Simple Liars, Damned Liars, and Experts

by Thom Van Vleck

I like talking about training.  Even if half the time it evolves in an argument.  The one person I have learned the most about weight training is from my Uncle Phil Jackson.  He would often say to me, “I’ve forgotten more about training than you’ll ever know”.  I still often think he is right.  Another guy I’ll mention is Al Myers.  I have learned more about throwing for the Highland Games from Al than any other person.  A lot of the USAWA crowd may know Al competed in the Highland Games but are not aware he was world class at it.  The reason I listened to Al and Phil was not because they were considered by the majority of the lifting or throwing world as experts but because both had something in common with me.  None of us were what I would call natural or “gifted”.  We all had to work for every bit we have.

First I’ll say this.  There’s a fallacy out there that great athletes make bad coaches and mediocre athletes make great coaches.  The “logic” given is that great players never really learn how to play and rely on their natural abilities while mediocre players have to learn every trick to get better.  The evidence given is that there are many coaches that were mediocre players.  Well, that’s just Bull!  The reality is that there are MANY more mediocre players and it would make sense that they would end up a majority in the coaching world over the handful of great athletes.  What really defines a great coach is knowledge and the ability to impart that knowledge in a way another will take it and use it.  They have what’s been called “Practical IQ”.

Now, I don’t know for sure about Al, but I do know that my Uncle Phil would say I’ve barely listened to him at all over the years.  He’s partly right, I have been stubborn at times.  But I would argue he’s mostly wrong.  If you look at how I train there’s more of him in there than any other person on earth.  As for Al, I know I’ve frustrated him from time to time with a million questions and when he’s been nice enough to answer me I’ve often ripped apart his answers.  Al’s such a nice guy this may be hard to believe….but I’ve made him mad more than once!  Yet, if you look at how I throw…NOBODY has had more influence on my throwing and how I train for throwing!  I have just learned over the years that there are….Simple Liars, Damned Liars, and Experts.

The title for this article refers to a saying among lawyers and judges.  It refers to the “expert” witness.  It is often used to make the point that you can get an credentialed expert witness to support about anything.  Kind of like the saying “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” that make the point that you can find stats to support just about any point of view….whether that point of view is right or not!  This is the attitude I bring into how I approach all experts.

Heck, I AM AN EXPERT!  I have been called into court numerous times to provide expert testimony as a licensed professional counselor.  I have frustrated many judges and lawyers in this role because when I KNOW I’m being looked to as an expert then all the speculation, logic, “makes sense to me” is shoved out of my brain and I got with cold, hard, facts.  And the truth is…..you can’t get much from cold, hard facts!  You need to take that leap and expand out beyond what is known and take your “best guess” sometimes to find success.  When pressed by a lawyer or judge, I would preface my “best guess” by saying this is my “opinion based on what I know”.  That rarely helped….they wanted me to tell them that I “unequivocally” knew the truth and to say it as such.

So, what does all this mean.  I guess (based on what I know…..HAHAHA) that I’m trying to say that we need to seek out experts and understand that one person’s “expert” may not be your “expert”….we all have different needs.  These experts can be anywhere and don’t always need to be the “greatest” or the “most famous”.   We also need to look at being able to mine what an expert can give us even if sometimes they aren’t the best communicators.  We should never throw out the coaching of on person simply because they gave bad advice one time.  That’s like the old saying of throwing the baby out with the bath.  Finally, we need to open ourselves to find people who know more than us and take a leap of faith on what they are telling us…..but always remember there are liars, damned liars, and experts.  It’s all in how you want to look at it.  If you think it’s a lie….or the truth…you’ll probably be right.

Buridan’s Ass

by Thom Van Vleck

The story of Buridan’s Ass is a paradox where an ass (ass as in burro or donkey….not someone’s backside) is that is equally hungry and thirst is placed between a pail of water and a stack of hay.  The ass dies of hunger and thirst because it can’t make a decision about which way to go!  It is actually based on a parable going back to Aristotle.  The more modern version you may be more familiar with is the term “paralysis by analysis”.

Regardless of where it comes from it is the state of over thinking a situation to the point that no decision is made.  There is another parable that I think describes this mental dilemma even better:

There was a fox and a cat arguing over who had the better escape plan.  The fox had hundreds while the cat had only one….run up a tree.  Suddenly a pack of hounds approached and the cat shot up a tree to safety while the fox darted back and forth trying to decide what would be his best option.  In his indecision he missed his opportunity to escape and was caught.

You can get so caught up in seeking the perfect solution that no decision occurs and you end up making mistakes, missing chances, and losing the ability to test out ideas that may have worked for fear there was a better method just around the corner.

How does this related to lifting?  In a way it’s been the story of my lifting career!  I fancy myself a pretty smart guy.  I associate and affiliate myself with the lifters and throwers.  I read all I can about training.  In my early years when I had a spare moment you would find me writing out workouts then erasing parts, adding parts, pondering it….and often never (at best) finishing the workout…or (at worst) never even starting it because I was in search of the “next big thing”.

I think every athlete has been in search of that “holy grail” workout that will bring you big lifts and massive muscles…..and hot babes hanging off your biceps!  The reality is that there is no perfect routine and the most successful athletes learn to move on quickly and decisively from one routine to the next.

So, I’m saying, don’t be an ass…..but how you might ask?

1.  Avoid being a perfectionist….which means allowing yourself to fail.  Failing happens when we take risks and if you aren’t failing then you aren’t taking risks to stretch your boundaries.  In positive psychology they NEVER call it “failure”….it’s always a learning experience.

2. Value speed!  Rewire your brain to “go for it”.  Imagine every decision as a crossroads and you have no brakes on your car.  Make a decision and power through.  What’s the worst that could happen?  You back up and take the other road?  You will still save time over indecision AND you have the learning experience of what was the other way.

3. Focus on starting.  Too often we start to look too far down that road and trying to see where it goes.  If you have an idea, take 30 minutes, or a set time, and go for it all out.  Then assess where you are at rather than sitting down and trying to figure it out.  Set aside time for analysis…like one hour, a day, or 90 days.  Make the amount of time you are in action greater than the analysis time.

4.  Break down goals, look for quick wins, and appreciate every step that moves you forward.  We too often focus only on failure and in the process we forget to look at what worked.  Remove the fear of failure and replace it with an attitude that you embrace change and find opportunity in it rather than potential failure.

5.  Develop habits and routines that avoid the paralysis.  I am reminded of the Nike slogan, “Just Do It”.  For me it’s the Bible Verse James 1:12 which tells us to “Persevere under trial” and those who do will be given the ultimate reward.  Have things that help you get focused and develop them.

Finally, don’t do to this article what I’m encouraging you NOT to do.  Analysis is good!  As a matter of fact there is a common fallacy that our first answer is more often the right answer.  Have you ever been told to “go with your gut” when you don’t know the answer on a test?  Well, I hate to break this to you but it’s NOT TRUE!  It has been proven in study after study.  More often we will change a wrong answer to a right one…almost 2 to 1!  So why is there this perception that we change right answers to wrong?  Because we tend to focus on failure!  So, it is important to keep a positive focus to avoid creating your own fallacies or misconceptions.

As my Uncle Phil told me….train smarter not harder.

Big T’s OTSM (First Update)

by Thom Van Vleck

I have some more information on OTSM being held at the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  Entry info and a link to the first story on the meet can be found under the USAWA Future Events section.

This meet will be held outside weather permitting.  If the weather is bad, we’ll move it inside.  Each lifter will be given the chance to look at the records and attempt one record attempt on a lift outside the competition once the meet is completed.  Additional records will be up to there being time.  I wanted to mention this in case there was anyone coming that planned on trying some record attempts.

I thought I might catch some flack regarding my decision to have two champs.  One based on the formulas and the other based solely on most weight lifted.  So far not a peep.  I think it will be interesting to see if they are different!  Just so you know, it’s not my plan to do this with the OTSM Championships.

In addition, This meet will happen regardless of the turn out.  The idea of having this in conjunction with a Highland Games meet is I hope to get some new members to sign up.  You will notice I don’t have a deadline.  All comers!  So don’t worry about the meet being cancelled due to low turnout.  THIS WILL HAPPEN!

Finally, bring some shade, sunscreen, and a folding chair.  It’s pretty wide open at my place so shade is tough to find.  I don’t sunburn and don’t notice it….but we’ve toasted a few of the fair skinned lifters and throwers at my place!

Hope to see you there!

Nicknames

by Thom Van Vleck

I’ve told a story recently and reference a nickname for my Uncle Wayne Jackson.  I wanted to tell about where that came from.

A couple of years ago I hosted the USAWA Nationals.  Wayne was able to make it and was kind of a guest of honor.  At one point Al Myers noticed I called him “Staggo” and asked me about it.  As everyone that knows me, knows ALL TOO WELL, there’s a story behind that!

When I first started training at age 15 it was with my Uncle Wayne Jackson.  It was kind of a tradition to make up nicknames back in the day.  Often it was something that started out as an insult but over time became a badge of honor.  I go to a Lutheran Church and we are taught about how the Catholics used to make fun of us and called us “Lutherans” as an insult.  Now we wear it with honor.

I tended to favor the deadlift…because I was good at the deadlift.  Like a lot of young guys I tended to train what I was good at and ignore what I was bad at…which was pretty much everything else!  My Uncle Phil was the type of guy to cut right to the chase but Wayne was the type to try and use some subtle remark to get his point across.  I think he knew I had a pretty fragile self esteem so just telling me the way I was training was pretty stupid might have dealt me a blow….and I might have quit training.

So one day Wayne started calling me Bob Peoples.  If you don’t know who Bob People’s was, he was very much a deadlift specialist and I was on my way to becoming one, too.  Every time I would start pulling Wayne would say, “Well, there goes Bob People’s again” or he might say, “So is Bob deadlifting again today”.  He made his point and I started to diversify my training.  But I also had to get him back.

Wayne was kind of sensitive about his weight, considering he spent most of his life over 300lbs!  I once asked him how much he weighed at his heaviest and he told me 339 and A HALF.  I then asked, “So when you weighed 340…what were your best lifts”.  Wayne looked at me dead serious and said, “Tommy!  I NEVER weighed 340″.  He also would emphasize that a give weight was “in his street clothes” as if to say “I don’t actually weigh that much, I’m much lighter with my clothes off”!  We all have a weakness and that was his.  Now to exploit it!

We were watching one of the early World’s Strongest Man contests and there was a competitor from Holland named Staggo Piszko.  This guy was huge…and ROUND!  It was made more pronounced by the fact he had this little guy that was his “trainer” or “coach” that was dwarfed by him and kept running around him like he was on fire.  My Uncle kept chuckling every time he saw him.  So for the last 30 years it stuck!  And like many nicknames, what started out as a snappy comeback and a good-natured “ribbing” ended up being a badge of honor.

Many times I called up Wayne and said this line:

“HEY, STAGGO!  …..and he’ll be Staggo to me forever!

Better than Gold

by Thom Van Vleck

The medal my Uncle Wayne gave me.

I was recently at an event and one of the other competitors reached over and pull out a medal I had hanging around my neck.  He wanted to know what it represented.  It is a medal that I’ve worn in every competition I’ve been in or at least been on between lifts or events.  It’s been dipped in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, the Irish Sea, Mississippi River, Columbia River, Missouri River….even Loch Ness and other places I have traveled and competed.

It is a medal my Uncle Wayne Jackson won the year I was born. The story goes that he went to the meet and won this medal.  He would have been around 21 years old and in the midst of a great run of winning Olympic lifting events in the Midwest that included a Teenage National Title and 5 Missouri State Championships.  Wayne came back from the meet ready to show off his “winnings”.  He had been unable to reach anyone by phone and since this was the days before answering machines and cell phones….if you weren’t there to answer the phone you missed the call!  So he had not been able to tell anyone about winning.

When Wayne arrived at home the house was empty and there was no note or other information on where everyone had went!  He was a little concerned and a little disappointed that he had not been able to share his victory with his family.  Then my Grandmother showed up and told him that he needed to get down to the hospital as his sister had her baby.  Which was me of course!  He told me I had upstaged him!

Reverse side with the 1964

From as early as I can remember my Uncle Wayne was a part of my life.  As a kid he would pick me up and throw me high in the air.  We would wrestle and he would take me out hunting arrowheads.  He never had any children of his own and he became a second father to me.  My kids are like his grand kids.  Obviously, he’s the main reason I got into weight training and in doing so he may have saved my life.  At the least, my life has been much better for getting into lifting.  Over the years he is the first person I call after a contest and he’s also kept up to date on my workouts.  He’s always quick with a compliment and slow to criticize.  He has also been an inspiration to me for his faith in God and using his strength not to intimidate others but protect those that needed protecting.

There came a time when he wanted me to have this medal.  I’m sure it’s not worth much but it’s priceless to me.  It represents our friendship and love for one another.  It represents a passing of the torch in the Jackson Weightlifting Club.  It reminds me of him and when he’s not able to be there with me I feel like he’s there.  It is better than gold to me.

Big T’s OTSM

by Thom Van Vleck

MEET ANNOUNCEMENT: BIG T’S BIRTHDAY BASH OTSM

This May I turn 50 years old.  My wife asked me what I wanted to do.  Well, I love to throw, lift, and eat with family and friends.  So I will be hosting a Scottish Highland Games at my gym near Greentop, Missouri as well as an USAWA OTSM meet!  You may enter both if you like.  There will be burgers and brats grilled for lunch.  The Highland Games will begin at 10:00am while the OTSM will follow immediately after around 3 pm.  Weigh ins will start at 9:00am or immediately before the lifting starts.  There will be miniature anvils for awards.  One difference with this meet is that there will be two champions.  One will be decided using formulas while the other will be declared on most weight lifted.

MEET DIRECTOR: Thom Van Vleck

DATE: May 31, 2014

LOCATION: JWC Training Hall, 23958 Morgan Road, Greentop, MO, 63546

A special Iron Man award will be given to the combined thrower and lifter.

Following the throwing and lifting, weather permitting, there will be a bonfire and evening festivities.

Three lifts will be contested.  Two are tried and true OTSM lifts while the third is a brand new lift that will be tried out for the first time.

The Cyr Press

Any dumbbell with a handle diameter between 1 inch and 1.5 inches is allowed. The dumbbell may be brought to the shoulder in any manner, but must come to the shoulder before going overhead. This includes using two hands. Once at the shoulder, the dumbbell is taken overhead with only one hand anyhow. The other arm/hand is not allowed to touch the lifting arm during the overhead portion. The feet are allowed to move. If the lifter misses with one arm, the dumbbell may be switched to the other arm during the attempt, but the arm used must be selected at the shoulder. A time limit of 1 minute is allowed for the attempt. The dumbbell may be set down or dropped during the attempt. If the overhead portion of the lift is missed, it may be restarted at the shoulder. Once the dumbbell is overhead motionless with arm straight, the legs straight and feet in line with the torso, an official will give a command to end the lift.

Dumbbell to the Shoulder

A dumbbell will be taken from the floor to the shoulder using any method the lifter wants to employ. The dumbbell may be lifted with two hands, continental style, or may be rested on the belt during the lift by any part of the dumbbell. Hands may grip the plates, bar, collars, or any part of the dumbbell. Any size plate may be loaded onto the dumbbell. The lift is completed when the lifter is standing upright, with the dumbbell resting on the shoulder, and the lifter demonstrating control. Both hands may remain on the dumbbell to complete the lift, or with one hand or both hands off the dumbbell. A time limit of 1 minute is given to complete the lift. An official will give a command to end the lift.

Thor’s Hammer (NEW LIFT!)

A 2″ vertical bar that conforms to the rules for the 2″ vertical bar lifts (2″ in diameter and no more than 18″ long with no knurling) will be used. Just as with a vertical bar lift, the bar may be gripped by any grip with only one hand near the top of the vertical bar. In addition, the hand must not be touching any weights or collars used to secure the weights.  The lift will begin at the lifter’s discretion. There will be a one minute time limit to complete the lift. Once the lifter chooses to use the left or right hand, the other hand will not come in contact with the weight.  If the lifter misses an attempt they may switch hands but only with the weight resting on the lifting area.  The lift must be one continuous motion from the floor to a locked out position with no press out.  The lifter may choose to snatch or swing the weight.    The forearm must not touch the weight at any time.  The lifter may move the feet and body to adjust to the lift like a snatch lift.  The lift is considered complete when the lifter is in an upright position with the knees and elbow locked, feet in line with the torso with the weight under control.  At which time the official will give the command to end the lift.

OCPD: Weightlifting Sub-type

by Thom Van Vleck

Most, but not all, of my Scottish Hammers....I don't see a problem with having 20 plus hammers....that's normal, right?

Recently the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) was released.  It has the criteria for diagnosing mental health disorders.   I end up referring to it a great deal as part of my job as a Licensed Professional Counselor.   The DSM 5 is actually the 7th revision which plays into the fact that there are lots of arguements about what is in it because Mental Health is not as an exact science as we would like.  It relies heavily on the observation and self report of a client and not so much on hard science.  Someday it will, but not now.

The big argument that comes up every time they revise this thing is what is mentally ill and what is not.  Many factors play into this.  Some are pretty legit, some are very politically and culturally driven, and some may be related to special interests such as pharmaceutical companies and mental health facilities that stand to make a profit.  I’m not cynical, just realistic.

So with that in mind I decided to come up with my own disorder.  Obsessive Compulsive: Weightlifting Sub-type.  Now right now I need to clarify something.  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is different  than Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD).  Many get these confused.  OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce anxiety.  The individual then seeks to reduce the anxiety producing thoughts by developing a preoccupation with some obsessive/compulsive behavior.  OCPD is a personality disorder and is characterized by a preoccupation with perfectionism and orderliness.  This can be with the things around them or the people around them.  The funny thing about OCPD is that the person afflicted with it often sees it as a huge plus and a reason for their success….and fail to see how destructive it is to those around them.

So, my OCPD Weightlifting sub-type (and if you haven’t figured out this is mostly tongue in cheek…..and a little not) is geared towards those whose preoccupation with the iron has become a chronic, non-adaptive pattern.  Their drive to achieve perfection in training, diet, and all aspects of life that will lead to that holy grail of being the best they can be has led to them becoming asocial, impossible to deal with, and actually leads to the opposite of what they want to achieve.  Some of the sub-types include narcissism, passive aggressive, paranoid, antisocial, and histrionic (look that one up…it’s interesting).

Now, I said this was tongue in cheek and it mostly is.  There is no way this will ever be a real diagnosis.  But I will tell you that I think weightlifters are a “special breed” (that means “crazy” and “nuts” to the average person).  We see what we do as good and we often reinforce each other especially when one of those “average” persons points out our insanity.  However, we also can box ourselves in with our obsession to the point where we think what we are doing is working and effective when it’s really not.  That’s what OCPD: Weightlifting Sub-type really is.  I know I’ve had bouts with it.  The very nature of the obsessiveness needed to be successful in weightlifting works against you from time to time.

So what do you do?  You need to take a step back every once in awhile and take a look at yourself, what you do, have you convinced yourself what you are doing is working or is it REALLY WORKING.  Take a look at those around you.  Are the blind leading the blind?  Sometimes if you are getting angry because someone contradicts your beliefs that may be a good sign you actually are OCPD:WS.  A good lifter is always open to new ideas.  If you are surrounded by people who agree with you all the time….you better watch out!  That means you are all OCPD:WS! Finally,  take a hard look at what you do.  I was once told by an employer if he asked me why we do something a certain way and my answer was “Because that’s how we’ve always done it” he would fire me on the spot.  I made a joke recently that if I ate hot dogs before ever squat workout I could easily surmise hot dogs were the secret if things went well.  Never assume, always experiment and you will stay away from the chronic, non-adaptive pattern that characterizes OCPD:WS!

So, do you have OCPD: WS….well….do ya?

OTSM Wrap Up for 2013

by Thom Van Vleck

Mike McIntyre, of the Jackson Weightlifting Club, lifts 315 pounds in the Anderson Press at the 2013 USAWA Old Time Strong Man Championships.

2013 was a great year for Old Time Strong Man (OTSM) in the USAWA.  We saw four meets and 38 total lifters.  Here are some highlights:

Eric Todd won two of the meets while Chad Ullom and Dan Wagman won one apiece.

Two of the meets included women lifters with Ruth Jackson and Whitney Piper being crowned as Champs.

As we look to grow in 2013 I hope that we can expand on the lifts we have.  It’s not as easy as you might think to come up with a lift for the OTSM.  First, it must be a lift or variation of a lift done by a great lifter of the past.  Second, it must not duplicate a lift already in the USAWA.  Finally, it must be a “loadable weight” event (you must be able to increase or decrease the weight so that attempts can be increased).  So, do some research and submit a lift to me or Al Myers and maybe you can lay claim to adding an event to OTSM someday.

Please consider hosting, competing in or attending an event.  If you like lifting, and like Strongman….then OTSM combines the best of both worlds.  The rules are flexible, making events easier to judge and easier for spectators to follow.  It is also easier for newcomers to catch on to the events and not find themselves losing a lift to a technicality.

Da Rules

by Thom Van Vleck

Let’s start off the new year right with some controversy!  I don’t think it’s controversial but I imagine some will.

When my kids were younger they liked to watch a kids’ show called the “Fairly Odd Parents” which was a play off of “Fairy God Parents”.  In the show a boy had two fairy god parents that would help him out in various situations.  The show often centered around him getting himself into trouble then wishing his way out of it.  However, if he could simply wish his way out, then that wouldn’t be much of a show.  There were rules he had to follow.  In the show there was a book called “Da Rules” and it would inevitable appear whenever he would try and make a wish that would easily end the whole show in the first couple of minutes, but then having to follow the rules would lead to a full half hour of hilarity.  The rules were enforced by the leader of the god parents.  Namely, Jorgen von Strangle who was built like Arnold Swarzenegger and suspiciously had an Austrian accent.  Jorgen enforced the rules like a German SS storm trooper and because of this was often the primary protagonist in most every episode due to his inability to bend the rules to any given situation.

Let me set up my “street cred” (what qualifies me as an “expert”….I know…BIG DEAL.  But I do what people to understand my history and that this is based on decades of experience and observations.  My family has lifted in Bill Clark run “odd lift meets” since the 50’s and I lifted in my first odd lift meet in 1979.  I am also a Level 2 Lifetime certified official in the USAWA.  I passed my test on the first try (and that’s a HARD test!).  I have judged in the required 25 competitions to achieve the Level 2 status.  I got Clark’s newsletter for decades and even had a bunch for the 60’s that I gave to Al to complete his collection.  I have followed this for a LONG TIME.

So, get to the point, you may ask!  Well, here’s my thoughts.  There have been times where I have sat around with guys and discussed the membership of the USAWA.  You would think it would be a big deal!  It seems perfect for many lifters that don’t have the leverages to be a great Olympic lifter or pure strength to be a great Powerlifter.  I know over the years it has amazed me how you can take a guy that is mediocre in lifting but he (or she) will have this one lift (or two) that they are flat out AMAZING at.  So why don’t we have people flocking to the sport.  I think I know why.

Da Rules.

I know we need rules.  There needs to be structure.  But when does the structure become a road block?  We try and create a system that is objective, but because humans are involved it’s doomed to always be subjective no matter what we do.

Some years ago I took my brother to watch his first Olympic lifting meet.  Art Tarwater was the head judge.  He’s been Olympic lifting and judging meets for over 50 years.   A great friend of lifting and a great lifter.  He’s also a stickler for  the rules.  If you get a lift when he’s judging, you did it according to the rules and that’s no joke.  He KNOWS every infraction.  So, my brother is watching this meet and about 50% of the lifts that were completed were turned down.  Press outs, catching the clean below the clavicals, elbow touch to the knee….on and on.  My brother kept asking what was wrong with this lift or that.  At one point Tarwater told the lifter to put the weight down as he has made an infraction on the clean and not to bother on the jerk.  My brother (who is almost a dozen years younger than me and this is important as I think he represents the mind set of a younger generation) finally made the comment “THIS IS STUPID…..THOSE ARE GOOD LIFTS”.

Now, let’s get into the meat of my point.  There are times when rules are enforced properly and then times when they are NOT.  There are many reasons for this but here is one I’ve seen repeatedly in the USAWA (and might get me in trouble with some guys).  First, let me say I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket in over 20 years (more than I can say for Al Myers).  Is it because I don’t speed?  Heck no!  I speed all the time.  I get pulled over, too.  But I get warnings.  My daughter, who is 16, got pulled over the other day….she got a ticket.  I bet you dollars to doughnuts (pun intended) that cops give younger people less warnings and more tickets than older guys.  Why?  Because they want them to learn a lesson.  I see that same thing with judges in our sport….in all lifting sports and event he Highland Games.  Heck, even in the Pro sports the old veteran gets the calls against the rookie every time!

I think we, as judges, have good intentions when we red light certain infractions.  But what I think has happened is younger guys come in and do a meet or two and leave with a bad taste in their mouth and that stop coming.  Then we are left with this core group that never grows and we are slowly aging ourselves out of existence.  I would also say there has been a time or two I have wondered if the intentions WEREN’T good and the judge WANTED to run off the lifter.  Yes, I said it and I stand by that statement.  We are all human.

So let me end with this.  I would challenge the members of the USAWA to encourage some young lifters to get into the sport and I would ask you to challenge yourself as a judge to look at these guys and know that they are learning and if an infraction did not help them in completing the lift then warn them before red lighting them (and I understand that’s not “Da Rules”….but a judge by definition forms an opinion or conclusion about “if” something fits the law…..otherwise we would be called “Police” who ENFORCE the law).  An example would be dropping the weight after the conclusion of the lift.  For many lifters this is part of lifting.  They just don’t know and need to learn.  Police officers give a ticket for the infraction, a judge forms an opinion and comes to a conclusion as to what the intent of the law was and if the event fit that intent or if the event intended to subvert the law.

Otherwise, we appear rigid and controlling and who wants to be a part of that.  I can tell you the younger generation does not.  They see Jorgen von Strangle as the enemy.

Black Angus MacAskill

by Thom Van Vleck

Angus MacAskill with a normal sized man.

I enjoyed hearing stories when I was a kid.  You know…good, old fashioned story telling.  Television was around, but with one channel the viewing was limited and since we live in a very rural area story telling in my family was a huge form of entertainment.   My grandfather was the king of story telling….he had a great voice and a knack for painting a picture in your mind of not only words being said, but sights and even smells!  He had been a fan of strongmen and wrestlers and I got to hear many stories about them.  One in particular became a favorite.  That is the story of Black Angus MacAskill.

Angus MasAskill was a giant but a special kind of giant.  The Guinness Book of Records lists him as the largest “natural” giant of all time.  He had normal proportions and no growth abnormalities.  He may have been simply the biggest human being that has ever lived that achieved that size simply through nature and not the result of a disease process.  At his peak he stood 7′9″ tall and weighed 500lbs.  His palm was 8″ wide and his feet were 16″ long and 8″ wide.  He also had a chest that measure 80″ around and shoulders that were 44″ across. Yet, if you saw him in a photo with no point of reference he looked like a “normal” sized man!

Something else made him special.  He had great strength.  He would often take on feats of strength but only if money were put on it.  Some of the feats credited to him (as with all past feats, some questions may arise as to the authenticity so I leave it to the reader to judge for themselves) are as follows:

1. Shouldering a 2,800lb ships anchor (some speculate it was set up where he simply had to do what amounts to a partial lift).

2. Carry two 350lb barrels, one under each arm.

3. Hold a hunderdweight (112lbs) with two fingers at arms length for 10 minutes.

4. Life a full grown horse over a 4ft tall fence.

5.  Set a 40ft tall mast single handed into a schooner.

6.  Carried a sick man over his shoulder for 25 miles in a blizzard to a doctor without once setting him down.

7.  Once was pulling a boat onto a beach and tore the boat in half.

Angus had many nicknames.  He was “Black Angus”, “Mount Kaskill”, the Cape Breton Giant.  He was from Cape Breton Island which was part of Nova Scotia but he was born on the Island of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  It is a only about 4 square miles with barely over 100 people.  It is about as barren and wind swept of an island as you could imagine.  No wonder his father took him and his family to Nova Scotia!  They settled near Englishtown in St. Ann’s Harbor which is also a very remote location.  Later, many of the group that traveled with Angus’ family moved on to settle in New Zealand.

So Angus’ family had moved from a treeless windswept island to a land that had huge trees covering nearly every square inch so they quickly became lumberjacks.  This was hard work and the MacAskill’s were all know for their strength, but not necessarily their great size.  Angus was the exception in size.  So we know he grew up doing back breaking, hard labor.

The story goes that Angus did not become exceptionally large until he was 12.  He then grew quickly and gained the nickname Gille Mor which is Gaelic for “Big Boy”.  While he was tremendously strong, he was at first clumsy.  At 14 he traveled to Sydney, the largest town in the area, about 40 miles away by boat.  He had never been to such a place and they all put in at a local tavern that had music and dancing.  A local man was dancing and seemed to step on Angus’ large foot while he was sitting watching.  Everyone laughed but Angus did nothing.  This happened a second time and as good natured as Angus was, he still did nothing.  But the third time proved the charm and Angus stood up and hit the fellow so hard he was at first thought dead!  The ship’s captain found Angus hiding on the ship praying that the man was not dead.

There was a point where Angus’ father raised the rafters in his home to allow Angus to walk around upright.  His father also built him a special, long bed.  His father made his sons all work very hard and had a saying that Angus took to heart.  ”What’s worth doing at all is worth doing well”.  While Angus grew up in a very strict Christian environment he also enjoyed making side bets on who could finish a hard job (which he often won) and getting together for a “Ceilidh” or party where bagpipes and fiddles were played and songs were sung with wine, rum, and whisky being shared!

Angus loved his home and most enjoyed fishing along in a rowboat in the bay were he could look at the wooded hills and farms.  No doubt that is the reason that he returned there after traveling all over the world later with the circus.  It is also interesting that the world may have never heard of Angus MacAskill because he loved his life and home and was reluctant to leave it.  But a hard winter led to very hard times and he succumbed to and offer to travel as a giant.  He was promised good money and it was a way to help his family.

There are many tales of him being on tour and doing feats of strength.  One of my favorites was he entered a tavern and picked up a 140 gallon “puncheon”  or barrel of scotch whiskey.  He struck the top with his fist causing the bung or cork to fly out.  He then picked up the barrel and drank from it while toasting the other patrons!  Another was he was on a train when a robbery was attempted.  When he stood up the robbers fled the train without any loot!

Angus often dressed in “Highland Costume” while on tour. He toured all over the world but often hated the heat of the warmer climates.  There is a story that he once met Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.  Upon being presented with two gold rings by the Queen, he stomped his foot on the carpet to show his strength and left permanent marks with his boot heels.  It was there that Angus supposedly held William Wallace’s sword in his hand at arms length being one of the few to accomplish this feat.

Angus made two world tours that often lasted years.  His first return was a happy one with many of the same people still living in the area.  But his final return found half the population gone.  The timber market had slumped and growing crops or livestock was tough in that climate.  But nonetheless, Angus retired to his home operating a store and mill with his friends and family close by.  The story goes he was a good business man and disliked credit, but never turned away someone in need and was very generous to the local Church.  He died at the age of 38 and was a friend and hero to all in his homeland.  A legendary giant!

Wayne Jackson: Chasing Strength

by Thom Van Vleck

Wayne Jackson is my Uncle.  But he has been much more than that.  He inspired me to lift weights, he was a father figure to me, a training partner, and most of all, a friend.  Wayne, along with his brother Phil, revived the Jackson Weightlifting Club in 1957.  While the club grew to over two dozen members and fielded teams that won the Missouri State team title in Olympic lifting two times and several Missouri State Champions…Wayne was our most successful lifter.  Wayne won the Teenage Nationals and 4 Missouri State Championships in Olympic Lifting and one title in Powerlifting.  He was simultaneously the Missouri State Champ in Olympic lifting and Powerlifting in 1971!  Wayne also has the claim to fame of holding the Missouri State record in the Clean and Press.  That event was dropped in 1972 and as a result it can never be broken!  His best was 365lbs.

Wayne is a jovial, gentle giant.   I have called him “Staggo” for over 30 years in reference to Dutch World’s Strongest Man competitor Staggo Piszko who was  one of the biggest WSM competitors ever.  My dad always referred to Wayne as “Big’un”.  His arms were well over 20 inches and his chest was over 60 inches at around 5′10″ in height.  He made an impression with just his size.  But if you were ever around him much you would soon realize that he would never hurt a fly.  He was always interested in what you were lifting and you almost had to pry out of him his best lifts.  He was always very modest and often would even minimize his best lifts….I’ve not met many lifters that do that!

Wayne had a long time lifting rivalry with Wilbur Miller.  Now I specify “lifting” because otherwise they were the best of friends.  As a matter of fact I traveled with Wayne to an “Odd lift” meet held at Sailor’s Gym in Wichita in 1984 so that Wayne could reunite with Wilbur.  I would point out that Wayne never lost to Wilbur in the Clean and Press even though Wayne was never able to beat Wilbur in the total.  A couple years back Wilbur told me that he always wanted to beat Wayne on the press but that Wayne was “just too good at it”.

I have many stories I could tell about Wayne and I have written about him before in MILO.  But here is one that gives some insight into Wayne’s attitude about lifting.  I was a teenager and not showing much prospect at winning any gold medals.  I was thinking about giving up on lifting.  I had read a story where the author had stated you needed talent to be a truly great lifter.  I asked Wayne about it and matter of factly he said, “I just always figured a guy could be as strong as he wanted to be if he were willing to work hard enough”.  While some could challenge how true that statement is, it’s more of an attitude.  After that, I didn’t worry about what I didn’t have, I just kept working hard and didn’t worry about what talent I had or didn’t have.  All I could really control was how hard I worked.

Wayne loved lifting.  Some guys lift as a means to an end.  Wayne just loved lifting.  He lifted often and he trained very hard….often with no contest as a goal.  He would set lifting goals then break them and move on to the next goal.  He “chased strength” his entire life!  We lifted in a couple early odd lift meets that Bill Clark held and I had to almost beg him to compete.  But when he did he made some great lifts.  He did a super strict 280lb seated press (his training best was 330 but he had trouble adjusting to keeping his feet flat on the floor….I once saw him seated press 300lbs for 8 sets of 3 reps!), a heels together 300 pound press, a 300 pound reverse grip clean and press to name a few).  I saw him hang clean 400lbs (with straps) and on another occasion jerk 400lbs.  This was in his mid 30’s.

I could write volumes on Wayne, but wanted to give him some of the recognition I felt he deserved.  He lifted with Bill Clark and in Clark’s meets more times than I could count and was friends with many of the early USAWA members.  I had always hoped he would make a comeback but so far that has not come to pass.  He still trains and still loves to talk training and lifting.  It was his way of life!

Mike Jenkins: A Real Giant

by Thom Van Vleck

An autographed Photo Mike sent me being presented his Award for winning the Arnold Pro Strongman Contest by none other than Arnold himself.

When I was a kid I was fascinated by giants.  Fictional ones like the Irish Giant Finn MacCool and the Scottish Giand Benandonner (The Red Man) and real ones like my favorite Angus MacAskill.  I’ll have to admit, I wanted to be a Giant myself and if anyone could “will” themselves to be taller (actually, John Grimek claimed to have done just that using stretching exercises) then I did it.

I recently had the privilege to do a story in another real, modern day giant.  His name was Mike Jenkins (MILO September 2012 Vol 20 No 2).  Mike was 6′6″ tall and weighed over 400lbs at his competitive best.  He did not carry much fat, he was relatively lean.  He was just a big human being!  Mike had told me he was 225lbs when he was 10 years old and by the time he was 15 he was 300lbs!

Mike had been a football player at James Madison University where he won a National Championship.  He briefly played Pro football but soon found himself in Strongman.  He won the inaugural Amateur Arnold Strongman Classic in 2010 and quickly turned pro.  He shocked many in his first 2011 World’s Strongest Man when he made it to the finals and then won the first two events!  However, a back injury took him out and we were left to wonder “what it”.  He came back in 2012 to get 5th dealing with injuries.  He won the “Giant’s Live” in 2012 in Australia against top competition and he also won the Arnold Pro Strongman Classic in 2012.  I have always thought the Arnold Strongman contest was a much better measure of strength than the WSM as many of the events were more static, pure strength events in my opinion.  At that time I knew it was only a matter of time before Mike was the World’s Strongest Man officially!

Alas, it was not to be.  Thanksgiving morning he was found dead.  His wife said he died in his sleep and while I’m sure there will be much said about it but today I just want to honor the man and a friend taken much too soon.   When I did the article on him I interviewed him by phone and email.  Since then, I had kept in touch but I had never got to meet him face to face.  I try not to have regrets but I have to admit, I have a few. One I have was that I missed my chance to meet him in person earlier this year I was at the Arnold Fit Expo where Mike was acting as the color commentator as he was recovering from an injury.  At the time, I thought, “Well, there will be another chance”.

I know that often people will say nice things about someone after they have died.  Here’s the thing, when I say Mike was a good man, a good husband, son, brother, and friend…..a truly nice guy….it’s TRUE.  He always answered my emails,  he always asked about my training and how my competitions were going.  He was always posting on his facebook page the accomplishments of others, especially those he trained in his gym and his wife Keri.  He treated everyone as an equal when clearly, most of us were not his equal in the strength world!   I once asked him who he respected most in the strength world and his reply was “EVERYONE” because to him you deserved respect if you had the guts to get out there and put yourself on the line!

Mike will be missed greatly and I know his wife Keri is heartbroken.  I hope you will join me in sending a prayer their way and remembering Mike Jenkins….a true giant of a man.

Thanksgiving Day Workout

by Thom Van Vleck

Not sure if this is exactly how my house will look on Thanksgiving...but close!

Some families have a tradition of playing football on Thanksgiving.  I have a personal tradition of lifting on Thanksgiving!  I started this several years ago when Thanksgiving for my extended family kind of fell to me and my wife.  My grandmother passed away in 1990 and up until then we would spend ever Thanksgiving and Christmas with my grandparents.  All my cousins, aunts and uncles would come and often it was a very full house.  After her passing that “mantle” was passed on.  My parents took Christmas and my wife and I took Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is notorious…..and yet beloved….for the massive meal of Turkey and all the trimmings.  After a meal like that….about all you can do is lay around while your body directs all it’s resources to digesting a very heavy meal.  If you are like me, there seems to be something about eating  a lot that makes me get hungry again sooner than normal.  Not sure why, but it just simply adds to the calorie intake for the day.

So to counteract this I started a personal tradition of working out on Thanksgiving.  After all, aren’t we supposed to be thankful on that day and what am I most thankful about personally?  Being blessed with an  able body AND blessed by God to live in a country and a time where I can enjoy that luxury!  Of course, nothing like a tough workout to make you good and hungry for the feast.  I know that one of the added benefits for me in my training is that food seems to be so much more enjoyable after a workout!

I try and involve may family when I can and I know my son Ethan is planning to workout with me.  Maybe others as well!  So here is my workout for Thanksgiving 2013!

5:30am  A 3 mile walk!  Ethan is going and my dog, Sunny always enjoys it as well.  I live in the country and depending on who’s house I go by there might be 3 or 4 dogs walking with us by the end.  I think they look for me!  Our cat will sometimes follow in the shadows as well, creeping along the overgrown fence lines.

7:00am Active recovery routine.  This is a dozen or so stretching exercises that seem to keep my old bones limber.  I will also fire up the smoker at this point as well.

8:00am  Got a back workout planned this time.  I will warm up and hit a good ol’ 5×5 on the Power Clean.  This will be followed by several Lat and Trap exercises….I always mix them up but I will likely get in 3 sets of 20 on each.  Then it will be Bicep work followed by grip work.  I have been doing standard DB curls, hammer curls, and then finish with Concentration Curls.  The Grip work will be straight out of Bill Pearls training manuals.

10:00am will be Brunch.  My wife has traditionally made Scotch Eggs.  This is boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, breaded and deep fried.  Some pancakes, coffee, and fresh fruit.

The rest of the day will be preparing the big meal!  Lots of good food and good friends over.  Looks like we will have an even dozen this year!

So, how about a Thanksgiving Workout!  Start a tradition!

Shoulder Drop Rules

by Thom Van Vleck

Time for me to stir some controversy!  Okay, so many years ago my grandfather Dalton Jackson taught me the shoulder drop.  He told me it was how the “old timers” did it.  First, let’s review the USAWA rules for the Shoulder Drop.

Shoulder Drop: The bar is first cleaned and placed at the base of the neck to start this lift. Feet placement is optional. Once the lifter is upright, and the bar motionless, an official will give a command to start the lift. The lifter will then release the grip on the bar, allowing the bar to drop from the shoulders behind the back. The bar must not be rolled down the back or arms. The lifter must catch the bar in the hands at arms’ length behind the back. The legs must remain straight throughout the lift. The lift ends on command by an official when the bar is controlled in the hands by the lifter.

The way my grandfather taught me was exactly the same as above except of one key thing.  My grandfather would bend his knees as he caught the bar and “shock absorb” the weight.  Obviously, much more can be handled in this way.  You can “feel” the weight hit the hands and then this allows time to “grab” while you sink with the weight.  The locked knees method becomes a guessing game and using much weight at all easily results on spinal strain, busted knuckles, and in some cases (like Chad Ullom) getting what amounts to a “horse collar” tackle by the weight!

First of all, I would like to know the history on this rule.  I’m not saying it’s wrong, I would just like to know where it comes from. My grandfather got all of his information through magazines or 2nd hand so he could have easily gotten this wrong.  But I have tried to research this to no avail.  So if anyone out there knows more about this let me know.

Second of all, unless there is some historic reason for the knees to be kept locked, I would like to see the rule changed to allow for bent knees.  I would argue a lot less injuries would result with greater poundages used and the lift would become more skill based.

Third…if there is a historical reason for the locked knees then I would like to submit a new lift at the next meeting.  The Jackson Shoulder Drop, which would allow for the bent knees.

I know, what’s the big deal!  The shoulder drop is an obscure lift and rarely done.  But I can tell you that my Grandfather did it often.  He did a lift where he would clean the weight, press it overhead, lower it behind the neck, shoulder drop it, and set it on the platform.  He eventually did 135lbs this way which was pretty good for a guy that could barely press much more than that at the time!  So, if you know anything about this lift other than what’s in the rule book please get on the forum and let me know.  Also, let me know if you have a beef with me submitting a new lift that would allow a knee bend and why.

Ironman Lost…and FOUND!

by Thom Van Vleck

Thin style Ironman 50lb plate

There were Ironman triathlons, Iron Man comics, Black Sabbath singing “I am Iron Man”, Iron Man movies…but when I think of Ironman…I think of Peary Radar’s old magazine and all the equipment he made over the years.  In the JWC training hall we have had a pair of Ironman plates my Uncles (Wayne and Phil Jackson) ordered back in the 60’s.  There is also a missing set.  In case you didn’t know it, back then you could order them “milled” to exact weight or “unmilled” which were half as much in cost.  With the “unmilled” you never knew what you were going to get.  Both sets of plates were unmilled.

First, the plates I still have.  They are thick around the edges and weigh 57.5lbs each while they have “50″ on them….looks like my Uncle’s got their money’s worth on those babies!  I have used them many times over the years because they are slightly larger than my other plates and are lifting from the floor and  put these plates on it makes the others easier to slide on and off.  Plus the fact that I gained 15lb seemed to be a psychological boost and let’s face it…they are just cool.

Thick style plates that weigh 57.5lbs each!

Now, to the story of the lost plates.  They were what I’ll call a “thin” style plate.  The one’s we had actually weighed 47.5lbs each.   There was a local lifter that was a kid my Uncle was trying to help out. He loaned the plates to him and over time the kid kind of claimed them.  That happened to my Uncle Wayne a lot!  When I tried to get them back he had SOLD them!  That also happened more than once.  I remember them in vivid detail.  They were thin, flat, with circular ridges that made them look like a bullseye.  One of the plates had a chip out of it.  I found the guy that bought them, but he gave them to his brother who lived out of state.  After a couple of attempts and promises….I finally gave up on ever getting these back.

Now that was the early 80’s so fast forward almost 30 years.  A good friend of mind called up looking for an incline and I had one.  He said he wanted to trade some stuff including a pair of Ironman plates.  When I got there I wish I could say they were he exact “long lost” pair….but they were not.  However, they were a “spot on” twin…or twins!  While not the exact pair, I am pretty pleased that somehow after all these years these plates seemed to fall right into my lap!  A plus is I might have gotten a better deal as these are right on 50lbs each.

Needless to say, like everything in my gym, they will be put to use.  And when I do….may I’ll have to put on some “Ironman” on the stereo!

No Stupid Lifts, Just Stupid Lifters

by Thom Van Vleck

Wilbur Miller doing a barbell leg press

Recently I got kind of sore at a guy for criticizing a leg press done by my friend Wilbur Miller.  Wilbur and my Uncle Wayne had some epic battles back in the day and while Wilbur won the overall in every meet he was never able to beat my Uncle in the Clean and Press.  Wayne took great pride in that as Wilbur was, in his mind, the greatest of his era.  I have written an article for MILO magazine on Wilbur and he continues to be involved in the USAWA to this day.

So this picture came up and this guy took it for face value and called it “Stupid”.  Well, I let him have it.  I was probably too harsh but I knew the story behind this photo.  The guy also said that if this was a good lift then you would see people doing it everywhere.  First of all, Wilbur usually did his lifting in an old York Power Rack where he could leg press in a rack with a very tight gap.  I did leg pressed that way early in my training as well.  Second of all, this photo was take out of the rack to demonstrate the lift.  Third, Wilbur did them because he didn’t have a proper leg press or leg sled.  It might be stupid to do this lift if you had a good leg press or out of a power rack….but it was dang smart to do them when Wilbur had some back issues and wanted to work his legs hard and he had no other recourse.

This got me to thinking about all the name calling and commentary from know-it-all lifters on the internet.  And to be honest, I’ve been one, too and I regret it.  A quick glance and you might think a lot of lifts would be useless or even dangerous.  But the reality is there are no stupid lift…only stupid lifters!

I would contend that ANY lift that can be done could have a useful purpose at some point of any lifters career.  Maybe because of injury, or an unusual weakness, or a lack of proper equipment.  Over the years I have made it a point to train with many of the best lifters in the country and I have found that almost ALL of the best have all kinds of unusual lifts they have developed that fits their needs.  Those same lifts, in the wrong context, could be disastrous to others.

Many times I have had a lifter tell me of a lift they do and my initial reaction is to roll my eyes and shake my head.  But in my 35 plus years of lifting there have been countless times I’ve ended up adopting that lift for my own needs.  So, my point is don’t judge, keep your mind open, and be like a U. S. Marine: “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome”.   In other words….don’t be stupid!

OTSM Championships UPDATE

by Thom Van Vleck

Now that my Scottish Highland Games has been completed my focus has shifted to the OTSM on December 7th.  So far I have one entry in hand (thank you to Dean Ross) and several who have shown interest.  Here are some updates to the previously posted information.

1.  Shirt deadline: I have promised a shirt for those that enter but I’m going to have to put a deadline on the shirt as they were so popular at my Highland Games…I SOLD OUT!  So, if you are coming and want a shirt I need your shirt size (at the least) by November 15th.  I don’t necessarily need your entry……but that would be nice.  I will take entries on meet day….BUT DON’T EXPECT A SHIRT.

2. Location: The contest will be held at my gym in the basement of my home.  The first year we had 10 lifters, but last year we had fewer.  I can’t justify loading all my equipment up, renting the old school gym, and hauling all the stuff in, then hauling it back out.  It’s a tight fit, but if the weather is nice, one or more events will be outside.

3. Breakfast: It has been a tradition for my contests to eat breakfast at Pancake City before the meet (dutch).  Anyone that wants to weigh in BEFORE breakfast be at my place at 7:30am and please, give me a heads up or you might find me sleeping…or WORSE!  We will then head in to Pancake City for a good, ol’ greasy breakfast or a stack of flapjacks….or BOTH.  If Art comes….THEY HAVE COFFEE!!!!

I hope all the USAWA members will consider coming to the meet!  See you there!

WEBMASTER’S COMMENT:   The entry information and entry form for the 2013 USAWA Old Time Strongman Championships is located under “USAWA Future  Events” in the column to the right. Simply “click” on it to access this important information!

Hercules Chained

by Thom Van Vleck

Who can forget Steve Reeves in "Hercules Unchained"using the chains that imprisoned him to then turn the tables and vanquish his enemy.

Have you been workin’ on the Chain Gang?   Well, earlier in this century that would not have been a compliment when prisoners were put to hard, manual labor all while chained to each other or chained to an iron ball to keep them from running away.  The word “Chain” comes from a latin word that referred to a “snare” or “net”.  In Modern times when we think of chains we might think of Chain mail, Chain of stores, or a Chain reaction.  But what I’m talking about today using metal chains to help you get stronger in your lifting.

A few years back I bought 40 feet of half inch chain.  The half inch is the diameter of the rod used to make the chain, which means they were quite big and they weighed about 2lbs a foot.  I initially bought them to use in our strongman shows.  I would do this squat and offer my personal testimony on how my legs had been broken badly and my faith had let to my recovery.  I found that most folks didn’t relate will to a barbell so I bought the chain and draped it over me, the bar and the weights.  I would also use it as an object lesson on how we can become “chained” by lies and sin and forgiveness can set us free from that burden.

Then they started to become more and more popular for training in general. Often they are hung on the ends of barbells or in some way so that as you lift, you slowly pull more and more chain from the floor.  So if I had a 300lb barbell and 100lbs of chains on a squat bar then at the start of the squat you would have 400lbs on your shoulders.  As you went down and the chaines slowly bunch up on the floor you would drop the weight to 300lbs at the bottom.  I think there are several reason they can be a help to training.

First, the practical reasons:

1. Increased stability.  Nothing like a shifting weight to make you work to stabilize the weight.  This is one advantage chains have over using the rubber bands….you are challenges to keep the weight balanced.  One of the reasons barbells are superior to machines is this factor and chains amp that factor up.

2. Speed training.  It’s not uncommon on some lifts, like the squat, to find yourself backing off at the top.  Having the chains increasing the weight as you go up causes you to keep pushing.  My opinion is that increases the efficiency of the lift for the athlete and makes it more useful for those lifting for other reasons than weightlifting competition.

3.  Weak Points.   Chains might help you work on your weak points or sticking points.  Sure, this is debatable but in my mind you basically take one lift with chains and do two lifts at once.  For example, on the bench press you can do a full movement then work on your lock outs with partials….or just do bench’s with chains and increase the load at the top!

Second, the mental impact:

1.  If you use chains and then switch to a regular barbell, the regular barbell will seem easier to handle and increase your confidence.

2.  We can all get stale or stagnant in our training and adding chains can mix things up and bring some freshness to your training.

3.  Finally….let’s face it…chains hanging around your gym look cool and I’ll admit….a couple of times I’ve grabbed a hold of a couple of 8 ft sections of my largest chain and done my best “Steve Reeves” impression!  When I bring people who don’t train regularly to see my gym guess what one of the first things they focus on….the BIG CHAINS.

I’m not making any promises that you will add big pounds to your lifts using chains.  I’m just offering up some ideas to add to your arsenal of training methods.  I wouldn’t…and don’t….use them year around.  I mix them in here and there.   Chains are symbolic in so many ways and they can get your most important training tool inspired and working hard again….YOUR BRAIN.  Get some chains and become Hercules…but CHAINED!

Why Progressive Resistance isn’t always Progressive Pt 2

by Thom Van Vleck

Next year I turn 50.  When I was a kid I remember when my grandmother turned 50 and she made it out like she was practically dead!  On the other hand I am enjoying life quite a bit as of late.  I’m the happiest I’ve ever been to be honest.  I’m healthy, I like my work, my marriage the best ever.  All my kids are teenagers and yet we get along very well.  Life is good.  I have nothing to complain about as I roll into the 2nd half of life should I live to be 100.

I also am working out as hard as I ever have.  But there have been adjustments in how I measure progress.  When I was young I needed to have actual “progress” in my progressive resistance to be happy.  When I was 30 I benched 360.  I worked my bench for a year and then I maxed out and hit 365.  When I was 30….that was a major disappointment.  There was also a time when I squatted 400 and then spent a solid year focusing on my squat and ended at 600!  That was great progress!

As I bear down on 50 my idea of progress has changed.  It would be unrealistic for me to look at adding 200lbs to any lift….except maybe some heavy lift in the USAWA.  I am now at a point in my life where holding the line is a huge victory for me.  I push pressed 300 for the first time almost 20 years ago.  Every so often I do a few and I seem to always hit 300….but my long ago goal of 400 will not likely happen.  I throw in the highland games and I’m throwing as well or better than I ever have….but setting personal bests are few and far between.  I also understand that the day will come when I will set my last personal record.  Then my idea of progress will have to change again.

At that point, it will be begrudgingly giving up my strength.  Mark my words, I plan on going down swinging.  But I know I’ll eventually go down.  I recall trying to get a buddy that had been a good lifter in his 20’s to try masters lifting.  His comment was, “I want to be good….not good for my age”.  While I can appreciate that statement, I’ll tell you that I’m happy to be good for my age!

So as I get older my idea of progress will adjust.  Otherwise it will all become an exercise (no pun intended) in futility.  My Uncle Phil once asked me, “Why do you continue to train when you know someday age and time will take it all away”.  Of course he knew the answer and was just challenging me as he so often has in my life.  To me it’s like climbing a mountain.  Once you are at the top, the only way to go after that is down.  But I would rather enjoy the view as from up high as long as I can.  Not everyone gets to the top but everyone eventually finds the bottom.  Life is a precious gift and I plan on sliding into my grave sideways someday as they say….well worn and yelling what a ride!

Roman Chair Squat

by Thom Van Vleck

The Roman Chair Squat

Some time back Al Myers wrote a great article on the Roman Chair and it’s place in the USAWA as a contested lift.  It can be found here: http://www.usawa.com/roman-chair/.  It even inspired me to make a Roman chair and add some Roman Chair sit ups to my workout.

Recently, I have been doing some bodybuilding.  My workouts have traditionally been basic movements for low reps and heavy weights.  Not much assistance work.  My transition was not an easy one as I didn’t want to be too much of as sissy bodybuilder.  So I decided to pull out some of my Bill Pearl Training Manuals (purchased by my Uncle Phil Jackson and autographed to Phil by Pearl himself no less) and follow Bill’s advice.  Why?  Because Bill was BIG and STRONG.  My Uncle saw Bill give a seminar in 1967 after his third Mr. Universe.  He said Bill loaded 300lbs on an Olympic bar and easily power cleaned it, pressed it overhead, then pressed it behind the neck twice!

At any rate, right or wrong, I figured if Bill Pearl did it then it must be good!  I also believe most any program will help you if you believe in it and I was raised to believe that Bill Pearl was almost mythological….the Babe Ruth of Bodybuilding.  So as I looked at how Bill trained his legs I found that one of Bill’s favorite exercises was the Roman Chair Squat.  It is very similar to the Sissy Squat.  My legs have always been a weakness for me so I’ve started doing them.  I like them, but you can’t handle much weight (as a matter of fact, this is a body weight exercise for me).

I also learned a little bit of history as I went about my research on this exercise.  In Al’s article he mentioned that a lifter from Rome did work on the Roman Chair at Professor Attila’s gym and it became quite popular.  This was shared with Sig Klein who did a type of plank movement (and I suspect this led to the Roman Chair Bench Press lift in the USAWA).  But I believe I’ve found the original purpose the Roman Chair was invented for!  In ancient times latrines were basically ditches.  You would have to squat over them and since you didn’t want to fall in you would hook your feet under something and leverage out to “do you business”.  I think this is much better explanation than Al’s medieval torture device chair in his article!

What ever the case, the Roman Chair can be used for much more than sit ups!  But regardless of what you do on a Roman Chair…..it all is painful!  And I, for one, am thankful to have a modern toilet!

Best Exercise Ever

by Thom Van Vleck

This man used the "Best Exercise Ever" to great effect!

Many years ago I was reading an old Ironman Magazine.  When I say “old” I mean when Peary Radar ran it and when it was a great strength publication and not a bodybuilding rag.  They had asked a question of a number of lifters and gym owners (those that trained people in their gym).  The question was if you could only do one exercise what would that exercise be?  The idea seemed to get at what they thought the best exercise was.  Now, I have to be honest here, I can’t remember which exercise won but I do recall pretty much all the the answers were one of two exercises.

One of these two exercises is still a pretty common exercise.  I bet everyone that reads this has done it and almost all would agree it’s a great exercise.  I know Paul Anderson would agree.  Have you guessed?  That’s right, the squat.  I’m sure that just about everyone that’s lifted has at one time done a squat.  Sure, most don’t do it much but I bet they at least tried it!  Most found out that squats are hard to do because they utilize almost all the largest muscles in the body.  If you are doing them right, you can get really strong and fit doing them.

The other exercise, the one I think won the most votes for being the best single exercise, is hardly done at all.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen anyone do them in a gym other than one man and I hang around a lot of lifters.  The one man that did them was my Uncle Wayne Jackson.  And he did them because it was his favorite lift to do.

This “mystery” lift has a strange history.  Let me give you some hints.  First of all, you can do it with a standard barbell.  You need no special equipment like the squat (squat racks…unless you are Henry Steinborn).  Second of all, I bet if you were told you could only do one lift the rest of your life you WOULD choose this lift.  But how realistic is that?  Even if you were stuck on a deserted island with a barbell the only way that would happen is if someone held a gun to your head every workout until you died.  Finally, this lift used to be one of the most contested lifts on the planet.  There was a time when it was contested more than the Bench Press, the Squat, or the Deadlift in competition.  You could win an Olympic medal doing this lift and you cannot win one doing the Powerlifts.  Have you guessed?

The Clean & Press.  For some 50 years the Clean & Press was one of the THREE Olympic lifts along with the Snatch and Clean & Jerk.  It was dropped from competition after 1972.  There were several reasons but mainly because the judging had gotten so lax that records were meaningless.  Instead of trying to fix the problem the lift was just dropped. My Uncle Wayne still holds the Missouri State record in that lift and it was his favorite lift to do.  When they dropped it….his competition career ended as the lift meant that much to him.

My understanding was that early Olympics had many lifts and it took too much time so they condensed it down to three.  The Snatch was considered a “quick” and “athletic” lift while the Clean & Press was considered a “strength” and “power” lift.  The Clean & Jerk was in between.  It was felt the three lifts together were the ultimate measure of athletic strength.  I tend to agree and am sad that the the lift in no longer contested.  I don’t think Olympic lifting in the USA has ever recovered from that loss and led to the rise of powerlifting at that same time.  But that’s a history lesson.

The Clean & Press arguably is the most complete exercise there is.  I know if I could only do one exercise it would be that lift or some variation.  In particular, I have enjoyed training the log lift C & P.  I’m curious if any of you have ever done this exercise (not parts of it, but all together!).  If not, I would suggest trying a few some time.  Nothing works more muscles using a standard barbell in a single exercise movement and there is nothing that says “strong” than lifting a barbell from the floor to overhead using brute upper body strength on the press!  Just take a look at Zydrunas Savickas clean and press a 400 pound plus log!  So, throw in a C & P to your training and do what some have called the “BEST EXERCISE EVER”!

To Kettlebell or Not

by Thom Van Vleck

Here's a photo that shows a handle like the one that my grandfather used to convert his dumbbell into a kettlebell.

I work at a University and we have a rec center on campus.  It’s a small school so the rec center is actually pretty decent for our size but still small.  The guy that runs it has been there for 30 plus years and he is very upbeat and positive.  Dan came out of the 70’s running craze and still runs to this day.  Nothing wrong with that, but he’s not really a weightlifter and he knows it.  I am a weightlifter and not much of a runner…so we keep each other balanced.

Dan tries to stay on top of the latest trends and has bought a handful of Kettlebells.  They get used a great deal in the Osteoblasters “crossfit” style workouts that we have 4 days a week.  We have a more traditional weightlifting group but the ratio is about 10 to 1 (the crossfit wins hands down).  If you don’t know what that type of training is just imagine multiple stations where people move rapidly from one high rep, low weight or bodyweight exercise to another done in an open area and NOT in the regular lifting area)  We have both been surprised at the success of the workouts.  He likes the cardio aspect and I like the lifting aspect…..but neither of us would have guessed how well this would have went over.  The problem is…we’re old and we don’t know what’s “in” these days.  At least that’s the only explanation I can think of.

So we try and keep each other up to date on what’s “hot” in the fitness and lifting world.  Dan wants to appeal to all the students including the students who lift heavy…like us.  He asked me the other day if I thought he should get a set of Kettlebells for the gym.  His concern is that the space is small and most of what he sees is people doing dynamic movements with them such as swings and flipping them to arms length.  He’s worried about somebody getting conked on the head or a kettlebell going out a plate glass window.  I’m worried NOBODY will use them enough to justify valuable gym space as the place is often packed!  Plus that money could go for other things that would get used more often.

Here's what standard kettlebells look like.....as if you really needed to see them! But there are an ever increasing list of variations of them out there much like how the globe dumbbells became all different shapes.

Now you have to understand that me and Kettlebells go way back….well…sort of.  I have never….EVER…trained with them.  Sure, I’ve pulled them out and played with them and I even bought three of them for my gym that were close to the weights used in the highland games.  Right now I’ve loaned them to the club because after I bought them and built a cool shelf to put them on….they were pretty much paperweights and novelties after that.  Now before you Kettlebellers get your panties in a bunch let me go on.

My long relationship with kettlebells was that my grandfather had a kettlebell handle that went on a regular York 1″ loadable dumbbell making it a makeshift kettlebell.  He also had some block scale weights that were kind of like using kettlebells.  He would do high reps and sometimes would just grab it and do a few reps between chores around the house.  My grandfather never trained to max out…always for fitness.  He lived a very healthy and active life to the age of 85….when he was hit by a car!  I think he would have live to be 100 and been one of those guys that would be in fantastic shape his entire life.  But we all thought his lifting routine….especially the kettlebells was….uhhhhh….well….we called it the “fruitcake” routine because it seemed to have a little of everything and a lot of nothing and appeared thrown together most of the time.  However, I think he may have had the last laugh.

So, what’s all this mean in regards to kettlebells.  I told Dan that I thought they were a great idea to be used for the Osteoblaster workouts and we needed some more for the 45 to 90 people that show up for each workout.  But as far as having a rack in the gym….so few would use it that it would be not worth it in my opinion.

There used to be a business supply chain centered locally that went out of business.  It seemed to be a powerful business and I wondered why.  I met someone that knew.  He said his grandfather (who was the patriarch of the business) said, “Computers are just a fad…typewriters are where its at and where its always gonna be”.  We can laugh now at that business decision but some of us older guys probably all had a typewriter at one time (Bill Clark still does).  Kettlebells are kind of like typewriters in my mind.  But again…before the kettlebell nuts get a screw loose…one more story.  When I was in the Marines 30 years ago I copied Morse Code.  We used teletypes (a cross between an electric typewriter and early computer) and actual computers.  When the power went out….we pulled out our trusty “Royal” manual typewriters.  I still have one in the closet in case I need to continue to write after the zombie apocalypse.  So my point is, Kettlebells can be useful and every once in awhile pulled out for something different and they can be VERY useful in the crossfit type workouts.  But their use is limited for those seeking pure strength and cannot, in my opinion, be a central part of your training like the dumbbell.  The dumbbell….with the dumbest name next to the “Jerk” and “Snatch” (that’s another story altogether about stupid names in lifting) is still the Prince of the gym next to the King Barbell!   Okay, I’m done and I’m sure there’s some kettle bell heads out there ready to burn my house down.

Why Progressive Resistance Isn’t Always Progressive

by Thom Van Vleck

Milo of Croton is often credited with originating the concept of Progressive Resistance.....at least in folk lore.

Most everyone knows the story of Milo.  He was a Greek wrestler that dominated wrestling in ancient Greece in his time…that is pretty much a fact.  The legend is he became that way because he observed that he could lift a bull on his shoulder and he supposed that if he did that every day that he should still be able to do that when the bull was full grown.  He then did that, and carried the bull on his shoulders into the Olympic Stadium, slew it and ate meat from it raw to intimidate his fellow wrestlers.  That part may be fact, partly true, or just a great story.  I know it would play well in modern professional wrestling!

The idea was that if you put the body under increasing progressive resistance it would adapt slowly but surely and become stronger.  I think most of us understand that if you weight train, that’s the idea!  What I don’t think most realize is that the adaptation to work load is a flat, linear line from weak to strong.  It actually probably looks like a zig zag line to slow climbs over time where you see ups and downs that if averaged made a nice linear line.

Most people handle making gains pretty well.  Who doesn’t!  What really separates those who make great gains is those who handle the down times.  My point is that when you have times that you slide it’s how you react to that lack of progress or even loss of progress that dictates long term success.  It’s the reason they set up great boxers with “bums” they can beat up on.  Sure, lots of wins and knockouts will sell lots of tickets but that’s not why they really do that.  It’s to create confidence in the fighter.  Getting you butt kicked does not instill confidence in most people.

Those most successful are those that learn to deal with failure and find the ways to most quickly turn it around.  They have short memories on failure and stay focused on success.  They know that failure is part of the process and keep their head down and keep working.  They understand that progress isn’t always linear, accept it, and make each failure a part of their learning process.  They also understand that a lack of progress means a time for change and they don’t stubbornly hold onto a set routine just for the sake of finishing that routine.  They make adjustments and keep focused on what’s going to help them reach their goal

So, my point is, progressive resistance my not always be as progressive.  Success comes from dealing with that quickly, efficiently, and getting back on track.  So the next time you hit a sticking point…know that’s when champions are made…not when it’s going well.  Because even great boxing champs get knocked out once and you never see them at the top again.  But the greatest come back time and again!

My Visit to Ledaig Heavy Athletics

by Thom Van Vleck

Banner that hangs in the Ledaig gym

Recently I got to make my first trip to Ledaig since Dave built his new facility.  This is Dave Glasgow’s family gym.  I say family gym because it belongs to his whole family.  You drive down that road and it’s hard to figure out which “Glasgow” to stop at as each mailbox has that name on it. But if you know Dave and he counts you as a  friend, then you are family, too!  This sits on some family property about 30 miles from Wichita, Kansas but really miles away from anyone!  It is near Rainbow Bend, Kansas and if you can find that then you are right up there with Columbus and Magellan as an explorer.  Dave used to train in a round metal tank that would literally roast you on a hot day.  The frame for the gym was put up years ago, I believe Dave’s Dad had built a metal frame and never finished it.  Dave got it done and there is a gym, shop and garage housed in the large building.  You could park a dozen cars in there if it were cleared out, but Dave has a quarter sectioned off for the gym that is walled in and the rest is full of tools, cars, and projects!

Dave Glasgow cutting some steel rod in his gym to make stakes for Highland Games trigs.

I have been to many gyms overthe years and to me my favorites also include other “manly” pursuits.  My Uncle Phil has a reloading room attached to his gym.  Al Myers has a full scale metal shop in his gym.  Randy Richey (http://www.usawa.com/omega-force-christian-strongman-team/) has one of the coolest gyms I’ve ever seen with the a massive metal shop.   Hard to believe anyone could top Al’s gym, but Randy just might! I can’t top those guys but my gym has a workshop as well. Dave has entered the fray with a huge workshop area with the ability to cut, weld, and shape metal along with working on the two antique corvettes parked in his gym.

Some old school Eleiko bumpers at Ledaig

Another hallmark of a cool gym in my book is to have historical and cool things to lift.  Ledaig has many things, old and new to lift.  I was especially salivating over his Eleiko plates.  They are old and well used, but still cool nonetheless.  Dave has some equipment that he has used for many, many years in his gym and you can just feel the positive “mojo” in there!

If you get a chance to make it to a USAWA meet at Ledaig, it’s worth the journey.  You can fly into Wichita and that gets you close.  But if you drive there just know this:  The cell phone reception is not very good and on more than one occasion I have fielded a call from a lost lifter driving the countryside looking for “Rainbow Bend”.  Be sure you know how to get there!   Because it truly can be one of those places that “you can’t get there from here”!

Boxes for Lifting

by Thom Van Vleck

Boxes of different sizes can be a real plus to any gym.  They can be used for a variety of things.  Let’s look at some of the types.

Squat Boxes

My squat boxes with a 1 inch spacer that I can use to take them from 8" to 25". They are reinforced with a 2x4 frame inside.

Most people think of them for box squats which is what mine probably get used for the most.  I prefer to NOT do the box squats where you actually sit down on the box, but instead use mine to gauge depth.  But that debate is for another article.  These boxes aren’t always the strongest because they typically aren’t used to drop weight on.  Mine are strong enough to hold someone standing on them plus weight, but not drop the weight.  I made mine so that one box could be flipped on a side for a different height (I stole that idea from Al Myers….who probably stole it from someone else).  I have used mine for setting weights on to allow for different starting heights, as plyo boxes, and for many other things over the years.  They are just handy to have!

My "Jerk Boxes" that Al Myers made for me. These are made of metal and are a fixed height.

Jerk  (High) Boxes

These boxes are built with the intent of dropping the weight on them.  They need to be super durable.  I have some high ones that Al Myers made me that I asked for after injuring my should trying to “catch” a heavy push press.  Al made them….then liked them so much he made some for himself.  They have a thick sheet of rubber on them as well.  The High “Jerk” boxes I have are a steel frame with wooden platform on top.  They are usually made of wood.  Mine set high enough from me to do push presses and Jerks while standing over them.  I can also take squats out of them but from a low position. Usually these have a way to makes some adjustments on them, mine were custom for my height.

Pull (Low) Boxes

These are 3"-6" short solid wood boxes. They are stackable up to 9" for the Peoples Deadlift.

These boxes are also built with the intent of dropping weights on them.  In this case they are low for doing pulls and are built very strongly for dropping the heaviest of weights.  I have 4 boxes.  Two are 3″ thick and the other two are 6″ thick.  I can stack them and make them 9″ or the same as a People’s Deadlift.  Mine are scrap boards sandwiched with plywood and rubber matting.  I put handles on them to make them easy to move.  They are solid wood glued and screwed together.

Other “Boxes”.

There are many things you could use to achieve the same purpose and often it can mean re-purposing other objects.   If you are like me, you will find many other uses for these boxes in your training than what they were first built for.  This is especially true as I get older but at the same time as my kids train more and more I find them coming up with creative ways to use the boxes (and not all of it involves lifting…but that’s okay, too!).

Unorthodoxy: A Training Program

By Thom Van Vleck

Bill Pearl autographed this cover of Muscular Development for my Uncle Phil. This picture hangs in the JWC Training Hall and inspires me in my bodybuilding workouts.

Anybody that trains for any length of time will get stale on any particular routine.  Everybody knows that.  We constantly switch things around to keep things fresh.  For many of us this means recycling many of the basic routines over and over….which can become stale within itself.  I have been training for 36 years and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and make no progress.  Or in my case, at age 49….trying to hold off the aging process which means lifting a weight I did 10 years ago is considered progress!!!! With those kinds of goals (avoiding decline instead of making gains) it becomes harder for me to stay motivated and enthusiastic about my training.

So, last year I decided I needed to shake some things up.  I upped my sets and reps, added  more exercises to the mix, and did what I would call an “Old School Bodybuilding” Workout.  Something that would make Reg Park or Bill Pearl happy!  This meant training heavy, but with more sets and reps.  I figured my single rep strength would suffer but to my surprise….it’s doing quite well.  I would credit the routine, but I really think it’s the enthusiasm this routine has created in my training.  My enthusiasm has been the highest it has been in years!

I really tried to start thinking outside the box.  I recalled about 18 years ago working my Bench Press for a solid year and adding a paltry 5lbs to my max.  Back then I was in my early 30’s and expected more!  I went from 360lbs to 365lbs.  I went into my next workout with no real plan and decided to hit ten sets of ten reps with 185lbs (about 50% of my max).  Boy was I sore the next day.  I had been used to a basic 3 sets of 8 reps program and this more then quadrupled my reps.  I went into my next workout still without a plan so I just added 10lbs and decided to make hitting 225lbs for 10 sets of 10 reps my goal.  I spent the next 6 months doing this same routine with NO ASSISTANCE work (of course, I was working back and legs….but no upper body assistance work).  This may be hard to believe, but I eventually did 300lbs for 10 sets of 10 reps.

Now, before Al Myers calls BS on me….let me explain.  When I did the 185, it was full reps, controlled, with a full pause at the bottom.  As I increased my form got sloppier and sloppier…..I didn’t care because I was so frustrated with my bench anyways.  I began to do half reps only locking out the last rep and slamming them harder and harder off my chest.  I also began to wear two, three, and even five tight t-shirts for extra padding.  So, I’m sure if I’d been doing these in a gym there would have been some guy making fun of me, telling me I was a joke, etc. etc.   I will be the first to admit that ten sets of ten reps with 300 was about the ugliest benches you would ever see.

The result.  The next week I warmed up.  I loaded 370 for the easiest PR I’d had in years.  I got cocky and jumped to 390….and got it.  Then I went to 400lbs…and I narrowly missed the first try and then did it on a second attempt!  I jumped up and screamed like I’d won the lottery!  The last Powerlifting meet I was in I got that 400lbs wearing a single ply bench shirt and that was my last  powerlifting meet.  I would point out I got 2 reds on that 400 for moving my feet….but I got it as far as I was concerned.  At that point Highland Games were beginning to consume my interest and I haven’t maxed on the bench since.

More recently, I have went back to that 10×10….with a twist.  I call it the 10×10x10.  Again, this is Unorthodox and will likely get you funny looks in gyms and chastised by most trainers.  But I just don’t care if it gets me results and keeps my interest up.  That’s worth more than “perfect form and the perfect routine”.  So, here are two examples of my 10×10x10.

The first is the Dumbbell Press.  I do 10 sets of 10 reps…..but at 10 different angles.  I have an adjustable bench that goes from a straight up and down to different angles of inclines all the way to a flat bench and then I slide plates under the front end to get two levels of declines.  So it’s ten sets of ten reps done ten different angles.  I have done this with the same weight allowing minimal rest and I’ve done it increasing the weight each set.

The second version of my 10×10x10 is with the box squat.  I have been using a safety squat bar which right there will get you made fun of my some guys.  I contend that you can save your back a lot with that bar and at my age that’s an issue.  I also would contend that you have to be very disciplined in using it as you can easily cheat.  I focus on keeping me weight centered on the balls of my feet and only using my hands to keep my body upright. This limits the weight…which is hard on the ego…but keeps the focus on my legs where I want it.  I do 10 sets of 10 on the squat but I start with a rock bottom squat, then to an 8″ box, then 10″…..in 2″ increments up to 24″ which from me having a 36″ inseam is well above parallel (God forbid!).  All the while I jump up in weight.

I’m not trying to say these are “secret routines” or you will have great gains, I’m just trying to show you how I have used some “Unorthodoxy” in my training to keep me motivated.  So, from time to time try being a little unorthodox in your training.  I would still say a good, structured program is best, but every so often do something outside the box.  A little change from time to time is good.

OTSM Championships

by Thom Van Vleck

MEET ANNOUNCEMENT

Third Annual Old Time Strongman Championships

Chad Ullom with a successful unassisted lift with the Dinnie Stones. An OTSM Championship lift for this year!

A date has been set for the OTSM.  December 7th!  So mark your calendars! Here are the details to date:

Date: 12/7/2013

Time: 10:00am weigh in begins, warm ups with a start time of noon.

Place: Kirksville, Missouri (exact location TBD)

Events: Anderson Squat, Anderson Press, Dinnie Lift (order will depend if we have to split into flights)

Entry Fee: $25

I wanted to have a three lift meet with a squat type lift, a press type lift, and a pull type lift.  Also, all the lifts are current OTSM official lifts. Winners will be determine by weight class and age and an overall best male and female lifter will be determined using weight and age formulas.    Lifters will get a JWC club t-shirt, anvil trophy for winners, refreshments, and certificates with meet results for everyone.

Entry Information:  Send your name, entry fee and shirt size to:

Thom Van Vleck
23958 Morgan Road
GreenTop, MO 63546

ENTRY FORM (PDF):  2013 OTSM Championships Entry Form

Jackson Stones

by Thom Van Vleck

My circle drive, the Jackson Stones in the foreground and my other concrete "strongman" stones behind them.

When you come to my place I have a circle drive in front of my house.  In the center is a tree planted on honor of my mother in law, Peggy Lynn Barton-Baybo, who passed away about 10 years ago.  Around the tree are four limestone fence posts that weigh around 225lbs each that came from central Kansas courtesy of Ryan Batchman.  Ryan is a great lifter (one time USAWA member) and thrower and a real friend.  They came from his farm and are fence posts carved from limestone used in the 1800’s in central Kansas when trees where scarce.  Then around that are my strongman stones.  I have several different sized  concrete stones….kind of your traditional strongman stones from 225lbs to 300lbs.  The biggest round stone sits on a concrete slab from my Great Grandpa Baugher’s well.  It has a hole in it where the pump went and a concrete ring around it.  I like it because it reminds me of a mill stone.  But I also have three natural Granite stones I dug up on my farm starting 20 years ago.

The 220lb "First" Jackson Stone

I eventually dubbed my three natural Granite stones the “Jackson Stones”.  But early on, about 20 years ago I discovered some stones that had been pushed in a draw on my farm.  Years ago the top had been row cropped and I’m sure as they came up with these glacial till stones they pushed them in the draw to get them out of the way.  They were half buried and I just wanted one to practice stone lifting so I picked the smaller one that was around 220lbs.  A good “starter” stone.  This stone was kept in my yard and from time to time I’d lift it.  It was used in my first ever strongman contest as part of a medley event.  Chad Ullom was at that event.

The second Jackson Stone, 299lbs

About 15 years ago I decided I needed a bigger stone so I went back to the draw and after much digging and work pulled this 299lber out.  It looks smaller in the photo but it’s not as round as the first one and the odd shape made it a challenge.  It was at that same time I pulled out the third stone, which weighed in at 330lbs.  This trio of stones was used in several of my strongman contests and was part of my training when I used to work on strongman events.  They also were often used in our strongman shows that USAWA member John O’Brien did with me.  We had a standard Whiskey Barrel that we would lift the stones on.

The 330lbs, the third Jackson Stone.

These stand as a challenge for anyone that comes to my place.  As far as I know, only Eric Todd, John O’Brien, Joe Costello, Brian Kerby, and myself have lifted all three in succession.  While they are rough and easier to grip, they are odd shaped and finding the center of gravity can be a real problem.  Making them challenging in their own way.  For years I just guessed the weight and I was at 225, 300, and 325.  I finally weighed them officially and found I was not too far off!  I have a plan if I can find a 440lber to make some Dinnie Style rings!   The pink granite crystals make them really beautiful in my book over the grey concrete stone.  I hope others will take the challenge.  If you want a crack, just come to my place!

Looking for Mr. Goodbar

My latest addition....a Pendlay bushing bar.

by Thom Van Vleck

I consider Al Myers to be the definitive expert on bars and he has written article before on them that I could never compete with in regards to expertise.  I just have to admit…I’m a bit of an addict when it comes to my training and the equipment involved.  The Pendlay bar is the 19th in my collection.

Since I am a counselor and a Certified Substance Abuse counselor I often make comparisons with my lifting as an addiction.  First of all an addiction is defined as a behavior that is continued despite adverse consequences.  I don’t like to think that my training has adverse consequences but I bet there are some that would disagree.  All the injuries, the increased bodyweight, lifting to the point of getting petechia (red spots from broken capillaries), and all the other things those of us who lift see as “normal”.  Or maybe it might be odd that I have 19 bars to lift on!  I do feel a bit like a addict when it comes to my training!

So, that aside, there are three reasons I bought a new bar.  Each one I have has it’s own use!  Some are specialized, like my trap bar, but most are different variations of a standard Olympic bar.  I think Al Myers has twice as many as me and he’d say the same thing.  I wanted a good bar for push presses as that is one lift I’m doing well on and still hitting some lifetime PR’s on.

There is another reason for a new bar.  When I get something new, it’s “newness” motivates my training.  I get this belief that I can lift more, excitement to go and try it out, and often because I think that…it becomes true and I have some good workouts with my “new toy”.   Of course, I sometimes will pull out the oldest bar in my collection, bought in 1938 and used my my grandfather….or the bar from 1957 that was the first Oly bar the JWC had….those have some mojo of their own and maybe someday my kids or grandkids will think the same of this bar.

Finally, one more reason for a new bar.  I am getting to an age where I have worked hard and have a little more money than I did years ago.  I have taken care of my obligations and let’s be honest, this is a lot cheaper than other mid life crises, like a sports car or motorcycle!   I don’t have many life time “PR’s” left in me and this may help me get “one more”.   A reward for hard work…whatever you want to call it…but this will motivate me as well!

So, I have a new bar.  You can come by and look at it…but for now it’s mine….and you can’t use it because I don’t want it bent!   But eventually, another will come and this will be up for grabs.  Because even though I have a new bar and it’s the best one I’ve ever owned….I’m still looking for “Mr. Goodbar”.

New Orleans Anvil Lifting

Columbian Anvil at Sigles Metal Shop in the French Quarter....it waited 57 years for me to come lift it!

by Thom Van Vleck

Recently a friend of mine said that every weightlifter is always secretly sizing up objects around him to see if he can lift them.  I guess I do that to.  Some you know are impossible, others not so impossible.  I like to keep my eye out for Anvils.  Most of you know my affinity for anvils, you can find an previous article I wrote on my own family anvil here:

Grandpa Jackson’s Anvil

This past month I was able to take my wife on a surprise trip to New Orleans.  The choice to go there was almost chance.  I had a credit to use, there was a deal on New Orleans……so there you go!  We were just looking to spend some time sight seeing in the French Quarter.  Now, everyone has heard of Bourbon Street, and it goes right through the middle of the French Quarter.  But there is much more to it than that and my wife and I set about exploring the back streets checking out the unusual stores, bars, and shops.  Some were “interesting” to say the least but I came across one place that was closed on that day that intrigued me.  I was called Sigles Antiques and Metal Craft.

Sigles was a nondescript shop on Royal next to the Andrew Jackson Hotel.  There is a story on the Jackson side of my family that we are related, but I can’t prove it.  But my wife thinks his crusty, stubborn attitude pretty much proves we are related!  Sigles had all kinds of iron work.  Scroll work, hitching post tops, all kinds of stuff.  A very elderly woman ran the shop who I later found out was 91.  She said that she and her husband had owned the shop for 57 years.  My wife bought some fluer-de-lei coat hangers and I found a nice spear top that I’m going to use for one of my Highland Games flags.

Then I noticed a shop door that said no customers in the shop.  ”SHOP”….I had to see the metal shop!  I very politely asked the owner’s wife if I could check it out even if the husband wasn’t there.  She graciously complied and it was like stepping back in time!  All kinds of old tools….I mean really old stuff!   And then….there it was….the Anvil.  She had no idea about where it came from except it came with the shop when they bought it 57 years ago!   I explained I liked to lift things and she gave me the go ahead.  It was not fixed to the stand and it was fairly easy, I would guess it around 150lbs.  I then took some photos so I could learn more about it and promised to share that with her as she was curious herself!

The Anvil had what looked to be a “V” or inverted  pyramid and a large “M” on the other side.  I did some research and found out this was a historically significant anvil.  It was a “Columbian” which were manufactured in Cleveland, Ohio from about 1903 to 1925.  They were the first anvils to be “Cast Steel” in one solid piece.  Evidently this made them very tough compared to the “Wrought Iron” Anvils made before that were welded from pieces into one Anvil.  They were very popular in their time and while the “Cast” or “tool” or “Crucible” type steel was very expensive it required less labor to finish and it was around this time labor was becoming more expensive than materials so they really took off.  This particular Anvil is of the “London Pattern” and it would be valued at 2-4 bucks a pound….but to me it’s priceless!  They made these from 10lbs to 800lbs in increments and in 1925 or 26 the company quit making them and imported a like cast steel anvil from Sweden.  I wonder if it’s the same steel foundry that makes Eleiko!  (or made Eleiko as I hear they get their product from China now….).

I have  work trip that takes me back in September.  I plan to share what I learned and visit the shop again.  These folks live above their shop and are in their 90’s and have no plans to retire.  I think that’s pretty cool and….as far as she knows….NOBODY had lifted that anvil overhead before!  My wife said, “Leave it to you to find something to lift in the French Quarter”.   Yes, I’m always looking for something to lift!

Gettin’ Flipped Off!

by Thom Van Vleck

Tedd Van Vleck, part of the Jackson Weightlifting Club, works on flipping an 800lb tire

If you are a true All-Rounder you probably are always looking for new ways to train.  I would guess everyone that follows training at all has at least seen the “Tire Flip”.   It has really gained in popularity the past couple decades and is really is a “new lift” in the grand scheme of progressive resistance training.  I can say from my personal experience it is a great “head to toe” exercise and you engage every muscle at some point.  It also build cardio as I know a few flips with an 800lb tire will leave me gasping for air.

Another USAWA member, Eric Todd, has a great video on this that should be watched if you are interested in the tire flip.

YouTube Video: Eric Todd Tire Flip

Eric gives a good description.  Here is what I think about on the tire flip.

Stand about a foot or so away from the edge a little wider than my deadlift, maybe more of a squat stance.  Get low into a squat position and get my fingers under the bottom edge and my shoulders and biceps pressed into the tire so close my chin is on top or over the top of the tire.  I also set up with an angle to drive into the tire…NOT come straight up.  As I come up I’m thinking speed.  Not deadlift, but clean.  Trying to get that tire into the “2nd pull” range of the clean or the “hang clean” range and then exploding up.  When the tire is past that pulling range I take a small step with my left foot and drive my right knee into the tire trying to drive it with my hip and keep the momentum going.  That small step allows me to keep up with the tire as it moves forward.  Then I try to get my hands into a “bench press” position and get my shoulders under the tire to finish it.  If you are in a contest and doing the tire for distance, I liked to try and shove the tire as hard as I could…sometimes you can get a little extra distance on it.  At the least in practice it’s a strong finish to a good exercise.

Here are a few cautions.  First, keep in mind the tire can…and will…fall back on you and many have been seriously injured in this way.  I just try and stay aware but a spotter with a milk crate to slide under the tire as it goes up is a good idea.  We had a guy in a strongman contest I ran a few years ago have it fall back and after that I used the metal milk crate.   Another major issue is guys will try and “curl” the tire.  Trying to move weights that heavy with the biceps only is asking for a blown bicep.  Use your legs, hips, and back.  In Olympic lifting they teach the arms are just hooks and flexing the elbows can actually dampen the pull of the hips.  Finally, use a tire that’s light enough to practice good technique on and not the heaviest one you can barely turn….that’s like maxing on the deadlift every workout.  Eventually it catches up to you!

As I said, I’m seeing tires everywhere.  I think they are great, but like anything, you should know what you are doing!

JWC Redesigned Logo

by Thom Van Vleck

The New JWC logo.

The Jackson Weightlifting Club is one of the oldest Clubs in the USAWA…and that’s saying a lot because there are some old clubs!  To me, what sets the JWC apart is it very much is a family club.  Sure, there are lots of non family members, but the core has been my family and for over 85 years there has been a member of my family at the lead.  While I hope that continues, I just hope it’s around another 85 years regardless of who is running it!  I am pretty proud to keep the tradition going of lifting for not only strength of body, but strength of mind, spirit, and character.  That’s why on the logo below that adorns the front of the shirt it says “Strength, Faith, Honor, and Wisdom”.  I would say that lifting is more about life than winning awards for the JWC…..but awards are nice, too!

Logo that's on the front of the new JWC shirts

The anvil that is on the both sides is a silhouette of the Original “Grandpa Jackson” Anvil that sits in my gym.  Many will remember the story I’ve probably told too many times of my Great Grandfather lifting that anvil to impress his kids, then my grandfather turning to weight training to achieve that same feat….then that turning into a tradition of lifting in our family.  And yes, 1928 was the year my grandfather started lifting with his future brother in law and his friends that led to the formation of the the JWC.  While the name “Jackson Weightlifting Club” wasn’t coined until 1957, I consider 1928 as the date the idea was born…..which was more important than the name.  That idea was a man could use weights to make himself better in all ways….not just physical strength.

The "old" logo in use since the 90's.

The Logo drawn by my Uncle Phil in the late 50's that inspired all the future logos.

Here are the old logos just to let you compare.  I have tried to stay true to the original as I want to always honor those that came before me and paved the way.  I know I’ve shared the symbolism of it before, but since I’ve made an update, I wanted to share again.  I plan on having the shirts available at my Highland Games in October and the Old Time Strongman Championships this fall (looking at a December date).  So if you like them, come and compete and get one as a meet shirt!  I know a shirt won’t make my lift more (well….unless it was a bench shirt…but who likes those!)…but when I wear this shirt, I feel extra inspired to not let the tradition down!

Joe the Turk Meet POSTPONED!

by Thom Van Vleck

The Joe the Turk meet set for the Macomb Salvation Army Gym for this weekend has been postponed due to a terrible flood in the gym.  They are still cleaning up and the decision was made to postpone the meet.   Updates will be given regarding a “make up date” at a later time.

Here is a story on the devastation and how you can help our brothers and sisters out!

Last fall I went over to help judge a meet in Macomb, Illinios.  It was the “Macomb Fall Record Breakers” meet and was being put on my Tim Piper.  Tim needed some help and I was glad to help out.  He was also donating some weights to the weightlifting club I am the staff adviser for at the University I work at (the Osteoblasters Weightlifting Club).  I had never been to the Salvation Army Gym in Macomb and was quite pleased when I got there!  It was “Old School” with tons of old equipment, platforms to do “REAL” lifting off of, and tons of trophies and pictures from some 40 years of operation.  It was a gym that any USAWA member would have loved to train in and every “Planet Fitness” members nightmare!  The “Salvation Army Gym” is also a USAWA official club and are currently in good standing.  That’s why it was such sad news to hear that the recent heavy rains had flooded the gym which is located in the basement of the local Salvation Army.

At least 2 feet of water filled the gym!

There were plenty of pictures on facebook but sometimes when you have been somewhere you can appreciate just how bad something is.  This particular club had a huge number of photos that went from floor to ceiling in some areas and a lot of equipment that ended up under water.   Here are some photos to give you a “before” and “after” perspective.

Here is a "before photo" with Tim Piper spotting Whitney.

The same corner of the gym underwater!

The clean up has begun and the water has been pumped out.  I understand they are taking photos that were water damaged and trying to scan them to make new ones.  There will no doubt be a lot of work left to do and I’m unsure if there was any insurance.  Most insurance won’t pay for flooding anyway unless you have a special flood policy and most don’t as it’s expensive and I’m sure a Salvation Army couldn’t afford it.

The water has been pumped out, leaving a huge mess!

Keep these guys in your thoughts and prayers.  This isn’t some fancy, high dollar gym….it’s a Salvation Army!  If you can help them out by either providing labor or sending a donation I’m sure it would be appreciated!  This gym needs to go on as it provides a workout area for many who couldn’t afford it otherwise.  It’s the type of place I got started in when I couldn’t afford the fancy gym membership!  I’m sure many of you can relate.  Plus, Tim and Dawn are such great people who work so hard to bring meets and weight training to others.  Let’s help’em out!  You can send a donation to Tim Piper at: Tim Piper, 15401 E. 1750th Street, Macomb, IL 61455 or you can call him at 309 221 0276.

Me and my walking stick

by Thom Van Vleck

(WEBMASTER NOTE: Recently I issued a writing contest, in which I challenged lifters to write about an unusual training implement/device that they use in their training. The stories were submitted and judged, and I’m going to initially publish the top three stories in the USAWA Daily News as they were the contest award winners. Thank you to everyone who submitted stories for this competition, as they were all excellent.  Here’s story NUMBER THREE:)

Me with my walking stick.

Recently Al Myers put out the challenge for another writing contest.  This time around the challenge was to write a story on “an unusual training implement/device that you use in your gym for training”.  First of all, I’m pretty excited about this because I am hoping many of our members get involved and I will see some new things to possibly try out.  When you have been lifting as long as some of us have, you kind of need something new every once in awhile to spark that fire!

Second of all, I have a lot of unusual stuff in my gym!  Every so often I find something or make something that can be that “something new” to get me going.  Often, I use it for awhile and more often than not, it ends up stored away for long periods of time.  So I sat in my gym, trying to think of what I wanted to write about.  Then it hit me.

I would write about the one piece of equipment, other than a barbell, that I have used the most in my gym.  While not a completely unique piece of equipment, it is practical, can build strength, and I would think could benefit any gym.  But that’s not why I wanted to write about it.  It’s the story behind it and what it means to me.

Many of you know that when I was around 10 years old I was in a terrible accident.  Before that time I could run like nobodies business.  I was by far the best athlete in my school and once, while in the 4th grade, got beat up by a 6th grader after I showed him up in gym class.  Then it was all taken away in an instant.  Both legs were broken, my hip, both arms, a severe concussion, internal injuries…..let’s just say it was a bad deal.  My parents were initially told I would be brain damaged (I can see those who know me nodding their head and thinking “that explains a lot”!), crippled (almost lost my right leg), and even possibly blind.  I spent 3 plus months flat on my back with no guarantee I would ever make it out of that bed to anything more than a wheelchair.

The "tip" of the walking stick....painted green for my favorite color. That metal tip has saved me from some nasty falls!

I cannot explain to you what it is like to wake up in a bed two weeks removed from your last memory with that memory being a sunshine filled day having fun with your friends with your body busted up and on so many pain medications you keep seeing things that aren’t there.

As I lay there and my situation became more and more known to me, I sunk into a deep depression.  My Mom and Dad were having problems and this only led to bigger problems.  My father dealt with it by going to work driving his truck and staying away while my mother stayed by my side 24/7.  While I appreciated my mother’s dedication, she bought into the possible negative outcomes and this made it tough for me to stay positive.  I know realize we both share a family “curse” of depression and it was no fault of hers.  I did have the support of my extended family and many would often come visit.

One person in particular came every chance he got.  Of course, this was between his two jobs at the shoe factory and evening janitor work.  That person was my grandfather Dalton Jackson.  He and I were fast friends before this accident and this only brought us closer together.   We often went on hikes in the woods, hunted arrowheads, and in general had fun in the outdoors.  Dalton, or “Pop” as I called him, showed up shortly after I first came to with an old “Outdoors” book.  It was a book on how to camp, canoe, hunt, fish….a basic survival book.  This was 1974 and this book was from the 50’s.  It had some photos and drawings made by the author.  Kind of what he had learned in his lifetime outdoors.

In particular, there was a story on how to make a walking stick.  It was very simple.  You would take an old hoe, cut then blade off leaving a short metal “spike” on the end.  Pop pointed it out and promised that when I got out, we would make one.  It was that optimism that I hung on to.  Pop said I would need a walking stick which implied I would be walking again some day….and I believed him.

The top of the walking stick with the badge that represents the Isle of Skye in Scotland. This badge was with me when I climbed two of the tallest mountains in Scotland.

Shortly after I got home, I was in a wheel chair for some time.  At one point, we went out to the barn and he took a hoe he used in his own garden and we took a hacksaw and cut the blade off.  We then took some sandpaper to the wooden handle and sanded it smooth and then applied a little stain and some Shellac.  Pop used Shellac often.  Don’t see it much any more, but if you’ve ever heard the expression “he got shellacked” that’s where it comes from.  It put a nice, shiny, coat to seal it against water.

Obviously, I couldn’t use it right away.  But sitting in a wheel chair before cable television, computers, and the fact we didn’t even have a phone for awhile……you get pretty bored.  I would take that walking stick and find all kinds of things to do with it.  My grandfather showed me some exercises that I now realize were related to the “Weaver” stick.  I would lever that thing in all different directions chocking up on it as needed.  I would also pretend to do bench presses, overheads….you name it.

Then, as I started to be able to walk and I started lifting as a way to gain strength that stick found it’s way into my lifting.  I would use it to loosen up my shoulders.  I also couldn’t even squat my body weight so I initially lowered myself to a chair and use my arms to assist in my squats.  Then, when I could do a squat without help, the first thing I remember squatting was that walking stick across my shoulders.

Yes, I even hiked with it.  Pop and I retraced the railroad bed of the CB&Q that my Great Grandfather helped build in the 1800’s from Kirksville to Trenton.  It was about 60 miles that we did a few miles at a time.  I later took that walking stick and hiked in the Rockies, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, the Appalachians, the Ozarks…..countless treks and hikes. I have even taken it in parades.  I couldn’t take it to Scotland so I bought a hiking badge and have fixed the badge to a stick in Scotland and then taken the badge and put it on my old “hiking stick”.

Most any time I go to my gym to loosen my shoulders I will grab that stick.  I will also pick it up when I work grip and lever it in all kinds of positions.  I am pretty decent at levering a sledge hammer and I honestly believe using this stick over the years is why.  I also try to walk a mile every day around my property and that stick makes the walk with me most every time.

I would have to say that most people would find it pretty plain.  But not me.  That stick has power.  It made me believe and it reminds me of “Pop” every time I look at it.  I know he sacrificed a perfectly good hoe for me to have that stick because he understood what it meant.  I have always believed there are no “secret” routines….only the one’s that you truly believe in will be the one’s that work.  My walking stick is symbolic of that!

Now, you will have to excuse me….I have a walk to go on!

A Poet and Didn’t Know it. Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

Here it is, the “long lost” poem from my past around 1979:

Each and every day, when time is free

I head to the weight room to pay my fee

Sometimes alone or with a friend

I lift the weights to no end

My chest, covered with muscle and sinew

Is filled with happiness that is not new

From the first rep to the last

I build strength that cannot be past

I am above the rest

In my happiness

Because weightlifting is like no other sport

It’s just me and the weights, from beginning to end

and if I am true, I will always win in the end

Now….I’m not going to be submitting this to any poetry competition anytime soon but this really got me to thinking.  What motivated me back then?  Had I lost some of that?  I “self analyzed” myself and looked for what the 15 year old me could tell the 48 year old me.

Each and every day, when time is free how do I use my free time. Back then, I looked forward to every free moment and filling it with training or thinking about training.  I was excited!

I head to the weight room to pay my fee lifting it paying the price. Every time I go to the gym I want to pay the price and NOT sell myself short.

Sometimes alone or with a friend. I can have a training partner, but you have to lift first and foremost for you!

I lift the weights to no end. I leave it all in the gym

My chest, covered with muscle and sinew. I am there to get strong!  Never forget the main goal!

Is filled with happiness that is not new. I found joy in the journey and not just the goal.

From the first rep to the last. Make every rep count, never just go through the motions.

I build strength that cannot be past. Regardless of what “chicken salad theory” says, I have to have the attitude that I can be as strong as I want to be as long as I am willing to work hard enough.

I am above the rest in my happiness. I am exceptional.  American was built on exceptional-ism.  As long as I don’t bring anyone else down in the process.  If you want to be your best you have to think you are the best and find joy in that.

Because weightlifting is like no other sport. Weightlifting is special.  If you don’t get that….I can’t explain it.

It’s just me and the weights, from beginning to end. It starts with me and ends with me.  I can want help, I can accept help…but I should never NEED help.  I take personal responsibility for all that I do and if I get help, then it’s icing on the cake.  I have to do this for myself.

and if I am true, I will always win in the end. Fate or destiny…..I believe I am in control (no matter how delusional that may be) because when I believe I’m in control then I will believe that what I do will actually make a difference and if I believe that I’m more likely to actually do it.  I must stay true to my belief if I want to have any chance at getting stronger because if I don’t, I will most certainly not get strong.

Now, I’m not sure if 15 year old Thom really believed all those things….I like to think that in some way the seeds for my beliefs had been sown.  But the reality is that I don’t know what I was thinking then…but it my thoughts can say a lot of where I’m at now.  My mother used to tell me about the “Rawlings Curse” (my birth name was “Rawlings”…that’s a long story).  It was almost this idea that those of us with Rawlings blood couldn’t help but fail.  I hated that idea.  I wanted to be successful.  I rejected her logic and decided that I wanted to be in control of my fate.  I made that decision at a very young age.  However, one time my Uncle Phil did tell me, “If I believed in bad luck…and I don’t…..you have it”.   I could let life kick the life out of me.  But I choose not to and I lift on.  It’s all a matter of how you want to look at it….your perception is your reality.  My perception is that every challenge I’ve had in life has made me stronger.  I look forward to the next challenge.  

A Poet and Didn’t Know it! Part 1

by Thom Van Vleck

I was going through some old magazines recently.  These aren’t just magazines that are old…they are magazines that have been in my possession since they were purchased by me from the newsstand (yes, we had one in Kirksville…and it’s still here!) since I started training.  The past 20 years I have spent a lot of my magazine time on the ones that my Uncle’s gave me from the 50’s and 60’s and the ones my grandfather gave me from the 30’s and 40’s plus some I have bought over the years from collectors or “inherited” from other old club members who know I will keep them and take care of them.   I have ignored the 70’s, 80’s and up.  Partly because I see those era’s as tainted by steroids and partly because I felt like the commercialism really got carried away (I know, I know…..all the early mags sold stuff too….and were practically catalogs for products….but it just seemed to get worse!).

At any rate, I dug out some late 70’s mags recently.  This included some old “Muscle Builder” mags by Weider.  There’s a reason I hadn’t looked at these for years!  I bought them back in the day because there was little information available and I took what I could get!  At any rate, as I thumbed through a 1979 issue a piece of paper fell out.  It was folded up note book paper with the vertical red line on the left side where you would start writing and the blue lines so you would keep things neat and straight plus three holes to put it in a three ring binder.  I felt like I had to describe that as I don’t think the younger kids would know what I’m talking about!!!!!   The paper indicated to me it was from school and it was probably something I had wrote while goofing off and avoiding class work.  I often would sit and draw pictures related to lifting, sketch out workout routines, write out goals, or just about anything you could imagine related to weightlifting…..from the age of 15 to 18 I was as fanatical as they come!

This particular piece of paper was jammed in an article by Mike Mentzer on calf training.  I recall that article well!  It almost landed me in the Emergency Room.  I often was too impatient (that’s what they called Attention Deficit Disorder what I was a kid) to read all the “details”.  My calves were as skinny as a marathon runner and I wanted to gain some size.  This article detailed about a dozen or so exercises and in my haste to get “Diamond Shaped” calves I decided to do them all for 3 sets of 20 with maximum weights.  The next day my calves were so sore I could hardly walk.  It was also a day I was supposed to go rabbit hunting with my Uncle Phil (also an accomplished lifter and as sadistic as they come when it comes to training!).  He saw me hobble out (in SERIOUS PAIN) and quickly surmised I was sore from lifting.  He offered to call of the hunting but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction as I knew I’d never hear the end of it.  So we proceeded to hunt for the next 8 hours in cold, wind, and rain and I’m pretty sure he picked the spots that required the most walking to get to.  Finally, we went home and my calves actually felt a little better….until I laid down.  Then, they began to feel like they were on fire and someone was slicing them open with a scalpel!  They hurt so bad quiet tears ran down my face.   My mom found me and evidently I was having trouble hiding my distress and wanted to take me to the ER.  I refused, and I recall her going in trying to talk my Dad into “making” me go….but lucky for me my Dad was as sadistic as my Uncle and laughed his butt off as he knew exactly what was going on.  I was lost in the memory as I held that paper in my hand.

So, back to my story….I opened up this long, lost paper expecting some workout routine, or something like that….and found a poem.  It was a poem I had written when I was around 15 years old.  You have to understand that I started lifting at age 13…but on my 15th birthday (because I read where Arnold started seriously training at age 15) I went “all in”.  And when I say all in, I was training around 3 hours EVERY DAY and lived, ate, and breathed lifting every waking moment….and then I would DREAM about it at night!   Evidently, I had run out of routines and things to write about and had written a poem.  While I write a lot and always have….I haven’t written a lot of poems.  I don’t remember writing this one, but I do know I wrote it as I recognized my handwriting.  I peeled the yellowed and folded pages open and began to read.

In Part II, the poem.

Everybody’s got to have Goals!

by Thom Van Vleck

My main goal for 2013 is to look as sexy as possible. (photo and caption courtesy of the webmaster)

Just curious if anyone else is a “goal setter”.  As the new year approaches, I try to ponder the coming year.  I have often set “New Years Resolutions” as many do and as many that set them also do….I break a lot of them!  Here are some things I’ve learned about setting goals.

First, don’t box your self in.  I try and set marks to shoot for, but I’m also not too rigid about leaving open the chance for “targets of opportunity”.   In the Marine Corps we were taught that you may have an objective, but if an easy target (target of opportunity” came up, the go for it!  Maybe you start out wanting to hit a big squat, but your knee flares up.  Then you find the squats you’ve been working on have helped your deadlift.  Go for a big deadlift and forget about the squat until the knee is better and DO NOT push the knee into a serious injury by stubbornly pushing through it.   Maybe you set a goal to lose 50lbs but find 35lbs gets you were you want…..how you look and feel is more important than what the scale says.

Overall shape.  My primary training goal for 2013 is to get in the best overall shape of my life.  I have went from 310lbs to around 280….I am not dieting, just stopped eating junk.  More protein, less carbs, fat, sugar.  I want to continue this.  I have no “goal” weight but I do want to lose fat, and get leaner. I have set a bottom number of 242lbs….that’s a long story…but if I can’t get lean enough at that weight I will just have to work harder!  Too often in the past I have just wanted to be stronger….when being healthy first will ultimately create lasting strength.

Lifting.  In the past, I have set poundage goals….This year I’m trying something different.  I’m not going to worry about how much I lift, I’m going to focus on intensity.  It is my goal to enter each lifting session with more intensity and not measuring success.  Too often I’ve set up lifting routines that are many weeks of hitting the same lifts….this time I’m going to be flexible.  I want to go into the gym excited about what I’m doing and embrace changes in my routine as a positive rather than a failure to hit lifts mapped out months earlier.

Have goals, sub-goals, and a “quota” goal.  My Uncle Phil years ago managed salesmen.  I asked him if he set goals for them.  He said, “They call them goals, I call them quotas”.  His point was he would set a hard goal that was high and probably unrealistic and make it a quota….then when they fell short he would sit down with them and look at what they achieved, not that they had failed to reach their “quota”.  He felt that by reaching unrealistically high they would achieve more than had they set “too easy” goals….because he found when most hit their goals….they QUIT TRYING.  He also like to set up sub goals that were rewarded along the way.  He often rewarded his salesmen out of his own pocket when they reached sub goals.  Reward yourself as you hit goals and make yourself into “Pavlov’s Dog”!  They you will salivate at the thought of being successful.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, these are just some lessons I have learned over the years.  I am looking for a big year in 2013!  I want to be leaner, stronger, lift bigger weights, throw farther in the highland games….and if I end up a little “sexier” (by the way, the photo above was Al’s doing!!!!) all the better!

The Infamous Weightlifter’s Weekend 1979

by Thom Van Vleck

I was looking through a 1979 edition of Bill  Clark’s “Weightlifting Newsletter”.  There was a meet report for the 1979 Weightlifter’s Weekend.  This was an annual meet that included a wide range of competitions that spanned more than lifting.  Here’s a list of what was competed in the two day event:

Judd Lift, Miller C & J, Kelly Snatch, Zercher Lift, Steinborn, Zercher (again the second day), Seated Press, one hand deadlift, one hand snatch, Hack Lift, 12lb shot, 16lb shot, College Discus, 16lb Olympic Hammer, Javelin, 100, 220, 440, 880 and 1500 runs, Standing Long Jump, Running Long Jump, Triple jump (standing and running), back jump, one and two hand chinning, one and two hand pushups, Inman Mile (won by Jerry Inman), Tennis, 10K walk, Handwalking for distance, Axe throwing, Golf, and last but not least,  Bowling (singles and doubles).

The meet was won by Jerry Inman….by virtue of competing in the most events!   Bill Clark was second for pretty much the same reason.  Wayne Smith was given the top Master Award.  Some of the top lifts included a 120lb Kelly Snatch, 400lb Steinborn, 400lb right hand deadlift by Bob Burtzloff.  Bill Davis had a 505lb Zercher and 555lbs Hack lift.  My old lifting partner Jim Noble won the shot and discus (he was only 16, but was also the state high school champ in the discus).  Wayne Smith won the chin ups with 2 for the single arm and 27 for two arms as well as edging Clark out in the bowling.  I think that it’s interesting that while Jerry Inman won the “Inman Mile”….he did NOT go anywhere near a mile!

I know they held this event every year for some time.  The idea was guys would come and lay down challenge events and you either “manned up” or passed.  For example, I know Wayne Smith suggested the Ax throw.  I remember this because I worked for him cutting trees and he was great at throwing and ax which is why he laid down the challenge.  However, he could not get the ax to stick that day and was defeated….we didn’t let him hear the last of that for some time.

What would you think of a meet like that? Plenty of “real” lifts, but lots of unusual stuff.  Would you be a gamer?  Or call it crazy?  There’s no doubt those guys back then knew how to have fun!  Maybe the “WW” should make a comeback!!!!!

OTSM Goes BIG in 2013!

by Thom Van Vleck

It’s not even 2013 yet and we already have THREE OTSM (Old Time Strong Man) contests for  next year and at least one other in the works.  For that reason, we are looking at expanding on the pool of lifts.  How this works is a lift is proposed, then used in a contest to see how it works.  If it works, it is then taken to the annual meeting for approval by the members.

First up is Al’s meet he recently posted for January.  In it he will be introducing a new experimental lift, the Hackenschmidt Floor Press.  There will be an article soon explaining this lift.  Al’s meet will have the Anderson Squat, the Hack Floor press, and the People’s Deadlift.  Rules for the other two lifts are located in the rule book.  This is basically an Old Time Powerlifting Meet!

Second will be in April.  The meet date is not set, but likely the end of April.  This will  run by Tim Piper and will be in Macomb, Illinios. This meet will be at the Salvation Army Gym and that Gym is worth the trip by itself!  I was there recently to help judge a meet and it was as “Old School” as they come and the prefect place for an OTSM meet!

The, of course, the OTSM Nationals will be held in Kirksville, Missouri for the 3rd time.  This meet will be later in the year and while the date is to be determined….it WILL happen and will be the “finale” for the OTSM season.

I also know that Eric Todd and the KC Strongman crew are looking to hold a meet and I’m hoping to talk Jesse Jobe to put one on. I would also like to see regular USAWA meets, such as Record Days, associated with these meets.  As that would help open up the USAWA to new members and fans!

Now we have the makings of a circuit!  So, for those interested, I propose that we have an “OTSM” circuit.  I am looking for ideas on how to format this so anyone that has a good idea, send it my way.  Basically, I want to reward the person who attends the most meets and places the best at those meets.  This award will be present at the conclusion of the OTSM Championships.  Maybe we should even have a club champion as well.  What do you think?  Let me know!

I hope that everyone will give an OTSM meet a look in 2013.  Maybe even host one and compete in one!

The EZ-Way Formula

by Thom Van Vleck

I like to read old weightlifting magazines….well….I like to read anything related to weightlifting!  Recently Wayne Gardner, an “old timer” in the Jackson Weightlifting Club, gave me a bunch of old magazines and books.  With this treasure trove was three issues of Dan DeWelt’s “Powerlifting News”.  Dan put this newsletter/magazine out in the 70’s for a time.  Mike Lambert who put out Powerlifting USA for 25 years was inspired by Dan.

As I was reading the February 1973 issue I found a very short article on the EZ-Way Formula to arrive at the best lifter.  It was written by Bob Shadron who seemed to be inspired to come up with something easier than the Hoffman Formula.   Shadron  said “….we can replace the Hoffman Formula for good”.  He also touts it to be accurate and fair at all bodyweights.

The formula is simple.  You divide the lifter’s bodyweight into their total or the lift.  Round that number to the nearest 100th of a percent (10.591 would become 10.59).  You end up with the the number of “times bodyweight” lifted.  You then add to this the lifter’s body weight divided by 100 (a 251lb lifter gets a factor of 2.51).  Shadron claims the second number “assures that a heavier lifter gets a little more credit….than a lighter lifter….in direct proportion to the increase in bodyweight.

So, using my examples, a lifter that lifted 10.59 of their bodyweight would add their factor of 2.51 to get a final coefficient of 13.1.

I’m not promoting this formula, just reporting it.  I know Al Myers enjoys “analyzing” these types of things (after all, he’s the “facts” guy and I’m the “fluff” guy!) so maybe Al will break this down or tear it apart!  Whichever the case may be.  I just found it interesting and thought I would share it.  Don’t worry!  I don’t plan on bringing it up to replace our current system…even it it does appear to favor the heavier lifter.