Sunday, March 11, 2018

Basic Power, Part One - Charles Coster (1955)

Courtesy of Liam Tweed

Louis Abele

Basic Power Training: 
Great Controversies
by Charles Coster (1955)

Basic Power Training, Body-Building, and Competitive Weight-Lifting are indivisible in my opinion. 

In spite of disagreements that have existed in various schools of thought concerning weight-training methods in the past, I have always been of the opinion that these differences were invaluable to our progress and development.

Criticism and analysis is perhaps stronger in our journals and publications today than it has ever been -- and this is a good thing. For it is only by concentrating intently upon the problems that beset us that we can hope to solve some of our difficulties . . . and seeing that all previous "conceptions" are in the melting pot nowadays, it is going to pay us handsomely if we keep an open mind and think deeply upon all current happenings in the great Iron Game.

Americans have been experimenting with "power" training ideas for quite a long time . . . but in Vienna last autumn I saw basic power principles being applied by the Russians, and worked in with their normal routine training schedules.

Lifters of worldwide repute such as Saksonov, Kostylev, Udodov, Medvedev, Lomakin etc., could be seen utilizing wide-grip snatch pull-ups . . . power jerks without foot movement . . . repetition power presses, with slight knee-dip assistance, etc. Their young heavyweight Medvedev conducted a complete two-hour workout one morning using power snatches and power cleaning with no foot movement. We saw him snatch 264 pounds this way so forcefully that there was hardy any press-out and he must have made at least 30 power cleans to the chest with weights ranging from 297 to 330 mostly in sets of threes.

As I write these words news has just reached me that Medvedev has made a new personal best total of 1,007 pounds . . . and 23-year old Nikolai Kostylev, whom we saw one day making power jerks with 308 pounds without foot movement . . . has just improved upon his remarkable 265.5 pound lightweight snatch -- with a fantastic lift of 270, and an 837-lb all-time record total.

We saw the massively muscled Trofim Lomakin  

who is good enough to take a Mr. World Title, make a series of standing long jumps when winding up a training session one day. He has astonishing "leg spring" and has done 10'8". Kostylev is a Master of Sport, being unusually proficient at some track and field events. He is also a first class gymnast and hand-balancer.

Tommy Kono made a 440 squat in front of the neck [front squat] almost at the same time that he pushed the light-heavyweight clean and jerk mark up to 380. it looks as though he has only to improve his squat in front of neck a little bit in order to create the necessary conditions for a new record clean and jerk.

Lifters like Schemansky, Sheppard and Kono have wonderfully muscled physiques, and Tommy of course took the Mr. World title in his height class at Paris last year. There was a time when bodybuilding was frowned upon by the competitive Olympic lifter. And there was a time when the bench press and squat (or deep knee bend) were contemptuously regarded as freakish exercises that were almost quite useless to anyone but the pure bodybuilder.

Just how wrong these views were can now be seen. For some of the world's foremost Olympic lifters are regularly using the DKB and bench press as sure and certain methods that will boost competitive lifting performances past certain sticking points.

Yes, we live and learn -- or at least, we should do so. I likewise remember the opinions held many years ago concerning the continental squat style of Olympic lifting as contrasted to the more widely used fore-and-aft leg split technique.

Not many "squatters" got to the top in those days, and it was erroneously assumed that the squat method was somewhat inferior. Yes, we were wrong about this likewise, as an examination of some of the present American and Russian star performances will amply illustrate.

Although high quality squatters are still scarce, the phenomenal performances of people like Peter George, Dave Sheppard, Tommy Kono, Nikolai Saksonov and Yuri Douganiev have literally astounded the entire weightlifting world . . . and certain authorities, in haste, are now asserting the the squat style is the thing of the future, and in the same breath opine the split style will soon be consigned to the limbo of forgotten things.

Whether they will prove to be right in this respect remains to be seen. Personally I have my doubts, remembering what occurred in Vienna in the featherweight, medium-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions in Austria.

In spite of the writing on the wall which indicates that Fundamental Basic Power is a must for continuous Olympic lifting progress -- many people still regard it with mistrust.

That Sticking Point

When a lifter reaches a certain poundage on a certain lift, and then finds himself "stationary," it is often assumed that he has reached his normal "limit."

Providing that full attention has been paid to the cultivation of Speed, Style, and Technique it is obvious that only an additional improvement in the basic bodily power of the lifter will help him get beyond his previous best levels, and enable him to apply the skill he already possesses to better purpose.      

I have long held the view that this Basic Body Power training method would work, and certain things that have happened now confirm my view. Of course obstacles are often put in the way when any fresh avenue of approach is contemplated, and it is sometimes asserted that a man would have to possess all the advantages of a "pro" before he could try out basic power ideas thoroughly.

This may or may not be true, and I certainly haven't time to go into that aspect here. But the fact remains that basic power training will succeed in many instances if it is persevered with for long enough -- and applied the right way.

The Canadian, Doug Hepburn, and the American, Paul Anderson are outstanding examples in this respect (and John Davis doesn't lack basic body power either). Both Anderson and Hepburn can handle around 750 in the Dead Lift, and the Canadian has made a full D.K.B. or Squat (with the bar behind the neck) with nearly 700 pounds (Editor's Note: Doug is reported to have made 760 now, and Anderson's latest performance at the time of writing is said to be three repetitions with 800 pounds.). Fantastic! Without any specialization Anderson has bench pressed 400 or more . . . and Hepburn has bench pressed 560 in public.

Both these heavyweights weight between 280 and 305 pounds, and the 22-year old Paul Anderson has made such colossal headway with thigh, hip and back power routines that he can now perform "quarter squats" with more than three-quarters of a ton on his shoulders.

One of the arguments set forth against this type of power training is that it wouldn't necessarily succeed with men of lighter bodyweight, or people of differing anatomical types.

Let us see what Dave Sheppard has to say on the matter.

I am going to quote from communication received from him in 1954 . . . "Last month at the California State Championships I made a Clean with 401, but lost the Jerk because my boot got "stuck" to the platform. I lifted at Fresno, California on May 8th in an exhibition that lasted only twenty minutes. I didn't have a chance to warm up and took only about 60 to 90 seconds rest between attempts. My bodyweight was 190 at the time. I pressed 250-275-291 (and believe I could have managed 300 that day). I snatched 260-380-301, but did not attempt a world record because it would not have "counted." I commenced the clean and jerk with 350 . . . made 375 . . . and then did a very easy 403. After that I jerked 420 from the shoulders.

Dave had at that time "switched back to the Squat Clean style" . . . and his letter finished . . . "am still doing Anderson quarter squats. Nothing compares with this form of power building. I work up to all the weights I have -- which is about 800 pounds -- and do sets of five. I am also performing lots of snatch pulls, working up to 420 with sets of two." (end letter). 

After a series of brilliant exploits in 1954 when weighing around 190, Dave Sheppard lifted a little less than was anticipated in some quarters when the Nationals were run off. However, his best totals to date are sufficient indication that he can bring the medium-heavyweight World Title back to America if only a little more bodyweight comes his way during the coming months.

But should the "tactical position" indicate that Dave would be better employed as a light-heavyweight when the Munich world tournament is run -- I think this could be brought about without too great a loss of strength or lifting power.

At his full 190 pounds, young Dave is in the enviable position of being able to menace no less than two weight class divisions, like Tommy Kono, and this is a distinct asset at the present time, in view of the mysterious lack of natural American weightlifting talent in the bantam, featherweight and lightweight divisions.

A few months ago Dave worked away at the D.K.B. until he reached a point where he could make a limit squat with 515 pounds.

Of course I quite realize that this young American is one of the world's greatest snatch stylists . . . but the fact remains that for a long time he has been trying to boost his Olympic total "by enlarging his fundamental basic power," and judging by his exploits during the first six months of 1954 it looks very much as though he is succeeding . . . after previously having been stuck with his Olympic total around the 900 mark to a very considerable time.

If anybody had dared to suggest a few years ago that certain forms of dead lifting could be adapted to advantage to the training schedule of an Olympic lifter . . . they would have been met with ridicule in all probability. Yet there are is all sorts of evidence on tap which tends to show that proper scientific exploitation of the dead lift might be most helpful.

The heaviest clean and jerk poundages can be made to feel fairly light once the lifter's dead lifting ability has been enlarged, and people like Marvin Eder and Anderson tend to strengthen that point of view. It is small wonder that Anderson can commence the clean and jerk at 400 pounds . . . after all, he can dead lift 750, and if he happens to be dealing with heavy stuff in training he sometimes has his hands "strapped" to the bar. (The Russians also use canvas straps to secure their grip when performing heavy repetition high pulls).

Not every lifter is bitten by the championship bug. There are thousands who are content to lift in the friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere of inter-club competitions, and an even greater number who just use the cult of weight-lifting as a means of keeping reasonably fit.

Good luck to them all I say . . . whatever their particular objective happens to be!

But for the few who promise something better, and have that vital driving ambition to excel . . . the matters I have mentioned in this article should prove useful in solving some of the problems they are bound to encounter in their struggles to improve and get to the top.

Idle gossip can often be safely discounted. But when actual evidence, such as I have set forth here, is provided -- then it is worthy of serious consideration.


Take the case of Peter George as one more example. It is not generally remembered now, but Pete George was put through a course of basic power work right at the commencement of his weight-lifting career. And when we remember that this 160-170 pound athlete has made peak lifts of 264-281-375, this type of foundation work doesn't appear to have done him any harm.

Here are a few notes from my scrapbook:

At 14 years of age he made 10 squats with 300 pounds. A year later he made dead lifts of 460 and 480, and although only a lightweight, squatted once with 420. At the age of 17 Pete dead lifted 500, clean and jerked two 100 pound dumbbells, and Continentalled 390 to the shoulders.

This great athlete commenced training with Larry Barnholth  when he was 11 years of age, and was put on a program of body-building for three years.

Note: anyone in possession of the full Barnholth "Secrets of the Squat Snatch" book willing to scan, photocopy or loan it to me for transcription on this blog probably knows it would be much appreciated by lifters everywhere. Just a thought, but a thought worth thinking about. 

When he was 17 years of age, on one occasion he made 30 consecutive dead lifts with 250 pounds, and 17 snatches from the hand with 180. He was trained to use the squat style for both the clean and the snatch, in the execution of which he is now a great artist.

The Squat style of lifting, when practiced over a period of years, is a wonderful "muscle maker" . . . and we should always remember that fact.

I can recall a remark made to me by John Davis when we were at Milan together. The great heavyweight said that dead-lifting was not part of his training. But he admitted that years ago as a light-heavyweight he had succeeded with about 700 pounds . . . and he also admitted that "if he had to" he could still rely on lifting that much.

The implication was crystal clear -- he still had the power. Well, it looks very much like Hepburn, Anderson, Kono, Sheppard and Schemansky also have the power, judging by their recent performances.

By lifting last year as a 219 lb. heavyweight at the U.S. National, Norbert Schemansky did just what I hoped he would do . . . use the occasion as a tryout for Vienna, later in the season. This athlete demonstrated a Continental Clean and Jerk at Vienna without unduly extending himself, and he also continentalled 450 and stood upright with it. His musculature was very, very impressive.

Bench pressing seems to be a set part of his Olympic preparation nowadays, and I saw him perform slowly and deliberately, with a close hand spacing, weights ranging between 308 and 340. His Olympic pressing ability is definitely improving without resorting to questionable styles.

He has to keep a watchful eye on the opposition all the time. For with phenomena like Bradford, Anderson, Sheppard and Vorobiev at home and abroad . . . the most astute generalship will be necessary in choosing his weight division this year. I think he would like to stay heavy, but should tactical necessity make a reduction to the 198-lb class imperative he may make a general advance on the best performances of the past. In any case, the fur is going to fly!

The problems connected with Basic Power Training are now, I feel, very real indeed -- and in view of their undoubted influence at the present time -- I intend to pursue the subject further in another article in the near future. 

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