The Dumbbell Swing
by John Grimek (1959)
Almost a half-century ago the one and two hand swing lifts were very popular among lifters and bodybuilders alike, especially the one hand lift. Over the years, however, both of these lifts have slumped into oblivion so that today there are very few who ever practice them, either as an exercise or for record-breaking performances. Because of this the world record in both lifts still remains at that poundage that was lifted many years ago. The one hand record is 199 pounds, and the two hand record is 224 pounds, just 25 pounds more than the one hand swing.
Since it is possible to lift more weight in the one hand swing as compared with the two handed lift, we'll deal chiefly with the one hand variety here. But it is unfortunate that this lift doesn't attract the interest of some of our more energetic lifters. Not only for the purpose of making records, but to include it in their training as a means of helping them in their other quick lifts. Many a lifter has improved on his other lifts simply by including the one hand swing in his training. It helps muscles to coordinate better, move faster and react with split-second timing.
In employing the one hand swing as a developing exercise, it's not necessary to use heavy weights, although enough resistance should be employed to make the muscles work. The movement should be done at least 3 to 5 consecutive repetitions. To be more effective, the lift should be repeated in 3 or more sets so as to develop not only the muscles that are involved in making the lift, but to improve your lifting form and help to coordinate your muscles better.
Although this lift activates many of the muscles in the body, the group that gets the most vigorous work are the erector spinae muscles, those two cable-like muscles that have their beginning at the base of of the head and run down to the coccyx region. These are the muscles that, due to our 'refined way of living', seem to atrophy more readily than any other, especially in the lumbar region where the cause of many backaches originates. The muscular action of the one hand swing, as well as the two handed variety, not only develops this region of the back but the muscles of the hand, shoulders, legs and hips as well. In other words, it was and still is a very good all-round developing exercise.
The one hand swing will keep these powerful back muscles supple and strong, particularly in the lower region where many annoying pains occur when this part of the body is allowed to weaken. Employing either of the swing lifts is one sure way of avoiding back trouble before it starts, and either of the swing lifts are excellent for strengthening and conditioning the back. However, don't be misled into believing that you can swing twice as much weight with both hands together as you can with one hand. You can't, and no one has ever done it. This will explain why the two hand swing was never quite as popular among lifters as the one hand swing. I also believe that the one hand swing is easier to do, and as I have said, more weight can be lifted proportionately. This could be the reason why it was more popular than the two handed variety . . . at least it was with me.
Many of the old-timers used to include this lift as part of their regular training for maintaining peak form on their other lifts. Others undertook the practice to establish new records. And though the performance of this lift is similar to the movement used in the one hand snatch, actually only a very small number of men could swing anywhere near 200 pounds. On the other hand, quite a few lifters have succeeded in making over 200 pounds in the one hand snatch, which does indicate that the one hand swing is more difficult and much tougher to lift heavy poundages. Perhaps this is because a dumbbell is used in doing the swing lift, while a barbell is used in performing the one hand snatch. Anyone with some lifting experience knows that dumbbells are always harder to lift than a barbell, and this could be the answer.
As a matter of interest the record in this lift, the one hand swing, is held by Jean Francios, a Frenchman, who weighed only a little more than his record. But the Swiss lifter, Maurice Deriaz, one of the members of the famous Deriaz family, also lifted nearly as much. Both of these men were powerful looking and had strong looking legs that suggested power. Strong legs are essential for this lift.
There doesn't seem to be any logical explanation as to why the records of this lift in all classes have remained unbroken all these years. The records in practically all the other recognized lifts have been broken and rebroken time and again, but the records in the one hand swing lift, in all divisions, have remained the same for many years. One reason is obvious. There isn't any interest in it. Or another possible explanation is that everyone seems to make very rapid progress in the early stages of such training, but as the weigh gets progressively heavier they fail to fix it overhead properly because they have neglected acquiring good form. Therefore, it's rather imperative that whoever seeks to create new records in this lift must strive for good form, just as it is necessary to develop correct form on all the other quick lifts if high-level poundages are to be lifted. Trying to increase poundage without developing a correct form and speed first will cause anyone to reach his limit faster. This could prove very discouraging, and then interest is lost.
In attempting to revive this lift some years ago I began training on it for my exhibition in London. At that time I was doing well on the lift and felt rather certain of surpassing the present records by many pounds, with hopes of climaxing my exhibition with a new world record. In practice I often succeeded with over 210 and was confident with successes of 230 or 240. But for my exhibition I was planning my attempts in such a way as to try 250, providing, of course, that I achieved successes with all my previous attempts. Everything was progressing along nicely until about two weeks before I planned on leaving for England. I suffered a rather peculiar right elbow injury which made it increasingly difficult for me to handle anywhere near the weights I was using. Still hopeful, I decided to tackle the lift with my left hand. After several workouts I was convinced that although i could easily break the existing record for the left hand swing the time I spent in training for it would not justify the effort, nor would the poundage prove impressive. I could not develop the same easy form I had while using my right arm. No the weight began to feel clumsy and awkward and my timing and coordination did not synchronize with my effort. I grew discouraged and gave up the idea of attempting a record. And so the 40-year old record is still a record. But I think some ambitious lifter will come along who will take an interest in the lift and push up the poundage where it should be . . . closer to 250 than where it now stands. The same thing will happen in all the other divisions, but even if they don't succeed in making new records, they will still gain from the beneficial exercise this movement imparts.
While practicing the lift one thing I noticed was that my grip seemed to be a little stronger. However, so were my back, legs and hips stronger and better coordinated. At that time I wasn't doing much lifting but I could still equal my previous best. This resulted because the one hand swing keeps the muscles keyed to split-second timing with plenty of speed held in reserve. Some of the other lifts may not help the lifter on his Olympic lifts and may even hinder his progress, but not so with the swing lifts. They actually help to increase speed, improve timing and result in better muscular coordination, and that's important to any lifter or athlete.
Anyone who is interested in training on the one hand swing is always anxious to know what is considered a good poundage to swing. As a matter of fact, elevating body weight was always considered a terrific feat, especially for the heavies. Many of the lighter lifters succeeded with over body weight, but not the heavies as can be seen by the heavyweight record of 199 pounds. But if one develops good form, timing and speed, he is bound to do much better than many of the old-timers did who lifted more with brute strength rather than science. Once good form is developed, increasing poundage is not too difficult -- up to a certain point at least.
Bob Hoffman in his book Weightlifting covers the subject of the one hand swing quite thoroughly, and those of you who have this book and are interested in performing this lift should read the chapter on it. If you don't have this book I urge you to get it, if not only for the lift that is being discussed here, but for additional information it contains on all the other recognized lifts in use today.
For those of you who are interested in getting to work right away on the one hand swing I shall cover briefly the performance here so that it can be included in the next workout. I must admit, however, that while the style explained here is excellent, there will be slight deviations which will vary with each individual. But that's not important, except to adopt the style or form which you can find suits you best, and then practice it until you have perfected it. And even if you don't make any new records you will still benefit from the fine exercise this lift provides.
The One Hand Swing, A Brief Explanation
A dumbbell should be used for this lift and one end is overloaded by 10 to 25 pounds. This is important to provide impetus for the ascending bell and relieve the strain on the wrist. The dumbbell is placed between the feet, which should be comfortably spaced to assure good footing. The lifting arm should be kept straight throughout the lift. With the dumbbell between the legs you reach down and pick the dumbbell up to about knee height without making any attempt to swing it overhead. This is a preliminary swing to get greater impetus, because from this position the weight is again dropped between the legs (without touching the floor) and then from this position swung upwards, coordinating your strength from your back, legs, shoulder and hips. Further assistance can be had from pushing the non-lifting hand upon the corresponding thigh. But now, as the weight reaches the position slightly above shoulder height, you must dip of lower your body under the ascending weight. This may be done either by squatting or splitting, whichever you prefer and can execute the best. It is important to dip under the ascending weight at just the right time to get it overhead and fixed into position before coming up to a standing position to complete the lift. If repetitions are to be done you simply lower the dumbbell again between your legs without touching the floor, and swing it overhead again. Only a few repetitions will be needed to show you how vigorous this exercise is. There is no doubt that it will keep your muscles, especially your back, strong and flexible and, whether you are bent on breaking records or simply trying to keep fit, either of the swing exercises will benefit you.
THE ONE HAND SWING
from "Weightlifting" by Bob Hoffman (1939)
The dumbbell, which at the commencement of the lift must be at right angles to the lifter's front, shall, kept in that position throughout, be taken to arm's length overhead. The lift may be performed in one movement, or in a series of movements, but in the latter instance there shall be no pause between any of these movements, nor shall any part of the bell be brought into contact with the floor after it has been lifter therefrom. In "fixing" the bell the trunk and legs may be bent to any extent, and the bell may be brought into contact with the forearm; but to lock the arm out by pushing shall be cause for disqualification.
Method of Performance
The best performers in this style of lifting load the dumbbell so that the back end is loaded with as much as 25 pounds more than the front. When heavy poundages are used it is wise to use a leather gauntlet to protect the forearm and wrist. In assuming the starting position, stand with the feet about 18 inches apart and the bell at right angles to the body. Keeping the back flat, the buttocks low, bend the knees so that the bar can be grasped with the lifting hand close to the front disc. The non-lifting hand, as in the one-hand snatch and one-hand clean, is placed just above the knee of the leg on its side of the body, with the fingers and thumb turned inward.
The bell is lifted until the trunk is erect, the arm remaining straight throughout, the weight equally distributed on both feet, the knees locked and the lifting shoulder raised as high as possible. When the shoulder has reached its highest position, keeping the back flat, the buttocks low, rebend the knees almost touching the floor with the lowered bell. As the body has been raised to the erect position the non-lifting hand has been held against the side of the thigh. It is now placed in its former position. When the bell has reached its lowest position, simultaneously straightening the legs and the back, pulling hard with the arm, swinging the bell upward and backward, pressing with the non-lifting hand, toss the bell to arm's length overhead. As the bell reaches the highest position to which you can pull it, split sharply forward with the leg on the lifting side. (Those lifters who habitually step forward with the left leg in cleaning, snatching, and jerking, will be able to perform more creditably with the left hand than with the right.)
The heavy end of the bell will come into contact with the forearms and rest there. Some practice will be necessary to coordinate these movements. It's best to practice repetition swinging with a moderate weight first without moving the feet to accustom all the muscles to work in unison. When the bell has been fixed at arm's length, the forward foot is brought back, the feet held in line and the count taken. Some lifters will prefer to drop into the full squat position in fixing the bell overhead -- a position similar to the low position in bent pressing, one hand snatching and jerking.
Causes for Disqualification
Failure to swing the bell clean to arm's length overhead, locking the elbow by pressing or pushing, motion not continuous where more than one movement is made, permitting the bell to touch the floor while the lift is in progress.