Articles from August 2010



The Rolling Thunder

by Al Myers

USAWA Grip Star, Matt Graham, lifting 275 pounds on the Rolling Thunder in training this past weekend. (photo by Bob Burtzloff)

One of the popular “grip toys” introduced by Randy Strossen and IronMind Enterprises is the Rolling Thunder.  This grip device is different from anything else.  I have never read about any type of  gripping device similar to this used by Old-Time Strongmen.  It is indeed a novel, unique idea!!  Thanks to Randy and his promotion of it – the Rolling Thunder is now well-known within the “grip circle” and lifters in general.  IronMind sells it for a modest $59.95 plus shipping, as advertised on the IronMind Website.  For a price like that, buy the original and don’t waste your time trying to make your own or buying a knock-off.  Afterall, don’t you want a original Rolling Thunder!

The Rolling Thunder consists of a rotating  sleeved handle  with 2.375″ diameter PVC, over a fixed handle shaft.  It attaches to a loaded vertical bar.  It is a one-hand lift that tests the grip like none other!  When you lift using the Rolling Thunder, the handle feels like it wants to “roll” out of your hand allowing the weight to crash to the floor making a sound like thunder, and thus the name Rolling Thunder .   It has been on the market since 1993.  Randy initially promoted it by asking this simple question, “Will anyone EVER lift 300 pounds on the Rolling Thunder?”. It took several years, but finally the grip phenom/professional Strongman from England Mark Felix, broke this magic barrier.  Felix currently holds the World Record at 301 pounds, set January 18th, 2008.  The Rolling Thunder has gained such popularity that contests are ran that focus on it only. The Gillingham brothers have helped popularize it by having it as part of their GNC Grip Gauntlet, which they run in their booth at the Arnold every year.

The Rolling Thunder is not a USAWA event, but is often pulled out after meets for impromptu competitions.  Last spring after the USAWA Dino Gym Grip Contest this was the case.  Andy Durniat amazed everyone when he broke the Dino Gym record with a lift of 230 pounds!  He did this AFTER the grip competition!!!

I consider anyone who can lift over 200 pounds on the Rolling Thunder as National Class, and those over 250 pounds World Class.  The Rolling Thunder can be very humbling – often it seems “easy” moving up in weight, only to reach a point when you add another 5 pounds it becomes impossible!!  If you don’t have a Rolling Thunder, go to IronMind Enterprises and order yours today.  It will be an investment that you won’t ever regret.

Real All-Round Strength

by Thom Van Vleck

Anthony Parker demonstrating the "strength" of his hair

Prof. Anthony Barker is not one of the most well known strongmen.  He is perhaps better known by those he influenced, namely Warren Lincoln Travis and Bernarr McFadden, to name a couple.

Barker also practiced early “All Around Strength”.  He was famous for not only having strong muscles, but being strong all over!  He would do all the “normal” strongman training, but he would also train his jaws with teeth lifting, he would practice lifting with his hair, he did deep breathing to develop his lungs, he was even know to work on developing the muscles in his face!

He claimed to have done 500lbs in the teeth lift and a one arm bent press of 250lbs.  He was said to “cultivate” his “luxuriant, wavy hair” and massaged his scalp daily as part of his training.  He would allow any man to jump for 6 feet onto his stomach as he lay on the floor.  He would roll spoons and crumble china plates to increase his hand strength.  He was an expert boxer and was said to have hit the heavy weight champ Bob Fitzsimmons so hard he knocked him across the room!  Fitzsimmons had beat Jim Corbett and was the first ever three division champ….so he was no slouch.  Barker would even allow a helper to jump off a 4 ft height right on his face to prove his well developed facial muscles.  Barker also did all the feats of lifting people in every way imaginable.  One of his favorite feats was to lift a 250lb barbell on his shoulders and then have two big men hang on the ends.  He would begin to twirl around often sending them flying!

Now, today, I think we realize that some of his “strength”, such as his hair, was more genetic than developed and I don’t think I’m going to let anyone jump on my face any time soon (even if it might be an improvement).  But really, have we lost something becoming so specialized in our training?  In the USAWA we pride ourselves on having literally hundreds of lifts that can be competed and records recorded.  But the old time “All-Rounders” literally “DID IT ALL”.  My grandfather trained that way, coming up with all kinds of unique physical feats and stunts to challenge himself.  Now I’m beginning to think that the Old Timers had it right.

So, be like Prof. Barker, and think like a real All-Rounder!

Apollo – William Bankier

by Dennis Mitchell

A classical strongman pose by William "Apollo" Bankier.

William Bankier was born in Banff Scotland, December 10, 1870.  His parents were school teachers.  As a youngster he was fascinated by the circus, and at the age of twelve he ran away from home to  become a laborer at a circus.  This lasted only a short time as his father soon caught up with him and took him back home.  After a few months at home William once again ran away to get  employment on a ship.  A shipwreck ended this job and he ended up in Montreal Canada where he got a job working on a farm.  It was hard work and low wages.  He was now fourteen years old.  He had an opportunity to join Porgie O’Brien’s road show, so he left the farm and once again he ran away.  One of the acts in the show was a strong man and William spent any free time he had watching and learning from him.  William was now fifteen years old.

While the strong man was a good performer he was also a heavy drinker, and one day was unable to perform.  William performed in his place, and while he was not as accomplished as the strong man he put on satisfactory show.  As the strong man missed more shows, William continued to perform in his place and continued to improve and progress as a performer and strong man.  He stayed with the O’Brien show for about a year, and then joined William Muldoon’s entourage of athletes.   Muldoon changed William’s name, and he now became, Carl Clyndon the Canadian Strong Boy. At this time he also added wrestling to his act.  After a time he felt it was time to move on and he teamed up with Jack Kilrain, a former heavy weight boxing champion.  He remained with Jack until he was seventeen years old, and added boxing to his other talents.  His next move was to team up with “Buffalo Bill Cody’s” wild west show.  From there he joined the Ginnett Circus for three months, and once again was on the move.  While still performing as Carl Clydon  he was spotted by one of the owners of the Bostock Circus, known for having the best performers and acts.  It was with the Bostock Circus that he became a truly polished and outstanding performer.  One of  his most outstanding acts was to do a harness lift with a full grown elephant.  No tricks were used, it was a true lift.

While in Bournemouth England, at the suggestion of Sir John Everett Millais, who later was President of the Royal Academy, Carl Clydon changed his name to Apollo.  He traveled around the world  performing to large audiences.  He was an excellent performer and hailed to be as good as Sandow.  This was in 1899.  He even challenged Sandow to a contest in weightlifting, wrestling, running, and  jumping.  Sandow did not accept his challenge.  Apollo opened his act with a posing display.  He was not a big men standing 5′6.5″, weighed 175 pounds, had a 47″ chest and 15.75″ arms.  His legs were exceptionally well developed.  In the event known as the “Tomb of Hercules” he could support a piano with a six person orchestra and a dancer.  He could jump over the back of a chair either frontwards or backwards wile holding a 56 pound weight in each hand.  He would end his performance by offering ten English pounds to anyone who could carry a large sack off stage.  Many people tried, including Arthur Saxon, and could not do it.   Apollo would finish his performance by carrying the sack off stage.  The sack weighed 475 pounds.  After retiring from the stage, Apollo became a wrestling promoter, and later teamed up with Monte Saldo ( who we will write about in an other article ) and opened the Apollo-Saldo Academy.  Many well known amateur and professional wresters, boxers , and jiu-jitsu competitors trained at the Academy.  William Bankier, better known as Apollo, died in 1949 at the age of 80.

Donald Dinnie: Scotland’s Jim Thorpe

by Thom Van Vleck

A classic photo of Donald Dinnie with a few of his awards.

In 2006 I visited Scotland and while there made a visit to the “Dinnie Stones” to take a crack at lifting them.  The stones have a become part of the legend of Donald Dinnie.  A legend that is long and complicated and not unlike the American sports legend, Jim Thorpe.  Both men seemed gifted to do just about anything they wanted to athletically.  They were strong, fast, and agile and could seemingly adapt to any sport in a quick manner.  In other words, they were ATHLETES!

Dinnie was born at Balnacraig, Birse, near Aboyne, Aberdeenshire in Scotland in 1837.  He competed in over 11,000 athletic competitions in a 50 year span.  Thorpe was born near Prague, Oklahoma in 1888 very near where my father was born and he and I share a birthday of May 28th and Thorpe likely competed in 1000’s of different athletic events in a career that lasted over two decades.  A strict comparison of these two athletes would be difficult.  I do know that Jim Thorpe and Donald Dinnie both threw many of the same implements, such as the 56lb Weight for Distance, the hammer, the shot, the javelin, and ran in many of the same types of distance events.  But in many ways it’s like comparing Muhammed Ali with Joe Louis….they weren’t at their best at the same time.

I like Dinnie because he’s a legendary figure, but was a real man that may have actually been able to live up to that legend.  Fittingly, he was born the son of a stone mason.  He won his first event when he was 16 and beat a strongman in a wrestling meet and won 1 pound sterling.  He had a reign as Scottish Champion from 1856 to 1876 and when his best track and field performances  are compared with the 1896  Athens Olympics (the first modern Olympics) he could possibly have won 7 Gold medals, a Silver, and a Bronze.  This would have indeed put him in a class with Thorpe!

Thorpe had a lengthy list of amazing wins and feats in basketball, football, track & field and baseball.  Dinnie won over 2000 hammer throwing contests, over 2000 wrestling matches, 200 weightlifting meets, and some 500  running and hurdling events.  I read that in 40 years he was undefeated in the caber toss in 1000’s of contests.

Another area they have in common is their images endure today and sell products!  Dinnie, while still alive, endorsed a soft drink in the United Kingdom called Iron Brew or today is know as Iron Bru.  His image is still regularly seen as is Thorpe’s.

Dinnie, like Thorpe, did barnstorming to earn money while displaying his athletic prowess.   Dinnie first toured the United States in 1897 and earned a small fortune doing it and was still touring New Zealand and Australia at age 60….and winning!  William Wallace is a legendary patriot, maybe the greatest patriot, of Scotland and when a statue was done of him, they used Dinnie as the body model as he was considered the perfect man.  Thorpe was studied extensively by Doctors at one point who were trying to figure out just why he was such a great athlete.

Finally, these two great athletes share a similar end.  During their day, they were often hates as much as they were loved.  Other athletes hated them because they often made them look bad and took all the prize money.  Thorpe earned a fortune in his lifetime but died broke.  Dinnie, it is said, earned what would be equal to 2.5 million dollars in today’s money, but also had to rely on charity at the end of his life.  I don’t think this takes away from the luster of their careers, indeed, to me it only adds to it.  These men lived big and stayed that way.  I read of a famous person who was suffering from Parkinson’s and was still working as hard as ever.  A reporter asked them, “Shouldn’t you rest more in your condition”?  The man looked at her and said, “Rest for what…..so I can die well rested”.  I think these men lived with that same sentiment, and I can respect that.

Louie Cyr’s Dumbbell

by John Grimek

John Grimek prepares to lift the famous Cyr Dumbbell.

The Cyr dumbell we had was always a bone of contention.  Men from all parts of the country came to see if they might get it overhead.  It weighed “only” 202 pounds empty but it could be loaded with lead shot to over 270.  We never loaded it over 269 ½ pounds, and even then it defied most men who tried it.

One time, Milo Steinborn and four or five other wrestlers stopped by on their way to Baltimore.  Milo had Primo Carnera with him – truly an impressive individual.  When Carnera shook hands you could feel your whole hand being swallowed by something that felt like an octopus.  Because all the men were wrestling that evening none of them cared to train that afternoon, but most of the lifters kept on training.  In the center of the gym was the awkward Cyr dumbell that seemed to be in the way of everyone.  Without thinking I picked it up off the floor and tossed it aside so it wouldn’t be in the way.  I remembered the huge hands Carnera had when he shook my hand, and knew if anyone could handle this weight it was him.  I called out to him to try it. He smiled as if to say, “that’s easy,” and no one would doubt him.  He came over, very casually gripped the stubby handle and made a half-hearted attempt to lift it.   A look of surprise came over his face as the weight slipped from his grip.  I offered him some chalk to absorb the moisture of his hand.  With some disdain, instead, he grabbed the handle and though he lifted it a little you could see that the weight was a great surprise to him.

The Cyr Dumbbell now resides at the York Barbell Museum.

I tried to explain that there was a slight technique to handle this weight.  He just kept looking at me and the awkward hunk of iron mass that was defying him.  I chalked up, especially the heel of my hand, gripped the weight and tossed it a few feet to one side.  Carnera only growled.  However, I feel sure that with his banana-like fingers he could have done things with that Cyr dumbell that no one else could do.  Others felt much the same way about this big man.

I must point out that many men who tried to lift the small clumsy dumbell failed.  This awkward hunk of iron required lots of practice before one learned the little details needed to be successful at lifting it.  No one played around with this weight more than I did; and eventually I was the only one who lifted it off the floor to an overhead position using one and only when it weighed 254 pounds.  Stanko was the first man who picked it up off the floor in one sweeping movement.  Unfortunately, I do not remember how much it was loaded to at the time.  The weight of that dumbell was always being changed.  It always looked formidable and defying. Those who tried it remember that only too well.

Training Over 40

by Thom Van Vleck

Picture of Hermann and Elsie Goerner from a 1948 issue of Ironman.

I was looking through my 1948, June/July issue of Ironman recently and came across this article on Herman Goerner.  Herman is a favorite of mine and this article was by Edgar Mueller, who wrote a biography on Goerner titled “Goerner the Mighty”.   I included the photo for  couple of reasons.  One, it’s a great picture of Herman and a rare one with his wife, also a very strong woman.  For another reason, it gave me a chuckle that Peary Radar, who captioned the photo, makes the statement that she was “not the slender, willowy type of figure so popular with women today”.  That’s the truth!

As I read it, there was a comment on Herman training after the age of 40.  As I am rolling in on 50 it is of more and more of interest to me how older men train.  I was once talking to my Uncle Phil Jackson, who trains several hours a day even in his 60’s about being sore.  I told him that when I was 20, I could train hard and then train hard again the next day.  At 30, it seemed to take a day or two to recover, and now in my 40’s, it seemed to take a week.  His response:  ”Thom, I’ve been sore for the past 10 years!”.  He explained that if waited until he was “fully recuperated” he’d probably never train and there was a point, around age 55, that he just decided to keep training regardless of how bad or sore he was.  It has paid off for him!

In the article, Mueller talks about Goerner training in his early days 5 times a week with 2 days full rest.  Then, during his professional career from 1921 on, he worked out daily.  But then it mentions after the age of 40 he trained 3 days a week.  It seems that he obviously cut back on his training for a reason.  This may have been retirement, or it may have been his recuperation has decreased.   I say this because at one point Mueller states in the article, “He (Goerner) trained always as the mood took him – varying his program to suit his energy and condition of the moment and never did he force himself to perform and workout when not feeling  in the mood.

My theory is that Goerner cut back on his workouts as his recuperation went down at 40.  I realize there may be other factors, such as retirement from performing, but I believe recuperation was the primary factor.  I have also cut back on training time as I have gotten older.  My workouts are as hard as ever, but more time between them and less “maxing” out in sessions have become the norm.  But what happens when I’m not in the “mood” as Mueller puts it.

I think that day will come, like my Uncle Phil, and when it happens I need to push through it like Phil does.  Because he will say, once he starts, the soreness goes away and the “mood” comes back and he benefits from it.  Recently, on a trip to the JWC gym, Phil hit a seated press behind the neck with 180lbs at a body weight of 220lbs at the age of 63 in a fashion so strict I think Bill Clark would have stood up and applauded!  My point is, he’s in good, strong shape!

So, as you age, you need more recuperation.  But don’t mistake recuperation with taking it easy!  Make your workouts count and don’t let recuperation become an excuse for a missed workout.  The day will come with it doesn’t come as easy, but the benefits will make it worth it.   Right now, I think I’m still in my Goerner phase, but when my Jackson phase come, I plan on sticking with it.  After all, Art Montini, Bill Clark, and Dale Friez have paved the way and set records for the rest of us to shoot for!

The “Vert Bar” Deadlift

by Thom Van Vleck

Rudy Bletscher performing the 2 Bar Vertical Bar Deadlift at the Club Challenge last March.

Recently, I was talking to my Uncle Phil Jackson, the second generation leader of the Jackson Weightlifting Club and I told him about the “Straight Weight Challenge”.  Phil has been my coach and training guru since day one.  He once told me that it was no use to think I could ever know more than him about training because he had learned it all and he had “forgotten more than I would ever  know”.  I said there were 5 lifts involved and named them off.  When I got to the Vertical Bar Deadlift he paused and in his usual “old school coach” fashion said, “Well! I guess I’m gonna have to ask….what the he!! is a Vertical BAR!”.

Here’s the USAWA Rule book on the Vertical Bar Deadlift, more specifically, the 2 bar lift which is what we’ll be doing in the Straight Weight Challenge:

H24. Vertical Bar Deadlift – 2 Bars, 1”

The setup for this lift requires two Vertical Bars, which is a bar of one inch diameter with a maximum length of 18 inches. A collar or plate must be tightly fastened or welded to the bottom so plates may be added to the bars. No knurling is allowed on the bars. The lifter must start with the bars on each side of the lifter. Width of feet placement is optional, but the feet must be parallel and in line with the torso. Feet must not move during the lift, but the heels and toes may rise. Each bar may be gripped by any grip near the top of the Vertical Bars. The forearms are not allowed to touch the bars. The lifting hands or weight may accidentally touch the lifter’s body or legs during the lift, provided that it does not aid in the lift. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The body must then straighten, lifting the Vertical Bars from the platform. The legs must be straight and knees locked and the body upright at the completion of the lift. Any rotation of the bars must be completely stopped. Once the weight is motionless, an official will give a command to end the lift.

Phil then asked me why I added the Vert Bar Deadlift to the contest.  I’m pretty sure he was asking because he has always been pretty critical of my grip strength (and my use of straps from time to time) and thinking, “If he isn’t good at it, why is he adding it”.  Well, to me, a good USAWA meet has to have at least one lift that tests grip in some way and, to be honest, the vert bar is one of my better gripping events.  It helps that my other two team members that have phenomenal grip!

I know that the Dino Gym has answered the challenge for the Straight Weight Challenge, I hope another club will step up!  After seeing the picture of Tully hitting that very impressive 330 Push Press….this will be a close contest!

Darth Vader and the Dinnie Stones

By Thom Van Vleck

David Prowse, who became famous portraying Darth Vader, lifts the Dinnie Stones in 1962.

I was perusing my June-July 1964 issue of Iron Man magazine when I came across an article by Dave Webster.  It was titled “The Stones of Strength are Conquered” and it gives a short history of the Dinnie Stones and then talks about Dave Prowse lifting them.  At that time Dave Prowse was “only” the British heavy weight lifting champion….but later he would become famous for a role he played in was was hoped to be a “moderately” successful Sci-Fi movie.  That role was Darth Vader, the movie was “Star Wars” and unless you have lived in a hole the past 35 years….you know the rest!

Dave is listed in the article as 6′7″ (I had heard 6′6″ in other articles) and weighing 273lbs.  He was on a tour with George Eiferman at the time doing lifting feats across Scotland.  Webster states in the article at that time only “John Gallagher, the Scottish dead lift champion” had been successful in lifting the stones since Dinnie had done it all those years earlier.

In the story, Prowse was taken there by a local promoter and there was a television crew and newspaper men there with cameras.  It said that Prowse lifted the stones 6 times, but after that, the article is less clear.  What I mean is that in the photo it is obvious that Prowse is using STRAPS!  The article admits as much, but a line in it makes it seem that Prowse lifted them without straps then used straps for photos.  Here’s the line, “He did – not once, but six times. Using hand straps he repeated a straddle lift with the two stones time after time for photographs and film.”

It is NOT my intention to take away from a great athlete like Prowse or call into question Dave Webster, a man I have met personally several times and was kind enough to compliment me on my own writing (how could a guy like that be bad! haha).  I just want to report the story and note the simple fact that in the photo used, there were straps being used.   As I have stated before in my stories on the Dinnie Stones, It appears that there have been others that have claimed to have lifted the stones…..using straps…..and that little detail is omitted.  Perhaps Dinnie himself used straps and this was not seen as a big deal back then….nobody will ever know for sure.  I have just stated before that lifting the stones with straps is a feat, but lifting them without straps is a WORLD CLASS feat.

It is also interesting to note how Webster reports Dinnie’s feat.  For years there has been a question of whether Dinnie simply deadlifted them, or walked with them, or even carried them across the bridge near the Potarch Inn!  I have been there and that Bridge in at least a couple hundred feat and arches up in the air…..a feat I would have to say would be impossible to carry both stones at once across that bridge.  But Webster states it as such:  ”…Donald Dinnie…lived in this area before touring the world as a professional sportsman.  His father was a builder and one day was repairing the Potarch Bridge.  He used the stones as an anchor in suspending a roped plank over the side of the bridge and when that side was finished Donald was said to have carried the two boulders across the bridge to the other wall-a distance of some five yards!”  So, I take it the stones were on one side (not one end) of the bridge and were carried across to the other side of the bridge (and not to the other end).  This, to me, seems very plausible!

If you ever make the trip to Scotland, the Dinnie Stones are a must see.  The country side around it is beautiful and peaceful, the bridge is a work of art, the river nearby pristine, and go in and have a scotch in the Potarch Inn….and I recommend the mixed grill plate….you will get your fill after tugging on the Dinnie Stones!

The Push Press – From Rack

by Al Myers

Scott Tully, of the Dino Gym, training the Push Press from Rack with 330 pounds in preparation for the Straight Weight Postal Challenge.

One of the lifts that will be “tested” at the Straight Weight Postal Challenge hosted this month by Thom Van Vleck is the Push Press from a Rack.  I want to “highlight” some of the rules for this lift.  The USAWA Rule book defines the rules for this lift as:

The rules of the Press – From Rack apply with these exceptions. The heels and toes may rise during the press. However, the feet must not move. The legs may bend during the press to initiate upward movement, but the legs must straighten simultaneously with the completion of the press.

The USAWA rules for the Press from the rack are as follows:

The lifter may take the bar from a rack, stands, or supports. The bar must be positioned on the chest as defined by the rules of the Clean prior to the start of the lift. The lifter must step back from the rack at least 2 steps. Once the bar and lifter are motionless, an official will give a command to press. The press is done according to the rules of the Press as defined in the rules of the Clean and Press. An official will give a command to lower the bar. Upon completion, spotters may assist the lifter in returning the bar to the rack.

As you can see, the rules are pretty straight forward for this lift.  One rule that I want to point out is “the legs must straighten simultaneously with the completion of the press”.   You can not  “catch” the weight overhead with your arms straight and  legs bent. That is not allowed.  This is a Push Press – not a Push Jerk.  Also, unlike a strict press, the heels are allowed to rise when doing a Push Press.  This DOES NOT mean the feet can move from their original position!  The bar MUST be held overhead until a down command is given by an official.

Thom has proposed this postal meet to find the STRONGEST team, not the best formula adjusted team.   There will be NO formulas used (bodyweight adjustments or age adjustments) in determining the best 3 person team.  Just the “total weight” lifted!!  This is the time, and opportunity,  for those supporting this idea to enter a USAWA competition where formulas can not be used as an excuse not to enter all-round weightlifting meets!   Results must be sent to Thom by the end of August to participate.

To Be Young and Strong!

by Al Myers

Colby Duranleau, of the Dino Gym, shown training the log last weekend in the gym. Colby is 19 years old, and at 6'6", 320 pounds bodyweight has a bright strength future ahead of him. His current training personal best with the log is 315 pounds.

It is always exciting to me when some new, young lifter joins the gym that shows great promise.  A few months ago Colby Duranleau started training at the Dino Gym and has made unbelievable progress in his training since then.   Those of us that have been around the iron game for quite a while (I hate to admit it – but that includes ME!) have the responsibility to help guide the “next generation” into the sport.  I think of those that helped me get started many years ago.  If it wasn’t for their guidance and encouragement, I might not have stayed after training and competing.

This is so true with our organization, the USAWA.  The other “veterans”, like myself, need to take the time to teach new, younger lifters how to do the All-Round Lifts.  We aren’t going to be around forever, and the younger lifters are the future of our sport.  Just look at our USAWA President Denny Habecker and his protege Kohl Hess as an example.  Kohl is “only 16″ and already has great proficiency in the technique of many of the all-round lifts, due to the instruction given by Denny.  I was so impressed with Frank Ciavattone at the USAWA Nationals, where he and his son Frankie both participated.  It is obvious that Frank is doing his part in “passing down the tradition” to his son, who someday I predict will be one of the best lifters in the USAWA, the same as Frank has been for many years.   The USAWA will grow if each one of us takes the time to teach and mentor just one new lifter in the sport of all-round weightlifting.

A Look Back in USAWA History

by Al Myers

5 Years ago (June-August 2005)

* Frank Ciavattone won the USAWA/World Heavy Lift Championships in Walpole, Massachusetts on August 27, 2005.  Twelve competitors were in the competition.

* Steve Schmidt had a busy summer putting on strongman shows.  In North Judson, Indiana on June 18th, 2005 he pulled a 58,200# caboose 90 feet with his teeth.  On August 27th, 2005 in Knox, Indiana he pulled with his teeth a 18-Wheeler weighing 32,200 pounds.

*  Mike McBride wins Best Lifter at the USAWA National Championships on June 25-26, 2005 in Youngstown, Ohio.  The meet was hosted by Dick Hartzell and Carl LaRosa of the Jump Stretch Training Facility.

* The United States was the winner of the IAWA World Postal Championships promoted by the West Australian All-Round Association.  The six-man USAWA  team members included: Ed Schock, Eric Todd, Abe Smith, Al Myers, Lon Beffort, and Mike McBride.

* Frank Ciavattone, on June 11th 2005, performed a 800# Neck Lift at the New England Championships.

10 Years ago (June-August 2000)

*  On September 2-3, 2000, the IAWA World Championships was held in Mansfield, Massachusetts, hosted by meet director Frank Ciavattone.  A total of 39 lifters entered.

* Art Montini received the Ciavattone Award at the IAWA Awards Banquet.   This award was given annually by the Ciavattone Family in remembrance of Frank Ciavattone, Sr.

*  Howard Prechtel, the President of the USAWA and the IAWA at the time, broke a harness lifting record set by Warren Lincoln Travis in 1906.  To accomplish this record, Howard lifted 510 pounds for 3120 repetitions in 62 minutes, for a total poundage of 1,591,200 pounds.

* Three USAWA Clubs participated in the Postal League.  These clubs were the Powerzone Club, Ambridge BBC, and Clark’s Gym.

*  The 2000 USAWA National Championship’s Best Lifter was Ed Schock.  Schock just edged out Frank Ciavattone, John Monk and John McKean.  This championship  was hosted by Denny Habecker on July 1st and 2nd.

*  Bob Hirsh was inducted into the USAWA Hall of Fame.

15 Years ago (June-August 1995)

*  Clark’s Gym was the host for the 1995 USAWA National Championships held in Columbia, Missouri on June 3-4.  Kerry Clark was the  Female Best Lifter and Art Montini was the Male Best Lifter.

*  Howard Prechtel broke a long standing record set by Warren Lincoln Travis in 1927.  Travis had lifted 5,500,000 pounds using 1000 pounds for 5,500 repetitions in the Back Lift in 3 hours, 9 minutes.  Prechtel did 1,111 pounds for 5,460 repetitions for a “total poundage” of 6,066,060 pounds.  Howard was 57 years old when he accomplished this amazing record.

*  Howard Prechtel hosted the 1995 IAWA World Championships in Eastlake, Ohio on August 12-13, 1995.  Bob Hirsh was the men’s Best Lifter and Noi Phumchaona was the women’s Best Lifter.

20 Years age (June-August 1990)

*  The third annual IAWA World Championships was held in Glasgow, Scotland.  The best USAWA performances were by Noi Phumchona (2nd among women), Art Montini (second among the masters) and Barry Bryan (third among the men).

*  Barry Bryan was the top Open Male Lifter at the USAWA National Championships, hosted by Attilio Alacchi on July15-16.  Art Montini was the top Masters Lifter.  Jeanne Burchett was the top women’s lifter.

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(Credit is given to The Strength Journal, written and published by Bill Clark, for which all of the preceding information was found for this historical review.)

My Nautilus Leverage Grip Machine

by Al Myers

The Dino Gym's Nautilus Leverage Grip Machine.

The other day I was inspecting  all the equipment in the Dino Gym for any possible use damage (which there wasn’t) and it dawned on me that I have made all of the equipment in the gym, except one piece.  This piece is very unique – and it is the  Nautilus Leverage Grip Machine.  Dino Gym member Scott Tully donated it to the gym several years ago. It had been in  long-term storage at a local college for many years, and was “found” when the college was cleaning out and discarding old items from the college’s old weight-room.  It is still is great shape and now gets lots of use by the Dino Gym members.  Before Scott brought this grip machine in, I had never seen one before – even though in my younger training days I spent time training in Nautilus Facilities.  In the 80’s Nautilus was VERY popular and most towns had a Nautilus Gym.  I always imagined that this grip machine probably never was a big seller, as Nautilus main sales pitch at the time seemed to be aimed at the businessman who wanted to get in a full body workout in 30 minutes.  Most fitness lifters are not too concerned about having a strong grip.

This Nautilus Gripper focuses on the development of the  forearm muscles.  As you squeeze using both hands, the leverage arm rises.  Plates can be added to the end of the leverage arm to increase the difficulty. It also helps with the grip strength that you develop from training grippers, as the squeezing motion is very similar.  I always wondered how old this Nautilus Gripper was, as it appears to be an “original”.  Recently I posed this question on the IronHistory Forum.  Robert Francis gave me the answer I was looking for. (THANKS ROBERT! )  He explained this leverage grip machine was first manufactured by a Nautilus plant in Mexia, Texas in 1985.  It was one of the original Leverage Nautilus Machines.  It filled a line of other Nautilus Leverage Machines that included items like the Leg Press Machine and the Pullover Nautilus Machine.  Robert went on to explain that these Leverage Machines were the seed product of Hammer Strength, the company that formed after Arthur Jones sold off this line in 1986 to Travis Ward.

I feel very fortunate to have this unique piece of Nautilus equipment in my gym.  It is in a gym that appreciates it’s worth – and has members who will use it for its intended purpose to build a strong grip.  If anyone else has equipment in their gyms that they would like to see “highlighted” here in the USAWA Daily News, please send me a story and pictures.  Lifters ALWAYS like to hear how other lifters train, and learn about equipment that builds strength.

Taking Care of Your Back – Part 4

Part 4 – Reverse Hyperextensions

by Al Myers

Al Myers demostrating the "bottom position" of a Reverse Hyperextension.

Al Myers demonstrating the "bottom position" of a Reverse Hyperextension.

The routine of using a Reverse Hyperextension Machine in your training is nothing new.  This exercising device has been around for close to 20 years now, thanks to its inventor Louie Simmons.  I remember reading years ago Louie came to develop this machine when he was recovering from a serious back injury, and the only exercise he could do was  leg raises while laying on his stomach in his bed after surgery.  As he improved,  he started letting his legs hang off the bed, and then eventually starting hanging small amounts of weights on his ankles as he did this exercise.  He made a full recovery, and returned to high levels of competitive powerlifting, after sustaining an injury that would have left most people as lifelong cripples.  He is the ONE who should receive full credit for the invention of the Reverse Hyperextension.

I have used the Reverse Hyperextension in many ways, but I have found that the BEST use of it is for back recovery.  It has always been part of my “active recovery” back workouts on Thursday.  I don’t go very heavy on it, usually just 100 pounds for sets of 10.  I only do 4 or 5 sets.  This exercise is a non-compressive exercise, meaning that it does not apply any compressive force to the vertebrae.  It is the ONLY back exercise that I have found that will  “work out the back” at the same time it stretches the back muscles in tension.  You will especially feel it in the muscles at the lower lumbar – pelvis tie-ins.  You will feel a slight “pump” in these muscles after doing this exercise. This increase in blood flow to these muscles will greatly enhance the back’s recovery from your  previous hard deadlifting sessions.  Truly an essential exercise that should be part of everyone’s training program!  All together you can accomplish this with only 15 minutes per week.   I add a unique “twist” to the Reverse Hyperextension by adding a light band to it.  This band adds slightly more tension at the “top” of the lift, when your legs are fully extended behind you.

Al Myers demonstrating the "top position" of a Reverse Hyperextension. Notice how the band is attached.

Another exercise I like to do with the  Reverse Hyperextension Machine is Leg Curls, to work the hamstrings muscles.  I have never read about anyone else doing this particular exercise with this machine, even though I am sure others have.  To perform this Leg Curl, my initial movement is to curl the legs, after which I extend the legs behind me (while keeping the legs bent)  like a normal Reverse Hyperextension.  You will feel the ENTIRE hamstring being involved in this movement, from the knee to the pelvis tie-ins.  I used to do recumbent lying leg curls to work my hamstrings, but abandoned that movement in favor of this one. I felt lying leg curls only focused on the lower hamstrings, and didn’t work the upper hamstrings adequately. Again, I’ll do 4-5 sets of 10 of this exercise following my normal Reverse Hyperextensions in another 15 minutes.  So there you have it- 30 minutes a week on the Reverse Hyperextension, but with benefits that far exceed that time commitment.

This sums up my Thursday workout.  I feel it really helps my back recovery so I can train my back hard twice per week on a regular schedule.  Other things – make friends with a good chiropractor and make frequent appointments.  A slight shift in vertebral alignments or pelvis alignment needs to be adjusted as soon as it happens to avoid training setbacks.  Don’t wait a week and see if things get better – make an appointment immediately!!   I don’t have access to massages, but I know some lifters who feel that really helps in back recovery.  I use a jacuzzi a few times per week – and I know that helps relax the back which aids in recovery.  Occasionally I combine it with a cold shower, or a “cold douche” as my English friends would call it.  This was a favorite recovery method used by the great Old-Time Strongman Arthur Saxon.

If anyone has more specific questions on this workout on mine, please contact me and I’ll be happy to explain it further.

Taking Care of Your Back – Part 3

Part 3 – Have Strong Abs

by Al Myers

Training the abdominal muscles is often overlooked by weightlifters.  Bodybuilders usually go overboard with ab training because they are in search of the perfect 6-pack.  Us weightlifters are just as happy having a perfect keg instead. I learned in college during a physiology course that opposing muscle groups should be of comparable strength in order  to prevent injury due to muscle imbalances.  That hit home for me in my training.  It is easy to overlook less important muscle groups because they don’t seem to be “the  major players” needed in a certain lift.  Think about this, and I’m going to use Powerlifters as my example. Are most Powerlifters upper back as strong as their pec and front shoulder muscles?  Are their hamstrings as strong as their front quad muscles? And are their abs as strong as their back?  I would say usually not because the first muscle groups is not directly involved in the strength of the three powerlifts as the second muscle groups,  with the result over time leading to muscles strength imbalances,  setting up the possibility of injuries.

I’m a real believer in ab training in order to keep your back healthy.  I also believe the abdominal muscles should be trained like any other muscle group.  Too many lifters make the mistake of thinking the ab muscles are different somehow. These lifters  will do sit-ups or crunches EVERYDAY, and wonder why they are not getting stronger or building more abdominal muscles.  They will train with repetitions in the 100’s on these movements and wonder why it isn’t working.  Would these same lifters even THINK training the squat or deadlift like that would improve their strength??  I train my abs once per week – and train them hard and with low to moderate reps, just like any other exercise.  I do sets and rest between the sets like any other muscle group.  I like variety in training the abs, and have over 25 exercise that I will train (not in the SAME workout) in a random fashion.  I also pick ab exercises that don’t put undo stress on my lower back on my Thursday workout, as that would defeat the purpose of this “active recovery” day for my back.  When I was training for the 1000 pound Roman Chair Sit-up that I did a couple of years ago it was not on this day!  It was on one of my back days. This would also apply to other All-Round ab lifts  like the Roman Chair Bench Press.  I have my ab exercises grouped into three categories – light, moderate, and heavy.  I do one exercise from each group, starting with the light ab exercise first, then the moderate ab exercise,  and finally the heavy ab exercise.  I try to spend 20 minutes per exercise, so my entire ab workout can be accomplished in 1 hour per week.  My abs are always sore the next day after this workout.  I don’t do more than 10 reps per set on any exercise.

Al Myers performing a Front Ab Raise with a dumbbell on a Stability Ball.

One of my favorite ab exercises is an exercise I have called the Front Ab Raise on the Stability Ball.  OK – I admit I have one of those silly stability balls in my gym that have been popularized by Health Clubs across the country!  At first, I thought those balls seemed like they wouldn’t be of any value to a Hard-Core lifter like myself, but I always like to “test things out” before I form an opinion.  I found that using a Stability Ball with this exercise will put a heavy strain on the abdominal muscles and at the SAME time put no stress on my lower back.  I have a couple of other ab exercises I train using the Stability Ball – the Allen Lift (bar extended at arms’ length)  and the Abdominal Raise (bar behind my neck), but the Front Ab Raise is my favorite.   My advice for the heavy lifter is to buy the strongest Stab Ball you can find, and plan to replace it every 6 months.  The plastic will degrade with time and weaken the ball.  The forces I put on a Stability Ball is probably more than someone using it for general fitness  (often supporting myself at 250# and dumbbells over 100#s).   I have not had one “pop” on me yet, as I’m sure this amount of weight exceeds the ball’s rating,  but I always replace the Stab Ball if it is worn in any way.

Coming tomorrow – Part 4, Reverse Hyperextensions

Taking Care of Your Back – Part 2

Part 2 – Be Sure To Limber Up

by Al Myers

I initially was going to title this part Stretching.  But that didn’t define it the way I wanted it to.  Stretching to me means doing movements  like touching your toes or light calisthenics.  I next thought I would title this part Flexibility, as that could result from many things, including stretching.  This still didn’t fit the message I wanted to convey. I finally (with much deep thought!) decided  to use the expression  “Be Sure to Limber Up”, because that fits exactly what the first part of my Thursday workouts are all about.

Al Myers suspended by bands to stretch out and limber up the back and hips.

As for my opinion on stretching, I believe a little is necessary but to much is harmful in developing maximum strength.  I know this is a BOLD statement, and there are probably many lifters who would disagree with me on this. Bill Clark once told a training partner of mine Mark Mitchell, when Mark trained at Clark’s Gym several years ago, that stretching the muscles in excess is like repeatedly stretching a rubber band – eventually it will SNAP.  I couldn’t agree more.  I have always been prone to hamstring pulls, and through the early years of my training  I did about everything to safeguard against this injury, including aggressive hamstring stretching.  Sure I got more flexible – but it didn’t solve my  problem of enduring hamstring injuries.  Being able to place your hands flat on the floor with the legs straight is beyond what is needed to be a competitive lifter (unless you are in training for the Mansfield Lift!).  Excessive flexibility, beyond what is required in doing a specific lift,  doesn’t help in being strong in that lift. In fact,  having just enough flexibility to “remain tight” in the bottom portion of a lift will enhance your strength in a lift. Think about the squat – do you WANT to be tight and ready to recoil when you break the legal depth?  I sure do.  This reminds me of a story my brother-in-law Bob Burtzloff once told me that re-enforces my opinion on this.  Many years ago Bob experimented with training the Bench Press using a cambered bench press bar (also known as a McDonald Bar). It allows the lifter to increase the range of motion on the bench press, with the hands going lower than the chest when the cambered portion of the bar touches the chest. Bob first thought training through this INCREASED range of motion would increase his Bench Press.  It did the opposite and made his Bench Press go down.  When he went back to a regular bar he didn’t feel the tightness in his chest and shoulder muscles when at the bottom position.

However, stretching is still part of my Thursday workout. I think you need a balance in flexibility to optimize your lifting abilities.  On the other hand, I have seen lifters who were so in-flexible that they couldn’t even properly perform some of the All-Round Lifts that require flexibility.  In these cases, spending a little time stretching would help their performance.

Chad Ullom performing a stretch with the Jump Stretch Bands that Dick Hartzell called "the rack". Chad is completely suspended off the floor and his back is being "stretched" by band tension.

For me, two days after a heavy back workout is when my legs and back are the most sore.  I start off this workout with some cardio, which usually includes  time on my recumbent exercise bike.  This “loosens up”  those bound-up leg muscles and hips, along with giving me some needed cardiovascular fitness.  After getting a good sweat going, I’ll proceed to wind down with some stretching.  Nothing fancy here – just 20 minutes of whatever stretches I feel like doing at the time. Next I’ll proceed to the “bread and butter” exercise that limbers up my back – Suspended Band Stretching.  I learned this “secret exercise” several years ago at the 2003 USAWA National Championships in Youngstown, Ohio. This meet was hosted at the Jump Stretch training facility, the birthplace of the Jump Stretch Bands.  Known as “the rubberband man”, Dick Hartzell showed several of us after the meet a very unique use of the Jump Stretch bands that I had never seen before.  It involved using the bands to decompress the vertebrae of the back by using band tension. Once I got home I immediately purchased a pair of the Big Black Monster Bands from Jump Stretch so I could replicate this movement  in my gym.  I wouldn’t really call it stretching.  But I’ll tell you, 15 minutes of hanging by the hips with these bands attached your back will be fully “limbered up”.  Any pain from tight muscles in your back will be gone.

More of this workout and the story “Taking Care of Your Back” tomorrow with – Part 3, Have Strong Abs

Taking Care of Your Back – Part 1

by Al Myers

Mike McBride, the Best Lifter at the 2005 USAWA National Championships, performing a Deadlift with Heels Together with over 600 pounds. This All-Round variation of the deadlift increases the stress placed upon the back compared to a traditional deadlift.

Recently, I was contacted by an all-round lifter who asked my advice in dealing with persistent back pain caused from his training.  I’m not going to give his name out here, but he is one of the strongest current All-Rounders in the World and is capable of deadlifting over 700 pounds.  This says quite a bit about his overall back strength, as we all know All-Rounders have many exercises to train and can’t be deadlift specialists, like powerlifters.  He obviously knows how to train very hard to reach this level of performance.  This is just the way it is with All-Round Weightlifting – it is about being all a round strong, not just in specific lifts.  After reading his description of his training, it was obvious to me that he was over-training his back, which can be very easy to do. We have close to 200 lifts to prepare for at any given time, with about 75% of them requiring back strength to accomplish.  I once found myself in this same “over-training trap” as he is when I switched my competition focus to the All-Rounds from Powerlifting.  I still wanted to train like a powerlifter, but just decided to add in extra training for the All-Round lifts.  Combining this extra training volume on my back, in addition to being older, I quickly reached a state of over-training.  I don’t mind my back being a little sore after a hard back workout, but when it is constantly sore the entire week, and affecting my other training, I knew it was time to re-evaluate my training routine and make some changes.

Lots is written about HOW to train your back to make you stronger, but very little is written about how to TAKE CARE OF YOUR BACK  so you don’t sustain a back injury from your heavy training.  I consider this very important.  I have a history of back problems in my family.  My dad and grandfather both had back surgeries for herniated discs.  One of my brothers has issues with chronic back pain.   I know most health issues are linked genetically – and with this family history I am probably more at risk than others to have a “bad back”.   You can find all kind of information about how physical therapists rehab a person after back surgery, or exercises for the non-weightlifter to strengthen their back in suffering from back pain.  However, these things don’t really apply to a weightlifter who wants to be able to at least have one VERY HEAVY back training session per week, and recover fully so it can be repeated the next week. I am going to revel some of my “secrets” that I have learned through the years that have helped me keep my back strong, and preventing  injuries.  I not going to discuss ways of making your back stronger. The things I am going to discuss are all about recovery, things that help you be back to full strength for your next heavy back workout.  I am willing to bet that most lifters do NOTHING in this regard, outside of maybe just some “light stretching”.  That is not enough.  I have discussed these things with my friend Thom Van Vleck in the past, who also believes in this,  and he termed the expression calling these workouts “active recovery” workouts.  I plan to do a 4-Part story on my Thursday workout, which is geared completely to maintaining a healthy back.

The first change in my training philosophy  when I became an All-Rounder was realizing that I have to be careful not to train the back in every workout.  I ONLY train exercises that put ANY strain on my lower back TWICE per week to give adequate time for back recovery.  I am sure this training frequency is different for every lifter, but that is what works best for me.  Now you got to remember – exercises like doing Push Presses or Jerks constitute as a back exercises.  Doing 1 arm full body exercises, like the One Arm Snatch,  puts demands on the back, even though the demands are not like deadlifting.  These exercises need to be trained on one of these “back days”.  Training the upper back also puts demands on the lower back. Even common All-Round upper body lifts like the Pullover and Push or a Clean and Press put pressure on the back.  So you can see where I’m going with this, it doesn’t leave too many exercises available for the other training days during the week!   My back day workouts are Tuesday and Saturday.  I like this schedule because if I have a small meet coming up on the weekend, I can just substitute my Saturday workout for the meet and it doesn’t interrupt my training.  It also spaces my “back days” out evenly – 3 and 4 days.  I do my active recovery back workout on Thursday – two days after my heaviest back workout of the week.  The sole purpose of this workout is to get my back  ready to lift heavy again on Saturday. The details of this workout of mine is what I’m going to highlight over the next three USAWA Daily News segments.

Coming tomorrow – Taking Care of Your Back  Part 2 – Be Sure To Limber Up

The Sheffield Showdown – Saxon vs Sandow

by Thom Van Vleck

Arthur Saxon supporting his brother Hermann, who is seated on a kettlebell. To make the act even more difficult, Arthur is holding out another kettlebell with his other arm!

Al’s recent story on Sandow beating Sampson got me to thinking about another great old time strongman confrontation.  When I was a kid, my granddad Dalton Jackson (originator of the Jackson Weightlifting Club) told me this story.  My Granddad (or “Pop” as I called him) was a big fan of Arthur Saxon and always seemed to paint Sandow as the villain in his stories.  Pop often liked the guy that talked less and showed more and I think he thought Sandow talked a lot more than he lifted and manipulated situations to his advantage rather than winning with his strength.

Arthur Saxon was a master of the Bent Press, which is a USAWA lift and the rules for it can be found in the rule book.  At one point, Arthur laid down the challenge to Sandow, or any other strongman, that he could not be beaten in the Bent Press.  Money was involved and the honor to be called the World’s Strongest Man was on the line.

As Sandow was the older (around 30 to Saxon’s 19 or 20) and the more established performer at that time, Saxon’s claim was taken very seriously by Sandow.  On February 26, 1898 in Sheffield, England the Saxon Trio was performing, and when the challenge was laid down, Sandow jumped to the stage to accept the challenge.

As was the custom of that day, each strongman would pick a lift and go back and forth with the winner often being the man to beat the other at one of his “pet” lifts.  First, Saxon lifted a 110lb kettle bell to his shoulder and held it there with his little finger while a 160lb man climbed up his shoulders and sat on the weight.  Saxon then bent pressed both.  Sandow refused to even try this, and as Pop told me, “broke the unwritten rules of strongman feats”.  Saxon then, using his whole hand, took a 180lb Kettle Bell and 188lb Oscar Hilgenfelt, a member of the original Saxon Trio, in the same manner and bent pressed it, but did not stand erect with it.  Again, Sandow refused to try it!  Finally, Saxon Bent Pressed a 264lb barbell and stood erect with it on his second try.  Sandow, very fresh having passed up every feat to this point, agreed to try the lift.  I recall Pop painting Sandow as purposely trying to wear Saxon out before finally answering a challenge.  Even with this ploy, it took Sandow 5 tries to get the weight to arms length but he did not stand erect with the weight.  Saxon claimed victory, and in my mind, rightfully so!

Saxon began to use the event to promote his shows and the “sore loser” (as Pop called him) Sandow then took his only recourse, which was to sue Saxon in court since he couldn’t beat him on the platform.  Sandow, being the home country favorite and significantly better financed (seem not much has changed about courts….money wins!) won a decision after getting a witness to the event to say he lifted the weight and that even though he admitted he did not stand erect with it, he did not have to!  Pop made it sound like Sandow claimed he “could have” lifted it, but chose not to!  Now the impression I had was Sandow was not only a sore loser, but a cheater!  Further, Sandow cried foul that Saxon used a barbell loaded with mercury and that he had “practiced” with it and could counter the Mercury flowing in the bells and keep his balance. While Sandow struggled with the balance each attempt.  Either way, Pop told me that if you accepted a challenge, you didn’t cry foul later!

It was some time later I was reading a story on Donald Dinnie, the legendary Highland Games athlete that went 40 years undefeated in the caber toss.  Dinnie heard of Saxon, but refused to believe that Saxon’s claims.  In October of 1904, Saxon traveled paid a visit to Dinnie and using Dinnie’s weights, bent pressed 340.5lbs.  After that, Saxon had Dinnie’s support and praise.

Now, I don’t mean to ruffle the feathers of Sandow fans out there, I just wanted to convey the story of a great event in strength history and from the perspective of how it was told to me as a young boy by a man that lived not too long after the event transpired!   But truth be told, to this day, Arthur Saxon is my favorite!

The Day Sandow Beat Sampson

by Al Myers

Sampson's advertising poster at the Aquarium

I enjoy reading about Old-Time Strongmen.  It is interesting learning about their training,  their show performances, and even their rivalries with other Strongmen.  You have to remember that there were no structured competitions for lifters to compete against each other in that day (late 1800’s and early 1900’s).   Often several Strongmen in the same generation would promote themselves as “the Worlds Strongest Man”, which logic tells us can not be true!  There can be only one. Today, this question is answered yearly, and with EVERYONE able to witness it on television, as the “Worlds Strongest Man” is settled amongst the best professional strongmen in the World.  Of course, the argument could be made that someone who didn’t compete in this Strongman Competition was stronger, but that it not the point.  The point is that this TITLE is crowned on only one man every year.

All Old-Time Strongmen made their living off of giving performances.  Their “strongman acts” usually involved feats of strength, mixed with a little theatrics.  The best performers were actors in every sense.  They would “build up” the crowd with their strength stunts, and once performed, the crowd would lavish them with applause and admiration. These guys knew how to sell tickets, and would do anything to “pack the house”.  One of their  ploys was offering “challenges” to other Strongmen – and put up wagers to increase the significance of the challenge. If no one shows – all the better, as these Strongmen would pump their chest and say everyone else was afraid to “take them on” and use this statement to back up their claim  as “the Worlds Strongest Man”. Sort of like winning by default.  But occasionally, a well-known Strongman would take another well-known Strongman up on “their  Challenge”, resulting in a make or break confrontation. Someone would win and someone would loss – thus the beginning of competitive weightlifting competitions.

This day happened on November 2nd, 1889 when the famous Eugen Sandow decided to take up Charles “Samson” Sampson on his challenge, and refute Sampson’s  claim as the “strongest man on earth”. To make a long story short, Sandow came out on top as he completed ALL of Sampson’s challenges, and was declared the winner.  This was one of Sandow’s most talked about victories over a rival strongman, but the details behind this dual are often left out with the mention of his “beating Sampson”.  I recently read Sandow’s book, Strength and how to obtain it, and Sampson’s book, Strength, and found many discrepancies between the two of them on their reports of this challenge.  The old adage, “there are two sides to every story”, is so true  in trying to re-tell this story.  I will try to do my best to represent the opinions of both Sandow and Sampson. Now on to the story!

Sampson was performing at the Royal Aquarium in London when this challenge was issued by him – 500 pounds of his money versus 100 pounds of the challenger, that the challenger could not duplicate  the feats used in his (Sampson’s) strongman act.  However, Sandow said Sampson was putting up 1000 pounds instead of 500, which in the end didn’t really matter as Sampson reneged on his payment, and Sandow had to settle with the Aquarium for a small settlement.  When Sandow’s manager, Professor Attila, notified Sampson that Sandow wanted to take up his challenge that evening, Sampson postponed it till the next Saturday evening.  Sandow said “Sampson wasn’t prepared to meet me” while Sampson said it was for promotional purposes. Thus the disagreements on the reflections on this challenge begins between the two of them.

The next Saturday evening the house is packed, with a reported 10,oo0 people in attendance. Standing room only. So full they locked the doors to prevent more people from crowding in (apparently there were no fire codes in those days!). When Sandow arrived 20 minutes before the challenge was to start he found himself locked out!  He kept trying to get in but the door guard had orders not to let anyone else in.  Finally the hour the challenge was to begin had arrived, and Sandow was still not present, as he was locked outside.  Whether this was done by intention of Sampson is uncertain, but when Sandow heard Sampson proclaiming to the impatient crowd, “Ah – see. He does not come! I thought he would not meet me!”, Sandow decided to use his brawn instead of his negotiating skills and broke the door down!  What an entrance that must have been!

Two very important dignitaries  were appointed the judges by the Aquarium – Marquis of Queensberry and Lord de Clifford.  After inspection by these officials – the challenge began.  Sampson had to know that he was no match for Sandow involving barbell strength, as he chose these three challenges first- bending a pipe over his arm and leg, breaking a wire around his chest by chest expansion, and breaking a chain around his upper arm by flexing. Sandow repeated the first two with ease as he described, but with great difficulty as Sampson described.  The real drama occurred  during the third challenge. Sampson placed a chain  armlet around his upper arm and broke it by flexing his arm. However, when he gave a chain armlet  to Sandow with the exact same measurements Sandow could not get it over his arm as he was a larger man.  This was Sampson’s “ace in the hole” challenge as he knew it would not “fit” Sandow’s arm, and as he was proclaiming his win to the crowd  Sandow pulled an identical chain armlet from his pocket, only longer.  The judges looked it over and said it looked the same as Sampsons. Sandow even had a representative of the company present at the show that sold the chains. Sandow called him up to the stage,  and after this “expert” looked over the chain, he declared it was the same chain Sampson used. The judges HAD to agree  now in allowing Sandow to use his own chain.  Sandow then broke it with ease.  It seems obvious to me that Sandow had “scouted” out Sampson’s act and was prepared for everything.  Sampson latter said Sandow’s chain must have been specially made with a weak link, or he  had someone in the crowd “switch it” out for a weaker chain  as it was passed around for the crowds inspections after the judges inspection.  Sampson really thought he had Sandow on this one.  Now, getting desperate, Sampson produced a leather strap which he was going to break with chest expansion.  Sandow appealed to the judges that this stunt was not part of  Sampson’s act, as it wasn’t, and the challenge specifically stated it had to be a feat done in his act.  The judges agreed leaving Sampson speechless. At this point, Sandow seized the moment and demanded his money since he had met all of the challenges. Sandow quickly produced a 280 pound dumbell, took it overhead with one arm, laid down with it, and then stood up again.  Quite an impressive Full-Gardner Lift!  Sandow told Sampson if he or his sidekick Cyclops could do that feat he would let them keep their money.  Sampson, knowing he couldn’t, proclaimed, “I have had enough of this, It’s all humbug, I don’t call this fair play at all”.  He then went  to his locker room, leaving Sandow to the cheering crowd and  his well-orchestrated victory.  The good news is that this defeat didn’t end Sampson’s Strongman career, as he continued to put on shows for several years.  He even signed off in his book as “Still the strongest on Earth”.

Definition of a Clean

by Al Myers

Longtime USAWA veteran Jim Malloy properly demonstrates how to "catch" a Clean.

The Clean is a lift that is not contested by itself in the USAWA as an Official Lift, but is a big part of several other lifts.  Lifts like the Clean and Press, Clean and Seated Press, Clean and Push Press, and the Clean and Press – 2 Dumbbells are very common lifts contested in the USAWA.  We (the USAWA) define a Clean differently than what is commonly referred to as a  “Clean” in gyms all over the country.   The USAWA Rulebook clearly outlines the Rules for the Clean:

The bar will be placed on the platform, in front of the lifter’s feet. The lifter will grip the bar with the palms of the hands facing the lifter, and then in one single and continuous movement lift the bar to the chest. The lifter may choose any width of hand spacing. The lift begins at the lifter’s discretion. The lifter may drop under the bar as it goes to the chest, using a squat-style catch in which the legs are bent, or a split-style catch in which the legs split. The lifter may also choose to drop only slightly, using a power-style catch. The bar may touch the lifter’s thighs and body during the lift. The bar must come to rest on the clavicles or on the chest above the pectoral muscle in a smooth continuous movement with arms bent. The feet may move during the lift. The elbows and the upper arms must not touch the knees or legs during the lift or it will be a disqualification. No other part of the body other than the feet may touch the platform during the lift. The lifter will recover and stand when ready, from the squat or split position, to an upright standing position. The legs must be straight with the feet parallel and in line with the torso. Once in this position with the bar motionless and under control, the clean portion of the lift is finished.

As you can see from this Rule Description  the bar must go from “the floor to the chest” in one motion.  Also,  you can not support the bar on the body during a Clean as that is a violation, as outlined in the General Rules of the Lifts in the USAWA Rulebook. Section IX.3 states, “Neither the body nor the equipment may support a weight in any manner during a lift.” Of course if the Individual Rules of a Lift state exceptions then they over-ride General Rules.  This is the case with this lift, The Continental to Chest, which in some ways is similar to a Clean.  The beginning and end of the Clean and the  Continental to Chest is the same – it is just what happens in between that is different!   This is where the confusion arises.  Continental is even defined in the USAWA Rulebook in the Glossary.  It states, “Continental – This means that the lift may be done in any manner, with minimal restrictions.  The bar may stop, be lowered, be supported by the body, or be lifted unevenly. The hands do not need to stay on the bar and any grip may be used.” In other words – ANYTHING GOES!!

So, a lift from the platform can be called either a Clean or a Continental.  It can not be called BOTH!  And please don’t use the terminology “Continental Clean” to describe a lift  – that is a misnomer due to  being a conflict of description between  both words. The USAWA has adopted the “modern day” rules of the Clean.  Look back in history and you will see the Rules of the Clean were more difficult than what we use now.  The word Clean, was first used because it applied to the bar being taken to the shoulders clean, or clear, of the body.  In other words – no touching of the legs on the way up!!  How many proficient Olympic Lifters do you see keeping the bar “away” from the body?  NONE!! Our Rules of the Clean allow the bar to touch the legs or body without it being a rules infraction.

When the USAWA Rulebook was updated last year, several of the lift names changed to better reflect how the lifts were performed.  In example, the “Two Hands Standing Press” was changed to the “Clean and Press”.  The new updated Rulebook (the 4th Edition which will be released  the first of August) will have some added rule descriptions as it applies to a Dumbbell Clean.  This will be added, “Both dumbbells must be cleaned at the same time and in one motion from the platform to the shoulders. It is an infraction to clean the dumbbells from the hang position”.  THAT is the way it has always SUPPOSED to have been but I wonder how many times, because it wasn’t laid out clearly in the Rulebook, this rule of the clean has been  violated.  I’m willing to bet that several records have been recorded in the USAWA Record List where the dumbbell/or dumbbells were taken to the shoulders using a Hang Clean.  Here is an example that I am sure even some “seasoned officials” have been confused on.  Both are one arm dumbbell lifts in which the dumbbell needs to be taken to the shoulder first in order to perform the lift.  What is the difference in taking the dumbbell to the shoulder between the “Clean and Jerk – Dumbbell, One Arm” and the “Press – Dumbbell, One Arm”?  You should now know this if you have been reading and following what I have described above.  In the first lift the dumbbell needs to be Cleaned correctly, while in the second lift the dumbbell can be taken to the shoulder in any manner, even using BOTH HANDS. Our previous Rulebooks called these two lifts the “One Hand Clean and Jerk with Dumbbell” and the “One Hand Dumbbell Press”.  It would be easy to see how the name “One Hand Dumbbell Press” could imply that ONLY ONE  HAND must be used throughout, which is not the case.

Our Rulebook is far from being perfect.  However, it is far better written now than before.  If we continue to update and correct it every year with issues like this  brought up during the year, it will only get better.

2010 Club of the Year Rankings

by Al Myers

We have past the half-way point for the 2010 Club of the Year Race.  I have just “calculated” the points each USAWA Club has to date, and put together a ranking list for the Top Five.  Details of the Club Point System have already been detailed in a previous Daily News story in case you missed it.  The defending 2009 Club of the Year Award winner, the Dino Gym, is not eligible for 2010.  It will be the Dino Gyms responsibility (and honor!) to present the award to the 2010 USAWA Club of the Year, which will be done at the 2011 National Meeting.

Club of the Year Race – Top Five

1.  Habecker’s Gym – 16 points

2.  Ambridge VFW Barbell Club – 9 points

3.  Clark’s Championship Gym – 8 points

4.  Ledaig Heavy Athletics – 6 points

5.  Frank’s Barbell Club – 6 points

So far in 2010 the USAWA has 10 registered clubs, which is the most of any year since the beginning of the USAWA.  The previous high was 8 clubs, in 2002 and 2003.  This is good indication that the USAWA Club Program has taken off, and will continue to grow.

Luigi Borra

by Dennis Mitchell

Luigi "Milo" Borra posing at around 28 years of age.

Luigi Borra was born in Milan Italy, January 14, 1866.  As a young man he was active in gymnastics, wrestling and weightlifting.  At the age of twenty three, he gave up employment as a telegraph instrument maker and joined the circus as a wrestler.  From there he joined the Folies Bergere also as a wrestler.  He had a good physique and was a good poser. He performed throughout Europe in music halls and theaters, combining gymnastics, posing, and feats of strength. It was while performing that he met Louis Attila.  Attila convinced Luigi to return to England with him so that Attilla could manage and promote him and arrange for bookings.  However, Attila’s motives were not only for Luigi’s benefit.  Louis Attila had been traveling and performing with Eugene Sandow.  A quarrel between Sandow and Attila caused their break up.  Attila went to Paris and later returned to England with Luigi.  He intended to use Luigi as a new performer to dethrone Sandow.  Luigi was a small man and unknown in England.  Attila knew that Sandow would not meet any well known performer and hoped to get revenge by having Luigi challenge Sandow in wrestling and in feats of strength. Sandow, after his defeat by the McKann brothers was not accepting any challenges, and there were quite a few of them. Attila claimed that Sandow would not meet Luigi, as Luigi had defeated Sandow in wrestling in Italy.  However Attila could not show any proof of this.  Some years later (1894) when Attila opened his Broadway gym, they became friends again.

One of Luigi’s acts was to place a 200 pound barbell on his shoulders.  Six 56 pound block weights were attached to a harness that Luigi was wearing, and two men would hang onto the ends of the barbell.  The total weight being over 1,000 pounds.  Luigi would turn around three times while supporting the weight.  He would also hang by his teeth while doing a crucifix with a pair of 50 pound dumbbells.  He would juggle an 80 pound kettlebell and with the left hand, would clean and bent press 225 pounds.  He only weighed 160 pounds.  He would press up into a hand stand while lifting 200 pounds with his teeth.

Brinn "the Cannon Ball King", aka Luigi Borra, supporting a a 500 pound motorcycle by a chin pole.

He continued performing under Attila’s management, and as many strongmen did, changed his name to Milo.  For a short time he did some exhibitions with Louis Cyr.  With the rising popularity of the Saxon Trio, Luigi stopped performing for a while, but later reappeared as Brinn – The Cannon Ball King.  His act opened December 28, 1903 at the Hippodrome Theater in Liverpool.  His act consisted of juggling, hand balancing and balancing a cannon or a motorcycle at the end of a pole on his chin.  He was able to do this with a 400 pound cannon.  He not only performed in England but also in Germany and Italy.  He was an excellent performer, and showman, well liked, and performed for many years.  After retiring from performing he ran a bar called the Grafton Arms.  At the weight of 167 pounds he stood 5′5.25″, chest 46.5″, biceps 15.75″, thigh 23.5″, and calf 15.75″.  He died January 19, 1955 at Twyford in Berkshire, England.  He was 89 years old.

The Club Awards Program

by Al Myers

Dino Gym - 2009 USAWA Club of the Year. Left to Right: Scott Tully, Al Myers, and Mark Mitchell

The USAWA Awards program got off to a great start at the 2010 Nationals with the presentations of the 2009 Awards.  All of these awards, with the exception of the Club Awards, were based on membership nominations and votes.  I determined  the Club Awards using a very simple point system, that recognizes USAWA participation and meet promotions. I like how this system is set up and plan to use it again  for  next year.  I am going  to outline the particulars of it here so there will be no mystery how the Club of the Year is selected for 2010. To be eligible, a club must have paid their club dues for the year and be  listed as “current” on the Member Clubs page. Another stipulation is that the previous year’s Club of the Year is not eligible the following year.  This club will have the honor of presenting the new  Club of the Year Awards at the National Meeting.

Club Awards are determined by adding up club points using this 4-Step System:

1.  One point awarded to the club  for EACH  USAWA registered member that lists the club as their affiliated club on their membership application.  This designation is also listed beside the members name on the membership roster.

2.  Two points awarded to the club for EACH club member that participates in the National Championships, World Championships, and Gold Cup.  Points are awarded for each competition, so if one club athlete competes in all three of these big meets it would generate 6 points for the club.

3.  Three points are awarded to the club for EACH USAWA sanctioned event or competition the club promotes.

4.  Four bonus points are awarded to the club for promotion of the National Championships, World Championships, and Gold Cup.

This is a very simple system yet covers all the basics of a club being involved in the USAWA.  It encourages clubs to host competitions and recruit members to the USAWA.  It gives incentive to clubs to encourage club members to attend our big meets.  Plus – this system will be easy for me to calculate each club’s points at the end of the year since all these things are recorded on the website. I believe the future growth of the USAWA will be driven by clubs.  All it takes is one new club that has an interest in All-Round Weightlifting.  First the club hosts a few local gym meets, second the club gets their lifters involved in these meets,  and third the USAWA grows!   It couldn’t get any more simple than that.

I want to welcome new USAWA member Stephen Santangelo, from Las Vegas Nevada, to the USAWA!

JWC Straight Weight Team Challenge

by Thom Van Vleck

I have just received word from USAWA Secretary Al Myers that my application to hold a team challenge postal meet has been accepted.  This will be a postal meet that will consist of 5 lifts and 3 men per team.  Total weight lifted by all three men will be the deciding factor of victory.  The time frame will be from the first of July to the end of August.  No age or bodyweight adjustments…just “Straight Weight” lifted, hence the meet name.

The lifts will be:

1. Continental to the Chest

2. Push Press from the Rack,

3. Shoulder Drop

4. Cheat Curl

5. 1” Vertical Bar Deadlift w/2 bars.

The JWC team members will be Thom Van Vleck, John O’Brien, and Josh Hettinger.

I know that the Dino Gym has already answered the challenge and I hope that other USAWA members will put together a team and join us.  I have already highlighted the Shoulder Drop and I will be doing stories on the other lifts soon!