDEAVOR. I believe that these articles serve a definite purpose in that they help the beginner to learn a good style in less time than it previously took. And as I’ve said before, I’ll be more than satisfied if but a single strength athlete profits by them.
In this article I’ll deal with arm action and its importance in the Two Hands Snatch. Remember, this lift is a coordination of effort between the arms, back, thighs and shoulder girdle muscles. If one of those groups acts out of line with the others, then you are not going to lift your best poundages.
Most lifters think arm and leg actions are separate, that one can be thought of apart from the other. This is, of course, a mistaken idea and we’ll see now exactly what part the arms play in the lift. Some of you may have seen lifters who started the pull with bent arms, or else pulled the bar more with the arms at the start of the lift so that the weight was already as high as the hips or waist before the back had hardly started to straighten out in the pull.
Starting the pull with bent arms is seen more often in the lifter who uses a DIVE instead of a GET SET stance. Usually he dives so fast and with such vigor that his hands bang on the bar, unlocking the elbows and causing him to commence the pull in a wrong position. Bent arms at the beginning of the pull makes the muscles of the back and thighs start from a slightly different position (Illustration 1), and altho the difference may not be noticeable, the muscles have to work over a greater range. To illustrate what I mean, hold a dumbbell in each hand. Stand on a box. Sink down into a DEEP squat, the bells traveling each side of the box. Then recover to upright position. Now, sink to a PARALLEL squat and note the greater ease of recovery. The same principle applies to deep squats and half-squats. A greater strain is placed on the back with a bent-arm start in the snatch and the main force of the pull is lost through lack of coordination.
Another common fault is the second (Illustration 2) in which the lifter makes the major pull with the arms, and then attempts to speed it up with the back and legs. The consequence of this fault is wrong pull direction, the bar traveling out and away from the body. For the benefit of readers, I repeat the correct “get set” stance (Illustration 7). Actually, when you begin the snatch, there should be no deliberate effort to pull with the arms, since these are ropes or cables which transmit the power of the back, thighs and shoulder girdle to the weight.
Leg and back drive take the weight approximately waist level. The task is then boosted by the muscles of the shoulder girdle, the deltoids and trapezius. If you’ve been following my bodybuilding specialization articles, you’ll know that the deltoids raise the arms to shoulder level position, while the trapezius muscles raise the shoulders themselves. TRICEPS AND BICEPS SHOULD BE RELAXED. If they are not they will interfere with your pull.
If you keep the barbell into the body, you will do so because your wrists and elbows are playing a correct and very important part in the action. Many lifters make the mistake of pulling the elbows back. Illustration 3 shows the correct position of the forearms and elbows. From this point the lifter should concentrate on pulling the bar as HIGH as he can and maintaining the pull. He must NOT STOP PULLING AT ANY TIME.
One fault the lifter is liable to make is to pull the elbows back before the weight has traveled high enough. This raises the forearms from their almost perpendicular position with the floor to an almost horizontal position (Illustration 4), and causes a swing OUT away from the body.
When the elbows have reached the highest point sideways and UP, the wrists then take over the task of maintaining the pull and getting the bar into a locked out position. At all costs you should keep them ABOVE or level with the bar as long as possible. I believe Al Murray has already pointed out this somewhere in my memory does not fail me (Illustration 5). The feet are splitting at this stage and the body is dropping down, but that pull MUST be kept up.
At this stage the forearms and wrists are “flipping” the bar up and the forearms are assuming a perpendicular position, this time with the bar on top. Care should be taken that the flip doesn’t thrust the bar too much to the rear (Illustration 6) and cause you to lose the lift. Don’t forget to keep the trunk upright and the arms thrusting straight up from the shoulders. Don’ let them “angle” back, even though slightly, or you might find yourself dropping the weight back of you, especially if your shoulders are extra flexible.
As I’ve pointed out before, all the muscle groups taking the weight to arms’ length MUST WORK TOGETHER. No on group should play a major role but all should complement each other, otherwise there will be a lot of work thrust on one group with little to show for the effort. In a future article I’ll discuss the role of the hips. In the meantime, practice correct snatching position and arm action. Just as the muscles work as one, so technique and strength back each other up. Neither is any good without the other.
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